In Love with Lori Ch. 01bybeachbum1958©
My father died in the summer of 1992. I was five at the time, and could not understand what had happened; no-one explained what had happened, I had no brothers or sisters, and mother was like a dead thing herself, almost sleep-walking; father's friend Charlie, an American pilot at Greenham Common, was constantly at the house, and he and mother would sit, silently, staring at each other, while I sat and wondered what had happened, and why, and what happened next.
Father and Charlie were the best of friends; Father was a surgeon at a hospital in Oxford, Charlie a pilot, each apparently had nothing in common with the other, but they spent all their spare time together, tuning their motorbikes, tinkering with father's collection of old cars, or just sitting and smoking together over a bottle of beer. Charlie was almost a constant feature in the house; if father was delayed at the hospital for any reason, mother would send Charlie on errands, or make him take her shopping, or paint the garage wall, whatever; having Charlie around was almost like having father there, he and father liked the same music, the same kind of films, they even smoked the same brand of cigarette.
But something was wrong with my father.
Charlie and father stopped playing with their cars and motorbikes, and spent more time huddled together, playing swing and jazz records and talking in low voices, father covered in a blanket, looking thinner, smiling less, not smoking.
Charlie became the main support for the family. When he was over, he stayed in the guest bedroom, dropped me off and collected me from school while mother and father stayed in their room,; he cooked me meals, played with me, read to me, watched TV with me, and kept me from disturbing my parents. Other things were happening as well, things I couldn't understand; mother and Charlie talking together softly in the kitchen, stopping when I walked in, hugging each other in front of the TV at night when they thought I was asleep, and then something really strange, something that made no sense at all.
It was a Sunday afternoon, I had been playing outside, and eventually wandered into the house to ask my mother if I could have a cold drink, but she was nowhere to be found. I heard a strange rhythmic gasping sound from upstairs, from my parents' room. I went upstairs, following the strange sounds, curiosity leading me on, to my parents' bedroom, and the door was standing ajar. When I looked inside, I saw something that puzzled me, because it made no sense to my five year-old brain.
My mother was spread-eagled, naked and face-down on the bed, with a couple of pillows under her midriff, and Charlie was lying on top of her. I was completely baffled as to what they were doing, she was panting and repeating his name, and he was groaning. I watched, dumbstruck, trying to work out what they were doing, then turned to leave, feeling strange, disquieted even, a little ashamed that I'd seen something 'grown-up', something I wasn't supposed to see, even though it made no sense to me, like I was spying on them or something, and it was then I saw my father sitting in the armchair by the window, with a blanket over him, smiling gently at the two of them.
A few days later, father was taken to hospital. Mother told me he was going to stay there until he got better, and that everything would soon be better. Charlie still used to come to our house nearly every day, watching TV with me and helping mother with dinner, having strange non-conversations with mother, their mouths saying one thing, but their eyes meaning something else. It was a very confusing time for me; I was trying to work out what was happening with my family, and now father was gone, and Charlie was there virtually all the time, all evening. I would be packed off to bed, mother or Charlie reading to me until I fell asleep, but sometimes, during the night I would hear moaning and panting, groaning and strange, wet sounds coming from my parents' bedroom, and Charlie would be there again at breakfast.
Father died soon after he went into hospital, and mother explained that he had asked Charlie, to look after us, and that he would be living with us from now on.
All I knew for certain was that it felt strange, seeing him every day without my father sitting and talking with him, or the two of them smoking together in the garden, or letting me help when they tinkered about with their motorcycles. I missed Charlie saying to me "Davey-boy, when you get old enough, we'll get you a hog of your own!" which always made my father chuckle, before swinging me onto the seat of his own motorbike, letting me twist things and push buttons, pretending I was piloting my own big bike, just like him.
Then one day, mother took me to the zoo in London; it was a big day for me, and I spent the whole day running from enclosure to cage to enclosure again, thrilled to see the elephants, and chimpanzee, rhino's, lions; all the big beasts I had seen in the picture books at home, and now they were real!
After a while, mother sat me down, telling me she wanted to talk to me, about her and Charlie, and me. She told me that she and Charlie were getting married, that they had all talked it over before father died, and that Charlie would be my new father, if I would let him. Charlie was a tall, handsome man; an ex-college footballer, tall, square-jawed, and I was in love with him anyway, so I agreed; for all I knew, getting married was what grown-ups did all the time, and I really wanted my new dad to be Charlie.
They were married a few months after the funeral, me acting as page-boy at their wedding. A few weeks later mother announced that she was having a baby, and that Charlie was being transferred back to America, so we would all be going with him, as his family. I was in a haze; America! Where there were Cowboys and Indians, and superheroes!
We settled in Iowa. Charlie had taken a posting in the Air National Guard, and life soon settled into a kind of normal for me, going to a new school, where I was a novelty with my English accent, becoming part of a new family. Charlie and mother went to great lengths to make sure I never felt apart from them, that I was their son, and that they loved me. They didn't have to; I had always been comfortable around Charlie; actually, I knew him a lot better than father, if only because father was working so often at the hospital, and Charlie was the only other adult male I had any regular contact with.
Charlie, too, loved me, and treated me like a son, but also constantly reinforced my memories of my father, making sure I didn't forget him; there were photographs of Father and Charlie together all over the house, drinking together at a country pub, posing beside their motorcycles, or posing with Mother, father in his favourite leather jacket and Charlie in his air force uniform, arms draped around each other's shoulders, mother with her head on my father's other shoulder
Eventually mother had the baby, a little girl named Loretta, who quickly became just 'Lori'. Mother introduced me to my new sister, and I promised her faithfully that I would always protect my baby sister. Charlie also asked mother if he could adopt me as his son, and she talked to me about it. Because Charlie was mother's husband, and treated me like his own son, and I loved him dearly, I went along with it, even though I was a little unsure about giving up my name, all that I had left of my father.
Life in Iowa was quiet and simple. Charlie eventually left the air force to work as a pilot for a small airline. Lori and I grew up as a typical older brother/little sister duo, until I reached 16. This was a watershed year for me. I had become increasingly restless in Iowa. I still remembered my life in England, and I was beginning to feel alienated from my family. This is probably normal in a teenager, but I felt the gulf between us widening on almost a daily basis. I was growing away from them, Iowa was making me feel cramped and hemmed-in, and I could feel the conviction growing that I had to go back to England, to study in England, be a doctor, a surgeon like my father. I had always known I wanted to be a surgeon, I just couldn't see how to achieve it in Iowa, not with the cost of medical school being what it was.
I had tried to broach the subject with mother several times, but she had brushed me off, refusing to even consider the idea. Eventually, I had had enough of stalling and brush-offs, and sat her down, intending to have my say.
"Mother," I began, "you and I both know I can't stay here any longer. I can't stay, I can't live here, it's...not where I should be."
Mother looked at me, silently, for a long, uncomfortable moment, before replying.
"Where are you planning on going, David?" she asked me, using my given name, always a bad sign. I took a deep breath.
"I want to attend medical school in England, and qualify like father did. Please let me do this, it was always what I wanted to do, you know that, you always have."
Again mother gave me that long look, so I plunged on.
"To attend medical school, I need to pass my A-Levels, and the only place I can do that is in a secondary school or 6th Form college. If you let me go, all I ask is that you give me enough money to live in a hostel until I pass my A-Levels, then I qualify for the Student Loan programme, and you'll have no more expenses on that score. You know we can't afford medical school here, this is the only way I think I can become a doctor; I just want to be like my father, this is how I can do."
I paused, waiting for a response, anything from her. At last she spoke.
"At least you've thought about how you're going to support yourself. Are you certain this is how you want to go forward? Because I know Charlie is going to want to talk to you about this as well, you need to convince him as well. I think you're being foolish, you have time, and you have us, your family."
"I knew you'd say that, thanks for the support!" I snorted. I didn't mean to sound so abrupt, so rude, but that's how it came out. Mother's lips tightened into a thin line, and she got up and left the room. I was just saying to myself "nice going, well done, that went well" when she stalked back into the room, and threw a thick folder on the table between us.
"I think you should read this before you make any rash decisions, David." she stated, and watched as I opened the folder and thumbed through the thick sheaf of papers inside.
"Mid-Carib Equity...Trust & Fidelity Investments...Windward Island Equity Management...Mother, what are all these papers? Who are these people, and why should I read through this, what does it mean?" I asked her, completely at sea.
"Those are the trust and investment accounts you father set up for you when you were born," she replied, "it's your trust fund, it matures on your 18th birthday, so you see, when the time comes, you'll have all the money you need to study medicine here, near your family."
But I wanted to study in England, not here.
Mother looked at me, already aware of my answer, and leaned back, away from me, her body language showing avoidance, anger, distance.
"Very well, I will contact your trustees and discuss with them your request that they provide you with the means to attend a good boarding school, to at least give you a chance to prep for the A-Level examinations."
She stood up and left the room, stiff and angry.
Now I had to talk to Charlie, a prospect I was not relishing; not because I was scared of him, but because I loved and respected him, and I knew my request would hurt him.
As it turned out, Charlie came looking for me. I trailed him into the den, more than a little apprehensively. He waved me into a chair, and looked gravely at me.
"So Davey, your mom's upstairs crying; she told me what happened, what's been going on. Do you want to tell me your side of it?"
I walked through the conversation I'd had with mother, giving all my reasons, my feelings of being lost, displaced, here in Iowa, my need to follow after my father, Charlie nodding as I spoke, seeming to understand. At last he spoke.
"DD, now that you know about your trust, that you'll have all the money you'll ever need once you hit 18, does that make a difference to you, or do you still want to go back to England? This is your home, you know that. When your mom lost your father, all she had left of him was you, now you want to go as well. This is tearing her up, but she's still willing to let you go. She can see your daddy in you, all over you, just like I can, and I promised I'd look after you. So if that means I have to let you go, well okay. All I want is your word you'll come back one day."
I promised Charlie faithfully that I would, as soon as I qualified, if I got that far. There was just one last thing, and it was a big deal, for me as well as mother and Charlie.
"Charlie, there was one more thing, and it's a big ask." He cocked an eyebrow at me, waiting for me to go on.
"I want to go back to my own name; I want to be David Denham again. I don't mean to throw anything back at you, but I so very much want to qualify under my own name....." I trailed off as I realised Charlie was smiling.
"Davey, you always were David Denham. Your name was never changed when I adopted you; we just registered you under my name in the school system so there'd be no complications if I had to pick you up or take you to the ER or anything like that. I promised your daddy I'd look after you, not steal your name away. I loved your daddy like a brother, closer than a brother, and I wanted to keep his boy safe, and keep his name alive a little longer. So, you're not hurting me if you call yourself by your name, it's your daddy's name too, and I'm proud for you to keep it. So you go, you go be a doctor, like your daddy, just remember where your home is. Now I got to see your mom, I think she needs me. You come and see her in a while, OK? I think you got some apologising to do, and a couple of fences to mend."
With that he left the room, squeezing my shoulder just once, and ruffling my hair as he passed, his only physical expressions of affection.
Three weeks later, I was waiting for my flight to be called at Des Moines Airport, all four of us, Charlie, Mother, Lori and me, standing in silence. Enough had been said already, and I was going anyway, because I wanted to, leaving my family behind, because I thought I needed to. Lori was avoiding me, her face streaked with angry tears, mother stiff, unbending, anger in every line of her body, Charlie silent, probably tired of being the peacemaker.
The silence was becoming oppressive, and finally, to my relief, I heard my flight being called. I trudged to the departure gate, even now wondering if I was doing the right thing, but still convinced that Iowa was not the place for me, and so I barely registered when someone called my name and again. I heard running footsteps behind me, and as I turned, Mother ran full tilt into me, nearly knocking me over, hugging me, crying, telling me to behave, telling me to call, clinging on to me.
I looked back over her shoulder, Charlie had his back to me, his shoulders shaking, and little Lori was glaring daggers at me, her eyes like little blue coals, hot anger burning in them. Eventually I managed to disengage mother, my flight was boarding, and walked through the gates.
I soon settled into boarding-school life. My fees were paid on the nail by my trustees, and very soon the scholastic life engulfed me. I would spend coach-weekends with one or other of my friends, Christmas, Easter and summer holidays with those same friends and their families, usually studying to catch up with the rest of my classmates, who had spent their entire lives in the British school system, working feverishly to pass my A-Level examinations. I would call mother religiously every Sunday evening, tell her about my week, ask about Lori, and have few words with Charlie, who never failed ask if I needed anything, and when was I going to come home and see them, and to tell me he loved me. I always promised him I would come home as soon as I could, time and studies permitting. I never managed it; there was always too much to do, and never enough hours in the day to do it all.
Eventually I was accepted at one of the major teaching hospitals in London, and worked steadily towards my medical goals; I wanted to be a Cardio-Thoracic surgeon like my father, and gradually worked my way through the clinical, medical and surgical phases of my training. I was in the middle of my surgical rotation when I got a terse call from Lori;
"Davey, Dad died this morning, you need to come home, now, Mom is in pieces, and I don't know what to do". She hung up, and I stood numbly, all the promises I had made to Charlie now less than worthless; he had gone, and I had lost another father.
I got the first available flight home, and there was Lori, waiting for me at Des Moines, but not the Lori I remembered; when I left she was a gangly 11-year old, 8 years later she was a full-blown stunner, a regular pin-up girl. Gone were the scrunchies, straggly black hair and dowdy tracksuit/sneaker combinations she seemed to live in, now she was wearing skin-tight black leather jeans, accentuating her superb rump, silver-tipped patent cowboy boots with silver heels, and a low-cut top outlining her killer breasts, probably a 36B cup, full, firm and enticingly feminine; nothing flat-chested or boyish about my kid sister, that was for sure! With her long glossy black curls tumbled over her shoulder, setting off her cornflower-blue eyes, she looked like a vision, a total head-turner, and not just to me, judging by the stares of the other men walking through the Arrivals Lounge. In so many ways, she was a snapshot of how mother must have looked 30 years ago. I just stood there, mouth agape, dazzled by my baby sister.
"Seen enough yet? Close your mouth, David, you're causing a draught." was her acerbic comment, her deep blue eyes glittering like arctic stars, sharp, brilliant, and cold. That was enough to jerk me back to my senses, and hold out my arms to hug her in commiseration and mutual loss. As I hugged her, I realised how much I had missed my little sister. But, she had called me "David", not 'Davey', my family and fireside name, and she had been stiff and unyielding when I hugged her.
"She's still angry with me" I thought, apprehensively.
Lori led me out to Charlie's old Saturn, with 'Ouch' still painted on the ding on the rear bumper, another powerful reminder of our loss, and all I managed was some inane comment about the old bus still going strong, which Lori pointedly ignored.
On the way back to the house Lori and I talked in a desultory manner about Charlie, I reminisced about his patient coaching of me when I played Little League, teaching me to slide in for a base, the way he took pains to make sure I remembered as much as possible about my father, his fund of really funny clean jokes, his fondness for terrible puns, and his complete inability to cook even a frozen meal without burning it. Mother used to ask him how he could possibly fly and land a multi-million-dollar fighter jet with one hand, and yet be incapable of understanding a simple stove. We went on in this vein for a while, exchanging happy memories about good times, and then Lori dropped the bombshell.
"Davey, there's more, I couldn't tell you over the phone, I don't know how to tell you now, but here goes. Mom had a malignant tumour removed from her liver two years ago. She had the chemo, and it looked like it was gone, she came up all-clear just a few months ago. The cancer's back, it's spread, and she has tumours on her lungs, her liver, and her kidneys; it's bad, and she's pretty far gone. I'm sorry, she wouldn't let me tell you, she didn't want to disrupt your studies, and she knew what being a doctor meant to you. Dad waited for you to come home, he lived for the day you'd come home, he missed you so, now it's too late, it's too late for everything, why did you have to go away, why did you stay away so long, we needed you..."