Contains possible triggers
I had another grandfather. His name was Dean. He died before I was born, in 1980.
Dad always told me that he had died of lung cancer. Upon reflection, his story was changeable. “He had a kidney thing.” or “He had a brain haemorrhage.” I imagined what my life might have been like if he hadn’t died, if I had had two sets of grandparents instead. In my six-year-old imagination, Grandpa – that is what my older cousins had called him – and I played football in the park and went to the movies (he always let me get a Choc Top). In my ten-year-old imagination, he listened to me talk about how annoying my little sister was (he always paid attention to me).
I used to ask dad about him a lot.
“Tell me about the tennis,” I would say, and dad would regale fantastic stories about how Grandpa and his identical twin brother would rort the system, with one of them playing as both boys until they were in the final together.
“Tell me about Walaroo,” I would say, and dad would talk about summers on the pier catching blue swimmer crabs in nets and hooking cuttlefish on squid jags and his eyes would flush red.
“Tell me about when he got sick,” I would say.
That day, when I was twelve, dad told me a different story.
“He wasn’t sick, exactly,” he said.
“But he had lung cancer!” I knew this story. Silly dad.
And then my dad put his very warm hands on my shoulders and sat me down.
“Your grandpa was really sad.”
He was speaking in a whisper.
“Because your mum had died.” I knew this story. Silly dad.
“Because mum had died.” He paused for close to a lifetime. “He was really sad.”
I didn’t know how to fill in the unspoken parts, so dad did it for me.
Until that day, I didn’t know people killed themselves.
My imagination Grandpa didn’t die because he was sick. He left on purpose. He pulled his fridge apart and electrocuted himself on the live wires.
Years later I looked through a box of things dad had kept hidden away, and a letter fell out – my Grandpa’s suicide letter. David, he wrote to my dad, because he was the oldest, make sure John doesn’t make a fuss, and look after Margaret.
We never went to the movies again.