“I thought I’d know when she died.
When her body shut down starved and dehydrated, filled with killer drugs.
There would be clues, a feeling, a shiver.
I thought I’d know…”
At first it was just a change in behaviour. Aggression. Depression. Being overly loving at times. I realised she had a smell, like chemicals and asked what shampoo she used. I suggested she changed it. Then I realised she was thin, bone thin. She must weigh 40 kilos. A panic started to build. Anorexia? But try as I might, I couldn’t get her to the doctor. She was working, busy, had her period and more excuses. When they ran out she became aggressive and I backed down, secretly cursing Larry for leaving me, for the millionth time.
I started cooking everything she liked. Fatty, sweet and filling, she just picked at it. The behaviour worsened. The aggression and long periods away from home, just ignoring me. I realised a few things at once, how this she was and hardly eating I knew. Her skin was puffy and blemished. She often went a day or two without bathing which she had never done before. Her hair hung limp and lifeless, her cheeks grey.
‘When last did you see Colleen and Janie?’
‘Not for a while, we don’t speak.’
‘Why?’ she shrugged, unconcerned. I was very concerned, the 3 of them had been inseparable at school, getting into trouble together. It would take a lot for them to walk away.
‘What’s going on Terry?’ My voice hard, broaching no bull. She stood to leave but I blocked her way. ‘I want answers now.’
‘Nothing, you’re being paranoid again.’ She rolled her eyes and my anger rose.
‘Don’t you dare walk away, I’m taking you to the doctor, right now.’
‘I have to work mom, just get out of my way, you are pissing me off.’
Stunned I stood there as she pushed her way past, picked up her bag and left. I sank into a chair wondering what the hell was going on.
Standing at her door, I wrestled with my guilt at wanting to search her room. I had always given her privacy and I felt like a thief. I searched along her bookcase, through her underwear draw, nothing. Then I lifted her bed and my guts dropped. Cigarettes and empty booze bottles littered the floor, it was only the beginning.
I sat in the lounge with my treasures on the table. Apart from the many empty cigarette and booze containers I had found weed, strange tablets and some sort of white powder in little sealed bags. I wanted to be sick but knew I would have to face this now. There was no going back.
Finally I heard the key in the door and took a deep breath, ready for the fight.
Terry half-smiled ‘Are you waiting…’ she noticed the evidence. Fear, horror and anger washed over her face, anger coming to rest there.
‘Who do you think you are, going through my stuff?’ she spat out.
‘I will do what I like in my house Terry. What is this? What the hell Terry?’ taking a deep breath I started my rant. Terry laughed, stopping me in mid-sentence clapping her hands.
‘It’s about time you found out you ignorant cow. But let me warn you…stay out of my stuff’ she pointed her finger in my face, I took a step back shocked at the hate visible. My mouth formed an “O” and I wanted to shout and scream but Terry turned away, cleared all her stuff into her bag, pulled a sign at me and walked out. I slumped into the chair, tears boiled out of my eyes as my brain tried to process what had happened.
I heard her upstairs, throwing things around her room. We had to talk, to sort this out but I had no agenda, no history to pull on, no way of knowing how to handle this. I was alone. Terry bundled down the stairs and I stood.
‘We HAVE to ta… Where are you going?’ her hands were full, stockings and belts trailing behind her, bags bulging.
‘I’m off mother. I wanted to leave ages ago but like the free food and board. And the notes I jacked from your purse that you have no idea I even took.’ Bitter laughter tumbled out of her mouth and over my shattered feelings. She leaned in ‘You’re so stupid. I have been doing drugs for years you obtuse bitch.’ I raised my hand to slap her but she got there first. The sting burned like fire, shocking me into silence. This isn’t my daughter. I sat down heavily, watching her go through my purse and take all the notes I had. I stared as the tears flowed, still staring long after she had left.
So started a horrendous cycle. Terry alternated between ignoring me, insulting and threatening me and crying fits. She was in and out all the time. I changed the locks and blocked her from my phone. That didn’t stop the midnight swearing and banging on windows until I was ashamed to show my face outside. I didn’t know where to turn.
Then I got an early morning call.
‘Its Sister Wilna, Mrs Mayor from Central Road Hospital. We have your daughter Terry here, can you come through?’ Suddenly wide awake my heart beat out my chest. Forgetting that she couldn’t see me, I nodded, threw down the phone and was dressed and on my way in 3 minutes.
The nurses were so good.
‘She overdosed.’ Sister Wilna put her arm around me and walked me to her room. ‘She’s out of danger but it could have been fatal.’ Her words hung in the air as she left me staring at the pale bag of bones on the bed. I took the opportunity to look her over. She was so thin, pale and puffy. Black bags hung from her lids and her lips were pale slits. My heart felt bruised and my gut squeezed in fear.
I sat watching her chest rise and fall, thinking of the once sweet, giggling child she had been. Tears ran unchecked, dotting my sweater.
As finger of light touched the sky, she woke. I stiffened waiting for the anger and viciousness that had been become my daughter to surface. But her eyes brimmed and she took a heaving sob. Her mouth worked but only sobs escaped. I held her tight, this crying skeleton and I prayed.
Terry spent the day in hospital, they kindly arranged a social worker to speak to her about rehab. She refused saying that she just wanted to come home. A great weight lifted off my heart and I felt hope for the first time in ages. It felt right.
I fussed over her, making Mulligatawny soup with fresh cheese bread from my local bakery. Sweet tea and chocolates, I was determined to fatten her up. It was a good day and I was grateful.
The evening was quiet and Terry headed off to bed early, I think she hadn’t slept well in days. I wondered if the bags under her eyes would look better soon. That night I slept better than I had in weeks.
All was quiet the next morning and I had taken another day off. My child needed me and I was going to be there for her. I ate toast with peanut butter and honey with my tea, keeping the TV down so that I wouldn’t wake her. I decided to bake a granadilla cake, her favourite. Only 2 eggs. I may as well stock up I thought, popping quickly to the shops. On a whim I added more chocolate and the expensive cocoa she likes with a blob of fresh cream.
My heart was full and I noticed the birds, fresh air and tiny clouds chasing each other across the sky.
The house was still quiet and I got to work, adding a small chocolate log cake to the mix. Terry was going to fill out if it killed me. The morning passed in a blur or flour and wonderful smells from my oven. The peace I felt was addictive and I relished it after the pain of the last few months.
By 3pm I thought it was time to wake her.
‘Terry? Terry hon, its time to wake up. You decent?’ I tapped on her door but she didn’t respond. Cold fingers of fear tickled down my spine. I swung the door open. Her room was a pigsty. Her bed a mess, clothes everywhere. No Terry. I didn’t need to check the bathroom, I knew she had gone.
I climbed into her bed pulling the covers over my head, inhaling her scent. I tried in vain to release the cold hand squeezing my heart.
A blue light flashed on the ceiling and I wondered if that had woken me up. It hadn’t, it was the pounding on the door. Slowly I rose, feeling the cold on my bare feet, I went downstairs.
I thought I would know when she died. I realised when I opened the door and saw the Sargent standing with his hat in his hand, his eyes serious and sorry.
I now know.