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by Peter Anderson

“Why are you always so cynical?”

Her observation was a valid one, but that didn't mean I wanted to hear it again. It was her standard response any time I opposed her position, on anything. If I didn't agree with her, if I didn't think something she proposed was a good idea, I was cynical. Sometimes I had the feeling she really didn't know what the word meant.

But this time, for once, the word was completely accurate. Though I couldn't explain exactly why, somehow I felt this man was not acting with our best interests in mind. He had a golden opportunity lined up, he eagerly assured us. But something just didn't seem right. There was some indefinable, unsettling thing lurking deep in my subconscious that gnawed at me, repeatedly warning Don't trust him.

He was friendly enough, could really talk your ear off once he got going, always smiled and looked you directly in the eye. But when he told us about how much money we'd make, how easy it would be, his eyes twitched just enough to make all of it seem like a lie.

She hissed her question in a low voice, just after he had excused himself to pick up the paperwork, all ready for our signatures, from the printer in the next room. She had first seen his name while waiting at a stoplight, on a sign stapled to a telephone pole, the sign blaring NEED MONEY? GUARANTEED BIG RETURNS in yellow and black. Yes, we needed money, always, but I knew just enough about investments to know that nothing was ever guaranteed. That disclaimer seemed to be in the fine print of every mutual fund ad I had ever seen, glancing momentarily before turning the page to something of actual interest.

And so there we were, sitting in a small office which should have been a lot nicer if this guy was as good as he said he was. When I first sat down, my chair leg buckled and I nearly fell to the floor, and he was all apologies, saying he kept his office basic and without a lot of frills, that he scrimped on overhead and passed the savings on to his clients. Though he said this casually, the line seemed practiced, as if he had said it on one too many occasions. Running a lean operation was one thing, but risking the physical well-being of presumably valued clients was another.

He offered me another chair which looked only marginally safer than the first, and we all sat down.

Two thousand dollars was most of our savings, and much more than we could afford to lose. We had been saving it for a down payment on a house—something slightly improved from our festering one-bedroom apartment—and now, for maybe the first time in our relationship, I was the responsible one, expressing my reluctance to put this meager sum at risk. I had most recently broached the idea of spending the money on a flat-screen TV, but she shot that down as irresponsible and yet another example of what a child I was.

Yet there we were, sitting in that dreary office, listening to the canned spiel of a complete stranger who promised to triple our money in only ninety days. She thought of me as a child, but her complete trust of this man, whose office walls didn’t have a framed diploma from even a disreputable business school, seemed at least as childlike as my desire to watch The Matrix and Sunday football games in razor-sharp, wall-draping glory.

To her I was simply being cynical, not rational or level-headed, for wondering if this man—I looked for a pinky ring, and was surprised to not see one; maybe he had to hock it?—might not be a responsible custodian of our money.

My instincts had failed me so many times that I had long since learned to simply defer to whatever she wanted. I might oppose her at first, but ultimately I would always give in. My gut feelings were willfully and willingly suppressed. Things were much easier that way, and her decisions up to that point had been at least moderately successful. I deferred once again.

We signed the paperwork and handed over a check.

We gained nothing in return other than another culprit to blame our failures on.

I should have trusted my gut. I realize this now, looking back, ten years and three relationships and one Chapter 13 later.