Warning: disturbing content. Suicide references.
We went to a wedding recently and something unexpected happened.
Many of the guests were old, foreign, reminding me of the family I’d left behind in Greece.
Like my grandmother with her stoutness and square hips.
The eyes that look as if they’d seen and felt so much, hands weathered with caring reaching out to straighten a table cloth or someone’s hair.
The music was riddled with ancient rhythms and we danced in coils, our legs flung in unison.
I found myself remembering, memories like bullets.
When I was eight my life guillotined into two pieces.
The buried part is that of an islander filled with tales of Greek ancestors but most know me as a progressive Australian aglow with the possibilities of the future.
At the wedding the part of me that lies mostly dormant, unfed and uninvited rose up on its ghostly legs.
I stared at the men’s faces. That broad dark-eyed look, hands fidgeting with worry beads. And that was when I saw my dad.
He would never grow old. Never smile like that. Never look upon me.
He chose something else. Or it chose him.
Either way my anger gathered upon itself as I sat eating at a round table filled mostly with strangers.
These girls with their fathers making memories together in a way my dad never did.
He was absent, left behind by my mother who was fleeing the trap of her unhappy marriage on an island that glimmers like paradise.
And then when I grew old enough to finally be able to go to him he finalised our eternal estrangement.
Maybe having his parents close and loving him meant he could not fathom the depth of loss in a child’s heart when a parent they adore more than the sky and tress and rocking ocean is no longer there.
Maybe he couldn’t imagine how badly I wished he’d rescue me in the apocalypse of my teen years. As relationships crumpled and I found myself young, confused and very alone, I thought he might come.
Maybe on my few short visits when I was angry he didn’t understand this was a barrier I’d erected around my shattered self because who is the girl forgotten?
Apparently he left a party suddenly and drove up into the mountains. The same ones he’d go hunting in, one of the few memories I still have of him.
He drove up the winding roads, so many opportunities to turn back but he didn’t.
Through the dark night he went.
I know so little.
He may have sat there under that olive tree for hours, the moon shimmering off the metal riffle or he might have done it quick.
To guess, I’d say he stayed a while and thought about the years.
He was a chronic contemplater like me; someone who drew strange little pictures on the sides of shopping lists and discussed philosophy.
These are only fragment memories, I hardly knew him really.
He must have done the calculations and surmised his life was no longer worth living.
With one shot he extinguished any possibility that might change.
Shattered hope hardens, stiffening the chest. I carry this loss always, forever frozen as is.
Seeing the faces at the wedding I caught a glimpse of what he might have looked like if he’d survived long enough for a deep creasing of the face.
I was sure he could have been happy if he’d held on.
I can’t talk about suicide. Others speak of fathers; the good the bad and the ugly but I just look away.
Sometimes I’m asked where mine is.
I say he’s dead.
Part of me wants them to question how and sometimes they do and I say it straight out, ‘He killed himself.’ I add, ‘It was a long time ago.’ But only to make them feel better.
They look shocked and sorry to have asked.
Meanwhile I finally have relief.
Air let into a dark, dusty, haunted room. I wish they asked more but they rarely do. I understand. I give a small it’s-okay-smile and we move on.
I can’t talk about suicide because others can’t either. If he was murdered we could discuss crime, offenders and the justice system. We could work our way through blame and solution.
Instead it comes back to this. My dad was so sad he died.
No one, it seems, could make him happy.
And my personal baggage… I didn’t rate in this decision.
I can’t talk about suicide because time rolls one way. There’s nothing that brings comfort.
I write this only because I overfill and like drainpipes or blocked sinks, maintenance is required.
Do not commit this act upon your loved ones
(A short version of this was published in the Grieve Anthology 2018)