She caught my eye during freshman orientation. I was clueless, shuffling around the student center by myself, reciting my Social Security number to anyone who asked.
“Watch-Ova-Yah?” I said.
She gave me a warm, Carolina smile: “Wachovia.” Then she handed me a free t-shirt. And against the advice of my dorm mates, I wore it around campus the next day.
In the blink of an eye it was Thanksgiving. I went back to New Jersey and sauntered about with my new “Visa check card,” fearing the conversation I was about to have with my hometown bank. But my old gal understood. It was the ‘90’s. She was happy I’d found someone who could give me everything she couldn’t.
Wachovia and I dated exclusively all four years of college. At graduation, I briefly contemplated breaking it off. I was leaving for an internship in Washington. But hey, she had plans to be in Virginia.
After DC I lived in four different cities. I traveled to five continents. Once, I contacted her from a sweltering ATM vestibule in Papua New Guinea. I needed 600 kina. She made it happen.
A few years later, when I took a job in New York, she was still dutifully sending me letters from North Carolina. And she was a big deal now, often in the news: “Securities,” “Investment Banking,” “Capital Markets” – things I’d heard about on CNBC, but didn’t fully understand. I was smitten.
One summer evening, I climbed out of a taxi in Midtown Manhattan. And there she was on the corner, every bit as radiant as the day we met. She had arrived. Finally I knew with certainty: She was The One.
“What if I want to live in California someday?” I said.
She just gave me that look: “Baby, if you wanna go to Cali, I’m already there.”
For a few years she impressed folks in the Big Apple, one of those Wall Street gals with a hot southern accent. I’d even go to Miami on weekends and hear people talking about her. (I didn’t know it then, but that’s never a good sign.)
Needless to say, the winds shifted markedly in the fall of 2008. I thought if we just made it through the holidays then things would settle. But on New Year’s Eve she blind-sided me, told me she had become someone else.
A few combative weeks followed, until one chilly evening I opened her mail. Then I roared, “Who is Wells Fargo!?” She blamed it on the government, said she had no choice.
We couldn’t work things out. One year turned into two. She sent me letters about our checking account, asking me for money, but I could tell Fargo had written them.
I’m seeing someone else now, though legally she and I are still together. It’s time to sign the papers, and I haven’t talked to her in months. I’ll be honest: It’s sort of hard to let go.
This Thanksgiving I’ll be visiting my hometown. And maybe I’ll drop in and see how my old bank is doing. She’ll politely ask how things are with Wachovia, and I’ll stare at the floor and tell her: We’re splitting up after 18 years. “She’s out there somewhere,” I’ll say, “part of something much bigger than herself. I guess that’s what she always wanted.”
And maybe my old bank will casually mention that she has free checking and no debit card fees – and that I’m always welcome back.
Ben Von Klemperer is a lawyer based in New York City. He’s working on a novel about Papua New Guinea.