*Based on a True Story
A tall brunette swept through the French doors, and the inane sounds of party chatter immediately ceased.
Seemingly unaware of the eyes upon her, the woman slowly circled the room, pausing every few feet to offer an air kiss or a greeting. She mingled with the grace of someone accustomed to both A-list society and designer stilettos; everyone happened to know her. Impeccably dressed in couture, the woman was impossible to miss, as were the hushed conversations which appeared to spring up in her wake.
“Who is that?” I asked, properly impressed. This gathering was taking place several rungs above my typical station on the socioeconomic ladder, and I was slightly starstruck by the sheer amount of wealth in front of me.
“Oh, that’s Sandy,” replied Ben, his eyes tracking the woman as she perched on a chaise, accepted a champagne flute, and trilled laughter in response to another guest’s joke.
I already knew Ben had rich friends; he worked for MTV, after all, and was constantly dropping the names of musicians and athletes, and celebrities with whom he came into contact. But this party was only our third date, and it hadn’t taken me long to realize I was way out of place among the socialites and supermodels filling the penthouse.
“I can’t believe she came,” Ben added in a low voice, leaning forward so I could hear, and suddenly we were having a hushed conversation, too. I stared at the woman, who was making quick work of the champagne and ostensibly unfazed by the looks being thrown at her from all corners of the room.
“Why?” I questioned eagerly, already primed and ready for some pop culture gossip or a tragic tale about poor little rich girls with too much cocaine.
“She climbed Mount Everest a few weeks ago,” Ben said with a look of surprise as if it was strange. I did not know this information. I sighed internally, then forgave him for assuming I was up-to-date with the comings and goings of his elite social circle. I was hoping this man wanted to be my boyfriend, but the longer I spent at this party, the more unlikely that relationship was beginning to look.
“Oh,” I replied as if it made perfect sense that the woman should not have attended this gathering because of high-altitude mountaineering.
“Didn’t you hear about it?” he asked. “A bunch of climbers died. Some people were just, like, left for dead.”
“Jesus,” I opined. “That’s awful.”
“But Sandy was apparently this huge diva and caused all these problems and needed to be carried back to her tent, and everyone’s saying she had no business being there in the first place. She just paid her way up.”
“Interesting,” I commented, marveling at the things on which the rich find to spend their money. “So, what’s she doing now?”
“Interviews,” Ben snorted. “Damage control.”
Keeping one eye on the woman, who was now halfway through a second flute of bubbly, I trained my ears on the din around me. Sure enough, the longer I listened, the more I could hear the occasional muttering as she socialized, utterances of “Sandy” and “Everest” and “dead” and “fault.”
“Well, that really sucks all around,” I finally voiced. “What a tragedy.”
Ben and I nibbled hors d’oeuvres and schmoozed – me doing most of the nibbling and him doing most of the schmoozing – as we milled about the party. I could not stop thinking about Sandy, however, stealing glances at her from across the room. What would it be like, I wondered, to stand on the top of the world? And what would it be like, I wondered next, to almost die on the way down?
Three drinks in, I was now unable to stop reflecting on mortality, on mortal terror, on the value of a human life. I stared at the woman in all her glamour and saw her as she must have been on Everest, hypothermic and hopeless and desperate and spent. It was a dialectic I could not grasp, and I found myself edging imperceptibly closer to her as the evening wore on.
At some point, I saw an opportunity and dragged Ben over to an empty couch by the giant mahogany coffee table, across from which sat Sandy with a male companion, still drinking champagne.
“…and I just worry the school isn’t a good fit for him, which is astounding given the tuition…”
She was speaking fervently about something I assumed was offspring, gesturing with hands still sporting bandaged fingertips. I eagerly waited for her to notice my gaze, biting my lip to avoid assaulting her with the slew of questions percolating in my brain.
“Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” I planned to ask. “What was the view like from the summit?” Eventually, I hoped to work my way up to, “Do you believe in God? Did you reckon with Him?”, which was a musing born of my fourth glass of wine and exactly the sort of philosophical inquiry that seems like a good idea so many drinks in.
Finally, I grew impatient.
“Hi, Sandy,” I interjected. “It’s so nice to meet you!”
She regarded me with one eyebrow raised, her eyes scanning upward from my shoes all the way to the part in my hair. I remembered my last-season factory outlet shoes and blushed but barreled ahead with my planned monologue anyway.
“I came with Ben…(and here I gestured vaguely to the man sitting beside me as if he was the gatekeeper to Oz and she the Wizard, as if my proximity to Ben’s riches qualified me to speak with her)…and I just wanted to say hello! I’m, like, so in awe of you.”
Sandy finished what had to be her own fourth flute of champagne and continued to scrutinize me silently. I waited for her to acknowledge my friendly greeting, then – slightly nonplussed – continued to nervously jabber at her when she did not.
“I’m just so curious about Mount Everest. Wow, what an accomplishment! It’s just so incredible you made the summit. Were you, like, terrified? What was…”
“You know what?” she interrupted. “It’s none of your business. It is none of your business whatsoever, and I am so bored of this being the only thing to talk about anymore. I’m so bored of everyone’s questions and comments and opinions about Mount Everest. I don’t care what Vanity Fair said, none of you were actually there.”
She had risen off the sofa and was inching closer to me with every word of this diatribe. Speaking slowly, emphasizing each syllable, waves of rage were essentially radiating from her skin. By the time Sandy got to “none of you were actually there,” she was spitting the words directly into my face, every consonant dripping with vitriol.
“I’m done with this,” she announced as I gawked with mouth agape, not entirely sure when or how the conversation had taken this turn. “I am done with this party, and I am done with all of you people.”
She stormed away, her skirt swishing, her heels clacking, her entire aura vibrating like a tuning fork. I was no longer the only one gawking, the others beginning to notice her dramatic departure one by one. At the door, halfway into the hallway, all gazes upon her, Sandy whirled around in a huff. Her eyes met mine, but she spoke to the room at large, addressing the partygoers like an ancient town crier.
“Because of Mount Everest,” she declared definitively, “even this cocktail party sucks.”
For a handful of seconds after she left, a heavy silence hung over the entire penthouse like a funeral pall. I turned to Ben – quiet all this time, wearing a look of embarrassment-tinged horror – and shook my head briskly, trying to shake loose the threads of confusion tangled up in my mind.
“What…?” I managed to utter. “What the hell was that?”
Ben, however, did not answer. Ben, staring at his decidedly-not last-season factory outlet shoes, refused to meet my eyes.
“You know, it’s getting pretty late. We should probably…”
He trailed off, glancing at the door through which Sandy had exited, and I sighed inwardly once again. I should have seen this coming; I should have known the Venn Diagram of our socioeconomic circles would never actually intersect. I did not, I finally realized, belong at this party. I did not belong anywhere on Page Six. And I was guessing I did not ultimately belong with Ben, either.
“Yeah, we probably should,” I agreed, completely dismissing my prior wish to be Ben’s girlfriend, mentally already home in bed with a pint of ice cream. “It was…nice…meeting your friends.”
But, I reflected as my cab sped away from downtown Manhattan, if spending $65,000 to climb Mount Everest, nearly dying, and then throwing a hissy-fit about the entire situation is typical behavior for high society – then I’m pretty fine with being here on the ground.
About the author:
Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) resides in Philadelphia with her children and soulmate. She is the author of “These Are a Few of My Least Favorite Things”, a full-length book of poetry available from Really Serious Literature, and “Pray for Us Sinners,” a short story collection with Alien Buddha Press. Shannon is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy and a multi-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Pithead Chapel, Bending Genres, and elsewhere. Follow Shannon at shannonfrostgreenstein.com or on Twitter at @ShannonFrostGre.
Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash