The Poker Game We Play



Bachardy, left, and Isherwood, soon after they met.

Christopher Isherwood, born on this day in 1904, met a teenager on the beach in Santa Monica in the early 1950s. It was Don Bachardy, with whom Isherwood began one of the first openly gay relationships in Hollywood. In their love letters, the pair adopted pet names and, with them, exaggerated identities: Isherwood became “Dobbin” and Bachardy “Kitty.” Their correspondence is published in The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, edited by Katherine Bucknell. The excerpt below is from a March 1963 letter from Isherwood.

If only we could talk! Like the evening before last, I had actually just stayed the night at the house where I’d been drinking, purely and simply because they didn’t want me to drive back drunk. But I couldn’t tell you that, because telling you would have suggested that you minded; and that’s the kind of minding we never talk of. We only either kid each other about it, or get angry. Oh—I am so saddened and depressed when I get a glimpse, as I do so clearly this morning, of the poker game we play so much of the time, watching each other’s faces and listening to each other’s voices for clues. And then you say, for example, Dobbin’s in a strange mood, and then things start to get tense. And, because I know this, I start playacting to get them untense again, and that makes everything worse. And you are much the same. Although, somehow or other, you always seem franker than I am. Is that because you can afford to be? Am I scared of you? Yes, in a way. But I really almost wish I could be more scared. How can I explain that? It’s hard. But, to try to get at what I mean, I was so happy the other day when you said that about Dobbin having been a jailer and now being a convict. I sort of wish that were true all of the time. Masochism? Oh, Mary—what do I care what it’s called? I only know that isn’t a wrong thing for me to feel … I have written all this and maybe, having read this far, you will say, what an egomaniac. I have quite other problems, you will say, which have nothing to do with him. Yes, I know that. And again, if I say I would like to talk about them, you may reply that I am merely trying to get possession of them … I am going to send the letter because the one thing I do want you to know is that I care. I really do ache with misery when the wires are crossed. But then, I realize, it is sheer egotism to talk about caring. Oh shit … I feel I have somehow gotten something said, but I don’t quite know what. I love you. C.