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The Original Version

 

It is truly gut retching to have an editor draw red pen over your life, my life, not a piece of creative writing that I imagined into being. It was akin to saying; “This aspect of your life is unacceptable to the reading public”.

Please read my chapter as I originally intended it. (spelling errors and all)

Ben’s Rebirth

As I have already written, rarely did a day go by where I didn’t think about how Ben was faring. Even if I chose not to think of him, Poppy was at the the age when she need to know every detail of her history. I had stopped flying over to visit him once I met Austin, but our co-habitation only lasted eighteen months. I had stopped calling him, and I rarely wrote. I still received letters from him most of which were pleading for financial assistance for his new music career or for a piece of gym equipment or occasionally he wanted escape money.

He had absconded for the clinic twice but had very quickly been returned, one time he had made it as far as Sydney. The only way they caught him there was that he had enrolled in a mental health program in order to get his much needed medicines.

It had been too long since I had heard from Ben so I decided to write him a letter and send him some recent pictures. To my surprise they were returned “Unknown at this address”. I freaked out! ‘How could he not be known there?’ I instantly got on the phone to the hospital. Due to the privacy act they could tell me zip. They told me that he no longer lived there but was still a patient. I was furious! I was his next of kin and they had not even thought to inform me that they had released a potentially homicidal schizophrenic back into society. Just by chance I rang directory assistance to see if they had a number for Ben registered in Brisbane as luck would hav it there was only one. I immediately rang the number. To my surprise there was a familiar voice on the line. “Ben is that you?”

“Yes is that you Annika?” We talked for another two hours, like we had never been apart. He was reborn! He seemed sane again. He was happy, and had a new found maturity and optimism about him. He wanted to know all about Poppy. And then came the question I had been dreading….”When can I speak to her?”

How could I tell Ben, the dotting father that she thought he was dead? I felt torn between the love of my life and my flesh and blood. I told him that I will talk to her and we will take things slowly at first. He agreed. We discussed what to tell her about his absence, we felt the truth best.

All this time I had lied to her and now I had to tell her that I had deceived her to protect her. I was going to have to beg her for her understanding and forgiveness. I was so scared and ashamed of myself. The three hours before she came home from school seemed to go so quickly. I wanted to never have to have this discussion, I wanted the clock to slow down, to put off the inevitable for just that little bit longer. I knew this day would come but I expected Poppy to be in her teens by then. I just didn’t think that eight years of age was old enough to absorb the complexities of her father’s condition. But the truth needed to come from me rather than her answer the phone one day and her ‘dead’ father is on the line.

I ordered a pizza (bribe food), to butter her up. But the truth was I was in no mood to cook.   Her pretty little face lit up when she saw the pizza hut box, I felt guilty knowing that with in half and hour she would more than likely be in a fit of tears and hysterics.

I didn’t waste any time beating around the bush with her first bite of Hawaiian pizza I told her the true story about her father’s illness. How had had abandoned us in my time of need, because he had concerns about his own health. She was visibly hurt by this statement. I had always told her that her father was over the moon upon learning of my pregnancy.   I started to sweat, I could feel my heart rate accelerating. If that hurt her how could I possibly go on? But the ball was in motion.

“Your father was sick, and needed to get away from any sort of pressure”

“Maybe if he had gotten to know me he would have gotten better” My emotions bleed. This poor child felt responsible for her father’s illness.

“Maybe your right, but his mother felt that he needed a holiday, so Ben being the ever respectful son did as his mother wished.” She looked torn. Even at her tender eight years she could understand a loyalty conflict between a mother and a new baby.

“But your dad didn’t get better. What he really needed was medical help and counselling. His mother just didn’t want to accept it. She felt that by ignoring the problem it would go away. But she was wrong and for that mistake she paid the ultimate price”. She sat glued to my every word. There were no tears just intense concentration, I think that she could sense that this was just the beginning of a long and dark story.

I braced myself for the next onslaught of emotional torment. Life had come full circle now I was the parental tormentor. All my childhood promises and vows to be an honest mother, to never cause my child shame or hurt had failed.

I had a knot in my stomach the size of a tennis ball. My throat felt constricted. I longed for a cigarette but I never smoked in front of Poppy.

“Your dad spent eleven months travelling, when he got back he lived with his parents. I still sent him letters every week, but he never replied. You dad was from a wealthy family and your grandpa was worried that we were after their money. So your grandpa refused to let your dad make contact with us. But sweetie your dad always thought about you and loved you.” At this point I could see a fight with Poppy’s will and the tears in her eyes, she was fighting not to cry.

“Your grandpa and your dad fought all the time about you and I. They fought about your dad’s mental condition. They fought about a lot of things. Then one night your dad’s mental state got the better of him and he did something bad.”

“What mum, what did dad do?”

“He killed your grandpa with a hunting rifle!” She was in shock. Her Elizabeth Taylor eyes just stared at me. Disbelief written all over her face, but she also knew that I was telling the truth. We were still sitting opposite one another, she didn’t seek my comfort and she still wouldn’t give way to tears. Her jaw hung, a million unspoken questions coming from her eyes.

“Your dad was found the next morning curled up in a shed and taken to a Brisbane hospital. He was never charged with murder because your dad has what’s called ‘schizophrenia’. That means that he thinks that he hears voices talking to him. Sometimes they tell him to do bad things. On the night of this nasty incident your dad thought that he was Jesus and your grandpa was Satin. So your dad thought that he was saving the world by killing the devil.

“Mum was this all caused by the brain tumour in his head?”

“Darling your dad never had a brain tumour! I always knew that he had schizophrenia but didn’t want to tell you”. My sentences were flowing thick and fast now as the guilt in me took over yearning for some understanding for my deception.

“People understand very little about your dads disease. People are highly critical of the people who suffer from it. How many times have you heard people say “Look out for him; he’s insane!”. When you were little I told a few friends the truth about your dad then one day you got in a fight a day care. The manager of the day care had heard about your dad being a schizophrenic and decided that your behaviour was related to your fathers condition. She asked that I get you counselling and keep you away from the centre until you have a clear bill of health. It was at that point that I realized that being honest does not always pay. I decided to never tell anyone again the truth about your dad, and that included you!”

So mum does that mean that dad didn’t die of a brain tumour?”   I wasn’t ready to answer that question, I was still too busy trying to get her to understand why I had to lie to her for her entire life thus far. Little Poppy was mature beyond her years, to my surprise she was comprehending everything that I was telling her.

“Sweetie, you are too honest for your own good, and a lousy secret keeper. “I tried to bring some much needed humour into the conversation. “Every year you tell me well in advance what you have made me for mother’s day. I knew that if I told you the truth that you would somehow let it slip to one of your friends of the minute then spend the rest of your school days regretting it. I had visions of you being ridiculed for your entire school life and on…..”Poppy’s dad’s a mental case, Poppy’s dad is a murderer. I didn’t want you to be exiled in what should be the best time in your life. Do you understand?”

Mum is dad dead?

“No!” It was at this point that we both started to cry. A little trickle of tears streamed down one side of each of our faces.

“For five years your dad has been a patient in a mental hospital, every six months or so I stay in touch to see how he is. Until recently there has been no improvement in his condition. In fact last year he seemed to be getting worse. But last week I wrote to him at the hospital, only to be told that he had been realised. The doctors told me that he is now totally recovered and providing that he stays on his medication he should be able to function normally in society.”

“Where is he?” She was no longer interested in anything that I had to say, her father was alive and she wanted him!

“I spoke to him today. He is living in Brisbane, he wants to hear from you too, so why don’t we write him a letter and send him a photo?”

She was no longer reachable she walked away from me and my confidence was shattered. But she returned within seconds holding our cordless phone in her hand, “Mum call him now I want to talk to him.”

“Poppy do you understand how serious a condition that your father has, do you understand that he does not function like you and I? You will have to go slow with him darling any bit of pressure could push him over the edge all over again.”

“Mum call him!”

I dialled Ben’s number, all the while preying that he would not answer. I needed to spend more time talking to Poppy, I needed to re-acquaint myself with Ben. I wanted to see with my own eyes that he was better before I let him lose on our daughter. There was so much hurt that could come of this, and I knew that I would be the one mopping up the piece if and when that hurt came.

“Hello” Shit he’s home!

“Hi Ben it me Annika. I just finished speaking to Poppy, she is so happy that you are well and is dying to speak to you so when you are ready you just tell me and I will let you talk to her.”

“Sure put her on”. I thought that is what he would say but hoped that he would suggest some time in the not too distant future. Reluctantly I handed the phone to my tear stained daughter…..”hello….Ben…..Dad? This is Poppy!” I walked away. I poured myself a wine and went out the back to light up a Winfield. Before I could reach the back door I could hear laughter. That was the happiest day in Poppy’s life. But how was she going to treat me?

As I drank my wine and then another to the background noise of laughter and singing I contemplated where I was going to go next. I knew that they were going to be inseparable from now on, and I knew that he would want to come over, is that what I wanted? And would it make a difference what I wanted? I was frightened. I still believed that he was capable of harming us as he had his own father, or was I just being overly protective?

I smoked and I drank, then I smoked and drank some more, when I cold wind woke me from my thoughts I looked at my watch. I had been outside lost in my thoughts for close to two hours. It was 11 o’clock and a school night. To my surprise Poppy was wide awake sitting on the couch talking about the spice girls with Ben. Yet again I must play the bearer of evil and doom…”Poppy say goodnight to your dad, it’s very late and you have school tomorrow. You can call him again another day. Tell him that he’s welcome to call you again anytime he want’s to. Now go and brush your teeth while I say goodnight to your dad.” Reluctantly she said goodbye and handed me the phone.

“Annika thank you so much for calling. She is an absolute delight. You have done a marvellous job raising her”.

“So what did you guy’s talk about?”

“Anything and everything, her gymnastics, my childhood, her favorite subjects. Please let her call me more often, I promise to do everything I can to make you proud of me again.” I wanted to say so much to that statement. I searched my library of emotions..had I ever been ashamed of him? The answer was no, but I simply didn’t have the energy to go into it now. I had a child upstairs waiting to be tucked in.

“Ben I would never stop her from calling you, if that would make you feel good. And I want you to pick up the phone and call us whenever you feel the need.” We spoke for a little while longer but finally I hung up.

Poppy was curled up in my bed smiling from ear to ear. “Poppy do you forgive me for lying to you, do you hate me? Do you understand why I did what I did? I was desperate for reassurance.

“Mum I understand why you lied to me, but I’m still a little bit angry. But I still love you.” Said with the honesty that only a child can muster. “I love you too and I’m sorry, please know that I was just trying to protect you from hurt.” I gave her adorable forehead the longest kiss, pulled her doonah up to her neck then left.

For six months, Poppy would be delivered to the door at 5.30 by her Nanny only to run past me like a gust of wind, and straight to the phone to her father. Every conversation ended with “see you soon”, these words chilled me to the core. On one occasion Poppy passed the phone to me with a sentence that bought goose-bumps to my skin, “Mum, Dad needs to give you his flight details, so that you can pick him up from the Airport!” I instantly wanted to vomit. Sure enough he had indeed booked a flight to Perth for Poppy’s 9th birthday. He assumed he would be coming to stay with us, my God he must still be insane if he thinks that’s happening! Mean while Poppy was dancing by herself in the lounge room beaming with joy, with a smile a mile wide. A smile of complete and utter ignorance I thought to myself. I simply told Ben that I was nowhere near a pen and I would call him tomorrow for all the details. Translation; when Poppy is out of earshot.

The following day I called Ben bright and early, my eyes felt like sand-paper from a completely sleepless night.   I hated being stern with him, but I told him that under no condition was he to stay with us, that he would need to find a back-packers or some other option. He was hurt and surprised, but reluctantly agreed.

About three weeks before Poppy’s birthday Ben called me about 5.30 in the evening. I was juggling preparations for a complicated dinner party and a cordless phone precariously resting on my shoulder. So I was in no mood for a deep and meaningful conversation.

“Annika, they took all my money!”

“Who did?”

“The Casino!, I have them six hundred dollars in cash, then they gave me some chips to play with, by the end of the night they had all their chips back, but they won’t return my money!”   What do you say to that? “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that Ben, you win some you lose some, that’s life”.

“But that was my money to come and see Poppy with”.

“Look Ben, I am up to my eyeballs in cooking at the moment, can I call you later and we can discuss our options?” There was the longest silence on the other end. “Sure, goodbye, I love you”. I felt an ominous feeling come upon me, like the world had suddenly stopped and I was the only one moving. I shook it off and got on with my dinner party. As habit would have it, Poppy tried to call her dad the moment she walked in the door to no avail. My mind was reeling, I knew something was wrong.

I tried to call Ben all the next day, no answer. Then the next day, even in the middle of the night knowing he had to be home sleeping. But they all went unanswered. By the second week of being unable to reach him, I started to call the police and the hospitals. By the third week I called the morgue. They had no record of Ben Forrester, but somehow I knew he was there. “Please, he is a 29 years old, 6’3 Eurasian male, he has depression and severe mental health issues, please find him for me?”

The following day, at 3pm, (so I was still working in my Eve attire), two police officers arrived at my door, the moment they took off their hats to me I knew exactly why they were there. I know what I should have felt, sad, lost, grief stricken but all I felt was relief. I welcomed them inside and offered them a seat and a drink, to which they declined both. “Would you like to take a seat Miss Cleeve?”

I did as instructed; “Miss Cleeve, you reported a Mr. Forrester of blah, blah, blah address?” My head was exploding, just get on with it! How did he die I wanted to scream at them, “Yes Sir I did.”

“Well I am sorry to have to tell you that he has been found deceased. It appears that he took his own life some three weeks ago”. Now I felt sad, but not for me but for him. I felt sad that he felt life was not worth living. But I knew Ben better than that, I knew that on that evening he had last called me he had realised and excepted that he was indeed incurably insane. He couldn’t live like that, but more importantly he could not burden me with his insane ways.   This was confirmed to me a month later when I went to clean out his flat, and found his suicide note left for me.

I never cried, not one tear. For me my Ben had died when Poppy was two, not when she was nearly 9. I had had 7 years excepting that I would never see that school boy again, that champion swimmer, that professional pilot, that handsome, sexy smooth talker, that great dancer, great chef and life of every party. He was long dead. Ben couldn’t live in the shadow of that man.

I was bought back to the moment with the dreadful reality, that I would have to tell Poppy her dad was dead, again! I looked at the police man and said…”How do I tell my daughter?” I knew they couldn’t answer that question, but they were expecting some sort of reaction from me, because I had just been sitting there silently in my own thoughts and memories. He couldn’t look me in the eye, his vision was fixed on some non-relevant mark on the wall for fear of being dragged into this perceived emotional mine-field. “I don’t know, Miss, I imagine that will be very difficult”. There was nothing that the police could do for me (as usual) so I showed them to the door and thanked them for the information and their compassion. The blonde police officer shook my hand. While few words had actually transpired an hour had passed to my amazement. Poppy would be home soon, but I did not want to delay the inevitable, so I called her nanny and explained the situation and asked her to bring Poppy home at 5pm. I then rang our G.P and asked him if there was any medication I should have on hand to calm her nerves, he faxed a script to the chemist, I went and filled it. I booked tickets to Queensland for that evening, so that I could make arrangements for his funeral. I then packed two small suitcases for us, I sent an email to her school reporting her absence for the next week. I dressed appropriately, took two glasses of gin and tonic, one Winfield and waited for the dreaded doorbell.

Carol our Nanny, was already in tears when I opened the door to greet Poppy, so she knew something was up. “Poppy, come sit down darling, we have some bad news”.

“What”, as she came to sit beside me.

“One of our loved ones has died”. Before i could go on, she started firing names at me. “Nonnie?”

“No, Sweetheart, Nonnie’s fine”.

“Uncle Dieter?” I knew this could go on all night, so I swiftly bought her questioning to an end. “It’s your dad, Sweetheart, he committed suicide”.

“He was just sick of being schizophrenic, he couldn’t live with it any more”.

“But he was all better now, he was cured, he was going to be rock star, and take me on tour, and we were already writing songs together?” What do I say to an ever optimistic, father loving, nine year old who has now lost her father twice?

“Babe, I know you are hurting, I know, and more importantly he knew you loved him, but he made his choice and now we have to live with it”.

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