English and Maths

cw: death, grief

Dad died suddenly on the 15th of August 2010. I was fourteen. He was 43. I was in Year 8 at Edenhope College. Mum is six years younger than Dad. I have three siblings younger than me. We are spread over 10 years. When I was 14, Dad had been around for my entire life. Now I am 24. Dad has been around for 58.3% of my life. There were over 500 people at Dad’s funeral. Clancy was 4 in 2010, he is 14 now. Today is the Tenth death day anniversary. Clean and crisp.

Then in the lecture theatre in the morning at uni. A PowerPoint on grief cycle but more in depth than the family counselling I had with that man who was a tennis coach. Theory and practice. Social work. Self-work. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. But Messy. A weird desire to stop children playing street soccer with their fathers and take it to the backyard.

And in the months after Dad died people told me he was watching over me always which was perhaps not so comforting because I didn’t want him to see me on the toilet with explosive diarrhea. Inherited the family IBS. Mum and I used to cry for the entirety of those television advertisements about kids hanging out with their father and then the show would resume, and we would be fine. Long roads of the Wimmera and the windscreen wipers discard the rain and you taste the salt running down your cheeks.

I used to make sense of things with numbers but now I make sense of things with literature. Statistics and probability and percentages and recovery is not linear and it is lifelong. Asymptotes and all that jazz, little lines up tending.

It feels good and hard and hurts when you press those thighs into the gravel. And if your life is that far from the nuclear family, I figured my body weight may as well be glossy mag perfection. For a while there I tried to understand things through running.

And I was not the one counting out rescue breaths and compressions. 

Tried to feel an empathy with old mate Hamlet but there were too many swords and royals. Poor Yorick. Stiffening feelings and I remember being at highschool with Mr Lanyon nitpicking that man of words and never actions. Thinking about Ophelia floating down the stream with flowers in her hair.

I still remember the day Dad died. How I had Lucy in the sheep yards about to saddle her up. Coaxing the Arabian Horse with apples in a Ben 10 smoothie glass. Floorboards and guessing games. Waiting slowly when you are full of adrenaline. Nauseous no knives no forks no plates. The intensity of feeling so much you feel nothing at all. When looking at the sky in sunset brings you emptiness instead of euphoria. And I remember my day, but I also remember Grandma’s car drive from Melbourne. I was right there alongside her when she stopped at that roadhouse near Ararat when her husband Don said maybe you should eat something but she hardly swallowed. I remember that Sunday. When Doug was on the top of Mount Dandenong about to get his phone out of his pocket.

Carroll and Cormac McCarthy. And horses. And that quote that stuck with me and I don’t remember many plot details, but I remember how that book made me feel misfortune as a gift and a strength and then we all swing our leg over the saddle and try to find our way back. And those sentences that wind and bind and I lose myself over and over and nonlinearity mess and there sure is a lot of Man Menly Men™. And I am on my way. And horses.

And a little tree with huge roots under the soil uprooting. Someone once told me death can be easy to understand. Sometimes the mess is what comes afterwards. Image if Hamlet’s father was never poisoned. A split second one liner changes the entire trajectory. 

We talk about life trajectories a lot in class. Resilience factors and protective factors.

I used to write recounts in Primary School, little stories about the weekend. Lollie bags and sleepover parties. Dad died three-quarters through The Girl with the Hornet’s Nest. The peak of a crime thriller. 

Nightly SSRI to shoot electrons through. And counselling sessions on a mental health plan. Sometimes I watch television when I need to cry.

For a while there it was easier to convince myself that Dad was a blatant homophobe who would have removed me from the family than recognise he was an okay dude that I just really missed. I’ve never been particularly good at bargaining at a swap meet but I’ll bargain with the devil.

Nuttelex on plain pasta is a staple depression meal. And family is extended and blended. And complex. And there are not many single middle-aged men without three kids and a few less-than-admirable qualities, but I still hope Mum finds love again. And if everything besides pure logic pure maths is based on induction then maybe love is too, and she’ll keep repeating the experiment hoping for results. English, maths and science.

I’m scared of soul mates. I’m scared of loving.

The ocean makes me feel. Blue roses and wreaths and Chicken Kiev and expected turbulence. Sand and seaweed and suburban trash down near the drains in Mordialloc. Memories mixing. 

You forever keep learning about people who have died. Students still read Shakespeare and analyse it year after year. Stories and yarns and Grandma’s memory room. And there are five forks five knives five plates. No one comes home at 6pm after a long day of work.

English and maths. English, maths and science. Maths, English and PE. Textiles, agriculture and photography. And a bus ride home to five forks, five knives and five plates and we’re a man down but thank goodness we all have each other.


Jasmine Shirrefs is a zine maker, dog parent, writer and social work student living on Boon Wurrung land. They were a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow 2019 and have work published by Overland Magazine online, Right Now and Lot’s Wife. They are extremely excited to have an essay in ‘Growing Up Disabled in Australia’ coming out in June 2020.


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