ABOVE: The Gypsy, in his temporary accommodation and about to move back in with me, can you feel the love in those eyes.
“A vigorous temper is not altogether an evil. Men who are easy as an old shoe are generally of little worth”. – Charles Spurgeon
Eventually, finally the renovation was completed and we moved back into the flat. Because everything was brand new it felt magical, luxurious and romantic. I had been aching to move back and start again. Sean 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 spectre 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. 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 and early childhood influencer of high camp, the actress Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington.
Sean 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. Travellers tend not to look at and understand the written word. He sketched a lot. I wrote in my journal. He was talented at drawing but he never wrote a thing. The bible was an after-effect, habit and symbol of his oppressive and draconian upbringing. The Disney music box symbolised the magic, imagination and fantasy that was restricted and concealed in his heart his whole life long.
Over on my side it was the after-effects, habits and symbols of an openly expressive and 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 life as a real gay man.
I relished every spare moment that we managed to spend together. Our shifts meant that we were like 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 our 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 savouring that last blow with mock regalia and exaggerated character. These were tender and savoured moments, before it was time for another 12 hours, confined within the brass and glass.
Work was going well for him. 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, he worked 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. He had waited until he was 18 and ran away from his community, his family, his entire way of life. He had planned it for years, knowing that so little was known about the Romany Gypsy people, that he could escape and say anything he fancied.
He knew the ways or the Gorgias (Non Gypsy people – Civilisation) and he had a genius story to sell to them. He had spent his entire life watching the world of the Gorgias through television and film. For him, it was like staring into a Christmas bauble and he seen in that vision, an opportunity to leave the confines of his community behind. His story was always a film in his mind. He would constantly describe how things would look and fantasise who would play each part. Back then it was people like Salma Hayek who soared in his mind, 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. 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 young. We were uneducated. He could hardly read and definitely didn’t write. Could he act? 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, I would become written out.
As a friend, when you can engage with him on a superficial level about his story, his cartoons and his fixation on 1980’s memorabilia. When you could part company with him and go home, he was beguiling, funny and enchanting. He was unique, interesting and at times, totally arresting. As a person to love, a person to live with, it is 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….’
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.
Like him, I had moved around a lot 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.
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 behaviour, 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.
He had not been allowed to watch anything like Dynasty. He was amazed at the freedom that I had in my early life. His mum was a 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. She had beautiful big eyes and 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.
He had quickly realised that in a bar, a young and attractive man can get a lot of attention. His story could 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 you 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.
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. His story was so important to him and his belief in his idea was so unyielding and uncompromising that I had no choice. So we forged out some plans together. Harry was the writer, I was the media studies guy, and he was the one with all the flimflam and no talent to act on – you see how this is going, right?
It was obvious to both of us that in Blackpool, he was unlikely to meet the right ‘media’ people. I wasn’t 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. I was only just setting up home. 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 claps 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. This terrified me. Each bar he worked in would have to be better than the last, and each friend had to be well placed or connected to well-placed people, 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 only just moved back into our flat. What about our lives together right now? We were not in a position to move to London. We eventually compromised on Manchester. He wasn’t keen on the 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 have 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 realise 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, 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 until the early hours now that he worked in my previous role in Edwards.
I hated my job in the arcade so much, but my home life and my love for the Gypsy was what kept me going. Those twelve-hour shifts locked in that box, surrounded by all that noise, was torture when I had had so much planned 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 an exhaustive pattern of behaviour here that finally ends with my locking up my brass and glass prison at 11pm and waving off the dwarves so that I could run home to clean up the shit that he left 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 fuelled 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 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, I snapped. I was 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. 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 heart I had nursed before we met.
I steadily told him how his story was like cancer and how upsetting, joyless and agonising 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 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 connected again, though the circle that 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 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. I totally lost it.
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, 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. I wanted him to see. Look, here I am and I am suffering too. I couldn’t take this any longer.