When I was eighteen years old, I married my high school sweetheart, Maribel. I was determined to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health. I took her to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part. I asked God for wisdom and devotion in the ordering of our common life, that each of us may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in complexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy. That He give us grace, when we hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge our faults, and to seek each others’ forgiveness. I wanted to allow our love for each other to be a seal upon our hearts, a mantle about our shoulders, and a crown upon our foreheads. So we appeared in person before a Clerk at the County Marriage Bureau location, filled in our names exactly as they appeared on the identification presented, completed the known information of our parents, and reviewed the documents for accuracy. We left for the County Office of the Civil Marriage Commisioner, where we verified our commitments with a sixty-dollar fee, which I paid in full myself.
We cancelled our honeymoon because Maribel wanted me to buy her a ‘Hello Kitty’ small black patent embossed handbag, with a matching necklace. Since the store was on New York 5thAvenue, I fueled up my Chrysler Lebaron and set to head off on the thousand-mile journey, but something was wrong. I couldn’t see, because the sun was in my eyes. So I went back inside the gas station to purchase a pair of sunglasses to safely make my trip. The attendant rang up the pair, but my card was rejected. “Do you have any cash?” he asked. I did not. After a couple of phone calls I discovered that a hold had been placed on my account. Apparently, Maribel had already reserved her purchase with my card. So I drove off into the sunset, hoping not to go blind along the way. Luckily, the passenger’s side sun visor still worked, with its vanity mirror’s flip-up cover stuck in the upright position.
Throughout our high school years, I had been a successful athlete. With dreams of playing professional sports, I traveled around to team tryouts after high school, hoping to earn a minor-league contract. A couple of tryout rejections and the anticipation of more wracked Maribel to the point when I decided to give up and just find a stable job. Maribel wanted to start saving for our kids’ collegiate futures now, and I couldn’t let her worry about our future children all alone. A few weeks after my job started, I received a phone call from one of the developmental league teams requesting a personal interview. My big break? I talked to Maribel about it later that night, but we both decided it would be best for me to turn it down.
As my minimum-wage job became less promising, I attempted to move on to greener pastures. I had put in a few applications, and finally received an interview in regards to a mid-level management position I had applied for. I had just spent our paycheck on the shoes I had begun buying for Maribel each pay period. I had agreed to buy her at least seven pairs each month (because one per day was just unaffordable), and her collection had grown considerable since then. At least she was happy, but not having any more paycheck this week meant I couldn’t afford a haircut before my new interview. So once I told Maribel our exciting news, she decided to try to cut my hair for me. And it was horrible. What’s worse is that I couldn’t fix the problem in time for my interview. It broke my spirit and induced anxiety, but I had to continue through for us.
This wasn’t the first time I had done something for Maribel. I also bought her new dresses (albeit at a slower accumulation than the shoes), and later our daughter would come with the same demands as her mother. And instead of haircuts I learned that Maribel was much more successful at painting nails and sampling perfumes. Both of which she decided were much better done by a professional. So I took both of the ladies of the household out on a regular basis for them to ‘gets pretties’, as our daughter called it. And I learned that a haircut wasn’t all that important. Especially once I began to develop male-pattern baldness. As long as the women of the house were satisfied, I didn’t need to ‘gets pretties’ with them.
But before our daughter was a young lady she was just a baby. Her and her little brother. It was easy at first, because Maribel was adamant about breast feeding. But when funds did not allow our diets to be as nutritious as they should, we talked about switching to Similac. Then we realized our new house did not afford us potable water, and she continued to breast feed. Once the children got older and began eating solid foods, Maribel insisted on cooking. She assured us of her talents, which consisted of a few recipes from her mother, but she wasn’t really all that good at it. But what else could we do? Often times, I would skip meals entirely, not because of Maribel’s cooking, but in order to save on groceries.
When the kids started school, my first school shopping experience wasn’t pleasant. Needing a new suit to comply with the new policy at work, I hadn’t realized how expensive kid’s clothes could be. Not that the individual items were draining my wallet, but all of the outfits Maribel was picking out slowly piled into the cart, filling it up until she made me go get a second one. She wanted to make sure the kids were popular, and since they were going to attend a private school that did not require a school uniform, she made sure to get shirts of popular video games, vintage tees, colorful tops for our daughter Cassie, preppy shirts for Alex, and of course gym clothes too, other assorted screen and graphic tees, with all of the clever phrases proclaiming girls better than boys, along with a few one-liners for boys as well, and all of their favorite animals. And of course Maribel had to include with each outfit matching hoodies, button-fronts, layered looks, dress shirts, polos, blouses, pullovers, ponhos, tank tops, tunics, camisoles, cardigans, and mock turtlenecks. When we finally completed and moved to the men’s department, having totaled all of the items in the cart, I had just enough to purchase a $1 ‘Cloak of Invisibility’ for sale.
Midway through the school year, all of my savings having been put aside in the meantime, was our first significant Christmas. Not significant because of Jesus and all of that stuff, because we had celebrated like that already. It was significant because the children were now older, and had the outside influences from school and after-school television to tell them what toys and games were going to be fun. And of course I had to surprise Maribel with new furniture and a remodeled bathroom, Alex wanted the new video game system that had just been released in time for holiday shopping, and Cassie wanted toy jewelry because she was started to imitate her mother. I had to buy Maribel precious stones and semi-precious gemstones, but luckily I could get away with the plastic versions for Cassie. And both girls wanted clothes as well. Cassie because she insisted that she couldn’t be seen wearing the same clothes she wore the first half of the school year, and Maribel pleaded the same case for her work, to include the continued purchasing of the seven pairs of shoes monthly. I wanted a watch to go with the borrowed suit I was now wearing to work, but instead the kids got me toys that they could play with when I wasn’t home. When I was younger, I collected model trains, and this was their justification, that giving me the newest toys would replace the train collection I had to sell in a garage sale once Alex was born.
Because Maribel is extra special to me, I had to get her something extra special as well. I needed a cellular phone that had been mandated by work, but I refused to ruin her holidays because of selfishness. So instead I spent the last moneys on my debit card on a coupon for a “week’s worth of relaxation and rejuvenation” as the coupon stated. Funny how they call it a coupon. I didn’t save any money at all. But I knew Maribel would be happy. I just didn’t know how happy. Apparently I hadn’t read all the print to my surprise, because I had actually purchased a package for two. When Maribel saw this little bonus, she exclaimed, “How romantic, honey, thank you! Now I can take Cassie and show her how to be treated like a woman!” And with that she gave me a peck on the cheek. Apparently she didn’t mind the consideration she must have made that Cassie hates anything to do with “yucky,” to include any mud or other minerals used on the facial scrubs they would surely get. But other than that I was sure they would both enjoy the massages, the floating candles like my wife always used at home, and the neat little rocks that would heat their escape.
And of course I couldn’t skimp on Alex. Boys are too often forgotten in this age, abandoned from a lifestyle that truly interests them less, in this era of things and stuff. But Alex had just developed a newfound taste in music, listening to artists who spoke to the urban in his suburban upbringing. About how life was about money and cars and hoes (or bitches, depending on which term the listener prefers). How these musicians are so tough, not because they were raised in a third world country ravaged by war and had to starve through most of their childhood. No, they are tough because they were raised in government subsidized housing; not because they had no housing. But this was what Alex identified with, because all the children at school looked at these musicians as role models, possessing every ounce of ‘hip’ that one naturally could. So when the musicians talked about being shot or selling drugs, that was what Alex’s identity wanted to become. So, having no money remaining, I gathered up my literature collection accrued over the years. We had a library of sorts in the spare bedroom, bookshelves lining the walls and each reaching to the ceiling, books placed as they should be, and then more when there was no room left. I began packing them into boxes and loading them into the minivan. (The kids call it the ‘swagger wagon’.) I loaded last one up and drove off to the rare book store that had become my salvation in order to sell back all that was once mine, but I hit a curve too fast and the minivan went through a guard rail and over a cliff.