There is a broken spoon in my coffee jar. It is one of those thick ceramic soup spoons that you get in Asian restaurants. This one has a delicate blue design around its rim and its handle is snapped off. Because it fits inside the jar and can still scoop, it survived the purge that I subjected upon everything in my life about three years ago.
It’s hard for me to say, but that was back around when my daughter committed suicide. There I said it, every time it’s a bit easier – just a little bit though.
She threw herself out of a window at her workplace in town. It caused more than the usual chatter and horror. Not because it was suicide, that was happening all over the place, but no one could remember anyone jumping out of a building recently – certainly not a female doing something like that. Girls were prone to pill eating or wrist slashing, and the boys, well they either hanged themselves or drove their cars at terrifying speed into sturdy road-side gum trees.
Teresa was my only child and only twenty when she took matters into her own hands to end her suffering for good. I couldn’t understand how a mood could be terminal. It was the ten years of sexual abuse perpetrated on her by her aunty that did the damage. But what do you do about that? The string of counsellors she saw all tried different ways to fix her. One therapist, for $150 per hour, watched her play in a sand pit in a fancy glass walled room overlooking the bay.
“It’s a recognised therapeutic modality,” the stiletto wearing psych said when I flinched at the bill. Guess sand’s not so cheap these days.
Countless times she had to repeat all the sordid details – each and every expert wanted to hear it for themselves. From the initial and supposedly innocent brushing of nipples, right through to the penetrative abuse, Teresa reluctantly told it over and over. I don’t blame her for giving up.
When Teresa’s mother, my ex – and I say that with extra exness – found out about the atrocities, she refused to believe any of it. The perpetrator was her sister, Teresa’s aunty, my sister-in-law, the artist. By the way, her art is pretentious crap. The bitch eventually admitted to the nipple stuff but denied anything else.
“I was only being affectionate. It was just tickling. I love Teresa so much. How dare you think I could ever do any of those other things!”
At first the deniers claimed that the counsellors must have planted this pornography into Teresa’s mind. Later they recalled the fact that Teresa once took an Ecstasy pill at a musical festival – undeniable proof that the silly girl was not to be trusted.
“It was probably laced with LSD!” they said. For fuck sake, give me a break. I believed Teresa.
When the school’s year advisor told all of Year Ten about how the parents’ authority over their children expires at sixteen, Teresa must have felt empowered. She blew out the candles on the birthday cake and announced that Aunty Silvianne was a lesbian who had been raping her for years. By the way Silvianne is not her real name, it’s her artist’s name. Her real name is Cheryl and, when the truth came out, I used to call her by her birth name and watch her go ape-shit. How could anyone believe such a phony? Sadly, a lot of fools do. The police, well they mightn’t actually believe Cheryl, but without physical evidence it’s a case of one person’s word against another’s. Frankly, I don’t think they could be bothered.
Teresa was scared of her mother. I’m ashamed to admit it but so was I. But that night when the candle smoke was still twisting in the air, and when Teresa’s mother responded to her own daughter’s plea for help by calling her a liar, I found some balls and kicked my wife out. The hugs I got from Teresa confirmed that I had at last done something right.
I have to thank my daughter for teaching me the greatest lesson of my life: you can’t fix everything, sometimes you just have to let go. I realise now that I had hung on to Teresa for too long. I couldn’t fix her, and neither could anyone else, no matter how much I paid.
Why didn’t I let her go? Even if that meant having to kick her out of home; maybe, just maybe, she would have survived. I will never know.
Three months after the funeral, my brother came and picked me up from the hospital. Somehow I woke up one day and could feel the sun and hear the birds again. A drug and alcohol counsellor who did the rounds said something about surrounding yourself with decent people, and throwing out all the rubbish. And he didn’t just mean the empty sherry bottles. So that’s what I did, and boy did I do it with gusto.
The ex was long gone, she was back in England. I heard on the grape vine that she had turned lesbian – go figure that if you want, personally I don’t bother. And Teresa…poor Teresa…she is buried under a tree at my brother’s acreage by the Macleay River. She asked for that in a letter that I found under her pillow two days after she jumped. The place was all mine and ripe as hell for a good going over.
I couldn’t believe just how much broken and useless stuff was hanging around.
Old phones with no cameras, cameras with no phone, cassette based stereos, floppy-disced computers, superceded gaming consoles, VHS video gear, burnt-out hair straighteners, face-lacerating electric razors, and un-rechargeable electric toothbrushes all became one big tangled pile ready for the e-waste depot.
Stained, ripped and embarrassingly once fashionable clothing, undies with no elastic, un-matched socks, see-through bed sheets, tired brownish pillows, moth-eaten blankets, thin frayed beach towels, two thousand coat hangers, and dozens of dusty pairs of assorted footwear, were boxed for the Vinnie’s volunteers to sort through.
Busted furniture, scratched CDs with no cases, CD cases with no CDs, yellow paged books falling apart at the binding, mildewy picture frames, chipped crockery, aluminium cookware, all the stuff nobody wants, all that crap ended up on the footpath out front. Good luck road-side collector nerds.
After I unburdened the house, I focussed my new hobby onto humans. Friends, relatives, work colleagues, neighbours, local shop assistants, business owners, telemarketers, every member of my species that I came across was run through my “broken-or-not” filter.
About half my friends needed scuttling. I was Captain Ruthless. Anyone who didn’t float my boat was ceremoniously scuttled to become an artificial reef for some other species of fish – my days as a sucker fish were over, that’s for sure.
Then the relos got the once over. How could I have overlooked such familial psychopathy? It was right there in the family photo album that my sister made for my fortieth birthday. Only four relatives remained, that’s plenty I thought. By the way sis, the album went into the fire, sorry, but it was a book of side-show freaks really.
At work, I began ignoring or standing up to the arse-holes. I laughed at my department manager’s attempt to pull me into line. He went and chucked a tantrum to the big, big manager. Now she, who I always liked, she had her shit together. She came and saw me. I spoke frankly, she nodded a lot, and then she said, “Leave it to me.”
Later that day we all stood around and watched our department head pack up his desk into a Reflex copy paper box and walk out the back door – which of course set off the fire alarm. Best day at work for a long while, let me tell you.
In less than two weeks my life had been stripped down to contain only good stuff – no crap.
Simple, uncomplicated, real.
Teresa, I am sorry. I should have let you go, it would have hurt but it might have been better for the both of us. When you jumped that day I know you fixed yourself the best you could. Rest in peace little one. And I thank you, you fixed me. It is the wrong way around that a daughter fixes her dad, but so much is upside down these days. I will come as often as I can to your tree by the river. You picked the most magic place and your uncle is a good man; he was good to you and good to me, and that can give us all some hope.
The spoon without a handle that fits neatly in my coffee jar slipped from my hands and smashed on the floor. It will have to go in the bin now, but not before I punch the fridge and scream at the cobwebs swinging from the ceiling.