Bathed in the glowing of your letter My smile won't go Tears start Smile grows I clutch my pen and my fingers play my lips They assure themselves Yes this is me, yes this is she Mon couer I am such a romantic, it would sicken most Graham, much fear I have Am I so curious of another that I would bang on the house of their self like a seagull on a shell? Do I have that right, am I that noisy and disturbing? Sartre would say so, but I think not And that allows me to call your name aloud
We first met in Canada in 1978 when I was a member of People’s Share Collective, Julie used to come regularly to our Rising Star Bakery with her boyfriend. She loved the co-op ideology and started hanging out, soaking up our hippy energy. She was sweet, seemingly innocent, but didn’t hesitate to go for what she wanted. She asked to join me on one of my road and ferry trips to Vancouver and by the time we returned she had become another of my Canadian polyamorous lovers. She told her boyfriend of six years and their relationship changed but didn’t end. It was the days of sexual freedom and Julie was adamant about wanting to be a liberated feminist. Our liaisons continued sporadically until I returned to the Caribbean in the summer of 1979.
She then sent me letters and her poetry. She talked lightheartedly about dreaming of golden luminosity, sailing boats, nude art modelling, working in a book shop and the Oasis restaurant and astrology. She also ruminated on fears of the chinese nuclear bomb tests and how eating healthy food is a change people can make to question everything. Our relationship grew despite us being worlds apart; her still living with her long term boyfriend and me pirating around tropical islands indulging all my senses.
We had stimulating long distance discussions about philosophy, co-operative theories and communal living. I had plans to start an intentional community on the island of Dominica and she was strongly opinionated, warning me of potential pitfalls. She trusted in my abilities to create community but was also candid with her judgements about me, “I’m concerned with a disability you have – you are very afraid of your heart and of emotional intimacy with others. You don’t share intensity of expression.” Her powers of perception greatly impressed me, “When I see you with children there is an openness and readiness to accept and to teach but with adults you tend to hold your cards close to your chest and your guard is up.” She was uncannily accurate and also brutally honest, “You must be my only friend who is not a hard core procrastinator – a title I unfortunately also deserve.”
We shared a love of community dances with local bands like Flying Mountain and Reconstruction; a scepticism with astrology – “intuitively it makes sense but not intellectually” and an appreciation for open relationships. I wrote that “Life is too short to be too serious” while she replied, “There’s always a dance and being choosy about your partner or the music ruins the times. It’s better to dance with a smile on your face.”
Our connection strengthened and even though she didn’t know me well she said she missed me, my energy was a potent drug and my presence made a difference to her life. After I sailed back to the U.S. east coast she traveled across the continent to meet me in New York City. I got a car delivery job – taking a white Lincoln Continental to the west coast – we took a detour via the Rainbow Gathering in West Virginia and a peace rally in Washington D.C. then headed for the setting sun. Crossing into Canada via Detroit we mistakenly drove through some ghettoes – more scary than anything I’d experienced anywhere, even in third world West Indies.
During the 3,000 mile cruise in the limousine we had plenty of time to talk and get further acquainted. We covered existential philosophy, the meaning of life, spirituality and world politics all spiced up with sex, love and peace. We both had spent lots of time simply observing people and also never seemed to have anyone we favoured win an election. But while the song that summed up her point of view was Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a rock” mine was Third World’s “Now that we’ve found love.”
We spent some time together that summer but remained true to our practise of polyamory and maintained a distance. After I left again she wrote saying, “I’m afraid of you, I’m afraid of thoughts of you, I rejoice in you. It makes me happy to think of you sunlit, brown, blonde, enjoying this life. I try not to desire you. It seems a strange sort of possession.” She explained she was, “Exploring how I understand being attached/attracted to other people. I don’t believe there are universal givens I’m too much of an existentialist at heart. Things can get out of hand when I’m trying to decide what’s right or wrong or reasonable and I’m not convinced I understand the concepts. Once you start questioning why? why? why? you eventually reach the primal meaning. Then it is entirely up to you whether you grasp, shake, scream, rage, laugh or dance.”
Julie knew the risks and struggled with wanting to be with me asking herself, “Is this letter a seduction in prose? Who cares? perhaps at heart I’d rather be a fool who plays with hot lead than one who is afraid that all is dangerous and withdraws.” She wanted to be guided by her consciousness not her emotions and hoped to lose her ego in the transformation. But she acknowledged the battle between the mind and body and questioned whether, “When you make love with someone you’re always bonded and linked, so making love with more than one person is confusing.” Her rational polyamorous mind won her over, “I can’t see one physical action always having such magic nor can I think that such a link must necessarily be formed through the molding of two bodies. What do you think my most beautiful friend is it true or not?”
Poem by Julie - summer of 1979 Sparse limbed, bone faced, prophet eyed. I visioned you old, long rasta hair blazing blue, small pupiled close set in your face those eyes Bent, you toiled unmercilessly in robes. Mission unparalleled haste. Fool/Hermit, Prince of Cups. I saw you older still stranded waist high hair bent near in half in rags still striven pursuit e’n then upon your aspect though changed. Now purple and golden clothed your face shone still scrimshaw beautiful chipped shale flaked flint grown crystal.
In the summer of 1981 while passing again through Victoria on my way to live in Hawaii, Julie and I reignited our passion even though she was then living with Steve, a new boyfriend. She wrote to me later saying that she had got pregnant, had an abortion, and blew my world saying she wasn’t sure if the dad was me or Steve. In the following year, on our way to the U.K., my girlfriend Nancy and I visited Julie at an isolated rustic log cabin in Sooke on Vancouver Island. Steve grew Chinese poppies in his backyard and invited us to try his homemade opium. He smoked much more than us and soon fell asleep, we were intoxicated but remained energised enough for a memorable ‘menage a tois.’
I saw Julie again in 1983 when she and Steve stopped off in Hawaii returning from a trip to Malaysia and Sumatra. In 1984 she wrote to say she had begun a new career cooking at remote tree planting camps and had got involved with Bobbin, a poet who had chosen a life of silence – but not chastity apparently. Julie later moved to live with him first in Montreal and then Toronto. Describing how it terrified her because she was ‘risking a blindfolded somersault in the air’ she wanted to face down her fears but still wanted to remain connected requesting lovingly that I “stay in touch, don’t drift off into the world without sending a postcard to me.”
Always seeking answers, by 1985 Julie was back on Saltspring Island, B.C. participating in a Zazen, Japanese Buddhist practice, sitting ten hours a day in deep meditation. She described her ground zero experience of the final night. “Here I am again involved in the endless struggle of an angst provoking asthma attack. There is a tight fist just under my breast bone and my shoulders are haunching inch by inch uptight. There is also a tense itching sensation between my shoulder blades where a masseuse once told me you carry fear and anxiety. I breathe in and try to breathe it out. Alone always alone, that is where I find myself. You and others cannot aide me as I fight for oxygen. You cannot drain the mucus from my lungs nor calm my fears. I must battle my own ghosts. Sometimes I am overcome with why’s. Why now? Why me? Why ever? Why this?
Tonight I think of years of trial and error, self analysis, changing diets, better posture, clearing my feelings about my parents but always go back to the fear. Fear of dying. Fear of living. Fear of aloneness. Fear of other people. Fear. Fear. Fear. Terror! What a perverse form of self torment this is. Psychosomatic condition ‘par excellance.’ After years of work I am still shocked by sudden onsets and the accompanying trauma. Back to zero. Back to the ground of my being. Back to fear and joy. Back to life.”
In 1985 Julie was on her way to Japan and I invited her to stop over in Hawaii. She accepted and never made it to Japan. I was successfully making money, had a nice house on five acres and lived a good life. We made love around the house, on beaches, in the tide pools and even travelling in the back of a friends truck. She talked about babies saying how she wish she’d not terminated her pregnancy and I had a very strong feeling she wanted to get pregnant again. Meanwhile I had my heart set on lots more travelling. My parents visited us in Hawaii and we had a great tourist trip to Kauai Island checking out the magnificent waterfalls by helicopter and touring spectacular Waimea Valley by car. While she was feeling confident and secure in our coupleship I began fearing my loss of personal freedom.
Later that year we visited the U.K. and while Julie slipped away to Scotland to visit relatives I secretly had a vasectomy. I was 35 and petrified about Julie tricking me into getting her pregnant. I never ever wanted to become a ‘dead beat absent dad’ as several of my friends had already done. The drastic decision for surgery successfully saved me from that fate but I lived to deeply regret it later.
Julie’s response was brutally honest, “the way you appear to live your life is too avoid telling any truths that may be ill received. Well, I don’t want a future full of promises and lies or inconvenient half truths. It’s insulting and demeaning and leaves me feeling cut off at the knees. Maybe this is the way you worked things out in the past but if you are truly interested in being close to me you are going to have to be more fair dealing in your interactions.” Feeling confused and unable to meet her needs I decided it was time for us to part.
I left for an around the world sailing adventure in February 1986. Julie stayed in Hawaii for a year or more before travelling to Europe with a new boyfriend until he unceremoniously dumped her. Turning adversity into good fortune Julie attended a Berlin concert by Bruce Cockburn, every Canadian’s favourite musician, and magically started dating him. She moved to Vancouver, visited Bruce in Toronto and loved life for about a year until the celebrity bubble burst. When Bruce left her heart was broken into pieces once again.
We kept in touch and met again in 1988 as I was travelling through Vancouver. She’d given up on men and was hoping to find what she needed in gay relationships. She wrote to me explaining, “I don’t know what to say about love, especially the unrequited kind, one book I read lately suggested anything not mutually felt was an obsession. I see a lot of my actions towards you in the past in that light – narcissistic and masochistic. I believe you have the ‘conquer her and then leave her’ syndrome. You’re bound up emotionally, probably as a result of traumas from your childhood or adolescence. I don’t think you’ll have a clear relationship with another person until you come to perceive yourself more clearly.” She was an articulate and extremely insightful person and I have to admit she was right about me on many counts.
Following my own political persuasion Julie joined an activist group and went on a Women’s Tour to Nicaragua. She became fully engaged in the growing lesbian scene and spent most of her time in the architecturally stunning Vancouver library. She told me she walked a lot because it was such a good time to think, to plan, to let things roll around freely and not stew and steep. She described how it really helped her to write by getting her mind orderly and quiet enough. Her mind was very noisy, jumbly and data greedy. Walking gave her time to digest thoughts and return ready to write.
In 1995 after my record five year relationship ended I called Julie who who told me she was ill. I wrote to her saying, “ten years has changed me considerably in several ways, I’d like to say I’ve mellowed like good wine but it would only be partly true. I admitted having some anxieties and causes for anguish in my persona that I wanted to deal with often appearing happy but underneath feeling very unsatisfied. What I’ve been doing since I left you in Hawaii way back in 1986 is learning some valuable lessons though a great deal of trial and error. You were right saying I was definitely scared shitless about committing to someone. I always thought the grass was greener elsewhere and had absolutely no idea what love was really about. I had only experienced the euphoria of the honeymoon stage in relationship with you and had no idea about living with someone after the initial euphoria wore off. I was way too self-centered and caught up in my own fantasies and desires to appreciate what you offered me and what I really needed to be happy and satisfied.”
I told her I now wanted commitment and real love. No longer did I desire to escape the warmth of someone who wanted to be close to me. I felt ready to share and give support to my best friend, my lover, my partner. I acknowledged that is what she was offering me ten years previous and was right when she said I wasn’t ready. I said I’d changed and she should come to Hawaii to heal and to check me out.
I opened my heart in a long intense letter telling her, “I know that you are always dependable for positive love and support. You were always loyal to me and I couldn’t handle it because I couldn’t reciprocate. I could always rely on you giving me encouragement and help when I needed it I know that your love was pure genuine and deep. After all the relationships I’ve had since then I still feel that you know me better than anyone else. We seem to have some cosmic connection or magnetic attraction or chemical bonding. Whatever our relationship lacked, including my typical English male reluctance to talk, you did get to understand me more than anyone I know and I appreciate being understood.
I was messed up as a result of being sexually abused and I misused sex. It distorted my sense of what should be a wonderful sharing experience between two people in love. You tried harder than any woman ever to show me how to share love in a fun way. The sad part is the more you tried the more I rejected you. I hope you can forgive me. I know now how stupid I really was. I just wasn’t ready.
I was judgemental about you and the way you spent your energy I thought I knew better than you did about what you needed to do to be happy. The fact is I didn’t even know what would make me happy so how could I know for you. Money and personal ambitions have been my bugbears for a long time. I’m still struggling to clarify what I really want and need and what will make me happy but at least I can now admit my vices and talk about them. As far as what you need to do with your life only you can decide and if I really care for you I will support you in your decision even if it means you sitting in a chair reading books for ten hours a day.
Expressing negative feelings verbally is still very hard for me so is accepting criticism without getting defensive. I used to judge you as lazy, while it was your right to sit and read, and you saw me as a workaholic and I really was, perhaps I should read more.
You really tried to be my soulmate even risking your life trying to boogie board and kayak with me, that’s heroic. I do need someone to share fun experiences with and to go places and while I know you really wanted that too, at the time it really made me feel trapped. Now I see it as companionship and I envy other couples spending time together.”
In reply I got some scoldings from Julie telling me that being born male and English was not a bona fide excuse for clamming up while she believed it had a lot more to do with shaky boundaries and fear of intimacy then with being English. She said she still had a hard time accepting that she scared me into having a vasectomy but admitted she usually got what she wanted and she’d only met two people in her life that she would want to have a child with and I was one. When I had left the island and ended our relationships she almost had a mental breakdown but hadn’t ever talked about it with anyone. She’d never previously been scorned so it was a tremendous lesson that made her a lot more cautious. In the ten years that had passed she said she changed as a result of what happened between us because it had really shaken her self-confidence. She quoted her friend Bruce Cockburn saying, ‘you tore me out of myself alive.’
Reflecting back I shouldn’t have reached out to her. It was a mistake and intuitively Julie questioned it asking me, “I wonder though are you open? Are there no strings? Is there not some hope you have in all of this?” I didn’t have an answer and she decided to live with me again. We had a good time from December to June with her landscaping Bellyacres, attending our Juggling Festival and joining me on my HICCUP circus, kayaking and camping trips while I learned how to drink real coffee and appreciate red wine with a good book. But I was still unsettled and shaken from the breakdown of my first attempt at a steady monogamous relationship. I’m not proud to say that I abandoned Julie again by accepting an invitation to join a 16,000 mile Rock-n-roll tour with my friends the Flying Karamazov Brothers. By the time it ended my head and heart were elsewhere and when we met up again in Seattle it was very very awkward and I was a speechless lame jerk.
Julie showed great strength, this time she emotionally detached from me and decided to make it permanent. She returned photo’s and letters and disappeared from my life. She still holds a really sweet place in my heart however and I’m hoping one day we’ll reconnect so I can see how my dear friend is doing. Julie always loved her own world of words and images and I hope that she has found solace through her poetry like this one she left me with.
After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul. And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and company doesn't mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t promises. And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes open with the grace of an adult not the grief of a child. And you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans. After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much. So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure.... that you really are strong, and you really do have worth.
For the umpteenth, and final time, my romantic relationship with Julie ended with another powerful poignant letter. “Graham, you asked me once what I wanted and maybe you read my silence as me not really knowing. I want a wind at my back with a safe harbour and following seas to fly over. What I don’t need is time standing in irons, dangerous shoals and unsteady winds. I hope you find contentment.”
with love, Julie
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