By Lynda Costello
My husband told me to fuck off and die. Not really conducive to getting the day off to a good start as it happens. He had wanted a kiss. Not a big deal. But there I was, holding a plate of piled bacon in one hand and a huge mound of scrambled eggs threatening to spill onto the floor in the other, with a puppy underfoot. He was impatient because he needed to be gone for work and I was impatient with guests to feed.
“Did you just tell me to ‘fuck off and die?’” I asked but he was already leaving, careful not to slam the door behind him. Careful not to betray the conflict to the guests; careful to keep up his façade of normality, of genial host, an all-round good guy. He was the man I was supposed to be pleased to be married to, the man, as he reminded me often, who had driven weekly over the Southern Alps to support me when my son had died.
My aunt in Australia had once, when visiting me, taken me aside and enjoined me to ‘cherish the relationship.’ Another had told me to ‘get down off my hind legs and make him a decent dinner,’ when I had been upset with him. That time, he had called me a ‘rabid feminist.’ Lying in bed that morning, while he had stood over me, I had thought of a woman daring to speak the truth, her eyes mad with hair wild, daring to froth forth her own opinions, who spat with the anger of someone maligned and dismissed, but with words still to say. A silent procession of women passed through my thoughts: those who, despite the protestations and reservations of men had set up the first secondary school for girls in Australasia, which I had attended, and the strong-voiced women who had advocated for women’s suffrage in New Zealand. I felt then as though I had married my father who would shout at my mother to “shut her cakehole,” and tell her that she was crazy. So many men making such proclamations about women.
And so today, I was to fuck off and die. I stood silent; felt suddenly empty. It was grief that I was feeling, that sudden lurching in my being as my core fell through the floor. Grief this time at the thought of my marriage disintegrating in the wake of such callousness. My husband, I realised then, was not the man I wanted. I recognised grief. Grief and disbelief. They had first hit me that night on July 17th 2017 with the policeman at the door telling me that my son had died. He had taken his own life. He was only 24 but had chosen to finish it all at the end of a rope.
What had prompted him? He had seemed happy but pretending can be easy. Had he been triggered by a throwaway and unforgivable “fuck off and die?”
Lynda Costello lives in the South Island of New Zealand. She has two children, the oldest of whom took his own life. Previously the Head of English at a boys’ secondary school, she is now enjoying writing and tending to a big garden as well as a menagerie!