Quid Pro Quo

My husband used to swear all the time. The swearing was as distasteful as if he was scratching his crotch in public. When he proposed, I said yes but only if he agreed to put money into a swear jar. Every “damn” was a dollar; every “bitch” was five; and “fuck” required twenty.

Shortly after he started losing money on the swear jar the way people lost money in Vegas, he got the promotion that had long eluded him. He moved up from cold calling and visiting local factories to flying around the country and upselling major clients. At the wedding, he gave me credit for turning a piece of excrement into a man.

Three years later, he became vice president of sales, and I suspected him of sleeping around when he traveled. He paid for a laundry service and would bring home a clean change of clothes in his suitcase. He had two phones on him at all times. I suspected the silver one to be his booty call phone since he would never leave it casually around the house.

One night when he was home, news broke that several women had accused one of the presidential candidates of sexual assault. The candidate said these women were coerced by the opposing side to make up stories. We were in bed and I asked my husband what he thought.

He was still typing on his laptop when he said, “They’re probably lying.”

I didn’t know why his answer surprised me. When I met him, he would call a woman “bitch” if she displeased him. That was before the swear jar, before he said I transformed him.

“If I said that man on TV assaulted me, would you believe me?” I asked.

He stopped typing.

“I’m really stressed about this account right now and I can’t get into silly hypotheticals.”

“You think sexual assault is silly?”

He took off his glasses and closed his laptop. His black work phone was on his bedside table and he pulled the string of his lamp to dim his side of the room.

“I’m tired,” he said. “Can we start this fight tomorrow?”

The next morning, I woke up in an empty bed. I went to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee when I saw a gray and white speckled ceramic jar on the counter. It was slightly bigger than my mug, with a handle on the top of the lid that resembled a tiny golf ball. My husband walked into the room and stood on the opposite side of the counter where the jar sat between us.

“Did you see what I got at the neighbor’s garage sale?” he asked with a hint of excitement in his voice.

“Why’d you get this?” I asked.

“I went running this morning and was thinking about what you said last night …”

“That made you think of a sugar jar?” I interrupted.

He paused, looking annoyed, but continued, “I was also thinking about our conversation last week when you got upset at your boss for walking out of your presentation.”

I didn’t like where this was going, but I let him speak.

“I think I know why,” he said. “But first, let me ask if you talk about the election at work?”

“Everyone’s talking about it,” I said, but I didn’t mention the times I’d go off on this candidate. I would implore the younger women in the office to vote, warn them that this man’s disrespect would trickle down to their workplaces, creep into their homes.

“If you talk about the election at work like you did last night, you’re putting out negative energy.”

“I don’t know how you put positive energy into assaulting women.”

“And that’s the point—just don’t talk about it at all,” my husband said, and then he held up a Post-It note that read “Negativity Jar” in his own blocky handwriting.

“What you did for me back then, I’m going to do for you now,” he said as he stuck the yellow piece of paper to the jar. “Anytime you say something negative, you have to put money in this thing just like a swear jar.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said.

“This will train you to be more positive, so your career could take off like a rocket.”

I couldn’t help it. I started to cry, and my husband stood on his side of the counter unmoved.

“I’m giving you a solution to your problem,” he said, “and remember, this is your idea. You’re the one who wouldn’t marry me if I didn’t stop swearing and look at me now.”

After I calmed down, I tried to consider his point of view. I even asked, “How much would you put into a negativity jar? How would you even determine what’s negative?”

He smiled and then came around to my side of the counter. He rubbed his hands up and down my bare arms, as if trying to keep me warm. For a moment, his touch felt nice.

“I’ll tell you when you’re being negative,” he said. “I’m going to set the price at twenty dollars for each negative thing you say and if I think it’s really negative, I’ll make it a hundred.”

And to think I had only charged five dollars for “bitch.”  

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