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Their Own Words – A Better Man (Part Four)

by Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters 4 months ago in Identity · updated 4 months ago

The story of a boy named Craig

Photo by Sharon Christina Rørvik on Unsplash

When I first sat down to compile my memories of Craig into this story I really had no idea where this journey was going to take me. I did mention previously that he had once asked if I was going to write a book about him and I have actually been thinking about that lately. Maybe I should write a complete novel that is based on his life? There certainly seems to be enough material for one and somehow I think it would be fitting. I can also think of quite a few young actors that would be excellent choices to play him in the movie version of his life! :)

As I begin now to try and put together this final installment I have a CD playing that he made for me, which is certainly bringing those memories of him back into sharp focus. The cover of the CD shows a photograph of Craig that he’d had taken as a part of a photo shoot he had arranged when he was getting back on his feet. It showed an incredibly attractive and thoughtful young man, but I recall thinking when I first saw this image that, judging by the sparkle in his eyes, I sensed he also possessed a certain energy, or spirit, that told me this was someone worth knowing.

On the CD the first four songs are: A Better Man by Robbie Williams, I Will Survive by Gloria Raynor, You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate and Love Is In The Air by John-Paul Young. I loved the fact that he used songs with meanings and songs from different eras and musical genres (yes, there were even some country songs on there!). It was quite obvious that at this point in his life there was much more thought going into everything he did, as opposed to when he had been just a few years younger.

I was constantly surprised by what he would come up with next, and what new things he would throw himself into, but I was also extremely happy that he was finding purpose in life. What follows here is the next phase of Craig’s life, pieced together from our conversations and correspondence. As before, I have edited this together to read as if Craig is telling the story himself. I can only hope that I have done him justice.

When I rediscovered the internet and all that it contained, my head was soon overflowing with ideas about things I wanted to do, or at least try. I found that there were any number of websites where people could meet each other, whether gay, straight or whatever, and I joined several of these. But only the free ones, of course, as I was still just getting on my feet and until I could manage to get some savings together I couldn’t afford very much.

I soon discovered, however, that without a profile photo nobody was interested, even if I was in an age bracket that most people seemed to be looking to hook-up with. This led me to more online searches and I soon found an amateur photographer who was local and willing to take some modelling-type photo’s, ‘Of the sort that would be used in a portfolio,’ he said. I figured if I was going to do this I may as well try to do it right. After I managed to save the agreed upon fee I contacted him again and a meet was arranged then one Saturday morning when I didn’t have to work I showed up at the address I’d been given, an average looking house on an average looking street, where I was greeted by a silver-haired daddy-type who looked me up and down much like a cat would look at a mouse he was about to jump upon. For a few moments I wondered what I was getting myself into.

’You must be Craig,’ he said. ‘I’m Lou.’ He held out a limp hand, which I shook, then he turned and started to walk down the hallway. ‘Come,’ he said. With the vibes he was giving off, I suspected that before this session was done I quite probably could be doing just that.

Lou led me to a rather large room at the end of the hall, which was painted white and was set up with various lights and other equipment which I had no idea what it was used for. Along one wall there was a lounge, with lights pointing at it. Along another wall was a cluttered desk covered with cameras, photographs and photo albums. And along another wall there was a window which looked out over a leafy garden, and also a rack of clothing and shelves with hats and shoes and umbrella’s and assorted other props. There was also what looked like several room dividers with wheels, covered in fabric of various colours.

‘How about we take a look at some other portfolio’s so you can get an idea of the type of shots I’d like to take of you,’ he said, while picking up an album and then walking toward the lounge. I followed him and eventually sat down beside him. He sat the album on one knee and opened it so that it was also resting on my leg, then he started flicking through the pages, showing me various photo’s of people who were young or old, were males or females (and some who it was difficult to tell just what they were), were dressed or undressed, sitting or standing and everything in between. There were some truly beautiful images and for an amateur photographer I thought they were amazing.

‘I think you look a lot like this guy,’ Lou said, while stopping on a double spread of a guy who looked to be just a little older than me, ‘only you’re more beautiful. You could even be a model if you wanted to be.’ The guy he was showing me was a great looking guy and had been photographed in various poses, from close-up head shots to body shots, including some in various outfits. When Lou flipped to the next page I could see that this was where the photo shoot had become far more adventurous, with seductive shots taken in various stages of undress.

‘As I said to you on the phone,’ Lou continued. ‘The fee for the photo shoot includes allowing you to explore any concepts or fantasies you might have for your photo’s. As you can see, this guy had some definite ideas for how he wanted people to see him.’ He tapped one of the photos as he said this, before then letting his hand rest on my knee. Apart from a leather vest and a cowboy hat, the guy in the photo was fully naked and very obviously aroused, lying on the very lounge that we were now sitting on. I immediately felt myself stir, if you know what I mean. It was difficult not to have some sort of reaction to these photo’s and this situation.

Trying to focus on why I had actually come here I have to admit that I did like the prospect of some modelling shots and told Lou as much. So that was what we started out to do. The whole photography process had recently gone one hundred percent digital, as Lou explained, while trying to position me exactly where he wanted me. For two hours he poked and prodded me and cajoled me into “coming out of my shell”, as he put it, and by the end of the two hour session I walked away with not just a proof sheet of all the better shots Lou had taken, but was also feeling drained and satisfied on all possible levels. My initial impression of Lou had been spot on.

My favourite shot was one he took of me lying front down on the lounge, but propped up on one elbow over the arm rest. I was shirtless, shoeless, and wearing only my blue jeans, which had been seductively lowered so that just the top of my bum was showing, so you could see my face, shoulders and chest, while my back and bum appeared soft and slightly unfocused. It was a lovely image, as images of me go, and would be the one that I would later use on the cover of the mix cd’s I would send to my closest friends.

Once I had my photo’s I began using these in my online world, initially choosing a tasteful and fully clothed one as a profile picture. That seemed to have the desired result and it wasn’t long before I was receiving notifications from those profiles that I had been “checked out”, which kind of excited me, but also scared me in some ways. I could only laugh, however, when I received messages telling me that my profile must be fake because I had clearly stolen the photo’s from some “modelling” site. Fuck ‘em. They can think what they like, I decided.

It was also at about this time that I also started delving into various forms of online erotica, getting equally excited and disgusted by some of the stuff I found. There really were some strange people out there, I soon realised, so I figured that I needed to tread carefully.

It didn’t take long before my favourite erotica site became the Nifty Erotic Archives site (www-dot-nifty-dot-org), which was filled with all manner of stories, from the sweet to the sensational, the slightly dirty to the incredibly filthy, and everything in between. If there was one downside to this site it was that there was so much trash on there that was badly written and lacked any sort of editing, and quite obviously the work of a horny teenager trying to bang out a story just as fast as he could bang out a load. But then I would find something that really made searching through their multitude of offerings worthwhile and from these I soon found some authors whose efforts I really enjoyed, so I started following them. Imagine my surprise when I started to correspond with one of these authors and he turned out to be living in the same state as me. I sent an email which was actually replied to (not too many of those I did write to would bother to reply) and that, as you would already know, was how my friendship with you began, Mark.

For the benefit of anyone who might eventually read this, at first our exchanges were simple, like: ‘I loved your story!’ ‘Thank you. So kind of you to let me know’ . . . that sort of stuff, but then they started to become more in-depth and more personal. I was surprised at just how easy it was to talk to you, Mark, and as we got to know each other and began to share things about ourselves that only helped me to further realise that I wasn’t alone in this world.

Every day I was learning more and more about myself and my place in this world. And it was exhilarating.

It was about this time when I also found myself being drawn to the vast array of porn that was available online. I wasn’t particularly interested in anything too hard core, but what I did particularly enjoy was browsing through images of sexy guys in various stages of undress or involved in various acts (I’m sure that most folks would be able to figure out what some of these acts were!), being careful to bypass anything that had an air of illegality about it – and there was definitely a lot of that available, whether you were interested in that sort of thing or not! I also enjoyed interacting with some of the creators and sharers of some of the work I did enjoy looking at, and I would often share it with other friends as well. I loved it when you, Mark, gave me the grand title of being your favourite “Pornographer”. I’m thinking of getting some business cards printed with just that on them and my phone number. Could be fun.

But there was much more to this new life of mine than work and porn and sex and making online friends. My newfound freedoms soon provided me with the opportunity to follow up on my past and several times I made the trip back to the orphanage in which I seemed to have spent most of my life. As I mentioned previously Sister Mary and Father O’Brien were really helpful when I broached with them the possibility of trying to find my sister, Carly, along with any other relatives I might also have somewhere out there in the big wild world.

It took some time, but eventually Sister Mary’s contacts came through for me. I soon found out that the family who had adopted my sister had moved to Melbourne not long afterwards. It seemed so long ago now. Sister Mary told me that the authorities who handled the original adoption were going to contact the family and Carly to see if they were willing for us to be put in contact again. The wait for an answer was excruciating, but eventually an answer came. It was YES! Carly wanted to see me again, and apparently she had some news she wanted to share with me, but nobody would tell me what that was.

It was only a few days later when I received a phone call. It was Carly. It was simply amazing to hear her voice for the first time in years. She sounded just like I remember my mother sounding. So grown up. I couldn’t help it, I was soon crying as the years fell away. And so was Carly.

I had been six and Carly was three when our mother left us. About sixteen years ago. Carly’s adoption had been two or three years after that, so I guess it would be thirteen or fourteen years since we had seen each other. Wow!

After our initial reintroduction I asked her what this news was that nobody would share with me. It was then that I found out that first of all, at the ripe old age of nineteen, she was getting married. Then, secondly, she informed me that we had an aunt, Robyn, who had a daughter, and there were several other cousins scattered around as well. Our mother’s sister now lived in England, but her daughter lived in Sydney. Carly had spoken with both Robyn and her daughter and they were keen to talk to me also. There was so much news to take in. By the time we disconnected my head was spinning.

Over the next couple of months we talked regularly. I also spoke with our aunt and her daughter. I can’t describe how good it felt to be able to say that I have some family. I wasn’t alone in this world any more. There was so much that I found out about my sister and my mother during this time, as well as that bastard who had been our father, though I barely gave him a second thought; I was concentrating on the here and now, not on ancient history that was best left buried.

With Melbourne being so far away I knew it would be a little while before I would be able to meet up with Carly again, but when she started talking about her wedding plans I figured that would be the ideal time. In the mean time, however, Robyn invited me to visit her in England, and so plans have been formed for a grand tour; first stop my sister’s wedding, followed by a trip to England.

It wasn’t going to be all fun and games, as Robyn needed to have surgery and I would be helping her out while she recovered, but it was still going to be an adventure to remember.

It is all a little way off just yet, so I’ve begun trying to save some money, which meant cutting back on some of my newfound hobbies, but I don’t mind that. I’ve also found some extra work mowing lawns and doing gardens in my spare time, which is helping out. When I was talking about my plans with some of my friends, like you, Mark, as well as Rob and Lou (the photographer) you all helped out with some ideas, for which I am grateful. I even did a paid modelling shoot that was arranged by Lou on behalf of a private collector to whom he had shown my original photo’s, and so gradually my plans are beginning to take shape.

Mark, I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve appreciated your friendship and support. I know we’ve often spoken about meeting up; I especially liked the idea of camping out somewhere, so as soon as I return from England we’re definitely doing that, okay?

Craig caught a bus to Melbourne just before his sister’s wedding, sending me photo’s via email. He looked to be having a great time. From there he flew to Sydney, where Rob lived. I spoke with him often while he was there and he couldn’t contain his excitement, especially being shown all the sights a gay kid from the country could only dream of visiting while growing up.

A few days later he left Australia for England. We spoke before he left, he was nervous and still exited, looking forward to finally meeting someone else who could be called family.

For the first few weeks after his arrival he emailed regularly. He couldn’t believe how green the countryside was, nor how dirty the city seemed to be. Then, strangely, there was nothing more. I would check my emails every day. I even sent him a few messages hoping he would see them, but they were not replied to. I figured he was having too much fun, or had met someone. Oh, well. Such is life.

On the day that he was due to return to Australia I’d still heard nothing from him. I can’t tell a lie, I was disappointed, but not really surprised. I figured he would want a couple of days to settle back in before he was ready to reconnect with everybody, so I didn’t try to contact him. When I did try to call him I couldn’t get through, so I figured I would just try again later. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. In the interim I also sent an email, hoping that he might see that. I knew that Rob was in Sydney somewhere, but I had no idea how to contact him. The days soon turned into a couple of weeks without any contact. I had no idea if Craig had even made it back to Australia, or if anything might have happened. It left me feeling somewhat empty inside, but what could I do?

It was a couple of weeks after that, about a month after Craig had been due to return, when I received an email from an address I didn’t recognise, and even though the address did contain the name ‘bob’ it didn’t at first register with me. When I saw the subject simply said ‘Craig’ and then I finally opened the email, everything fell into place.

From: [email protected]

Sent: Tue 4/06/2002 9:13 PM

To: [email protected]

Subject: Craig

Dear Mark,

You don’t know me. My name is Rob and we have a mutual friend by the name of Craig. I am not sure if he told you about me, but I have heard quite a bit about you. It is with a terrible grief for me to be writing to you to let you know that Craig was killed in an accident in England some time ago, just before he had been due to return home. His aunt contacted me last week to let me know after finding my details amongst his belongings. At the moment I am still too sad to write more, but there are other friends of his who still to be contacted.

I do not know if you ever met but if you did then you would understand what a special young man he was and why my heart is breaking. Please know that he had a great admiration for you and talked about how genuine you were. It hurts so much to write this. Sorry, I am too overwhelmed to say more just now, but I will be in touch again soon, once I have more information.

Regards, Rob

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was totally gutted. My hands were shaking. My head was spinning. Surely this is a joke, I was thinking, as I re-read the message over and over. It couldn’t be true! Could it?

I remember that it took me a little while to get my thoughts together but after a while I realised that what I was reading must have been the truth. Everything was fitting together now and I knew that I needed to reply. I can’t remember exactly what I said but I did manage to eventually compose something and then hit ‘send’.

I received a reply five days later.

From: [email protected]

Sent: Sun 9/06/2002 10:22 AM

To: [email protected]

Subject: Craig

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your reply and the nice words that you wrote. It is all still very raw and quite surreal for me. The details that you asked about are that Craig was on the back of a motor bike with a fellow he met through his aunt. They took a wrong turn on some sort of expressway and they were hit from behind by a truck. Blessedly he knew nothing about it, according to the rider, who was lucky enough to escape with only moderate injuries as he was thrown onto a grass embankment.

Craig’s aunt was due to have surgery the next day, the reason he went over there in the first place. She had to postpone it and is now very much blaming herself.

Craig had been staying with me for a time before he flew out and has left some of his belongings here for safe keeping, including his laptop computer, some CD’s and clothes. His cousin, who also lost her husband recently, is going to collect these for forwarding to his sister, so I took it upon myself to sanitise his computer – I’m sure you would be aware of the type of things he had saved over time (and that I see the two of you had also shared at times), so perhaps handing that over to a relative in its current state would not have been a very good idea. He had so much stuff saved on it and it has been both an ordeal and a comfort to read through some of this. He certainly had a lot of friends on the internet. Fortunately he had a tidy mind in that regard and had all his addresses and passwords written down. His Hotmail accounts were full and I saw one that you sent recently with a web address for short stories. I am going to keep his two main Hotmail addresses going for the time being, just so I can let anyone know, should they be concerned.

I both cried and laughed at some things he wrote just before he left, one in particular of you referring to him as ‘The Pornographer’. I can hear his laughter now, he had a great sense of humour.

I don’t know if Craig ever told you, but his mother died when he was only about five or six and he was taken into care. She was addicted to alcohol and drugs and because she had used some sort of tranquilisers on him they at first thought he was retarded, but it was the effects of what he was given. He had a sister and some cousins and he only found them again in recent years. His sister is in Melbourne and is soon to have a baby. I have spoken to her and she is going to name the baby for him, if it’s a boy.

Don’t know if you knew this, but Craig’s real name was actually Christopher, but he hated it because he was often called Christine by other kids in the orphanage where he grew up. It astounds me that with all that, he was still the most caring and modest person with integrity that exceeds most of us.

Mark, I do hope this helps you with dealing with the loss we share. Sometimes just knowing things can help in some strange way. I thank you for being his friend and for your offer of letting some of your mutual friends know.

I feel sure that you know that one of his most favourite songs was called A Better Man by Robby Williams and this in a way sums him up. I have been playing it constantly on a CD that he made for me. Did he send one for you too?

Please take good care of yourself and when you look at the night sky, know that his is the brightest star of all.

Regards, Rob.

When I had finished reading the email I was smiling. At the time I had forgotten about the ‘pornographer’ nick name I’d given him, which came about because of the stuff he would often send me. I went straight to my CD cabinet and pulled out that familiar case, opened it and placed the disc in my machine. This was one thing I hadn’t forgotten about, it was the mix-CD he’d sent me of some of his favourite songs. A Better Man . . . I Will Survive . . . You Sexy Thing . . . Love Is In The Air. These obviously meant a great deal to him, and they now would mean a great deal to me as well.

On the front of the CD case was a photograph of him. His favourite of those that he’d had done in that professional model shoot. He was certainly a beautiful young man.

I remember parts of my final conversation with Craig, which took place on the day before he was due to fly out. We had made arrangements to meet upon his return, which was to be in about a month. I told him he was doing a great thing by going to help his Aunt. He simply replied by singing to me: ‘Lord, I'm just doin' all I can, to be a better man.’ I could only laugh.

Even though it has been quite a few years now since all this came to pass, I still have that CD today and every now and then I put it on and just sit back and listen. Every time I hear that first song I think of Craig and I think of the man he was destined to become. All he ever really wanted was to be a better man than those who had raised him.

I just wish that I had told him that he already was.

End.

Their Own Words - An Introduction

Craig - A Better Man (Part One) . . . . . Part Two . . . . . Part Three

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- Mark

Identity

About the author

Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters

Aussie, Queer & Country

LGBT themed fiction with an Aussie flavour, reviews, observations and real life LGBT histories.

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