When Lily and I ripped naan over a small and somewhat precarious table in Berkeley this weekend, I wondered whether you’d been thinking about money when you met me, because I smelled like Ralph Lauren Blue, or whether you’d already known the investing terms with which you later peppered your speech: blue chips, bids, bear market, bonds. I remembered how I met you, in the Columbus OH airport on a very average Sunday. How you’d had these great mahogany-colored eyes, a battered suitcase the size of Nepal.
As she shit talked your essays I remembered how you’d laughed derisively that day, when I’d seen your home only from its more touristic side, the US Open, the Bronx Zoo, at the fact that the boroughs were confined to me in the experience of one sketchy Greek restaurant where they’d been too liberal with the honey, the walnuts, a gondola ride over jungles composed of green concrete and a flip book in which a group of gazelles sprint interminably about squares of graphite-ordered Saharan plain.
“I read them,” she said. It was in a shitty Indian restaurant; she was picking at an oversized cube of Tandoori painted chicken with her fork.
“Vassar,” she tore off a bit of the freckled bread. “ED.” She’d been rejected from Bowdoin that night and she ate as though angry at her food. “He wrote about the Starbucks Barista always getting his name wrong,” she said. “Blew it into a racial dilemma. You know.”
“Sure,” I said.
What I didn’t say? How I miss you. How I’ve bought myself a shitty little book titled ‘Stocks 101’ at the strip-mall Dollar Tree to teach myself the shape of your words: diversity, dividend, Dow Jones. How it’s taken more than one calculation to figure out that your company places nowhere on the NASDAQ, more than three quick start portfolios to recognize how badly these things have turned out for me, how I’d like to talk about you in a discourse on precarious investments like a public service announcement for the heart.
In truth, I didn’t care about Lily’s failure. I cared about my own failures. About investments which had failed me: sitting at the white circle of a table whose benches reached out from its center like the metal appendages of an industrial octopus, liking when you read the very good poem about your other, deriving amusement of you having filled a mug with a mess of sprinkles and chocolate swirl from the soft serve machine.
I cared about investments because I cared about you. I bought a shitty book at the Dollar Tree to try and replicate the shape of your mouth from the inside out. I cared about investments because you showed me how to make dollar bills into cranes that flapped on the heater in my room, a dark brown slab of metal with holes in it the shape of Chex cereal.
When Lily ripped apart the freckled bread that’s what I was thinking of, how you didn’t know what you were, how you can’t see yourself how a swimmer can’t hear the grandstand noises from underwater, or how a family friend, a ridiculously successful and handsome Haverford graduate named Mark, thin, tall, a talent for rocking a pair of extra-long Brooks Brothers slacks with fleeces, once told my mother that he saw his house, his great big house in Bedford, NY, only in the dark.
I want to give a discourse on precarious investments. I want to tell you what you taught me even before the waste of that one dollar fifty on the Investment dictionary, like euphoria, an emotion which came to reality outside of a Calvin Klein commercial, or recklessness, an arc away from solid ground. I want to explain how I couldn’t see the sand beneath the stilts when you were holding my hand.
I want to define for you some words, like asset, which means the things I can position in my favor, or ask, which means the shortest height I will date, or force you into proximity with the term ‘capital gain’ which is something I’ve learned to produce outside of your presence. If I didn’t fear that casualness with which you stomped out all things, I’d want to tell you that I loved you. Maybe I’ll do something more advisable, like buy you a box of truffles from Dean and Deluca, or split a Vassar scarf with Isabella to send you for the cold.
You were a senior those two weeks. You were seventeen when I was younger; page seven in my dictionary, the page which I’ve worn soft with a bookmark, has a word for that. Advantage. There are words for everything when you seek them out, definitions and parallel definitions and connotations and abbreviations like the three assigned letters they use in all caps on the DOW Jones.
Exchange is a term for crashing the wedding: the way you traded the wellbeing of a pair of red Nike socks for a slice of coconut-fringed cake. Index means the way you sized me up that first day, margin the nice way to phrase what you were doing there, living on scholarship and keeping your mouth clamped around your poverty, around the Polaroid of your tiny apartment, a brick affair in Queens you kept tucked in a wallet from Brooks Brothers but from Goodwill secondhand. Index means understanding what you were, which, outside of some lie about summers at Provincetown, was very little.
It means understanding your humble and spare comments during workshop, the way in which you looked at the floor as you read the poem about your brother , a training doctor, how you’d laughed at the chai latte drinks we all bought at Wiggin which you couldn’t afford, brushing them off as pretentious, how you’d hid it so well, that I’d not even guessed at your having been there on scholarship for your not-unqualified entitlement to the good of life which I’m convinced now can come both out of having been given things and having had things taken away.
But there are many experiences, many sights, smells, sounds, for which the little book on investment has no words. You could say what we planned was market capitalization, “the multiplication of current share price by the number of shares outstanding.” That was what could be used for what I felt about you in the computer lab, how your face had been wide and close to mine, there a mellow musky scent, your dark eyes simultaneously intent and calm as we sat, legs touching, turning casually in the desk chairs, that my entire attraction was built of those meagre mutualities, of some exaggerated parallel I’d drawn between your face and the image of a man’s face I’d seen in a movie the previous winter, dark and delicate with a thin mouth, and the mutual entitlement we had to treat the word ‘New York’ with italics.
Where, after all, is the word for displacement? Tax-loss reduction surely doesn’t snag it. How about one for the mess we made of things, that area on which we unloaded our respective wants and needs, hunger, lust, the little spot you made, tiny, soft like the brown indent of an apple on my neck which took a week of covert Cover Girl 583 Perfect Match application to hide the presence of, the car key lanyard you brought without keys, the name of your high school printed along it in tiny lettering, a stolen chrome tube mascara?
I want to tell you where I took stock, pull out the portfolio that lists why I placed my funds where I did: the poem you’d read the first day about your brother sleeping with his MCAT textbooks, cleaning the kit he’d been given with wintergreen colored barber’s fluid, your ravenous consumption of the soft-serve in the cafeteria, whose density you increased with the back of a cheap spoon, the almond quality of your eyes.
I want to brief you on the things the professor in your class at Columbia wouldn’t have told you: how I’ll turn up my mouth sometimes, involuntarily, thinking of you, the very stupid or the very smart or the very sad things you sad, or how eerie the false feeling I get from the blue banner of your name on Facebook is against how real it all had been to me, how important. I want to brief you on my guilt over piling a plate of buttered corn on Independence Day, on the slice of blue I’d caught in the deep brown of your eyes from the corner of one of the campus safety lights which looked too much like gum drops.
I am angry that I bought the investing book after I knew you, and not before, because maybe if my actions had been at the direction of a pamphlet for 1.50 instead of at the direction of my will, I wouldn’t have invested in you at all. I am angry for my having discounted what the book calls the unknown variable, for having fucked up in neglect of the space which exists outside the facts.
I am angry that my congratulations on your acceptance to Vassar comes as a lone bullet, a little shock, because we aren’t talking, that in that in-between time which connected Kenyon and New York, when we’d texted, I spent a week watching the Twilight Zone ravenously eating, binge eating a whole package of ravioli that first night, how they’d stuck to the calendar and I’d picked them off the damp metal as though urchins from rocks, how I’d felt sick afterward, sick at myself in lifting my Kenyon sweatshirt to a washboard stomach, because it wasn’t thin enough.
I am angry for what you’ve done to me. If a graph could map my direction, my motion, it’d bear a downward trend. There’s a model of this on page twelve, which I wish I could have missed, because the disgust I felt, months ago, at my friend’s having said her perfect scene was comprised of a white-down-sheeted bed, the thin indent in the Tempurpedic mattress from her husband’s form and the smell of banana pancakes coming up through the floorboards of her Massachusetts house, has sloped away from disgust at the smalls scope of her wants to a dream of similar proportion.
I feel lied to, or cheated, because where I used to project listening to the Princeton football games from a little window in my room, where I used to conjure solitary drives on snowy passes and pride at taking off that certain exit on the New Jersey turnpike, I’ve found myself seeking a partner with which to share maple donuts, to remark at the ikat patterns in the grease with, or imagining the triangle of the bathroom door left ajar and awaiting your meeting me in a minute with slicked back hair and a bare chest and a waist covered with a cheap terrycloth towel screen-printed with the name of the alma mater of the same name.
Maybe I’m angriest because my actions and your own are things separate from me, out of reach, like the sway of distant markets. Because no matter how unadvisable I understand it to be, I want to put stock in a precarious investment again, to allow myself license to subscribe to hope on the prospect of an unlikely return, to understand how to read the graph and yet ignore it, to discount the decimals and plummets and gaps. Because you went to Sugar Factory with Isabella, where they serve absurd colored goblet drinks, though you have no money for forty dollar drinks, though you have only a mild friendship with Isabella, founded on mutual intelligence and ruthlessness of judgement, and that we don’t talk.
I want to throw away my stupid dark-green covered book on investment, to throw away my want to sound out the syllables of your speech, but here I am learning things about numbers, though I hate them; here I am rubbing quarters with understanding I once would have shunned.
I want to tell you how the image of an unfamiliar apartment smelling of cooking spices and a stack of MCAT textbooks and an abused black suitcase piled by the door has replaced a lifetime of connotations: a US Open baseball cap, the orange parking sticker for the lot at Rockaway, the putty color of the almond ice cream bought at the little Irish corner mart by the bay.
I want to tell you how I felt on the Columbia campus this July, how, though we’d stopped talking, I remembered the images with which I’d overlain the Google Image results for ‘Columbia University’: a bear-hug, that of lovers or old friends meeting up in a smutty Tiffany-lamped pub, or a slice of banana cream pie broken into counties on a cheap diner plate. I want to tell you how instead I found myself alone in a pair of jean shorts carrying a bag of salted peanuts and a wooziness side-effect of not-eating.
I want to tell you how the great square bedded in grass and in brick felt when my washboard stomach was aching for more than the tiny sand-colored morsels I’d allowed it on the tracks outside the Metro North: how a theatre set feels without the movement of arms and legs and crooks of elbows substantiating its scenes.
After dinner Lily self-medicated on Tums. “His parents gave him everything,” she said, almost drunkenly, as she poured the little pink and purple pastel tablets into her mouth from her palm. “He told me. He told me his dad—he’s a taxi driver. They gave him everything.”
“Vassar,” she said. “Everything.”
As I sat beside her in the car, her frame thin and smelling of powder, frail and concave under the weight of her rejection and an oversized cream sweater, I tried to figure how much these recollections would sell for, what their market value would be. An old Hemingway quote about all things carrying their costs came back to me, as did images of my precarious investment’s dividends: a scrap of your scrawled handwriting in my nightstand drawer, letters outlining words in the same sharp impersonality as the starts and jumps in yield charts, the understanding of your black-brown eyes as existing in the handles of my parents’ mahogany dresser, as well as in a handsome dark face in Queens, NY, a bag of paste in the bottom of my backpack which had once been blueberries and was now, in gray muck along the bottom of my spiral notebooks, a souvenir of days on which I hadn’t been eating.
Coming to the conclusion that to anyone outside of myself, these things would value very little, I decided, after all, to put together that discourse on precarious investments. To tell you how I’m still thinking of you, and of wanting to collect an interest on then and make it now, though the most skilled of brokers is lost when it comes to such derivations. So I’m telling you what you probably already know: that I thought of your words when I rented the Wolf of Wall Street on Hulu, that in my head you’re spinning in that desk chair in a repeat-loop of circles. I’m telling you that I’ve learned a little about investing, though not much, that I’m excusing my bad investment with the consolation that your eyes will work skillfully in a protagonist someday, that your company familiarized new words.
I’m telling myself it’s alright that I’ve condescended to sending you a congratulatory package, a Vassar scarf with rugby stripes and a gift-card that should cover the price of one so-called ‘Ocean-Blue Goblet’ at Sugar Factory, an indulgence in which you partook and which I understand you can’t afford.
I never had much hope I’d be so much as a decent investor, because I’m a sentimentalist, prone to attachment; you’ll be glad to hear that despite my book’s guidance, my one meagre share of Microsoft stock has been losing value for months past the point at which I should have sold it. The DOW is down 600 points, and in more way than one, I know the graph slope for failure. I watch the NYSE with a kind of regret today, but I’ve held my share and now, in similar such attachment,
ill-advised or otherwise, I’m telling you congratulations.
A. A. Reinecke is a writer and poet from Westchester, NY. Her work has most recently appeared in the Claremont Review, and Pulchritude Press. She resides in Northern California where she writes every morning at 5 AM.