I don’t know why we thought we needed to get married. But it was just the way things were going. We had moved in together after the first date. So two weeks later when he asked me to marry him with a ring from the gumball machine outside the Price Chopper I said yes. At first I thought he was kidding. But then a week later we were at Service Merchandise buying a real one-carat diamond engagement ring. Honestly he never even paid for that ring. He opened a Service Merchandise credit card and put the ring on it and never paid the bill. It went to collections and then years later it was one of those debts that just got washed away.
And then we moved into a new apartment. I decorated it with all the stuff I’d moved out of my dorm room. He had a futon and some stereo equipment. We made our own art. He sold his bicycle to pay the first and last month’s rent. It was a really expensive bicycle. A Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo. I started working in a women’s clothing store on the weekends. All my money went there. He washed dishes at Hattie’s Chicken Shack. Sometimes we made beaded necklaces and sold them in the parking lots of concerts at SPAC. But we mostly traded them for drugs.
I got pregnant. I had an abortion. I felt bad about it in all the ways one is expected to feel bad. But I didn’t want a baby. They told us that the baby would most likely have died anyway. I was attacking it. He cried about it to my best friend. She told me. “He was so upset. He was just sobbing and I hugged him. He had terrible B.O. but I felt so bad for him.” I was relieved.
“Sorry,” I said.
We had a big fancy wedding in New York City. There was a tropical storm. I carried a white umbrella. All of our friends came tripping on acid. And did coke in the bathroom. He did, too. I barely finished one glass of champagne. I walked around the reception by myself visiting each table, thanking friends of his parents for coming.
I snuck outside with my friend, Vinny to have a cigarette and he told me he thought I was the most beautiful person he knew. I laughed, and he said, “no, really. It’s true.” The photographer took a picture of us on the sidewalk. I looked so glamorous smoking that cigarette. That was the last time I saw Vinny. He died a few months later of an overdose.
We went to Key West for our honeymoon. We got food poisoning from Conch chowder. I got my period. He didn’t care. He didn’t mind the blood. But the day we went to the Hemingway house with all the cats I forgot to put a tampon in and I leaked. Bright red staining my white shorts. I sat on a bench and cried while he went into a gift shop to find me something to tie around my waist. He ended up getting an extra large tee shirt that I wore like a dress. On our last night we lost the picture of us standing on the pier at sunset with parakeets on our shoulders. We left it in the Pedicab.
We got lost in Miami trying to return the rental car. We had to abandon it in a parking lot. We missed our flight home and had to go standby on the next flight. We couldn’t sit next to one another. The man I sat next to flirted with me the whole way back to New York. Halfway through the flight I mentioned that my husband was a few rows up, passed out on Compazine. He said he would have switched seats with him. I said, “It’s fine.”
By the time we landed in New York he had Bell’s Palsy. He insisted on driving himself to the emergency room. They gave him some Benadryl and something else for the nausea. The Bell’s Palsy went away. “Would you have stayed with me if my face had stayed like that?” he asked me. I said yes but I’m not sure that was true.
I got sick. Sicker than I’d ever been. I got worse. I had to sit in the bathtub. He took me to the hospital and they ran lots of tests. I thought I heard them say something about too much gold in my blood.
He came into my hospital room late at night. “Baby, wake up. We have to go.” He pulled the IV out of my arm and threw his jacket over me and we walked out. I said nothing. He drove for a long time. I finally asked him where we were going. “Long Island. You’ll love it.”
“Why did you take me out of the hospital?”
“Nothing they did would have helped you.” I leaned against the cool window. I dreamt or hallucinated spiders. Tarantulas on the ceiling of a bathroom I had been in as a child. One of them ate the other and got bigger. I cried out. “It’s going to be okay, baby,” he said and brushed the back of his hand against my cheek. He was wiping tears away. Many years later I will dream this same dream. Our daughter will be the one to wake me from the nightmare.
One cold, rainy morning he died. The whole city froze over. The rain came down again and washed it all away. I fell asleep for a long time and woke up at the end.
Erin Swanson is a graduate of Skidmore College. She attended the Yale Writers Workshop. She lives in Greenwich, CT with her two children.
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