Insidious death

Dear Steve

My first few months in Melbourne were marked by your, by now; rapid descent as the ravages of AIDS took their final toll.

The eldest brother who I had adored as a small child but who had abused that sacred trust, was now a spindly, weakened wreck.

I had seen you fight the ravages of this most horrible of diseases over the past few years. I had been confused and angry as you sought alternatives such as magnetic treatment and other such quackery.

Alternative medicines were an evil by product of this disease. They took advantage of people at their weakest and gave hope where hope had no place to exist.

The drugs were vomit inducing cocktails of poison but, at least; they had science on their side, albeit; experimental science in the late eighties and early nineties.

You and others sought Nirvana in the alternatives, placing your trust in a series of smarmy, pseudo-scientific snake oil salesmen and women.

Mum would spend a lot of time staying with me in Melbourne over these months, we visited you at the retreat near Maldon. I choked on Goats milk and listened as faint optimism became a shining beacon.

At least, the girls were motivated by care, but even now, in my “enlightened” state, the image or mention of goat’s cheese is enough to send me retching to the bathroom. This is just one of the legacies you bequeathed me.

I saw you often in the hospice in North Melbourne and listened as you planned your future. The smell of shit and piss in the clear air of the verandah betrayed the thought of any future, but who was I to rain on your parade?

You moved to the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital for the final stages of your life, Chloe and Mum came down and we took you for a drive one Sunday, it was obviously agonizing for you, struggling to get in and out of the car but we were all determined to spend this time with you.

I bought you an ice cream at a little country store but it was too cold, too sweet and altogether unsatisfactory, I tried hard to understand your frustration and anger but I will admit, I failed sometimes

My thoughts were conflicted as I would sit with you in the evenings, this was the brother who had been my bulwark against the excesses of Dad and Gerry when I was a child. It was also the brother who had attempted to molest me and who I suspected of having molested his own children.

Sas and I had some suspicions but we refused to believe this of you. I feel an enormous guilt we did not speak up, but we did not see a lot of you after your divorce from Madeline, when you were still living in Albury.

I watched you struggle with the thought of dying and I wished we could have spoken of these things, but as your life slipped away, we never did.

The smell of shit and death permeated the walls of Fairfield as dozens of people lay waiting to die.

The Nuns did a wonderful job, but there was no holding back the scourge. The movie “Holding the Man” which I saw last year, perfectly captured the desolation and feeling of the hospital, but obviously, could not convey the overarching smell that seemed to get into your clothes.

It would stay with me for hours after I had left the hospital.

Quite often after I had left you in the evening, I would go around to Myf’s for dinner, she and Sue kept me sane through this period, the bottles of red helped too.

Steve, I was angry, I was sad.

At times, I wanted to shake you and yell that you were never coming out but instead, I would sit and listen to the dreams of a brother, who had so much to give but had destroyed his own life and damn near destroyed the lives of those, who most loved him.

I sat with Mum and you as you took your last breath, it was a relief for all of us. The nuns came in, and for perhaps the first time in my life; I wanted to believe in forgiveness after death.

Your funeral was held at the crematorium in Coburg, I was delighted Affy and Tony had flown down and there was a nice card from Paul.

Having the boys there, meant so much to me, I don’t know whether they knew what you had died from at that stage. Such was the fear and stigma of AIDS, that you were careful who you told.

Myffy and Sue knew, but for many others; “a virulent form of cancer” seemed to be the best response I could give.

I am not proud of that.

Terry and his family were there as were your two eldest children, every suspicion I had, was confirmed by the absence of Q and this worried the hell out of me.

We were standing outside the crematorium when two puffs of smoke sailed into the clear blue sky, Terry looked up and said the most graceless thing, I have ever heard at a funeral.

“God, it took two puffs of smoke to get rid of one Poof”

Terry has never been politically correct but this was a bridge too far, I held my tongue but never forgot.

Many years later when Terry and I had become much closer, I asked him about it.

He was full of Bundy and Coke at the time and he turned angrily on me.

“That bastard destroyed my life”

All I could think of saying was “you too?”

My rampantly heterosexual, racist, bigoted younger brother had tears in his eyes. We hugged and we have hugged many times since.

This is the man, who in the middle of yet another racist rant about Asian immigration will turn to Billy who is Chinese, and say without any hint of irony.

“Not you Billy, you are one of us”

I love my younger brother; he has been a strength to me over the past few years, one that I could never have dreamed of. We hardly ever agree but that does not matter, we are brothers who have shared pain and we have found each other.

I cried for him that night, I cried for all of us and, most of all Steve; I cried for you.

How could good turn this evil?

Even as I write this, almost thirty years later; I still cry.

Steve, you were my brother.





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