The Call came on a sunny afternoon in spring. Every parent dreads The Call, a sombre voice informing you that something unspeakable has happened to the precious being you’ve used your every trick to protect since they were just a clump of multiplying cells. But when your child has told you countless times that she wants to die, and on several occasions has very nearly made that happen, I think you dread it more.
I was already on my mobile, chatting to a friend, out in our unruly backyard. Thirty years before, when John and I jauntily referred to ourselves as ‘young homebuyers on the march’, we were thrilled to find this big block with its many trees and a house full of light, in a little suburb called Oak Park in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
The friend I was listening to was deeply upset about a row she’d had with another friend of ours, and she needed to vent. That’s when the two little beeps came, plonked in the middle of one of my friend’s sentences. I reminded myself not to panic. Over the last few months I’d been practising the discipline of not reacting instantly to Anna’s dramas.
So I waited till the conversation came to a natural end, then I checked my missed calls. Voicemail. I pressed the green light, the one in the shape of an old-fashioned telephone receiver. Easy. No warning that a tiny light would slice my life in two, dividing it neatly between Before and After.