Who Broke Your Heart?
“True love never fails.”
Dawson regarded him for a moment, trying to get a read.
“Are you being serious right now?”
Joe burst into a laugh, threw his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. He kicked his feet up on the oak desk, a wide grin remaining on his face. Dawson shook his head and dropped into one of the high-armed leather seats normally reserved for clients.
“You are an unmitigated ass,” he finally said. At this, another burst of laughter from Joe.
“Look, Dawson.” Joe kicked his feet off the desk and leaned toward the younger man. “This is what—your second heartbreak this year? And at least the third since you started working for me?”
“What of it?”
“Well, that makes you either one of two things.” Joe pushed any hint of mirth out of his expression and leveled his eyes at the junior associate.
“I can’t wait to hear whatever this is,” Dawson said.
“I’m being serious now,” Joe returned.
“I don’t doubt that.”
“Either you’re a slow learner, or a glutton for punishment.” Normally in command of a stolid poker face due to the nature of his profession, Joe again broke composure and laughed. Dawson buried his face in his hands.
Joe stood and came around to take the other client seat beside Dawson. “Don’t worry, I’m gonna go easy on you,” he said, slapping a hand on the younger man’s knee.
“Good. Because it’s been an awful twenty-four hours, and I don’t need you piling on.”
“I know you don’t. And all kidding aside, I know how you felt about Kerri. But do you mind if I tell you some other things I know, too?”
“Do I have a choice?” Dawson peeked an eye from between his fingers at his employer.
“No. But credit to you, at least you know that.” Joe replaced the knee-slap with a clap on the back. “Here’s the thing, young man—”
“You’re not that much older than me. Twenty-five and thirty-seven don’t exactly constitute a generation gap.”
“Maybe not, but they do constitute a learning gap, when it comes to matters of the heart.” Joe shifted in his chair, the groan of the cushion against the seatback releasing the scent of leather. This, to complement the oak, the paintings on the walls, and even the waterfall feature behind the desk—all designed to evoke the possibilities of proper financial planning. Not merely getting ahead, but staying there.
“I’ll tell you what you need to do,” Joe continued. “And I know it’s going to sound crass, or shallow, or whatever words you want to throw at it. I know it’s going to deeply offend the sensibilities of your young, romantic heart.” Joe reached over again and shook Dawson on the shoulder, trying to pull him out of the physical and emotional cradle into which he’d nestled.
“Again, I can’t wait to hear this,” the young associate muttered.
“You came in here—what was it, three years ago?—fresh off your degree, top of your class, and looking for work that would annihilate those student loans as quickly as you racked them up. We went for coffee. Then dinner. We worked out at the private club. Rode in the car I paid for with cash. A professional courting process, as it were, so I could get to know if you were a fit on this team, and to show you what’s possible. And in the end, you said you wanted what I had, am I right?”
“Okay. Just recapping what you told me, seeing if it’s still correct. And do you still want that?”
“Okay. Then answer me this: at any point in that process—whether when you ordered off menus with no prices, or when you took the wheel of a car where one of the tires cost more than that beater you were driving—do you remember seeing me with a woman? Do you remember me even mentioning a woman?”
“Exactly. Do you remember me telling you how I arrived at a place where I could tell you to order whatever you wanted, or drive my car around for a day, just to see how it felt?”
“What did I say?”
“You said ‘A plan is not just a roadmap, it’s a decision.’ That the paper it’s printed on is useless if you don’t follow the path.”
“I’ll say it again: exactly. I don’t get from the trailheads to the end of my hikes by suddenly veering off course and thrashing through the trees, or shucking my pack when it feels like a grind to carry. I don’t bring on the next seven-figure client by deciding tax planning doesn’t apply to them, just because it’s tedious. And I sure don’t order off the menu with no prices without knowing everything else has been taken care of, first.” Joe loosened his tie and released the top button of his vest. Another grin spread across his face.
“You wanna know what love is, Dawson?”
Dawson turned his head to look at Joe. “Are you going to make me answer every single one of your rhetorical questions?”
“Part of the trade, and you know that. Never end a sentence in a conversation with someone you’re trying to convert without asking a question. Ideally one where the only answer is ‘yes.’” Joe flashed the grin that had won more client conversions than anyone in the office could count anymore.
“Do you know what love is?” Joe asked again.
“What.” Not so much a question as a grunt.
“‘Love’—for most people, that is—is tossing out your dehydrated meals on the first day in the backcountry, deciding you can walk the rest of the trail on berries simply because they taste better. Love is deciding to pull money from your investments during a down-market to buy a shiny new—and depreciating, I might add—car, because as long as you have to get to and from work, you might as well look good doing it, right? Love is deciding that just because you’ve hit the big time in an income year, you don’t need to budget anymore. You don’t need to save, because it’ll always be this good.”
“I don’t see how these metaphors fit.”
“Maybe they don’t—and maybe that makes them all the more appropriate, my young friend.”
“Will you please stop calling me ‘young’? It’s ridiculous coming from you. Just because you’re salty doesn’t mean you’re wiser.”
“The point is that love doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make sense. It’s irrational. I’m not saying it can’t be beautiful. Some people, for reasons passing understanding, say that it is. But I am telling you—especially after three heartbreaks in three years—that if you want relationships in your life, they need to be part of the plan, just like everything else.”
“Since when does anyone ever plan on falling in love?”
“Since time immemorial, probably. Matchmakers have existed since biblical times, at least.”
“So now you’re saying I should go see a matchmaker?”
“It probably couldn’t hurt, based on your record. But no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m telling you relationships need to be strategized. Planned with bearish rates of return, and bullish inflation. The last time you got dumped—”
“Fine. The last time you got your heart smashed, by—what was her name, Julia? I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, you took at least a week off, and even when you came back you were far below capacity for at least a month.”
A knock at the door, and Joe stood to take a printout of the day’s closing market prices from his executive assistant. He glanced at the values. “Karen, can you call Stan Thibodeau, the new prospect, and find a polite way to tell him he either needs to get in here and christen the latrine, or else find another twenty years of life expectancy in which to keep working? He’s missing tremendous opportunity here.”
“Will do, Mr. Riley,” she said, closing the door and returning to her cubicle outside Joe’s office. Joe set the paper down and leaned against his desk.
“It doesn’t matter to me, so much, if you’re not producing—though you’re an integral part of this practice, Dawson. What matters is that it goes against what you said you wanted out of life.”
Dawson straightened up. “Career and cars and trips and security is not all that I said I wanted, Joe. I mean, what’s the point in having all those things, if you don’t have someone to share them with?”
“That would be a valid point if A: you had those things, and B: you’d held on to that someone to share them with.”
Dawson crumpled in the seat once more.
“But at the moment,” Joe continued, “you have neither. And based on the way these dump— excuse me, breakups set you back, you’re definitely not going to get there.”
“So what are you saying? I can be poor and in love, or wealthy and alone?”
Joe chuckled, and took his seat in the wingback chair behind the imposing bureau. “No. You’re still missing it.” He returned his feet to the corner of the desk, leaned back, and folded his hands over a stomach flat from endless miles on the trail. “And again, right now you’re broke. Remember there’s a difference between ‘broke’ and ‘poor’: the former a temporary condition, the latter a mindset. Right now you’re broke and out of love, and you’re alone.”
“I am still in love.”
“If you say so. I’ll concede that point. Once more, however, I’ll build off an earlier question: in all the time we’ve worked together, have you ever seen a woman in my life?”
“And do you think I’m a monk?”
“I don’t know. You keep a better poker face about your private life than you do with a new prospect.”
“And do you think I’m lonely?” Joe asked.
“I’ll answer your infernal questions with one of my own: if you’re normally notoriously private about the logistics of your life, how do you expect me to have any data on your emotional one?”
“Another point for Dawson. But the answer to both of my questions is ‘No.’”
“Good for you.”
“I’m not a cad, Dawson. I’m not spending weekends packed into depraved clubs around town, plying women with drinks and flashing the vehicle logo on my keychain. Little as you may know about how I spend my time, you know it’s not doing that.”
“How would I know? Maybe all your pictures around here are just postcards from mountains and trails you think look impressive.” Dawson bit down on his tongue.
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret—though based on how you’re receiving the pearls I’m giving you here, you don’t deserve it,” Joe said, his million-watt smile back on display. “Are you ready?”
“Do you know why I have the life I have? Why it’s ‘Riley Private Wealth Management’ on the letterhead, and not ‘Metzger Wealth Management?’”
“Because you’ve been at this fifteen years longer than I have, and your last name sounds better than mine?”
“Both things are true, but no, wrong once again.” Joe stood and walked to the closet between the office and his private washroom. He grabbed the three-button jacket matching his pinstripe vest and began pulling it on, not missing a beat in the conversation. “It’s because when I’m here, I’m here. And when I’m not, I’m not.”
“I can’t remember which school of Buddhism that’s from—Zen or Yoda,” Dawson said to Joe. And under his breath to himself, “Shut up or you’re gonna to get fired.”
Joe was undeterred. “This is in many ways a twenty-four-seven type of job, or at least in can be, in the beginning. I told you that when you started, when you said you wanted to build a practice like this one. But it’s important that it’s not all-encompassing. That you plan and build various side-accounts, if you like.”
“This is sounding more salacious by the minute.”
Joe re-fastened the button on his collar, straightened his tie perfectly without aid of a mirror. He sat down again in the vacant client chair.
“I’ve been in relationships, Dawson. Proper ones, despite whatever your misguided thoughts suggested. Beautiful, successful women; some with whom I even shared some of those things you spoke of before. But here was the key—and because you took umbrage with my last metaphor, let’s try a different one. Like I said, when I’m here, I’m here. And when I’m not, I’m not. That doesn’t mean you can’t have someone in your life, it just means that it’s important to keep that area as a module in your plan, and not the plan itself. There!—” Joe stood up. “That works—an island. You need to keep your relationships like an island in your life that you visit. The key is that you go to visit, so that if your little romantic beachside firepit becomes an inferno, it doesn’t burn down the mainland. Understand?”
Dawson looked up at Joe. “Who hurt you, man?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Who broke your heart?”
For an instant, years of practiced expressions—contingencies of body language built for any client concern or objection—fell away and were replaced by a look Dawson didn’t recognize. The moment was shorter than the space between an inward and outward breath, however, and the look was gone.
“Nothing’s broken here,” Joe continued, the trademark smile back on display, “other than someone’s bank balance after too many nights off wine-ing and dining in vain. Am I correct?”
“Take your questions and get outta here to wherever it is you go, and leave me alone with my dumped, broken heart,” Dawson snapped back, extending a hand and mimicking Joe’s smile. “Does that sound fair?”
Joe laughed, returned the handshake, and walked to the office door. He bid a good weekend to Dawson and Karen, and waved a hand at Janice, seated in the office adjacent to his.
“After all these years, I never know if he’s off to another hike nearby, or the Redwoods in California, or the Appalachian Trail,” Karen said, as Dawson came and stood beside her desk. “Did he mention whatever his next adventure is?”
Dawson shrugged. “He said something about an island.”