Prefix ex-, suffix -gate


There are many things we don’t know; here is one of them. Why did my ex-, the father of my son, drive his 4WD through the security gates of my house only to stop just short of the living room window, abandoning the car to leg it for god knows where?

I found a most peculiar carnage when I returned home after a morning of errands. The black electronic gates dangled in the air from split hinges, and my neighbour’s wall was smashed, a mess of flaking white paint and dusty weatherboard. Broken mirror sparkled against splinters of plastic along the length of the drive. And at the end of the drive sat that square Ford Maverick, which hadn’t had a right to be parked there for about three years. If I’d had any semblance of cool at the time, I would have remarked to another witness that I didn’t know what I was looking at.

I know very little and fear very much. Think of fear as a front-loading washing machine, with its little mechanism that prohibits the opening of the door until all of the cycles have completed. The panic cycle saw me call my son’s school straight after I called the police. Had his dad picked him up early? He hadn’t been picked up? He was still in class? I broke down in grateful, wasteful sobs on my neighbour’s fence, waiting with my friend for the police to arrive. Don’t go in there, they had said. The apologetic and ashamed cycle was next as I told my ex’s dad I was sorry. He was sitting on the couch, looking grey, red and sensible, a sad Santa Claus, or perhaps, Colonel Sanders, after being interviewed by the police. He was always a good boy. There was the hyper-alert cycle, during which I had to change all the alerts on my phone because the old ones made my hands shake whenever I received a phone call or text message. I would double-take every time I saw a white male, approximately 5 ft 8, in any public place. I would lock the doors from the inside of the car whenever I drove anywhere. I don’t know why I’m using the past tense, I am still double-taking and door-locking.

But what is a washing machine used for? asked another friend, on hearing my analogy. Not, what is it like to be in there? I had to take the point that there was no point in thinking about what it’s like being in there, that thudding, accelerating fear machine. Don’t you come out of a washing machine better? Or at least, cleaner? Isn’t that what your metaphor is about? 

Have I been cleansed? What has been atoned?

It’s amazing how facile the binary becomes. Suddenly it’s an unequivocal situation. He’s the aggressor, the respondent. I’m the victim, the protected person.

It’s very strange. I am not the nicest person. I am no weakling. I don’t say this emptily: I have been cruel, duplicitous, manipulative to others, and in the past, to him. Somehow this is no longer so? I have an official document that describes me as a ‘protected person.’ And so now, the old question is officially taboo, impossible: what did she do to provoke him? I am the protected person. I have been cleansed.

Yeah, I was in the washing machine for a while. A proper housewife’s cycle. Matters weren’t much improved by the fact that I’d returned to the city of Perth; sadly for me not even the ‘City of Perth,’ but the far-flung outskirts across the City of Cockburn, the parched family seat. I had in fact extended my stay as Melbourne was considered unsafe. The police looked for Simon (for that is his name), arrested him, but were unable to interview him about the incident, for reasons still unknown to me. He was taken to the psychiatric ward of the aptly named Northern Hospital for an assessment and then released the next day, also for reasons unknown to me.

I hear there is to be a Royal Commission on the effectiveness of Intervention Orders in the coming months. I wonder how many women will say they felt less safe after their order was activated. Simon tried to contact me once while I was in Perth. I freaked out and called the police to report what I’d been told would be breach of the order, only to be informed that the order hadn’t yet been served.

Let me see, said the young constable, easy-breezy on the line. The kind of seconds that elapse while someone searches for and opens a file on a computer elapsed. The order is not in effect. You see, it has to be served in order to be in effect. Why wouldn’t it be in effect? Hadn’t Simon been to court? I felt stupid for not understanding. And then I felt stupid for somehow trusting an administered system.

Many inconvenient, unpleasant surprises lay in store for me during the holiday period. I don’t mean to detail them all here, or anywhere else. In fact I mean to forget nearly everything.

But I do want to remember the moment I felt like the washing machine was nearing the final cycle. Do you know that decelerating sound? The pitched-down phase began the morning I woke up, still in Perth, and scratched a new mosquito bite. The benzo-clouds parted for a moment, and I giggled. There was a new word. Not a high impact word, more of a creeper. But there it was. I smiled again. Simongate. Why had it taken me so long to name the situation? And what a lovely name for it.

There’s a sketch in the loveable sketch-comedy show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, where the two actors play ‘themselves’ in a caught-between-scenes scenario. David Mitchell plays Mitchell in downtime, relaxing with a newspaper in a director’s chair.

M: ‘I was just going to say that my eye was caught by this whole scandal in America!’

W: ‘Ooooh, the scandal in America. Yeah, that is interesting. That must be the biggest scandal since Watergategate.’

M: ‘Isn’t it just Watergate?’

W: ‘No. That would mean it was just about water. No, it was a scandal, or ‘-gate’ (that’s what you do with a scandal, add the suffix ‘gate’) at the Watergate Hotel. So it’s the Watergate Scandal or Watergategate.’

Simongate. I sent my best friend, who now lives in Japan, a short message about this neologism by email. The event now had a name. Naming something steals power from it. It is a small power, to be sure, the most minor increment up from pretty abject powerlessness, but still, this had something. Precious little for all the pressure it was up against. A lame joke. A transposition of a grammatically contentious suffix that felicitously reverted to the literal. I spoke with the same friend by phone later that day. I told him that this joke was the first time I’d felt really normal since the day it happened.

You don’t really seem so into my new term, I teased him. Yeah, not bad. The old adding the -gate suffix to something bad or scandalous. Ah, you don’t get it. Don’t you see, he literally drove through the gates. Simon smashed the gate. Simongate.

He trilled like a girl, or a drag queen. What a laugh. Oh right! 

Before the washing machine some other bad stuff had already started to happen. I crashed my car. I left my favourite hat on a tram. I smashed my phone. My boyfriend told me he ‘didn’t know’ if he wanted to be in the relationship anymore. (He did know: he didn’t want to.) Looking back now the thing I mourn most is that hat. God we had some good times together. How many bodies of water, in how many cities and towns? The kind of brown that goes with everything. The kind of hat that will get in chlorine, then crumple in your bag for a few days, then still come out smooth for the next road trip or non-straight wedding. An everyday hat for any special occasion.

Anyway, before any of that stuff even happened, before summer, even, I’d been taking all these notes for an article I’d felt compelled to write. It had not been solicited and I hadn’t sought publication for it. Yet I worked on it daily, compelled, unusually for me, to comment on a culturally relevant topic. Something about the link between first-world born jihadi entering Syria in droves to join ISIS and boredom. A partial view on boredom and violence. I’d planned on making the obligatory visit to Perth over summer an opportunity to experience the local boredom, hoping to draw from a well-spring of memories there of a hopelessly boring childhood. Or what I wish to remember as one.

Due to the events of Simongate, which transpired on the day before the flight out to Perth, these research aims were entirely disappointed. I was never bored. I was scared, tired, anxious, occasionally even manically happy (flipping pancakes on Christmas Day). Even along that eminently doomed stretch, Scarborough Beach Road, passing Glendalough Station, my hands shook on the steering wheel, under the magnificent heat of the windshield and that relentless blue sky. An extended stay in Perth. Bleaker words are seldom spoken.

I ask myself all kinds of questions now, in the confused calm of late January. What if all I achieved in this life was being thin? What is the difference between ‘violence against women’ and ‘violence’? How do suburban jihadi from Western Sydney fill their time on the long flight to the Northern Hemisphere? Do they watch the in-flight movie? Which movie?

The friend who elucidated the washing machine analogy also said this in response to the Charlie Hebdo story. What if everyone just stopped talking about terrorism? I mean, completely stopped?

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