I once knew a pro-domme who had all her prospective clients call an untraceable number that got forwarded to her business cell so that she could talk with them before agreeing to meet in person.
“I can tell,” she said, “instantly, from their opening words and the sound of their voice, whether this is someone I should do business with.”
“Oh, come on,” I told her. “That’s not possible.”
“Isn’t it?” she asked. “Because you say that, but your life has never depended on it. You’ve never agreed to meet someone in a place full of dangerous toys, not knowing if they’re a psychopath. You’ve never been stalked by a cop. I’m not saying I could do it on the first call, or the 50th, but by the 150th I started to figure it out.”
I hesitated. “You’re saying that you can tell everything about a man by the first thing he tells you, and the tone of his voice.”
“Everything I need to know. Yes.”
I shook my head. “I want to say that’s not possible.” But if she said she could do it, she probably could.
“People aren’t as complicated as you want to think,” she said. “You think complexity means free will. You want to be free, so you don’t want to be predictable. But most of what you’re focusing on is trivial. Most of what we distract ourselves with, from day to day, is trivial. It’s the stuff we do to fool ourselves, to convince ourselves, to distract us from the urge to get down on our knees and pray or to stand on a mountain and curse. But when you get past all that, there are very few types of people, deep down.”
“What types are there?” A fascinating woman saying fascinating things is irresistible. I’m sure she knew it.
“Most people are harmless. Some people intend to be harmless, but are dangerous; they can’t help themselves. Some people are dangerous, but keep themselves in control. And then there are the people who are dangerous, and mean to be. Those are the worst in person, but they don’t do the most damage. It’s the well meaning people who can’t help sabotaging themselves, or bringing chaos around them, who are the most trouble.”
I nodded. “That makes sense.”
She smiled. “You’re thinking about the people you know, aren’t you?”
I almost said yes.
“Then what?” she asked.
“I’m wondering …” this was hard …”if this helps explain why I’m so unlucky in love.”
“Ah,” she said, and there’s such sympathy in it I thought I might cry. “You really don’t know?”
I chuckled. “I’m … I’m actually kind of surprised that I’ve been able to look like I do.”
She took a deep breath. “You’re the type who’ll never call. The type who’s such a mess inside that you think you’ll destroy anything you come in contact with, destroy it from the inside out, like an unquenchable fire carried by a kiss. So you make a sacrifice: you wall yourself up. You put up towers made of stone and cover them in glass shards, and you stand at the top, staring through the arrow slits at the world. And occasionally you ask “why can’t I have that?’”
There was a long silence between us. “Oh,” I said. “Because, I knew that.”
She nodded slowly. “I thought so.”
“I was just hoping there was something else, too.”
“Sure,” she said. “I’m glad to hear it. Because I’d always thought it was tragic in that noble sense, that you’d make that wholly unnecessary sacrifice for us all, but fairly impressive that you’d found peace with it. But …” long pause … “if you didn’t know … that would be kind of …
“Pathetic,” I said.
Her expression didn’t change. She looked me straight in the eyes. “Yeah.”
“Well,” I said, “I was there way ahead of you.”
“Good,” she said. “Good. I wanted that for you.”
“Yeah.” I tried my best to smile.
“Someone like you,” she said, “would never call, or ask for help.”
“No,” I said. “Obviously.”
“It’s impressive,” she said.
“Thanks. I build a good castle.”
“Did you hear what happened to Deena?” she asked.
“Now, which kind of person is she?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, I said, obvious question. She takes everyone down with her.”
“Exactly,” she said, and told me the story, and an hour later it was like the first part of our conversation never happened.
But I remember that there are five kinds of people in the world, and have learned to identify them at a glance. It’s amazing what you can see through an arrow slit, if you know how to look. Which, I think, is what she was telling me the whole time.