by Tyra Walker
Artwork by Alli Rowe
I wish friendships required contracts.
Something to let me know about the future I so quickly and unwittingly agreed to.
Cause I didn’t know what I was getting into, that day in college when I was relaxing, lying on the grass, on the sunny and quiet square on the west of campus, and you rudely stepped in front of me, blocking my sun. I groaned loudly and reflexively to the disruption of my stream of radiant UVs, and you said, “Sorry,” in the least apologetic tone possible, as you placed a sign advertising your friend’s acapella group’s concert that weekend, the shadow perfectly hitting my face.
I still didn’t know when another friend and I went to that concert and I saw you again, coming in to sit one row in front of me.
And I guess threes really are magical, though I still don’t know if was dark or light magic, because I saw you the third time at the party after the concert. I thought maybe you were just going to be one of those people that I see a lot because we hang in similar circles. But then the party continued, and as I found myself awkwardly flitting in between conversations of people I liked or tolerated to a varying degree, as I did very often in my first and floundering couple of years of college, I found myself talking to you. Well, I glared at you first. And then you flipped me off with a red face and an almost trickster-like smile. A smile, something before a full grin, that seemed like it knew everything that was and was to be.
We were both a little drunk, and it was then that I found out what nerds we both were as we began to argue about comic books, video games, and extended universes. I still wanted to punch you in the throat a few times, but other times…I felt weirdly…transfigured. Like I could truly and finally relax, for the first time in a while. After a few more drinks, I think we did end up wrestling on the floor, trying to reenact epic fights, sound effects included. I think people bet on us. I was Dante, except instead of two pistols and a sword I had two finger guns and a skinny lamp without the lampshade. And you were Iron Man, but in my state I didn’t realize your stomach was not made of iron, and you ended up puking on the floor when I jabbed you with my lampshade-sword. Yet, somehow amidst all of that, I ended up getting your number.
But I didn’t know all the terms of the agreement we had both subconsciously made. And I don’t think you did either. To be fair, I think the terms were rather malleable in those first few weeks, as they always are with relationships, as we negotiated a basis of how close we would be. For example, some friends hug and say, “I love you,” but we just kind of fell into trading faux blows and backhanded compliments. But an explicit clause would have been helpful, I think. I can see the lawyers helping us with negotiations now. They make these sorts of contracts all the time.
Client 1 reserves the full right to document and photograph any and all aspects of the lives of Clients 1 and 2, and the families thereof, at any point in relationship, without needing specific-case approval from Client 2.
Client 1 requests to up to, but not exceeding, 5 hugs a year, NOT including events deemed Special Circumstances, Special Circumstances including ONLY: A) a close and obviously affecting (i.e. Client 2 shows evidence of mental breakdown and decreased functioning, such as red eyes, lack of class attendance [more so than usual], increasingly disheveled appearance, cracking voice, change in habits, etc.) human death in the family, B) a large boon with value of more than $5,000, such as but not limited to: scholarship or lottery winning, and/or, C) a large opportunity accepted, such as but not limited to: signing to a major record label, athletic team, publishing agency, modeling agency, professional fellowship/internship, etc., becoming president, or otherwise reaching the very top of some professional or personal track or aspiration.
Client 2 accepts this term only on grounds that an amendment is added stipulating an additional service to be added to the Special Circumstances: one (1) FREE serving of one of Client 2’s favorite foods, is also offered during the occurrence of all of said Special Circumstances, including, but not limited to: chocolate (dark preference), filet mignon (medium-rare), cheesecake, and/or some form of tortilla combined with meat and cheese.
That way, I could parse out and do the math on when I could or should hug you. Not every month, but every major break.
I didn’t know becoming friends with you would require me to come and pick you up, i.e. SAVE YOU from shady situations where you were high or drunk or just outright naïve about once every two months. I didn’t know I would be required to actually save you from being rufied. I mean, I suppose that specific night made me kind of feel like a hero afterwards for being so observant, but still…
Client 2 requests unlimited ability to call Client 1 and request in-person assistance between hours of 11pm-6am for emergencies, regardless of circumstance of said emergencies or timing of exams. Additionally, Client 2 requests that Client 1 limit length of lectures about behavior to ten (10) minutes maximum, that they occur after the danger HAS COMPLETELY ENDED, and Client 2 has had time to coalesce, this distinction and amount of time to be situationally determined by Client 2.
Client 1 would like to amend unlimited in-person assistance occurrences to any above ten (10) in one (1) year also potentially requiring a later call and/or visit to an appropriate emergency service, counseling/rehabilitation service, religious service, or parental figure.
I would have liked to have been pre-informed about all the worry you would put me through. You know, so I could consider the deal more fully.
Client 2 requests Client 1’s presence during 2 bouts of alcohol poisoning.
Also, I would know about your weird obsessions.
Client 2 requests absolute attention and THOUGHTFUL INPUT of Client 1 AT ALL TIMES when AT ANY TIME discussing quantum physics, space-time, world/local news/politics [discussed ONLY in very left/liberal terms], cats, especially Client 2’s cat, medieval architecture, and spiritual questions about the meaning of life, the afterlife, and one’s position in a meaningless universe.
Client 1 requests absolute ENRAPTUREMENT and INFORMED interest when discussing newly surfacing technology, video games, music, movies, the inner workings, major events, trends, and VIPs of their respective industries, the tentative nature of reality, the different aspects of food, the history and culture of Client 1’s ethnic group, and dogs.
I didn’t know when we became friends that you had many other commitments and responsibilities, and that would really only increase.
Client 2 is informing Client 1 that Client 2 will only be available an average of 50% of the times during which Client 1 wishes to engage in an activity; to increase general chances of availability, events should be made knowledge of no later than a week but no earlier than 3 months in advance. Events/circumstances that last longer than one (1) day or cost more than $70.00 may require more than the maximum three (3) month time to allow for preparation.
Client 1 requests that Client 2 commit to reparatory actions for every 3 events that Client 2 cancels or is unable to attend, regardless of reason or circumstance for missed attendance.
That way, maybe I wouldn’t have been so sad when you couldn’t come, or so lonely and disappointed when you failed to show. If I’d have still agreed to sign.
And maybe you should have been made aware of how little self-confidence and social ability I would have.
I didn’t know you’d be so good at everything. Good at all the things I wanted to be. I didn’t know I would have to harbor a little bit of envy when it wasn’t awe, and I didn’t know that sometimes I’d feel lesser. I didn’t know that I would become just a little too overjoyed at finding the things you sucked at, and wanting to excel in them. But at least your shameless tone deafness and lack of rhythm inspired me to be better at my singing and learn to play guitar. It made me perversely cling tighter to the talents I did have for fear of me losing them to you while still feeling so deeply compelled to share them with you. But there were so many times when you weren’t there and I wanted you to be.
Client 1 requests occasional (i.e. ~once a week) positive affirmation of Client 1’s value and importance.
Client 1 requests full and complete support in all artistic endeavors pursued by Client 1. Client 2 requests that Client 1 not play guitar in dormitory rooms cohabitated by both clients between the hours of 12 am and 4 am on school nights.
And I guess you should have known I would be pretty spineless when it came down to it.
Client 1 requests unlimited use of the voice, words and/or general intimidation and/or communication abilities of Client 2 to communicate with, explain misunderstandings to, chastise and/or rebuke individuals or organizations who have wronged, insulted, rebuked, and/or otherwise caused fear, anxiety, gross inconvenience, or emotional damages to Client 1, regardless of cause of incident.
Client 2 would like to amend ‘unlimited use’ to use up to 10 blanket uses and thereafter a case by case basis to be to determined by Client 2, along with required coaching of Client 1 by client 2 on how to GAIN A BACKBONE.
I wish I’d have known how much you would make me question everything in life. And how depressed and hurt and confused you would make me.
Like I wish I’d have known that I would have to see you through three shitty boyfriends in a row. I wish I would have known I would be required to have to see you through a black eye and not even know what to say. I guess you probably wish you’d have known how shitty I am with consoling words. “That sucks” and “I’m sorry” can only get either of us so far. Well, you were supposed to be the one that was strong and outspoken, or I had assumed so. But you had strange weaknesses, like social kryptonites.
Neither of us would know we’d be required to attend to each other’s weddings and morning sicknesses. Hell, we didn’t know we’d be having our own weddings. I never saw it in either of us, really.
I never imagined that I’d be in the room, that you’d let me be in the room, probably only because your husband was still stuck in traffic, because you had to go and go into labor early, nearly a month early, really unexpected, while we were trying to hang out for once in forever. I never imagined I’d have to be the first one there for you when you had a stillbirth.
What the hell, man? We’d picked out a name and everything…did I mention I suck at consoling?
And maybe that’s part of why you loved my little monster so much when he came along a few months later. You were great; better than his actual aunt. You gave him all the cool, dangerous toys and physics lessons and questionable advice. I think you’re why he wanted to be an engineer.
Client 2 requests ability to be determining factor in aspirations/career of offspring of Client 1.
And you were so strong, when you tried again, just a couple years later. And there were twins. And they both looked like you, the devilish little creatures. And how come I was the only one bawling my eyes out? They had your trickster smile, the one that seems to know everything that was and was to be.
And I’d been kind of expecting this next part, you know? But dreading it.
You watch your parents, and you kind of see this settling into a pattern.
We saw each other less, because, you know, lives, families, work. At least you did nice work. Soon torturing students as a physics professor, doing research projects, getting grants, attending conferences. I understood none of it, but you seemed so excited.
I did various freelance projects with my ragtag collection of skills. Some music gigs, published stories, editorials, and critiques; I was glad my husband had a steady job.
And so it went. I think the drifting was mutual.
But you know, if we’d have set this contract right, and if I would have still signed, I could have made better use of those intervening years. Like a good lawyer would have informed me to ask about pre-existing conditions and other pitfalls before I signed. But knowing you, you would totally be the dominator in the terms negotiations we should have had anyway.
Client 1 requests thorough testing and knowledge of Client 2’s genetic background concerning chronic, acute, and terminal conditions.
Client 2 refuses this term, citing general desire to be free from the crushing knowledge of an impending future.
Client 1 insists, stating that Client 2 does not have to read results of genetic tests; Client 2 can hand results to Client 1.
Client 2 counters that this is unreasonable and that Client 1 worries too much.
(A breakdown in negotiation occurs.)
Why does a scientist hate going to doctors? You should have gone to them more. But who knew it would be such an aggressive cancer, you know? The kind with multiple remissions, and chemo, and mastectomies?
The kind that hits relatively young. The kind that leaves you looking so tired. And your smile so weak.
Client 2 requests that Client 1 always be present when the offspring of Client 2 need a shoulder to cry on in the absence of Client 2, even or especially in the death of Client 2.
Client 1 requests that Client 2 ALWAYS be present when Client 1 needs a shoulder to cry on.
Client 2 agrees to being a shoulder to cry on only for a period of a later to be determined number of years, and after said period, Client 1 must agree to above request.
Client 1 requests that during periods of sickness, Hug Clause be amended to allow unlimited hugs per year.
Client 2 requests Client 1’s presence at Client 2’s funeral. Client 2 also requests a song to be sung and a guitar to be played.
Client 1 asks that this not hurt very much.
I didn’t know I was agreeing to be crying over a picture of you and your cat 28 and then 50 years after the photo was taken. The picture is kind of yellowed and frayed at this point.
At this point, my eyes are getting kind of bad too.
I wish I’d have known how much of my soul you’d lay claim to, to enrich and fill with such joy yet ultimately shatter, to leave the contents flowing from my face for days on end, when you stood in front of me for the first time, blocking my simple sun with your own dark radiance.
Would I have accepted your terms knowing all that you were and would be? And all that you would produce? Those dark haired creatures with twin trickster smiles still look up to me. And my engineer loves to talk about physics. And superhero films make me start crying half the time. And it’s really hard sometimes. A lot of times. Was it light or dark magic that caused me to see you three times?
Cause knowing it all, knowing all the terms, knowing of all there was and would be, I’m not sure if I could have signed.