Warning this story may be challenging for some readers, it deals with sexual themes & suicide.
With Rue My Heart is Laden
With rue my heart is laden
For the golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leaping
The light foot lads are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.
A. E. Housman 1859-
I felt his touch for three days after he had gone. He, waking with a start the morning after we met. In a hurry to leave, his mother’s birthday. He needed to see her. Not negotiable, unthinkable not to be with her on her birthday.
Me, I wished this Sunday had been some other day and not his mother’s birthday. I never, wanted him to leave. Ever.
God he was gorgeous.
He had that wonderful young handsome boy quality. An air boys like him inhabit where they do not see themselves as anything special. Almost surprised that other people find them attractive at all. Blonde haired, blue eyed, six-foot three inches of rippling smooth hard bodied beauty. You could sense his lightness of being. His simple kindness and free spirit, like that seen in a country boy. When you spoke with him you had the gift of his full attention. Not only was he handsome, he had a personal magnetism completely without artifice. When in the sunshine of his conversation you just wanted to drink it in and bask in it.
I met him on a Saturday at a night club. “The Peel”. I was thirty three years old and he, twenty three. He told me the first time he came to a gay night club he walked around and around the block several times until he could find the courage to actually come inside. When I saw him, I decided to help him meet someone, punching above my weight to be with him even for one night, and definitely unattainable as a boyfriend. Anything to be near him.
We chatted, light things, did he come here often. It’s how I knew about the circling of the block. He was still not comfortable with his sexuality and, it was only six years after being homosexual had been decriminalised. Later, he told me that his father had been a policeman. I asked him who he would like to meet, ready to fulfil on my promise to myself. I was stunned when he said “I would really like to get to know the man I am speaking to now.” So, when he agreed to come and spend the night with me the rest of the time at the “Peel” is, for me now, a bit of a blur. At that moment the only thing that existed in my world was him.
Watching him remove his clothes in my bedroom that night, I had no concerns for my own pleasure. So erotic, so perfect. Every part of him chiselled beauty. I wanted him to have me however he wanted, life could not be better than this. It was already orgasmic to be with this man. To have his the warmth of his silky smooth skin on mine to be held and caressed and to caress and hold. Diving into his deep blue eyes, drowning is his gaze, if I died at that moment my life would have been complete. It did not matter whether I reached a sexual climax so long as he did. It was enough if he was fulfilled. My dreams had been answered, an angel had smiled upon me and graced me with his presence.
He asked me for my telephone number before he left, and, he gave me his. He pausing for a second to consider. I wondered “Would giving me his number cause him problems?” or, “maybe I hadn’t measured up” perhaps he was wanting a more aggressive and expressive partner. He gave a “what the heck shrug,” jotted it down and handed it to me. We agreed to meet again.
Of all places, we met at the ‘Pancake Parlour’ in Market Lane in Melbourne’s CBD. We shared more of our stories with each other. Matt’s father had been taken by cancer. Lung cancer, and before he died had him make a solemn promise that he would not take up smoking. He sealed it with a small inheritance.
Matt had caved and was in the thrall of the tobacco addiction and recreational cannabis. Whilst this seems like a small sin, for Matt it transgressed his values a painful source of shame and betrayal of the pledge he had made with his beloved father. Just as was the sense of shame he felt for his sexuality. A battle fought internally against social demons by every gay person on the planet. I didn’t realise the depth of the despair these held for him. At the time I thought, oh well, if his father was alive he would forgive him. After all, the pledge he had seduced him to make was a father wanting to save his son from suffering. He would not have meant for the pledge itself to have been a cause of suffering of its own accord would he?
Back-packing the world. How exciting and… how bloody inconvenient. Particularly, when you desperately want to be the back packer’s boyfriend. Oh well, at least I could luxuriate in the memory of that one night and live out of that memory pretending to be Merryl Streep in “Bridges of Madison County”. Even worse; the “let’s be friends” to the question “would you like to see me again?” “Bugger it.”
Not prepared to let him go that easily, I was determined to stay in touch with the occasional phone call and he bounced into my house one day not too much later, flicked on the kettle, tea pot readied and the biscuits sniffed out*. Up for another chat. Europe all the usual haunts and it seemed that we would cross paths at the same time in Denmark. I was to be travelling for a scientific conference in Europe and was able to bend my trip to make sure we could meet in Copenhagen. I was to write to set the date to the central post office in Copenhagen – we would meet at the Town Hall Square. No mobile telephones in 1990. I wrote, I went, I waited, I went to the post office. No message. I walked by the Town Hall Square everyday. Sitting, waiting for him and his broad smile, he never came.
I tracked down his address (on the verge of stalking, but without the weird, creepy aspects) and sent him a birthday card whilst he was still away. He was a little spooked, I had gotten too close to home. His mother read it to him when he called from overseas. She had never heard him mention me. Thank God I had been very discreet and matey, a precaution in case it fell into the wrong hands.
He contacted me when he came home. He had elected to spend extra time somewhere along his way and that was the reason I missed him in Copenhagen. He had a pair of boxer shorts for me he had picked up in India as a gift. A really basic tan, white and black striped pair with a jute string tie. He intended them to amuse, but I have them still, thirty years later, along with his telephone number in pencil on the fragment of paper he tore from an envelope. The one he gave me the day after we met.
He shared that he had seen a buddhist monk self-immolate in India. Moved by witnessing this significant and shocking event. He was astounded by the peaceful strength and power of the monk’s stoicism to endure such a death.
Matt had returned at the time of a big gay dance party at Festival Hall and I invited him to come with me. He said yes! Elation.
He came and picked me up. So excited. Great music, fantastic crowd, incredible laser light show. Matt had brought a joint, not something recently done by me. I had smoked marijuana when I was nineteen years old and the first couple of times I threw up.
Yes, you guessed it. I threw up this time too. Fan-bloody-tastic… it was Festival Hall, raked seating of plastic moulded chairs, there was no chance for me to make it to a bathroom. So there in one of the rows of seats I threw up, and I threw up and I threw up. Every time I looked up from throwing up the flashing of the strobe lights and the laser light show would induce another bout of vomiting. I did not think it was possible for a person’s body to produce the volume of vomit that mine produced that night. What a great way to impress a date.
He was really lovely and would go off to get some water and bring it back to me. I insisted he go off and enjoy himself and dance and he came back numerous times during the event. We finished up the night sitting in his car in the carpark. He asked me “what is it about me? Why do you like me so much?” I said that I was very attracted to him, he was everything that I was searching for in a boyfriend. But, it was evident despite my wish otherwise, he did not feel the same way for me as I felt for him. A final crushing blow, no chance. Especially disappointing after crashing from the heights of elation to spending a very uncool night vomiting in the twenty fourth row at a Festival Hall dance party. How could he want to be with someone like me. We would only ever be friends at best and, most likely, acquaintances. It was time to let the fantasy of the perfect romance and beautiful boyfriend go. Time to let the pain of craving pass through me.
One night about six months later, having dinner at Thy, Thy One a restaurant in Melbourne. There he was, with his new boyfriend, a nice looking man in his mid-thirties. It was such a kick in the guts, I had to leave the restaurant and rushed down the stairs into the street. I cried. I don’t think he saw me, he conversing with his friends and it is a noisy fast paced restaurant. I gathered myself, finished dinner and left quickly. Then, again at the New Year’s Day party in Murrumbeena, a word of mouth tradition among those in the ‘know’ in the Melbourne gay scene. A gay couple would literally throw open their house and hundreds of ‘god like’ gay men in speedos would descend on the house with its outdoor swimming pool for a party that would start at noon and go to midnight. He was with someone new, I could not believe his choice. His new boyfriend was a very effeminate theatrical, dancer type, and I am sorry to say I judged him very harshly without even speaking to him. The boyfriend seemed to glide rather than walk, his hair was dyed and his appearance was contrived and synthetic. I would have been much happier to have seen him with some handsome god like creature, someone to measure up to him and his lack of facade. It would have been much easier, it would have lessened the sting a little. That was the last time I saw him. At that party, with that creature. It was like seeing a baby animal about to be consumed by a wolf. Strange to say, I saw the ‘creature’ at a theatre event about thirty years later, he was fawning and fussing over a billionaire patron to the arts. Obviously connected.
I was sexually precocious. Awoken from my sexual innocence by a much older boy who lived at the top of my street. I was eight at the time. This boy had all of the best toys. His father had made him a properly constructed cubby-house with appropriately sized furniture. He had a record player and, the toy that I loved the best, a reel-to-reel tape recorder. We often played things that he chose. One day he said to me I could play with anything I wanted, I could choose so long as I would do something that he wanted. We finished up in the tree house we had made. An old front door on top of a chicken coop under the branches of an overhanging tree. Him wanting me to suck his penis. I felt trapped. All of a sudden, he was not my friend and fun playmate anymore. It was like the world stopped turning for a fraction of a second. I did not want to do that and yet I felt compelled by my promise. Of course he got what he wanted but only for a few seconds, it was compliance to the promise but hardly satisfying for him.
After I had seen Matt at Thy Thy One I went home. I lay on the bed trying to block out the world. In the quiet realised that Matt resembled another friend. A friend I had not seen since I was ten years old. Perhaps Matt was a fantasy of what my friend would look today. My ten year old friend was a classmate, blonde haired, blue eyed, slightly taller than me and I thought he was beautiful. I seduced him and another of my friends to explore sex in the old wash house laundry of the unoccupied house in my street. It was all pretty exploratory but it was exciting to see them naked and for us to explore our bodies. My friend’s name also began with the letter ‘M’ for Malcolm. His parents moved to Swan Hill and I never heard from him again. Perhaps that is why I was so obsessed with Matt.
I met Victor, in a cafe in Commercial Road Prahran, the gay epicentre of Melbourne. He was very handsome and I noticed him sitting at a high bench in the window. I looked over at him and said to him, “Hey you, come and join us immediately.” We were together for three years following that meeting. The crazy thing was the unbelievable coincidence, he and Matt grew up together. Matt’s and Victor’s fathers were friends, their families socialised so they knew each other well and had grown up together. Victor and I split in 1995. It had been five years since I met Matt. I was on long service leave and was finishing a minor thesis for a Masters when Victor called to tell me that Matt was dead. Writing these words still has my stomach drop and I feel sick.
Matt committed suicide.
He poured petrol over himself and he set himself alight. Like the buddhist monk he had seen in India, only it took seven days for Matt to die in the burns unit of a Melbourne hospital. I cannot imagine the pain that he must have endured during his last days on this earth. Nor, can I imagine the pain his best friend, mother and brother experienced at his bedside watching what was left of this beautiful creation of God slowly, and painfully die.
It was surreal to attend the funeral of a twenty-nine-year-old. So hard to sit there looking at a photo of the lovely next door boy, the six foot three God who had come to bless me with his presence those handful of years before. Gone.
* Words shared by a childhood friend at his funeral.