The kind of people

A battle of self-defeats

No one talks like that anymore. She says it and means it, but you look at her with opened-up eyes of curiosity as if to ask Like what? And, Since when? And also, probably, Who, exactly? Everything is ambient now, the armchair she sits on, the couch you’re caressing the arm of, the big carpet that must have cost at least a thousand dollars, which is not to mention the price of the couch and armchair, which are both in excellent condition. There’s even an ottoman, leather, which could have also cost a thousand dollars—it looks well constructed and is modern. Nothing is stunningly beautiful as an individual object, but the sheer number of the right things in the small space has you thinking, in the ever-expanding arena of her non-response to your half-response, She’s rich, isn’t she?

In the moment, it’s something that makes you feel attracted because she’s pulled it off so quietly, which is perhaps the foremost skill that rich people pass on through generations. The big tech guys and girls at your local gym double down on it to a point of alienation. They trudge along in their gray Asics, hideous to the point of offensiveness—they don’t realize that, as she would say, people who are actually working class, broke, in deep debt, whatever would never wear Asics, even if they found them at the Goodwill, on sale, on a stoop. Maybe they would, actually, but they would not have finagled a gym membership at the place with the nice towels and then show up in their saddest sneakers, you think. That kind of melancholy is reserved solely for those who love their office “communities.” You hate yours, use its name in vain, and take Tabata in Nikes.

But she is not like this. Would she even ever take an office job that was not fondly and somewhat ironically steeped in nostalgia? It comes to you now, in this blank and freaky moment of disconnect between you and her, which is not the first one but the most protracted, that the money explains the principles, which had been confusing up to this point. Why wear the editorial assistant stamp for the rest of her relative youth when she was self-admittedly brilliant? Why toil for bitter superiors who always seemed to have the right clothes for the right season unless she already had the money she needed for probably the rest of her life?

You try to form the words in your mouth now, Hey, are you rich? But you don’t even talk like this. You’re not sure what you talk like. Everyone in your family yells over each other and seems mostly OK with it. With her, you’re careful to wait your turn to talk but also, crucially, to listen. To make a face like you’re listening because your actual listening face looks both bored and troubled. You make sure that when she’s speaking, her complete sentences are met with a rapt but thinking attention. And when she’s done talking you tend to sit back as if you’re turning the ideas over though you’re able, usually, to do this while you’re listening, or at least to let words land in the parts of you that can digest them, and then gradually, mid-narrative, eat them up. So, “Hey” is never how you begin an earnest sentence. Nothing just occurs to you, until now.

You say instead that you love the ottoman. She looks at you a bit annoyed but as if she’ll never tell you that she’s annoyed and says Yeah, it’s cool right? I got it from my brother. And thank god you manage to ask, Oh wow, is your brother rich? You include a chuckle in there—or what you imagine is a chuckle since you don’ think you chuckle—on the “Oh wow” as if to say, This could be a joke if you would like it to be. And she says, He likes to show love by endowing comfort. And you scream! Out loud? Unclear now, but she went baritone on “endowing”. You’re having what people probably are describing when they say “out of body experience” though were you ever in your body? Now you start to wonder.

Where are you? In what room in what city? Is this the part when you kiss her on the mouth. Her sweater is exactly the kind of red that means she has had boyfriends her entire life. You get up to go to the bathroom because you’ve always loved mirrors and you look at yourself for a long time, making different faces. You have a bit of salt under your bottom lip, you have a generous face and the ability to turn it on a dime. You have a steady stream of income to ward off your undulating debts. You would, in a moment of weakness and defiance buy the fucking ottoman for yourself, in installments. You’re not sure who this makes you and you would like her to tell you. You flush the toilet which goes slow and quiet and takes everything with it.