It was not what I expected
Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash
In 2001, I met a man that my heart instantly recognized as the man I had been looking for my whole life. I was interviewing him for an article I was writing. He was the trails manager at a prestigious public garden. When I walked down the path to his beautiful office on a lake I was impressed. He had the french doors open to allow the warm spring breezes in, and his handsome wood kayak was resting by the shore ready for a tour around the lake. I was smitten before I even met him.
As I was interviewing him, my heart said ?There you are. I?ve been looking for you.? I was confused and sweaty and a little shaky in his presence. I was trying to stay cool and concentrate on his answers to my questions. Then he rolled a map out on the floor and as we both bent over to look at it our heads touched. I was done for.
The problem was, I was married and he was too. It was silly to even entertain that this was the man I had always been looking for, but there it was. I tucked that thought away into the recesses where I kept things I did not dare think about. But it never went away.
I saw him several times in the next few years as our paths crossed. My heart always pounded ridiculously and I chastised myself for being so silly. It felt like a childish crush, and I knew that it was impossible that it would ever come to anything.
Fast forward to 2006. I was in need of a job. One day I walked to the mailbox to pull out the local paper. His picture was on the front page. He had been named director of the garden where he worked. I am a horticulturist and I thought I would call him and see if he had any positions open.
When I went in for the interview, I was as nervous as a school girl on her first date. We chatted and then took a tour of the garden in his truck. While we were driving around the garden he casually told me he had gotten a divorce since I last saw him. I nearly shouted ?YES!? but instead I looked at him with sad eyes and said ?I?m so sorry.?
The interview went well and he hired me.
I worked for him for 18 months. He was always friendly in a reserved and professional way. He came around to check on me occasionally and it never failed to elicit a physical response ? a pounding heart and sweaty palms. But there was never any indication that he ever gave me a second thought ? except when I broke one of the rules, like carrying a cup around with me while I worked ? which I did often.
After a while I buried my crush, but I still had a visceral response whenever he came around. I knew his walk. He wore cowboy boots and I could hear him coming with my back turned. I would get all shaky and get that stupid racing heart again. It was really irritating.
One day he came to check on me and when he saw that I was weeding he jumped out of his truck and started helping me. We worked silently for a while and then he said ? I love weeding. It?s such a Zen activity.? I looked at him and thought ?Where the hell have you been all my life?? But I did not allow myself to dwell on that thought, or any other thought that included him as anything but my boss.
During the time I worked for him, my own marriage was falling apart. My mom came down to visit and be a moral support for me at this time. She came to work with me one day and met my boss. My mother had seen him many times on TV on Walter Reeves? garden shows, and on the PBS show The Victory Garden South. She was already smitten with him from that. He was cordial, but distracted, and I was aggravated with him for being on his phone. She thought he was charming. I thought he was rude.
That night when she and I were sharing dinner, she looked at me and said ?I don?t know why you aren?t in love with him.?
I opened my eyes wide and said ?Mom! He?s my BOSS!?
Undeterred she shot back ?Well, he?s in love with you.?
I laughed. Of course that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. He showed absolutely NO interest in me whatsoever. What a ludicrous thing for her to say. I let it drop.
When my marriage finally did break up, I was coming to work every day but I was falling apart. I wanted out of the marriage, but I was having to work out how I was going to move forward. I was scared. There were days when I would be on my knees planting and I would be crying hysterically. This was not sustainable.
One day after a particularly rough jag of crying, I went into the locker room to wash my face and get something to drink. When I came out, with a cup in my hand, he showed up around the corner. He was mad. I had never seen him mad before. He started dressing me down for not being where he could find me and we needed to get something done right away and ?IT IS NOT COFFEE BREAK TIME!? he said as he eyed the cup in my hand.
That was it for me. I fell apart and started crying again. His face crumpled and he looked mortified. He started apologizing profusely. I was so embarrassed but I could not stop crying. He told me to go take a walk. ?Take as much time as you need.? He kept saying ?I?m so sorry!?over and over.
I felt so foolish. I could not keep on like this. I made the decision that I needed to quit working while I tried to get my life back on track. The next day I came in and gave him my 2 week notice. He was alarmed. He said I did good work and he hated to lose me. He offered me time off. Or shorter hours. ?Whatever you need? he said.
I told him ?Thank you, but what I need right now is time to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move forward with my life.?
When the two weeks was close to an end, he came around one day and told me to take a break and get something to drink. We sat on the curb of the back walk where I had been working. He asked me how I was doing. I said ok, but I cry all the time. He said he went through that when he got his divorce. He told me if I needed to cry he had big shoulders. We were sitting so close our shoulders were touching. I looked at him and wondered what he meant. He was my boss, after all. But I thought it was sweet.
On my last day at work he came around to do my exit interview. We sat in the shade on comfortable benches. He pulled out a clip board and a pen and started filling out the paperwork. He read from the form ?Reason for leaving (the garden?s) employ?. He looked up at me and waited for me to respond so he could write it on the form. This is when my entire life changed.
Without a thought in my head, I blurted out
?Because I have fallen in love with my boss and I can?t work for him anymore.?
The world stood still when I heard myself say that. What the hell? Did I say that out loud? I was mortified. I wanted a hole to open in the ground and swallow me right then and there.
His pen froze in the air over the paper. I braced myself for what was coming. I was sure I was going to hear some form of ?That is not appropriate ? I?m your boss? yada yada. I waited.
He put the pen down and looked at me, wide eyed. ?I can?t write that!? he said. Then realization struck him ? which one of his managers was my boss? ?Who?s your boss?? he demanded. He was forgetting that I was one of his only direct reports.
?The last time I checked, you were? I said.
His face was a strange mixture of disbelief and pleasure. ?I?m flattered? he told me. He stared at me.
I was waiting for the ?But?. I knew it was coming. I just wanted this to be over with so I could go home and hide. How humiliating!
He looked directly at me and said
?And I think the feeling is mutual.?
The earth tilted on its axis and I felt myself sway. This can?t be happening! That was the last thing I ever expected to come out of his mouth.
We sat there and looked at each other. Neither of us knew what to say at that point. We both wondered ?Now what??
The rest of the exit interview was awkward to say the least. We walked to my car together to get my keys and my uniforms. He told me to go home and take care of myself. He said we would be in touch. He hugged me.
A couple of weeks later I came to the garden to walk, hoping I would run into him. He was walking over a rise toward me carrying a ladder. Impulsively, I ran to him and threw my arms around him and kissed him. We were both surprised. He put the ladder down and we walked around the garden together and talked and talked. We made plans to see each other.
A week later, we met at the garden and went to his house for dinner. From that day forward we have been together. Almost twelve years now. We married 4 years ago.
Photo of our wedding day by Jennifer Callahan
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my mouth had not blurted out what was hidden so deep in my heart I could not acknowledge it. I know he would never have pursued me. I did not know it was true that I was in love with him until the moment I said it. What if I had had time to stop myself from saying it? Would we have missed the opportunity for a second chance? I hate to even consider what might have happened if I had been more circumspect.
I have always tended to be impulsive. As I have grown older I have learned to reign myself in a little more. That is one time that I am so glad that I said what was on my heart without censoring myself.
I will forever be grateful to my mom for seeing what I could not see and planting the seed in my mind, even though I kept pulling it out like a weed.
Happily ever after is still possible.
You are never too old for fairy tales.
Beth Bruno is a writer trying to make sense of the world as she sees it. She lives by the mantra ?If not now, when?? She believes there is always joy to be found in our ordinary lives. And she believes in second chances. It is never too late.
She lives in South Carolina with her husband, 6 chickens and 2 cats.