Their first date lasted four hours, and at the end of it he asked her to be his girlfriend. Nobody had ever asked her that before, and he seemed so keen, so even though she thought he was slightly phoney, she decided perhaps he really liked her, and said yes.
Ava began sleeping over at his place six weeks in. Then sublet her apartment in the third month. The day she officially moved in, he asked her if she wanted to wear a ring.
"Why kind of ring?"
He wanted to wear gold bands.
So people would know that they were together. So that other guys don't think you are single.
Uncertain of what other guys he was referring to, and believing a ring to be more of an annoyance than anything else, she thought about it for a while. She was never a fan of jewelry. The first piece she owned that wasn't made of beads was a pair of silver ear knobs she got for free when piercing her ears three years earlier. To now start wearing a ring because somebody wanted to make it known that she was with him? Maybe it didn't matter. She told him Okay.
That night, they drove to JC Penny and looked at wedding bands. He selected thin silver looking ones that claimed to be white gold and costed $104 each. He opened a store credit card and charged them to the account. Half an hour later they walked out with two small blue boxes in a red and white plastic bag.
Two months after that they got engaged. He asked her in an unmemorable way. They had the discussion before and with excitement she wondered aloud if he would get down on bended knee. He laughed and said that was lame.
Seven months after they met, Ava and her boyfriend were married in a judge's office. They drove downtown to a building that said on a sign out front Courthouse but could have been an office building for how nondescript it was. His parents stood against the wall smiling while they both sat in front of a seated judge who looked like a regular old white man from off the street.
The said ‘Yes’ instead of ‘I do’.
There wasn't that much money laying around so Ava searched and found a cute bed and breakfast less than two hours away. They left the day after the ceremony to honeymoon in Dubuque. Ten minutes into the drive, they met a four way STOP sign and right after he hit the breaks of his 1986 Toyota Celica he exhaled loudly then laughed and exclaimed “I’m going to pay so much less in taxes now!”
Ava didn't understand what he meant. She couldn't connect the idea of marriage, tax brackets, tax filing, benefit, loss. Having filed taxes only twice before, and both times receiving sizable refunds, she was unaware that there was more to it than that.
They drove on in silence interrupted now and then by light conversation. Him announcing random nonsense that made her think he preferred the sound of his voice to that of silence. Ava felt a growing uncertainty like a distant sound approaching quickly. His chatter continued with a suggestion that his parents might like to come up day after tomorrow. We could all spend the last day together. He seemed to be telling more than asking and It didn’t matter either way so she said yes when she should have said no.
At the time Ava were taking classes and between jobs, living on savings. But now that she had a husband she didn’t have to worry too much about money. They would both take care of each other, like the couples on tv and in books. This, she assumed without thinking it through, the way one assumes when they leave home in the morning, they will return at the end of the day, never considering the off chance at some point there won't be an end of the day.
He ate so much more than her.
Together, their grocery bill was three times what she were used to. Maybe it was the beer. Sometimes three packs per week for as much as $12 each. And he couldn’t just drink it and be happy, he had to explain to her how good it was and how fancy he felt drinking it, and something about it being hoppy but not too hoppy. Ava wondered if this was a habit he would grow tired of.
They went grocery shopping on Friday evenings, even though the store was busiest then. Walking through the aisles of the neighborhood market Ava said nothing as her husband reached out for non essentials like chips, and cookies and popcorn and beer of multiple varieties. She had long grown used to only buying the necessities, and a treat here and there. This after years of scraping by on the bare minimum. Even after her last job which was well paying, frugality was a long established habit.
One hot and humid Friday evening in June, they drove to Hy-Vee, and as usual did the weekly grocery shopping. Ava grabbed a box of yoghurt bars; coconut pineapple 100% natural and organic. As if he had been watching her like a hawk and long awaiting this exact moment, he said loudly and firmly and in a tone that made her wonder who he thought he was speaking to “Put it back...”
“Maybe when you are working you can buy treats with your own money.”
He wasn’t smiling but his voice was glazed with a mocking satisfaction as if he had emerged triumphant after a close call.
Ava laughed and threw the box into the cart where it landed in that small place parents sometimes stuff their messy mouthed toddlers.
Believing he could not have been serious, she was prepared to dismiss this unpleasant manner when he walked towards her and looked dead into her eyes, “ I’m serious, i’m not paying for that.”
They were two months in. Newlyweds. She regarded him and said nothing. He stared back, then reached and took the box and placed it immediately to his left, in a spot it did not belong.
At first Ava were shocked, then felt a little sick, and then for the first time felt what would become the familiar sensation of nothingness. She decided right then to never forget.
She continued her job search in earnest. Applying for positions she was nowhere near qualified for. Tweaking her resume to try and slip through the cracks.
After six different interviews she were offered a job and accepted it without negotiating the salary. They offered an amount that was twenty thousand dollars more than what her husband made in a year. So proud was she to have done this all on her own and so great was her excitement that as soon as he walked through the door that evening she blurted out the offer she received.
He didn't congratulate her. Deep down she knew he wouldn't, but there was nobody else to tell and be happy with.
He laughed, “We’re going to have so much extra money now.”
Then he began to list all of the things he would buy with his soon to be acquired wealth.