by Blake Dawson* <>

From the Preface to Chapter 1:

If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?

*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.

Chapter 39: Closure

A long Saturday in the field left me still lingering over a late Sunday breakfast when I had intended to be taking Buster around to run with Mr Harris’s now fully grown pup when our door bell rang sharply: “I’ll get it. It’ll be somebody from some cult I bet.” I yelled in the direction of the kitchen. Opening the door I faced a boy just a bit older than me who looked vaguely familiar with his hand quickly outstretched: “Blake.” I looked him up and down and slowly kicked my recognition circuits into gear: “Brett? ... Wow! A few months freedom and you look like a real human.” I grasped his hand with an upward swing of mine and pulled him close enough to embrace non-sensually, then quickly ushered him in the door, again yelling in mum’s direction: “Hey, I win the bet.” “I hope you didn’t tell them too much of what you think of the world.” “Not yet, but I expect I might before the day is out.” Mum stepped out of the kitchen door just as we were reaching it: “Oh. I’m terribly sorry.” “Don’t worry, he fooled me for a few seconds. Brett, this is my mother Elaine. Mum, this is Brett. You might just recall I went on a ‘crazy mission’ to speak to Brett and his brother on behalf of their father when their mother had taken them off to that cult, and that I’d heard that Brett had come home to his dad last Christmas.” We had found our way to the breakfast table and mum was already grabbing something more to drink: “So what brings you to Sydney? ... and to dig me up?” “Well, we have a school excursion to the city for the week and dad was more than happy for me to come down a day early and thank you properly, especially seeing we have some more good news. My brother came home to stay too during the last holidays.” I needed a second handkerchief before I reentered the conversation, but fortunately mum was perceptive enough to quickly assure Brett there was nothing to worry about and that it was just how I always coped with good news.

While I know we talked non-stop for hours except for mum and me taking turns to produce the next round of eats or drinks, I really have no idea what we talked about until the door bell rang again and I noticed the time: “That’ll be Warren wondering where the fuck I got to?” Mum got it: “You’re half right.” I was facing away from the door and felt two familiar hands around my face: “Hades. I should have guessed. Don’t tell me you actually got some exercise?” “And needed it. I think I’d even rather field all day than make a golden and watch your teammates hit up four for three-fifty.” “Yeah, I wasn’t going to wait for you last night when I heard that. Anyway, I’d better introduce you all.” That done, my mind must have returned and I asked Brett what his arrangements were for the rest of the day. “Well the mob from school arrive late tomorrow morning and I said I would meet them at Central, and dad’s given me a list of potential accommodation to check.” “Bullshit. In that case you must stay right here.” “Hey, you’ve already done more than enough for us.” “Brett, I wouldn’t refuse his hospitality if I was you,” Hayden chipped in. “Why not? You always do.” “And I know the price, that’s why not.” I turned back to Brett: “Hey, please don’t blame me for my friends. But you will stay I hope?” He would, so I turned back more to Warren than to Hades: “So how did you guy’s survive the day without me?” “When you showed no sign of turning up we did what you would have done and took Buster over to Mr Harris’s where we also found Walshie, so except for Hades going off for a run which the dogs were happy to join, we just gassed all afternoon the same as you lot. And boy do I know a bit more now that will help hang your book together.”

I agreed that he could not have chosen a better three people to get background. “And some updates.” “Hang on a minute. What updates?” “Well you remember that kid we met at Bermagui?” “Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. This is my story. It’s not some unauthorised biography into which you can blend any little side track that takes your fancy. I warmly remember Joel. But his story, outside of those few days last summer, has got absolutely nothing to do with my story. I don’t care in he has become Mr Harris’s new ‘loved boy’ nor if he has demonstrated exceptional skills beyond dog training, fishing and cricket, nor even if Buster is going to be a grandfather. None of that is part of my story, so it does not get space on my pages. They can write their own books if they want, or you can even ghost for Grampa Buster.” I tried to lighten it a bit without losing the message. “Alright, alright, I just thought you might be interested, but it seems you already know it all.” “And I am interested in the sun coming up in the morning. Anyway, with Brett here, it probably is the perfect time to think about whether we really are in sight of having everything I need to be in there by year’s end.”

I wanted this book to only include what I saw as sidelights of my life where there was a reasonable sense of closure, and Brett’s visit put one more story clearly in that category. The Asian business man from the Internet show stood out as the worst exception. I had seen him and his “family” again a year on and was in touch second hand through Brendan Marshall, but there was really nothing to add, and even my facetious suggestion of busting most of my idle cash on my own Asian ‘sex tour’ offered little prospect of adding anything. As far as I was concerned the closure of that story was in conjunction with several others which between them demolish the lies about childhood sexuality. And that took us back to Father Brian. “That bit has to stay because it marks the real low point of me in sixth grade, and I’m really not sorry that he showed me the other side of his calling. And, even though I have not found one, and no outsider probably can, I’ve got a very good understanding of the church’s problem. You see they are dominated by the words they have to spout to prop up their system, yet at the same time they have an overriding duty of pastoral care which rests on unspeakable traditions, especially when dealing with near adolescent boys who have real needs that many of the men in their system readily relate to.” Brett interjected that we had gotten onto something he could contribute to, even though his former cult was far removed from mainstream Catholicism, yet not one that was in danger to being exposed for sexual activities: “All the rituals and even the living arrangements seemed to depend on harnessing our sexual energy.”

That one very relaxed day allowed me to completely overlook the steadily increasing pace of my life and express an expectation that the final couple of months should not add much to my story, so it could wind out at the same gentle pace with which it started. “Well you could take up bowling and brighten it up a bit,” for anything but the first time, Hayden so surprised me with his choice of words, that I did not attempt to get to the bottom of them. “Or more likely, you could just wind it up with a tug and a few tears,” Warren showed some sense of humour which finally stirred my mind. “The mention of tears has reminded me that I must send an e-mail while Brett is still here.” Within minutes of hitting Send, a chat window opened up:

Hey Blake, if you and Brett are still there, I’ve stayed over for a meeting in the morning before flying back to Perth, and could think of nothing better for an idle night than to shout you guys a celebratory dinner.

Do you mind if I brink my mother? Not to chaperone, but because I want her to know first hand that I pick up decent blokes.

I’d be more than happy. Where can we meet?

How about the Woolshed at 8 for 8:30. They will always find a table for me.

“Hey what about your best friend and your biographer?” our two late visitors chorused. “Warren, you are my editor, not my biographer, and as much as I love you two guys, I think this is shaping as the kind of dinner at which four will be enough. Anyway, Hades my love, seeing as you have obviously seen a lot more of my drafts than I could have imagined, you had better tell me what you think.” “Look, the last thing I want is for you to change a word. I know just how much it is your story, and after this afternoon I will continue to remind Warren of that. But it has taught me some things that I did not know I needed to know.” I had to promise that anything he said would not change this book in any way before he would tell me that he had boiled what he had learnt down to a single rhetorical question: “What does the Hayden in Blake’s head know about the Blake in Hayden’s head, and vice versa?” He felt he had seen ‘the Hayden in Blake’s head’ through the drafts and was at first just amazed, but had come to accept that the strangeness of that Hayden to him and, he had no doubt, the equal strangeness that I would find in the ‘Blake’ in his head was a big factor in retaining the freshness in our relationship. He went on to explain that his ‘insight’ had come at a critical time in his preparations for his final exams and had added a new level to whatever powers of critical thinking he had picked up through his courses. He had discussed this with his teachers when he realised it was going to greatly effect how he tackled all his essays and the like, and now accepted that it was either going to work and get him into whatever he wanted for the next year or it wasn’t. “So I’m on a hiding to a jerking.”

I conceded he had dropped some decent sized hints, but insisted he tell be just one specific fact so one day I too could learn to think about ‘the Blake in Hayden’s head’. “Ok, I’ll go right back to my first clear memory. It was the very first day of second grade, and we were the big kids in the littlies yard, so we were taking some delight in the nervous arrivals of the new preps and their even more nervous mothers. Amongst all of them there was one mother and son who caught my eye. She was so unflustered that I assumed the kid must be the third of four or five and that him starting school was no bigger deal than the sun coming up tomorrow, and the kid positively bounced into the yard, quickly expanding his territory, breezing back past his mother for a very quick but quite affectionate and open kiss on the lips, and then bouncing off into this new bit of his life. That kid was obviously one of the younger ones, and months make a difference at that age, and while his appearance might have had some flaws to other eyes, to me he was an angel from heaven who I was madly in love with for four long years before I found the courage to even speak to him.” I made a very quick exit to my room and on return split my remaining pile of dry handkerchiefs with mum. “And I really can’t come out with you tonight, as much as I appreciate your belated invitation because I still have a few things to study that are not really affected by the Hayden in Blake’s head,” Hades finally broke the silence he had left us in, “and I think Warren has a gig to work,” which I had completely forgotten. Hayden gave Brett a big hug and told him to have a good one for him, and they were gone. It fell to Brett to get us moving by mentioning that he wouldn’t mind freshening up, which led to us establishing that his stuff was still in a locker at Central, but that I had some things that would fit him.

We teased each other just enough in the shower for Brett to accept that it was his job to revive mum and I enough to properly enjoy the evening. Over dinner it was his turn to tell me something I needed to know—that I should not even try to revisit that afternoon’s revelations until it was obvious the time was right. He also probed a bit about the night I ‘picked up’ his father and got past the ‘didn’t need to know’ counter by saying that his father had been completely open to him about it, but that he would prefer me as an age mate to cover a couple of points. The trouble was, I really didn’t know, which meant it had certainly not been particularly heavy, nor had it been nothing at all, because both of those categories always stuck in my mind, at which Brett threatened to give me one night I would remember. I said he had already given me a day to remember, even though Hades has done his bit to erase it, and we talked too much about my life. Meanwhile the Perth lawyer, who had long shifted out of the family law arena for something more comfortable, found reason to invite mum to participate in the business meeting he was over for next morning, and was more than happy to put back his flight home so he could meet one of mum’s major prospects in the afternoon.

The next Tuesday I wasn’t yet running late when Walshie arrived, I presumed a little early for another day at the office. Mum and I did what we could to keep a bit of private living space in our home which could otherwise easily have been overrun by our growing business, and part of that space was provided by nobody arriving for work before the time I would normally leave for school. However he quickly made it clear that he wanted to catch me before I left: “You haven’t heard the news?” “Nothing that I noticed.” “The shooting last night in Darlinghurst.” “Now you come to mention it.” “It was Garth Delaney.” “Come off it, I know Garth wouldn’t shoot anybody.” “He didn’t ... it was him that got shot.” “Holy shit ... I can’t believe it ... tell me you’re not serious.” “It’s hardly the kind of thing I’d make up. I just wanted to let you know personally before his name is released on the nine o’clock news.” “How did you find out?” “One of his friends had heard he might have had a problem, and when she heard early reports of the shooting she made a few enquiries, including a call to Brice Williams who she knew was an old neighbour of Garth. Brice had seen a police car outside the Delaney’s at first light, so they put two and two together, and Brice thought that Garth’s old friends from the club should know before they heard it on the news, so he rang me.”

There would be time later for it to sink in. There were things to be done that only I could do. I embraced Walshie to comfort him and myself: “Can you tell mum? I will get to the rest of the kids as quickly as I can.” I quickly changed into my best street clothes and timed my arrival at the school office three minutes after the first classes had started. “We don’t issue uniform passes for a fashion parade Dawson.” “That is not what I’m here for ... I need special status clearance for today ... that is I need to be officially absent but need to be allowed on the premises and to go into some classes between now and the end of lunchtime.” “For somebody who should be living by the letter of the law to make sure he is welcome back here next year, that is a very big ask.” “You haven’t heard the news?” “Nothing that I noticed.” “The shooting last night in Darlinghurst.” “You mean somebody wasted your dealer and now you want our permission to run his last round of deliveries?” “’Your dealer’ five years ago was the cricket coach of a bunch of ten and eleven year olds, almost all of whom attend your precious school and who are still my friends. I want to let them know personally before they hear through other channels. I need enough time to provide a shoulder for them to cry on and then I want to get far enough away from here that I can bawl my own eyes out in private. And as far as your earlier little taunt is concerned, maybe we could do a deal by which you allow me to be responsible for my own behaviour for the few weeks left of this year and I will not even think about coming back next year.” “Ok, I will just have to clear it with the principal. Blake I really am sorry. We know your capabilities even if the system doesn’t always fit you. I trust you aren’t serious about not returning next year.” “Can you also not blow this out of proportion ... no announcements at least until after lunch ... and definitely no external counsellors ... it only really effects about fifteen kids and we’re all tough enough to work through it with each other’s support. As far as next year is concerned, I will be thinking about it over the next few weeks, but I am quite likely to decide to stop trying to fit the system.”

A fair chunk of our old team just happened to be in the same year eleven communications class with a teacher who I knew would not just let me gatecrash but would be more than willing to use our tragedy as a substitute topic for the rest of first period. Excusing myself before the bell, I caught Joey Mantari changing classes and he almost went to pieces. We sat outside for half the period while I calmed him down enough for us both to go and find Troy Wilkins who was also on his own and get him out of his class for the last few minutes before recess. I just made it back to the year ten area in time to speak to a couple of old teammates who were still in my class and let the rest of the class know why I was present but absent, then catch Hayden as his year twelve class was breaking up. He had a free period straight after recess, so I had to trust him with a minimal explanation before tracking down a couple more of our old team during recess. Hayden rang Walshie at my place to check for any further information and I finally spoke to mum who was audibly sad and shocked but still wanted me to do what I thought I should be doing.

We all actually spent the period before lunch in our right classes but quickly regrouped at the start of the break and headed for the quietest corner of the school yard, joined by a few of our current individual lovers and best mates. I was starting to do it hard, having to censor my normally acid tongue which was not quite up to the task of getting us all back focused on the good times. Our ever faithful friend Felicity French quickly stepped into the breach and recalled a few stories that even I hadn’t known from those simpler times which helped pick the others’ spirits up. The break was nearly over and I really had to get out of there, so I did a quick round of just the players from Garth’s team with a handshake or embrace for each, embraced and kissed Felicity and then Hayden, and made myself scarce.

After that I had no plan, short of heading up wind to make sure I was out of hearing range of whatever bumbling announcement the school authorities might feel forced to make after lunch. I changed tracks to give the old sports store a wide berth—I certainly wasn’t ready to put at risk my many happy memories of Mr Harris’s little chats—and headed further north. I thought seriously about jumping on a bus to the Bondi Junction interchange from where I could grab a train to the Cross or most anywhere else, but thought better of it and headed for the ocean.

Waves rolling in from the Tasman were always therapeutic, but what I really needed was something to push me over the edge so I could let go of my emotions. Instead I stared at the restless waters and started playing mind games in search of something that could have prevented what was the first really nasty event to touch me personally. The truth I finally faced was that there was nothing I could have done four years earlier when Garth drifted out of my life, and there certainly wasn’t anything I could have done in the context of the few times we had caught up since to extricate him from the high stakes life he had chosen for himself. In a sense I was thankful that he had always understood that I could not follow him into that world, and the most decent of all the many decent things he did for me was to make sure that I was very consciously remaining true to myself. Yet at the same time that encouragement to go my own way, left it doubly difficult for me to do anything to change his direction, that is anything other than the warmth I always extended to him in the hope that he might find reasons to chose a different path. He had even come back for half a season of cricket at a point where he had seemed to be getting things under control, but that didn’t last and he was soon back to his old circles and their promises of instant gratification.

By mid afternoon, I was wandering back in the general direction of home on a route which took me unthinkingly past the catholic church where I noticed the Delaney family Range Rover parked outside. Assuming that Garth’s parents might have been saying a quiet prayer inside I felt compelled to join them. The church itself was deserted, but a light and voices coming from an anteroom drew me onwards. I picked up that Mr and Mrs Delaney were discussing possible funeral arrangements with Father Brian, and I barely paused to rap on the open door as I walked in on the three of them who were standing as if ready to leave. I excused myself for barging in and expressed my sorrow to the parents with a long and firmly held handshake with Mr and an equally long and firm embrace for Mrs.

My intrusion accepted in the spirit intended, I seized the moment: “Father Brian, at the odd funeral I have been to in other places some people who knew the deceased well had an opportunity to tell a little of his life, and I would very much like to do that for Garth.” He responded that in his funerals it was his job to say something about the life of the deceased and that they provided opportunity for bereaved family members to read appropriate scriptures, and that despite my appreciated concern that I didn’t really qualify. After apologising in advance to Mr and Mrs Delaney, I flipped: “And just who do you think is going to take any notice of you saying Garth was a nice guy, when our school office manager has already called him ‘your dealer’ to my face. At least I can tell people about the genuinely good side of him that dragged him out of bed every Saturday morning to look after a bunch of junior cricketers, and that despite the opportunities we offered, he did not lead any of us into the other side of his life. If I tell them I will be believed. And what difference will it make to you to do something a bit more ecumenical with your service. Even if you are the only priest in Sydney not screwing his altar boys, you aren’t about to get a call from Rome, and what you do with this funeral isn’t going to make the slightest difference to that.” Having finished my outburst even I was stunned by what I had said, and after we had all stood around dumbfounded for a couple of minutes, it took Mrs Delaney to defuse the situation: “It would be nice if Blake could say what he wants to at the funeral. It’s about the only genuinely nice thing I have heard about my son for quite a while. We should finalise the arrangements after we get clearance from forensic.”

The Delaneys moved to go and I repeated my condolences with another handshake and embrace, then planted myself in one of the sitting chairs in the anteroom while Father Brian saw them out. He soon returned and planted himself in the opposite chair, neither of us having anything to say for a while. Gradually my head sorted itself out and again took charge of my tongue: “I thing I owe you an explanation, but not an apology. As much as you might find it hard to believe, there have only been two occasions in my life when I have been an outright arsehole to somebody’s face. You just happened to be on the receiving end both times, and both times were precipitated by my inability to reach Garth Delaney. The one thing I would love to know is how your church enables basically good people like Garth to choose the wrong side of life?” I concluded rhetorically. In obvious innocence, he took my question literally: “If I knew that answer, I think I might get that call from Rome.”

Father Brian rose from his chair with practised ease and walked over to me extending his downturned hands to where I could grab them and haul myself out of the depths of my chair. Without letting him go I put my arms around him and just held on, my head bowed across his shoulder, and my tears finally flowed. The first thing I noticed as my outpourings of grief started to subside was that childhood was behind me. There I was, so much taller than this grown responsible adult, that my head bent over his shoulder while his face pressed into mine. Finally relaxing my desperate embrace, I again held his hands briefly and almost whispered: “Thank you, I’ll be ok now, and I trust you will be too. ... You know I will never agree with your views, but I now certainly appreciate the honesty with which you hold them. ... When this is a bit behind us we should catch up socially so you can meet the real Blake Dawson on his own ground. ... And I will do the right thing by Garth at the funeral.” He walked me to the door with his arm around my waist, and bade me farewell. If he was ever going to have any doubt about his vows it would have been in those few moments, and not because of anything sexual but because of the force with which I demonstrated my very different view of the world.

The day after the funeral, mum greeted me at the door when I arrived home from school with the news that there was an oversized delivery for me which she had resisted the temptation to sneak a look at, “but my curiosity is killing me.” I was equally mystified and more than happy to tackle undoing a very thorough packing and wrapping job. Getting past the protective outer shell, we quickly worked out that it contained a sizeable quantity of individually wrapped framed ... I guessed photos ... having half noticed “MEL” on the shipping label. There was also one smaller flat package which I probably would have opened first even if it had not had “BLAKE” neatly printed on it in very large letters. One layer in there was a beautifully calligraphed note apologising that he had kept one photo secret and suggesting that the “small” print enclosed was intended to fit into the cover sleeve of the album. The largest of the frames was intended for us to keep and he was sure I had enough friends who would be happy to take the others off our hands, and he hoped I did not mind, as he was keeping his promise not to exhibit, that he had kept three in Melbourne ... I knew who for.

While I secretly loved the album, I still could not imagine how one forgotten photo could justify such an effort, so I carefully removed the wrapping from the “small” print ... and then I could not believe it was me. I’ve always though of my own image as uninteresting ... nothing specific wrong, but somehow lacking that special quality that would stop you in the street like say Sean. But there was my image captured at sunrise at Barrenjoey Head with some magical combination of light, movement, focus, depth of field and setting which produced something even I could live with. So we unwrapped the biggest frame and realised that there was a perfect spot for it to be hung in our living area. I was more amazed that the large pile of still wrapped medium and smaller prints had all disappeared from our hallway within a week without any effort on mum’s or my behalf, and was glad we were not being besieged by unmet requests, especially after Father Brian had called in and ended up taking one for himself and one for the Delaneys.