Afterword to "Tina Goes Home"*
When Whiteley — only the girls called him Bruce — was five years old, his parents divorced and sent him to boarding school. That made him worldly wise at an early age, but the tacit abandonment created deep feelings of personal inconsequence that were an enduring hurt. Happily, it was not lifelong.
I was Whiteley's first roommate at Friends Academy, and his last roommate at Cornell University. He had two traits, I realize now, that became integrated into my own persona.
First, Whiteley was calm under stress. You can see for yourself in the Tina tales. Although my father was a neuropathologist — hardly a stressful discipline, since the "patients" were either someone else's, or dead — he was high-strung. It was rubbing off on me, until Whiteley's influence. During my neurosurgical career, the more catastrophic the situation, the more calm I became. That legacy from Whiteley stands me well to this day.
Second, he would quickly concede — where the rest of us would be defensive — his own imperfections. It was brilliantly disarming. How could you tease someone about a large belly button if he would agree, and then also joke about putting a golf ball in it?
Whiteley could not joke, however, about that inner sense of worthlessness gnawing under his Spartan tunic. Not once. It was too painful. And we both knew it was there. Instead, we would joke about his hunger for "attention".
Whiteley loved participating in the school plays at Friends Academy because that was great for attention. He had the lead in Family Portrait about the life of Jesus as a young man. He did well at it, and after the performance I never saw him in better spirits. (I had a bit part as a Jewish — what else? — merchant, Mordecai. I still remember my one line: "Rain! My grain will be ruined!")
At Cornell, Whiteley enjoyed the sense of belonging as a fraternity brother (Alpha Phi Delta) but was bereft of any goals, motivation. That old sense of nobody cares what I do, so what's the point?
In the Army he got in a little trouble on one occasion. I was surprised how he relished telling me what the MP's said. His inebriated performance apparently was a legend throughout the 82nd Airborne, and Whiteley just loved it. Even if it was negative attention, it was still attention.
I liked the name Whiteley, maybe because it was so unequivocally goyish. I even used it for the middle name of my middle son. But Whiteley was sensitive that he didn't even have a middle name. So, taking his mother's street in Greenwich Village, he gave himself not only two middle names — one of which was hyphenated! — but also a suffix as well. The final product, which he put on all his books, stationery, and even luggage was Bruce Morton-Bleecker Stowe Whiteley, III.
I learned recently that Whiteley sought out his long-estranged father — despite the fact he visited him but once in 5 years at Friends Academy — and socialized with him and his stepbrothers. I shouldn't have been surprised because that was Whiteley, confronting issues head-on.
Whiteley kept his family tight-knit, and doted on his two children. He gave his children what he lacked as a child, and in the process exorcised his own demons. What a happy ending, Whiteley, and how great for you! The title of this book is apt — Whiteley, you are home.
Towards the end of his life we drifted apart — the silly contretemps I had with his Uncle Greg in Wellesley was really my fault — so I didn't learn of his fatal lung cancer until years later. Though belated, my last words to Whiteley are nautical1:
Off to starboard the sea is calm
Herbert L. Cares, M.D.
1Adapted from a poem by Larry Dunn, 2003.
*Tina Goes Home, nonfiction novel by Bruce Whiteley, 2013.