This story appears in the September 2016 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

“We have some information about your wife,” said a voice on the phone, and I was given an address. This was good news. I hadn’t heard from her in days. ¶ I ordered a car and because we’re pinching pennies, I agreed to share the ride with another rider along the way. She rode in the front with the driver, and they talked about which flowers were in season, because she was a florist and headed to work. When she asked where I was headed, I told her I was on my way to find my wife, and she offered me a discount at her shop, if I was willing to stop.

“These will show her that you care,” she said, stripping the thorns from the marked-down bouquet. I’d had to let the car go, but it was easy enough to order another, and, in the spirit of our new penny-pinching arrangement, again I shared the ride.

“You’re a decent man to share this ride,” said the other rider, shaking my hand while passing me a business card. She was a financial advisor, specializing in retirement plans for freelance workers, which both my wife and I are.

When I explained how funny that was, that she was a financial advisor and I’d shared the ride in part because of our recent financial troubles and a half-cocked attempt at recovering from them while working to prevent them in the future, she seemed alarmed.

“Nothing to do with finances should be half-cocked,” she said, and she offered to take a look at our books that afternoon, to help determine if our plans would yield positive results, or if we were only designing more trouble for ourselves. When I explained that I was on my way to find my wife at that very moment, she said, “Imagine how your wife will feel if you arrive with that beautiful bouquet and a rock-solid plan for your financial future,” and it was hard to argue that she wouldn’t feel good. Money had always been a concern for my wife, she’d never felt entirely stable, and the thought of putting that lifelong worry of hers to bed once and for all was exciting enough to get me to let the second car go and follow the financial advisor up to her office, where we pored over the available data and came up with what sounded like a pretty good plan. We invested most of the savings, but the investments were diverse and, she assured me, would yield healthy profits over time, though surely they would dip and plateau as well, that was only natural for something so chaotic and strange, but generally trackable, as financial systems. She provided a folder for the paperwork detailing all we’d done, and I ordered a third car, which met me right outside the building only a minute or two later.

Confident in our financial future, and knowing that I was running a little bit later than I’d intended, I opted not to share the ride but to go straight to the address I’d been provided. The driver asked if we could take the highway, and I deferred to his expertise, believing this would be the fastest and clearest route, as well as the one that would provide grand vistas of the mountains and the bay, allowing me to reflect on the time I’d spent without my wife, my expectations for our reunion, and how difficult it can be to know what you want in life and actually get your hands around it.

“You seem thoughtful,” said the driver, who had a calming presence, it was true, and an even more calming voice, so calming in fact that I opened up to him without even really realizing it, explaining how I’d been thinking about how difficult it can be to know what you want in life and actually get your hands around it, showing him the flowers, which were beginning to wilt, and the folder of paperwork, which I presented upside down, spilling a page or two, nothing all that important, while explaining how these little preparatory steps would make things easier, would help get things back on track, and would please my wife, whom I hadn’t heard from in a few days, and maybe even offer her a little bit of comfort.

I tried to collect the pages from the floor of the car, but they were stuck, facedown, to something that had been spilled there, for which the driver apologized, explaining that it wasn’t technically his car, but his cousin’s. The driver worked as a counselor during the days and borrowed the car in the late afternoons from his cousin, who worked evenings at an adhesive factory and sometimes transported buckets of adhesive to and from work in the car before turning it over. I told the driver it was fine, that the pages weren’t really all that important anyway, and I apologized for having added to the mess in the backseat, at which point he sighed and shook his head and told me that if I was actually going to get my hands around what I wanted in life I would have to start standing up for myself, as just a moment ago I’d been talking about how important those pages were to me, how they were going to help get things back on track and please my wife, whom I hadn’t heard from in several days, and would even provide her comfort, but suddenly I was willing to abandon those pages and even apologize to him, the man whose car the pages had been abandoned to, to boot. He told me that my eagerness to please was undermining the desired results, as he would have actually been much happier to see me grow upset over the loss of the pages, to blame him for the presence of the adhesive and the consequent damage to my presentation, my plan, my wife’s comfort level, because it would confirm his belief that I’d been honest with him about caring about those things, thereby bringing us closer, but what I had done instead was present a mask of kindness and acceptance, which required him to affirm my good behavior, to mirror what a capable and understanding man I was, what a decent human, thereby actually distancing us, making him feel that I was withholding my true feelings, not being forthright, opting instead to take what could have been an honest exchange between two strangers on a track toward knowing one another a little better and smother it with my neediness, clouding the exchange with my own compulsive need to see how wonderful I was mirrored in anyone and everyone I encountered, which I masked as an attempt to please him, but was actually an attempt to please myself.

We’d arrived at the address, where I paid him and tipped handsomely, and he left me with his business card, should I need clarification on what we’d gone over, taped to an invoice for the session, totaling $1,000, which was a sizable bite from what was left of our checking account and would have to be gone over with the new financial advisor.

The address was for a vacant lot with a telephone at its center, surrounded by a few men and women in suits, all of whose attention was on me.

I approached them, greeted them, explained that I was sorry to bother them, but I’d received a call. “You have some information about my wife?” I said.

“Yes,” they said. “She was just here.”