My Great Gatspy Matric Farewell

In my entire high school period, or secondary school as referred to in other countries, I only ever fancied three boys.

But because I didn’t really know what to do with a boyfriend with so many other adventures fighting for my attention; off-road motorcycling, horse riding, mountain hiking, ice hockey and others, I never pursued intimate interaction with any of them other than a fond peek at times.

What did I know of love and relationships at age 13 anyway? Besides I was ashamed of my mother, and we lived out of town on a remote farm, two elements in my childhood that prevented me from inviting people to my home, or letting anyone come too close to me.

So I settled for casual and distant “keeping it clean” friendships which were worth far more to me than fleeting and unstable romances. Some of those friendships are still standing today.

Just a little bit short of 32 years ago, I reached my final year of high school when turning 18, and celebrated the start of the new phase in my life with our matric farewell event — themed as the Great Gatsby.

Matric is the term we use in South Africa referring to the qualification received on graduating from high school. And farewell, the term that, to everyone else, represented: “hoping you will fare well on your onward journey through life and the big wide world.”

But for me it signified: “anticipating something big and special to happen” since my future aim of “doing something meaningful” was fixed tightly on that pivotal green light as also so allegorically depicted in the Great Gatsby story.

I honestly don’t know who decided on the Great Gatsby theme at the time, or what exactly it entailed. Maybe it was chosen by our literature teacher or the student council who organised the event, thinking it a fun theme to celebrate our high school achievements and set us on our way.

Thinking about what I now know of the Great Gatsby, I doubt it was a fitting theme to embrace, or maybe it was?

At that time, upon asking my classmates about the theme, I learned it was from an era during the 1920s, apparently the most fascinating one in American culture. It was all about flappers, cars, sex, movies, gangsters, celebrities, and wild parties where the rich consumed masses of alcohol and festivities usually ended in mad chaos.

A time when the New York stock exchange boomed from the post-world-war-one economic growth, where ladies wore mini-dresses with bob hairstyles and smoking cigars. Where couples had frequent out of marriage affairs that resulted in conflicts and heartaches, sometimes death.

Where trade fixing and bootlegging was the norm, where gangsters and mobsters organised complex criminal transactions with the most wealthy, and in doing so, weaved their nets widely into professions that would later turn out to be loose nooses ready for the hang.

And where the concept of love was only a fleeting state of thought that usually never transpired, but remained a mere concept crushed by low morals and physical desires.

People mistakenly placed their faith in superficial external means, while neglecting true compassion and warmth. And of course, there was no way of foreseeing the stock market crash of 1929 at that time, but somehow this misguided environment represented in The Great Gatsby, was clearly heading for a disaster.

Although I read a lot when I was a teenager, I didn’t know of this story then, and even though subsequently became a writer and at least should’ve known of the backstory, it was only this year in 2016 that I accurately learned about the life and times of millionaire Jay Gatspy as portrayed by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1925 novel the Great Gatsby.

I did not read the book, but watched the romantic drama screenplay directed by Baz Luhrmann with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, and Tobey McGuire featuring as Nick Carraway; Gatsby’s neighbour and only true friend, set at the height of the roaring twenties.

Produced in 2011 in Australia, with an AU$105 million budget, the film was released in May 2013. As of the start of 2016, it was Baz Luhrmann’s highest grossing film, having earned over AU$350 million worldwide, which is why it attracted my attention and I decided to finally watch it.

The metaphor it represented of life (my life) was unmistakeably clear. Moreover it encapsulated the essence of the human condition: the never-ending want of more.

Understanding the hidden nuances against the backdrop of that era now better, I realised a couple of intimate things about Jay Gatsby.

Gatsby always knew he could climb high… “But he could only climb if he climbed alone,” read the script. In one scene Jay said: “I knew, that when I kissed Daisy, I would be forever wed to her.”

He knew if he kissed her, his mind would never again be free to be like the mind of God, he said. That falling in love would change his destiny.

Gatsby also believed it would hold a promise of loneliness if he did not kiss her. And kissing her, would lead to the demise of his ambition. Either way he would lose.

He chose to kiss her. To Gatsby, Daisy represented the epitome of perfection; she had the aura of luxury, grace, poise, charm, wealth, sophistication and aristocracy, everything he longed for as a child from North Dakota growing up in poverty.

But actually Gatsby chose to kiss the idea of Daisy. Believing he would be more worthy of her if he was fabulously rich, if he was her, and he believed he had to have her in order to be fulfilled.

I chose not to kiss. So for me it had been a lifetime of aloneness (not loneliness as Gatsby thought) but just be alone with my own mind which is still mine — with a clear vision of who and what I am.

And just as Gatsby watched the green light across the bay from his mansion as the symbol of the future he would spend with Daisy, but which eluded him year on year, standing there alone, watching — so did I consider my future to be spent alone but without a Daisy.

For Gatsby Daisy represented something he was not, but tried to strive for. And since he made his fortunes through illegal means — he never realised he actually would never become that ideal he put before him, purely because of those means.

For me that green light symbolised freedom. For Gatsby it symbolised shackles of love and deception. For most of my friends it symbolised sharing their lives with their high school or university sweet hearts. For them and for Gatsby in clearer terms, it meant love, someone to cherish.

For others it meant nothing and their lives just ebbed anchorless across the bay, not observing or considering that green light. And they were totally happy like that.

Just like in the USA where girls eagerly anticipate and dream of who will take her to the long anticipated prom night, so did we. So did I. But one of the three boys I fancied as mentioned earlier, was hooked on one of my best friends, the other had no interest in going as he already had a string of girls tailing and was too busy with motorcycle racing. And the third was too caught up in his music to ever notice anything else.

For me, the want of a relationships was never high on my list. Purely because I quickly realised I would never be able to control love and it would leave me wane and surge, a feeling I dislike.

One of my platonic friends Robert was the one who asked me to accompany him to the matric farewell, and he proved to be the better and safer choice afterall.

He picked me up in a flashy sports car sponsored by his uncle, he paid me magnificent compliments and brought me lovely flowers. He made me feel good just by the way he treated and respected me the entire evening, without the emotion attached.

It had nothing to do with love.

It was never about love for me, unlike for Gatsby. For me, it was all about falling in love with the way Robert made me feel. A platonic friendship based on mutual respect and appreciation. So I chose that instead, a theme that would reside for the duration of my life.

It was that feeling that propelled me forward more than anything else. It kept on pushing me and I’m still moved by that feeling daily, when making valuable friends that’s exactly like me. Even though I married twice and borne two sons, both the relationships were based on friendship and sober choices.

Gatsby on the other hand was on a quest with only one dream; to become worthy of Daisy, to reclaim her from her husband, and live happily ever after in her parents’ home — his end goal.

But to get Daisy he felt he needed to be extremely rich to deserve her, which became his means goal, to make money, even if it had to be illegally.

This faith and belief — that he could build his existence around Daisy — was the heart and soul of The Great Gatsby. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get it 32 years ago, as it would never be MY theme for my life.

And I mean none of it, not the love, not the wealth, not to parties, nor the deception, nor the American dream.

You can read the brief of Gatsby’s story at the end of this writing, but for now to conclude:

The figure of Jay Gatsby became a cultural touchstone in 20th century America, and referring to real life figures as Gatsby had also been common, usually as a symbol of great wealth and in reference to archetypical rich men whose rise to prominence involved an element of deception.

Gatsby invested in Daisy with an idealistic perfection that she couldn’t possibly attain in reality, and he pursued her with a passionate zeal that blinded him to her limitations. She was rich, beautiful and charming, but also fickle, shallow, bored, and sardonic.

One could easily say that he perceived Daisy as his future self, the person he thought she was and wanted to be and he felt he could only be that person when he finally married her.

In the movie Nick Caraway narrated:

“That night, in the flat in New York, we were buoyed by a sort of chemical madness, a willingness of the heart that burst thunderously upon us all…

And suddenly, I began to like New York. High over the city our yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrets to the casual watcher in the street…and I was him too, looking up and wondering… I was within and without…

“I was enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life…”

In the end of the movie Nick realised the fast life of revelling in parties and booze was a cover for the terrifying moral emptiness which the era symbolised. Gatsby’s house and everything in it, were all part of an elaborate disguise.

And Gatsby? Gatsby knew it was a great mistake for a man like him to fall in love.

In one scene he noted, “I’m only 32, I might still be a great man if I could only forget that I love Daisy. My life — old sport — had to be like this…” he said as he drew a figurative slanting line from the lawn of his mansion to the stars high above.

“It’s got to keep going up.”

And so is my life too… It’s got to keep going up. But for me, for the person that I am, I can only do that safely if I’m on my own.

And just like Nick… I’m both “enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life…”

In brief this is the Great Gatsby story from Wikipedia:

James Gatz hailed from rural North Dakota, where he was born to a dirt poor German American farming family in 1890. Gatz despised the limits of poverty. He dropped out of St Olaf College in Minnesota after two weeks because he was “dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny,” and could not bear working as a janitor to support himself through college any longer.

After dropping out, he went to Lake Superior, where he met Dan Cody, a copper tycoon in Little Girl Bay. Dan Cody became Gatz’s mentor and invited him to join his ten-year yacht trek.

At seventeen, Gatz changed his name to Jay Gatsby and, over the next five years, learned the ways of the wealthy. Cody left Gatsby $25,000 in his will, but after his death, Cody’s mistress cheated Gatsby out of the inheritance.

In 1917, during his training for the infantry in World War I, 27-year-old Gatsby met and fell in love with 18-year-old debutante Daisy Fay, who was everything Gatsby was not: rich and from a patrician Louisville family.

During the war, James Gatsby reached the rank of Major in the US 16th Infantry Regiment, and was decorated for valour for his participation in the Marne and the Argonne.

After the war he briefly attended Trinity College, Oxford. While there, he received a letter from Daisy, telling him that she had married the wealthy Tom Buchanan. Gatsby then decided to commit his life to becoming a man of the kind of wealth and stature he believed would win back Daisy’s love.

Gatsby returned home to New York, which was being transformed by the Jazz Age. Gatsby took advantage of Prohibition by making a fortune from bootlegging and built connections with various gangsters such as Meyer Wolfsheim (who Gatsby claims is “the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919”).

With his vast income, Gatsby purchased a mansion in the fictional West Egg of Long Island. West Egg lies on the opposite bay from the old-money East Egg where Daisy, Tom, and their three-year-old daughter Pammy lived.

At his West Egg mansion, Gatsby hosted elaborate parties every weekend, open to all comers, in an attempt to attract Daisy as a party guest. Through Daisy’s cousin Nick Carraway, Gatsby finally had a chance to reunite with her.

Gatsby did not reveal to Daisy or to Nick the truth of how he came to acquire his wealth. During several meetings, Gatsby tried to revive his relationship with Daisy to what had been 5 years ago. He sought to woo her with his wealth and asked her to leave her boorish, faithless husband.

At the Buchanan home, Jordan, Nick, Jay, and the Buchanans decided to visit New York City. Tom borrowed Gatsby’s yellow Rolls Royce to drive up to the city. On the way to New York City, Tom made a detour at a gas station in “the Valley of Ashes”, a run-down part of Long Island.

The owner, George Wilson, shared his concern that his wife, Myrtle, may be having an affair. This unnerves Tom, who has been having an affair with Myrtle, and he leaves in a hurry.

During the party in an expensive hotel suite, the casual conversation evolved into a confrontation between Daisy, Gatsby and Tom. In a fit of anger, Gatsby insisted that Daisy loved him, not Tom, and that she only married Tom for his money.

Daisy admitted she loved both Tom and Gatsby. The party then broke up, with Daisy driving Gatsby out of New York City in the yellow Rolls-Royce and Tom leaving with Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker and Nick in Tom’s car.

From her upstairs room at the gas station, Myrtle saw an approaching car. Mistakenly believing Tom had returned for her, she ran out towards the car, but was struck and killed instantly.

Panicked, Daisy drove away from the scene of the accident. At Daisy’s house in East Egg, Gatsby promised Daisy he would take the blame if they were ever caught.

Tom told George that it was Gatsby’s car that killed Myrtle. George went to Gatsby’s house in West Egg, where he shot and killed Gatsby before committing suicide.

Gatsby is later found dead, floating in his pool.

Only one of Gatsby’s party guests, known as Owl Eyes, attended his funeral. Also at the funeral are Nick Carraway and Gatsby’s father, Henry C. Gatz, who stated that he was proud of his son’s achievement as a self-made millionaire.