The bank’s assistant manager approached me with a friendly smile and an immaculate suit. Charles looked his part—competent, precise, rational. He also looked younger than I am, much younger, but appearances are tricky. He asked why I’d come in. I explained I needed to shift some money around to keep it liquid. I was a writer who dipped into savings and was contemplating a move to another state.
After he revealed the dismal CD rates, and whispered that he’d love to have my business but perhaps I should look at bigger banks for better ones, Charles asked what I write. Fiction—novels. Some nonfiction. My first novel came out a few years ago, I told him.
“That’s great,” he said. His enthusiasm seemed genuine. He asked what the novel was about and whether it was available as an e-book. Indeed. He jotted down my name and the title. “I love to read. Wow, that’s really great.”
“I got lucky,” I said.
We talked as he prepared the paperwork for the fund transfers I chose.
“Are you moving to New York?” he asked.
“No. North Carolina maybe. No big hurricane threat. Rare snow. It’s so beautiful, all four seasons. I’ve visited New York, but I couldn’t live there. I’m into nature. The first morning I woke up in a hotel and couldn’t hear birds, I knew it wasn’t the place for me. But it’s amazing to visit.”
Charles said he loved it and traveled there as often as he could. He was fortunate to have family in the city.
He stepped out of the office to grab some forms. On his desk, I saw a photograph of a beautiful young woman, an engraved first anniversary gift, and a model of the Empire State Building.
“So besides finance, what are your other interests?” I asked when he returned.
“Do you have a favorite style?”
“No wonder you like New York, then.” I shared that my partner and I were into architecture as well. Todd liked mid-century design, and I preferred the styles at the beginning of the 20th century, including Art Deco. The conversation turned to include what Todd did for a living—information technology—but that his true passions were music and house restoration.
Charles commented that people who were musical often were good in math, abilities that fit well within IT. I’d heard the same thing and saw the proof of it in Todd. I said I thought skills like that suggested a high-order brain. Architects, too, blended art with science.
As Charles completed the forms, his story came out.
New York City thrilled him because of the buildings, the skyscrapers especially. He loved large scale structures. He’d started college in architecture. Several semesters into his studies, he gave it up because it was affecting his marriage. He remembered one month when his projects took up so much time that he hardly saw his wife at all.
Charles switched his major to finance. A number of family members were in the business. His parents were supportive of his interest in architecture, but his grandparents pressured him into that major and line of work. He was part of a close-knit Southern family. The recent move from his hometown to take his present job had been a welcomed break.
I thought to myself that I was lucky to have family and friends who encouraged my writing, although I can’t say I received the same message from the outside world as a whole. It’s often a doubt-full place. Chase dreams, sure, but expect to ground yourself in a regular job, relationship, and routine and stay there.
“Well,” I said, “my guess is that they thought they were doing what was best for you.”
He nodded. He said he was married with two children. Finance gave them a steady life. Then Charles said a customer had come in recently who was an architect. She focused on contemporary design, houses and office buildings. She told him of a graduate program not as intensive as others, right in the city where we lived.
“Really? I had no idea that was offered. Have you looked into it?” I asked.
“I have. It looks interesting,” Charles said. He glanced up at me. “The thing is, I want to build skyscrapers. You’re away from home a lot with that kind of work. You’d be in your studio for months to do the planning, but then you could be anywhere, on the job site.”
He didn’t speak their names, but I felt the tangible presence of his wife and children in the room. I sensed the lingering judgment of grandparents, certain friends and acquaintances. Frank Lloyd Wright suddenly came to mind, a brilliant man who traveled the world and was not home every night for dinner. Everyone, regardless of the breadth of talent, must make sacrifices.
Charles left the room to finalize my paperwork. An elderly man walked into the lobby, and the main branch manager greeted him. The man said that he needed to speak to Charles. I watched him ease into a chair to wait.
I understood Charles. I could see that simmer behind his eyes, the dream he hadn’t suffocated. There was no way to dismiss the brightness in his face and gestures when he spoke about architecture and his aspiration. He’d told me how long he’d been married, and I did the math. He was younger than I am, barely 30. There was time, if he was willing to take the risk. I sensed it could mean losing everything safe, stable, and socially acceptable in his life.
Charles returned and began to slip my documents into a folder.
“You have a customer waiting, but I want to share something with you,” I said.
He looked me square in the eye. His were pure dark blue.
“When I was eight, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. I wrote fiction through high school, but I didn’t much in college. I figured, what’s the point? What were the chances of making it as a fiction writer? So I graduated in journalism, and all of my jobs involved writing in some way. But the burn never left. Never. When I was 29, I literally woke up one morning and knew I had to get my MFA. It made no sense. I had a perfectly good job, a perfectly good life. My partner wondered what the heck I was doing. I entered graduate school at 30. My thesis was my first novel, and that was published when I was 36. It’s not about age.
“The point is, the heart knows what it wants. It sounds to me like you know it here—” I tapped my chest, “but the pieces haven’t fallen into place yet. Have faith that it will. It can happen. It did to me. I’m proof.”
Charles had tears in his eyes. “Thank you for sharing that. I really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome,” I said as I shook his hand. “Good luck.”
I walked outside to a spectacular autumn morning, cool air, warm sun. My visit with him brought me back to something I’d forgotten. Four years of effort into my second novel—a process that has been often joyless and frustrating—I am in fact living my dream. I took those tenuous steps with no guarantees, plenty of fear, and just enough gumption. Luck met me somewhere along the way in the midst of risk.
May it be so for Charles, and for everyone whose heart knows what it wants to build.