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Bruce’s Shrink…

My younger brother Bruce, a lovely out of the ordinary character, died when he was thirty six years old. He was gay and had contracted Aids. His view on life was quirky and irreverent and when he qualified as an architect, I thought he would soon be winning awards for futuristic homes with outlandish aspects and convoluted living arrangements. As it turned out, I was right about the awards. But curiously they weren’t for weird houses, but rather for prosaic, functional, automobile showrooms.

Bruce was always surrounded by girls. In retrospect the reason was obvious; he never posed any emotional or sexual threat to them. He was one of them. Although he wasn’t effeminate in any way; androgynous would be a better description. Tall and pleasant looking he was also an extraordinarily talented pianist – loved Elton John – could that have been a clue?

I assumed he never had special girlfriends, because of a combination of a low sex drive and a disinterest in intimacy. But one Sunday the penny dropped. I was cycling in the vicinity of his recently built cottage, when I suggested to my cycling mates that we have a look at Bruce’s new home. I buzzed the intercom and told Bruce we wanted to see his house. “Ok,” he said and then took an absolute age to let us in.

Once inside, we were introduced to Gary, whose disheveled wet hair indicated he was freshly out of the shower. Distractedly Bruce showed us around the unconventional dwelling. Back on the road again, one of the cyclists pulled alongside me and said, “Is your brother gay?”
“I don’t think so”, was my surprised response, “why do you ask?”
“Well he took a while to let us in; that unusual fellow Gary obviously spent the night there and there was one unmade bed in the only bedroom in the house – do you think one of them slept on the floor?”

Of course he was gay. It was so obvious. It explained a million things. How could I not have noticed?

Most Saturdays I would bump into Bruce at my mothers’ house. It was about this time that he started developing the strangest ailments. Sore legs, a skin rash, never ending stomach problems and gradually a noticeable loss in weight. Because I had never confronted him about being gay, I presumed his complaints were psychosomatic. We have always been a seriously macho, heterosexual, rugger-bugger family and I reckoned that he just couldn’t bear the thought of being outed; which no doubt he suspected I might, after our visit to his cottage. Astonishing how stupid I was about something happening under my nose.

His health continued to deteriorate. One afternoon I got a phone call from my mother. “Bruce has collapsed.”
“Which hospital have they taken him to?” suddenly, I too felt ill.
“He was at the clinic but they have sent him home – apparently it’s quite serious.”
“Don’t be silly mom”, I said “they don’t send you home when it’s serious.”
I called my GP, Mark.
“Please can you meet me at Bruce’s cottage – there is something odd going on and I need some answers? Apparently he has ‘collapsed’. He was at the clinic, but now is at home.”
Mark paused, “I can’t just treat another doctor’s patient. Find out who his doctor is and we’ll move from there.”
It didn’t take long.
“Mark, his name is Dr Sifiris.”
Again there was a pause. “Dave he is the Aids doctor”, Mark said quietly.
More pennies dropped. Oh my God how could I not have seen it? Now what? Oh my God!

Bruce had had a neuropathy – a collapse of the nervous system. Fortunately or unfortunately, he never fully came around after his initial collapse and we never conversed again. He died three days later, with my mother, Gary and I holding his hand as he took his last breath. It was dreadful beyond belief.

At his funeral I met a psychologist Bruce had being going to, who I will call Geoff. As soon as I was introduced to him, he decided that I should come and see him, “to resolve any issues you might have with Bruce’s death.” I didn’t think I had ‘issues’ to resolve but thought it might be interesting to go.

The first session was not a huge success. I kept waiting for Geoff to give me some mental press ups.
“And what are mental press ups Dave?”
“Well if you were treating my body and trying to make me stronger you would give me exercises – like press ups and I would get stronger. You are now treating my mind and presumably making it stronger, so give me some mental press ups.”
“We don’t do that, but why do you think it is important that I give you mental exercises?” I thought I’d just explained. He didn’t seem to catch on too quickly.

The thing I remember most about the first meeting was that Geoff answered everything I said with another question. So at our second session I only answered him in questions. As the appointment wore on, he grew more and more exasperated.
“Why do you keep asking me questions?” He tried to smile. “I’m supposed to be interviewing you…”

“The first part of that is a question Geoff, so why do you think you aren’t interviewing me?
“Well quite frankly I think we are wasting your time because I can’t engage you in therapy while you keep turning everything around.”
“And why do your say that Geoff?”
“Because it’s true!”
“And how does that make you feel..?”

I actually looked forward to our next appointment. So much so I arrived a few minutes early. While sitting in the waiting room I could see Geoff fanning the air outside his office. I wondered what he was doing; but then worked out he was getting rid of smoke from a cigarette. A few years before, I had written a book on how to give up smoking, a fact Geoff and I had briefly discussed. He never mentioned that he smoked. To the contrary, the way he agreed with me that you had to be slightly moronic to smoke, given all the cancer warnings etc., I had assumed he was a non-smoker.

Because I behaved myself, the appointment went quite well. Until I asked him why he smoked and how this accorded with his support of my moron theory. The atmosphere became strained.
“I smoke because I choose to.” He blushed. “Can we go back to what we were talking about?”
“Sure”, I acquiesced, but things weren’t the same.

The last time I saw Geoff. He didn’t even sit down. As I walked into his rooms, he said “Hi Dave. Look if you don’t mind, we won’t be meeting today.”
“Oh why?”
“Well I have referred you to one of my colleagues and I would like you to fix an appointment directly with her.”
“But I don’t want to see someone else – I like seeing you.”
“That’s the problem,” he said nervously, “I no longer enjoy seeing you.”
“Oh and why’s that?” I asked. I was tempted to throw in “and how does that make you feel?” but thought it might be inappropriate.
“Every time I see your name in the appointment book I start tensing up, and I can’t possibly practice effectively if I am in a state of tension. I’m sorry Dave but I can’t treat you anymore.” And so having hired me, Bruce’s shrink fired me.