TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, violence,murder, suicide. Safe onward travel my friends x
Happy Birthday Sam. You would be twenty seven years old today. This photo was taken in the flat where we lived above a mechanic’s shop in The Entrance NSW. Your first birthday was almost exactly two months after the Newcastle Earthquake. On the day the earthquake happened you had gone back to sleep, so I was sleeping too. Something woke me and I wasn’t sure what had happened. It was quite disorientating and very unsettling and I picked you up out of your cot and dressed you and took you down the road to the shopping centre, and we sat in a café and people around us started talking about what had happened, and then I knew it was an earthquake. It was surreal.
When your second birthday rolled around your Daddy and I were still together. By the time you were two and a half, though, we had separated. Just after his 21st birthday, just before mine. It’s been almost nine months since the day he killed himself. My grief today includes his wife and his three sons, your brothers that did not have the chance to really know you. I know, like you, nothing can hurt him any more and I hope that if there is an afterlife, that you have found each other.
This lovely birthday cake and yummy cupcakes were made by a friend, not by me. By the time you turned four I already felt that I had failed you as a mother. Everything I didn’t want for you, everything I wanted to give you that I had never had, I had not managed to provide. Luckily you had other people who loved you and who picked up the slack. Hayley, I love you.
You turned five at the start of your educational career – it was only a day or two after you had started school and I brought this cake to school so you could share it with your new classmates. By this stage we were already living with the man who would become your stepfather, and then later, your murderer.
You had a brother to help you celebrate your seventh birthday. He’s twenty one years old now. Seven years older than you ever will be. He stands over two metres tall and although he still has issues he is far more independent than I ever hoped he could be. He misses you. At this time in our lives I had gone back to studying. I was studying welfare. I felt like I finally had my shit together.
What a smile! From the days of your first smiles until the day you died you had this huge, infectious smile Sam.
You had two brothers helping you celebrate your eleventh birthday. Your youngest brother towers over me now and turns eighteen this year. He misses you too and he doesn’t really remember you, which is another loss. He was so little when you died.
This was the year before you started at the Hunter School of the Performing Arts. Although you were good at school, socially you found it a bit hard sometimes; you didn’t feel like you fitted in. You started at the Hunter School of the Performing Arts in year 6 and there you finally found your home. All the other oddballs who were born the stand out, rather than blend in. These were your people. And they stayed your tribe until you died. Hell Sam, they are your tribe still, and you are still part of them and there are no words for what that meant to me then and means to me now.
The Hunter School of the Performing Arts is the only fully selective Year 3-12 performing arts school in NSW, Australia. You had to audition to get in. Everyone did. I remember preparing for the audition with you. I remember you attending the audition and having the time of your life! And I remember you getting the letter to say you had won a place in your chosen category of drama. That passion was something we shared and your youngest brother also shares it. Your little sister, born four years after you died, has it too. I see you in them.
Just before your twelfth birthday you broke your arm playing basketball at Vacation Care. You had to spend time in hospital for a closed reduction and you shared a room with two girls around your age who had cystic fibrosis. The three of you had a ball! The break meant your ice skating birthday party had to be postponed but a couple of months later it happened, with all your beautiful friends.
Your fourteenth birthday was the last I had to spend with you. There was a school dance that night and your adored best friend came home from school with you that afternoon. I love you Harley. You were so happy, so excited and it was so fitting that you spent your last birthday celebrating with people you loved in a place you were so happy. After you died, Sam, your school was so great. Honestly, I love that school. The care they provided to you continued after your death and extended to us, your family, and they looked after your friends too Sam, which I know you’d be thankful for. Above and beyond their job descriptions.
In the last photo there is a movie poster behind you for The Matrix. Your murderer told us he was taking you to see the sequel on the day, just over three months after your fourteenth birthday, that he killed you. Instead of the cinema he took you into bushland and repeatedly sexually assaulted you before murdering you.
Today is a hard day for me Sam. Some days are harder than others and this one is a tough one. I think about where you would be now, if you were here, on your twenty-seventh birthday. Would you be married? Have children? Be paying off a house? I see your friends doing all those things and more. Someone asked me if it became easier with each birthday that passed. Does it get easier the more time that passes since the last time I hugged you? Does it get easier the more days you do not get to see? The more things I realise you will never do? Does it get easier knowing that next year will bring a point in time where you will be gone longer than you were here for and I don’t even know how I will bear it. No. It does not get easier. Yes, I live with it. I don’t have much of a choice.
I live with knowing that the Monday after you died you were meant to go on an excursion to tour NIDA, when it was your DREAM to study there. And that does not get easier either. I live with knowing there is much I cannot change, but that your little sister and your brothers have flown on many aeroplanes because you never flew on one. Hey Sam, your lovely friend? The one with your name? She flies planes now – as the pilot! She flies sick children in for treatment. She studied really hard for many years but she’s living her dream now. And I’m very proud of her.
For days now I have been dizzy. All. The. Time. Brought to my knees by tears in the kitchen at 7.30 in the morning, crying in the shower so nobody hears, crying in the toilet after seeing photo’s of Luna Park in Sydney and remembering the time we celebrated your first brother’s birthday there. You were six and walked to the front of the orchestra playing and conducted them, in your jeans and denim jacket. A photographer took photos of you for a local newspaper and I still have copies somewhere. Everything today is too loud, too bright and way too hard.
On the night you were born I was eighteen years, two months, two weeks and five days old. Your Dad was working as a station attendant on the railways and I had travelled down the North Shore line to work with him before coming back to the Central Coast, where we were living, to pack as we were moving out of our first little rented unit. I had fallen asleep on the train back and as I got off the train at my stop I didn’t feel very well. It was around half past three in the afternoon. The flat was only across the road from the station though, so I walked back and continued the work that needed to be done. I really didn’t feel well at all and I started to feel pain. It occurred to me that this could be it, this could be you, but surely not? I rang the hospital and spoke to a midwife who advised me to stay at home for as long as I could. And I rang your Dad and asked him to come home, please.
But he was hours away and there came a point when I realised I couldn’t wait for him so I called a cab and went, alone, to Gosford Hospital. After I arrived I was taken to a room and apart from being periodically checked on, there I was left, alone, waiting for your Dad to arrive. I had been there several hours when I asked the nurse to call your Dad again. He hadn’t left yet. He was settling the till for the day. He was still hours away. And then I cried. And the nurse asked if there was anyone else she could call? But there wasn’t. So I waited, alone. For your Dad. And for you.
He arrived around half past ten and you arrived just before 11.30pm. It was overwhelming. Shortly afterwards your Dad said he was off. He needed to finish the packing and was tired after work. It was just me and you, kid. Until a nurse came in and offered to take you to the nursery and look after you, so I could get some rest. And I didn’t want you to go but I guessed this was what new mothers did? I didn’t want to make a fuss so I just agreed and as I lay there and waited for the nurses to bring you back to me I felt so guilty for letting you go. I feel guilty about it still. Deep inside me there is a little voice that whispers in a scratchy, spiky tone, that maybe if I’d said no and not let you go, maybe if we had spent that time together after you were freshly arrived in the world, maybe you would have been able to tell me that he had hurt you. Maybe I would have been able to save you.
And in my head I know that there would have been threats and promises to keep you quiet. I know that you stayed silent to try to protect us. But that wasn’t your job Sam. It was mine to protect you, to look after you. And I feel like I failed from the start.
But I can’t go back Sam. I can only go forward. So I do. Every day, even on the hard days. And I’ve been asked to speak about you again Sam which is so terribly, terribly important to me. I think, if talking about your life and your death helps just one person then that will be the only sense I can ever make out of it. And I tell it all Sam, even the hard bits. Because you lived it. And all with that giant smile on your beautiful face.
I miss you Sam and it hurts like crazy. But nothing can hurt you any more. I love you Sam, so very, very much.
Happy Birthday my Sammie.
On this day 27 years ago you made me a mother. And I will stay,
Your Mum x