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(Photo / Joel Benjamin)

I Do. (Now What?)

It's supposed to be bliss. A honeymoon. No kids. No pressure. Lots of sex. So why is the first year of marriage so hard? One young couple let us inside theirs for an intimate and revealing look.

The challenge of the first year of marriage surprises no one but the bride and groom. Fresh from months of planning the perfect wedding, often orchestrated down to the vanity-top basket in the ladies' room and the shine on the groomsmen's shoes, they quickly learn that marriage is much more work than they had anticipated. Even couples that lived together for years before their wedding find that being married is just different, in the same way that watching a how-to show doesn't qualify you to build that deck. Bride and groom start out full of optimism about why their own union will be transcendentally fulfilling - and far better than those of their parents or closest friends. A year later, the newlywed shine sufficiently tarnished, the couple are wondering how, when, and why their passion morphed into four parts partnership for every one part romance, and that's the moment that marks the true beginning of the marriage.

If the conventional wisdom is true, and the first year of marriage really is the hardest, it's not reflected in the numbers. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, only about 3 percent of first marriages end in divorce or separation after the first year. But troubles that might have seeded in year one begin to grow and can lead to splits, especially in the first five years. In fact, about 20 percent of marriages go bust by the five-year mark. Safer ground seems to come after that, but even then it's not a sure thing, as half of all first marriages don't make it to the 20th anniversary.

It was against this backdrop that we brought together a young South End couple, Gar and Meg Ragland, and freelance journalist Louisa Kasdon. Meg, now 32, is a freelance journalist herself, and Gar, now 34, is a musician, producer, and the director of a music festival in West Virginia. They agreed to keep separate journals of their newlywed year and to let Kasdon play both literary voyeur and mother confessor. They gave her license to spy on the certain but unpredictable chaos of the first year of married life, from the bliss of their honeymoon to the rapid change that comes with home life to their spats over money and sex and babies and in-laws and irritating habits.

How couples cope with the inevitable bumps determines how long they will stay on the married road. As William Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth."


MEG: My first impression of him? That hair. I loved his curly dark hair. I loved his Southern accent, too. We first met at the Burren in Davis Square. A band was playing. I was living in New York but had come to visit mutual friends. We talked for about 15 minutes. Gar says that I gave him a kiss on the cheek, but I don't remember that. Six months later, in April 1999, we met at another party in Boston. I recognized him, but he didn't recognize me. He didn't remember that he had met me before, but he came over and talked to me. Asked me to come up on the roof so he could show me the view of the city from the South End. He smooched me on the roof. I still lived in New York, and I wouldn't give him my number. My friend called me the next day and asked me for permission to give the number to him, and I said, "Forget it. He'll never call. Guys who live around the corner from me in New York City never call, so why would this guy from Boston?" And my friend said, "Yeah. I always see him at parties dancing with a different girl." I fell in love with that smooch. When I moved to Boston a few months later, he called me. At the end of our first date, he thought that I really wanted to smooch. He was right. That kiss was something else.

GAR: I vaguely remember that we met at the Burren in Somerville. There was a live band. I thought she was cute. But I didn't think much of the meeting or of our potential for dating. But later on, I saw her sitting next to the fire, and I thought, there's an attractive girl. I sat down next to her. I was very physically attracted to her. And then we went up on the roof and had a nice first kiss - good enough for me to want to follow up. But she wouldn't give me her number. Then she moved up here, and I called her as soon as I heard.


MEG: After four years of dating, we got married. The wedding was in my hometown, Cooperstown, New York, behind the Fenimore Art Museum and overlooking Otsego Lake. The sun came out during our vows, and it ended up being a beautiful day, although a bit on the cold side. We had 10 bridesmaids and 10 groomsmen on either side of us as we said our vows. My father gave me away, and Gar's father was his best man.

The preacher told us to turn around and look at the people who will be the rock and support of our marriage. We turned around, and right at that moment the sun came out from behind the clouds and shined so bright. Everyone gasped in amazement. It was like God revealed himself to us all right at that moment. My second favorite moment was when we kissed. Gar cupped my face in his hands in the most loving way I have ever known. I felt so in the moment and so in love and so happy!

GAR: When I look back on our wedding day, I remember having some anxiety and nervousness early on in the day. Not because I was getting married and committing to spending the rest of my life with Meg. I was, and had been, comfortable with that concept since before I proposed. The anxiety and nervousness came from the stress of the responsibilities with being the groom and one of the producers of the wedding weekend. So many details. Toasts, events, the weather, wedding attire, the groomsmen's gifts, etc. Lots of production details.

Our first dance was "Shining Star," by The Manhattans. Our wedding band, the Stingers, kicked into that song right when we walked in the door, and that took me to another planet. Seriously, this was the highest I've ever been - our first dance, and we were surrounded by the people, friends and family, that we both love most in the world. What is better than that? I just remember being dizzy with joy, so high.

Meg gave a wonderful, naturally improvised toast (she's really good at this) and said something cute and flattering to me like, "I can't wait to have your babies, and I hope they look like you." Then I kissed her, grabbed a mike, and led the band into the closing song, "Let's Stay Together," by Al Green.


MEG: I have since heard that everyone fights on the honeymoon. We did. It made me (and Gar) so sad. We fought about stupid things. It bugs Gar that it takes me awhile to order in restaurants. He says I get nervous about ordering. I don't think I do. I just want to be sure that I am getting what I want. And usually I want to be sure Gar likes it, too, because we often share. That was one fight. We actually didn't speak during dinner and then went back to the hotel mad. It was very upsetting. Apart from the fighting, we had fun. We had some nice spa treatments, drank cocktails in the hot tub, caught up on sleep, ate a lot, and just relaxed. It was only a four-day honeymoon, because Gar had to get to work on his festival, which is taking place next month in West Virginia.

We actually didn't even return home from our honeymoon together. We returned to Cooperstown to pick up our presents and wedding things, and Gar left for West Virginia to begin preparations for the festival. I drove back to Boston alone. So much for a honeymoon, and so much for a honeymoon pad. We don't even live together and don't yet have plans to. We are married, but Gar still has his apartment in Jamaica Plain, and I still have my apartment in Cambridge. I guess that it's my task to find us a place to live together.

GAR: The Mountain Stage NewSong Festival, which I produce, was less than four weeks after the wedding. So we decided to spend a few days at the Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont, before I had to head south for work and Meg had to go back to Boston.

The first memory that comes to mind, unfortunately, is a fight that we had one evening. After dinner, I wanted to play a game of chess, as there were several tables with chess sets in the inn's tavern. Meg was much less enthusiastic about playing than I, and after playing for a few minutes, she let me know by rolling her eyes and acting incredibly bored. That kicked off an argument that put a real damper on the evening. Otherwise, the days were both enjoyable and relaxing. We had our bikes with us and spent a lot of time riding. I was thinking about how we would be spending the rest of our lives enjoying outdoor adventures together.

In retrospect, our fight in the tavern that evening is also a microcosm of our lives together. The road will not always be smoothly paved; there will often be moments of frustration and feelings of anger, and they will be complemented (and hopefully dwarfed) by warm feelings of partnership. I think Meg is disappointed that we didn't have a grander honeymoon, something we'd both like to do. As we're starting to think about a family, I worry when we'll ever get the chance to take an extended, adventurous journey together to some far corner of the world.


MEG: I love getting letters addressed to "Mrs. Ragland." It seems very weird, but I love it. I am doing all the thank-you notes. This bugs me a little. I wish Gar would write some, but I guess this is typical. I was talking today to a friend about the whole changing-your-name thing. I did change my name. Actually, I just added Gar's name to the end of my name. So now I am officially Margit Kathryn Feury Ragland. I know some women have a hard time deciding whether to lose their middle name or their maiden name. I want us to be a family under one name. So right when I got back to Boston after our wedding, I went straight to the Social Security office and changed my name officially. Plus, I think it's kind of interesting to suddenly become somebody new. I feel like I'm in disguise.

My mom wrote me an e-mail calling Gar one of her "Boston children." That made Gar happy. When we started dating, my mother was not so fond of Gar. But he says that for some reason, she has changed her tune. This weekend Gar lost his driver's license. He is often losing little things - keys, cards, etc. And he often asks me where they are. I don't want to waste my life looking for his things.


MEG: Gar has left again for meetings (and hunting) in West Virginia. I am lonely and missing him. I am so used to sleeping next to him now. I am still looking for an apartment. It's crazy; we still have our two apartments. We usually sleep at my apartment in Cambridge, but then Gar goes home to Jamaica Plain to work during the day. It feels like we're still dating.


MEG: We are at Gar's family farm in West Virginia, and Gar is out in search of Thanksgiving turkey. He's hunting with his cousin and a friend. They've been out there since 5:30 a.m. I'm afraid they'll make me cook what they kill. Gar shot a doe. Ugh. This has been a very nice and peaceful Thanksgiving. Not like the Thanksgivings with my family, which are crazy, with tons of people running around. I tell Gar that I want to have four kids. He says we will have only as many as we can afford. Gar wants to have kids sooner rather than later, so they can be close in age to his sister Meagan's kids. I am not in such a hurry. It's nice just being a couple right now.


MEG: I finally think we've found a new apartment, in an old factory downtown - high ceilings, exposed beams and bricks. This may finally be our first home together.


GAR: So far, marriage has been a net positive in my life. We enjoy being newly married, being together, doing simple husband-and-wife things like shopping for groceries at the farmers' market. In the evenings, after a long day of work, we'll treat ourselves to some downtime by sitting on the couch and watching television. Sometimes I play guitar while she reads. We both work out of our apartment right now, although I travel fairly often. Her office is downstairs, and I'm upstairs in the loft. So I'll check in on her and say hello when I come downstairs to go to the bathroom or get some coffee or something. In our heads, we're worlds away during work time, but physically our distance is measured in feet.

It's comforting to be close like that, but sometimes I wonder how sustainable this model is. We do spend lots of time together, and I sometimes worry if we won't burn out this work-at-home model and need to commute to work. Perhaps we need more time apart. There have been a couple of instances when we've been apart for around two weeks. As newlyweds, that seems like a long time. Neither of us likes it, but that time apart does make me appreciate our relationship and helps me to not take it for granted.

MEG: Moving into our new place was stressful. I got a bit annoyed, because I felt like I did a lot more packing and moving of Gar's stuff, and yet he never seemed to be over in Cambridge helping with my things. We have been settling in pretty well. Not too many fights. Just a few things that I think he should throw out that he wants to keep, and vice versa. He also thinks we should buy a new TV, but our current one works just fine. Maybe it's small and not the hippest TV, but we can't afford a new one. We just spent a lot of money moving and getting a new place. Gar is a bit more carefree about money than I am. We still have not had a meeting about finances. Whenever we go out, it's like "Who's going to pay?" And we say this is stupid, it's all the same money now. But not really, since he has his account, and I still have my account.


MEG: Gar asked me about a month ago what I wanted for Valentine's Day, and I told him about a hat at Banana Republic. So, typical of Gar, on V-day morning we went out for a run, and Gar said, "Let's go by Banana Republic." It made me mad. He had a whole month to go and pick up the hat. But he hadn't. He should have done all of this ahead of time. Just like Christmas in West Virginia. He forgot my slippers at home, so I did not get them under the tree, and he gave me an IOU for a pair of boots, which I still have not received. I guess this is a typical man. But it bugs me.

A FIGHT /// MARCH 2004

MEG: Last night we got in a fight, a stupid one. He had gone out for a run. I had started dinner because I was hungry and because I was going out later with my two single gal friends, and so I wanted to eat quickly. He got mad. He said that he was just thinking that he wanted to slow down things in life and not always be so rushed (as we always are). Then he commented on the way I was cooking. (I was cutting some chicken in the nonstick pan as it was cooking, and he was worried I was scraping the pan.) Then he said something else that bugged me. Then when I was leaving, he was looking at me funny. And I was like what? And he said, "Well, if you want to know, it looks like you have a lot more eye makeup on one eye than the other." I then said, "Do you have anything else mean to say to me, or can I go now?" That made him mad. Then I just left. When I got home from Cambridge and from the evening out with my girlfriends, I thought maybe we'd still be in a fight. But instead things seemed pretty normal, and we woke up this morning happy.


GAR: The marriage is going well. We just got back from a vacation in Italy. It was wonderful, beautiful. First Milan, then Verona, Venice, Florence, and a few incredibly relaxing days in a small Tuscan town. We were actually there for Easter and attended the Easter Sunday service in the town's only church. We love that kind of stuff.

Overall, the trip was amazing, but we had a fight about sex. It was a rainy night in Florence, after a long day. Meg was tired, and, well, I wasn't. She had been acting uninterested in sex for a while before that, and this was the final straw for me. I got mad and left her in the room and went down to a local bar for a drink. As I was leaving, Meg got really emotional, yelling at me for needing to spend time by myself to calm down. In fact, she yelled so loud that the desk clerk acted concerned when I left. Sometimes when Meg is really upset or emotional, she really loses it. It's very rare, but on the few occasions that I've experienced this, it has made me really concerned and nervous about her doing this more and more, especially around our kids. When I came back about an hour later, we didn't talk. She had gone to bed. The next day, we each went our separate ways. It was the right thing to do at the time, but looking back, it makes me sad to think that we didn't experience the treasures of Florence together. Well, we got over it after a day or so, and the rest of the trip was really good.

MEG: We are in Italy for 10 days to attend the wedding of my friend Elizabeth. She married an Italian guy, Elio, who is great. Leading up to the wedding, she kept asking me about sex after you are married. She said she heard it goes way downhill after you are married. She was worried. I think we have a great sex life. Gar is very loving and gentle and is just as interested in making me happy as in making him feel good. I appreciate that. The one area where there is tension is frequency. Surprise, surprise: Gar wants it a lot more than I do. And I'm not saying he wants it every day and I only want it once a week, or he wants it once a week and I want it once a month (like I hear from some of my friends). It's more like Gar wants it three times a day, and I think once a day is more than enough. The problem rears its head usually during workdays (since we both primarily work from home). Gar will come into my office when I am in the middle of some project and try to put the moves on me. I tell him, no, not now, I'm working. And he persists. And then when I refuse again, he says, "You don't like sex at all anymore." That makes me so mad, because we just had great sex the night before. Can't I even get a 24-hour reprieve?

We had a fight here in Italy about it. We had just arrived in Florence, and checked in to our hotel at about 7 p.m. Gar was ready for some bootie. I said, "No, let's go out and see the city." I was so excited to explore. I didn't want to hang out in the hotel room. Gar got mad and again told me that I was never interested in sex. And it turned into a huge, stupid fight. Other than that, Italy has been amazingly fun, gorgeous, and romantic.


MEG: I love our weeknights at home together. Most of the time I cook, but sometimes Gar does. And when I cook, Gar cleans up, and when he cooks, I clean up. Afterward, Gar sometimes lies across my lap so he can get his head or back scratched. He loves that. Sometimes I think it's a little unfair. Him getting scratched all the time. But he does love it, so I guess I will continue to indulge him. My mother says not to let him get too spoiled so early in the marriage.

It's a week later. Gar is away at meetings down in West Virginia. We didn't talk today. I was really hoping that he would call just to say good night. I am sure he is real busy, and that is why he didn't call.

MEG'S BIRTHDAY /// MAY 11, 2004

MEG: It was a great birthday. After work, Gar and I walked to No. 9 Park for a cocktail. As we were sitting there, Gar pulled out a box. He had bought me this very pretty bracelet. Then we walked to the North End for dinner, reliving our days in Italy. After dinner, Gar wanted to take a cab home, but I wanted to walk, so since it was my birthday, he gave in.

GAR: Her birthday dinner was wonderful. It just came together like an improvised production. I gave her something she really likes. I gave it to her at the bar at No. 9 Park. She didn't want our friends to come. On her first birthday as a "married woman," she just wanted to be with me. She wanted it to be romantic. That was the highlight of the last few weeks for me. I think that Meg is attracted to my idealism and my romanticism. Among other things, I am attracted to her pragmatic and her adventurous spirit. But she isn't a total pragmatist, or she wouldn't be happy with me.

It makes me so happy to see her get excited about a present I gave her. I'm a horrible gift-giver. Basically, I fail to spend the time thinking about what gifts to give people. I think that my not doing this is perhaps my most selfish characteristic. I'm also bad about writing people cards and thank-you notes. I really need to make it a priority, because I anticipate that my shortcomings in this area are hurtful to Meg and will perhaps become more so in the future.

It's not that I don't like to give her presents. I just don't think of her often in a material sense. I'm not one who pays attention to women's jewelry or clothing and suddenly says, "Meg would love this." Is this a common problem with men? I am more inclined to get her flowers at the market. When we were dating, we used to e-mail each other romantic messages. I used to write her poetry. I was really inspired by our early courtship. It's still romantic and great fun, but we don't flirt with each other as much as we used to.


MEG: One thing that really bugs me sometime is Gar's analness. This morning he got up so wanting to clean up and get things done. He knows I have a ton of work stuff going on right now. Yet his need to suddenly tidy up overrides my need to work. He rushed around picking up all my things and his and delivering them in piles to my office. Fine, but there are things of his that I have been stepping over for months. Then he says we have to do laundry. I get annoyed with Gar almost every time we do laundry. He says we are going to do it, and I get the baskets all ready to go by the door, and then he is up in his office doing this and doing that and never comes down. Finally this morning I just left our apartment and headed down to the laundry room. He obviously heard me leave, and he ran down and met me in the laundry room. He knew I was annoyed. "A couple that does laundry together stays together," he said and kissed me. I wanted to kick him.

Then we got in a fight, because he said I was filling the washers too full, that the clothes would not get clean. I wanted to throw the powder detergent all over him. If he knows so much about doing laundry, why doesn't he do it all himself? Just now he came into my office and told me that I'm really stressed out today. And he just looked at me. Ugh.


GAR: Meg likes my being Southern. I believe she finds it charming. She likes to visit my parents down in North Carolina and my sister's family down in New Orleans. At heart, Meg is a Southerner, sweet and warm like a Southerner. When we first got together, I told her that my plan was always to move back down South and that I wanted to raise a family in the South. I used to give her a hard time about her accent - her mom's from Brooklyn - but I know that my own accent has mellowed after seven years in the North. Cultural differences haven't introduced any problems between Meg and me. Anyway, Meg and I were both raised Methodist. Her family is very tight, very close to each other, and I admire their relationships.

There is real friction between Meg's mother and me. She was not very kind to me at first, especially about what I wanted to do. She decided early on that I was not the right person for Meg. She has asked when I am going to get a "real job."

I am putting everything that I have into building these speculative projects in the music industry, hoping that it will be good for Meg and for me. I feel more self-actualized, more centered, doing this than anything else I could imagine doing. It is too soon to say if it will turn out to be successful. But anyone crazy enough to start a career in the arts has to have a risk gene.

Making a lot of money does not motivate me. We don't have enough money to have kids now, but we will both redirect our efforts once we have kids.


MEG: Three of my closest friends are having babies. Everyone has been asking me if I'm in a hurry to have a baby. Nope. I like just being with Gar right now. Plus, I feel like we can't afford to have a baby yet. But someone just told Gar not to wait till you can afford a baby, because that day will never come. So just go ahead and start. This morning I had to go to New Hampshire for work. Gar got up early, too, and carried all my bags down to the car for me. Also, when I got home tonight, he had bought me a dozen roses and a bottle of Limoncello for no reason.


GAR: We are starting to talk about kids. I may be more excited about having kids than she is. She's the one who worries more about finances and being able to afford kids. Someone said to me, "Don't wait to have children until you think you can afford them, because you never will." Meg has conflicting feelings. I think the pain of the childbirth process scares her. For her, it's process rather than the product that I think has her most concerned.

There's little security in my work. It's better in hers. We both grew up in conventional American families, where the mother stayed home and the father went to work. Meg and I had a pretty intense conversation - a fight, an argument? She is very pragmatic and concerned about our finances, and she worries that my creative output is not adding to our financial security. I worry about my creative output, too. I think I have been stagnant recently. But there is a conflict between the monetary part and the creative part. Balancing work is harder for us than our friends. Most of our friends have a lot more financial security than we do. My music friends are teaching; my closer friends are in finance. The MBA types are doing things like venture capital, investment banking, and management consulting. Fortunately, they all seem to support what I'm doing. They see what I am doing as president of a start-up, they admire the entrepreneurial part of it, but I think that they vicariously enjoy the philosophy that I take toward living. The idea that if you follow your heart, your passion, and work really hard at it, then everything else will fall into place.

We are closing in on the first year of marriage. The transition from dating to marriage isn't that big. But I think the transition from being married to having kids will be big.

JULY 2004

MEG: Gar just came in to tell me how much he loved the carrot cake I made him. Then he told me that I have stubble on my upper lip, and I really wanted to clock him. My friend called me, because she is due to have a baby next month, and she and her hubby can only come up with one boy's name: Lucas. I have always loved the name Luke. So she called to ask me permission to name her son Luke. What could I say? Of course I had to tell her yes. I mean, we might never have a son. And Gar is not super crazy about the name anyway. Still, I am secretly a bit sad. I really have always imagined myself naming one of my sons Luke, and now one of my best friends is naming her child Lucas. Well, maybe she will have a girl.

We have tried to come up with a plan to celebrate our first anniversary. We talked for a few days about going back to the Equinox spa in Vermont, where we went for our mini-honeymoon right after the wedding. But we have a wedding to go to on the weekend of our anniversary. I don't want to drive three hours just to spend one night there. I'd rather we just hang out in our cozy little home.


GAR: We just had our third NewSong Festival. I love the dynamic nature of this project and the feel-good value of serving the artist community of which I'm a member. I hope that it evolves as a business, so that it can comfortably sustain Meg, our future family, and me.

Meg was an incredible support at the festival. As I'm the director, Meg is the "first lady of NewSong" and is a natural at it. She has an ability to make people happy when they're around her, and her charm, warmth, and sense of humor are a great asset to NewSong (especially when it comes to interacting with investors, artists, volunteers, and crew members). Everybody loves Meg. I know I do and am so grateful to have her by my side, especially during the festival, when my life is as intense and demanding as it's ever been. She calms me down, rubs my head, kisses me, and in quiet moments tells me she's proud. I know she is, even though she does have legitimate concerns about the financial uncertainty and sacrifices we're making by my working so hard on this festival. I'm very much in the entrepreneurial trenches, living with both uncertainty and financial insecurity. I'm not sure if I'd have it any other way, although I recognize how concerned Meg gets, especially when we talk about starting a family.


MEG: We made it through our first year! We played hooky from work. We had a late brunch at this cute little bakery near our place, then went mountain biking for a few hours, and got massages together. I got a pedicure, while Gar got his back waxed. (That's what I asked for. Hee hee.) We were supposed to go out for a fancy dinner, but then we just didn't even feel like going home and changing. So we just went out for some pizza. Of course, as usual, I gave Gar a present, and on the actual anniversary, he is still asking me what I want, even though I told him last week what I wanted. P.S. Two days after our anniversary, Gar presented me with a pretty pink travel pen and a funky purple notepad (since the first-anniversary present is supposed to be paper). That's my husband all right. And I love him.

GAR: The year has really gone by quickly, and our lives together have integrated smoothly. Despite the frenetic nature of our work, we're living in a nice groove.

We celebrated our anniversary on Monday, here in Boston. We wanted God to participate in the celebration of our one year of marriage, so we decided to spend the early part of the afternoon in nature, mountain biking in the Fells. I proposed the idea, and Meg wholeheartedly agreed. Her opting to get dirty on her mountain bike, in the middle of some beautiful woods, instead of shopping and dining on the town is one of the major reasons I love my wife. Her choosing the former over the latter is sexy to me and represents her priorities and values in some indirect way. After a great couple of hours on our bikes, we came back and treated ourselves to an anniversary massage. We were so mellow, we couldn't get up for a night on the town. We were too comfortable in our flip-flops. Earlier, before we went mountain biking, we had lunch at Flour, in the South End. There was a quote on the chalkboard that we both loved, and I wrote it down on a napkin. When we got home after dinner, Meg gave me a wonderful anniversary present that to date is the best gift I've ever received. She typed the quote on a piece of colored paper, then wrote her own message to me on the back and put the paper on a two-sided frame. It read:

(Front side, typed):
Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

(On the back, written):
Dear Gar,
I wonder about your thoughts.
I listen to your words.
I admire your actions.
I accept your habits.
I adore your character.
And that is why you are my destiny.
Happy First Anniversary.

Love, Your Wife, Maggie K. Ragland

(Illustrations / Juliette Borda)
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