Warm, salty tears spilled down my cheeks, blotting the stack of invoices I was supposed to be posting to the business ledger. I was 23, newly married, and struggling to rise from a sinkhole of debt. Plus, I had never even taken an accounting class. Did they really hire me to handle the payables for a multi-million dollar company?
I had been desperate for a decent-paying job and had talked an acquaintance into believing I was a perfect fit for the accounting job they had access to, despite my lack of qualifications. Somehow, I landed the salaried job, and there I was, clueless about life and work, just trying to make my monthly payments. As I hunched over my desk, poring over my finances, frantically searching for an area to cut back so we would break even for the month. Looking over the spreadsheet again, after making all my debt payments, I realized the only bill I could cut back was on groceries; I slashed it to eighty dollars. Can we really eat on $80 for the next two weeks? We would have to try. The tears continued as I adjusted my spreadsheet, bringing the sum to zero.
How I had gotten myself in such a precarious situation was a long and winding road. One that I thought of often as I found myself facing what felt like impossible mountains of debt and the potential demise of my month-old marriage. College had only recently ended, and I was paying for the monumental student loan debt that I had accumulated. A large amount of debt I had failed to fully disclose before I said, “I do.” Yet this was only one of the hurdles to our financial progress.
Around the time of our engagement, my future husband became ill, and we spent two years chasing down an illness that no one could identify. The symptoms had erupted from nowhere, causing neurological, gastrointestinal, and joint problems that often left him immobilized and both of us searching for answers that never materialized. Every negative test was a relief, albeit the beginning of a new search and new fears. No one really knew the extent of my husband’s struggle, not even me, which left him feeling alone as everyone in his life met him with an insensitive “buck up” attitude. I am ashamed to admit that I couldn’t think beyond my own selfish wants, and I didn’t make his life any easier.
While my husband dealt with the haunting frustrations of an illness we could not identify, he had also been trying to start a business. He is an ambitious and intelligent man. However, his ambition often blinds his intelligence. He had been throwing money and debt into a business that was failing at every turn, and it was damaging his confidence, as well as the confidence I had in him. Every time he had to confess yet another foiled attempt, my heart broke. I tried to be the support he needed, encouraging him to keep trying, but the reality of the situation was becoming unavoidable. We were running out of time and resources. I watched as a once-incredible athlete was slowly robbed of his health and tenacity. I tried like hell to be there, to cushion every blow and counter every fall with hopeful optimism. After almost a year of this, my sympathy ran dry, and all that remained was disappointed anger.
I felt like I had no one to talk to about the problems that were already stacking up around us. Too embarrassed to admit to our financial woes, our staggering debt load and trying to keep my fiancé’s spirits up while the world fell around us, I swallowed the frustration. I smiled and put on a happy face. I lied through my teeth to everyone around us. I maxed out my credit cards trying to keep up, and kept the passwords to the bank accounts under lock and key. Thinking it would be helpful, I shouldered the finances, hid the debt to try and relieve some of the burden from my future husband. However, in that, I also developed a strange sense of control.
Money is Power
My own mother had always been so helpless in her marriage because she had never made enough of her own money to support herself or the six kids running around. There had been countless times she had packed up the car and all of us kids and sat there in the driver’s seat. She knew she had nowhere to go and no means to get there. I learned quickly that money was very powerful, and I brought this idea into my own marriage. Now, I could bitch and complain all I wanted about the fact that I was making the money, but I secretly felt a thrill from it. I knew if I wanted to ever leave him, I could. It made me feel powerful, and it made him feel inadequate. It pushed us apart inch-by-inch and created a gap that allowed me to keep a safe distance from truly committing to him, but it kept him chasing me trying to earn my love. At the time, I couldn’t see how damaging that was for our relationship. “For poorer” came with a side of crushing guilt to which I provided much of the weight.
Sickness & Health
I had said “yes” to an engagement with a man who was strong, healthy, and going somewhere. The man who would meet me at the end of the aisle was someone else. I told myself that he was still the same man whom I loved and everything we were going through was a real taste of marriage. After all, our issues were so universal that they were written right into the vows. What type of woman left a man at the most vulnerable time in his life? I kept swallowing my resentments and burying them deep down allowing the gap between us to grow and grow.
As our wedding date loomed, we were relieved to finally receive an answer about the mystery illness that had all but halted our lives. We were relieved and excited to move forward again, but it was just the beginning of the end. There, ahead of us, was a long road to recovery and a gap we would have to learn to fix if we wanted our marriage to be successful. On the threshold of marriage, I wasn’t sure if we could make it to the wedding, and it would only get worse before it got better.
Part two of Kait’s story publishing soon.
Read more of Kait’s work here.