The notion of inheritance is one I consider to be among the paramount principles made avail through legal, moral, and similarly just outlets. It is, in my opinion, a near perfect representation of value and code, one demonstrating the highest held ideals of the United States. It is, in my opinion, distinctly American.
Which brings me to my proposal, neither modest nor imprudent: Will you marry me, Brittany Rose?
I suspect it will unfold, through some way or another, similar to that. A marriage, or a merger, of two parties—entities, if you’re overly pragmatic—is nothing more than a mutually beneficial undertaking. Therefore, a marriage regards inheritance with a most honorable distinction. This shared understanding of and attention to inheritance is what endears the concept of an overly romanticized institution to someone of my philosophy.
Brittany will understand this. There isn’t any reason as to why she shouldn’t nor wouldn’t. After all, the concept of marriage is one of mathematics. Particularly elementary mathematics involving the study of numbers and their traditional operations of addition and subtraction. Quite simply, (X – Y) + Z = +/-. X being one’s current, pre-marital state, Y being that which one loses in the event of marriage, and Z being that which one gains. If the resulting total of the equation is greater than that of X, the proposal is sound. Or, put a better way, X – Y + Z > X. The elegance of the proposal: Z – Y > 0.
With a sound proposal, the only recourse is agreement: accepting the engagement, slight change of title—for the woman: Ms. to Mrs.—and the legal reconstructions required through a marriage of two estates—or, rather, people.
God, I’m so… full of shit.
Will you marry me, Brittany Rose? I whisper these six words to myself to hear how they sound. Hell, even The Beatles needed sound checks.
Will you marry me, Brittany Rose? I say a touch louder, perhaps hoping Brittany will enter the room and eagerly say yes—thereby allowing me to forgo the process entirely. The unnerving endeavor of toeing the ledge before leaping, faithful the other will catch your inflight body. The necessary evil of the two-part process before the happily-ever-after ending. This is why an engagement isn’t one of math, but emotion. I haven’t been able to unknot my stomach and soothe my nerves since envisioning having to step into the drop. This is why I’ve always considered it to be a futile enterprise—the proposal and the marriage.
The marriage proposal is remarkably similar to the job interview. Both give the two parties one chance to get it right. If the job interview is inadequate, the interviewee is still without a job and the interviewer is still without an employee. If the marriage proposal is inadequate, the proposer ruins their reputation—risking having their partner say no—and the proposed-to loses the moment and the opportunity to tell the story of how much another person loves them.
They did what!?
They did… fill in the blank with grand romantic gestures and a story to make all other women swoon and all other men envious and angry at having the bar set too high.
Why can’t it be a formal event?
Hello there. Welcome. Have a seat. You’ll see here I’ve laid out all the reasons why in Column A and all the reasons why not in Column B. Tally then subtract. If positive, we should become a married couple instead of a dating couple. If negative, I motion the termination of all relations between myself, Wesley Alter, and yourself, state your name for the record.
Simple. Reasonable. Logic intensive. Easy and clean. Neat and orderly. The best and only rational approach.
God, I’m so… full of shit.
Johnnie Walker’s Red Label pools on the tulip-shaped bottom. Glowing the Glencairn whisky glass gold as it roils to a calm. I lower my nose to the tapered opening, allowing the full concentration of aroma to occupy my sense of smell, before tipping the lip to my mouth and sipping.
“Brittany,” I yell across our apartment in hopes that this trite and presumably boorish inquiry quickens her lengthy process of getting ready. A process that has and always will elude the understanding of the simpler sex.
Will you, Brittany Rose, marry me, Wesley Alter?
There it is again. The thought. The idea. The question implanted into my morning, noon, and nighttime musings by my mother only three weeks ago. Those six words—Will you marry me, Brittany Rose—effusively resonating in and around my thoughts. For three weeks, they’ve been seeping into meetings, arriving while shaving and showering, popping up during conversations with my assistant, and calling in while watching TV with the same woman whose name ends the question. Mostly, however, those six extolled words squat in a dimly lit corner or a rarely used closet before coming out to maraud and rumpus within my dreams, stealing my sleep.
Every night for the past three weeks—Will you marry me, Brittany Rose—it has become my obsession. I haven’t been able to catch a single Z without waking and checking to see if the very woman whom my heart pittered and pattered for was peacefully asleep beside me.
Still beside me.
Stay beside me, please.
It’s an odd sensation to permit another person control of full faculties. If the sun’s shining and I’m awake—Brittany Rose, will you marry me? If the moon’s shining and I’m asleep—Marry me, will you, Brittany Rose?
And the dreams come in all order. Dreaming of her smiling and nodding as a tear rolls down her cheek while I rest, balancing on bended knee. Dreaming of her dressing in wedding-day white, gracefully striding down a path among friends and family and others whose presence precedes an obligatory invitation. Dreaming of her cradling a baby in her arms, calming the little boy or girl to sleep in a most tender and affectionate way only available while in a mother’s grasp. Dreaming of us, together, with nothing but surrounding darkness, standing within a single spotlight, within each other’s arms with no sights to be seen, no noises to be heard, no stories to be told, and no wishes to be wished because life within the other’s touch is the most perfect harmony one can aspire to. Nirvana, without the guitar and flannel.
Moreover, in due time, the nightmares have their showings. Her leaving. Her crying. Her with another man. Her without me. Her with a child whose name doesn’t match mine. Her without me. Her without me. Her without me. Will you marry me, Brittany Rose?
No, Wesley, I won’t and never would.
Goodbye. Forever and ever.
Not to have. Nor to hold.
Not for better. Nor for worse.
Not in sickness. Nor in health.
Never to love. And, for fuck’s sake, never to cherish.
From this day forward, until death, you, Wesley, and you, Brittany, must part.
These kinds of bone-chilling, face-melting, wake-up-in-sweat-and-tears nightmares.
Will you marry me, Brittany Rose?
But what if she says no?
Returning my attention to the latest ramblings of the talking heads on CNBC, I sip from my Scotch and call for Brittany again.
What if she just doesn’t answer?
Brittany, I’ve been thinking. Will you marry me?
Crickets. Crickets. Crickets.
Is that Simon and Garfunkel? The repetitive melody of The Graduate? Answer me, Brittany!
Unless, of course, it’s going to be a no.
I fall onto the sofa but its cushioning is much too soft for stressful times. Quicksand sofa, feeling as though it is sucking, pulling me under until I won’t be able to breathe. I stand and begin to pace.
Will you, Brittany?
Forget it, Wes. Move on. Let life come to you.
The analysts on TV tell their audience to short this stock and sell that one. This IPO debuted far too high for early buyers. Nonsense. It’s all fake anyway. What actually matters is—
Will you marry me, Brittany Rose?
I swallow the remainder of my Scotch—it’s only Red Label, so it’s not too expensive to seem wasteful—and approach the windows with the south-end view over Central Park. After sunset, the park is a reminder of the power of the human. Let me build towers to scrape the clouds and illuminate them so their presence can scrape even higher. Yet let me leave a trace of what once was. I give you the forests of yesteryear because now is the season of the human. The city, today’s pyramids and Pompeii. The city, our hubris. The city, the gems in the Earth’s human-made crown.
Perhaps, this shall be where I divulge my background. My name is Wesley Alter and I’m the son of William J. Alter, the founder and CEO of The Alter Organization. He’s wealthy, which means I’m wealthy.
As I said, inheritance. Purely American.
Brittany. Marry Me.
I know I’m never going to win Romantic of the Year. It’s true that I wouldn’t know real romance even if Cupid emptied his entire quiver of arrows into my heart; however, for Brittany, I’ll learn. Rick Blaine, The Notebook guy, Leo in Titanic, and Wesley Alter can become the Mount Rushmore of romance.
God, I’m so… full of shit.
Even if I don’t and can’t, I come from money and have turned that money into more money. Saying I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth is a terrible injustice and a great understatement; instead, try half a dozen and add one or two, casually, as if they’re pennies and my childhood was the Trevi Fountain.
My family isn’t exactly old money, but they aren’t new money either. They weren’t cahooting with the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts back during the days when racketeering was celebrated. But they don’t flaunt it either by speeding around in brightly colored sports cars. They’re not ablaze with bedazzling diamonds and jewels. They don’t cloak themselves in vulgar, indecent fur coats as they brush before bed.
My family was and is snobby, yet self-effacing; braggarts, yet modest; elitist, yet tolerant—well at least as tolerant as a net worth starting with a “B” allows.
We’ve been the best possible version of Gatsby. Money and money and more money with a trace of morals.
It is because of this that if Brittany needs anything, I can take care of her. Respect the commerce. The free market. The transactional enterprise of buying and selling.
Will you? Brittany? Brittany?
If I’m selling, are you buying?
How about the other—
Can money buy you? Can I buy an accepted proposal?
I hope so. Because, truthfully, I’m afraid that’s all I have and you’re all I want.
So what do you say?
I remain at the northeast facing windows and overlook the city of New York. The city that birthed and raised me. The city that fully embraces the tough love approach to molding its youth into adults and its adults into fucking adults! The city that I would absolutely loathe if I hadn’t inherited a lot of money.
Despite it being the city that allowed me to invest and return more and more and more into my estate, increasing my fortune into a larger, sizably larger fortune, I hate this city. The main reason being that it is too controlling. Once in, you can’t leave. It won’t let you. It digs in. It attaches its neuroses and its quirks and its too-many-to-list flaws and makes you feel lesser if you leave. Convincing you that you simply couldn’t hack it. Once you leave, you’re the person who left New York for something else. Once you change, you’re the person who was devoured by the city.
I just don’t have the courage. My investment partner and co-founder of The Alter-Bell Group, Henry Bell, donated everything he had—except the last thirty-five million dollars (because we’re all full of shit)—to various charities and organizations before leaving the big city for a small cabin upstate. A quaint little home on the edge of a pond, among the pines, and at the bottom of the Adirondacks.
He cited something about being inspired by transcendalist thinkers—something about only needing three chairs and no welcome mat—and left it all behind him.
Bless the old man. Either his health is exponentially increasing from spending so much time away from the bustle, the hustle, and the tussle of life in New York or he’s dead.
Simply stated, we don’t keep in touch.
He had courage. He wouldn’t fret about proposing the idea of marriage to the woman he’d been dating for just under two years. He’d ask, point blank, just like he left the city, point blank. The city that’s a Band-Aid you can’t rip off. The city that keeps its populace lean because they can’t even afford rent so they damn sure can’t buy food. The city that may not have invented sarcasm and not giving a single fuck but surely perfected it. New York, New York. God damn us to hell as long as it’s New York.
“Brittany,” I yell once again, this time pausing to listen for a response. I discern a faint echo but ignore it.
What if she says no?
How embarrassing to have someone say no. I’ve been given so much in life. Afforded opportunities as my starter kit that for others would have been their wish fulfillment and, yet, here I am, worrying about a girl. Why wouldn’t she say yes? We’ve been dating for just under two years. Of course, she’ll say yes.
Will you marry me, Brittany Rose?
Under normal conditions, Wes, you’re all right. But the high stakes of the prospect of marriage, you’re just too full of shit for someone as authentic as I am. Have a nice life.
My watch reads a handful before eight and our reservation is at nine. I check my phone this time, double-checking the old technology I no longer trust. Turning my back to the view of Upper Manhattan, I hear her—“Okay, Wesley, I’m ready,” sounds the soft, sweet, sonorous voice of a one Ms. Brittany Rose—and see her—I’ve never felt this way because I see her because I know her because I love her.
Brittany enters the hallway and walks towards me. Every cliché—weakened knees, heart pausing mid-palpitation, lungs losing breath, and even though this isn’t first embrace, I fall in love with Brittany all over again, at tonight’s first sight of her, becoming more and more enamored with each blink of an eye.
“Wow,” I mumble, “Brittany—You look—Wow.” Stuttering, barely audible for Brittany to hear and unknowingly for myself since three or four of my senses render useless. I can no longer hear nor smell. The lingering taste of Scotch on my tongue—gone. Feeling in my body—gone. Yet, I can certainly see. I can’t not see. Brittany is attractive and always has been, but I have never found her more beautiful than this moment.
The perfect, formfitting sleek black dress. The smile. Her eyes—
Christ. Brittany, marry me?
I check my watch and forget the time and forget checking my watch. I reach for my phone but it’s not in my pockets. I step in front of a mirror and mistaken it for a Salvador Dali painting before turning back to Brittany.
“We should—probably—I think—we should get going?”
I walk to the elevator, the glossy black doors reflecting a man lost. I think about pressing the call button, but stare at the reflection. He’s alone and he’s in love. The two lessons boys and girls must learn before becoming men and women: we’re forever alone yet forever in love.
“Wesley,” I think I hear. “Wesley, are you okay?
“Wesley,” she says as she steps into the reflection.
She’s like crack on legs. I’m beyond high after inhaling a full sight of her.
“What,” I say turning to look at the real her and not the reflected imitation. I reach for my phone but can’t find it. I have the vague sense of my mouth hanging agape. “Yes, Brittany, I’m not doing anything. What are you doing? I mean—How are you feeling? Do you not want to go out for dinner? You do remember we have a reservation at Enrique’s Place, don’t you?”
“Wesley,” I think I hear, “are you sure you’re okay? Because you look pale and don’t seem like yourself. We can stay in if you’re feeling ill.”
“No, no, no, no, no, no,” I ramble, unaware of this aloof tongue tapping rendition of six consequent nos. “I am fine and dandy, Brittany.”
“Are you positive? Because you forgot your jacket and phone on the couch. You left the TV on. You’re standing in front of the elevator but haven’t called it up. You’re sweating. And just used the phrase, ‘fine and dandy.’”
Sweating? I dab at the tiny balls of sweat on my forehead. Oh, Christ, I am.
I feel a hand touch my arm, the slip of my jacket across my shoulders, and see the elevator button push inward, illuminating green.
“Wesley, here is your phone.” She lowers my phone onto my dampening palms. “You have to have—one—seen a ghost—two—your company has to file for bankruptcy—or three—I must look really good.
“Or I guess you could be drunk. Because you’re acting about as strange as I’ve ever seen you.”
“Nothing,” I say, still in a stupor. Still afraid to look at her because of the effect she currently has on me.
Love and romance are about the risk, Wes. Take a hit. Embrace the daze.
Lifting my eyes to meet Brittany’s, as if they’ve cast a spell, I regain all composure.
Taking a breath, I whisper, “You look stunning tonight.”
Marry me, Brittany Rose? Will you?
The elevator doors open and I extend my arm for her to enter. I stand beside her. I grab her. And I turn her towards me.
“Brittany,” I say before leaning in, before kissing her for a lingering second, before pulling away, and before leaning to kiss her again. The elevator doors touch and we begin our descent. “I just want to say, Brittany—”
Will you marry me?
“I just want to say that I love you. Brittany Rose, I—love—you.”