A Tale of Two Mothers Pt. 02

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In the previous story, Tess tells of the events leading up to the breakup of her parents and introduces us to Birgit. In this story she tells us more of the secret affair between her mother and Birgit, as well as the dramatic effects of her father’s death. This is part two of A Tale of Two Mothers.

Well that was an illuminating first story by mum! I knew about her lesbian affairs but I really didn’t think she’d go into such graphic detail. It did fill in the blanks though, because mum was always a very strong-willed woman and a staunch defender of gay rights. It caused arguments between mum and dad, especially when Paul and I volunteered to raise money for AIDS research. Dad was dead set against it and my grandmother had a blazing row with mum over it a little while later. Granny Murphy was always scary. Dad used to say the worst thing they ever did was make it legal. He said he could bust more crooks if he could just charge them with indecency.

Bear in mind though, dad was never a devout Catholic but his parents were and they wanted his new grandchildren raised in the Catholic faith. Thus, dad tried hard but mum always said she wasn’t going to church but if he wanted to take them it was up to him, which threw the ball neatly back into dad’s court and as any police family knows, getting time off to attend church can be a bit hit and miss, mostly miss.

Dad thought he could handball it to his mother but that was disastrous because the two women hated each other. Granny Murphy was disgusted because mum was a nominal Anglican even though she’d never been a regular churchgoer. But she’d been tainted by a false baptism at birth. When mum stood her ground at the front door and told Granny Murphy that no child of hers was going to set foot in her church I was only five years old but I thought the skies were going to open up and strike mum dead where she stood.

“You’re a spawn of Satan,” Granny Murphy screamed at her.

“And you’re a wizened old crone, now piss off before I call the cops. Oh wait, your son is a cop, should I call him instead?”

“You wait till Lewis hears of this.”

“I’ll be waiting,” mum slammed the door in her face and spun around, “bitch,” she muttered under her breath.

But as far as I know, mum never outed herself to dad and yet I’m dying to know more about this Karen because I remember that conversation back in our old house in Essendon.

I mentioned in my last piece that I was relieved to be transferred out of a Catholic school, but one other major relief was not seeing Granny Murphy or my crazy uncles and aunties. I missed some of my cousins but in time they got back in touch eventually but I’m rambling so forgive me!

I left off my last piece with Birgit coming back from Copenhagen and an arrangement that Birgit could stop by and check on us after school. I used to look forward to her visits because she almost always brought cake. Birgit is a bloody good cook and her cakes were to die for.

Paul and I also got our first mobile phones on mum’s account. I was rapt to get my new Samsung clamshell purely because Birgit had a similar model, hers was pink and mine was bronze and one of the first things she did was help me set everything up. Another thing she helped out with was a new computer, mine was so old it was a dinosaur. It was actually mum’s old computer and there had been plans to get me a new one before she and dad broke up but one Friday afternoon after school Birgit carried in one that looked suspiciously familiar.

“It’s from the school,” Birgit explained as she put the computer on the kitchen table, “Paul, can you do me a favour and bring in the monitor? There’s a keyboard and mouse, and some cables in a bag on the floor.”

“Wow,” I stared in awe at this new computer, well it was old but when your current computer came pre installed with Windows 98 and you suddenly get a computer that’s only three years old it’s pretty much a new computer.

“They recycle them, some charity takes them but if you give a donation to charity you can take one home but we need to put on a new operating system.”

“Paul’s got Windows XP.”

“A pirate version no doubt,” Birgit pulled a disc out of her handbag, “I’ve got something better,” she smirked.

I’d never heard of Linux but mum had when she came home that night and saw the system loading for the first time.

“You’ll turn into a geek if you stare at that screen too long.”

“It’s my new computer,” I looked up at mum briefly.

“Oh right?” Mum glanced at Birgit and then back at the computer with a Lilydale High School sticker on the monitor.

“It’s an old one from the school,” Birgit explained.

“How much did this cost?”

“A fifty dollar donation to charity.”

“I think I have that in my purse,” mum replied a moment or two later.

“Don’t worry about it,” Birgit shrugged.

Mum stepped back and nodded at her.

“Can you step into the bedroom? I bought something in town and I need your opinion, free spin red isn’t really my colour.”

Birgit rose and followed mum into the bedroom and they were alone for a good ten minutes before they returned. Mum had changed out of her work clothes and into a pale, patterned blouse and jeans, she stepped up behind me and squeezed my shoulders.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it, mum.”

“Good,” she glanced over her shoulder as Birgit moved past her and took her seat at the kitchen table, “you are staying for tea aren’t you?”

“I’d love to, I just have to go and feed Sam.”

“Bring him over, but he eats outside.”

With the benefit of experience I now know what went on in the bedroom that night. Birgit had crossed a line and mum was just reminding her that the line existed for a reason but over the next few months that line would gradually disappear.

And speaking of mum and Birgit it’s time to call them again.


Well that was an enlightening conversation. Mum and Birgit were very helpful when I read out the last bit of this piece. That conversation in the bedroom was not just about Birgit forking out fifty dollars for a second hand computer.

“It was the first time I admitted my past to Birgit,” mum told me, “I knew she was most likely gay or at least bisexual and that night in the bedroom I outed myself and then confessed that right now I felt like I was an emotional time bomb. Birgit admitted she liked me but was hanging back because she was unsure if she should even be thinking that way about me.”

Birgit’s own comment was touching.

“I knew your mum needed time, so I said let’s just stay friends, that way we both win.”

It explains why mum became more relaxed in general. Birgit had backed off and given her space to reinvent herself and mum was good at adapting to new situations. As I’ve mentioned earlier, she was and still is a very strong-willed woman. Her marriage had dissolved but life went on in spite of that and so she started making changes. The first change was enrolling at a gym, she went there every Sunday afternoon, it was the only all-woman session available. Her exercise routine didn’t stop there though, she used to exercise every night and also started learning Danish at the same time and it was bloody hilarious to hear her trying to pronounce words like brød, skildpadde and my all time favourite, jordbær.”

Birgit would burst out laughing and mum would sigh and stare at the ceiling or the floor, she often did her Danish lessons while she was doing her nightly exercises.

“Fuck, I will never get this right.”

The direct translation of those words are bread, turtle and strawberry.

She did manage to progress though, to the point that they could exchange phrases, it used to crack me up though because mum always got her pronunciation muddled and Birgit would be trying hard not to burst out laughing.

Another thing she did was join a ceramics class and it led to an unexpected encounter with a gay woman that ultimately drew mum and Birgit closer together. The class was mainly made up of women, although there was an old guy who came with his wife and a recovering alcoholic, but on her third week, sometime in mid July, mum brought her first piece home. It was a statuette of a stone age woman standing on a rock with a spear in one hand and her hand on a wolf beside her, and it was a startlingly beautiful piece. I took pictures of it to upload to the computer with Birgit’s digital camera.

“And I’ve got a date on Friday night with Ellen. I thought she was taking the piss when she told me she was gay but I’ve agreed to go out for a few drinks.”

“Where?” Birgit asked her.

“She wanted to meet up at the Manhattan because she’s within walking distance but I told her I’d meet up at the Olinda. At least that way I can walk there and she’ll know she can’t come back here with me, this is just a get to know each other drink.”

That was on the Tuesday night and on the Friday night mum came home via her hairdresser in town with highlights in her hair and a dress in a shopping bag. Birgit actually looked a little pensive as mum stepped out into the living room with her face made up and wearing a dark red, strapless dress that fell to just past her knees.

“Well, here goes nothing,” she kissed me on the cheek, Paul on the forehead and Birgit got a hand on the shoulder, “God, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this again.”

Birgit looked even more tense that night and even when I asked her to review my maths homework she was kind of distracted. Eventually I got out the chessboard and challenged her to a game of chess and that did lift the atmosphere slightly.

“So, do you think mum and Ellen will you know?”

“I don’t know,” she pondered the chessboard, “it’s only a few drinks.”

“Have you ever done it with a woman?”

“I have,” she moved a piece on the board.

“What’s it like?”

“Tess,” Birgit held her hand on the piece, “you are twelve years bonus veren siteler old and that’s too young to be talking about sex, maybe when you’re older I’ll tell you.”

“Sorry,” I nudged my glasses.

“It’s all right,” she lifted her hand, “you had to ask the question.”

Mum came home not long after that and she did look flushed.

“Well that was something I never thought I’d see,” she collapsed into a sofa chair.

“What?” Birgit looked at her.

“Ellen was not always Ellen,” mum’s eyes twinkled, “three years ago she was plain old Jane.”

“She changed her name?”

“By deed poll,” mum chuckled as she undid the strap on one of her shoes, “she was so in love with Ellen Degeneres she changed her name to Ellen.”

“How old is this woman?”

“Twenty eight, Christ, I felt like a cradle snatcher and who does that? What is it with lesbians that they go changing their names? Come out if you want but if you were born Jane then stay Jane,” she undid the other strap.

“Anyway, she suggested we meet up at the Manhattan for a meal and I backed out and said I can’t, I’ve got two children and they take priority and she says,” mum kicked kicked the shoes aside, “I’m with you, she puts her hand on mine and I said, no actually you’re not with me, I’m going home to my kids and you’re going home alone.”

She chuckled and leaned back against the sofa.

“I think I’ve upset her, she’ll be crying on some woman’s shoulder by now.”

“A big age difference,” Birgit straightened up.

“Tell me about it,” she studied the chessboard, “since when did you get interested in chess?”

“Since tonight,” I replied, “Birgit didn’t look happy so I thought I’d babysit her instead.”

“Huh,” mum eyed Birgit, “well maybe I can change that. It’s been years since I got shitfaced.”

“I’ve got a bottle of wine at my place,” Birgit replied.

“Hmm mm,” mum fluffed at her hair, “tempting but I’ll go one better, Southern and Coke.”

“I’ll have one too,” Birgit nodded.

Paul came through as mum was in the kitchen and when he heard her he looked at me.

“Nothing happened,” I pushed my glasses up my nose.

“Okay,” he sat down on another chair, “who’s winning?”

“Birgit,” I replied, “I just lost my queen.”

It was an entertaining night though, mum liked a drink when she was younger but I had rarely seen her drink, no doubt because dad was such a big drinker and that night she paid for it big time with a trip to the toilet to pray to the porcelain god! Birgit went through to see to her and I heard them in the toilet, mum was crying but Birgit’s voice sounded very calming. Eventually mum came through looking pale, trailed by Birgit.

“I’m off to bed,” she turned around and threw her arms around Birgit, “thanks for looking after my children,” she kissed Birgit fiercely on the neck and then stumbled off to bed.

The next day was Saturday and by coincidence it was the weekend dad came to visit. Mum dropped us off at Auntie Sue’s joint in Kilsyth. Our fortnightly access visits had evolved by mid July, by common agreement my aunties had agreed to put dad up on the couch on the proviso he didn’t drink while he was there. They’d become known as dad’s dry weekends and he seemed to welcome them for the most part, I guess it gave his body time to dry out but by Sunday arvo he was definitely looking a little toey.

He had found himself a girlfriend called Inga and Paul immediately asked if she was Danish.

“She’s Australian but I think her parents are from Germany.”

“That’s next door to Denmark,” Paul replied.

“Yeah,” he shrugged, “maybe they’re from Denmark, I never asked about her parents.”

I thought Paul was going to tell dad about Birgit but then dad changed the subject and wanted to know what we were planning on doing over the term holidays. Part of the agreement between mum and dad involved at least one term holiday with him. The June one was already past and I suggested the September term holiday. Dad did agree but then changed his mind on Sunday afternoon as he was getting into his car.

“Ask your mother if I can take you both after Christmas, we’ll book a flight for the Gold Coast.”

When Auntie Sue took us home she dropped in as well. The first thing I noticed was the fact that the curtains in the living room had been taken down and when we went inside mum and Birgit were sewing a hem on a new curtains Birgit was holding a curtain while mum fed the material through a sewing machine.

“You bought a sewing machine?” Auntie Sue asked.

“It’s Birgit’s,” mum replied, “this is my sister, Sue and Birgit lives over the road. I decided to make some changes.”

“More changes?” Auntie Sue’s eyes widened.

“Yep,” she cut the thread, “out with the old and in with the new.”

Birgit’s eyes twinkled as she gathered the curtain up into her arms. I only found out months later that mum and Birgit did get together that weekend but for the next two and a half months deneme bonusu veren siteler things seemed almost normal. The only discernible changes I saw were her Friday nights at Birgit’s joint and Birgit’s presence at family gatherings. If mum was heading out to Auntie Jodie’s place in Croydon or Auntie Sue’s joint with us then Birgit was invited to tag along, this happened several time. Both my aunties thought Birgit was too cool for school and wondered why she’d deserted Europe for here.

On our weekends away from home, Birgit and mum put the time to good use. They repainted the inside and did minor repairs to the outside, one time we came home to find a car and trailer out the front. Mum and Birgit were raking crushed rock over the driveway. It was the first time I got to meet our landlady, Denise. She was a middle aged woman with a hearty laugh and a twinkle in her eye, she was there with her partner, Erin and just before they left I saw them kissing. I’d come around the back with Sam to take him for a walk when I saw them and I came to a dead stop. Denise was kissing Erin and they both looked at me and actually blushed.

“Hiya,” Erin smiled, “you’re taking the dog for a walk.”

“Um, yeah,” I nudged my glasses and strained as Sam surged ahead.

I left then but as I walked down our new driveway I chanced a glance over my shoulder, Denise and Erin were at it again and this time it was my turn to blush.

That weekend however was memorable for another entirely different reason. It was the weekend mum signed the consent form that would allow dad to take us to the Gold Coast. Little did I know that it was a trip we’d never undertake and with that I have to stop writing because this next section will be painful to write.


Okay I’m back now and I had to leave off this for a few days because I wanted to give I time to gel in my brain and I needed to talk to mum about it again. It was one of the most painful periods of my life and I’m not the only one either. Paul was devastated too. Death is said to be the last enemy, we write books about it and there are countless ways of dealing with the death of a loved one but when someone takes their own life it really puts it all into perspective.

Suicide is one of the most painful ways of dying, not so much the act of doing it, there are peaceful ways of taking your own life, but the pain I talk about is what you leave behind. Some say it’s an act of courage, others say it’s the act of a coward and I have to agree with the latter. Dad could have obtained help from the Police Association, who do provide counsellors or chosen his own therapist but instead he chose to end his own life without telling a soul, not even his daughter. I was one of the last people to speak to him and afterwards I was to find out that he must have killed himself a mere hour or so after talking to me on the phone.

But first however I have to update you on what had happened to dad after that day he assaulted mum in our old house at Essendon.

The police force, no matter where you go in the world can be categorised as the largest organised gang in the city, members stick like glue to each other even when a member is breaking the law. They only break ranks when the activities of a member threaten to bring disgrace to the force as a whole. Over the previous two decades state police forces in Australia had been the subject of various Royal Commissions into their links with organised crime. However in 2001, Victoria got its first female Chief Commissioner. Victoria Police at that time were fighting a vicious war with organised crime that has since been immortalised in the series Underbelly. It was under her watch that they first began to make serious progress in clearing the streets, but along with that came a new drive to reclaim integrity and this is where dad fell afoul of the force.

In the past mum would have been ‘encouraged’ to the drop charges so dad could return to active duty but dad was very much part of the old guard. However the Equal Opportunities Act was starting to flex its muscles and dad had a reputation for being a bit of a chauvinist.

Thus, the advice given to mum by her lawyer was to press ahead with the charges and so five months after the incident, dad faced the magistrate in court on a charge of attempted assault. Mum wasn’t in court that day because of an unusual request from the prosecution that her statement be used instead of having her subjected to cross examination. It was the clearest sign yet that his old mates had given him the cold shoulder. He was found guilty and given a suspended sentence, but he was also dishonourably discharged from the Victoria Police and that was ultimately what led to him taking his own life.

Prior to the court case, dad had seemed a little upbeat but after it he withdrew into himself. Our final access visit took place the second weekend in September and he spent much of the time moping around Auntie Jodie’s place because his court case was scheduled for September the 14th, a Wednesday. He ended the visit on Sunday morning at nine.

“I’ll be in touch soon,” he promised, “I need to get away.”

He gave us both a hug and told us he loved us and that was the last time I saw my father alive. He would be dead exactly three weeks later on October the 2nd.

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