Somewhere in the human psyche there is a tiny circuit breaker. This breaker performs exactly the same function in your mind as the one in your electrical panel: at times of immense overload it trips. All signals that would ordinarily pass through it are temporarily shut down. For a brief period you are free from the pain or terror you would ordinarily feel and that allows you to concentrate on the single most immediate issue at hand: survival.
For example, the surfer whose leg was just bitten off below the knee by a sixteen foot great white shark does not have the leisure of doubling over crying “ouch” for ten minutes; he needs to get the hell out of the water. This circuit breaker aids him by shutting off the crippling pain and terror he would normally feel, thus allowing him to paddle like hell for shore and thus avoid becoming lunch.
Although I had not suffered any physical damage, the tsunami of rage and fear that swept over me – upon being informed that I now owed two thousand dollars of pre-spent money to a car dealership thanks to the profligacy of my wife – was more than enough to trip my survial breaker. Truth be told, this breaker had been working on a hair-trigger for years because I used it a lot.
I returned the phone to my face. “Yes, sorry, I’m here.”
The car-dealer-guy sounded a bit relieved. I had no doubt that his balls were probably in the wringer too for this. “Ok, good. So…do you need the address to send the check to? I can give it to you now.” he said.
“Well. There’s a problem. My wife cashed the check.”
“She cashed it? Why would she do that? It wasn’t hers!”
I was tempted for a moment to tell him that spending other people’s money was her raison d’être. Just as cyclist Lance Armstrong is defined by winning bike races and Hugh Hefner by boning chicks one-eighth his age, my wife is defined by her ability to spend any quantum of cash that slips through her fat fingers, no matter what the pedigree. “She called Chrysler and they told her the check was legitimate. Rather than leave it lying around she cashed it.”
“Oh. Ok that makes sense I guess. Well, since this was our mistake we will be glad to take a personal check. We don’t want to put you to any more trouble.”
I sensed an opportunity to get the hell off the phone. “Ok, I will check the account to make sure we have enough in there to cover it and when we do I will have her send it out to you. Okay?”
But he was no idiot. “When do you think that will happen? This week?”
“Well, I have to wait until payday. After that I am sure we can work it out.”
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but if there is a liquidity issue we will probably accept the money broken down into a few payments. Again, because this was our mistake. We want to be reasonable here.”
I felt terrible because he was being reasonable and I knew he was in for a screwing. “Ok, thanks. I will go survey the accounts and get back to you. Goodbye.”
I went to find the wife. She was on the sofa as usual, watching soap operas. I told her about the call and sketched out the situation as clearly as I could, anger still in abeyance. When I was done she took a puff of her cigarette and fluttered the other hand in the air dismissively.
“Fuck em. They screwed up. We don’t owe them shit.”
Dear readers, you must understand that I was half a decade into a situation that had resolved it self, not instantly a single overwhelming battle (which I am certain I would have won) but gradually, over time, in a series of tiny campaigns that had left me almost totally powerless in the marriage. I was working eighty to one hundred hour weeks in twelve-hour night shifts. I slept during the day so I needed my wife to handle things during normal business hours. I gave her trust and that gave her power and control.
I avoided the telephone for six months. The ex said she was handling it all, and I did not ask how because I did not want to know. I lived in a state of tense ignorance.
Until the Sheriff showed up with the subpoena.
I went to court because I had no choice. The ex refused to pony up the cash because she was convinced that we owed nothing. So I went without sleep one day after work and trudged to the court, where I stood about with the other deabeats and in turn, pleaded poverty. The Judge was not impressed. He ordered payment of $100 a month. I told the wife and she assured me she would comply. I started answering the telephone again.
A month later the car dealership called. They told me an arrest warrant had been issued for me. The first payment had not come.
The wife was summarily ejected out my front door, still in her slippers. She was informed not to return until that payment had been made. I told her that if I went to jail because of her, it would be for more offenses than just non-payment of a bill. She complained that she did not have the $100 and how could she find it at seven o’clock at night?
I told her to steal a check from a mailbox.
Somehow the money materialized and I cheated The Big House for another month. But I was not comfortable with the idea that my ability to move freely in society was dependent on her ability to pay a bill. That would be like staking your freedom on Opra’s ability to avoid gravy. In the end I took out a signature loan from my credit union to cover the debt (and a few others), which I repayed through weekly payroll deduction. The money never went to the wife so she was unable to blow it. This kept the sheriff off my front stoop for a two extra years.
Until the next time, when I was forced to go Hungover on “Judge Judy”, and the shit really hit the fan.