birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

A Decent Proposal

Between my husband and me, it’s known as the “shit or get” letter. We had been seeing each other exclusively for over a year. I’d met his parents and he’d met mine. My college graduation was looming. Two of my roommates were getting married. I kind of thought maybe we would get engaged. But no, the gift box held not a ring, but a lovely pearl bracelet I still cherish.
We said goodbye with promises to write. He returned home to Mansfield, Ohio and a summer factory job. I headed to graduate school at Northwestern.
I had a studio apartment on Chicago’s north side. If I walked a few blocks in one direction I stood on the Lake Michigan shore. A few blocks in the other direction took me to the el and a quick train ride to Evanston. I was doing student teaching mornings and taking graduate classes in the afternoon. I was making new friends from all around the country and still hanging out with two good friends from Oberlin. It was exciting to be in one of the country’s biggest and most vibrant cities. I should have been exhilarated. But I was lonely.
I had never lived alone before. As soon as I got back to my apartment, I would turn on my small black and white tv just for the background noise. I was busy all week, but week ends were empty. Sometimes I would wake up in the early morning and find I was crying. As the old song goes, “One is the loneliest number,”
I was confused about my relationship with my college boyfriend. Were we still together or were we going to drift apart? If we were still a couple, what did that mean? Was it OK for me to go out with a group of grad students? Was it OK for me to go out with one graduate student? Was I being faithful to someone who wasn’t giving me another thought? Or would one thoughtless evening out ruin forever a great relationship? I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions.
I was lonely. I didn’t like it and I was determined to find out if my solitary weekends were an appropriate sacrifice to a long-term relationship or not. So I pulled out my box of stationery and wrote my boyfriend a letter. I asked him if he was serious about us or if I should put him out of my mind and begin looking for someone else. I received a marriage proposal by return mail.
I was 22 and he was 21. I had just begun graduate school and he had another semester to complete before he graduated from college. He owned a car and I had a part-time teaching position with Chicago public schools that paid $3300 a year. The Vietnam war was raging and his draft status would change as soon as he completed his degree. We were too young to know what we were doing. We had no business getting married. What were we thinking?
We were married six months later. I have spent the last 51 years with my best friend and the best husband I can imagine. I am really glad I had the nerve to write the letter.