When I left off the tale of Asshole, we were knee-deep in the L-word, only three dates in.
To put it mildly, I was scared, but moving forward with trepidation into the unknown.
We began spending a lot of time together at his place. We took the dog for a walk, ran down to the video store to rent season after season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I was a huge fan, and he had never seen it), ordered burgers and fries at the local greasy spoon, and devoured huge bags of ketchup chips and two litre bottles of Dr. Pepper. We tried new restaurants. We cooked dinner together. We shopped. I met his little sister (who apparently took an instant liking to me because I had no problem calling him a jackass in front of her.)
I invited some friends to join me at the pub where he was DJing on a Tuesday night, and after meeting him, they all gave me the thumbs up.
After only a few weeks, he presented me with a key to his apartment, and I began staying the night on a regular basis, as it was closer to my office. He had a home phone without call display, and told me not to answer it, as his ex-girlfriend was pissed about their breakup and trying to get some money out of him.
Asshole was in the midst of a hunt for a permanent, full-time job as an elementary school teacher, and I would help him look at postings, prepare for interviews and adjust his tie before he ran out the door.
Everything was going really well except for…the sex, which left a lot to be desired. Asshole had suffered from Crohn’s Disease, which resulted in surgery to have his entire lower intestine removed, and he attributed that to his major issues getting it up.
I decided it was time for him to meet one of my brothers, also known as the harshest critic. Following a TOOL concert at the Molson Amphitheatre, my brother, his girlfriend, and I made our way to a pub in my neighbourhood, and waited for Asshole to join us.
When he arrived, I discovered “Drunk Asshole”: a loud, obnoxious, arrogant dick who hijacked all conversation.
I immediately felt critical vibes coming from my brother, and I worried about them getting off on the wrong foot.
As the months passed, Asshole and I grew closer. I quit smoking. The sex improved (marginally). We marvelled at the fact that we got along so well, and never argued. Once he found a permanent teaching position with the Toronto District School Board, we started talking about taking things to the next level: moving in together.
I was tired of the back and forth and living out of a bag, so I pored over rental listings on the internet, trying to find somewhere pet-friendly. After making appointments to see a few places, Asshole decided it was time to mention that he had accumulated some debt with the demise of his marriage, and may not do very well on a credit check. Concerned, I began asking questions, and he explained to me that a lot of the furnishings for their house had been purchased with credit cards; debt that they split upon separation. He made the decision to walk away from a good job and follow his lifelong dream—teaching. To do so, he had to take out a student loan, and had also borrowed some money from his then-girlfriend, whom he was in the process of paying back in instalments.
I wasn’t worried—everyone has debt, right? He was working to pay it off, and I figured my excellent credit would be enough to pass any landlord scrutiny.
Asshole and I looked at a handful of apartments before we found a great place just south of Yonge and Lawrence. It was a two bedroom unit in an old three-story walk-up with a lot of character, and after a discussion with the superintendent and a letter from Asshole’s current landlord to vouch for him, it was ours.
In preparation for co-habitation, we introduced Cooper to Willow, who immediately established herself as boss of the large, loveable dog.
We painted the apartment and picked up shelving and housewares from Ikea. Asshole’s mom sewed us pillows to match our new duvet. We packed up our respective apartments and booked a moving truck.
One cold evening in March a few weeks before the big move, Asshole decided to drive over to my apartment so we could take some boxes to the new place. We loaded up his little Ford Focus, hopped inside, and attempted to drive back up the steep, narrow driveway.
The driveway was slick with ice and snow, and the wheels of his weighed-down car would just spin.
“Why don’t they put salt down?” he asked angrily.
“I don’t know. They don’t seem to have a problem with their car?”
He made attempt after attempt, but could not get up the incline. I hopped out and tried pushing. We removed a few boxes. His wheels continued to spin, and he grew red in the face and pounded the steering wheel in frustration. I smelled a burning clutch.
The people who lived above me must have heard the commotion, and came downstairs to help. He was now yelling about what terrible landlords they were, and finally I turned to him, furious, and said, “This is NOT their fault. They are lovely people. Lose the attitude. NOW.”
He continued to mutter under his breath, but with one good push from them, we were on our way.
It was a small incident, but it was the first time I witnessed his temper, and to this day, it has resonated with me as something I should have paid more attention to.
Asshole, Cooper, Willow and I enjoyed our new apartment and lived together in harmony, until one day while tidying up, I came across a stack of bills Asshole had left lying on the coffee table. I noticed a Sears bill that had been paid with…a Visa? The balances on all the bills were big. Really big. I was sure there must be some sort of mistake, and confronted him about it.
“Asshole, I have to ask…how much debt are you in?”
He looked uncomfortable and said, “I told you there was some debt left over from my marriage.” There was a distinctly defensive edge to his voice.
“I know. But you never told me how much. How bad is it?”
“Because we’re living together now, and it’s pretty important information, that’s why. I wasn’t snooping, but I saw some bills you left lying around. You have been paying your ex in instalments, too. Are you breaking even?”
He squirmed, and I started to realize things were so much worse than I’d even considered. “Have you been contacted by creditors?”
“That’s why you didn’t want me to answer the phone at your old place…” I trailed off, talking to myself more than him. “Jesus. Okay. Asshole, this needs to be dealt with.”
“It’s fine!” he said, pissed now. “I’m working on it.”
I laughed, “Working on it? By paying off credit with credit?”
He walked away from me, angry and embarrassed. It took a few more very serious discussions and budget reviews before he would finally admit that he was in too deep, and needed help. I did some research and made him an appointment with a credit counsellor. My mother suggested I go with him, so I would know exactly what we were dealing with.
In the credit counsellor’s office, Asshole read numbers to her, and she typed them into her spreadsheet. As the total debt climbed, my stomach continued to drop. Between Sears, Visa, Bell Canada, his ex, and student loans, he owed over $50,000.
The counsellor had two options for him: bankruptcy or debt settlement, of which he chose the latter. Credit Canada would make arrangements to pay the creditors using a lump sum of money provided to them each month by Asshole. His debt was so bad, in fact, that his $19,000 student line of credit could not be included in the deal, or bankruptcy would be the only option. Debt settlement meant Asshole’s credit rating would go to R7, which is very harsh on your credit score, and the repercussions would last a minimum of five years.
She turned to me and said, “As for your joint bank account? You need to close it. NOW. If he fails to make a payment, they will come at him via any means they can, and if you share an account, that means YOU.”
I’m not sure if scarier words were ever spoken, and I remember fighting the urge to run home, pack my shit, and leave him and his giant financial mess.
Needless to say, the ride home was very quiet…but at least I finally knew the full truth.
I worked tirelessly on budgeting our lives, but he seemed to care less and less as time went on. Any surprises that came up were MY problem: tires for his car, shots for his dog, wedding gifts, etc.
Asshole’s sister, brothers and I had become good friends, but I struggled to find common ground with his pretentious parents, who were constantly putting on airs for other people. Their large house in Collingwood and all its fancy furnishings were far beyond their means, so I knew Asshole had come by his financial issues honestly.
As for my family, the relationship with my brothers and Asshole was very strained. They found him obnoxious and felt he was a burden on me, but they played nice to keep the peace…unless they were all drinking. With alcohol in the mix, egos got in the way, and none of them would back down in a disagreement.
As if things weren’t bad enough, our diet of greasy take-out, chips, and pop had caught up with me. I ran to the Gap one day at lunch to buy a new pair of dress pants for work, and to my horror, I realized that size 12 didn’t fit. I needed a 14, which meant I could shop at the plus size stores. At 175 lbs., I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. I went home that day and I cried…then I resolved to clean up my diet and start exercising.
I cut back on carbohydrates, sodium and sugar. I wouldn’t eat after 7pm. I went into our bedroom in the evenings after dinner, queued up some online exercise videos, and pushed myself to get through them. I signed up for a yoga fundamentals class, and I started to run.
Slowly but surely, the pounds began to come off, but it was like swimming against the current, as Asshole refused to join me in my diet and exercise, even to a small degree. He always wanted to dine out (on me, of course) at pubs with zero healthy options, and we began to argue more and more.
A year later, in an effort to fix what was already too broken, we decided to make a change, and moved to a new apartment just a few blocks away. It was on a quiet street (just across from the best apartment in the whole world that I shared with Angie) in one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Toronto.
As a teacher, Asshole was often home as early as four in the afternoon, and I grew frustrated when I walked in the door after six to find a sink piled high with dishes, and dinner not even started.
I was constantly covering his share of the bills because he couldn’t make ends meet, yet I often came home on a Friday afternoon to find him sitting in the living room playing a brand new video game, and a 2-4 of beer in the fridge. He would stay up all hours of the night playing Call of Duty, screaming obscenities at people via his headset.
The stress of the situation wore on me, and I found yoga to be the only thing that would quiet my constantly working mind. One Saturday, I got home from class to find him in a mood, and asked him what was wrong.
“What’s wrong? You have yoga. What do I have?” he spat.
“What? Asshole, what are you talking about?” I asked, confused.
“You get to go to yoga class and have YOU time, but I get to go pick up groceries!”
“You can’t be fucking serious. It's 90 minutes a week! And you told me that you’d be happy to go get groceries while I was at yoga. You don’t get to suggest the idea and tell me it’s fine, then throw it in my face later. And you know what? I’m not your cruise director. Feel free to go find something to do WHEN you have the MONEY to do it! Although, it seems to me that video games and drinking are plenty of YOU time,” I said, storming out of the room.
We tried to fix the ever-widening cracks with movie nights and popcorn, but things were starting to snowball, and I often found myself venting to my mother on the phone behind closed doors, while he went out drinking with his teacher buddies.
Asshole was out of town on a school trip for a few days, so I was tasked with rising early and taking Cooper (always a handful) out for a quick walk. It was still dark and I could see my breath in the air as I stooped down to bag his business. That’s when Cooper saw another dog—and bolted. I fought to stay on my feet as the 115 pound dog dragged me across the grass and slammed me directly into a tree, which I clutched desperately, his leash still wrapped around my wrist. Cooper greeted the other dog excitedly, and the owners asked if I was okay. I said I was fine, and gave Cooper’s leash a firm yank, walking back towards our apartment. Safely inside the door, I started to cry. My forearms were already bruising and I was bleeding from all the cuts and scrapes.
I cleaned myself up, applied ointment and bandages, then headed off to work (late).
That night, Asshole came back from his trip and asked me what had happened to my arms. I explained, and suggested we get Cooper some training, as he was disobedient, out of control, and too large for me to handle. Asshole shrugged, unwilling to admit we needed help with the dog, and uninterested in finding the money for it.
I started to notice strange behaviour; Asshole was going out with a co-worker more and more, staying out all hours of the night, and spending funds we did not have. More than once, I walked into our office at the back of the apartment to ask him a question, and he would immediately close the browser window on the screen, whipping around in his chair and responding with an angry, “What?”
When the school year ended, Asshole lined up some handyman and painting jobs to make extra money to help pay off the line of credit. I was happy to see him taking some initiative, and he took pride in his work.
One day, he came home covered in paint spatters, and nonchalantly told me that he’d been thinking about it, and had decided to use the money he earned during the summer to buy himself a new Macintosh computer.
Like a volcano that had been bubbling under the surface for a good year, I lost my shit and absolutely exploded. I didn’t have a computer, and had been scrimping and saving every single extra penny I had for a MacBook Pro, which is a very difficult thing to do when you’re essentially supporting another person.
Slamming my hands against the dining room table in frustration, I unleashed every ounce of anger, frustration, and sadness that I had been holding inside of me for too long. He tried to fight back, but after everything I had done for him, he realized he had finally gone too far.
You can’t turn the tide, and this was the beginning of the end.