June 25, 2000
To Whom It May Concern
It’s getting closer now. I’ve only a few months to go, according to Doctor Jim, my oncologist. I was once so positive that, together with Tori, we’d beat it. But this time around there was no secret Chinese cure for what is afflicting me. Now I know that the end game is not so far away my place in the hospice is booked. Tori, Jack and I have discussed life for them post me. My wife has decided she’ll sell up and move back to Melbourne and naturally her son will accompany her. Her parents are getting quite frail and she feels obliged to care for them in their declining years. I tell her she’s going from the frying pan into the fire, but she’s happy with this decision. It is the Chinese way, she reckons
Death. Does it worry me? I guess I have come to terms with it in some ways. I feel cheated that I will not get to see a bit more of the life journey for the people I love, but it, in itself, is no longer frightening. I know the facility I am shortly headed for has an excellent reputation for making one as comfortable as possible. I’ll be managed well and my passing will not be a shock for others. I know, now, that with the impediments to living anything remotely resembling a normal lifestyle increasing, as well as is the amount of medication required to keep the pain at bay, it will be a quite quick demise from here on in. I cannot use a keyboard any more so this is being completed through a voice activated programme. I have had a compulsion to put this document together for some time now. I want to write my story. Bill will tizzy it up for me and place it with the papers held by my lawyer. By the time this is read, by those it is intended for, I will have departed. This record of my time on the planet is not designed to hurt, but I am being frank so I suggest it may well upset, in some ways, a person I hold very dear. Bill has his instructions as to people he is to pass this on to. Here has been my life – as I see it.
Before Tori there was, of course, my first spouse. Veena was – sorry is – of Indian extraction and wasn’t like some of the others. She wasn’t a ‘gold-digger’ as, it seemed to me, many of the nurses I worked with back then were. Some of her mates even were decidedly that way inclined. She, in contrast, was quiet and professional, devoted to her work in that Melbourne hospital where I was completing my residency. Back in the late 60s, when we were starting off, it seemed a sexual revolution had occurred and many of the nurses were after a doctor as their pathway to financial security, even wealth – and often were prepared to use their bodies to smooth the path. Not all, but a sizeable minority. That wasn’t Veena’s way whatsoever.
As for me, by this stage, I was still a sexual novice. I was bought up in the Western Districts of Victoria, my father being a leading and successful pastoralist. My mother, quite well off in her own right, had never done a day’s paid work in her life, devoting herself to being an affluent grazier’s wife. I knew, over time, my father had been involved with other women around the district, perhaps explaining in part what happened to me in life. I also knew that my mother was aware of his indiscretions too – but in those days marriages stayed together, no matter what.
From an early age I was compelled to leave for boarding school in Geelong – a sheltered, lonely existence that I think is to ‘blame’ for the way I am today – that and my appearance. There was no possibility of any interaction with members of the opposite gender, either in the school beside Corio Bay or at our fairly isolated rural homestead. So going to university was quite a shock. Although most training to be doctors were still of the male persuasion, there were nonetheless quite a selection of confident young ladies at my lectures as well. In truth, they scared me – so overt and capable – nothing like my mother. As I was no where near handsome, in conventional terms, the sexual revolution on campus entirely passed me by. By the time of my residency I had not known love, sex or even the touch of a woman’s hand on mine. A late developer in that regard, I was a tall streak with a pinched, seemingly disapproving mouth, eyes that bulged and already thinning hair – and even that wasn’t the worst of it. So, as a target for even the least choosiest nurse, I was lower than the proverbial bottom of the barrel. So when Veena showed the slightest interest I grabbed on to her for all I was worth, especially as, along with all my other disadvantages, there was the dandruff.
It had afflicted me all my life. My growing up was a misery at boarding school as I was bullied mercilessly about it. No matter what I tried – expensive lotions, specialist doctors, old wives’ cures – nothing, nothing would do the trick. With it any shred of confidence I could muster to approach a woman was immediately negated. It made me feel wretched – made me feel completely unlovable even – that is, until Veena.
I never did get up the courage to approach any girl I took a shine too and beforehand I barely knew Veena existed. She was so unobtrusive, devoid of the usual high spirits of the other nurses. In the end our meeting was brokered by Reg, another doctor to be. He had his eye on one of Veera’s mates but she would only date him as part of a foursome. She would bring Veena along – Reg had to find her a partner – and that was me. He’d chosen yours truly for two reasons, or so I assumed. First of all I was available; secondly I would certainly not provide any threat to his intentions with his girl. In the end he didn’t even get to first base – but there was one marriage that came out of that evening. Mine!
We seemed to hit if off, Veena and I. We had work in common and were both shy – me to the point of paralysis. I think Veena was unsure of me for a long time. Our first kiss took forever to achieve, and it was months before I could convince her to consummate the relationship – and I choose that word – consummate – carefully. We knew the theory of course, but in practice sex was a different matter. Still, I enjoyed myself that first time. Veena looked good in a sari, which she tended to wear frequently in private – even better out of one. But ‘making love’ with her – well it seemed she felt it was my right and her duty. She in no way approached deriving the same benefits as I did. I doubted that we’d last the distance. I knew with what I had to offer I couldn’t be choosy, but she seemed happy enough. Before too long we had announced our engagement in ’74 and married the following year. It was then the double whammy hit.
Being so lofty the only sport I displayed any aptitude for was basketball. I can’t say I overly enjoyed it, but it kept me from being totally sedentary. My job in the team was to dash ahead of the guy with the ball and be under the ring when he lobbed it up. Mostly my height ensured I caught it and then popped it where it was meant to go, but along the way I copped a few hits in the nether regions shall we say. By the time I was getting serious with Veena, my basketball days were over mainly so I could concentrate on my career. It is my feeling the sport left a legacy. Soon after I commenced being intimate with Veena I noticed one of my testicles would ache off and on. I put it down to the sex but, being a doctor, I should have known better. Discovering a lump in the offending testicle I knew it was more serious and consulted a specialist. He confirmed my worst fears and slotted me in for an operation as soon as was possible. I gave the regulatory amount of sperm – just in case – and then the second whammy hit. It turned out I needn’t have bothered. Irrespective of the result of the procedure it turned out my sperm count was way below that required to inseminate anyone. I would never have children in the natural way.
At that point in time that fact didn’t seem to faze Veena unduly – she was more concerned about the cancer. I was lucky. Soon I was able to put the incident somewhat behind me. I thought further down the track we would look at our options and have some offspring by the other available means. Soon after all this I decided to specialise in gynaecology. I took the view that if I couldn’t have kids myself, I’d do my level best to assist others in doing so. And that’s what bought Veena and I to Burnie, over the water, in Tassie. The town was now big enough for a second practitioner and I was soon joining the overworked original in his rooms. Veena had no trouble obtaining shift work at the local regional hospital, so it seemed that all was going along satisfactorily and I supposed it did turn out that way, all factors considered.
Life in the provincial town had few attractions for me apart from work, that being my salvation. By the time the eighties arrived Veena and I were sleeping in separate beds and an invitation to her room was hard to come by. Financially, as the decade proceeded, we were doing better and better. I set up in my own practice and soon we could afford real estate on Grandview Avenue – the best address in town. I didn’t think this made either of us particularly happier. Veena was of the opinion life was passing her by, now vociferously expressing a desire to have children. I was okay with that – the only problem was she wanted to have them naturally. That I couldn’t give her – we both knew it. In hindsight I now think it was a deliberate ploy – she was using my inadequacy as her ticket to freedom, her excuse to be rid of me. Soon I too realised our marriage was in its death throes – that it was only a matter of time. I was miserable at home, but at least at work I was finding some consolation. I knew I had my faults there too. Some complained that my bedside manner left something to be desired, but I keenly felt I was thorough and rigorous in what I did with my clients seeming to respect me for that. I took pride in my success rate, in dealing calmly with matters when they went awry during the process of childbirth. And then I met Bronnie.
For years she was just a patient. I say ‘just’, but right from the start of our professional relationship, through the delivery of three children, I liked her. She was a breath of fresh air compared to some of my usual clientele. Later I carried out some terminations for her. These never seemed to unduly upset Bron – she was always bright and breezy; always dressing provocatively, even when very pregnant. She had a flirtatiousness about her I was attracted to, but of course I would never act on that feeling. She was a small, bosomy blonde, always smelling of expensive perfume and always tastefully made up. I knew from our discussions re the cessation of her last few pregnancies that she had, what she described as, an ‘open’ marriage, engaging in a number of affairs around the town. The event that suddenly made life so much more worth living for me occurred when she came to me for a check-up after her last termination. She stood up, I thought to go – but instead she started thanking me profusely for all I had done for her over the years. She then bent over my desk, knowing full well that she was partially exposing her best attributes to my view, placed her hand over mine to inform me that, ‘If there is anything I can do for you Dr Alomes, anything at all – just say the word.’ After I regained my composure I asked her to leave and told her that this was to be be the end of our doctor/patient relationship.
I waited a few weeks out of ‘professional’ integrity before I relented and shoved to the back of my mind my conscience. After a particularly bleak weekend with Veena, I made contact and Bronnie and I became lovers. I knew I was one of a number, but Bron was addictive and she loved sex just as much as I loved sex with her. It wasn’t just the act. There was more to it that that. For want of a better word, there was languor. With her time seemed to slow down and we spent hours in bed just chatting, just cuddled up to each other. This was a new and wonderful experience for me. She also had orgasms with me. I couldn’t believe that. After years of Veena, that was the best feeling in the world. I found it hard to believe she was attracted to me, but so she seemed – and she never once mentioned the dandruff. We had our assignations out of Burnie in hotel rooms up and down the coast. When I attended conferences in Launceston, Hobart or even in Melbourne, she made it her business to be in whichever city as I was. Veena had given that away years ago.
I knew my wife was sensing something, but I didn’t think by this stage that she particularly cared. I know I had few scruples about the affair. By now Veena was mute on the child thing; was as removed from me as it was possible to be under the one roof. She was clearly ‘considering her options’. We treated each other cordially when our paths crossed on the occasions I attended the hospital, but at home she locked herself away in her room, I in mine. Stony silence reigned. Unlike popular misconception, she didn’t leave me because of Tori – or indeed Bronnie – nor do I think she specifically left to have children before it was too late for her. I think she left because she simply couldn’t stand me any more. One day I came home to discover the house empty of all her gear. There was a note stating that she was intending to return to Victoria, not to try and contact her and wishing me good fortune in all future endeavours. I have no idea what came of her. I respected her request and signed the divorce papers when they arrived, returning them to her lawyer without quibble over her admittedly quite reasonable terms – and so ended my first marriage.
So it was to my immense good fortune that soon after those events Tori entered my world. The leaving of Veena put some extra pressure on Bronnie – I now saw her as a future partner in life but, of course, she wasn’t in the least attracted to that notion. She wasn’t about to give up all that she made no secret of for me – and I sensed I was in danger of losing her. I backed off. Keeping my lover was an imperative, so Tori suited me down to the ground. Besides, I liked her. I liked her very much and I had delivered her first, Jack, not so long beforehand. The town library had always been one of my haunts in my attempts to escape the house when I wasn’t at my surgery. Frequently I would spot Tori at work there. One day I noticed she was seated at the ‘assistance’ desk so, affecting an air of casualness, I sauntered over and asked after Jack. She answered in a way I’ll never forget, but that was Tori, forthright to a fault. ‘Thank you for asking but he is fine, but look at you. You’re a mess. That dandruff! Why don’t you do something about it?’
I suppose part of me was offended, but I gave her the abridged version of my lifelong affliction and then she really startled me. ‘Bah! I can fix it. Give me your address. I’ll come around tomorrow. Give me a time. Ancient Chinese remedy,’ she laughed. ‘Success is guaranteed. Only will take a few treatments. And to thank me, you can then take me out to dinner.’ For better or worse I agreed. She was there at my door the next day, spot on the agreed time. She noticed the neglected state of the house, turned and simply raised an eyebrow. I told her. I told her of Veena’s departure a few weeks previously. I now suspect it was even as early as that moment that Tori started figuring out a new path for herself as well. I may misjudge, but that is what I suspect.
I was instructed to get a towel, put it around my shoulders and to sit. From her bag she produced a jar of a substance that she proceeded to massage into my scalp. Her fingers gently prodding the top of my head felt so heavenly I could have purred, but the stuff itself smelt foul. I asked what was in it but she just laughed and said, ‘Let’s see if it works first!’ It did, noticeably. After a few more applications in the further visits Tori made, for the first time in my existence I became dandruff free. True to my word, I asked she and her husband to dine with me. ‘Bah! Who needs him?’ she responded. ‘I’ll make some excuse. I want it to be just us two.’ Who was I to argue?
At Burnie’s best, the Raindrops Room, we chatted amicably enough, but I could tell she was in a rush to be away and I naturally assumed it was to get back home. But no, it turns out it was my abode that she was anxious to get to. After she refused coffee she announced, ‘Now I would like you to take me back to your house. You will make me coffee.’
At that moment I didn’t think much of it – I was just slightly shocked. Looking back, it seemed further evidence she had it all planned from the start. Was she akin to those nurses way back when. I figured she wouldn’t be badly off, but certainly her husband’s teaching wouldn’t be as lucrative as my gig. It was all very suspicious but, as I said, it suited my purposes.
I was no sooner through the door than she grabbed me. ‘Wouldn’t you prefer to do something with me other than just have a coffee? she whispered. ‘Take me to your bedroom!’ When we arrived she ordered me to remove my clothes, then I was to undress her. I was immediately struck by the difference of her body when compared to Veena’s and Bron’s. She was so lean, almost boyish. We made love. It was very quick, hardly satisfying for either of us and we were no sooner finished than she was up and getting dressed. ‘It is time for me to go. When would you like to do this again?’
There was something about Tori that was so engaging. I knew I’d never really love her, nor she me, I quickly figured. But we made her version of love frequently for a while after that. When I told Bronnie about her, I was fearful – but determined to do the right thing. I shouldn’t have worried about her reaction. She said she was delighted but warned about the small town thing. I’d have to be very careful or it’d be all over the place – the local gossips would see to that. She was correct – it didn’t take long before I gathered all and sundry knew. Bronnie inquired if I still ‘required her services’. Again she seemed delighted when I answered in the affirmative.
Tori’s plan was proceeding apace, talking of moving in with me. So it came as a surprise when she announced, a few months into our relationship, that she was pregnant. It didn’t seem to throw her in any way. She simply announced that she would wait a year after the birth of, as it turned out, Kerryn and then she would commence her life with me. I complimented her on her efficiency and asked, only half jokingly, if I had any say in the matter. ‘Not really,’ she responded. ‘You want me, don’t you? We’d make such a great team. You can wait a little longer.’ Then she threw me the curve ball, ‘I know there is someone else in your life. That is no problem for me as long as you are discrete. Don’t worry, you can still still have nookie with me too!’ And so wait I did.
Did I come to love Tori in the end? Love wasn’t a word she would use. What we did together was always ‘nookie’ – never ‘making love.’ It was quick and efficient, just as Tori was with everything she tackled. I had Bron who gave me the caresses I craved – so no, I wasn’t in love with Tori. I couldn’t fault her as a wife when, true to her word, the day after Kerryn’s first birthday she, Jack and the little tot moved into my Grandview Avenue house. She transformed it in a flash – made it into the home it never felt like when Veena was resident. That I did love! After her divorce came through we made it all official in a simple wedding. There were just a few guests at the lovely rhododendron gardens in the hills behind the town. The only minus was the way she treated her husband. Soon I was concerned that he would worry about whether he was actually the father of Kerryn and I didn’t think that was fair. The only cross words I had with Tori were over that issue. She always told me to butt out – it was her business. I never quite figured out why she – and later on Jack, treated him so, in my opinion, poorly. In my few dealings with him he seemed a fine fellow and certainly a caring dad.
Now in these days of illness Tori cares for me in her usual no nonsense manner. All my needs are catered for and she never turns a hair at some of the more unpleasant aspects of her task involving my well being. In my heart of hearts I do wish it was Bron there in her stead, for at least then the care would come with a little more affection. Oh dear I miss Bron. We kept going as long as we could, but once it became obvious that the diagnosis was terminal I ended it. Bron shed a gallon of tears. If Tori has wept over my impending demise then I haven’t been aware – it has always been business as usual for her.
As it turned out Kerryn was a little force of nature. She adored her dad more and more as she grew. It also seemed the harder I tried the more she disliked me. I persevered with her, I really did. Her growing animosity towards me as she proceeded through her primary school years really put a strain on the relationship. Tori kept saying she’d get over it, but Kerryn manipulated for all she was worth – manipulated to spend as much time with her dad as possible. She has blossomed into a lovely teenager, but eventually even Tori had finally had enough and acceded to her requests to live with her father. Till that point she did everything she could to make our lives difficult. Once she left it was all so much more relaxed and she would happily visit. The young lady even tolerated me enough to have a civil conversation with me once in a while. And Tori’s attitude to her ex also seemed to soften as well. I am hoping that once I am gone there can be even more of a thawing all round.
As for Jack? Well a father couldn’t be more proud of him than I am of that young man. Jack’s gay. I’d suspected it for a while. That night he called me into his bedroom and told me of his darkest fears I now honestly think was the best moment of my life, even if it must have been so difficult for him. I cannot write this without tears coming to my eyes. To think that I was the first that he confided in – expressing his fear of what may lie ahead for him. I like to think it was me that eased his concerns that he was abnormal – that he was a freak. I explained how that in this day and age his life would be much easier than it would have been for me in the same situation, but I didn’t hide him from the fact that, in a place like Burnie, his journey wouldn’t be a breeze. With Burnie being Burnie he sometimes had a tough time at school and out of of it. He feels the move to Melbourne will make it easier for him. It took Tori a while to come to terms with his homosexuality, but now she is as pragmatic about it as she is everything else. His father was fine with it as well, although that didn’t seem to make any improvement in their chilly relationship. I never got to the bottom what the issue was between them, with Tori also claiming to be at a loss. I can only hope that as time passes Jack will see that the guy has always wanted the best for his son.
So – that’s it as I see it. A better life than I could have reasonably hoped for, all factors considered.
(I have requested the accompanying notes be given to each significant recipient of the above.)
I know you are distraught at what’s happening to me and I love you even more for that. I do thank you, Jack, for your confidence in me that night I wrote of and during the following years. The idiot fringe at school in your last years and around the town weren’t easy, but you stood up and faced them as you did when you courageously acknowledged the way you are. I know you are at peace with that now as we are. Melbourne will be great for you – I am confident of that. I know you will find love and by the time you do I trust that society will be as accepting of that love as they are for that between opposite genders. I am so very proud of you.
I know some of what I have written may have hurt, but I also well know, with that resilient nature you possess, you will not let the grass grow under you. You will move on quickly to a new life in Melbourne – and I know it will be an exciting one for you will make it so. You go where angels fear to tread. Thank you for giving me Jack to love. Thank you for being the best wife a man in my situation could have hoped for. It is my belief that Jack will find his way in Melbourne and may even build bridges with his father. And thank you, Tori, for curing my dandruff. I’ll never know what was in that concoction of yours but it did the trick and in so many ways made me feel so much better about myself. Bottle it and you’ll make a fortune – but I know you don’t do that with old Chinese recipes.
To My Bronnie
Thank you my love. If I could have had you to myself I would have done so in a flash. If I loved – truly loved anyone it was you. You are a magnificent woman and it is my hope that one day you will find all that you need from just one man – be that your husband or someone else. You have been the light of my life all these years and have given me so much pleasure that even now, with my life dominated by pain and how to manage it – I can look back and still remember and smile at the wonder of it all.
Dr Louis Alomes