She stared at me with that look on her face, the look I know well by now: it appears when she's upset. There are different kinds of upset; this look accompanies the kind that arises when she thinks things are slipping out of control and panics.
“Bank One has cancelled my credit card account,” she said. “That was your debt. I took it on for you.”
I immediately understood what the problem was. Credit card companies use financial information to compile risk profiles of their clients. If you borrow too much, or pay off too little (we've done both by now) your risk value worsens until a certain threshold is reached. Then they try to get rid of your business, or to jack up your interest rates. In either event, you can bet that your credit rating has recently gone down the toilet. Hence Lanie's tense face. I'm ruining her credit.
“You need a job,” she said. “I don't care what; anything. Go flip burgers, go sell Subway sandwiches. We can't go on like this.”
I told her she was crazy. She replied that she was cutting down the amount I have been sharing out of her salary to a minimum; if I have my debts, I have to figure out how to pay them myself.
Fair enough. But what I was at that moment was—angry. Angry at her, at myself, at the concrete hellhole of Long Island outside my window, at the dumb turn my life has taken. I have been unemployed for over a year. Until two weeks ago, not a single application had fetched an interview. Recently I got two but they don't look promising. There's no reason for things to be this bad—the only way to improve my résumé is to gold-plate it—but here I am, twenty eight, with a fancy degree from a fancy university, and an angry wife. Loser? I cannot tell anymore; my current sequestered existence—scarcely any people or news, and no television—has obliterated frames of reference. I do like it that way.
Were I a Greek hero, now would be the time to rail against the gods. But I'm just an modern-day atheist schmuck, so instead, staring back at Lanie and trying to appear calm, I retreated into a momentary fantasy. Our argument was the departure point. We quarrel, I imagined, and she threatens to kick me out of the house. I resist. I proudly refuse to lower myself to burger flipping. Her family disapproves. We visit her family for some undefined reason; her three brothers are present and at least two want to teach me a lesson. I get into a fight with the middle one, the strong one, the carpenter. He knocks me down; I grab a baseball bat from somewhere and knock him upside the—no, I grab a knife and I stab him! Blood on my hands, I run to the car—no, I slowly, coolly walk to the car as the others make way, not daring to touch me because I exude, I positively drip danger, and so I drive off until I'm picked up by cops somewhere on my way to Philadelphia, because of course her family immediately calls the police. Hm. Except I'm on to their tricks; I don't go to Philadelphia, not by car. There's a suburban train line; I drive to the nearest station and take the train. I find out its location from a gas station, where they don't notice my bloodied hands because I clean them against my shirt, and I hide the stained shirt by zippering my jacket over it; and I stop at the mall on the way to buy new clothes, but I don't use a credit card for that, oh no, because they'll trace me. Instead, I float a bad check; my imaginary bank account is just as empty as my real one. I have only one goal: to make it to New York and get the hell out of this country before they alert the airports. I intend to use the last remaining credit on my card to buy a ticket home. Needless to say, I won't pay the card bill when it arrives; Citibank can try to extradite me from Central Asia if it so wishes. …
That was yesterday. Today, I went and picked up application forms from two local bookstores. I like books better than burgers. The forms are sitting in my bag, half-filled. After I got them, I looked them over in the car, noticed the requests for references and felt so humiliated that I wanted to cry. Gone from a professional job to a store clerk; how can I ever count on a serious reference for another professional job in the future if my past employers get a background-check call from Barnes & Noble?
So I sit, feeling alternately sorry for myself and ashamed for being a whiny dickhead. There's nothing graceful about it; that hurts, too. And I don't even have a snappy sentence to finish the story, so here's a full stop.