You’re alone and afraid
Through your tears you look around
There is no peace of mind to be found
Darlin’ reach out
“Reach Out I’ll Be There”
-Four Tops (Holland / Dozier / Holland)
Today, I wish my friend farewell. Greg & I have known each other for 20 years, since we met in a mixed dorm at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst.
With a stealthy mix of early adulthood pheremones, drunkeness, freedom and lockable bedrooms, university dormhouses are purpose-built for sex. At first it creeps up on you, as you bumble past each other politely, eyes averted, to get to the shower, or moan about the cafeteria food. Then someone has their own TV, & you’re piling on to a single bed, and the sibling-style wrestling ends in heavier breathing and a deeper look instead of someone ‘having their eye put out’. Then the pranks become more ingenious, or so you think. Yes, let’s take Greg’s entire bedroom and recreate it in the bathroom. By then, wired with your own brilliance, you feign sympathy for Greg by sitting up all night playing 500. You nickname him ‘Scooter’ because he looks like the Muppet with his glasses on. You plaster Greg with make up while he’s passed out and weep with laughter as he tries to unlock his bedroom door via a brick wall. And then first year ends. You stay put, Greg moves to another dorm. Uni bar nights can end on or off-campus. One night, it’s up to Greg’s new, more spacious room, as he’s become a residential tutor, a supposed ‘guiding hand’ to the first years. And the looks and the want and the who cares anymore, we don’t share a bathroom end with greedy kisses saved up for a year and set free in the freezing cold as you ‘go outside for a ciggie’. Except it’s not Greg. It never was.
This is a true story of platonic love. My relationship with Greg is the longest I’ve had with a man. In the entire time we’ve known each other – 20 years – we’ve never so much as kissed. A lot of people who know both of us don’t believe it. At 39 (ok, he’s not 39 until January), we have grown closer. We love; we lose; we laugh; we share tall tales of tigers tamed, women wooed and men maimed for life; we answer the phone swearing at each other; we gamble; we talk. While our personalities mirror each other’s in many respects, Greg has been a constant, steadying presence in my life since we were 18. I have been a constant source of amusement and raw emotion in his. He MC’d my 21st and my parents love him. When I came back to Australia after five years in Europe, we picked up where we left off. Our lives took very different paths to the ones we imagined for ourselves at 18. I wore black turtlenecks and 40s trenchcoats and was set on becoming a foreign correspondent, a photojournalist who would somehow right wrongs and shed light on forgotten wars and suffering. Greg studied PR and wore a rather bizarre collection of collared shirts. When I realised I was not meant for journalism (about eight minutes after we graduated), I drifted through jobs. Greg stayed at uni, playing perpetual big brother to a stream of first years, before moving to Sydney and working at the Bondi Hotel. That’s where I last saw him, in 1996, before I hopped a plane for Amsterdam. When I returned, he was managing a bar and had led a fairly peripatetic lifestyle, working in hospitality in the Whitsundays and having a series of serious relationships. We’d both found, and lost, the great romantic loves of our lives; mine, ‘the Brazilian’; Greg with Chelsea.
We’ve had a decade together since then, during which time the prosaic Greg has studied philosophy and taught first year uni students (quelle surprise) and has STILL not finished his PhD; while I became a political adviser (truly, showbusiness for ugly people) and fed my passions for travel and photography. We both had relationships, something slightly out of synch in all of them. When single, we are perfect ‘wingmen’ for each other. I left politics in 2007, and ‘went corporate’ after a long time travelling in India; and then I got sick. I was very ill, but incredibly lucky. The meningitis left me weak and unable to work for months but it left. Greg didn’t. After I escaped my isolation room for a ward, I remember waking up from a ‘dosed up to the eyeballs’ sleep to find him sitting there, reading a book. He didn’t tell me how long he’d been there, but he was there, unasked but greatly needed. I got well again, and went back to politics part-time, to go back to uni and study, inspired by him. I loved it. He went to Europe, ostensibly for a ‘conference’, but I like to think he stayed on inspired partly by my constant yapping … and to reconnect with Chelsea.
Cutting this off now, as I have to put my game face on and say ‘later, biatch’, to Greg in person. He alone knows how difficult this will be; and if there is a god, pray that I don’t cry. I don’t actually feel that way, I’m happy that he and Chelsea are going to be together again, moving to New York, my new favourite city. Of course I’ll miss him. Who the hell will I go to the cricket with? Who would laugh at my dopiness in thinking I could pick the result, let alone the score, in Australia’s first game in the 2006 World Cup (FTR, Australia defeated Japan 3-1); who would start cheering for me to win and then laugh at himself when his glasses went flying along with tables when we won? I have a lot of male friends, mostly gay and sometimes over zealous in their mission to protect me from all hurts, perceived and real. Greg waits and listens, lays out options and offers thoughts, but never makes me feel stupid for the choices I make. He relieves the pressure I put on myself. He has made me feel worthwhile when I have felt unworthy of anyone’s care or love; grounded during the disassociative episodes where I, the almighty great communicator, can’t feel. At 4am this morning, I realised that I have been searching for the love of my life for 20 years; and I have had it all this time, in this true, constant, platonic love. So it will be ‘later, biatch’, not goodbye.