The family I babysat for from age 11 to 19, a stunningly successful power couple with three lovable and reasonably-behaved children, pots of money, and excellent hair (both of them) provided me with an example for marriage that easily outshone my parents’ (not hard, since my parents’ marriage imploded only two years into my tenure as a babysitter). It may have been the way they called each other ten times a day to whisper sweet nothings while she was busy being a perfect, attentive, thoughtful mother dressed in the latest French fashions or the way he manfully bought and sold empires in between squiring her to symphonies, Democratic Party fundraisers, and restaurants with $10 mineral water. She was sensitive, beautiful, artistically inclined, and fluent in French (which made the shopping easier), with a storied past of dating future geniuses and Middle Eastern princes; he was handsome, tall, and just a little bit brooding (or maybe cranky; they looked the same to a teenager), with a taste for German automobiles and a fascinating, immigrant childhood. I never went so far as to wish they were my parents, but that is only because I was an adolescent; I wished I didn’t have parents (especially given the ones I actually had). And I never forgot one thing he said to me, during one of the private chats we always had on the ride home:

“Divorce is not an option. Death is an option.”

It’s a line that echoes in my head to this day. At the time, I interpreted it to mean that he would consider homicide if things got to that point, which they of course would not; it now occurs to me that maybe suicide was in the offing. At any rate, I’ve been thinking about the idea a lot lately as I’ve negotiated the murky waters of year four of a marriage that is as much the result of fate or chance, depending upon what you believe in, as anything else; as I see it, I am in an arranged marriage with the universe as matchmaker. And due to my sino-inscrutability, and the fact that I don’t see anything worse about arranged marriage than any other kind (come on! Look at all these chumps around you arranging their own marriages and then having those marriages die ignominious deaths after six weeks – or months, or days. Don’t you think they should get a professional to do the job?), I’ve been mostly OK with that.

But I have my moments. Moments when I think about how death is an option. Like this morning, when my husband, who promised to take care of the taxes weeks ago, was ignoring Thing One, who has been very high-maintenance lately, like a thoroughbred, needing a lot of currying and brushing and occasional blinders in order to avoid completely losing his shit and trampling his trainers to death. Why was he ignoring our son when I was supposed to be getting time to work? Because he was looking for a bunch of tax forms he lost in his desk in the hopes of making an 8 p.m. appointment with H&R Block tonight so that we could avoid late fees. Because he completely flaked on the taxes for months on end. Because time management is not his strong suit, and so our son is running around the house with no pants on screaming bloody murder and throwing random objects at walls and our daughter is responding by bursting into tears and their father is digging through piles of cut-up Vanity Fairs and letters from old girlfriends hoping he will find the tax forms that he has actually lost due to massive incompetence and carelessness and I am realizing why, in the past, I have always done our taxes: because the man I married has never dealt with his own paperwork, and in fact, when I met him and he was a multiple-offending college dropout his mother routinely filled out the FAFSA for him, and apparently even driving all our forms to H&R Block is too complex a task and my head is echoing with the refrain that death is an option, which is the point where your survival instinct kicks in and you start to understand why so many people pick divorce instead, and you take a deep breath and step back from the abyss you’re staring into, but it’s a close call.

A very close call. And let me just be clear on this: I still think, all things considered, the universe did a decent job tricking me into marrying someone. I mean, look at Britney Spears.

I mean, I love my husband. And come to think of it, he strongly resembles that guy I used to babysit for. He’s kind of cranky, and he has excellent hair. Too bad he’s poor.

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