In my last post, I told you I was going to talk about Garry, a flatmate of ours from that Belsize Park flat in London. I had mentioned that he deserved his own (long) post because of the complicated and painful relationship I had with him. I did, though, learn alot about myself through the pain.
Wiry, thick-haired and timid Garry arrived in March 1974 filling a vacancy we had in the flat. He also happened to be Australian, like Henry and Jeffrey, but he hadn’t known any of us before turning up.
Garry and I shared a room and it didn’t take long before we ended up sleeping together which continued for well over a year. We certainly said that we were in a relationship and I had the idea that we spent quite a bit of time with each other. But looking back at my calendar, Garry’s name only makes rare appearances as he must have been squeezed in between all the other activities I had on the go that year with my teaching job and my political activities, not to mention lots of socializing.
Strangely, I can’t recall specific things I liked about Garry except that he would be happy to come along with me exploring and socializing and the sex was good. Did I love him? Not in any sense with which I know the feeling of love now.
Or maybe I just liked the convenience of having a lover in name who would put up with me being “in charge” and who allowed me to be more selfish than I should have been in a more equal relationship.
For example, I did insist that we had a open relationship, meaning that both of us could have sex with other men when we wanted. I had thoroughly absorbed Gay Liberation ideology and I was very committed to non-monogamy and sexual freedom. I certainly didn’t want to ape the heterosexual model of relationships and I thought he shouldn’t either.
Garry agreed to this deal, but it was me who certainly had more sex outside of the relationship than Garry did. I was exploring my sexuality and I didn’t want him to cramp my style.
Having just come out, Garry, like so many of us, had ended up in London to explore his new life. Looking back, I’m thinking that Garry meeting me, a more experienced, outgoing and confident gay man, led him to, perhaps, fall more deeply in love with me than I with him. Putting up with my insistence that we should have our sexual freedom was probably, in his mind, a small price for to pay to be shown around this new world by the more knowledgeable and extroverted me.
But it did lead to conflicts and arguments during our year together.
Exploring England as well as My Sexuality
I loved exploring England as much as I loved exploring my sexuality. I would go on car trips, dragging Garry along even when I don’t think he wanted to go. But he wanted to be with me, so he would say yes. At the Easter Break in 1975, I rented a car and said I wanted to go for a 5 day exploration of the West Country.
“Do we have to go?”, he asked.
“You’ll enjoy yourself. Come on. Get in the car.”
I loved exploring all of these new places and I couldn’t understand why he was so sullen. I was unable to comprehend that he just didn’t want to be there and I hadn’t picked up those signals. Not everyone sees the world in the same way that I did. Quelle surprise! This was a lesson it took me many years to learn.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
At that time, I was beginning to feel more constrained by the increasing demands Garry was making on me for my time when I wanted to be with him less and less. In May 1975, I moved out of the flat to move in with my friend, Bob, and Monica in Tottenham. Looking back, one of the reasons I think I moved out was as a way of breaking up with Garry, although I’m not sure I would have seen it that way at the time.
A few weeks after I had moved out, on June 12, 1975 to be specific, I was waiting for Jeffrey at the box office of the Duke of York’s Theatre because we had tickets to see Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr. Sloane. He was uncharacteristically late, so I phoned him from a payphone in the lobby and Jeffrey actually picked up from our building’s payphone – three floors down from our flat.
“I’m not at the theatre because I just got Garry into an ambulance. I had come home and found him in bed completely out of it, virtually unconscious. When I couldn’t waken him, I called that ambulance and he’s on the way to the Royal Free Hospital to have his stomach pumped. He overdosed.”
“Oh my God. That’s awful. I’m on my way now to meet you and him there.”
Before rushing to meet up with Jeffrey at the hospital to find out what had happened, I am ashamed to say that I took the time to get our tickets exchanged for the same performance the following week. I didn’t want to waste our tickets.
I can’t remember what Garry answered when I later asked him why he had attempted suicide – or if he said anything at all. I can’t help but think that I had broken his heart and I was blind to seeing how his fragility and insecurity led to him seeing life as not worth living.
Or was I being too vain to think I could have had such an impact? I don’t know. But I felt very guilty. We started spending time together, but, again, only when I wasn’t busy doing other things – like returning to Canada for 6 weeks of that summer!
The suicide incident, and meeting the hospital psychiatrist, led Garry to acknowledge that he had what we would today call mental health issues. I’m not sure what he/we called it then. On top of his suicide attempt, his arms and legs had started shaking on occasion uncontrollably and he had panic attacks. But he was determined to get better and, as part of that recovery, he decided he needed to return to his hometown of Sydney – which he did on September 16, 1975.
Missives from Sydney
Once Garry was back in Sydney, he wrote several letters to me which I still have and have just read for the first time in 40 years. They reveal that, to help with his own healing, he had done some deep introspection about our relationship and why he overdosed. His letters also reveal to me much about my own behaviour.
First to arrive was this telegram, sent just after his arrival back in Sydney, one of the very few I ever received in my life.
Then, a few days later, this postcard arrived.
I’m writing this out in full because the small print is hard to read.
Dear Gregg, I feel better than I was when you last saw me but could still improve a little, especially my hands. I saw Henry this morning and will see him again next weekend. I’m staying with my sister as planned and things could be better here but it’s good enough for a little while. I miss you very much, as expected and would love to get a letter. I also feel very tired and would love a good night’s sleep which I haven’t had yet but am still hoping. Still feel very tense and feel confused here. I don’t much like Australia and wonder whether I shouldn’t come back. I think it was perhaps a mistake to think I’d get better by coming back here. I’ll try and write a letter very soon but don’t know whether you’ll be able to read it. Please write to me soon. I do miss you very much as you would know. I wonder when I’ll see you next but worry about it and that’s sad. I should just accept the distance between us but it’s very hard to do that. Must go but I’ll write soon. love, Garry.
This postcard probably made me nervous as I saw it as indicating that he might return to London and reignite our relationship which I definitely didn’t want. But I also didn’t want to be harsh and, as you can see on the postcard, I did write back almost right away. Of course, I don’t have a copy of my letter but, because I wrote back so quickly, I imagine that I felt responsible for his pain and I wanted to help him out if I could – from afar!
Here is the letter I received in return from Garry.
Letter Number One
2nd October, 1975
Thanks for your letter. I was very pleased to hear from you, as you knew I would be. I’ll answer the questions you asked in your letter.
The stop over in Paris was very boring but it went okay. I went into the airport at Athens but after that I took a sleeping tablet and slept till I got to Sydney. I woke up as we were landing so I was very pleased I had the tablets as the trip wasn’t such a drag that way. Phillip and Mark met me at the airport so that was okay apart from a big hassle with the customs man.
So far, there’s been an improvement in how I’m feeling. In fact, now that my panics and paranoia have calmed down, I feel pretty well, the only problem being that I still don’t have much control over my arms and legs and still have trouble hearing and seeing properly. I keep hoping that I’ll get better soon but it’s a very slow process.
I’ve only seen Henry since I’ve been back and Marjorie as well. Henry is very well and very nice to be with. We might be going to see Gus and Mary at Bathurst in a fortnight so I’m looking forward to that. I read, without Henry knowing at the time, your letter to him written after your return from Canada and I was very hurt by it, though as I said to Henry, if you don’t want to find out things you don’t like, don’t read someone else’s mail. I don’t really understand why you would think that I would become dependent on Henry, after all, my dependence on you was obvious and therefore understandable but to become dependent on Henry, I’d have to feel for him the same as I feel for you and that’s just not the case. I think you were completely wrong to think and say that but I suppose it’s hardly important now.
I’m pleased that you are carrying on as normal and hope all continues well for you. I wasn’t at all aware that I’d left words out of sentences on the postcard but am not surprised, my concentration is up the creek. Having 3 little kids around all day and Lorraine being very irritable and bitching to Phil all the time makes staying here rather hard. I’m sleeping now but I have nightmares all the time so it doesn’t do much good. The job situation in this country is far worse than it is in London, jobs here are very rare and there’s little prospect at getting anything and besides I’ve got to go into hospital for another anal warts operation and so will be out of action for a week or so.
I’ll stay here for as long as it takes to get well again and then see whether I’ll return to London or not. Don’t worry, though, we could never repeat this situation again so there’ll be no problem for you even if I do return. I should say before much longer that I felt really sad at the airport but I couldn’t cry because I felt so bad. I was very glad and sorry when you cried, I’d not imagined that you would be so openly emotional. I’m glad you felt that much for me, it made me feel sad to be leaving you but happy that we’d been together.
I’m going to work each day with Phil to keep myself occupied and that hasn’t helped much so far but it’s better than nothing. I’m sorry to hear Bob is upset, hope he’ll feel better soon. It must be hard living in such a small place; indeed as it must have been when I was there.
It’s been fairly cold here since I arrived but we’ve had a couple of very hot days which were also very humid and ended in thunderstorms. There are many more things I should say but I can’t concentrate too well and it gets hard to know what I’m saying. I start a sentence and get confused by the time I’m halfway through.
Thanks again for writing so soon to me, I do appreciate it very much. I’ll try and get my hand better for the next letter and also try to concentrate more successfully. Thanks for ringing everybody for me, it was very thoughtful of you. Hope you continue so happy.
I’ll write a longer letter next time I hope. Sorry to be so brief but it’s taken an hour to write this and I’m tired. Love again, Garry.
And a longer letter he did write
Monday, 20th October, Blacktown
Thanks very much for your letter, which was very warm and comforting. It reminded me of how thoughtful and affectionate you could be and that of course makes me very happy. I was pleased to hear the trip to Wales went off well, though the climb up Mt. Snowdon sounds a bit exhausting and hope that you can manage to do the same sort of thing again in future as you sound like you enjoyed it and I’m sure the students would have done.
I’ve only just returned from Bathurst where I had a reasonably enjoyable stay. It was very pleasant to be able to escape Lorraine and the children and enjoy the peaceful quiet of the country. Gus and Mary are very friendly people but I found them very bourgeois (which they pronounced “boodj-wah”) and pretentious. In fact, they reminded me of “bourgeois-liberals”, the name you used to label me with (and perhaps still do) and I was so pleased to feel I was unlike them. If I was, or am, a bourgeois liberal, at least it’s not to such a degree as it could be. It probably sounds very unkind to speak of them in such a way, especially as they were very kind to have me there with them, but I couldn’t help but wonder how they reconcile their money and life style with the garbled reformist socialism they profess.
As for university, they will let me know if I have a place late next February but the problem there is that it is too late to get a grant to attend uni and I simply cannot afford to support myself. I’m not too displeased at that because a dose of straight academia would probably be more than my constitution could stand. What I would like to do would be either a part-time degree in Psychology or, preferably, study Psychology with the Institute of Psych. and pursue it through that medium. Justin thought that would suit me better and I think I would do much better studying if I were not all purely formal theorizing.
I’ve seen the Gay Left but don’t have a copy yet. Henry’s going to give me one though and I’ll give you my considered opinion, for what it’s worth. I’m pleased, as you must be, that sales and reception have been favourable, from what I have seen of it, it is well deserved.
As you can see, my writing is back to as bad as it always was and I have complete control of my arms and legs, in fact, all the physical symptoms have disappeared at last except for my stomach which still plays up. I do seem to be improving mentally as well, though I still get very bad depressions and panics but they seem to only last a few hours and I try to ignore them as much as possible and concentrate on something else which isn’t easy but it is necessary so I keep trying.
This part of the letter will be very hard for me and won’t perhaps make much sense to you, but I’ll try and be as clear as possible. You said in your letter, “would you expect us to start a new relationship?” and later, that we should discuss the prospect. Gregg you know I hope that I love you more perhaps than is good for either of us and that hasn’t changed. In fact, I don’t want it to change either. You made me happier than I deserved for a very long time and I’ll never regret any of it, despite the price paid. When I think of being able to be close to you, again, of course I want it very much but there’s more to be looked at than what I want. I believe, and feel, that I cannot “expect” anything from you at all. I have caused you too much pain ever to be able to think of you and not feel painfully guilty. I simply can’t bear the thought of hurting you anymore. I love you too much for that. It’s a pity I didn’t realize that fact a lot sooner and saved you the pain. I’m sorry and always will be for what I did to you and it’s for that reason I simply can’t bring myself to consider the possibility of our having a loving relationship again. I don’t mean I wouldn’t welcome it, Gregg, but how can I run the risk of hurting you as I did before? I believe that any new relationship would work out well for both of us because we both know each other now and we also know not to get as involved as we were before. That’s especially true for me. I must live my life independently, even though we might be together, not because [I’m] so absurdly dependent on you, or anyone else. I honestly believe it would work, though it would be a very different relationship to what we had, but I can’t expect you to agree. I can’t expect you to run the risk of being as badly hurt by me as you were before and I can only leave the decision up to you.
What would perhaps be the best thing would be to meet again occasionally and see how we get on together and test out your feelings then. It’s a very hard thing to make a decision about someone so far away but one thing you must believe that no matter what decision you make, I will not be hurt by it or love you the less because I can understand how dangerous a risk you would be running and I’d rather be alone than hurt you again, you’re too beautiful to be abused so badly. (And sexy too).
I should be going down to see Brian and Ro (Gay’s sister) at Exeter near Bowral next weekend. If all goes well and I’m looking forward to seeing them again after such a long time. I’ve taken some photos of the weekend at Bathurst which I’ll send you as soon as I’ve had them developed, a couple should be quite funny, I hope.
Henry says you plan on doing an MA which in England. Is that so? You might be able to do Political Sociology (or Sociology of Politics) which would be very valuable to you, and enjoyable, given your political interests. I’m pleased you intend to enjoy a period of relative calm and relaxation but if I know you, it’ll be a pretty hectic relax. You sound quite content in your letter and that’s good. At last you’re rid of me and able to enjoy yourself again.
I’ll finish this letter now as I found it hard to write it. It’s still a hard thing for me to accept that I can’t hold and kiss and fuck you like we used to do, and even harder to think it will not be possible in the future either. Don’t think it’s been easy for me to say what I’ve said and not begged you to forgive me, it hasn’t. The only thing is that I believe it’s the only reasonable and fair thing to do to someone you love. I don’t want to hurt you again and I also do regret all the trouble and pain I caused you.
Thanks again for a very warm letter and I send you all my love.
PS. Somehow this letter reads as though as though I’ve been emotionally anaesthetized, which doesn’t surprise me as that’s how I feel. The only thing I want to say is that even though it doesn’t sound like I feel what I say, I do feel it quite deeply and hope you believe me. The only thing I do ask you (you see I still make demands on you) is that we can write to one another whatever decision you reach. I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you before too long.
Enjoy yourself, Garry
What can I take away from all this?
What strikes me from these letters is that, despite his fragile state, not only did Garry understand his own behaviour and motivations but I sense that he also understood me better than I did. I admire him for his self-reflection and honesty.
He read into my letters that I was worried that he would attach himself to me again and he wanted to reassure me that he wouldn’t do that and he wouldn’t hurt me again. He also caught me out by reading my letter to Henry where I had “warned” Henry that Garry might attach himself to him. But I didn’t understand that that wouldn’t be the case given his feelings for me were very different from his feelings for Henry.
What I see now, and didn’t then, is that I was attracted to men who would allow me to control them. They were willing to put up with this controlling nature of mine because of the nurturing, support and teaching that they sensed I could give them in return. I loved being needed more than I loved the person.
But those kinds of relationships were sustained only until the person became less needy and started pushing back against that controlling nature of mine. And those relationships would and did end.
I was not yet mature enough to be in a relationship where the two of us could be both needy and nurturing.
In future posts, I will talk about other relationships I’ve had that could be said to be similar to the one with Garry – that is, where I now realize that I have been unaware of how others had minimized their own needs to allow me to lead them and get my way. And also how undergoing counselling/therapy in my later 30s helped me better understand myself.
What Happened to Garry?
Those were the only letters that I still have from Garry. Maybe more came, but I don’t have them. My memory is unclear but I don’t think I ever met up with him again and I don’t think that he ever lived in London again. I remember hearing rumours that he moved to New York City but I am unable to confirm that. As you will have noticed from my posts, I like keeping track of old friends and it saddens me that Garry has “disappeared”. I have no idea where he is or if he’s survived the decades since then. Wherever he is, I hope that he found inner peace and happiness.
Could this opportunity to read someone’s mind 40+ years later have been possible if Garry hadn’t written and I hadn’t kept those letters of his? Will this be possible in the future when it will be very rare for any of us to keep our form of communication now (emails), especially for 45 years? And if we do, will our software at that future time still enable us to read them? As people are now arguing, pen and paper are likely to last centuries longer!