This is the first story in an experiment involving two storytellers, daughter and mother. A Tale of Two Mothers is Tess’s account of being raised by two mothers and ends with Tess meeting her partner, Karin. Her mother also has a story to tell and so to spice things up I’ve decided to do The Courtship of Rachel in parallel. First we have a chapter of A Tale of Two Mothers and then a chapter of The Courtship of Rachel, which would be Tess’s mother filling in the blanks and adding meat to the bones. With that in mind I look forward to your feedback.
The recent decision in Australia to allow same sex marriage was one of the bitterest and yet most laughable campaigns in Australia’s political history. Karin and I witnessed it all from my new home in Copenhagen and I duly filled out my form and sent it in. One of the most memorable comments was one made by a conservative politician where he said that if people voted yes then people might be able to marry a bridge. It was a faux pas that couldn’t go unanswered and a comedian married the Sydney Harbour bridge on camera, the video went viral on You Tube and when the vote was finally counted the Yes campaign had won. I had a lot of friends here in Denmark who asked me what the hell was so controversial and I found it hard to explain how a country with a reputation for openness could be so backwards as to think this should be a hard choice.
This tale is my response to the No campaign because over a decade before it all kicked off I was very conscious that I had two mothers, my biological mum and her same sex partner, Birgit, yet neither my brother, Paul nor I thought this situation unusual. We loved Birgit as if she was our mother and so here I am, sitting with a blank document in front of me and a bit of time to kill before Karin gets home from work.
I was born, May 30, 1993 in Monash Hospital, which is in the southeastern suburb of Monash in Melbourne. I was supposed to be born in Western General out in Footscray, which was much closer to Essendon but mum’s waters broke when she was visiting her sister and because the contractions were so close together they decided to keep her there. Mum likes to say I was too impatient and in that respect she’s right.
My mother is Rachel Barrett and my father was Lewis Murphy, I was their second child. Mum was from a middle class family in Bayswater. Born on February 6th, 1966, she was the oldest of three daughters and also the most headstrong. She was a good student at school and a school captain in her final year. When she turned eighteen and got her licence and a little Holden Torana to drive about in she began to spend more time away from home and spread her wings.
Her education continued with a four year course in Economics and in her second year she moved out of the family home and into a house with two other girls and it was in that house a few years later that she first met dad in the spring of ’86 when their house was burgled. He was one of the cops who came to the house when they called the police. Mum says that at first she thought him a smartarse but in a cute way and when he casually asked her to meet up at the Whitehorse Inn she said no way and she was as good as her word but the following week she did turn up and he was there. At the time dad was still married to his first wife and when she found that out mum just refused to have anything to do with him. She was never that kind of woman. The fact that dad was coming onto her had warning bells ringing and they parted company with dad vowing that if his marriage ended he’d call on her.
Their next meeting was some eighteen months later. By then mum was working as a junior loans officer for the Commonwealth bank in the city and dad was now a detective out at St Kilda Police station. She was having lunch in a little restaurant in Chinatown when he approached her, although at first she didn’t recognise him. His marriage had ended twelve months ago and this time when he asked her out she said yes. Dad was born in Belfast in 1962 and brought to Australia in 1971.
They were married some six months later on May 1st, 1988 at her old church. There was some controversy at the time over the church they were married in, dad’s family were all Catholic, his parents wanted a Catholic ceremony but mum was adamant and dad only too willing to go along with her. They moved into a home in Essendon to begin their married life. Paul was born on October 15th, 1990 and you already know when I was born! From my mother I inherited blonde hair, grey-green eyes, and poor eyesight. I got my first pair of glasses when I was four and have worn them ever since. Paul on the other hand has dad’s dark hair, brown eyes and his eyesight is perfect, so I got the short straw there.
Their marriage was destined to last just short of nineteen years and I’m trying to compress it all because there was a lot of tension between them due to the fact they were both strong-willed people. Mum has told me some free spin things but I’m trying to put it in my own words here. I never saw physical abuse until that very last day, but there were plenty of arguments.
Dad never took anything out on either Paul or I but mum did cop it. A lot of it was over shared responsibilities. Mum was very modern and progressive and believed that men should take their turn with housework. Dad was old school and he wanted a wife who stayed at home to be a housewife, not a working mother. Mum had risen through the ranks and changed jobs as well. She was now working as a CPA at a Collins Street Accountancy firm, a job she’d held since 2000 and it was a job she loved. Not so much for the work but for the friendships she’d formed with her colleagues and of late her work ethic had been noticed by senior management.
However behind the immaculately dressed façade mum was struggling to maintain a marriage that had long descended into a dark place. One of dad’s frequent barbs used to cut her to the quick, he’d point out her position and say, “what else are you doing to earn that kind of money?” He never outright accused her of infidelity but it was hanging out there for all to hear. What we only found out later on of course was that dad had a string of mistresses over in the eastern and southern suburbs of Melbourne. That only came out a couple of years later when one of his sisters broke the silence and ended up being exiled by her parents for a while. But I’m getting ahead of myself and so it’s back to the story and that fateful day when dad took a knife to mum.
It was March 4th 2005 and dad had managed to get time off work for a long weekend and because it had been three or four months since we’d been out anywhere mum had tentatively suggested we head out into the Dandenongs for a bit of peace and quiet. Dad agreed with the idea and actually seemed enthusiastic about a trip on Puffing Billy. However that Friday night he came home from work looking as pissed off as usual and went straight to the bedroom to get changed. Mum was in the habit of just letting him sit in his man cave until he was settled but after she’d prepared the vegetables she went through with a beer from dad’s beer fridge. Our old house in Essendon had two fridges, one for food and one for dad’s booze. I didn’t hear what was said but I definitely heard her scream.
“Get that away from me!”
Next I heard a thump and another cry and then dad roared.
“I’ve had about enough of your fucking shit!”
I stepped out into the hallway just in time to see dad push mum out into the passage, he had a hold of mum’s hair and he slammed her head against the wall with such force that it dislodged a family photograph. It fell off the hook and clipped mum on the side of the face and then his hand dropped to a hunting knife in the scabbard on his belt. He whipped it out and rammed it with such force into the wall that it was buried up to the guard.
“Is this good enough, you fucking frigid bitch?” Dad yelled and then touched his fly, “or do you want to see more?”
I screamed at that point because until then I’d never seen him raise his hands to her. His fly was undone but I couldn’t see anything else apart from underpants.
“No, dad, please stop!”
Mum did look frightened but it was his daughter’s pleading that changed the situation in an instant, he released mum and she tried to pull away but the blade had cut through some of her hair and he had to pull the knife out before she could get away.
“Just go fishing,” she pushed her glasses further up her nose, “just go.”
“I’m sorry,” he finally managed, “I didn’t mean to,” he stopped as she turned around.
“This marriage means nothing to you, please go.”
Paul came in from outside then and dad looked slightly bewildered as he stepped back and slid the knife back into the scabbard.
“Fine, I’m going to Joe’s place and this never happened,” he glowered at her.
“It never happened,” mum eyed him warily.
Dad spun on his heel and stalking into the bedroom, started gathering his fishing gear. Mum came back down the hallway towards me and I put out my arms for her.
“Let’s go outside,” she murmured, “you too Paul.”
“What’s going on?” Paul asked.
“Nothing to see here,” mum replied firmly.
We stayed outside on the back verandah until dad left, he did come through to say goodbye to us kids but I couldn’t look him in the eye and I was very conscious of that knife on his belt. It was the knife he always took fishing because it had the fish scaler on the back of the knife.
Dad left a few minutes later but despite his years of experience as a detective he made three serious mistakes. The first one was actually going to Uncle Joe’s place in Maribyrnong, the second one was not disposing of the knife and as he had to drive over the Maribyrnong River on the way to Uncle Joe’s he could easily have tossed it into the river. But the final mistake bonus veren siteler was underestimating mum, he never thought she’d call the cops on him and that miscalculation meant the first two mistakes were compounded dramatically. The cops knew where he’d be and they could obtain the knife he’d plunged into the wall.
That night is forever etched in my memory. There are certain things that return to me time and time again. One thing that stands out very clearly is the fact that mum knew Sergeant Margaret Collins because there was a momentary pause as the two women looked at each other.
“Well, hello, Maggie, long time no see,” mum’s eyes widened, “I didn’t know you were working the Northwest.”
“I was posted here six months ago,” her eyes shifted to me momentarily, “how long has it been?”
“It must be about twenty years or so, I was young and headstrong, now I’m just headstrong,” she smiled at her partner, “Maggie and I know each other from Box Hill.”
Her partner looked to be quite a bit younger than her and Maggie took charge, introducing herself to us as Sergeant Margaret Collins, “but you kids can call me Maggie if you like.”
The first thing she did was look at the marks in the wall while mum told her what had happened, Maggie’s partner stayed with us and then they both went into the bedroom for a few minutes. When Maggie emerged she looked grim as she looked at us. She was on the phone and what I heard didn’t sound good.
“It’s that serious… uh huh… no, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that scenario,” she leaned against the wall, “hang on a moment,” she lowered the phone.
“You kids fancy some KFC?”
“Can we have the big bucket?” Paul asked.
“I think we can manage that,” she put the phone to her ear, “yeah, a family serving from KFC… no worries, I’ll see you when you get here,” she hung up and tapped the phone against her palm.
“Are you going to arrest my dad?” Paul looked up.
“Um, let’s just say we’re going to speak to him at the moment,” she glanced at me, “Tess, could you come with me, please? I need to ask you some questions.”
I followed her back into mum’s room and it was then I saw the bruises on mum’s arms for the first time, she’d been wearing long sleeves for the last few months, even though we’d just been through a very hot summer. Mum was rubbing her arms and looking a little weary as Maggie sat me down on the bed.
It turned out she wanted to know what I’d seen and I glanced at mum first.
“It’s all right, sweetie,” she reassured me, “tell her everything you saw tonight.”
I did as she asked and even gave a half hearted demonstration of dad plunging the knife into the wall. Maggie listened and asked a couple of other questions and one made my skin crawl.
“Has your dad ever made you feel uncomfortable in other ways?”
“What do you mean?” I nudged my glasses further up my nose.
“Has he ever touched you down here,” she indicated her crotch with her hand. I looked at mum and shook my head.
“No, never, he cuddles me a lot, why?”
“It’s just a question,” she replied, “we have to ask these questions.”
There were a few other questions like had he touched me anywhere else, did he walk in while I was getting dressed. I said no to all of them and both mum and Maggie seemed somewhat relieved.
“Is my dad in a lot of trouble?”
“He is,” she nodded, “but first we have to question him as well.”
Not long after that an inspector came into the house and I remember him quite vividly. He was quite a bit older than dad and he had this friendly open face and a big smile. Inspector Gary McArdle brought an atmosphere of serenity and security to the house. He’d brought food with him and spent some time with mum while Maggie and her colleague sat out on the back verandah with the KFC. By that time two more police cars had turned up and then a third one arrived with my father in it. I knew he was there because a cop stepped out onto the verandah.
“They’re bringing him in now.”
“Why don’t we go out the front,” Maggie rose, “you can sit in the car for a bit and I’ll sit with you.”
“What about mum?” I wanted to know.
“She’ll be right here, you’re not going anywhere without her,” she promised me.
To cut a long story short, we sat in the car while they questioned dad and then we were led back into the back yard while dad was escorted out. I heard later from mum that he was forced to open his gun cupboard so they could remove his firearms. He was suspended from duty that night and taken back to the police station and put in a cell. We spent the night with her parents and the following day mum went back with granddad, two of her friends from work and her sister, Jodie. Under a police guard they removed all of our personal possessions and brought them back.
We stayed at her parents’ house for that week and the following week we moved into a house in Anderson Street, Lilydale. We were enrolled deneme bonusu veren siteler at Lilydale High and although I missed my friends a state school was a breath of fresh air compared to the Catholic school I’d been at in the western suburbs, no more mandatory religious instruction!
Now I have to put the dinner on because Karin is on her way home and it’s my turn to cook.
Okay, I’m back now. Karin read what I’ve written so far and although she’s heard it all before she was really moved by my account.
“I can see it now, it must have been awful.”
“It is looking back at it,” I replied, “but at the time I just thought it was kind of cool that I didn’t have to go to school for a couple of weeks.”
I also called mum on Skype and she was really pleased that I’ve started writing about it.
“I’ll do the same thing too, there’s a lot of stuff that went on in the background that you’re not aware of.”
She did answer one question though, the reason we were rehoused so quickly.
“Maggie and I shared a house in Box Hill with us for a few months when I was in my last year at uni, the Anderson Street house belonged to her ex partner. Because of the obvious ramifications she told me to keep it secret, I really respected Maggie for what she did. Getting personally involved with her ex might have affected her current relationship as well as her job. When I knew her she was a real wild child.”
Maggie was one of the people who came to the civil ceremony out at Lilydale Lake when mum and Birgit exchanged vows, but that was the first I’d seen her since that night in Essendon.
And speaking of Birgit I have to tell you how she and mum met.
I first met Birgit at school. Birgit Kristiansen was our French teacher and I guess I have to describe her to put you in the picture for what comes next. There’s a common occurrence that happens in most schools. You have at least one and usually a few teachers who become the focus of the teacher’s crush. Girls daydream about male teachers and boys do the same for female teachers. I never fantasized about Ms Kristiansen but Paul was certainly in awe of her and I’m being polite here! Ms Kristiansen was thirty five, five feet seven, statuesque with an attractive face and long blonde hair that always looked like something out of a shampoo advert. In the classroom she was always immaculately dressed and not in an overtly sexual way either, but the boys would dream of her and I know of at least two girls who did so too. I remember thinking that her accent was to die for, she has a Scandinavian accent but speaks perfect English.
Birgit lived in the house across the road, I’d seen her a few times when she was out walking her dog, a two or three year old black Labrador. She’d always wave if she saw one of us but it wasn’t until the week before the first term holidays that she actually knocked on the door. I was the one who answered the door and I did a double take as I looked at her.
“Ms Kristiansen,” I smiled.
“It’s Birgit outside of school hours,” she looked past me, “is your mother home?”
“Um, sure,” I stepped back and called out for mum, “is everything all right?” I asked as I waited for mum to come to the door.
“Yes, I just have a favour to ask her.”
It all sounded very mysterious and by this time Paul was aware that she was at the door. Mum just nodded and smiled as Birgit introduced herself.
“I’ve seen you once or twice,” mum replied, “you’re the French teacher.”
“Even though I’m Danish,” she grinned, “I have a favour to ask but I will understand if you don’t want to do it.”
“What is it?” Mum folded her arms.
“I am going to Denmark to visit my family over the term holidays and I was wondering if you could feed my dog and walk him once a day,” she ran a hand through her hair, “I can pay you.”
“Oh,” mum looked past her, “well, money isn’t the issue, I’m just not a dog person.”
“That’s perfectly all right,” Birgit replied.
“I’ll do it,” I suddenly spoke up, “I mean I’m on holiday too but you have to promise to bring me back some postcards, I love collecting postcards.”
“Tess, manners,” mum chided me.
“Postcards,” Birgit smiled at me, “I can bring postcards if you like,” her eyes flickered to mum, “but it is up to your mother.”
Mum told me years later she nearly said no but the fact that I’d suddenly perked up and shown some spirit changed her mind. In spite of what had just happened the previous month, I was still missing my dad and trying to fit in. I was finding it hard to make friends at school and most of the time I’d been stuck in front of mum’s computer or sleeping.
“Are you sure?” Mum put an arm around me.
“I’m positive,” I squinted through my glasses, “how old is he and what’s his name?”
“Sam and he’s two years old,” Birgit replied, “but why don’t you and your mum come over to meet him and we’ll talk more?”
Some five minutes later we were in her back yard and I was patting Sam, he seemed quite well behaved and very friendly.
“He’s a real people dog,” mum commented.
“I know, not much of a guard dog.”
“How long will you be gone for?”
“I’m flying out on Sunday the third and coming back on the Thursday the fourteenth.”