Good Reading : October 2015
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING OCTOBER 2015 16 Iopen Google Translate. Sadness is caught like a fishbone in my throat. ‘Ci vedremo,’ I type. The language is automatically detected as Italian, and the translation begins: We will see each other... Oh god. I keep typing. ‘Ci vedremo lassù...’ We’ll see you up there ... The screen wavers in blurred, watery streaks. I finish the phrase. ‘Ci vedremo lassù, angelo.’ The text jumps. I’ll see you up there, angel. The sadness comes unstuck. Tears fall onto my keyboard and make a little salty moat around my spacebar, which refuses to work for an hour or so afterwards. We sit quietly together, both temporar ily out of order. I’ve just translated the last line of Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, Holding the Man, published in 1995. He’s in Italy writing a letter addressed to his partner of 15 years, John, who died of AIDs a few months before. This isn’t a spoiler; it’s well known that John passes away at the end of the memoir, and it’s even implicated in the blurb. Tim himself died of the same disease not long after he finished the manuscr ipt, before it had been published. But the imminent death that underscores every sentence of this memoir isn’t nearly as important as the raw romance and the relentless candour Tim portrays it with that established this book as an Australian classic. Tim met John Caleo in the mid ’70s at their Melbourne high school. Tim fell into a deep crush with the quiet Italian boy, who was captain of the football team and had really incredible eyelashes for a dude. What happens next is worthy of any Glee finale episode or YA romance novel. The gawky, awkward protagonist and the gorgeous school jock fall deeply in love. At first John is so shy you’re convinced he’s not into it, and you think it’s going to end as another painful story of a gay guy falling for the straight heart-throb, but no. One lazy Friday afternoon in class they’re watching a movie on grainy film, and Tim feels John subtly begin to rub his back. Boom. It’s a sealed deal.Your heart leaps as much as Tim’s must have. It’s a superb and shining moment before tragedy begins to seep into their story as the couple grow older and Tim, John and their friends come to face the AIDs cr isis of the 1980s. Over half a million people died of the disease in the US between 1980 and 2000 alone. Life for a young gay person is lonely. The struggle of figur ing out your sexuality, the anxiety of craving acceptance, and the aching urge to find people who understand you all make that moment when you finally do fall in love for the first time even more elating. Instantly, that loneliness vapor ises, every moment SHELF LIFE On the 20th anniversary of Tim Conigrave’s Holding the Man and in light of the newly released film version, ANGUS DALTON revisits the classic Australian memoir about two boys who fall in love during the 1970s at a Melbourne high school.