Memento mori

I met Daren in January 1985. I was on my way home to Sydney from a trip up North, an overnight train journey on an old rattler of a train. It’s a journey I’ve done many times, travelling back and forth from my grandparents’ place when I was a kid, and from my brother’s place as an adult.

After finding my seat, I noticed this handsome man sitting across the aisle from me. We exchanged a couple of glances, then I settled in to read my book. In front of me I had my travelling bag, with the various necessities of a well-seasoned traveller — snacks, a walkman, reading material, and a chess set sticking out the top. After a while, handsome man came over and asked me if I’d like to play some chess — of course I agreed.

So I set up the pieces and we drew for sides — he drew white and so had to make the opening move. He studied the board for a few moments then looked me in the eye. “Um, actually, I don’t really know how to play — I thought maybe you could teach me?” he said.

That was the beginning of a relationship that lasted almost 10 years until Daren died from AIDS in 1994. Somewhere along the line we came to realise that we were lovers.

Lygon St, Carlton, 1985

Daren was clever, unconventional, enthusiastic, brave, funny, sexy, beautiful, loving, inspiring and strong. He had an incredible determination and vision — he always seemed to be hatching some scheme to achieve some bold objective, usually to go and live in some foreign country.

Daren loved to travel, even more than me. He was always eager to meet people, usually charming them off their feet in the process, and get to know his way around some exotic place or other. He spoke a bit of Spanish and was never backward in trying it out — even if he wasn’t in a Spanish-speaking country, he’d speak Spanish rather than English.

We never lived together, in fact we never really even lived in the same city — this was a long-distance relationship. That meant that when we did get together — usually for a week or so at a time every month or two — it was an incredibly intense, loving time.

Daren taught me a lot about life and love. His motto was “Live, Love, Lust, Life” and he lived his short life to the fullest. He taught me how to love unreservedly, he showed me the futility of monogamy, he opened my heart and my soul.

Telč, Czechoslovakia, 1992

And Daren loved to party. He was one of the first people I knew who was involved in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, marching in the parade, dancing all night at the parties, thinking up incredible costume ideas. In 1994, at the end of his life, his last wish was to make it to one more party. Against his doctors’ advice and his family’s wishes, he travelled up from Melbourne to Sydney in October 1994 to get to Sleaze Ball. He spent the night at the party, in a wheelchair, grooving to the music and seeing all his friends one last time — I think he had a great night and once more demonstrated the power of his indomitable spirit to overcome adversity. He died a few weeks later, back in Melbourne.

I’ve been deeply blessed to have known this man, and to have been loved so well by him. He’ll always remain the greatest love of my life, and I know I’ll always miss him.