Damien shoots across the field. The crowd cheers - and no one more than his father, Tony.
The young man touches down. Tony punches his fist into the air.
‘That’s my son!’ he shouts.
In some ways Damien is nothing like his dad. Damien has always admired Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and festivity. In a sense, Damien is Dionysus. He loves to party, and is intelligent and loved by many.
I guess I was optimistic. I hoped for the best and I could’ve done a lot more. While I don’t punish myself for that - you can’t turn back the clock, and I know he wouldn’t want me to punish myself - that’s kind of why the work I do now is so important for families. To be aware of not just being passive, and certainly not to be controlling, but to be actively involved in keeping people safe and finding out what we need to know.
Yeah, that was that. Then, of course, the death. There’s a lot of ironies about that. At the time he was dying, literally at the time he was dying, I was having a conversation with Sandra about kids and the love we have for them - whether we express that, whether we do it enough, and whether you knew whether your kids loved you or not. That was an ironic conversation.
Then on the day I found out about his death, which was actually three days later, I’d gone walking with a mate of mine and we were reflecting on the happiest times of our lives. I was telling him that the happiest times in my life were when I was driving Damien around to all his sport.
Then I got the phone call. It was a surreal kind of phone call, and it was three days after he died. It was a young constable from Surry Hills Police Station. She just asked me who I was and I said my name.
She said, ‘Are you related to Damien Trimingham?’
I said, ‘Yes, I am his father.’
She said, ‘I wonder if you could come to…’ She didn’t actually say the morgue, she said, ‘Could you come to the coroner’s in Glebe?’
I said, ‘Why?’
She said, ‘Oh, we just want to eliminate your son from our inquiries into a death.’
Of course, as soon as I heard that I knew it was the worst, even though she was beating around the bush and really trying not to tell me.
I said, ‘What’s happened?’
She said, ‘Oh, there was an overdose death in Darlinghurst the other night and we have a deceased person.’
I said, ‘Why Damien?’
She said, ‘Oh there was some identification.’
Of course then I knew.
I set off driving. I got some of the way. I just couldn’t drive. I couldn’t drive. I was just incapable of driving, so I rang the mate that I’d gone walking with and he can and he drove me the rest of the way.
When I got in there there’s this young police constable and she’s got a file under her arm and it’s headed “Trimingham, Deceased.” All these kind of bizarre, surreal images that stick in my memory. Then they took me to the viewing room. Of course it was Damien.
I said, ‘Yeah, that’s him.’
I discovered that the death was painless. I discovered that the death was preventable, because I read the coroner’s report. And I said, ‘How can somebody go from being perfectly normal and functioning, no bodily stuff, and then suddenly be dead?’
Somebody introduced me to this idea of the trifecta of risk, which obviously Damien had: because he hadn’t been using on a regular basis he’d lost his tolerance. Secondly, that the alcohol would’ve already slowed his system down so that it made it much easier to overdose with heroin. Then thirdly, because he’d gone to an isolated place because of the illegality, he was very vulnerable.
I knew that. I thought, ‘Well, this is fucking stupid that people should die from something that really is quite safe if it’s done in a safe environment.’ With a drug that’s probably hard to say, but the best in terms of purity and impact.
The only real negative impacts that heroin has are deaths, disease and crime. If they decriminalise and get rid of those three major risks, there’s still the dependency to deal with, but that’s manageable.
My anger just got diverted then to the ridiculousness of the system that we had. The other thing to remember is that in the late nineties, heroin was like ice is now. It was on the front pages every day. Every day. There were some dreadful stories in the Sydney Telegraph. There were all sorts of things on television about it. It was just taking the headlines.
I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Fuck, why do they keep doing the same old stuff?’
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