I wrote this story as a writers’ group homework piece when I was 33 or 34. The original title was Meeting, which was the homework topic. It is a truism that you write what you know, but in retrospect, I didn’t know a thing about heartbreak. The Italian made sure of that.
When I tell this story – about how Jack and I met – people say that it was meant to be. In some ways, I agree. It was meant to be; it just wasn’t meant to be forever.
I had just bought my house, and needed a gardener to do some work for me. On the last day of the school term, I asked around at work if anyone knew of someone they could recommend. Mark said he did – a friend of his, Jack, was looking for some work, and gave me his number.
I called Jack that night, mentioned that I taught with Mark, and started to arrange a time for Jack to come and give me a quote for the work I needed done. When I gave him my address, I heard him catch his breath, and I asked him if anything was the matter. No nothing, came the reply, it’s just that I lived in the same street as he did. That caught me off guard as well, and struck me as little weird. But we made the arrangements for him to call around the next day.
When he knocked on the door, I immediately felt my heart banging against my chest, and when I opened the door, I was struck by the tall, tanned, athletic man standing on my doorstep. I ushered him through, showed him the garden, and he gave me the quote, which I thought was much too high for what I wanted done. He dropped his price, and I hired him. For that job, and the one after that, and the one after that.
Jack was a regular visitor during those school holidays, working in my garden, and the more I saw of him, the more I was attracted to him. He had a quiet gentleness that I found steadying, and his shyness belied his intelligence. I discovered that he was an elite athlete, and had travelled the world a few years ago playing squash. Despite that he had an innocence that I found intriguing: he seemed to be oblivious to how good-looking he was. He started dropping in on his way home from work, and I started to look forward to his visits. It wasn’t long before Jack and I became lovers.
When I returned to school, I found out that Mark had quit his job and had taken a contract to teach in a country school. I was quietly stunned. If Mark hadn’t given me Jack’s number when he did, I would never have met him. I would never even have had the chance of meeting him. We had been brought together by events that I couldn’t even contemplate, a line of people who had to be in the right place at the right time to allow Jack and I to meet.
But that wasn’t enough to keep us together. After nearly a year, we parted. We just couldn’t overcome enough of our weaknesses and frailties – our human essence – to make it work. I was bitter and deeply angry with myself and also with Jack for a very long time. I was angry that we could take something that seemed so right and just destroy it. I was bitter that we just couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to making it work, and in the end gave up.
I know now that I was deeply in love with Jack. In so many ways what we had worked on so many different levels. And that was one of the problems. We were different – much too different.
Human beings come together for many reasons, and we learn all sorts of lessons. That’s what being human is all about. Loving, living, hurting, dying. I can look back on my time with Jack, now from the safety of years, and realise I’m one of the lucky ones. I know people who have gone a lifetime without experiencing the deep passion I felt for him.
I met Jack after a series of coincidences that made me really stop and think and question they way things work in the world. I thought that someone or something had orchestrated our meeting, for some sort of higher purpose. Now I understand that people meet or come together for all sorts of reasons. But what they do with that meeting is up to them. You can’t dwell on how things could be or should be. Things are what they are, no matter how much you want them to be otherwise. And in the end it all comes down to this: it’s not the way we meet, it’s what we do with it that counts.