The Contract

IMG_2657My signature hangs on paper like a thread that’s been pulled from a sweater. It’s sloppy and distended, born of a cramped right hand that’s taken on the bulk of my livelihood and an honest disdain for the loopy, floral pen marks of my girlie childhood peers.

My signature might be a subconscious rebellion against my father, whose own signature was artistic, fluid, deliberate. For him, it was a source of pride.

I have been designing an elaborate exit from the current forms and functions of my life, turning the architecture of my current existence into a hazy future of wildly different proportions. There are some things I expect: more snow, less noise. Fewer pigeons, more blue herons. Less concrete, more dirt. A dearth of artificial nights, a glut of sunsets. A bike, a kayak, a box of pens, cases of paper, sweaters, socks, down jackets, and maybe a few peers who are crazy like me and believe, even when proven wrong time after time, that living with one’s own truth, by one’s own standards, running after one’s own dreams, is a  worthy life long pursuit.

I’m sitting across from my lawyer in his twelfth floor office on Fifth Avenue. We’re meeting for the first time. He’s a gentle-looking man with an easy manner and subdued wit. He hands me his pen, a roller ball disposable, the good kind, heavy in my hand. I see the check from the buyer of my apartment, neatly penned with razor point precision, and I imagine what it must feel like for him to place his life’s savings in the hands of another.

There’s a line before me, at the bottom of the page. An empty space upon which I’m to lay the pulled stitch of my signature. Fifteen years of my life, lived within the confines of my six hundred square foot box, squeeze through the spaces between words and letters. Like an athlete readying for a race, I close my eyes, take a breath, and do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I agree to leave. To make space for another. I open a door that will close behind me. I stand at the threshold. In two months, I will step to the other side of the door. I will take another step and another, until I reach the elevator. I will press the button. When the doors gape open, I will step inside and the door, my door, will close behind me.

I pull the pen across the page. I sign the contract with the signature of someone who has nothing left to prove.

There’s an honesty to my signature. A joyous lack of structure. A freedom of movement. I find it amazing how a word, a deed, a simple piece of paper can be used to define and determine behavior. How words, invisible or written can wield such power. But they do.

The contract is simple. “Vanilla,” my lawyer says. I agree to sell it, the buyer agrees to buy. I promise that nothing is terribly wrong with my place, he promises not to dig too deep. Straight forward. Easy. A tapestry woven by six people total, two real estate brokers, two lawyers, the nebulous buyer, and me. Each with contracts of their own. Signatures, handshakes, digital nods wrapped up with ribbons of red tape, the trappings of a politely litigious society.

And now, I’m half in and half out. Waiting.

A few years back, I spent some time with a Buddhist monk. We shared meals here and there, walked in the park, told stories. He came from a lineage of writers, poets, and artist, a  heritage that was capped by his father, who, tired of the artist’s life, became a business man. Perhaps it’s my friend’s genetic impulse that causes him to reinvent himself in extreme ways every ten years, so much so that his varied versions are only recognizable by his soft tenor and brown eyes only. “Reinvention,” he said, “is the great American past time.”

There’s a lot of limbo mixed in with transformation and reinvention. It’s like baking a complicated cake. With a recipe you’ve never attempted before. A souffle sort of thing, where timing and gentle patience are key. The pull towards of oven door is overwhelming, you want to see if the recipe is working, but every time you open it, you risk ruining the mystery cake. The recipe includes excitement, curiosity, doubt, fear, hope… and, while you’re waiting for the timer to ding, you neglect making dinner, aerating the wine you forgot to buy, setting the table, all on account of the strange cake recipe you couldn’t not try.

Waiting is very complicated.

It’s a verb, you know.

I am not by nature a sentimental person. I throw out birthday cards and Christmas cards. I give away knick-knacks, and memorabilia. I don’t press flowers or save ticket stubs or playbills. I prefer to travel light. It’s curious to me the few things I have, pictures and letters, that I’ve carried from Connecticut to Bryn Mawr to Berkeley and back east to New York. I there are pictures of old roommates and a series of puppets I built, a book of bad poetry, self published by a drugged out urban camper I used to know. I recently found a letter from a college friend who died a few years after graduation. She had a cancer behind her eyes that rendered her legally blind. Hidden between pages of the few books I’ve kept, are the artistic envelopes, without the letters they once contained, of an ex-boyfriend.

Every once in a while, I come across a membership card, type written white paper glued to a crookedly cut out cardboard back, that permitted me entry to a secret club. Inspired by fan clubs and the literature of my youth, I created a secret society with a friend. We met once or twice before a lack of clarity and purpose put an end to our mission. The card is warped, the signature, faded. It’s an eight year old’s signature. Deliberate, and neat with attempts at the curly cues I later eschewed. It predicts nothing of my signatures to come. The bespoke card shows itself at the strangest times. Each time it finds me, I can’t seem to throw it away.

My father criticized my penmanship when I was a kid. My signature failed to make him proud back then, when I was trying. He once told me that I would never be someone who designed bridges. He was right.

To my credit, designing bridges was never high on my list of things I wanted to do.


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