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The Contract
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In my twenties, reciting words like “for better or worse” and “til death do us part” didn’t make me think of the term “contract,” even when my new husband and I signed the marriage certificate, sealing our relationship in the eyes of the bureaucrats. I rushed into it with joy. And joy it was. I had a wonderful marriage to a great guy and it never occurred to me that I’d contracted for this in the same way as we contracted to buy our house or a car or anything else.

What is it about this contract that makes it not like a contract? The language. I think it’s the language. The lyrical words, the lack of “the parties therein,” the poetic rhythms, the lack of beleaguered prose.

I’ve always been mesmerized by language. Hence my habit of writing. I can be swayed by almost any language that appeals to me. Contractual language normally doesn’t. My marriage language did. It rolled off my tongue as if I was reciting a poem and I reveled in it. So much is iambic, like a Shakespearean sonnet. How could I not love it?

And then my husband died and the contract sank into prose. We’d had good times and a few bad (more good than bad, I think), and death parted us. At some point, I woke up to the fact that I’d signed on the dotted line of this contract and I had no grounds for complaint. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t complain or buck at the traces, as I often do. I’d said yes and the contract was up.

The person who didn’t sign up for it, who simply “got” the deal he got, was our son. Nineteen when his father died, he was inconsolable. For a long time, he went through the motions of life. Almost done with his undergrad, he was fortunately good at grades and studying gave him a way not to think about his loss, but I felt for him. He hadn’t agreed to losing his father so soon and he was angry. Oh so angry. As his college was a five-hour drive from me, there wasn’t much I could do. The phone line grew thin, the emails dried up with no response. I had to leave him to get on with it. I suppose it gave me something to focus on, too. Or someone. Instead of my grief.

All of this was almost a quarter of a century ago, but my wedding anniversary is coming up soon and I will take the day and drive to the coast, stare at the ocean, buy lunch at some diner and eat alone. And I will be fine because I will take a book, one that he loved, and read it and, somehow, be closer to him as if we were reading it together. And I will think about my son, busy now with his own wife and small son and busy job and getting on with his own life.


So touching. I hope you put this missal in a sealed vault for your son to open after your own demise.

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