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Remembering Tony

01/06/2013

The first day of winter.
Five years today.

Its been five years since the fishing trip that wasn’t and the phone call that couldn’t be.
Followed by the coldest winter of all.

***

I met Tony while he was serving periodic detention for dealing cannabis.
Not one to be put off, he was also serving periodic detention while dealing cannabis.
People like Tony are why parole officers take so much sick leave.

Tony had the sort of personality that immediately filled a crowded room.
Often with other people’s anxiety.
It would be months before I realised he was actually a few inches shorter than I am.
He just seemed a lot bigger. And louder. And more forceful. And a whole lot happier.

Long estranged from his devoutly Muslim family, Tony devoted himself to his own amusement and taking on anything that interfered with it.
But mostly he was devoted to his daughters, Ziggy and Laika. Especially Ziggy.

He had contacted the activist group I worked with over an ongoing dispute he had with the staff of the Parramatta lockup where he spent his weekends.
He was hoping we had some dirt on some of them that might help with his ‘negotiations’.
We did.

While in custody awaiting trial Tony had got into a fight with his cellmate.
“I told this fuckin’ junkie to cut all the fuckin’ whining and the next thing you know he’s trying to fuckin’ kill me.”

The fight had been messy but neither had been seriously hurt.
But Tony’s cellmate carried the hepatitis C virus.
A few weeks later Tony discovered he did too.

As soon as Tony’s trial was finished he commenced legal action against the Department of Corrective Services for exposing him to the disease.
He also commenced combination therapy in the hope of clearing it from his system.
That meant he had to get one interferon injection and twelve ribovarin capsules during each of his weekly stints in the lockup.

Few prison officers find their work interesting or satisfying, unless they are sadists. To alleviate boredom they often turn to pornography, drug smuggling and making life as miserable as possible for the prisoners in their power.

They particularly dislike weekenders.
Unlike screws, periodic detainees spend only a couple of days a week in prison and may have rewarding careers.
Selling cannabis for instance.

Tony’s therapeutic needs made him vulnerable to bastardisation by corrective services staff, so naturally that’s what happened.
He had already obtained a court order which, in theory, would force them to dispense his medications back to him at appropriate times.
Now they were leaving his interferon shot unrefrigerated in direct sunlight and subjecting him to extended searches in the carpark, delaying his sign in and generating ‘breaches’ that could land him in prison full time.

By the time he had won some cases, lost some others, finished his sentence as home detention and cleared his hepatitis infection Tony and I had become friends. Proper ones.

He was particularly grateful to me for teaching him how to use and service home computers, which he had finessed into a lucrative home business assembling custom PCs from components of dubious pedigree then installing a generous compliment of pirated system software, games and movies.

His visits mostly consisted of the two of us smoking his pot, playing some game he had just torrented, discussing one of the court cases he was permanently embroiled in and fiddling with some of the maintenance problems his computer clients regularly threw in his lap. Sometimes I managed to drag him out for a some live rock music but his time in the ankle bracelet had turned Tony into a bit of a homebody, albeit one always charging off to someone else’s home.

For a while we set up an NGO called ‘Prison Aware’ that was supposed to give first time inmates some practical advice about what to expect in the NSW prison system, but Corrective Services took one look at the members list and banned us from contacting prisoners. Tony didn’t mind that most of his schemes came to nothing, he always had a dozen others.

He was too cool to raise the subject of his kids in conversation. Instead he’d stride in obviously bursting to tell you something and remain distracted  until you said something he could obscurely link to Laika’s latest netball trophy or Ziggy’s Eisteddfod performance or the plans he had to take them sailing next week.

In the presence of his daughters, however, ‘cool Tony’ deserted him. Gushing with pride and drippy with devotion Tony made them the focus of any gathering. I can’t say how many claims of their superhuman talents were true, but I can confirm that Laika is a champion eye-roller and Ziggy can blush right through her olive complexion.

Tony and I were comfortable with what each other said and equally comfortable when we said nothing.
We were mates.

Then came the time of dying.

In the eighteen months from Christmas Eve 2002 I lost a staggering number of friends and family members, often without warning.
Rather than rising to meet the grief as I had seen so many others do, I folded like a house of cards.
Thus began almost a decade of unrelenting, crippling despair.

Most of my surviving friends drifted away over the next few years.
I was no longer the person they had become attached to.
Others I pushed away, especially after I became convinced my only escape from the pit was at the end of a rope.

Suicide is a really fucked thing to do to people who care about you.

So I cut contacts with most remaining friends, moving to another city to wait out the death of my sick and depressed grandmother.

Tony was having none of it.

Though I told him to stay away and threatened to lock him out, every week or so he would jump into whatever disintegrating rattletrap he was currently driving for the long trip to my dismal retreat.

“I can’t go back now, the temperature’s been in the red since Wyong. Give me some water for the radiator and an hour or so to cool it off.”

“You’ve gotta let me in. I haven’t got a bong in the car. You can’t expect me to drive this dope all the way home without smoking some first.”

Despite Tony’s heroic efforts, my state of mind continued to slide.

His own health hadn’t been so good either.

Ever since clearing the virus he’d been plagued by a cluster of odd autoimmune problems.
His childhood asthma returned with a vengeance. Sudden joint inflammation would periodically cripple him. The skin on his face, hands and forearms thickened and stiffened, requiring frequent applications of cortisol cream to keep them only disfiguring rather than debilitating.
We both theorised that Tony’s hep C treatment was behind his sudden outbreak of ill health but his doctors rejected the idea.
I wish I’d taught Tony to be as aggressive towards quacks as I had become.

This time five years ago I was awaiting a call confirming that Tony would arrive that evening with equipment for the fishing trip we’d planned for the next day.
He had recently won an $80,000 settlement against some guy who attacked him with a sandstone block and was talking about buying a small boat he would keep on a trailer at my place.
He’d already moved house and bought a pair of Les Paul copies for his musically inclined daughters.
Now he would be returning his beloved Ziggy to her mother after another treasured visit and loading the rods into his elderly Sigma station wagon.
If the pile of junk hadn’t broken down again.

By six pm there was still no word.
Punctuality was never one of Tony’s strong points but I would have expected a call by now.
So I dialled his number with my usual sense of dread foreboding.

When a strange female voice answered the phone I didn’t assume a wrong number. A chill gripped me.

As she introduced herself as Tony’s long estranged sister I knew there would be no fishing trip.
And when she gently confirmed what the voice in my head was already screaming couldn’t be true I knew there would be no more fishing trips.

No more bong and bullshit sessions.
No more scams and battle plans.
No more visits when I really needed them.
No more silly grins.
No more booming laugh.
No more Tony Haque.

Tony was in the toilet when he had his first and last heart attack. He collapsed against the door and struggled for ten minutes or so while Ziggy screamed and beat her ten year old fists against the other side. When the paramedics arrived it was to force open the door on her father’s corpse.

He was about a month shy of his forty second birthday.

I didn’t handle it well and was in no state to go to his funeral. But at least I think I did OK during the phone call to Ziggy.

I told her that Tony would never have wanted to have died like that but that even though she couldn’t reach him, he died knowing someone who loved him was close by.
Not everyone gets that privilege.

I told her that if anyone had told Tony he had one day left to live and asked him where he wanted to spend it, he would have immediately answered “With Ziggy”.
Anyone who knew Tony knew that.

Tony never got the chance to make a final wish, but he was granted it anyway.
He spent his last few hours with the person he loved more than anything else.

He always was a lucky bastard.

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2 Comments
  1. Tony permalink

    The end, please ladies and gents

    Like

  2. Tony permalink

    The end, please ladies and gents. This was the final episode.

    Like

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