This is a pseudo transcript of the speech I’d worked on in advance of our anniversary party last night. However, since some people had to arrive and leave early, and some didn’t arrive until late, the timing was never quite right to tap a glass and demand everyone’s attention.
But here’s what I would have said…
A few thanks to start with – first off, thankyou to everyone for coming. Some people measure their lives by the number of possessions they accumulate. We’ve been lucky enough to realise that the only true way to measure your life is by the depth of the friendships you build – the impact you have on others, and the impact they have on you, and the memories you build. Measuring that way, and looking around at everyone here, our lives are incredibly rich and lucky.
A few specific thanks – Pete and George of course, for the tips and words of advice on running a big gathering successfully, and the loan of the additional furniture. Tom and Neil for helping out before everyone arrived. Siobhán, Kim and Chris for making such big trips to get here – Siobhán from Sydney, Kimma from the Central Coast, and Chris from Auckland. Of course, the biggest special thanks has to go to Darren for the monumental effort he put in building this party, preparing so much food, and as always being the charming host. (Of course, I’m the grumpy host, but you all expected that, right?)
This month marks Darren and my 15th anniversary. Working out when the anniversary was has always been a bit of a challenge for us. We met online, you see, and at the time I was living in Perth, on secondment, and Darren was living on the Central Coast. I knew that my secondment would be ending soon and figured I wanted to try out this notion of a relationship when I returned to Newcastle, and advertised on Pinkboard, a gay dating/hookup website that behaved more like a bulletin board service than what you’d think of these days.
Only two people responded to my (OK, excessively wordy) posting. One was someone I’d met previously at Uni, who I knew for a multiple of reasons I didn’t want to go near, and the other was this rather charming guy who wrote quite eloquently and I pretty much immediately responded to.
So remember, this was 1996, not 2011, so we’re not talking Scruff or Grindr or a plethora of other current mobile phone technologies – this was email. The emails went back and forth a dozen or more times, and photos were exchanged. We seemed relatively happy with ourselves. I honestly can’t remember what photo of myself I sent Darren, but Darren sent me this lovely studio black and white portrait shot of him a friend had taken earlier in that year.
After the dozen or so emails, phone numbers were exchanged and – thankfully this was before so many of my neuroses and anxieties developed – one afternoon, Perth time, I called Darren. I still remember his first words – “Hang on, I’m running up the stairs with bags of groceries”. I then heard lots of thumping and bumping and keys in doors and bags being hurriedly thrown down before I got a “hello”.
But with his deep and mellifluous phone voice, I was rather hooked.
We spent another two weeks chatting to each other on the phone pretty much daily, before Darren announced – there wasn’t really a request for permission, much as it was couched as such – that he was flying over to meet me, because he couldn’t wait for me to return.
So, one Friday evening I caught a taxi out to Perth airport and met Darren at arrivals after his 5 hour flight.
Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a ranga!
That was something that years later would be the source of some amusement. You see, Darren kept on using those black and white studio photo for years on various chat sites, but as our move to Melbourne became more likely he finally started using the bear chat sites more regularly and finally got around to updating his photo there.
To a colour one.
And one day he said to me “I don’t understand. I went months without getting a message, and now all these bears are chasing me!”
At that point I managed to do an eyeroll worthy of some of our more recent friends and said “Your previous photos were black and white. The bears can finally see you’re a ranga.”
But I digress.
We had a whirlwind weekend in Perth, which started with that taxi ride back to my apartment. We were sitting in the back touching hands and being slightly doe-eyed, and the taxi driver at the end of trip said gruffly but kindly “Have a nice weekend. I think you will.”
After five months of secondment in Perth, it was actually the first weekend I took off. I didn’t think about or look at work once, but having not taken any weekends off before, I had no idea what sort of touristy stuff to do, so we simply hopped on a ferry to go from South Perth to the CBD each day and wander around. Music shops! Shoe shops! Cafés! It was the high life of tourist attractions.
(I’ve since been told that probably was the high life of tourist attractions in Perth, but that’s another story, to be told another time.)
There was much happiness in that weekend, as well as a heated discussion. I was at that point a bigoted and somewhat rabid fanboy for Linux/Unix, and I was having none of Darren’s “the Mac is a great platform” shit. I proclaimed Apple would be dead within 2 years (Jobs had only recently returned) and the “final war of computing” would be waged between Linux and Windows.
I was, you see, a blithering idiot.
But we agreed to disagree on that one (and Darren subsequently converted me, as you would all be aware), and the weekend ended in barely repressed tears as I took Darren back to the airport and waved goodbye to him on a red-eye flight out of Perth on Sunday night.
About a month later, with us still communicating every day, I flew back to Sydney, and Darren picked me up from the airport. That was to turn out to be the first of many airport pickups, but he drove me back to Newcastle and without it really being all that discussed, moved in. He was still renting on the central coast, but living with me in Newcastle.
It’s all those events that made tracking our anniversary difficult – was it when we first started talking, was it when we met, was it when he picked me up from the airport, was it when he started renting with me, was it … well, you get the picture. So actually finding the plane ticket was the saving grace, giving us an anniversary date we could focus on.
Darren and I spent most of those first fifteen years together living in and around Newcastle and the Central Coast. We made some great friends there, but as time went on we realised that what had started as a wonderful comfort zone was becoming a bit of a rut. In our usual hive-mind way of dealing with such big decisions, we both danced around the notion of a big move – OK, Darren more up front than me, since I was also somewhat of a hermit, you see – until what had been percolating in our subconscious group-think suddenly became a real decision. Hobart or Auckland, we thought? Hobart would be great for the weather, we knew, but probably the same minimalist social life as the Coast. Auckland would be nice for me for work, but likely a one-way move, and we weren’t really thinking that we needed to leave Australia. One day though we both realised the city we were looking for was Melbourne.
We’d been aware of the bear scene for years, of course – we’re both geeky in various ways and are almost permanently connected to the net in some way or another, so there was no way for us not to be connected. But living on the coast, we’d not really ever been able to engage in the Sydney bear scene. On the other hand, when we made that first tentative decision to explore the possibility that we might be able to move to Melbourne, and reached out via bear411 and bearwww to the Melbourne bear community, we found a large group of men who were friendly, welcoming and above all, kind.
In October 2010, we visited Melbourne for a weekend and let George and Pete in on our plan to move while they did something no-one had ever been able to do to us before – dragged us to a “gay bar”: The Laird. Yes, that’s right, never been to any other gay bar before, and haven’t yet been anywhere else.
Flying out of Melbourne that weekend was the most difficult thing we’d done in ages. We weren’t going home, we were leaving home. Our original plans to move in early 2013 became mid 2012 then late 2011 then suddenly we were decided on June 2011. As it happened of course we moved down just as Southern Hibearnation was on. Even in the middle of the biggest bear event of the year down here, all of you made us feel so completely at home and welcome that we knew within just a few days of moving that it was the best choice we’d ever made, and we’d never unmake it.
So here we stand, in front of so many fantastic friends – some older, many newer, and we know where our next 15 years together will be spent. Here, amongst you all. (But not in a creepy stalker way, OK? Trust me.)
And I just want to end on a quote from the highly sage Bilbo Baggins…
…today is my eleventy-first birthday!
No, wait, that’s not it.
…I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
No, wait! That’s not it, either.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Yes, that’s the one. Thankyou, all.