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My Old Could Have Been, Should Have Been, Flame

I was thinking today again about an American who I call Jack, although it's not his real name. I wrote about him six years ago and here I am doing it again. Jack intruded on my life and my peace of mind when we were both in our mid twenties. I was doing just fine until he came along.

He was the brother of my then partner Ryan (not his real name either). Ryan and I had been dating for a couple of months when he suggested I meet his older brother. Ever-willing for an adventure, I agreed. Off we trekked to San Francisco. Jack had suggested Mario's, a bustling Italian cafe on Columbus Avenue, across from Washington Square Park. We arrived first, and ordered cappuccinos. I looked across the room at the door at some point and saw a dark-haired man entering. And all the things you see in romantic comedies happened to me. My heart flipped, the world stood still, my knees buckled even though I was sitting. The room spun. Jack had entered my life.

Not, unfortunately, on his own. He had a girlfriend who clearly liked him as much as I did. Couldn't say I blamed her. Trouble was, she was beautiful and everything I wasn't. Chic, sophisticated, confident. I was still a tomboy, really. Shy and utterly not confident. Bravado-brash more like. 

Ryan didn't notice a thing, but Jack did. As for me, I was a wreck. I couldn't think of a word to say, and I had to tear my eyes off him every time I caught them slinking in his direction. Was he amused? I don't know, my brain was soda water. We finished our coffee and skipped across the road to the park where Ryan and I horsed around, I relieved to let some of that energy out of my body. Jack and his impossibly chic girlfriend didn't join us but he and I had a moment.

A split-second, where our eyes met. Did I imagine a wistfulness in his? I do believe I did. He wanted to play. I swear it.

Ryan and I stayed with Jack and his girlfriend in San Francisco for a weekend. It was the best of times and quite the worst of times. I longed to be alone with him and was more terrified tthat it might actually happen than if I'd faced the worst kind of torture. Add to the mix that I was also a loyal soul and couldn't imagine hurting Ryan.

Another inconvenient truth is of course that I couldn't imagine Jack choosing me over his lovely girlfriend. She wasn't just beautiful. I liked her. Still, I felt the tension between Jack and I. Or did I imagine it? Cue in the violins.

The second night I had a seizure. Which I do from time to time. An inconvenient truth. I'm always in my sleep and sometimes don't even wake up when the fit is over, but this one I did wake up from. Jack was the person I saw first, leaning over me with tenderness, care and concern. I guess I kind of felt him more than saw him at first. In that supremely vulnerable state his kindness embraced me. The next day he was gentle with me. It was a most extraordinary experience.

I'd never had anybody be so kind to me. If I was teetering on the edge before that, I was a goner from then on. But to continue the romantic drama imagery, the obstacles were too great for me. Jack had his girlfriend, or, to be more accurate, she had him; I had a boyfriend, his own brother.

And I was practically mute when in Jack's company. I often had the feeling he was waiting for me to speak. I would have if I'd known how, but words weren't exactly my forte back then. You can imagine the conversations I fantasized. All grist to the mill of a future film script no doubt.

One night we were all at their mother's. I was sitting on the front porch and Jack came out. We sat apart from each other, locked in silence that somehow throbbed with portent and unexpressed emotion. I was on the verge of blurting something, anything to break the deadlock, when Ryan joined us. He put his arm around me and I guess I responded lovingly, traitor that I was. To Jack. Who stood up, blurted out "I've been a fool" and stomped off.

I wanted to leap up and grab him, yelling "no, no you haven't". But I didn't. I couldn't.

Months later I left the US for Italy. Ryan followed me and for a while we remained partners but he drifted off and we drifted apart in an on-again off-again kind of way. I did my indigent artiste thing living in Siena for a couple of years, and returned to my birthplace, thinking I was leaving Ryan and Jack far far behind me, once and for all.

Only wouldn't you know it, Jack came with, in my heart. I didn't mean him to. Years came and went, as did partners, but always the memory of Jack stayed intact. I toyed at different times with trying to find him, but always didn't because he'd gotten married. To that impossibly beautiful girl. Then I heard through a mutual family friend that he wasn't married any more. You can imagine the happy ending I wrote to my romantic drama. In between my rarer moments of sanity and self-castigation for being a complete idiot.

I looked for him on the web, but didn't know enough to find him. Then one day I found his hometown home address in an old diary of mine, and I thought what the heck, just write to him. Say hallo; at least you'll resolve this wretched matter of the heart.

So I did. Didn't get a reply. Oh well. Didn't stop thinking about him, though, on and off. There's a great song called "My Old Flame".  My old flame, I can't even think of his name, but it's funny now and then how my thoughts go back flashing again to my old flame. No, I haven't forgotten his name. And yes, I know he wasn't exactly an old flame. A could-have-been, should-have-been flame then.

Life went on. In the interim I joined Facebook and met up with some old friends. I began to acknowledge that the person Jack had become in my mind might not have so much to do with the real Jack from back then. Still, the idea that he was somewhere around on this planet, living, breathing, flesh and blood intrigued me. And I watch a lot of romantic comedies, I'm a nut for them, so possibly the line between reality and gaga land was a bit blurred. You think?

Now and then I checked to see if Jack was on Facebook. He wasn't. Then all of a sudden he was. And it was Mario's cafe all over again. Had the intervening years resulted in no maturity at all within me? Nope. Hands sweating, knees buckling, heart pounding. Just like in the movies. Just like when I was an inarticulate, shy, passionate twenty year-old going on sixteen hiding rather unsuccessfully behind a mask of bravado. Only this romantic drama didn't have a happy ending. Our mutual friend was wrong, he's still married. I wickedly friended him but he didn't accept.

So there's Jack within contact, practically in the next room. I even know how to have a conversation now. But he isn't any more within reach really than he was all those years ago. To make things worse, he plays Clapton and so do I, we're both Hillary Clinton supporters, we're so damn similar. Isn't that unutterably tragic? The wretch, he's ruined my romantic drama.

And I obviously haven't grown up yet. Probably never will. Put it on my tombstone when I'm gone.

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Jennifer Stewart has a blog Jennifer Stewart, on US politics, and another Documenting Action, on clean energy. She always has been and still is a great supporter of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party.  

A member of the Writers' Guild of South Africa, Jennifer is a freelance writer/editor, screenwriter, script editor and novelist. 

Jennifer reads the New York Times every day, likes strong coffee, dark chocolate, and kind, insightful people. She believes that evil prevails when good men [and women] do nothing, and that Good Trouble is vital.

If Jennifer was American she would be a committed Democrat. She is one in spirit. She paints and sketches, plays piano and guitar and sings jazz standards.

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