Yes. This is a true story. It comes with an apology to anyone who was heartbroken by Carlton’s loss to Essendon in the 1993 AFL Grand Final. Although strictly speaking it wasn’t really my fault – Gill Briggs had something to do with it as well.
Suicide is a lie. I know that now, but there was a time, like there is for so many of us, when it felt like not just the best option, but the only option. I was nineteen. Stuff had gone wrong. Stuff had gone very wrong for a lot of years, but nineteen was the year that the weight of all that wrongness rested on me baldly for the first time, like some enormous grey and hoary bird that had hovered since childhood and suddenly came to roost on my shoulder. You know what it’s like.
Suicide is a lie, but when you’re nineteen no-just-turned-twenty, when you’re forced to leave behind the only thing you’ve ever wanted, when you’re facing a future uncertain of anything but the pain and the hopelessness you now have to carry, the idea of Out compared to another 60 years of nothing, seems pretty sweet. Each day went on through that year, and each day was bad. And then it was September.
Now, if you’re not Australian you may not know what September really means, and if you’re not from one of the southern states in Australia you may not have that same visceral reaction that I do when people talk about the Carlton Football Team. And if you didn’t live already through the 1986 Grand Final, where the Hawthorn whipped the pants off of Carlton and we all screamed and dressed in brown and gold to celebrate, and if you didn’t live through the 1987 Grand Final where we battled it out again and lost to those awful Blues, and if you didn’t watch Hawthorn win the 1988 final, or 1989 or ’91 and all the Hawthorn-Carlton games in between, if you weren’t there you might not get how we knew because we knew that no matter what awful things happened to us in life Hawthorn were Kings, and, equally, strongly, we knew because we knew that Stinking Carlton deserved all the filth we could heap on them That’s just How It Was.
So in 1993, the year that weighted bird of years of pain came to rest on my shoulders there two things in life left that I knew for certain: There was a God in Heaven, and I hated the Carlton Football Club.
It wasn’t a Hawthorn final that year, so I wouldn’t have bothered watching the game at all if it wasn’t for the fact that I was away at a Youth camp that weekend, and that was what everyone was doing. I’d brought my sketch pad and some pencils and had planned on doing some drawing to fill in time until dinner. I didn’t know it was a Carlton game, and I didn’t know how awful that would make me feel, the idea that by the end of the day that giant weighted bird I carried might well be wearing a Carlton Premiers jumper.
I’m nothing if not honest, and in 1993 honest was all I knew how to be. So when I said that thing to God that I did that day I meant it. It was my one true prayer of help from a lost and desperately hurting soul.
I told God, very quietly, maybe even in my head, that if Carlton won the Grand Final that day I was going to kill myself. Maybe not that day, maybe not even that week, but that would be my exit light. That would be all the excuse I needed to one day walk off into the never-never and stay there until the hurt went away. I didn’t even care if God heard me. Nothing mattered any more that day but my pain and my hatred of the Carlton Football Club. Nothing mattered pretty soon except that game.
The game was against Essendon, and Essendon kicked the first goal. I didn’t take much notice. They kicked the second as well, and then the third, so by the time Carlton got possession of the ball the score was Essendon all the way, and still Carlton could only manage a behind for a measly point, and then it was a goal to Essendon again. Not too far into the first quarter Essendon had tripled Carlton’s score, and it stayed that way for the second as well. There would be no catching up, that much was obvious. Whatever happened for them out there on the field that day, the Carlton Football Club had somehow forgotten how to play.
I don’t need to tell you that Essendon won by a mile, that the end was a given even at the beginning. I don’t need to tell you that the last quarter of the game was so boring, so one-sided that most of the others left the room to go do something more interesting. I don’t need to tell you that I watched that game to the very end, the very final siren and then some, right through the medal presentation, right through to where the captain and coach of Essendon hoisted that cup high with a mighty cheer of victory.
I will tell you though that I saw the face of God that day, the wordless expression of love, of care, of I Heard You Megan and YOU WILL STAY.
I don’t know why that game. I don’t know why me. Why I was saved, and so many precious little ones aren’t found in time, or don’t have their “fleeces” answered; maybe because I was silly enough to be honest with the Creator of football and of football fields.*
There won’t ever be answers to that, and perhaps “why” is the wrong question.
Truth is I’ll never forget the 1993 AFL Grand Final. Truth is I will tell stories, hard ones and ugly ones and made-up ones and true, because one day one of my stories just might be the Game That Carlton Lost, for someone. One day my story just might remind someone else that life, painful though it is, is worth the living.
*Two years later, 1995, was a Carlton Grand Final as well. I told God again, in the manner of small children who like to test out their parents, that if Carlton won I’d kill myself. He laughed at me. It was a massive Carlton victory, but I didn’t care much more than to kick the door and have a cup of tea. I’d already had my answer.