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Seven years ago, a few months before Siggy and I tied the knot, I read an article bemoaning a recent trend: brides and grooms writing their own vows. Your parents used those old words, the argument went, and their parents and their parents, and so forth. They’ve collected some dust, sure, but are they not enough? Have they passed their expiration date? Think you got something to add? I set the article aside. It had a “kids these days” scent to it. Curmudgeonly, bitter. The guy probably voted for W (and later, President Potter, our poorly-colorized update on a Frank Capra villain). And I’m a writer so, yes, I was planning to add my own words to the ceremony. Tradition be damned, at least for that portion of the evening.
I couldn’t shake the article, bitter or not. Leading up to the date, we picked our food for the buffet and made some playlists. We bought new shoes. But we didn’t write our own vows. At our tiny backyard service, we stood and repeated the words our parents (and parents’ parents, etc.) had also repeated, decades earlier. The similarities likely ended thereafter: we drank home brew; we danced on the back patio; we stayed in a cheap hotel for a night, sitting on the edge of a tub and soaking our feet rather than falling into bed; and we returned to work a day later. Everything considered, a small and good thing. Nothing too fancy before stepping out the door and into an uncharted land. We did splurge on the shoes.
Seven years later, almost do the day, I am laid off on a Thursday, alongside half my teammates. A restructure, they call it. As if the building is starting to list from the weight of seven people. Back at my desk, I survey the half-eaten lunch I’d attempted to hoover before stepping into this ad hoc meeting, agenda unknown. Yes, arugula is even more bitter after getting fired. It even smells redundant.
The office manager tiptoes over, cardboard boxes in hand.
“I really, really don’t want to ask,” she says. “But do you need one of these?”
I take one and thank her, packing my photos and my notebooks, my mug and my tea. I’ve given notice a dozen times before, moved on from a couple decent jobs and a lot of bad ones. I’ve cried in parking lots, talked myself into another day behind a particular desk. I’ve napped over lunch. But I’ve never been laid off.
In the elevator, I set the box down and snap a picture. I would bet (if I could cover the spread), it hasn’t changed much from the way our parents were handed their walking papers. Or their parents before them, and so forth. Mine were teachers, and farmers, thrown in with the odd eye doctor and therapist. The contents of the box may differ – a deflated yoga ball, an electric kettle, thumb drives, the junk drawer of an older millennial. But the box will always be a box.
In the parking lot, a coworker flags me down, someone I helped bring aboard a few months prior. She fumes and cries in equal parts, pulling me into a hug. I’ll take it. I saddle up and give a last wave. In half of an hour, I am a teacher without a classroom. Farmer sans field. Content marketer with no product for bullshit blog posts or white papers or articles. Could I have done something different? But, no, it’s useless to think like that. It’s an awkward dance but them’s the steps: I sign the papers for a modest severance; I toss the rest of my lunch; I pack a box; I say some goodbyes; and I leave. Everything considered, it’s a small thing (and a good one, I choose to believe), before opening the door and padding into the unknown.
I still don’t skimp on the shoes.
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