I Married the United States

by Rebecca Dougherty

WHEN I WAS YOUNG AND NAIVE, I married Mister USA. The country, not the bodybuilder. My parents were happy for me. Dad said I would have the best of everything. Mom was glad I was finally settling down with someone stable. (She never lets me forget about my fling with Kyrgyzstan.) In any case, I was crazy in love. My new husband was big, bold, generous, and open-minded. I was happy.

And then things began to change.

We had kids. Lots of kids. But when I suggested they go to good schools instead of the overcrowded ones where they had to take classes in trailers, he said, "Heh heh. They won't need some fancy school. They just need to go until they're old enough to work."

I said that didn't seem fair. They wouldn't be able to get very good jobs that way.

"Somebody's gotta work at McDonald's," he said.

At the same time, he kept yelling at USA Jr. about his grades. He said he blamed it on his teachers, but I think he secretly blamed the boy. And I tried to give little America healthy meals, but he kept letting her eat potato chips and hamburgers and jumbo soda. He told me not to worry. It kept her quiet, didn't it?

Then there were other children who were moving in, from around the world. "Them," he said, getting red in the face. "Don't you worry about them. They're not going to be sticking around long, if I can help it."

I protested. I told him we were not working together as parents or even husband and wife, that our communication was breaking down. He just smiled and said, "That's nice, dear. Is dinner ready yet?"

It was heartbreaking. But I hung in there because I believed everything would be okay eventually. It had to be.

After a while, with all our children, I began to worry that we couldn't take care of them. So I went to talk to my husband. He was sitting on the porch, a shotgun across his thighs, wearing a denim shirt with the sleeves cut off and a baseball cap that read "World's Largest Producer of Natural Gas."

"I'm a little busy right now," he said. "The terrorists could attack at any second."

"U, I'd like to get some birth control pills. We have a big family now and—."

"What? I'm not gonna pay for that."

"Come on, U. We just can't afford another child."

"And the Lord our God said, 'Let us be fruitful and multiply.' It's our responsibility. That's what the Bible says. Now go make me dinner."

"You can't talk to me that way!"

"And what exactly can you do about it?"

He had changed. (Or had he always been this way and I hadn't realized?) I blamed his friends. We used to have dinner parties with people from all over the world, all walks of life. But now he spent most of his time with these men in suits. They all looked the same. Most of them didn't even have real names.

"You're a card," he would say to one. "Here, let me light that cigar for you. Hey, Halliburton, what do you call Americans pushing a car up the hill?"

I wasn't allowed to speak while the men were there. He would say things to me like, "Hey, Sweetie, Monsanto needs a beer. Be a sweetie and get him one. And you know Exxon doesn't like crust on his grilled cheese. He'll need another one."

They spent their time in the parlor, talking sports, backslapping, reading people's private email out loud and laughing. Then invariably my husband would shush me out of the room. "Men time. Skedaddle."

I knew our marriage was over. I made plans. But before I could divorce him, my husband surprised me with divorce papers. On the grounds of sexual incompatibility and sedition. I fought in court, but he was given full custody of the children. I cried for them.

I had no choice. I left. I dated Canada for a while. But it took so long to get anything done. I've been seeing a lot of Iceland lately. He's tall, thin, fair. And when I'm with him, I marvel at the wide-open blue skies. And I can breathe.

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