Vanessa Lee: Another Queer Story
Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and welcome to Queerstories – the podcast for the LGBTQI+ storytelling night I host and programme. Queerstories events happen regularly in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, and I’m also now hosting them in regional towns. If you enjoy these stories, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast, and consider buying a copy of the Queerstories book: A collection of 26 of the stories edited by me and published by Hachette. I’m really proud of this collection and I hope you enjoy it too.
Dr Vanessa Lee, from the Yupungathi and Meriam people, is a social epidemiologist, educator and public health/ health sciences researcher in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney. Dr Lee is a director for Suicide Prevention Australia and she chairs the National Public Health Indigenous Leadership in Education Network, as well as holding a number of current expert advisory positions. Vanessa performed this story at Queerstories Chosen Family Christmas in Sydney in December 2018.
It was a clear blue mid-winters day when I jumped on the plane that Saturday morning. on the first flight out of Brisbane to Cairns. Arriving in Cairns. it seemed I brought the blueness with me. as I stepped onto the fresh tarmac and inhaled deeply, the freshness, and let it wash all over me. Once inside the terminal, I collected my silvery gold case with the rainbow baggage label and made my way out to the bus at the front of the terminal.
An hour or so later the bus pulled up at the residential accommodation next door to the Links Resort Golf Course in Port Douglas, and the driver kindly placed my luggage on the footpath. After 10 minutes of navigating luggage down the well-worn concrete path, I arrived at the pale blue beach house, with the small aluminium boat to the left and the motor hooked up to the hose to clean it out, and crab pots and fishing lines strung all around the house.
As I walked in, I heard a yell from a familiar voice, “Leave your shoes on, I broke some glass and can’t find the vacuum. I got a couple of muddies and a coral trout in the fridge for dinner.” So Docs and all I strutted through the front door and wheeled my case into the spare bedroom, with the dark brown armchair in the corner of which to toss my leather jacket on.
Looking out the window, I watched the breeze catch the top of the coconut tree and give the nuts a little bit of a shake. I glanced back at the mirror only to hear my reflection say, “Regardless of what you wear, it will be the words of this day that will be remembered.”
I patted down my jeans and I straightened my black tee-shirt and retied the laces on my black docs. I flicked my curls and grinned at the woman looking back at me. I then went looking for the source of that familiar voice.
The smell of saltwater that had clung to your skin stung my nostrils as we exchanged love and hugs. I suggested a walk up the beach, “Let me get a shirt,” you said. “You need a cup of tea before we go?” I shook my head and I smiled and began walking towards the beach path that weaved itself down the small creek through the old paperbark trees on the other side of the road. The beach that apparently ran for four miles was our familiar stomping ground, and every time we walked upon it, we would reminisce of time spent, time gone, but yet still ever-present in our conversation.
As we rounded the first bend of the beach, we yarned about how the catamaran capsized on that rough Easter Sunday, and because the ocean swells were so high, it took us the length of the beach to pull the catamaran back right up, and again, we gave up because it just fell over. And Rocky, our bullmastiff, kept swimming out to sea as though there was a beacon of light of dog food somewhere beyond where anyone could see.
I had to pull him back. We then walked around near the rocks, and we could see them just coming out around the corner. And you reminded me how I’d managed to wedge the tinny between the rocks. And you knew that I was in trouble because Rocky deserted me. He jumped out of the tinny and he went home for dinner.
It took four of your friends – and the tractor – to drag out the boat, and your only complaint was that I had only caught a couple of fish and lost one of the lines.
I then turned and looked at you as we were walking up the beach, and quietly said, “I have accepted that I am attracted to women.” You stopped and you looked at me. I continued with, “If you don’t accept my sexuality, I am going to walk to the end of the beach, get on a bus back to Cairns, fly back to the Brisbane, and you will not see me again.” Because after all the shit I just went through with my biological mother, I went, “I’m done.”
You kicked the sand, and we continued walking in silence for about twenty minutes. And then you calmly turned towards me and grinned, “Do you want to go to the pub and have a beer?”
After we got our drinks and made ourselves comfortable on the outside chairs, you said, “Who is your girlfriend and is she good to you?” I eventually introduced you to a girlfriend that I was living with, and you enjoyed her company so much that you even shared a bottle of rum with her. And when we broke up, you said, “C’mon, mate. Let’s go crabbing. I guess I won’t be getting that bottle of rum back, aye?”
Years later, as the degenerating neurological disease has taken over, you forgot that conversation, and when I introduced you to one of my girlfriends you later said to me, “How come you were kissing that girl? Doesn’t she have a boyfriend?” I said, “She is my girlfriend, what’s with you?” And then you said to me, “I didn’t know you dated girls. When did that happen? When were you going to tell me?” And I looked at you and I said, “You already knew, you just forgot. I told you twenty years ago that I had accepted my sexuality and I’m attracted to women.” There was a 20-minute silence and then you said, “Do you want to go to the pub – I hear the beers good and the food isn’t too bad.”