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We want to congratulate Carmelle-Arianna Roanski, who wrote the winning short story for our 6th Annual Love Stinks Writing Contest!

I Was Culpable

By Carmelle-Arianna Rozanski

“What do you think?” I’m cognizant enough to recognize that a question had been asked. As to whether I care?

“Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.” I don’t. I don’t care. I’m not even sure if this plan is, in fact, any good. But that’s what apathy does to a person. It erodes the will to care. It erodes the will to invest. It erodes the will to try. And yet for all its negatives, this weighted blanket of apathy is nothing more than a symptom to the cancerous truth I can no longer ignore. I have lost respect for him. This man I love, this man who I would lie, die, or kill for… I have lost respect for him. And I’m not sure what hurts more; the ache from the absence of respect, or my inability to pretend it’s not all gone. And yet, here I sit across from him at the kitchen table, wondering when it happened, where it happened, why it happened. Staring with total impassivity into the big green eyes of my love while wondering who let down whom, the picture of how it unfolded comes into an ugly focus. A leviathan in the fog until now, it hinted at its own existence without manifesting until it was ready. It was ready now. And I was culpable. The first round of joblessness wasn’t a shock. A disappointment? Unquestionably. A shock? No. A law school grad who never sat for the bar, my love was the smartest man in the room; and he suffered no fools. So, when the relationship between he and one of his “lesser” coworkers had been steadily deteriorating over the course of many months, I wasn’t completely surprised. Rationally, I got my hands around the idea of ‘two sides to every story with the truth somewhere in between’ very quickly. Still, I let myself believe he wasn’t truly the guiltiest of the parties. His culpability couldn’t have been greater than the person with whom he was doing battle. That was the first time I was culpable. But ever the dutiful wife, I swallowed my fear of an uncertain financial future and helped him chart a course to new and greater success.

The second round of joblessness was more of a shock; and more of a disappointment. Again, I rationalized away the responsibility. His supervisor was out to get him, no one who was truly in his corner was at the company anymore, the company churns through good people… there was a fresh reason for every day of the week as to why this “happened” to him. The stress built, the money dwindled, and the gray hair count ticked up unnervingly every day. But for the sake of our tiny family, I was going to keep this ship upright and on course.

This was the second time I was culpable. This newest round of unemployment took a greater toll on him than the last one. Days bled into weeks as he wasted away in front of one screen or another. Unemployment was helping; but at a mere fraction of his former income, that ‘help’ wasn’t going far.

Sleep was becoming harder and harder to come by when a contract position came along. It was less than half of his former income, but it was a phenomenal opportunity and worth the gash it inflicted on our bank account. I rationalized that we could take the hit. For my love, I could tighten my belt. I would cut anything, give anything, sacrifice anything for him to find a job that finally gave him a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Like Jacob languished for Rachel, I could languish for a few more years in an empty administrative role with no advancement or hope for a future. He needed the time to get on his feet. He needed the time to get settled. And I was confident assuming that he would, of course, do the same for me if that day ever came. This was the third time I was culpable. He took the contract position, and he loved it. My hope and plan for him finding a rewarding job was finally coming true. A year later, that contract ended. It was not renewed. There was no unemployment. There was no safety net. There was no way out of this cycle. When it came time for my annual raise, I sheepishly asked for more than was customary; delicately navigating an explanation of my situation to protect him. “Isn’t your husband an attorney or something?” my manager asked incredulously. I cautiously explicated that he had gone to law school but had yet to sit for the bar. That had been four years earlier, and I knew sitting there in that tiny office that he would never take the bar. That was the last time I was culpable. All these small steps I had taken to shield a grown man from the consequences of poor decision making left him a husk of his former self. But that wasn’t the worst wound. It obliterated my respect for him and worst of all, begging for a bigger raise crushed what self-respect I had left. I was as culpable as he was. Yes, he lost my respect. But I made the wound worse. I lied to my love to shield him from that ugly truth. ‘Give me just one reason to respect you again! To respect US again!’ I’d scream internally at him as I watched him squander another evening to video games and reruns. Seven years of marriage, and I, the degree-less admin, was somehow the main breadwinner. I was the one waking up in the morning ever so slightly disappointed that I woke up at all. I was the one popping gray hairs faster than Netflix signs new show concepts. This man I love more than life itself had let me down… and I, the woman who claimed to love him more than life itself, took him by the hand and helped him climb down even further into this abyss of our own making.

“You know,” he mutters, mouth full of cheap pizza “I don’t think I can keep doing things this way forever. I’m thinking, a-and I know this sounds asinine, but I’m thinking I’m going to sit for the bar.” He pauses expectantly. “What do you think?” The question registers, and I wonder if this is that one reason to respect him, or just another opportunity to be culpable again.

“Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.”