The night before I went back to work after getting married, my new husband and I sat in front of the computer together waiting for an email. The message would confirm that two months from now, we would be landing at Heathrow Airport for our honeymoon.
For the 18 months we were engaged, we had toyed with the idea of going to Paris and London. I hadn’t ever traveled abroad, because whenever the opportunity arose, something more financially pressing seemed to pop up. But our honeymoon seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally leave the country—even if it seemed frivolous and unaffordable.
Since my husband and I had already been living together for five years accumulating the things we wanted for our home—a toaster, a George Foreman grill, serviceable (if not matching) china, a French press and food processor—we decided not to do a store registry. We didn’t want our friends and family to feel like they should get us shiny new versions of the things we already owned. Instead, as an experiment, we put up a registry on Honeyfund.com, a honeymoon registry site, and buried the link deep within our wedding website. Maybe, we laughed, we’d somehow end up with enough for a nice dinner somewhere.
To our astonishment, after the wedding, we found that we had been lucky enough to receive plane ticket money, plus enough to travel on (on top of donations to the local temple in our names and a beautiful crystal dish or two). So: We were going to go to Europe! It was surreal, too good to be true.
My phone beeped.
“Weird,” I said to my husband. “I thought it was supposed to go to your email.”
I looked at the screen. The email was not, in fact, from United Airlines. It was from a wedding vendor, requesting that we pay the remaining $900 balance on an invoice that, as preoccupied with the festivities and other bills as we had been, slipped our minds entirely. (Silly, I know. Safe to say I’ve learned my lesson.) My heart, which had been fluttering somewhere in my throat since we’d left the bank that afternoon, sank.
After a lot of deliberation, we decided to break the cycle of “we’ll do it one day.” We could go on our honeymoon. We just had to be creative about it.
Emeralds, Topaz, and Closure, $100
“Do you know a jeweler?” my mom asked one evening when I was at her house not long after.
She handed me a velvet case, which she told me contained some jewelry my father, her ex-husband of almost 20 years, had given her when they were still married. “I want you to use it for something good,” she said. “I don’t want it. It’s not much, but you should sell it for a little bit of honeymoon money.”
I did know a jeweler. My husband’s family is part of a tight-knit immigrant community, and my new mother-in-law’s aerobics instructor’s husband owns the store where my husband bought my wedding set. We met in my in-laws’ kitchen, where he examined the semi-precious pieces and gathered them up to put in glass cases at his jewelry store.
With $100, he lifted some of my and my mom’s burden.
House Cleaning, $120
I took to perusing Craigslist “gigs” every day, hoping something would pop up that didn’t look like the prologue to a true crime book. Eventually, it did, in all caps: CLEAN MY HOUSE.
I emailed and set up a meeting with the house’s primary resident at a bar in the hip neighborhood where it was located. After discussing pay rates and the complex camera system (for safety reasons) at their house, I promised to show up that Saturday to make over what was supposedly a “really embarrassing” mess they “didn’t even want to show me” for $100. To get out of our way, the person went out of town for the day and dropped their dog off at a daycare I recommended, and for an extra $20, I agreed to pick the dog up when we were done.
My husband and I got there, armed with gloves and Lysol, and unlocked the door with the keys that had been left in the mailbox.
The house, though small, was a wreck. The first thing we noticed was the smell. “It goes away after a while,” the person had said (It didn’t. I’m pretty sure the term for that is Pee-Smell Stockholm Syndrome). Apart from the usual dirt and unfolded-since-time-immemorial laundry, the house’s shag carpet was tangled with wood chips from pieces of furniture the dog had scattered after tearing it apart, parts of toys, fur balls, and sediment that had accumulated since shag carpet was last in style.
Six hours later, we were bursting with pride at the now normal-looking house. We resorted to hand-picking every stitch of wood and fur out of the carpet after the vacuum refused. The dog, a Husky that spent the whole ride home trying to climb over into the driver’s seat, was deposited in its home and warned gently but sternly not to undo our hard work, and the money was deposited in our PayPal account. We couldn’t get rid of the smells, I’m sad to say.
Plasma Donation, $510
Plasma donation was the most pleasant part of the Great Honeymoon Hustle, as we came to call it. The first few sessions, at least, involved little more than squeezing a paper towel ball and catching up on all the Tudor biographies I’d checked out from the library to get psyched about London as sterile tubes funneled away and separated and pumped in various fluids. I learned who was good with a needle and who pricked your finger too hard when measuring out your protein levels. One tech was trying to learn my husband’s second language, and we’d practice with him. We each got $55 for our first four donations and $55 per twice-weekly donation after that.
We’d go on Sundays together and Thursdays alone, he in the morning and me after work. It was an enjoyable little ritual. I’d talk to the other donors about their experiences as we reclined on the pleather couches, hooked up to our machines. There were people I met who were in it for much less selfish reasons than I was. They had found out firsthand the medical necessity of plasma and donated the money they generated to various hospitals in the area as a way of saying thanks. It was humbling.
Eventually, though, I grew pale, constantly thirsty no matter how much I drank, spaced out because I was just so tired. One evening as we were walking our dog, my knuckles swelled to twice their size in front of my eyes. Alarmed and drained, I decided to quit my pleasant twice-a-week routine.
Manna from Heaven, a.k.a. our venue deposit, $300
After a few weeks filled with unsuccessful attempts at placing Care.com ads for dog-sitting and baby-sitting which netted nothing more than spam email and the occasional creepy or shadily non-specific voicemail, the check arrived in our mailbox.
Into our savings account it went!
Total earned: $1,030
Though I can’t say I wouldn’t go back in time if I could and tuck away another $900 before my wedding, keep a better spreadsheet, and make bill alarms on all my online calendars, there’s something to be said about the satisfaction of watching the little things you’ve patched together add up (not to mention that these little things were on top of so much generosity). We could have postponed our honeymoon, it’s true. We weren’t entitled to it just because we got married. We could have not gone on one at all. But the project of raising funds for it helped cement our bond these first months of commitment together. I recall an image from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my favorite book growing up, of the protagonist Francie’s parents in the first days in their marriage, cleaning a school together at night. Their situation was different, but the sentiment, I feel, was the same.
I imagine, also, the picture we’re going to take of ourselves, boarding the plane with our backpacks. I’ll get it out when I’m old, pull it out of a dusty album or up on the Wayback Machine or whatever we’re using then, and grin with my false teeth as I tell whoever will listen, “It’s amazing what a lot of luck, blood-minus-the-red-cell-part and a few hours’ worth of dog urine can get you.”
Heather Funk lives in Louisville, Kentucky and writes mostly about misplaced apostrophes on Twitter @meangrammargirl.