26 04 2017

In late June (2011) we got a call, one that we had been dreading – of course we dreaded them all but this one had a particular ‘call to action’. He was demanding to see the girls. This was the first time that he had even mentioned them since the great unravelling began. It set my skin on fire.

Executing the dead bat strategy, a negotiation was struck that he could see the girls on the condition that they wanted to see him, and that he was not drinking.  They would meet in a neutral place and my dad would be their chaperone.

When my dad delicately but directly asked the girls if they would like to see their father, Maddie’s reply was a straight ‘nope’. Clare did want to see him but only with the assurance that her grandfather would be there as well.

A Friday afternoon was agreed and my dad called Mort’s hotel room half an hour before the arranged meeting time.  No answer in his room.  The call went back through reception where he was informed that Mort was in the bar downstairs and had in fact been there for several hours. No surprises the meeting was cancelled.

Another meeting was set for a week later…an 8am meeting was probably a safer bet.

My dad and Clare settled in the coffee shop and watched Mort hobble towards them on a crutch, tooth still missing and an overpowering wretched stench enveloping him. Dad watched Clare’s face distort briefly with shock but then regain composure.  The account from Clare was that he smelled weird, his whole body was shaking and that she couldn’t understand why he kept asking when she’d gotten her ears pierced and she had to constantly remind him that she had had them pierced for two years. He was in a mental loop, he had no idea what else to talk with her about.

The meeting lasted under 30 minutes for which most was watching him painstakingly try and navigate a cup of tea to his mouth, ending up in spillage dabbled across the table and down his front. He was keen to wrap it up, dump the charade of sipping tea and get back to guzzling the vodka.

No risk of spillage there, bottle straight to the lips.



Dead Bat

7 06 2015

Later that same day my dad also received a call from Mort.  He was calling from the hospital and asked my dad to pick him up and give him a ride back to where he was staying all the while making demands and threats about money. Dad obliged, took him to the seedy hotel (long drop from when he was staying in 5 star hotels!) and gave him some cash and also made a deposit to his account.  He was by this stage missing a front tooth, no doubt left behind during his ‘holiday time’ in Portland.

It is at this point that most would think (and I certainly wanted to) completely ignore him and not respond to any communication what-so-ever.  A little context should be shared.  Around this same time, there was an article in the newspaper about a lovely, seemingly happy and well-to-do family that lived in a suburb not far from mine. The husband, around the same age as Mort, somehow got into some serious drugs.  Parallel to my scenario as soon as the wife realised she threw him out of the family home to protect her children.  Only he didn’t just stop with harassing phone calls.  He turned up to the family home and stabbed her to death.

There is a cricketing term called ‘dead bat’.  This is a strategic manoeuvre whereby the bat is held with a light grip such that it gives when the ball strikes it, and the ball loses momentum and falls to the ground.

To this point Mort had not turned up at the house or at the girls school and we desperately wanted it to stay that way.

Nonetheless, Mort wanted to be heard, he wanted to rant.  And so my dad would listen with a ‘dead bat’.  Never provoking, neutral not defending or attacking, just listening and responding with non-committal words and sounds. This would take the momentum out of Mort’s strike.

My dad put himself in this position to ensure that the girls and I didn’t end up as a front page news story.

Threats and dining tables

4 06 2015

Then came the dreaded call in the early hours of 13 June.  The moment I heard his voice I felt like hot concrete had been poured into my marrow.  I was rooted to the spot and I instantly broke into a cold sweat.  There wasn’t a trace of slurring, his voice was calm and measured with a sting.

He said that he had enjoyed some holiday time away and was back bearing ‘big guns’. The guns being inferred legal strength to start causing (yet more) havoc in my life.  I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be going for anything in terms of alimony etc. I wanted nothing from him (except my peace). It seemed to be fine to him that I wasn’t going to try to take anything from him, but he was sure going to try to take from me.

He started ranting about the dining table that we had purchased before the great unravelling and the air conditioning that we had installed. After a few minutes of this he then said, and the girls, I have rights. This was the first time through all this that he had made the slightest reference to the girls.

His priorities were interesting.

dining table

I’ll be right there

13 08 2014

On the 2 March, 11 days after he was admitted, I received the phone call. Given the reports of how he was doing in Rehab it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did literally take my breath away. Mort called, drunk, and simply said slurred, “I’ve been kicked out”. I remember I just started screaming at the phone “what did you do”? Simple scenario, he went to the bottleshop, bought vodka, got drunk and tried to smuggle it back into the Rehab unnoticed. Sure, like no one had tried that before and the zero tolerance policy was deployed.

Somewhere in there my screeches of “what did you do” became “what have you done” and I hung up. This is where I lost my shit. I went into deep uncontrollable hyperventilation. Not crying, just not breathing. Or way too much breathing. The next immediate call was to my dad…he said “I’ll be right there” before I could even speak properly.

As I lay prone (so I didn’t pass out) on the sofa waiting for my dad to don his superhero cape and fly over I realised that my query about “what have you done” was the crystal realisation that he was no longer going to be a dad to two amazing girls. Rehab was his chance to come out with some sort of an opportunity to be some sort of a dad (not one living in the same house of course). And he had blown that. He couldn’t get his crap together to be a part of the girls lives. Here I was in this state, and I had my dad’s words floating in my head, “I’ll be right there”. I knew that my girls would never hear that from their dad. He would only ever have those words for the next Happy Hour. That was the part that made me volcanic with anger.

Photo credit: www.etsy.com

Photo credit: http://www.etsy.com

Ugly curtains

11 08 2014

After the first few days in the Rehab, Mort was allowed to have visitors. All the husbands of our schoolie friends visited him several times. There was an alarming similarity in the recount of their visits and the line of conversation. Firstly Mort talked incessantly about the minutia of things. Discussing in detail the meal that he was served at breakfast and the watercolour class that he did. One of his favourite topics was to prattle on about how hideous the décor was, especially the garish curtains. Given his surroundings, it was beyond astounding to all that he could put so much thought into the window furnishings.

The second thing that was prevalent in all the visits was the fact that he was fixated with the notion that I would take him back. He would pose the questions aloud, almost as an affirmation to himself, “Ripley will take me back won’t she….Do you think there is a chance for me and Ripley….Maybe you could talk to her and tell her to take me back.” Tied in with this obsession was the clear lack of any sort of acknowledgment of Maddie and Clare; how they were feeling, how they were coping….nothing. This was heart breaking to the other fathers who have tremendous relationships with their children. Even when they tried to steer the conversation to the girls mentioning their school or sport, he would not even flinch and the conversation would snap back to me or the ugly curtains.

And therein the most obvious omission of topic of conversation was the fact that he was in Rehab because he was an alcoholic. He never once acknowledged that to anyone.


What lurks within

4 04 2014

I received a call from Anne-Louise at 11am on the Friday saying that Mort had not turned up for his 10am admission into the Rehab Centre (no great shock). She had tracked down where he was staying and she was coming to get me to go get him. I groaned and asked if I really had to go.

When we arrived at the hotel we saw his car in the car park but he would not answer the calls from the downstairs lobby. Anne-Louise was doing all the talking and the concierge asked if she was his wife in order to be led up to the room. I wasn’t going to own up to it, but unfortunately she pointed to me….I didn’t even give a nod of confirmation, I just stood there silently cringing. You could read the confusion on his face as he tried to understand the juxtaposition of these two well dressed women with whatever mess lurked in the room.

Walking up the stairs I had to swallow back the acrid saliva building in my mouth. The concierge knocked on the door calling out Mort’s name. The was no verbal response but there was a lot of thumping around (you could hear the foot cast bumping off the walls) and the sound of a toilet being over flushed. Anne-Louise then knocked and called out his name to which after some more thumping about, the door opened.

It was weird how there was very little in the small room but it was a total sty. It looked like a giant bird had tried to make a nest of the bed…sheets, clothes, bandages, fast food remnants and wrappers….and of course several empty vodka bottles. As gross and unkempt as the décor was, it could have been straight off the pristine cover of Vogue Living compared to the state of Mort.

Anne-Louise was talking gently and coaxing him to throw his things in his backpack so that she could take him to his appointment. She directed me to go into the bathroom and get his stuff from there. I nearly added to the pile of vomit in the shower with my own.

My eye was also drawn to the toilet where it was clear that he had tried to conceal and flush something. There were torn up bits of cardboard from a toilet paper roll all jammed into the bowl. I had zero interest in poking around.

Anne-Louise instructed me to drive his car home while she took him in her car to the rehab centre and to then meet them there.

I realised as I drove away that I had not uttered a single word from the time that we walked into the lobby. I knew if I opened my mouth, even a sliver, it would all come spewing out ……fury, rage, and deep dark loathing and rancour.

photo credit: The Mummy 1999.

photo credit: The Mummy 1999.

My own manila folder

22 01 2014

The next day began with my dad and me sitting at my kitchen table poised with two notepads with the word ‘divorce’ heading the pages. On my pad the word was boxed-in, underlined and letters re-traced before we even began. My dad had also come armed with two bland looking manila files marked “L divorce #1” and “L divorce #2”. My younger sister had already chalked up two divorces for various reasons, hers without the crazy shit. My dad pulled out a clean manila folder and branded it with “Ripley Divorce #1”. For some reason we both found this funny. (remembering in these situations in the absence of laughter, the default setting is tears….fuck that).

What became disturbingly obvious is that the law here states a ‘no fault divorce’ which means that you have to be ‘separated’ for a year before you are even allowed to apply for a divorce. So much for the American television and movies where people blink akin to “I Dream of Jeannie” and they can be divorced. So even if your husband has become a deceitful, philandering, odious, unworthy shitbag…..it meant that the word MRS. was going to appear on my legal documentation for a year. How desperately I wanted to drop that “R”.