When I was little, I had a small silver cash box where I kept all of my money. It had a dial lock, with a single-number combination. I guess you couldn’t even call it a combination lock. Just turn it to that one number and—bam—open. Cash boxes made for 5-year-olds offer utterly substandard security. After saving for years, I had upward of $300 in my personal little bank, the bulk of which I kept not in the box’s plastic tray, but hidden underneath it in a secret compartment I had made by prying off the glue on the lip of the tray and popping it out. Like I said, substandard security. I had an older sister to be cautious of, after all.
This was my money. Allow me to properly re-emphasize that. This was my money. It represented the culmination of years of allowances, birthdays and Christmases. I did with that money whatever I wanted, although usually that amounted to squirreling it underneath that plastic insert.
Flash forward 30 years, and I still have some money. It’s still locked away (although Bank of America is moderately more legit). And I still think of it as my money. But it’s not. As soon as Constantino and I got married, my became ours. It’s an agreement to which I committed in theory, but the practice is something wholly different. It’s like saying you want to go do karaoke until that moment you’re actually on stage.
Take, for example, the kerfuffle Constantino and I had earlier this week. Sometimes we argue, and occasionally we fight. Mostly, we have kerfuffles. It sounds so much friendlier. Anyway, I wanted to make plans to buy a plane ticket to visit an old friend. When we talked about it, I had already worked out the dates, found the flight, and figured out how it would work within our budget. And although I technically asked him before I bought my ticket, I really only informed him about the trip: “Hey, I’m thinking of going here on this weekend for this long to visit this person. Oh, by the way...is that OK?” Although he was completely supportive of the trip, he rightfully felt cut out of the decision-making process.
And it’s not just that my money has become our money. My time has become our time. My decisions have become our decisions. If I’m honest, the thought sometimes scares me and makes me feel confined. During my past 20 years of adulthood, I’ve made all of my own decisions when it came to my finances, time, and life choices. I’m just used to acting on my own without consulting anyone. Those routines don’t change so easily. A habit isn't a nimble and responsive thing, like a race car. It's more like a cargo ship—a thing of massive inertia that’s incredibly slow to turn.
I sometimes fail, too, to recognize the benefits of “our.” Our money means more stability, especially for me during a season in which Constantino is our primary breadwinner. As a fiction writer, I have the earning power of a girl selling lemonade in a snowstorm. Mixing finances means someone to share in difficult financial decisions, and someone to help with bills and paperwork. Together means giving up some control, but together can also be easier.
This isn’t the first time I’ve acted independent of Constantino, and I know it won’t be the last (I’m writing this especially for Constantino to read...insert awkward-grin emoji). I have a fundamental desire to share everything with him—money, time, life. But sometimes letting go of the life preserver we’re familiar with feels like drowning, even when we've spotted a better one floating right past us.
So, I want Constantino to know that the combination to my cash box is 90. Just the one number: 90. Honestly, anything from 88 to 92 will open it. I think there’s only like three dollars in change left in it, and maybe a forgotten two-dollar bill I’d been saving in the secret compartment underneath. And I’m not even sure where the cash box is right now; probably buried somewhere in my childhood closet. But it, like everything else, is all his.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.
Photo by Rob Pongsajapan, used through Flickr Creative Commons.
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