‘Coffee, beer and inappropriate thoughts.’ That’s how he described the juice that runs his life. His nickname derives from it. He told me while in his mother’s womb, his father had been killed by a falling tree.
‘Well actually the tree was pushed over by a rock the size of a truck that rolled down the hill beside home. It was part of a pattern after heavy bush fires, land slides and falling trees rumbling through the valley. My dad wasn’t the only one to be killed that year. But it left a scar in my mother’s heart and in the core of my being, prenatal self if you like. I read your website about self, and saw the connection with my core fear and a core remedy for that fear – taking on deadly risks. It’s almost an addiction with me,’ he said.
Cobi believed this led to a lifetime of risk taking and damage to his health and to all his relationships. He was in his fiftieth year when I met him, divorced three times with children from each relationship. Currently single, he lived with his eldest son and daughter-in-law in his own house. And that is where the crisis came that brought him to my door.
‘She hates my guts. She blames me for my son’s loss of a job, his health problems, his addictions, his unfaithfulness.’ “With a model like you,” she shouted one day, “what hope did he ever have. I should have assessed you before I got stuck with him.” Janette’s a social worker employed by a social survey company, and each five years by the Census. ‘Like how the fuck am I supposed to have influenced him. He never listened to me anyway.’ Corbi said defensively.
He has a weather worn face, deep lines down the sides of his mouth, matched by craters across his cheeks and furrows on his forehead. It gave the impression of a drought desiccated river bed or dam. Permanently dehydrated, I guessed, with only beer and coffee diuretics to do the impossible job of re-hydrating him. Whatever moisture he kept he blew out with cigarette smoke. He has worked on oil rigs in the Timor Sea, climbed trees as an arborist in Australia, electricity poles as an electrician’s assistant in India, free dived for abalone in California – one of those guys who can put his hand to anything. But at 45 his health deteriorated quite suddenly, and now with emphysema, his oxygen supply is compromised and thus deeply fatigued. Still smokes, drinks beer and coffee and eats only hamburgers with the lot. That is his only meal brunch and dinner.
‘Any fruit or veggies?’
‘Only what comes with the burger, you know pineapple, pickled beetroot, tomato, onion, lettuce. Got to be Angus beef though, not ham, bacon or kangaroo or that cardboard tasting bush beef crap from Macca’s. One funny bugger tried to pass off a tofu burger on me. Sick for weeks. I hear they’re growing beef in the lab – promise you I’ll tell the difference. Nothing like Angus beef. Bloody unique. First tried them in Omaha. They’re called Angus burgers up there. I’d rather go hungry than eat any other shit. You can call me Angus if you want, I just about have their DNA in place of human/canine DNA.’
‘Canine?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, you wanna believe it, our ancestors ate so much dog in tough times instead of each other. Well I reckon these pedo’s are just sublimated cannibals, eating kids souls instead of babies bodies.’
That’s the first clue he gave me to what he had denied the significance of, probably all his life. More likely fed his risk taking and addictions than a prenatal trauma imprint. So I took up his covert invitation.
‘Cobi, can I ask you a big one?’
He nodded expectantly, pleased I had got his disguised direction.
‘The pedo reference? Personal experience?’
‘Step father and step brother.’
‘Shit!’ I exclaimed. ‘That’s huge.’
‘Nah. Meant nothing to me.’
‘Happened to me too. School principal. I was 13 and only in the last five ten years have I really unpacked it.’
‘Well that’s your job mate. Why wouldn’t you. Never bothered me.’
‘How old were you?’
‘Started when I was around 10, I guess. Step brother tried it on again couple of Christmases ago. He ended up on the floor, broken jaw. He called the pigs. Wanted me arrested. They came alright. They later discovered he had a history of it. One of his victims was the copper’s brother. Dobbed him in. Prison for rock spiders up in Goulburn jail. Hope they kill him.’
I could hear and feel the rage in that wish but I had no way to go there with him after just one session and no plans for another. He would push back if I asked and never return. He looked more wasted than a moment before and probably not aware of the physical appearance of that disclosure in his body. I am not sure disclosure brings closure but it was his first step of inviting me into his story. His body showed the story in all its crevices and craters, like hundreds of tiny creeks of story lines, waiting to join in a river delta filled with the silt, gravel and debris of decades in denial. His paler appearance brought my awareness to his scalp, arms and neck. They were covered in red and black tattoos, that seemed now to glow.
‘Tell me about the tats?’
‘I get a new one each birthday since I turned 25. A kind of celebration – I survived.’
‘And a fuck you!?’
‘Interesting. You’re an interest guy foxy. But you’re not getting any more from me today.’
‘You fuckin’ know why arsehole!’
‘Getting too close?’
Bob, I thought, the inter-dimensional perp in Twin Peaks? Cobi was about the right age in 1990/1991, 30 years or so ago when he started the body art at 25. Exorcising his Bobs, his step-father and step-brother, through the pain of tattooing. They hurt the most in the places that don’t see the light of day. So I imagined many of them are on his sternum, back, inner thighs. They heal fastest around the heart so there won’t be any there.
His reference to Bob took me out of the present. He noticed.
“Bob was a euphemism for god, as in so help me Bob,’ I said distractedly. At many levels, I was thinking, almost all of my clients’ struggles involve an argument with a supreme being that dealt them the lousy cards of their journey with no get out of jail free tokens.
‘So where to from here Bob?’ He said smiling ironically, perhaps challenging me to get off the cross rather than him.
‘Could you tell me more about the tattoos?’
‘I can remember where I was and what was going on with each tat?’
‘Like a touchstone?’
Cobi came for many more sessions. His need was to lay down the story of his life in one continuous thread. I kept the ends open between sessions, and then helped him sew them back together at the beginning of each new one. It was if he were preparing to depart leaving behind a witness, someone who held the story for him. It never occurred to me that he was doing exactly that as he unpacked his life. I just held the space for him, listened, reflected back how it impacted me. And then he left seeing me as suddenly as he had begun.
‘Well that’s it Bob,’ he said ironically on our final session.
‘How do yo mean.’
‘That’s all I’ve got to say to ya. Thank you. It’s been fun.’
‘I don’t understand,’ I protested.
‘Well look here doc, I’ll say it one more time and then no more. I have said all I’ve got to say, felt all I want to feel and now it’s time for me to go.’
I was so taken by surprise I couldn’t find a clever repartee to delay him. He was up and out of the room leaving my jaw on the floor.
A year later his daughter-in-law called me. She told me he had invited me to his funeral. He died that week after a long battle with cancers that had metastasised from a melanoma on the heel of his right foot. He must have had the terminal diagnosis when he came to see me and never mentioned it to me. I am still shocked as I write this twelve years later. His funeral was just as unexpected. He had designed it himself, wrote the eulogy and composed the music, paid in advance for his band to perform and wrote the funeral notice and the words on the headstone. And to top it off, he designed the menu for the wake – all his favourite dishes with instructions on how the designated caterer, his eldest brother, should make them in case he had forgotten. I had a job too. It was to tell the story of his life as he revealed it to me, in that one continuous thread, tied like a bow on his coffin. It was only in the telling that the flood waters broke. I wept for him with his son and brother as if we had known each other all our lives.