The Supplicant

The Supplicant

In all my years at the company, I have never worked with such an attractive and well-meaning management team. The consultancy draws a unique kind of individual. We appreciate efficiency, we understand the now. Not everyone lasts – but those that do get to walk in each day to the long, warm windows off the lobby and the stiff breeze coming in from the Atlantic. I know that management, of all people, thinks what I think: that from the annals of higher education, we alone have made it. We are the tall glasses of water, the tailwinds, the firm handshakes. We are the deserving people.

You, as senior members at the company, know this better than anyone. You have seen the company at its worst – the plagues of the unfit, the underqualified. While I have not been here as long as you, I know our workforce like the back of my hand – I learn fast. There is a delicate balance, like an ecosystem, that each new hire threatens to tip in one way or another. We approach additions like a mother bear does salmon swimming upstream – mouth open, snarling.

The Communications Specialist is an integral role not easily filled. It was previously held by an ambitious, erratic young man named Noah, who eventually left the company to work on a novel about computer programmers in a remote part of Canada. Many years ago, it was me. My hair was long then, my body thin and pliable. The position changed my life. I am invested in its lineage for this reason: I participate in the hiring process whenever the vacancy needs filling. This time, the hiring committee hopes to find a young woman with a diverse skill set whose interests lie primarily in the social realm. Noah was committed to the work but harbored secret creative fantasies that meant his communication – anything from advertising copy to companywide emails – leaned toward the self-indulgent, serving an internal predilection for certain words and phrases.

I want you to meet Jorie Feldman. I know a good applicant when I see one.

First off, her resume is impressive: an internship at a popular radio news conglomerate, another at a digital media outlet known for their offbeat sports coverage. She speaks Mandarin, English, and some Hebrew, the result of her dad’s early career in banking and a couple of private schools in major American cities. More than anything – and this is clear – she is a student of mass experience. Jorie could spot warehouses known to host long dance parties within just a couple of days in a new city. She seeks crowds with the rabid attention of an only child. Despite this, Jorie’s capacity for human connection is slim: she has just a few close friends scattered across the globe, preferring short, intense interactions with men and women that end as quickly as they begin.

My past experiences with Communications Specialists have taught me to value this kind of behavior. The best people for the role enjoy the same obsessions they are meant to be selling: they are quickly infatuated with luxury goods and are deeply emotional, connected intuitively to the joys of consumption. Their interests, plotted on a graph, are sharp as mountains – in the course of a week or so, Jorie might buy a plane ticket to Sweden, learn the mating rituals of black doves, and acquire used beekeeping equipment. She is beautiful. She dresses like a local in a country you have never heard of.

To hire a new employee is to see into the beating heart of the company and emerge from it bloody and smiling, having found that narrow crevasse where your candidate will thrive. We are not fools – we are doctors of aptitude. After years of licking up every drop of sweat off the company’s brow – after eating its excesses and sleeping in its womb – I have learned to consider nearly every aspect of a prospective staff member. Each facet of a life has a profound effect on the capacity of an individual to fill the requirements of a position.

Jorie has fallen in love – and out of it – just once before. This is important: long, committed relationships make for distracted, unambitious workers. But Communications Specialists that lack intimate experience are often callous and off-base, out of touch with the tangibility of desire. This balance, foreign to some, is my second language. Details like this can make or break an employee.

It happened over a summer Jorie spent in Mexico. Her father was on leave with the bank. Her mother, a retired engineer, took a position as an adjunct professor at the UNAM in the Distrito Federal, the biggest and most prestigious university in Central America. She taught a seminar in turbulence, an emerging field at the intersection of aerospace and climate change. Jorie found it poetic.

She left her parents in early June to spend the summer in Cuernavaca, a small city an hour south of the capital. She found a language school online affiliated with a small college in Minnesota, praised for its liberal professors and local connections. She enjoyed herself: There were narrow streets with awnings and laundry lines that reminded her of Italy. On religious holidays, local kids dressed up in masks with long beaks and sharp devil horns, walking into restaurants and screaming at diners. The windows of radio taxis rolled down by hand with small leather cranks. Jorie was abstinent in Mexico until she started eating mangoes with her bare hands, letting the juice run down her arms and mingle with her sweat. The skin peeled off the fruit like butter.

She met the architect at a wedding outside the city. The wedding was in a garden, verdant and full of mosquitoes. Bougainvillea lit up in the corner of her vision. Orange blossoms, lizards. Jorie spoke riddled Spanish to the architect, who made fun of her. His irreverence charmed Jorie. Their relative inability to communicate made the affair seem brief and lost in time. Her Spanish improved immensely: the couple kissed at every stop light. When he left Cuernavaca to do an interior remodel in Tepoztlán, Jorie felt as though a gap opened in the world around her, like a ledge or a stair she expected suddenly vanished, leaving her foot to come down, hard, on bare concrete.

For that whole August, Jorie walked around the city with her mouth stained purple by hibiscus juice, attending her favorite restaurants alone. The one she liked most was almost entirely outside, with tables generously spaced under wide umbrellas and dim painted lanterns. Peacocks strode through the field below the dinner guests. Jorie ate her meals in almost total darkness. There, she imagined speaking to the absented architect. The language barrier was lifted: they discussed childhood, music, movies. It was the good kind of haunting – it filled her up inside like a soda. In September, Jorie flew home, her red cheek against the cold window.

She didn’t tell anyone about the abortion. I hope I am not overstepping in divulging this information – I share it here for the purposes of explaining her specific disposition. The night Jorie found out about the pregnancy, she drank five dry martinis from the campus bar. She did not want to know what the architect would say – it was the architect’s – and she was more comfortable with her own displeasure than with anyone else’s.

Jorie knew that a few women in her family had gotten abortions under worse circumstances. Clothes hangers, rum. Still, she delayed a visit to the doctor’s office for several weeks. A landscape grew within her, a fantastical archive from which Jorie mined experiences of her and the architect’s brief life together. It was helpful on plane flights and car rides. It distracted her from the burdens of loss and decision-making, filling up a vacant space with something cool and light. She rode each memory like an elliptical.

At her first in-person interview, I asked her to describe a meaningful experience associated with a pair of shoes, and how she would sell it to an imagined constituency, an age group between thirteen and eighteen, male. Jorie was dumbstruck – no sector of society was more foreign to her. This was my intention. She crossed her legs under her, hoping we would fail to notice the battered loafers she chose to wear to the interview. After a stale three minutes, clarity dawned. Jorie’s description of a wet, grassy field was enchanting. She lingered – beautifully – on the feeling of water and salt dripping down the backs of thighs, of feet swaddled in wicking cotton socks and light, performance-enhancing sneakers.

I buy it, said one senior manager.

We nodded at her in widespread approval. She passed the next test easily: a car, for instance, brought to mind dimly lit passenger seats and the swift, musical rotation of traffic signals.

On her departure from the conference room, I shook her hand. I think you’ll be very happy here, I said. If you, and we, so choose.

She looked at me. We have the same two-tone eyes: one green, one brown. A feeling emerged within me, a kind of desperate desire to hold her arms with my own. I felt embarrassed – only rarely does this sense pierce the surface.

The interaction, though brief, had a pretty strong effect on me. Despite what it may look like, I have not spent the entirety of my life in elevators and air conditioning. I was a girl once. I know my kind – the darkened corridors of apartment buildings, the afternoons of fruit and sex. When I graduated from college, I was cut to my knees by heartbreak. It was in the cool dawn of my mistakes that I joined the company. I still go on dates, but I don’t find them appealing. How could I? Each day I walk into the waiting arms of our offices, greeted by that long and careful hug – those cavernous, expectant lungs.

We are here to pull girls like Jorie from the jaws of men. The best young Specialists weld themselves to the spine of the company, they embrace it, they breathe it in like fish in water. There may just be one special moment in a young person’s life where this kind of fulfillment is possible. There are forks in our roads that we are not always aware of when they happen – these are the things that a hiring professional must notice immediately. It is my experiences in the bowels of loss that lend me that special touch – the ability to know exactly when the apples are ripe for picking. When the soil below them is rancid – full of piss and shit.

I am the first to admit that my talents have not come easy. I am no natural. Like Jorie, I have not always erred on the side of caution. You know this: I came to you, hungry, in the eager throes of youth. Communications Specialists hold many lives within them. Without the company, we die of dreaming.

What can I say? I need it, this world, the way a fractured arm needs a splint.

This is to say that the choice may not always be obvious – I know it was not with me. After all, not everyone can suckle from the perfect teat. Some of us have to fight for it.

It is the duty of management to discover potential at the precipice between a broken heart and a healing one. From the window’s thin ledge. This is it: the moment when every new project and report will be like a Heimlich maneuver for the heart. It is not just a job – it is a resuscitation. After the right training, Jorie would be the company’s Molotov cocktail: all potential, with an imagination that has only just been plumbed from the oil well of experience.

I am unique among my coworkers for my attention to the hiring process – I can sniff the perfect candidate out of a landfill. A good predator will stalk its prey for days, weeks, even months. It is an investment, a calculated risk. We Specialists didn’t get born into ourselves. We grew, slowly, like weeds across a garden. With the support and motivation of the company, I learned to put my passion to use. My sad eyes met the steady gaze of the company. They never wavered. For Jorie, I hope the same. Every young lamb needs a gentle wolf. Please.

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