She married the man she hated most. Their fascination with one another reached its peak within the first twenty-five hours of their meeting amid the dwindling crowd at that nightclub, and after that began its gradual descent into disinterested familiarity. She remembered that she had insisted on staying until close that night, and her friends, too tired and frankly, too wrapped up in themselves to care, had all left around one o’clock in the morning. It was the first time she had been out in months and they’d had to drag her out in the first place, but now that she had let her hair down she wanted to keep it that way, at least until the end of the night.
And so that was how he found her. Sitting alone atop a bar stool, her legs crossed beneath the folds of her accordion-skirted dress, toned calves extending into worn leather ankle boots, a contrastingly rugged-looking beer bottle pressed to her lips. The paradoxical scene intrigued him. Not to mention she was the most attractive girl he had seen; there was something about her quiet and subdued radiance that he found, quite literally, magnetic. He struck up a conversation with ease, partly because he was good at it, but partly because so was she. And they talked until the bartender swept them out, and after that they carried on at his apartment. It was not because the conversation was particularly riveting, but rather because it was comfortable, and both were too tired to stray from the obligatory social path that had been set out for them by generations prior.
In reality, he was a very good person; an altruistic, exceedingly intelligent and conventionally handsome man, who had encountered heaps of success during his twenty eight years. It was true what his admirers said about him: that his whole life, his accomplishments had come easy to him. Yet being as he was he was rather lonely, and though he knew himself well enough to recognize his diminished emotional capacity, he possessed not the capacity to do anything about it. And so it was also true what his adversaries said, those who looked on from afar, pretending that his entitlement disgusted them when really they were sick with envy. From their jealousy sprang notes of truth: that while he was wealthy, successful, and good-looking, he was destined to lead a life that in some aspect was unfulfilled.
He recognized this destiny, and from an early age approached it with a shrug of his shoulders, for he believed that a fulfilling life and a successful life were, at least for him, two mutually exclusive lives. He was content with his unfulfillment, and humbly surrounded himself with pleasant things that money could buy.
And that was why when he met her that day, the back of his mind nagged at him that she looked a lot like a check he could put in that box beside marriage . Not only that, but she was prettier and more extraordinary than any girl he had previously considered to fill that box. And as he humored that nagging thought, he felt more and more that she was the prettiest and most extraordinary girl that he could ever find to fill that box. He tricked his mind into thinking it was love at first sight, and decided right then and there that he would do whatever it took to marry her.
And the moment he decided, she smiled a knowing smile, because she had seen that look before. The men that were attracted to her liked her because she was intriguingly eccentric in the subtlest of ways, and they believed themselves to be a comparable fit. But in her opinion they were all identical, like a school of well-dressed fish swimming downstream in their perfectly pressed suits. In some ways she felt the burden of their wasted souls and all that potential for fulfillment given away to offices and briefcases and large dollar signs. Most of them were good people, but they were boring—plagued by that unfortunate disease of extended adolescence—walked from the crib to a fancy job, earned by a fancy degree and a fancy internship.
And that was why, she theorized, they liked her, and saw themselves as the perfect match for her. Because, walked from place to place, never left hanging to struggle even the tiniest bit, they had learned of business and money, but nothing of themselves. And these men who knew nothing of themselves were victims to their egos, which had fabricated false ideas about who they were. She knew that she—radiating something of a flashier fish, but a fish nonetheless—was just a box to them. A unique, sharp, pretty, perfectly wrapped box.
But that night she was tired, and he, though still a fish in that stream, was slightly different—remarkably less egotistical, refreshingly original, and admittedly very charming. And that was why when he extended his hand with that invitation to join him at his apartment—though she saw her potential life hanging in the air underneath that question mark, and though she sensed that with this lethal surrender she would fall too far into a pit of comfort to be recovered, and though the ghosts of the wasted souls of the fish from that stream danced behind her eyes—she complied. She took his hand, and just like that they slipped briskly into a comfort that blinded them to that looming cloud of unhappiness.
Their comfortable, dispassionate partnership soothed their aching feet and cushioned their joints, ailments that had become emotional side effects of success and that death march to fulfillment. And so that night she, like he had years ago, also tacitly settled for that unfulfilling life she feared above all else.