Stories

Bed Nets – Natalie Alexander

The last time I saw Felix he had a serious girlfriend. I met him at the Santa Monica Pier some weeks earlier with fifteen or so of his friends, and when I arrived he ran across the sand to greet me, picked me up in his long elegant arms and spun me around in the air. When one of the other boys brought up the subject of marriage, Felix had cheerfully announced that he would never get married or have children.
        “But what if one day you fall in love with someone who wants to get married?” “I am in love with someone who wants to get married.”
        “Then what are you doing?”
        “I’m disappointing her.”
        Felix was a Bay Area caricature unto himself — a 29-year old digital nomad with a Computer Science degree from Stanford University, working for the Effective Altruism Foundation and running an $8 million cryptocurrency microfund. Like many of the most serious Effective Altruists, he had taken an income pledge — that meant that he donated every dollar of his considerable income above $70,000 a year to buy bed nets for starving children in Africa, the most capital-efficient way to increase global well-being. Of course, Felix and his girlfriend were polyamorous. He had extended to me a standing offer to accompany them on their travels anywhere in the world I might want to go.
        This time, feeling especially single and sick of Los Angeles, I had driven up to visit him in the tiny Pacific Heights guest room he was AirBnBing for the week. We had planned the visit the previous Monday. That Wednesday, the CoinDesk article came out exposing that Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX cryptocurrency exchange token was held in large part by Alameda Research, also owned by Sam Bankman-Fried. By the time I arrived on Tuesday, FTX — the largest backer of the Effective Altruism Foundation and the exchange upon which Felix’s trading algorithms were built — had already suffered a bank run and collapsed.
        “I lost a million dollars today.”
        “That’s a lot of bed nets.”
        We made out in the candle lit bedroom. He moved his tall, handsome frame over mine with the precise choreography of a yoga instructor, flipping my palms upwards and closing my eyes with his fingertips, instructing me to breathe from my chest, then my belly.
        He sat up, straddling me, and paused. “Have you ever filmed yourself having sex?” “No. Absolutely not. Have you?”

“Oh, all the time. It’s amazing. I think you’d be really good at it.” He nodded several times, wide-eyed.
        “You make sex tapes all the time?”
        “Livestreaming. Dianna and I used to have sex on porn site livestreams and make like $700 a night. That’s almost two hundred and fifty bed nets.” “Used to?”
        “We broke up.”
        “I’m sorry to hear that.”
        “Don’t be!” he waved his long, expressive hands. “That’s what I always tell my dad about his divorce. If we celebrate getting together, we should celebrate splitting up. I say Mazel Tov!”
        “Could you see who the audience was? Was it like a Zoom call?”
        “No, it was thousands of people. It was just a comments section. But sometimes they would say really encouraging things. Like when I was nervous and couldn’t get it up. Everyone was really supportive.”
        I had a pet theory that “open relationship” meant it was the man’s idea, and “polyamory” meant it was the woman’s idea. In New York, where there were more dateable women than men, the men got to make the rules, so you called it an open relationship and you never talked about it. In SF, where you had seven male 300K TC engineers to every one good-looking woman, you called it polyamory, and it was all about talking about your feelings. I peeled my shirt off and tossed it over the edge of the bed.
        “When I first met Dianna, she was escorting – I say this obviously in the strictest of confidence. I thought it was so empowering.”
        I asked him if she kept escorting while they were together.
        “Mm hmm. She was literally fucking the patriarchy. I just think life is sweet and love is free. That’s why when you know it’s free, that’s such a good arbitrage opportunity.”
        “Totally.” I ran my hand through his chest hair.
        I thought back to meeting Dianna that summer, when Felix had invited me to join them for Sunday afternoon Acro Yoga on the Santa Monica beach. She was blonde and blue-eyed too, a fashion student, and looked enough like me that I thought if I memorized her gentle mannerisms and her straight posture and her pastel athleisure sets I could grow into her kind of reserved beauty. They fed one another slices of pineapple, smiling meditatively into each other’s eyes. I watched him lift her perfect arabesque over his head. I felt that they were grown-ups, tall and beaming.
        “But we dropped a thread.” He rolled over to look at me with wide, sincere eyes. “I wanted to know why you aren’t a romantic.”
        I paused. ”I don’t think people are at their best when they’re swept away by their feelings.”
        He nodded very slightly. “Because you deserve – I mean, for them, whoever got to romance you would be very lucky. I would want them to have that experience.”
        I gave him an awkward kiss. “When your girlfriend was escorting while you two were together, did that money also go to starving children in Africa?”
        “You know it, girl!” He held his hand out for a high five.
        I went to bed without taking things further. Looking out the bedroom window onto the Bay, I thought of Dianna on the beach. Felix was kind, considerate, infinitely open. She was sophisticated, understood herself; had options. Anything they agreed on was allowable. Early the next morning, FTX filed for bankruptcy. I drove home alone, with a dull feeling that there was something I didn’t yet understand about the world.