The Gypsy (Pt 4) ‘His Story’

Mark Stevens AKA Mikey Walsh

ABOVE: The Gypsy, in his temporary accommodation and about to move back in with me, can you feel the love in those eyes.

Finally the renovation was completed and we moved back into the flat. Because everything was brand new it now felt magical, luxurious and romantic. I had been aching to move back and start again. The gypsy was relieved to be leaving the artex attic behind, but grateful to ‘the girls’ for accommodating him and indulging him with their company. I was delighted that we would be back together, sharing our lives and our bed, in our own home once again. I took delight from the fact that the nightmare and specter of the fire, could be put behind us at last.

ABOVE: The Artex flat that he couldn’t wait to leave

The fire signified the end of my freedom. I lost more than possessions in those flames. I lost my life’s original direction, which was my beloved media studies. It was an unplanned and unexpected re-route, and my life had taken a turn for the worst because of it. Looking around, it was hard to believe that there had ever been a fire but of course, there had been, and its effects were far reaching.

I slowly started to adjust to my new job role in the arcade. Sitting in that garish prison of brass and glass, 12 hours a day, to go home and play housekeeper to my Gypsy. For him, moving back into a brand new refurbished flat with a boyfriend that he resented wasn’t such a hard slog when the boyfriend cooked, cleaned and met 50% of the outgoings whilst feeling such obligation and guilt, that he would have done anything for him.

Oblivious, I was thrilled to be moving back into the flat. Childishly I placed my ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ in the centre of our bed. Our bedsides each had a little wooden shelf.  On his side he kept a Bible, some rosary beads and a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ musical trinket box. Over on my side were two images of naked male torsos, an alarm clock, a cheap lamp and a picture of my demigoddess, idol and early childhood influence of high camp, the actress Joan Collins, as Alexis Carrington.

The gypsy never did read his Bible. It just seemed to be there as a generic symbol, like they are in hotels, but of course he didn’t read it, because he couldn’t read. Travelers tend not to look at and understand the written word. He sketched a lot. I wrote in my journal. He was talented ‘ish’ at drawing, usually women in floaty dresses that looked more like wrestlers in the ring but he never wrote a thing, nothing – even with my sincere encouragement.

The bible, I think, was an after-effect, habit and symbol of his oppressive upbringing. The Disney music box symbolized the magic, imagination and fantasy that was restricted in him and the effeminacy he had had to conceal in his heart his whole life long.

Over on my side it was the after-effects, habits and symbols of an openly expressive and seemingly congenial upbringing that were on display. I thought touches such as this were brave and bold but I can be forgiven, as I had just turned twenty years old. Here in my own home I could display naked male torsos. I could worship Joan Collins with affirmations that I am who I am, and that I am proud to be so, without feelings of guilt, embarrassment and worthlessness. This, to me at least, was living real life as a gay man. He was captivated by this – both inspired and jealous in equal measure. I relished every spare moment that we managed to spend together though, as now our work shifts meant that we were ships that passed in the night.

Looking back, it is sad to think that some of the best times I ever had with him, were whilst sitting in bed playing PlayStation games. I loved Worms, naming all of my army cadets after characters from Dynasty. He loved Street Fighter. He would always win on the latter and took a daunting, unsettling amount of glee and satisfaction in the final ‘Finish Him’ move, always savoring that last blow with mock regalia and exaggerated character.

These were tender moments, before it was time for another 12 hours, confined within the brass and glass. Work was going well for him at Edwards. Shifts varied but generally he had lots of free time, and never worked during the day, yet his idea of cooking was to add boiling water to dehydrated potato granules and eat it with a spoon. He didn’t see the need for glasses, simply drinking from cartons and getting him to do any housework was impossible. Generally his shifts started between 5pm and 7pm, working through until 2am.  

Often he wouldn’t come home until after 4am, telling me that he was with “somebody that could help me with my story”. Whatever that meant, I wasn’t sure. He certainly had a story to tell, he rehearsed it on every person he met. He was sharp. He had always believed in himself, and he was aware of something special, unique and marketable in himself.

As I have written, he had waited until he was 18 to run away from his community, his family, and his entire culture. He had planned it for years, knowing that so little was known about the Romany Gypsy people, that he could escape with an interesting story – and he could now say and do, anything he fancied. He knew the ways or the Gorgias (Non Gypsy people) and he had a genius story to sell to them – my media studies helped him see this was possible.

MEDIA STUDIES JOURNAL
A PAGE FOR MY 1998 MEDIA STUDIES JOURNAL

He had spent his entire life aching to watch the world of the Gorgias through the television and film denied him at the gypsy camp. For him, it was like staring into a Christmas bauble when was allowed to watch something camp and wonderful on TV – and he saw in that vision, an opportunity to leave the confines of his community behind for a better life. 

His story was always a film in his mind, as he couldn’t read but was very imaginative. He would constantly describe how things would look and fantasize who would play each part. Back then it was people like Salma Hayek who soared in his mind to play his mum, today no doubt somebody more current… and who better to talk to about it all than me, his media studies boyfriend who had now had to leave his own dreams behind, whilst the gypsy made advances to assimilate that dream and inspiration into his own ambitions.

It was the most important thing to him above all else. His story was better than anyone else’s – particularly mime. It was why he breathed and at times it seemed like an illness. He would get angry and deeply indignant that I could not understand this when I told him we had time, we were so young. He was uneducated. He couldn’t read and definitely didn’t write. Could he act? He certainly tried – and tried to sing too. How would his story get told?

I didn’t have a clue, and I simply didn’t have the emotional intelligence to deal with the immense pressure that he relentlessly put me under. He was constantly projecting onto his canvas, but what I was not aware of, is that I was just there to hold it up for a short time whilst he pillaged my life for content. I was simply a means to an end in the progression of ‘his story’, that eventually, I would written out of through his wild ambition.

As a friend, when they can engage with him on a superficial level about ‘his story’, his cartoons and his incessant fixation on 1980’s memorabilia. When they could part company with him and go home, he was beguiling, funny and enchanting. He was unique, interesting and at times, totally arresting – not to mention the looks he had that sent women gooey.

As a person to love, a partner and a person to live with, it was another matter.

When ‘his story’ becomes a third person in the relationship, when it is more important to him than love itself, only a rift can grow. I would watch how he was with new people, and I could tell, knowing him well, that he was itching for somebody to innocently ask something about him. A slight smirk would rise from his lips and he would adjust his posture to regale them, starting with the immortal words…

‘Well, funny you should ask. I’m actually a Gypsy, on the run….’ etc etc

I witnessed this with every person he ever met whilst we were together and I noticed how each time it grew on a pace. He was becoming experienced, seasoned and brilliant at recounting his Gypsy Boy on the run story, but in private he would get vividly interested in all aspects of my life. He was fascinated by those tales from my childhood I have mentioned in part 1. Because my story fit him like a glove – like him, I had moved around a lot, probably more than gypsies did, and my moving in with him was my 16th move. 

I was brought up by two enthusiastic publicans, Jennifer and Dave Barron, landlord and landlady of bars and pubs in an era that was arguably the heyday of public houses. The 1980’s. When people made an effort to go to the local pub and landlords and landladies set the tone for villages and towns across the land. The business was booming and it was, to me, the Dynasty years, and my flame haired mother every inch an Alexis.

He loved to listen to stories of my spending long days in hairdressers and ladies boutiques, whilst waiting for my mother to either finish her pampering or give me some pocket money to buy any He-Man and She-Ra figures I liked. How I would wrap their heads up in toilet roll bandages, pretending to have operated on them so that Glimmer came out with Castaspella’s head or something crazy. I used to joke that she had inevitably turned me gay with her wonderfully camp behavior, however it was neglectful enough that as she disappeared down the stairs into a throbbing pub, in a cloud of Elnett hair lacquer, whilst shouting “Don’t forget to tape Dynasty for me” – that that is all I was left with. A fantasy mother… another story, entirely but for him, the jealousy was enormous – for he would bemoan how humdrum, boring and dowdy his own mother was by comparison.

He had not been allowed to watch anything like Dynasty. He was amazed at the freedom that I had in my early life without ever seeing its neglect. His mum was this dowdy figure with a lank blonde bob that never got styled. Or so he lamented to me numerous times. She didn’t mind Dallas but thought that Dynasty was over the top, and she seriously disliked “the drip” character Krystal Carrington. Or so he told me, as I shared with him all my VHS tapes of it, and he loved my impression of Krystal throwing dinner plates that I would do for fun with paper plates, often arriving home to find me swanning about in a silk kimono, smoking like Alexis, and peeling lychee nuts with a pout.

He would recount that the only glamorous influence in his life thus far had been the girl in the opposite trailer, Bianca, whom he adored and would secretly draw. She had beautifully dark and large eyes with long, long hair that she constantly brushed neatly into the contours of her neck. The travelling community may have many interesting characters but the men have to be men’s men, and the women are no-nonsense – everything that he ran away from to become was out of boredom and the uninspiring grind of a way of life he thought beneath him, too full of toil and restrictions – with no camp flare, just camp fires.

He had quickly realized in Edwards, that a young and attractive man such as he could get a lot of attention, tips and chance. His story would get a lot of attention, usually, a captive audience that wanted to sleep with him. As much as I loved him, I was only too aware of his vanity, but one couldn’t help but indulge and spoil him, such was his charm and character. How can one stay angry with a man who does a Bert and Ernie voice? He liked to have his way, and so there was little I could do or say to prevent him on his quest for the right person “to help with” his story. I just had to trust that he wouldn’t cheat on me, and I did trust him. I was protective, doting and serious about our relationship – but he acted like a free agent.

Mark Stevens AKA Mikey Walsh and David V Barron

Determined to achieve something at all costs, he decided that working his way up in bars until he was surrounded by the right media people, was the way forward. London was what he put forward as his longing. His story was so important to him and his belief in this idea was so unyielding and uncompromising that I had no choice.

So we forged out some plans together. Harry, or Leigh as he liked to call himself, was studying writing, I was the media studies guy, and the gypsy? Well, he was the one with all the flimflam but with no discernible talent to act on – no matter how hard he tried.

It was obvious to both of us that in Blackpool, he was unlikely to meet the right ‘media’ type people. I wasn’t even sure what he would do if he did meet the right person and it was something that I didn’t even want to think about – he would have been off like a shot.

We were only just setting up home together. I know he would have left me in a heartbeat if he had met a man that could open doors. Even if that man was already taken, as he was himself, this would not have deterred him. He clamps like a vice to anyone he sees a future gain with. He wanted to head straight to London because it was full of celebrities, opportunities and activities. I myself had been to London many times – even whilst with him – but it didn’t mean I wanted to go an live there.

London terrified me. But he had a plan – each bar he worked in would have to be better than the last, and each friend had to be well placed or more connected to well-placed people than the previous, to offer a hand up. London was perfect for this breed of nepotism, but it was too big a jump, too soon for me. 

He was gorgeous of course, super confident and really had the gift of the gab, so that wouldn’t have been a problem for him at all and his accent would slip straight in, what with his efforts to change his midlands dialect, and his constant disparaging of mine. He would soon find the “right people”, no doubt about that at all.

I had only just turned 20. It was too overwhelming for me. We had just moved back into our flat? What about our lives together right now? He had to face a hard reality – we were just not in a position to move to London.

We eventually compromised on Manchester. He wasn’t keen on that idea, as it was just another stepping stone to overcome and he was deeply impatient, but he resigned to the fact that it was the most realistic and cost-effective plan, for the time being.

Back then even going to Manchester was a big deal to me. I was a small-town boy with simple ideals. We are all wired up differently. Different things make people tick and motivate them for a variety of reasons. I just wanted to love and to be loved in return, above all else – and I had my own, harrowing reasons for that.

He, however, wanted his story out there prematurely and would do anything to get it there, above all else. I would much later realize that I had witnessed something remarkable. Somebody with such a far-reaching ambition, that it set them on a trajectory into the stratosphere – but without integrity and foundation, what goes up, must come down.

Time passed. Weeks melded into months, and it was often difficult to get the noise of the arcade out of my ears when home. I would, of course, be home alone because I arrived home just after 11pm and he wasn’t due back from the nightclub until the early hours now that he occupied my previous role at Edwards.

I hated my job in the arcade so much, but my home life and my love for the Gypsy was what kept my hope going. Those twelve-hour shifts locked in that box, surrounded by all that noise, was torture when I had had so much planned for my life at college.

I learned to break up the monotony by making myself little rotas. First I would clean the brass for two hours, and then it would nearly be lunchtime. Then at 2pm, I could open my packet of Jelly Babies. 4pm I could have a cup of coffee and try and sneakily read a magazine. There is a depressingly exhaustive pattern of behavior here that finally ends with my locking up my brass and glass prison at 11pm and waving off the dwarfs, so that I could run home to clean up the shit that he would generally leave all over.

One night I spent hours tossing and turning in bed. Waking up to every car that passed, checking my alarm clock that sat next to my picture of Alexis Carrington, wondering what time he will be home and who he was with now. This was just before we had mobile phones, so I couldn’t text and call to see if he was safe and alleviate my worry and paranoia, I just had to wait. How could I sleep until he was home safe and sound?

He came home early hours of the morning, about 6am. He was always stone-cold sober. Diet coke, attention and ambition fueled him, and he didn’t like to lose control. As usual, he was just sorting out ‘his story’ with people that he had met that night who had told him they knew people who knew people, and I just had to accept that.

No arguments, no compromising, no discussion. Just accept it.

In bed, in the dead of silence, I was tossing and turning. I was hot, worked up and restless. He shouted out that if I didn’t keep still I would be “sleeping on the fucking floor”.

I jumped out of bed and pulled the covers off him. I screamed at him, and I snapped. I was instantaneously livid. He lunged forward out of bed, with a ferocious glint in his eye, hitting both my shoulders with his hands. I fell back but caught my balance.

Then I looked at him, and in that split second, in that one outraged glance, I punched him clean in the face with a northeastern kiss. I dragged him to the floor and I whispered all of my feelings, my fears and my hurt, into his ear like a madman. I said those things in a savage and glaringly graphic manner. It was an out of character eruption that was born of frustration and an aching in my tortured heart I had nursed before we met – but he had sent me over the edge, something close to madness.

I steadily told him how his story was a cancer and how upsetting, joyless and agonizing it was that it should come before anything else and anyone else. That I thought it was an illness. How I felt insecure and crushed when he referred to the birthmark on my chest as something resembling a “disgusting flick of poo” and an AIDS lesion, of how low I felt when he put me down and dismissed me and never showed any level of fairness.

ABOVE: One ‘crazy’ thing I had him do was take pictures and blow bubbles at the same time, because I had reoccurring dreams about circles, orbs coming out of me into him – that we were to be forever connected – though this circle sign I didn’t quite understand myself at that point in time.

It all burst forth, out of me, in an unexpected and astonishing few seconds. I simply did not have the emotional maturity or the intelligence, to deal with the immense pressure that he put me under and at that point, even I myself didn’t fully know what it was that I had been through. His longing to have his story shared with the world was bypassing my feelings, my life, my own narrative – as though I were null and void. How dare he challenge me when I had spent yet another entire night worried sick about where he was? I had sacrificed so much to be with him, yet it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. He had no respect, personal interest, concern or love for me at all, and I couldn’t take anymore.

He got up and he ran to the toilet where he slammed the door and locked it. I was so livid that he wouldn’t listen to me and run away like a coward, that I took a knife from the kitchen drawer and slid it under the door. I wanted to scare him, to show him my desperation, my sadness, my frustration and confusion. I wanted him to see. Look, here I am, and I am suffering too. I couldn’t take this any longer. I had no idea what to do.

6 Comments

  1. what can I say?….marvellous. truly wonderful! has me gripped every time & so disappointed when I have to wait until next week! well written&draws you in x

  2. A very intense period of your life. The emotional pressure he put you under just burst out like you say. I bet he was totally taken by surprise, people like him are. They don’t like it when people fight back, take some power away from them even if it’s only for a few seconds.

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