I’m driving in my car and thinking about life, when a man from my past pops into my head. I haven’t thought about him for a long time and start to smile at the memory.
I met Peter whilst living in Sydney in the mid-nineties. I was twenty and excited to be there. I had left school a few years before and was spending some time exploring the world. Sydney was a wonderfully vibrant city, for an Irish girl it was so full of sunlight and good food and ethnic diversity. My great friend and I had rented a house in the Eastern suburbs where things felt liberal and free, I remember waking up and feeling joyful almost on a daily basis.
I was working as make up artist at the time and spent my Saturdays in the aptly named Drag Bag. The Drag Bag sold amazing and theatrical clothes for Sydney’s burgeoning drag queen population. They would come from far and wide to hang out on a Saturday. The soundtrack to the recently released Priscilla Queen of the Desert would blare from the speaker and I would get to have a part in transforming these ordinary looking men into incredibly glamourous and beautiful beings.
Peter wasn’t the usual clientele however, he was straight and married and quiet. He entered the shop with his head down and an edginess that would only ease once he was safely inside. Peter was a retired police man and stood about 6ft 3. He didn’t dance along to Priscilla but would sit upright in a chair, barely moving while I applied layers and contours to his face. He told me things on those Saturday mornings that he had never discussed with anyone. How his cross dressing allowed him to feel more at peace than any other time, that although it was a secret it made him feel whole and that he could tell no one, not even his wife and this made him feel guilty and sad. Recovering from triple bypass surgery, Peter had decided it was crucial for him to express himself this way, for both his wellbeing and his physical health.
I can’t remember the details of how it came about, but Peter began to spend Friday evenings in our living room. He would come over and I would paint his face and he’d sit on our sofa in full drag. We would lounge about watching American sitcoms while his size 12 feet encased in red sparkling high heels stretched out in front of him, to what felt like the middle of the room. Damn, I loved those shoes.
Peter would tell us when he was leaving that those evenings were some of the best of his life. After he left we would question it; we just didn’t really get it then.
It is only now in the silence of my car over two decades on that I suddenly realise the importance of those Fridays for Peter, and I think that it is why I am smiling more than anything. Peter was welcomed into our home, where there was no judgement from us, we were totally unfazed, it wasn’t like it was usual for us either but we accepted him completely. He was a good and kind human and that was all that mattered to us.
In those moments Peter wouldn’t say much, but looking back and knowing what I know now, I recognise presence. There it was, Peter was completely present and at peace. Content and relaxed in that moment, in a space of non-judgement and warmth and positive regard you could almost see him glow.
I stop at a traffic light and breathe in deeply, i am moved and emotional, it is only now that I finally get it and I get it completely.
(photo from internet and not Peter.)