…And nobody seems willing or able to object.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Less than two years ago, America started dating an asshole. Nobody really said anything. Some of her friends thought it was kind of funny, that he was kind of funny. Either way, it wouldn’t last.

He was loud and obnoxious and said all the wrong things and did all the wrong things. He was insecure and a shade of discontinued spray tan called Corvette Orange. He had tiny hands and fake hair and no lips. Nobody had ever actually seen his eyes. He was always squinting in judgement for no reason. He was overweight and below average. Below average in thought and speech. Below average in both first and lasting impression. He seemed beneath her.

He was the last wise guy, born in a third-tier borough to a family of means. He claimed to be a businessman but seemed to be a throwback to a day when being on the wrong end of his business ended you up face down in a dumpster. He was good at fleecing people with fake businesses or cash-laundering enterprises like casinos. He was deft at dodging bankruptcies and his own marriages with the help of a Machiavellian attorney. Had he been born a black man, he would be dead or in jail by age 30.

All her closest friends knew he wasn’t right for her, but they let America go ahead and hang out with him anyway. Some said things about it behind closed doors, a couple even confronted her in the early-goings, but none gave her a clear warning. He, overall, seemed pretty harmless — petty and unable to pick up a check, but harmless. Let her have her fun with him. Let her have a few laughs at his expense. Let him have have the spotlight for a minute. She would meet someone else soon enough — someone younger, more vital, with his own ideas — and the stories she would tell of this loser would be enough to keep them rolling every brunch and every happy hour for years to come.

Then something strange happened. America started to get serious about this guy.

They got engaged. Nobody knows how it happened, or why it did, but there she was, with a ring on her finger. One of her friends told her should take the ring to the jeweler and get it appraised to see how much a Cubic zirconia that big cost. Another suggested she take it off before it turn her finger green or caused it to fall off. He assured her that the “beautiful, gorgeous” ring was a genuine promise, a symbol of their love. Her closest friends were now cringing, wondering if now would be the time to intervene. She showed up one afternoon to a reception with makeup covering a puffy eye. She said she had fallen moving some boxes. Everyone, even those who liked the novelty of him at first, grew concerned.

America began to withdraw. She started not showing up on time or at all. If she did arrive it was with this guy and always only for a few minutes. He was frenetic and on the go. Nobody could pin him down. He watched her while she watched what she said. He would insult everyone, eat all the food, talk about how great he was and then force America to leave grabbing her by the crook of the elbow and leading her out. If she said something he didn’t like, he would chastise her in public — especially if there was truth behind it.

Eventually she started talking less and less. All of her closest friends were pissed off, not only at him but at her. How could she? Everything the guy said about himself, that he was rich, that he would take care of America, that he truly loved her, seemed false.

Then America started to dress differently and act differently. She started, like him, wearing cheap clothes topped by this little funny red hat …made in China, or as he said, “Gyyy-nna.” America started to lash out at her friends and neighbors, kind people, people she used to sit and have coffee with on Sunday mornings or go on over at a moment’s notice on a Friday night and watch their kids. Her acquaintances were treated like enemies. They were good people, they gave her the benefit of the doubt. Instead of blaming her, they wondered, to a fault, what had they done wrong?

It didn’t matter much though. They hardly ever saw her anymore and when they did see her, she was nearly unrecognizable. It was such a distorted, unhealthy, angry version of her that they started to wonder whether they had really ever known her at all.

America’s bachelorette party was a disaster. Half her friends didn’t even show up. They figured, why should I? I’m not going to support this man and I can’t support her either. So they stayed home. A move they regret now. Maybe it was their last time to say something. Maybe they could have had a couple drinks and talked some sense into her. If they would have just been there, things could have been different, much different.

As it turns out, the friends who went did say something. But it wasn’t enough. The vast majority sat her in a room and said over and over, “You can NOT marry this man, under no circumstances!” “I will not let you.” “You are not leaving here until you agree to leave him!”

She needed to move on. Everyone thought so with the exception of a couple of her distant cousins from the Midwest who, in spite of knowing better, of knowing that he was racist and sexist and possibly broke and pretty much an asshole, well, they thought he might still be able to change — to take care of her, somehow. “And if it doesn’t work,” they said, “She can just find someone new in three or four years.”

While America was in the hotel room getting ready to walk down the aisle, several of the guests who said they would go failed to show up. The rest of the invitees — starting with her most well-regarded friends and family — didn’t even RSVP. Most of her extended base, even those who called him a friend or liked him at one point or another, knew it was wrong, that he was wrong. He was a damaged old coot, a lout, a loudmouth scum. She deserved better. But they didn’t want to cause a stir so they put on a suit and a fake smile — some with plans to slip out the back, trying hard not to be noticed.

As she put her veil on, America learned there would be ten times as many people protesting the wedding as attending it. He would say that was a lie. He said everything was a lie. He said it so much she no longer knew the truth. Her shoulders shook as she began to weep.

America’s maid of honor came up behind her and gave her a hug as the organ music began to play. “You don’t have to do this,” she said.

“There are people out there. There’s already a tent and a Springsteen cover band.”

“The check on the tent bounced,” she said. “And the cover band dropped out.”

“The cover band dropped out?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

America but her thumbnail and looked in the mirror. She remembered what she looked like before she started dating this guy, it was only 20 months ago, but it seemed like two lifetimes had passed. She remembered how shiny her hair was and how white her teeth used to be. She remembered the feeling of walking by a window when she was out shopping and she would catch her reflection. She strode lightly then and, if she wasn’t mistaken, there was an actual gleam in her eye. She remembers the reflection of that girl as if that person were the alien, as if that was a dream of her that never existed. She looked down at her veiny hands, stretched cable thin. She didn’t feel good anymore. Nothing seemed OK.

“I have to go through with this,” she said, shivering. “I said I would. There’s nothing I can do now. I don’t have a choice.”

Her maid of honor dropped her head. “I said I would support you, through everything. I said I would stand by you, through good and bad. But this time, I cannot.”

She took two steps back and turned and walked out the door.

America was alone in the room. She took one last look in the mirror, gathered her dress in one hand, picked up her bouquet with the other and summoned the courage …to make the biggest mistake of her life.

Andrew J. Pridgen is the author of the novellaBurgundy Upholstery Sky”. His first full-length novel will be released in late-2017.

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