(c) Julie Boyd
‘Will you please take my son?’
She stood on the front doorstep of my newly acquired, tiny, ramshackle home, a stunningly beautiful woman. Her long dark curls rioting around a face that would have painters swooning. Gold hoop earrings swung like halos that had slipped, ever so slightly. A brightly patterned skirt swirled around her ankles – flamenco dancing with the wind, and her tie-dyed top defied imagination as to how it stayed in place. She was the gypsy queen.
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘I have to move to Queensland and Ty needs somewhere to live while he finishes Year 11. Can he please come and live with you?’
‘Look I’m really sorry. My kids and I’ve just moved in. They’re still getting used to not having their Dad around. This is only a small house and I haven’t even started to renovate it yet. Don’t you have family or friends you could ask? Doesn’t he want to go with you? You don’t really know me at all.’
‘He and his stepdad don’t get on. Denis is so besotted by our other son, Drew. He’s happy to take Drew but doesn’t want Ty to live with them. You’re a Psychologist, you’re supposed to help people.’
‘Look, this seems like a really difficult situation, but I really don’t know that I’m in a position to help. I am sorry.’
She left in a whirl, skirts swirling like a bullfighter’s cape. A matador fighting the relentless bull of life.
Four days later, another knock at the door. I opened it and a stunningly beautiful young man stood there. A spirit shaped by some unknown sculptor, backlit by the sun with chiselled , almost Slavic cheekbones quivering as he said ‘Mum told me I was to come and stay with you for a bit. I’ve got my stuff. She usually picks me up after school, but I hitched a ride home with my mate’s olds, and Mum was gone.’ He burst into tears – a young Adonis, as handsome as his Mum was beautiful, with the body of a god, but apparently, no one to go home to.
What could I do? I took him in, and sat him down. Put my arm around his heaving shoulders as I tried to think what to do. ‘Ty, this is incredibly difficult for me but I really don’t have room. What’s the deal with Dennis?’
‘He hates me. I’m the nuisance stepkid. All his energy and money are focussed on Drew and making him famous. He’s booked into Scotch College- Dennis’ old school. I get to go to the local high. Dennis wants him to be in the rowing team. I wasn’t even allowed to eat at his place when Mum and I lived there.’
‘Well , you’d better stay a couple of nights till we get something worked out.’
Ty’s Mum vanished into thin air. We couldn’t find her anywhere. She left nothing for him, nothing to support him. It was as if she was a ghost- the phantom mother. Poor kid, he was devastated. He adored his mum. Even at 16, he was never embarrassed to kiss her goodbye in the morning, in front of his mates.
A couple of days turned into weeks, then months, as I tried to find alternative accommodation, then finally gave up. In a small country town there aren’t many options- but one is not to turn our kids out on the street. He had to bunk in with my son. A 16 year old and a six year old in double bunks, in a tiny room, was far from ideal – but we managed. Ty thrived at school. He became a great cook on my ancient slow combustion stove. He’d get up early every morning to light the fire so we all had hot water; was the tidiest 16 year old I’ve ever met, and was a great ’big brother’ to my two kids. He would sit my baby daughter on his knee and read her endless stories, and was never too tired to play lego with my son. At the end of the year his mother called and asked him to come and visit, which he did. But he came back. Just arrived again and asked if he could stay till the end of year 12.
Ty was great at sport. He was a champion at both cricket and football. In February I got a call one day from the Hawthorn (AFL) footy club asking if they could recruit him. So began twice a week sojourns to Melbourne, some three hours drive away, so he could go to training with their elite squad. Cricket had to give way. My kids got used to very long car trips.
One day in May the phone rang again. A male voice said ‘Hi. I understand you have Tyrone living with you?’ ‘
‘Who is this?’
‘I’m a friend of Marg, Ty’s Mum, and I have some bad news. Can you help me break it to him? I understand you’re a psychologist and you took Ty in when Marg moved up here. Did you know she was sick?
‘No, I didn’t, and Ty has never mentioned it.’
‘He didn’t know. She had cancer, that’s why she ran away. She didn’t want anyone to see her lose her looks, which she never did. But she got really bad just after Ty left at Christmas, and we found her this morning. She died in the room where she had been doing tarot readings, just slumped over the table. A client found her. I have the room next door. I don’t know what to do. She didn’t leave a will or any instructions, and she had no money.’
I called the school and asked the Principal, a friend of mine, to pull Ty out of class so we could tell him together. Then I called Dennis and told him what had happened. His initial response of ‘well that’s how she wanted it’ was met with a very sharp ‘she’s the mother of your son. I’ve called the police and they’ve taken her to the morgue. Get your arse in gear and make some funeral arrangements. You can afford it. This is your last chance to make yourself look reasonable in the eyes of your kids. Just bloody well do it.’
He did! Flew her body down and at the funeral I stood between two grey-faced boys, holding their hands tightly as they buried the mother they didn’t even know was ill.
Ty finished Year 12. He did really well – A’s and one B. Then he vanished into the ether, just like his mum. No thank you, goodbye, or even ‘see you later.’ He didn’t tell the footy club, so they dropped him as if he didn’t exist.
Four years later there was another knock at the door. He was home. No explanation, no recriminations, no apologies. He was just there. He’d been overseas, but didn’t say where, had come back, changed his name by deed poll, and completed a law degree. All his sport had gone by the wayside. He seemed… content.
‘Why did you come back?’
‘Because this is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a home, and because I wanted to watch the Olympics with you and the kids this weekend. Drew is in the rowing team, and of course Dennis is over there cheering him on.’
Over a bottle of red he’d bought with him, we watched as Drew and his mates won gold, and Dennis wept tears of joy for the one he considered to be his only son.
The next morning he was gone, again. Vanished into the ether. Phantom or spirit. I still wonder whether he actually did exist.