Coming into Sydney over the harbour is always great, even on an overcast day.
I’m writing this because the doctor told me to. I have to write my feelings since my dad left. I know he left because of me. I wasn’t good enough.
My Dad was a great footballer. He told me he could have been one of the greats. He was already good way before he was my age. I’m ten. Dad was going to play first grade for the Tigers. But one day when he was 21 he was tackled in a reserve grade game and got a brain injury. The doctors said he couldn’t play anymore.
Dad said I should be more like him. He’d say ‘Why can’t you be more like a man? When I was your age I could take down blokes twice my size.’ He’d push me and I’d fall and he’d laugh and he’d say ‘Look at your mother there, what do you think she thinks of you?’ I’d look at Mum. She’d look at me lying on the ground and then look away. I think she was disappointed I couldn’t stand up when he’d push me.
When I tried out for the school football team I tried really hard so Dad would be proud of me. I didn’t know which position to play so I ran all over to wherever the ball was. I got to touch it a few times and once in the trial I nearly scored but when I was running I lost all my breath and everything started to spin. I fell down and when Mr. Alexander woke me he asked if I was alright. I said yeah and asked if I made the team. He shook his head but said he had to give me a spot because I tried so hard.
I ran home to tell Dad because I knew he’d be proud. When I told him he stopped watching his television show for a second and I thought he was going to shake my hand. Instead he reached out, pushed my forehead and said ‘Wipe that bleeping smile off your face, of course you had to make the team, you’ve got to have some of me in ya.’ He went back to watching TV, but I think he was happy anyway.
I had to try harder though because Dad was captain of his team when he was my age. Every day after school I went to the field to run and practise kicking. I asked Dad if he wanted to play but he was always busy watching something.
I think because I was practising so much I forgot to do my homework. When the teachers called Mum and Dad in I had to go with them. I sat in the corner while Mr. Fitzgerald talked to them. He said he was worried because I wasn’t doing as well as I used to in class. He said I had taken too much on and might have to quit the football team. Dad said ‘He’s not going to bleeping quit because of some stupid school work, he’s a bleeping girl for God’s sake! Footy might toughen him up a bit.’ Mr. Fitzgerald said he didn’t understand my dad’s attitude, but then Dad walked out to have a smoke.
Mr. Fitzgerald talked to Mum. He whispered but I could still hear and I pretended to look out the window. He said I was a bright student, and asked if there was anything wrong at home. Mum said no and then we had to leave. I asked my Mum what Mr. Fitzgerald was talking about and she said it was none of his business to talk about our home and she was going to complain to the school board.
When we got home Mum went inside to start cooking and Dad sat on the front steps, he told me to go get him a beer. When I brought it back he told me to sit down. He said ‘Do you know what that bleep-head was saying?’ I said I couldn’t hear properly, but I was lying because I heard it all even though I didn’t understand a lot. Dad said ‘That bleep-wit said you can’t play footy if your school work isn’t good. I don’t get you, if you do one thing you can’t do something else. You’re an embarrassment, when I go down the pub and me mates ask what you’re up to I have to lie and say you’re doing good. Or else I have to stay here and drink by myself so I don’t have to say anything.’ I looked at my feet and tried to think of something to say.
I was always letting him down. I didn’t want him to have to stay home because I was an embarrassment. I wanted to try harder. When I went to bed after that night I thought about how I could become good at everything. It hurt my head and made me cry, but I put a pillow over my head so Dad wouldn’t hear me.
I dreamed that night that I was playing and doing really well, I looked at everyone watching me, I thought they’d be cheering but everyone in the crowd looked like Dad and they were all yelling ‘Pick up the ball, girlie-boy’, ‘Can’t you run girlie-boy?’
When I woke up my sheets were wet. Dad was still asleep and Mum had gone to work so I hid the sheets before Dad saw them.
In my first practice game Dad was there. I was feeling alright and then everything went blurry again. I shook my head and then someone gave me the ball. I could see where I had to run but I couldn’t get my feet to move, Dad was screaming just like in my dream, then Steve Walker tackled me and Mr. Alexander had to wake me up again and he carried me to the sideline to my Dad.
Dad said ‘What were you bleeping doing, you looked like a bleeping ballet dancer out there!’ I tried not to cry and turned away, I looked at Mum and she said ‘He’s right, you’ve got to try harder if you want to be like your Dad’.
That night I put a towel on my bed in case I wet it again. I closed my eyes but I kept thinking about the game. I wanted Dad to be proud.
When I got up the next morning I rolled up the wet towel and hid it under the dirty clothes pile in the bathroom so it just looked like a towel. Dad was out the front putting some stuff in his ute, Mum had gone shopping because it was Saturday. When Dad finished loading the ute with all the bags he got in then wound down the window and called me over. He said ‘Tell ya mother I can’t take any more of this bleep.’
I waited for Mum out the front. I was crying. When she walked up she looked around, I think she was looking for Dad’s ute and she asked ‘Where’s your father?’
I told her what Dad had said and she dropped the shopping and sat down in the front yard. I went over to her because I don’t like to see her cry. I went to put my arm around her but she pushed me away. I asked if Dad left because of me and she said ‘Of course he did, why didn’t you try harder?’
So the doctors asked me to write about my feelings because they know my Dad left because of me.
My feelings are that I feel bad because I didn’t try harder. But I promise to try harder now because I don’t want my Mum to leave too.
First published in Page Seventeen, Issue 8, November 2010
“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.”
The first candle she lit was for Grandad. She doesn’t remember much about the old man. She remembers his baritone hum and the smell of tobacco. And she remembers being carelessly happy.
The next candle was for Daddy, or more specifically for the kiss he gave her when he said goodbye. She sat by the window for days waiting for him to come home. When she realised he wasn’t coming back she lay on her bed holding the cheek where he’d kissed her.
There was a candle for the boyfriend. The boyfriend she’d loved, not the same boyfriend who’d drunk too much that night, threw her down, and took what can only be given.
A candle for Mum, she’d found her on the couch, the television blaring with some midday pop psychology talk show. She looked peacefully asleep. The empty sheets of zolpidem lay carefully placed on the coffee table, a glass of water lay spilled on the floor.
The last candle she lit was for herself. Or rather for who she’d been.
She stared at the candles, watched the flames flicker, watched the wax liquify and drip.
She closed her eyes as the tears came and sang in a whisper to herself; ‘happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.’
With all of her remaining strength she took in a deep breath and blew the candles out.
Published on Verity La., 7 September, 2011
I am a thing / not a thing
elevated to the status
of object / product
a float between what
you’ve seen / thought you saw
the error of our ways
is the tragedy of our days
how long until O becomes Q
until the realisation gains a tail
& the question of de-evolution
is reconsidered by apes
on a production line
under discoloured blankets
the disgrace of our lives
thrown from the line
I am a thing / not a thing
First published in Page Seventeen, Issue 12, November 2015