A few weeks pass. We have become an inseparable and dynamic couple. We spent long days in bed just eating toast, drinking tea and cuddling. The world outside could wait. We bonded with what felt like a magnetic force, as though we were two sympathetic elements, which had sought one another out. We were wildly different, yet quite the same. We both grew up in tough male-dominated surroundings, whilst being slightly effeminate and inherently afraid of machismo and fighting. We had faced fear, beatings and bullies. We had both yearned for that place to belong, as many young harassed ‘different’ boys do.
Growing up knowing, instinctively feeling, that you are different from other boys is the universal problem that many gay men face. Some can easily hide it and others, like he and I, could simply open our mouths to speak and it put pay to any doubt. Actions too, could involuntarily give the game away and display a slightly less than masculine quality to a very stout-hearted activity before we were even old enough to have any notion, of these differences. Differences which would push us into an alternative lifestyle. However, it was much harder for him, as this wouldn’t just push him into an alternative lifestyle but an alternative culture.
He was soaking up this new environment all of the time. We spent hours in the Disney store, Basils on the Strand (Blackpool’s original gay bar) and ‘Funny Girls’, the towns famous drag act, cabaret bar. Although dated, cheap and quite tacky, at our tender age this was the most glamorous thing we had ever seen. He was transfixed by Miss Bette Legs Diamond, the comical and talented star of the show.
I had an annoying habit of tapping him when I was speaking to him but he wouldn’t look anyway from the stage, or even blink it seemed. Simply batting my hand away as though I were a fly. He was utterly captivated by the camp renditions of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as he soaked up the atmosphere. Here we were, in this magical place where gay and straight people mixed and I had a boyfriend to stand proud with. Some looked on with fondness, other straight people, with pity and condolence but I didn’t care. I didn’t care because here we belonged. Here, we were happy and proud to be gay for the first time in our lives.
By now I was very familiar with his story. How he came to a decision, hatched a plan and ran away from the travelling community, leaving his family and his strict father far behind. How he was helped by his first boyfriend Calum, who orchestrated the getaway plan and dropped him off with enough money for a B&B for a week. He also arranged him a job, at Blackpool’s Super Bowl and Diner.
His mind was always elsewhere, never with me, never truly open. His love affair with Calum was short-lived. Calum wanted to help out this young and beautiful Gypsy boy, but couldn’t see a future. Some gay men are notoriously fickle when it comes to other peoples ‘baggage’ but he was thoroughly decent enough to help him out all that he could, but ultimately, he was left alone in Blackpool, on the rebound, on the lookout for a chance.
He always described the moment when they were driving away with such affected but entertaining pomp. They blasted out Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and he felt particular relief and confidence in the lyrics ‘I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, and be someone’. Yes, he was on the run with a plan and had found a canvas to project all of his hopes and desires onto, and his story, through my own, he could fill in the cracks.
This is where he really paid attention to me, and to my own story – my childhood and teenage years fascinated him. It seemed that my past held all the elements he wishes he had had… of my antics in Errington Woods, in the tiny village where I spent four years of uninterrupted continuity – with horses, stables, and a gang of friends. How me and my She-Ra dolls, caused delightful unselfconscious mayhem to the scary man who ran the neighbouring farm. The soaring imaginations of a boy not yet defiled by abuse, neglect and sexual molestation – yet all he saw was what he had lacked, not my own personal horrors of how that bubble would burst.
Because of Calum dumping him, Sean’s heart was closed off from me from the off and although he was with me on that rebound, it really didn’t stop him telling me that he loved me on the first day. He wanted, needed, and saw in me fruits that he thought were his to take – he acted as though we were a unit that could face the world together, because I had all of the tools he didn’t, and so on he forged whilst concealing his true feelings – which was that he enjoyed being inspired by me. My journal entries, my photographs and media studies files were enough to bare my personality, because he was thirsty to catch up to speed but resented me at the same time for having such a rich childhood history – throwaway anecdotes like the time I was forced to dress as a clown by my mother one NYE when all I wanted to be was a witch or She-Ra. Og when I dressed up as Micky Mouse at weekends – an anecdote not hard to prove as my own if I could be bothered with such piffle.
It really stuck with him, my anecdotes, not only as he kept one of my diaries but because he didn’t have those freedoms – not even to paint a face. What a bore it must have been until he met me and became privy to the constant creative process that is my life.
Covertly, he wanted somebody to make his life temporarily more comfortable now that Callum had left him, to fend for himself, I practically fell into his lap gift-wrapped waving a baton. I would be perfect until it was time for him to move on. It was a cold, cunning and calculated advancement of his story that… but, on we go.
ABOVE: The Gypsy. On the run with a plan to be somebody.
I didn’t want to acknowledge or admit this to myself. In retrospect, denial can be breathtakingly effective when we want it to be and I had suffered so much disassociation through trauma in the previous few years that I couldn’t recognise the danger in other people’s eyes.
I was totally head over heels in love with him. The inflections in his voice, the way he would talk but trail the sentence off into a drawn-out high pitched laugh just as I did, the colourful language he peppered his sentences with, like the C-word, was shocking and new, and his exotic smell and his touch made it a labour for me, when we were apart.
I missed him with a physical force. He was omnipresent in my mind at college and in my dreams at night. For the first time in my life, I felt the physical force of grown-up emotions, of love. Any notion I may have had, of things not being what they seemed, were very quickly and effectively pushed to the recesses of my mind because I was such a lost and damaged boy and yet here I was with a media dream and a boyfriend. It couldn’t be anything but perfect, it was too wonderful and right and he does love me, he will love me, I told myself and it was meant to be, etc etc.
“It’s alright for you” was his constant adage. “You’ve got everything,” he would say. Indeed, it was alright for me, on the surface. I only worked 16 hours a week at the club and lived rent-free in my parent’s hotel, where meals and laundry were provided and shamefully I didn’t even have to make my own bed. I had a good life and was doing very well at college, but that in itself was a miracle to me. I wanted it to be alright for him too. I loved him and I wanted we to be us. I wanted to share the burdens he faced and I wanted him to be happy, settled and to belong.
Very quickly I decided that we should move in together. He would immediately have all of his bills slashed in half; better amenities, more space, electrical appliances (He didn’t even have a television or an iron) and the benefit of my entire life collecting videos, music, magazines and the whole works of gay culture thrown down at his feet – a crash course for him in popular culture that he could now call his, and that was better than the current position he was in, by lightyears working at that down-market diner, living in that god awful room. So he didn’t have to give it much thought at all.
My mother always let me make my own mistakes – in fact, she just wanted to be rid of me and I would never have listened to anyone that said it was a bad idea anyway. The basement flat below my older sisters flat had become vacant and she arranged with the landlady and my mother, for us to move in. It was rather chintzy for two young lads but it was an upmarket place for Blackpool that is for sure, and it felt like my very own Barbary Lane.
We likened it to the cabin of a ship. It was a basement flat in a stone brick townhouse, kitted out entirely in wooden panels and clean plasterwork. We had our own kitchen and bathroom, hallway and spacious bedroom and sitting area. There wasn’t a piece of cheap Artex or wood chip in sight, and it was a place that he would never have been able to afford on his own – a world away from where he currently resided.
It was a Friday afternoon. The Gypsy was at work at the diner and I was getting ready for a half-day at college. We had lived there for a full week now. I was beaming with pride. The place was immaculate and I planned on inviting people back for dinner that evening. It would have been our first dinner party.
Back then I could cook two dishes, Spaghetti Bolognese and Lasagne but I felt incredibly grown up and independent here in my own flat, with a boyfriend that I was so proud of. I took one last look around at the immaculate flat and noticed that the ashtray was full. It’s hard for me to even imagine myself smoking now but it seemed like everyone did it back then and I was no different. I took the ashtray and emptied it into a wicker bin and off I went on my way to college.
When I arrived my tutor had that look, the look that makes you think somebody has died. He took me to a room where the police were already on the phone line with the incomprehensible words, “Mr Barron, there has been a fire at your home”.
I was taken back to the flat. The shock of it all was like an out of body experience. I simply could not get my head around it and my mind revolted its possibility until I arrived. There were two fire engines, a sea of spectators, the police and my poor sister in her dressing gown being held up by two elderly ladies as thick black smoke flooded out of our basement windows. There was no breeze and it hung in the air around us all. It was a horrifying, creeping fear and doom.
Directly above the basement fire, my sister had been very ill in bed with a fever and only stirred because of an unusual, roaring noise beneath her. She had initially thought that the heat was a symptom of her fever and was quite inconsolable as she had laid in bed a long time before she realised her danger and alerted the emergency services.
I don’t know how I got through the hours that followed but my boyfriend and my mother would make damn sure I paid the price.