I met Steven* when I was 19. It was the summer after my first year of college, and he was one of several guys renting the house my parents owned next door to ours. We spent about two weeks making eyes at each other before he finally introduced himself.
Steven was four years older than me and had been married once before. At first, my parents were a bit skeptical of him, but soon even they were charmed. He was funny and fun and very, very likable.
That summer we fell in love was one of the happiest times of my life. We went camping, cooked dinners, took trips to the beach and spent most nights lying in his backyard in a hammock, watching fireflies and listening to the crickets.
We decided to get married just a year later. The lease was about to end on the apartment I was renting near my college, and I wanted to live with Steven, but not before we were married. So, in 2006, he proposed, and two and a half months later—at age 20—I was his wife.
Seeing Steven Clearly
Two months after we were married, Steven called me at my work in the warrant division of the sheriff’s office and said he’d been fired from his job managing an auto parts store in town. He said he’d been accused of stealing. I, of course, freaked out.
The retainer fee for a lawyer was $2,000, and if the case actually went to trial, it would cost an additional $6,000. Since we didn’t have that much money, we decided Steven should take the plea deal. He plead guilty, and, in exchange, had to pay back the amount for the stolen parts (about $2,000) and serve two months of home detention.
I believed he was innocent, and I defended him until I was blue in the face. I waited to see how he would make the situation right, but he didn’t seem to do much of anything at all, or couldn’t. I wasn’t sure. Since he didn’t have a job anymore—and we didn’t have much in savings—my parents paid some of the amount Steven owed to his employer, and then we paid the rest back in payments. The whole ordeal was awful and humiliating.
That was the first early glimpse I had that Steven wasn’t the man I thought I had married.
Before we got married, I knew Steven didn’t have a lot of money, but I didn’t know the extent of the situation. There had been hints—while we were dating, he was happy to let me pay for him, but I didn’t know how significant it was. I started working at an ice cream store when I was 15, and since then I’ve never liked having other people pay for me. It was just easier for me to pay, and he never resisted.
After we bought a house (the mortgage was in my name because Steven’s credit was terrible), collection agencies started calling our home. I would hand him the phone, and he would just hang up.
He always refused to sit down and have a conversation about money with me, but between the bill collectors calling me, the list of his debts I was given when applying for a car loan at the bank and the seizing of our tax refund to pay his delinquent loans, I pieced together that he had about $16,000 in student loans, one credit card he’d maxed out, another card with a balance of about $900, and extensive unpaid medical bills. Since his student loans were in default, I got them rehabilitated and began paying off all of his debts.
At the time, I thought since we were married, my money was our money. It didn’t matter whose name was on the card because we would pay it off together.
But now I can see that there was something more going on: I was becoming afraid of Steven. He’d changed so much, so quickly. Now he would fly into rages while taking drugs he told me were for an old football injury. After less than a year of marriage, my new husband seemed like a stranger to me.