At the start of 2007 I had been married twenty-four years, had two grown-up children and I was quietly making my way to the grave.
The previous year I had bought myself a new camera.
In January I started a photographic project to take a self-portrait every day. The idea was that it would force me to get to know the camera and take pictures. Little did I know.
Taking the self-portraits brought me face-to-face with myself and my life. It forced me to take a long and hard look at what I’d become and where I was going. Very early on I came close to giving up on the project because in my own words:
I thought one of the ideas behind the 365 days project was to help people get to know themselves. This poses a problem when you find you don’t like the person you’ve come to know.
The discussion that followed led me to conclude:
Like ourselves or not, we’ve got to learn to accept ourselves, or make some life-changing decisions.
The guy I’m taking pictures of has lost his sense of fun, become boring, lost his passion and is just going through the motions. That’s what I’m seeing in my pictures. Now I’ve got to work out, do I want to change him and if so, how?
And that proved to be the catalyst for some fundamental life changes. Another was an email from my Flickr friend Margi who asked one of those seemingly innocent questions. One that makes you stop dead in your tracks and forces you to reassess everything you think you know.
Margi challenged several of us to share a secret. That was a tough challenge for me. As far as I knew I didn’t really have any. Then I realized I had a secret, so secret, I’d been hiding it from myself, and that was that early in my life I’d allowed myself to make a compromise, and married for the wrong reasons. It dawned on me that this was one of the major issues that were now surfacing in my life.
So it was, that before the middle of the year, I was separated. I took a short break, and on my return moved from our four-bedroom, three-story, family home near the sea, to a small one-bedroom apartment in what I jokingly referred to as Pompey’s wild west.
I first encountered Ginger when she made a comment on one of my self-portraits early in 2007. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Lots of people doing the 365 project make comments on each other’s pictures, so the event passed unnoticed.
A few months later Ginger and I exchanged comments on each other’s photographs again. This time it led to an exchange of e-mails. Very quickly we realized that our friendship was special. Then, somehow, things escalated.
Talk about a whirlwind romance. In just a few short weeks we went from friends to dreaming about the possibility of spending the rest of our lives together. However, before we could do anything, we had to actually meet. I was in the UK, Ginger was 5,000 miles away in the American mid-west!
Gary & Ginger
In August I went to the US for the first time to meet my new-found soul mate. The trip was a huge success. So much so, I was back in the US again for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas.
When I visited in March 2008 we went straight from the airport to buy an engagement ring, so my proposal was hardly going to be a surprise. It just had to wait for that special time and location. I proposed on March 17, at The Art Institute of Chicago, just after we had finished viewing an exhibition by one of Ginger’s favorite artists – Edward Hopper.
The next day we started the whole US immigration ball rolling by posting all our carefully completed forms and evidence. Then came months of waiting, huge numbers of hoops to jump through and mountains of paperwork. When it was all done we’d traveled the equivalent of twice around the planet, exchanged over three and a half thousand e-mails, and at one point racked up what felt like the equivalent of the national debt of a small country in telephone bills.
Finally, in November 2008 I emigrated to the US and in February 2009 we were married.
Many years later we are still having fun and living happily ever after. Though as Ginger still likes to point out:
Living happily ever after still means you have to clean house and do the dishes.