Safe right now

Monday 8 December

Out of bed at the usual time, making a cup of tea and some weetbix. Normal, routine, everyday things keeping me from manning the panic stations. But only just.

I check my mail, hear back on a couple of teaching applications: “We regret to inform…” etc. I’m sure it’s because I don’t trouble to hide the fact that my interests and experiences barely place me in the path of mainstream education anymore – and I guess it’s just as well, because I don’t want to go back there either.

But how long can I keep this up? A few months ago, I had a 4K cushion put away; now there’s twenty dollars in my savings account, and just one day’s pay coming in next Wednesday. Oh, my systems are still in place, enough for a couple more weeks, almost. But if I don’t have something lined up by next Friday, no, Thursday – then what?

 

There’s an email from one of the general temp agencies too. It’s only a form letter, but I read it closely anyway:

Thank you for your online Registration of Interest in Employment with Lumsden Recruitment.  We are constantly looking for people with skills, diligence and a great attitude to join our Lumsden Team!  We would like to meet you and learn more about yourself, please come into one of our Branches with the following items;

Photo ID

  • Born Overseas– Passport and Visa
  • Born in NZ– Passport Or  NZ Driver License and Birth Certificate Or Statutory Declaration (signed within last 2 weeks)

IRD Number

Bank Account Number

Current CV with minimum of 2 work-related references

PLUS;  Any licenses (Counterbalance, Reach, Stock Picker etc), Certificates or Endorsements that you currently have.

Our Branches are open from 7am – 6pm Monday to Friday.  If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact the Office on our Freephone number.

We look forward to meeting you.

 

I could go this morning, nothing to stop me except gas money. And I have to put gas in the car sometime – so why not? Guess so, but the idea still gives me an uncomfortable feeling. It’s like I’m 17 all over again; no skills, no experience… just hustling for vacation work. Minimum wage: is that all I can ask for or expect?

What’s the alternative, though? Is there one? Maybe in some parallel universe. Here and now, the choice seems to be between the economic doom of a temping job, or the steadier income founded on talking smack in a classroom to perpetuity. Should I just give up and become a ‘good teacher’. You know, a sentimental idiot who cares about about “those kids”. Because don’t we we live in two worlds? Ha whatever. And what am I going to do? Oh what am I going to do?

 

The boys come in and are in good spirits, seeing as Sheree’s still hanging on in there at rehab. I engage politely with the conversation, but that’s as much as I can manage. This whole thing with Sheree (not to mention Leroi) lately has the least straight-up vibe I can think of. And the feeling of not knowing where I am with people, added to the money situation, is messing with my head.

It feels like I’m swimming through glue, or golden syrup. Sheree, the boys, work, money… everything sticks for a moment, lets go, then sticks again. It almost makes me wish I’d never left MC. Almost… but not quite. I just keep thinking to myself how I didn’t come all this way to lose. But something needs to be shifted, and fast. So what do you do with constraints? I guess you find the workaround.

 

Thursday 11 December

I wake up, reality kicks straight in, and with it another wave of panic. But I get up and enact the routine obediently; take a shower and wash my hair. Turn on Firstline, make myself a cup of tea. Slice up some kiwifruit in a bowl, add a scoop of muesli on top and snow-cap it with a spoonful of coconut yoghurt.

Then I check the bank accounts. My payments have gone through like usual. But my mind races ahead to the next set of bills, just over a week away. I try to apply reassuring directives to myself: Look at the whole picture. Don’t use those all-or-nothing lines, like as far as I can go’, or ‘a failed experiment’.

Because it’s neither. I’m learning the game; sometimes I struggle to understand things I didn’t understand before. But there’s a part of me that feels like taking the next steps.

With that in mind, I mail the bank to make an appointment with a financial adviser. You never know your luck, I think. And even though I’m still feeling somewhat resistant to the idea, I’m going to schedule a trip to Lumsden Recruitment. You could, I think, argue that I don’t have many other cards to play.

 

Friday 12 December

My email to the bank has been followed up by a call, then a meeting, the result of which is a signed loan agreement. As of this morning, therefore, there’s five thousand dollars in my account; this takes the immediate pressure off making payroll – to the point where I feel soporific with relief for a little while. But that feeling has quickly been replaced with a kind of urgency to get started out earning money.

And then I go sign up with Lumsden. The process is going to take a week at least: the standard reference and police checks, and all the rest of it. And then they’re closed for Christmas – but they say I’ll be on their books by January.

 

Monday 15 December:

I’m hanging out for a coffee this morning, but payday’s payday, whether it’s the Ministry of Education, or my own savings, or the bank loan paying me. Tuesday night, fortnightly.

For dinner (*pre-payday*) I clean out the fridge and make stir fry noodles with pork mince and all the vegies: ginger and garlic and onion, red and yellow capsicums, cabbage and carrots and broccoli. And steamed rice. And buttered bread on the side. It’s good, and gets eaten up fast.

Again, that feeling of gratitude that the boys are here, and – for what it’s worth – safe right now.

 

Friday 19 December

Tonight I go pick up Tau and Leroi from Clancy. They’re pretty drunk (no surprises there) and Leroi dozes in the car all the way home. Alcohol really unsettles me these days – the idea of not being in control. Driving back, I feel very grateful that I’m in charge of my own faculties. There’s something I can’t ‘like’ anymore about even that feeling of relaxation produced by a glass of wine.

Tau chats to me in a ‘drunk person’ way – fulsomely and about nothing in particular. He’s on a mellow buzz, but I’m no less anxious for that. I just keep on thinking how I don’t want any trouble; I’m  too tired to deal with trouble.

A couple of times I even check: “You guys are  ok with one another though.”

“We are,” Tau says, and laughs – to reassure me I think, but it just makes me feel more uncertain.

 

They tip themselves into the shed with their drive through Macca’s. Tau hugs me, then Leroi hugs Tau. Again, this doesn’t actually guarantee the peace. Things are very difficult to predict when alcohol has figured in the evening.

“Don’t stay up all night – try get some sleep,” I suggest, thinking if Leroi (at least) went back to sleep this would also fulfill a peace-keeping function.

“Don’t worry Miss, we will,” they say.

But I’m still worried, and lie in bed trying not to startle at every slight noise. The door opens and closes a couple of times; there’s voices every now and then. My heart is beating over the sound. I have that familiar dampening ache in my solar plexus and I can’t sleep for a long while.

 

Saturday 20 December:

I have a couple puffs of Tau’s cig, and we talk a bit in the sleepout while Leroi goes to make noodles. Tau’s not much of a talker I know, but all the same, I’m kind of clasping at comfort; wanting to feel safe with someone I know and trust. Ohhh Tau, sorry – you’re the only safety valve I’ve got right now, I think. It makes me want to laugh and cry, thinking how I’m expecting the least likely person to conversate. But I’m very grateful, because he does his best.

Maybe he senses how my heart’s kind of breaking over things, for no particular reason at all. Regrets pour in and out, through holes in my flimsy boundaries. I feel them in my solar plexus, and at my throat. And why didn’t I stay at MC and agree to be a teacher. Isn’t that better than nothing. And is this nothing?

At first, the question really bothers me. Then I think how I’ve never been ashamed to create something out of nothing much; this tenacity having saved me many times. I’m like the weed in our driveway that springs up almost flat to the earth, busily working out how to hold its ground. It’s unobtrusive, and then, when you look – even pretty, with its dappled, almost khaki colored leaves and tiny pink flowers. I pull it out every now and then, but only when it’s forgotten its economical ways – and it just pops up somewhere else, pragmatically.

For some reason this reminds me of the Manning Marable book I’ve been reading, about Malcolm X. Whether any of the supposed ‘reinventions’ can be verified is neither here nor there, far as I’m concerned. Everyone has inconsistencies, failures and secrets. It doesn’t matter so much what they are – they exist. And so we either default and capitulate to our weakest moments, or we amass the patience and diligence to make a set of ethics we can live with.

Real time

Friday 28 November:

The boys are over at their uncle’s, drinking. After a few hours I get a text from Tau, and I go pick them up. There’s a slightly odd vibe on the way home; nothing I can really put my finger on, so I just put it down to the alcohol.

Ten minutes later, I hear raised voices. I chuck on my shoes, grab my phone (with both sangfroid and prescience) and go out there.

Tau and Leroi are about to fight. I remonstrate with them, get in between them (several times), while they wrestle, and things are rocked and tipped about the shed. Tau’s eyes are bulging and shiny white; Leroi takes his shirt off and smiles with rage.

Finally I have us all sitting down. I know it’s only a lull in the proceedings, but that’s as much as I can ask for. I ring Nana Pam.

 

Fifteen minutes later, as the atmosphere lurches and threatens to tip back to crisis point, I’m very grateful when I hear Pam’s car in the drive. She comes in and I briefly explain things (in a surprisingly calm way), before she tells Leroi to come with her. There is a short altercation over buds and I instruct Tau to split the foils, which he does, throwing Leroi’s portion on the floor and saying, “He can stick this up his ass.”

As soon as they’ve gone, Tau begins to cry. He cries until there are foaming drops of spittle at the corners of his mouth, and a ribbon of snot bobbing from his nose. His shirt is all ripped from the fighting, and he crouches next to me – and I hold onto him.

“Don’t gap, Tau,” I say tenderly.

“I won’t – it’s alright Miss, I don’t wanna gap anymore,” he sobs. “This is the only place where I feel comfortable. I just don’t want to be around him.”

“I know, Tau… I know, it’s ok,” I tell him.

After a while he has a quick cone. I smoke almost a whole ciggie and don’t even feel sick; this connotes stress city, for me.

 

At 2:30 I go to bed. Four hours later the alarm wakes me up, and I get ready for my day at work: one day shy of a whole calendar month since the last time. After last night I don’t want to go. But I keep telling myself – this is breaking the drought.

Before I leave, I ring Pam and ask her to keep Leroi with her for the day. She says she’ll do her best – but by midday Tau texts to tell me Leroi’s walked back on his own, and they’re “algood now”; this of course does not reassure me greatly.

 

At the close of the school day I take my time sheet up to the office, then go home. The shed’s dark and the door is ajar so I push it open, knocking a little first. Tau’s lying on the bed, Leroi’s asleep – or maybe pretending to sleep – on the couch.

Tau sits up as soon as he sees me. He’s wrapped in a white duvet with a frill, and looks almost comically sweet. It reminds me for some reason of a book I had when I was a little kid – a bear who wore a party dress for some special occasion.

“Oh my gosh, Tau,” I say, touching the frill for an instant. “You look like you’ve got your prettiest outfit on,” and he can’t help but laugh.

 

We talk in low voices. I’m worried and relieved and tired all at the same time, and I can hardly keep my emotions in check. Besides, I’m almost sure Leroi’s only feigning sleep, and the thought that he’s overhearing everything frustrates me so much that I nearly cry.

I go back inside, where I can’t settle, flitting about in the cold breeze that’s coming in through the french doors. I don’t even have the will to shut the door, and after a while I just give up and let a few tears spill from my eyes.

By now it’s getting dark, and, “Oh, who cares,” I conclude, with a degree of insouciance that has kicked in right when I need it. I go out again and find Leroi has ‘woken up’. So Tau and I go do the drug shop run (which God knows how we can afford, but today they really do need it), and pick up fish and chips from Municipal.

 

Saturday 29 November:

Pam rings and we have a talk – during which she tells me that Sheree might not take up her spot in rehab after all, as she “doesn’t like the boys living in the shed”. I’m so enraged by this that I just about can’t speak for a moment. Sheree! She’s already the biggest victim out… and now she’s looking for an excuse to get herself off the hook from rehab before she even gets there.

Anyway, Pam gets an earful about it. I’m actually shaking, and my mouth quivers as I reply. Not that it’s Pam’s fault – I can see that I’m kind of shooting the messenger here. But I still do a big rant about how Sheree doesn’t do jack shit for anyone and if she has a problem with where the boys are she should put her money where her mouth is and sort out her own shit. And (seeing as I’m on a roll now) I add that Tau and Leroi aren’t ‘living in the shed’; they have the entire house at their disposal. I come to a halt with one last flourish, saying that a lot of their shyness and their limited social skills are down to Sheree’s atrocious parenting.

And Pam just keeps saying, “I hear you,” and really being nice about it, the poor lady. She says she understands exactly how I felt, she has to put up with the same crap from people who do nothing and then run their mouths about everything, and, “Oh, what’s going to happen to that fuckin family?” she laments. “Excuse my language, but I sometimes think they’re all fucked, every fuckin one of them!”

“Can I get an Amen!” I exclaim, and then we both burst out laughing.

 

After all that, I do something dumb. Even though Pam has asked me not to mention this to the boys, I don’t have a show of containing my feelings about the matter. I go out to the sleepout, and everything comes tumbling out.

Poor Tau doesn’t know how to respond; his face crumples up with the effort of having to take this on board half-asleep. He starts by surmising that Nana Pam is probably just talking shit, to which I reply that no, she heard it from Sheree herself.

Then Tau says (making a mighty effort to stay calm, I might add) that it must have came out wrong because his mum’s worried about going to rehab. I reply that Sheree isn’t the only one who’s allowed to have worries, and I’m sick of having to hear about it all the time. I have feelings just like anyone else, and if she wants to talk about me and my place like that, she should come say it to my face, not behind my back.

At that point, a kind of impasse is reached. I turn on my heel and walk out; Tau slams the door after me, I hear him yell out once: “Fuck!” and then there’s silence.

Oh well, I think. I can’t be super-human. And what of it?

 

Then the door of the shed just swings gently open again. I’m not sure what this signifies, but I read it as a sign of stalemate rather than open hostilities. So I quietly go back in.

Tau’s busy firing up the bucky. That’s an advance in itself, if you ask me – the old Tau would have already been a mile down the road by now. And I sit on the weights bench and tell him I’m sorry for putting all this on him; none of it is his fault.

Thus all is well again, up to a point – but all the same, if Sheree wants a get out of rehab card, it better not be me.

 

Sunday 30 November:

Tonight the boys are off to farewell Sheree. She’s decided to go to rehab tomorrow after all – at least I’ve heard nothing different – but either way she can’t be a priority of mine. I still feel sorry for her, but that’s almost neither here nor there by now. I’ve played it far too soft so far, worrying about her tender feelings way more than I ought to.

I need to harden up, I tell myself. I actually do need to raise my status, especially with Leroi here. He thinks it’s all ok, thinks it’s kickback. Tau once told me Scott was the only person that Leroi ever listened too.

Which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to Friday, when I had to stop the boys from fighting. There was one thing which really surprised me. Tau admitted, when we were on our own afterwards, that he’d been scared. I don’t mean scared of falling out with Leroi (though of course there’s that, too). He was actually afraid, thinking that Leroi was probably going to waste him. “But I knew I couldn’t let him see that,” he said. “So I just tried to act like I wasn’t scared.”

At first this gave me a shock – I just didn’t see it coming. Tau, who’s always been the dominant one, telling me he was afraid to fight Leroi. But then I actually got it, too. How sometimes you have to act like the world’s your oyster, and show no fear.

And in one way, this is exactly what I’m doing too.  It’s a contradiction I guess, that the higher the stakes, the more confident of victory you have to become – but maybe that’s the point. I don’t have the luxury of stopping to figure it out. I have to learn the game in real time – and not just learn the moves, either. Somehow I also have to learn to feel like I can’t lose

 

Friday 5 November:

Tau and Leroi head off with Nana Pam for some kind of reconciliatory weekend down the line. The boys tell me they’ve been so excited about this trip that they stayed awake half the night.

“I was over-thinking,” complains Tau, cracking me up.

“Hard, I was looking forward to it so much I couldn’t get to sleep,” Leroi says.

I tell Pam, and “I don’t know what they think we’re going to be doing!” she says, giving us both the giggles.

 

Sunday 7 November:

Tau shows me some pictures of the weekend on his phone, telling me that at the motel they got Nana Pammie to take them to the liquor store.

“And she didn’t mind?” I ask opening my eyes very wide at this.

“Um… we just said we wanted to go to the shop, and so she took us to the shops – but we went into the liquor store,” Tau confesses. “When she saw us come out with the cans she growled us – but not heaps.”

“Guess there was nothing she could do,” I said, unable not to laugh. It was like a foregone conclusion, probably to Pam as well.

Tau sneezes and sniffs, and goes on, “We were drinking in the rain… and that’s why we got sick, I think.”

“Why were you drinking in the rain?”

“Cos, there were heaps of people inside, all these people…” Tau begins, and then both of us snort with laughter.

“So how much did you drink?” I ask him.

“Um – we got two 12 packs. Bourbon.”

“And did you and Leroi drink it all?”

He nods.

I think to myself… twelve cans each, that’s still a lot of alcohol.

 

But later, when I’m lying in bed, I hear Tau come in and warm up another bowl of chicken curry. As much as I still get worried about him, I’m grateful he’s here. And just knowing that he’ll eat, and that he can talk about things, sometimes – and that he’s got somewhere to lay his head. It’s more than I can explain. But I just keep on trying to explain… and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to tell it.

Loving eyes

Wednesday 19 November

When I wake up it’s 5:15 am, and I don’t feel too bad. I get up at 6 and look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I even try to smile at my reflection, before I hop in the shower.

Normal morning routines, huh. Routines are my saving grace right now. I turn on Firstline, make a cuppa tea and some weetbix. Actually, I want toast, but the bread is still out in the sleepout. I say to myself firmly, “And I’m grateful for that weetbix!”

This makes me think of a ‘Kepaoa’ story – one time his mum took his ATM card, then withdrew all his pay, leaving him just eighty dollars. “And I said to myself… I’m grateful for that eighty dollars,” he hastened to add, cracking us both up.

I feel like that about a lot of things. I’m grateful for the dang weetbix. I’m grateful for the milk. I’m grateful for the hundred and ten dollars in my current account; I can pay the phone bill and still get twenty bucks gas and a coffee from Z.

I’m grateful for Kepaoa, and everything he taught me. How to sit loose to things: how to be a hustler and not a hustlee. Ohh, I miss that egg right now, or maybe I just miss the way I felt when he was there… and then I stop and think: Couldn’t I feel like that, all by myself?

Well, couldn’t I? Maybe it’s possible.

 

Friday 21 November

I get little moments of happiness at the weirdest times. Parked at Municipal, between the council buildings and the train station. Despite the money worries, I feel so glad to be exactly here. “Oh, this place!” I say to myself.

A lot of people are walking up from the train, one woman’s knee-high black boots giving me another little surge of happiness. Something about them reminds me unexpectedly of childhood days – I always wanted to whirl up the stairs, amidst a flock of a hundred people: Pursuit of Happyness. That’s right, I think. That’s the feeling.

All the same, I lose it over the dumbest things.

 

Like the boys misplacing their keys again – and the padlock to the sleepout, this time. They can’t even lock up this morning. I badly want to growl at them for being disorganized, and for (it seems) not giving a fuck about the hassle for me of having to replace everything for the umpteenth time… or about the money either.

Instead, I just try to squash my feelings down. But I must seem irritable all the same, and then I just feel more pissed off at the closed off looks on the boys’ faces, as they try to minimize ‘conflict’. I know that any disagreement, no matter how minor, feels like conflict to them; it brings up all sorts of things… but at the same time, what about me? Don’t my feelings matter at all? And if they don’t, then why don’t they?

So everyone is stressing now. The boys offer not to go to course today (thinking, no doubt, that I’m worried at the idea of leaving the place unlocked). Then I feel guilty for upsetting them. I persuade them that course is a good idea, and I even drop them off.

 

When I come home, I don’t know what to do – so I wash the car. I swish the hose about and wonder what’s going to happen. I’m tired, and I’m almost broke, and I’m still trying to look after these two like it’s no big deal. And yet I’m basically running myself out of options, if a job doesn’t turn up soon. While I house, feed and protect them, provide them with every necessity of life, right down to rides and broadband (not to mention loans and petty cash).

Do I look after myself? Well, yes and no. I don’t know. I don’t have a frickin clue. Maybe I should just tell it like it is. Maybe I should tell Tau and Leroi how I’m right on the line with money now. And would they even really understand? Or would I just be one more person to let Tau down?

And I can’t let him down. I can’t let him down. It’s no good asking why, because in truth I don’t know. But I’ve never once lost that feeling, even through so many twists and turns of circumstance. And I won’t leave him stranded. In my heart, I wonder if Tau knows this. I think he probably does, somewhere.

 

Monday 24 November

Tau asks if I can come to the doctors with him to get the Winz forms signed; this takes us a while. Then we go to Winz itself, then the tinnie house, and lastly the bakery (for pies).

The two of us actually have a good talk at the doctors – it’s funny how sometimes things get ‘said’ in neutral places. The conversation is mostly about alcohol and drugs: “I still remember how I hated coming home from school everyday,” he tells me. “You know, waiting to find out if mum and dad were drinking…” He laughs quietly. “And then after a while I thought, well I can’t beat ‘em, guess I might as well join ‘em.”

 

Wednesday 26 November

I go do ‘stuff’. All the usual Wednesday stuff: gas, groceries, get coffee if there’s a few dollars left over. I practically give myself palpitations tracking every cent at the supermarket, but it’s worth it. I even manage to get grain waves and juice for the boys, yoghurt for me, and a little tub of nuts and raisins (which feels like the luxury of luxuries right now; I’ll save it for tomorrow).

Inwardly though, I’m pretty scared. It’s my last self-funded “payday”. I’ve gone nearly as far as I can with the measures that I put in place months ago. It’s almost time for my next move. But today… well, today is just a day to be steady.

I try telling myself: the drought’s breaking, it’s going to be ok. I want to believe it. I get caught up in the ‘hows’, and the crazy feeling of things going right down to the wire – a team that scores in the last few seconds of play. That’s how it feels. Mixed metaphors, but you get the picture.

 

The agency texts me, there’s a day’s work going at Carthill tomorrow. It’s a good sign, but at the same time, I’m jangling with electricity and nerves. It’s not surprising I feel this way, but I just want to be nice to myself, the same way I’m nice to Tau. I can’t imagine saying to Tau the things I say to myself sometimes: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be like everyone else?” Or, “You’re so selfish!” Or, “No-one cares about you.”  Or, “Look at you, you look like shit today.”

Far too often I tell myself these exact things. Things I never think for one second where Tau’s concerned. Even if he hasn’t been able to, or hasn’t wanted to care for himself, I’ve never stopped being proud of him. I yearn to do that for myself. Not in some kind of narcissistic way… but to look at myself with loving eyes.

 

Thursday 27 November

After work, I try to think of things I’m grateful for, and get stuck almost straight away. The day’s pay, of course. And I’m grateful for, um… the yoghurt, I say to myself. And the extra click on my coffee card yesterday. Seriously clutching at straws here, I add, to no-one in particular.

Then – what else am I grateful for? I wonder. I’m grateful for a whole four months of making rent and bills, since leaving MC. And I am grateful for that – don’t think I’m not – but what the fuck’s going to happen now?

I lay on my bed, it’s so warm and quiet and I can hear voices in the sleepout, Tau and Leroi back from course. They don’t know, and I don’t want them to know, that I’m scared. They think everything’s ok – perhaps it is. Perhaps it is.

So I start making dinner – a big stir fry with pork and vegies and noodles. As I slice up cabbage and broccoli, I feel a tiny bit of calm return. I just fix the dinner, and go tell the boys it’s ready, and they come in.

The equation

Monday 20 October:

I get ready for work – and don’t get a text. I tell myself it’s ok, there’s no reason to panic. Even if there’s hardly any day jobs around at the moment, money’s taken care of up to the end of the month. But I can still feel that I’m holding my breath a little bit. Because this is the story for the rest of the term; I know it.

I toy with the idea (I really do) of telling the boys I got a call from the agency, and then just ‘going somewhere’ for the day. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about the situation. It’s more that if I worry and they see that, then they’re going to worry. And I don’t want them to worry.

Thankfully I come to my senses, telling myself firmly that that’s the dumbest idea ever. Running away won’t help, fleeing and scrabbling around for a spot to lay low. It makes me laugh, really, to think how very like Tau I am in this regard.

But I miss having a job. It’s not that I miss school, exactly – I miss the routine things. Knowing what time to make coffee, eat lunch. Casual conversations. Some kind of easy professional validation – too easy, really. Facile, often times. But I miss it nonetheless.

Instead, I find myself trying to work on four job applications at once; wondering what time to take a break. I have a routine of sorts, but all the same, I’m on dangerous territory. My fears can so easily take over. And it’s hard to keep my energy steady; it feels like I’m trying to land a big jet aircraft, keeping it level, getting that baby safely on the ground.

 

Thursday 30 October:

The idea of lying in bed on a weekday morning is only tempting up to a point. I get up and take a shower, then find that the boys have finished the yoghurt last night, eaten the kiwifruit I was going to have for breakfast, and used up all the milk as well. I’d say something if they were doing stupid stuff – but eating isn’t stupid. And Tau’s got enough issues around food without me adding to them.

It actually makes me happy, in a way. Happy and scared. Money’s tight – but I’m glad they’re here. So glad that sometimes I can’t even explain it. I have to learn how to work through everything, accept the contradictions and not be afraid

 

I spend eighty dollars replenishing the stock of groceries. Previously, I would have considered this a feat of great economy – now it’s just everyday life. And I’ve got no real action plan as yet. But the need for one is dawning on me.

So I write down all the key dates for the next few months and do a first attempt at adding things up. Straight away, I can see that at certain points along this timeline I’ll need to have my own payroll in place to cover a variety of income permutations – because nothing’s going to be set in stone. And there’s a whole four weeks in January where I need to generate a livable income without school.  It’s like playing the wild card. And yet, somehow I have to do it.

Objectively (if there’s any such thing), finance poses the biggest obstacle right now. But somehow I don’t see it that way. Instead, I feel like I got out of MC just in time.

Besides, I’m convinced it’s not another ‘career path’ I need. I didn’t quit teaching to work on someone else’s institutional goals, and I’m tired of pretending (not always in so many words) otherwise. I just have this feeling that if I can harness the slightly wobbly energies that are around me right now, I could catch a ride to something different.

 

Wednesday 5 November:

I fall asleep to the sound of fireworks outside, like intermittent popcorn at first. After a while it becomes a steady artillery barrage which is actually quite calming to the senses; any rises and falls in tone and volume being constant enough to soothe, rather than irritate my mind.

I drift off to sleep, trying to think of things I’m grateful for, and, “I’m not grateful for anything…” I murmur, at first. Then, “Ok, I’m grateful the boys have a place to go,” I remind myself, quietly and very sincerely.

 

Monday 10 November

The big problem has suddenly hit me out of ‘nowhere’ (I know, right?) The money’s going to run out in, ooooh about three weeks. When that fact dawns on me, I feel my heart kind of flip. For two reasons.

The first is straight panic stations. I can almost hear my own thoughts rushing and gabbling at me: ‘Maan-you’re-such-an-idiot-why-did-you-leave-MC-how-could-anyone-be-so-out-of-touch-with-reality-did-you-really-think-you-could-just-snap-your-fingers-to-get-a-job-and-why-haven’t-you-been-trying-harder-you-are-really-a-dumb-bitch…’ and so on.

The second is a moment of sparkling curiosity which kicks in right when I need it: ‘Oh, I made it this far! I’m here, at the crossroads!’

And both of these feelings flick-flack me up and down like a fish caught and swiveling.

 

Tuesday 11 November:

I stroll past all the cafes at the mall, thinking how good it would be if I could get a coffee just for no reason. There’s two dollars in my account – so when I get home I make one instead.

Trying to stay in the present: There’s food in the fridge, and gas in the car. Right in this moment, I’m not dependent on anyone.

I do need a job though. I need to tie these two; no, three things together: happiness and work and financial security. It’s weird how I’ve always had them two at a time, never all together. The notion of work at all – well, it needs to mean something quite different from the way I’ve always interpreted it. Which until now, has been like this:

Happiness + work ≠ financial security

Work + financial security ≠ happiness

But happiness + financial security has, up to now, seemed an impossible conjunction. It’s just figuring out how to get all three things stacked up. What’s the equation?

 

Rogue energies

Friday 26 September, 2014:

Kendrick Lamar through the speakers, news on TV, books and lappy out on the kitchen table. I like mornings; going to work and shit.

Get home again to find three DVDs and a note on the table: ‘Miss will you be able to drop these dvd’s off before you go gym plez. MISS wel B N CLANCY THANKS MISS 🙂 an miss we can’t find the pad locks’.

I carry out this request, then hit the gym. Come back and warm up some leftover chicken curry and rice, which has evidently been mined for its chicken, and is now almost vegetarian.

 

Around 10, Tau texts to see if I can pick them up, they’ll start walking along Carthill Rd. I go collect them and we head back via the shops at Municipal, where Tau does a long and complicated tally of his finances before ordering chicken and chips. They want to buy me takeout as well, and though I keep on explaining I’ve already eaten, this only serves to mystify them (despite the lateness of the hour) and intensify their efforts at persuading me otherwise.

I can’t help but laugh a little bit, despite my worry at their overall state. Both of them are so drunk that it isn’t really funny at all, stumbling around and “m’bro’ing” everyone out on the street.

 

Back in the car, I’m barely able to engage in the general conversation. I’m just trying to stay one step ahead (thinking of the potential for things go awry) – and I feel slightly resentful, too. Not at coming out to pick them up, but at having to absorb all these rogue energies. I can’t tell them they’re being dicks, even in jest. Tau and Leroi wouldn’t cope with that right now. It would just get them all upset, which is not the way to roll with drunk people.

So I put up with them going on fulsomely about everyone and everything, all the way home. I’m quiet and, I guess, reserved – which only makes them more garrulous in their approach; trying to make me happy, I think.

 

The minute we get home, Tau realizes he forgot to pick up a foil (which he already paid Kost for) and so out we go to Clancy again – Leroi stays back to make a start on the takeaways. And as soon as Tau’s on his own with me, everything just comes tumbling out. Because he’s so drunk, there is almost no caution in his approach. I can see (and he even says at one point) that he trusts me enough to talk about certain things. So I can’t keep running that ‘polite’ strategy anymore, holding the vibe at arm’s length.

“Well, it’s good you want to tell me, Tau,” I say.” But I’d listen anytime. You don’t have to get drunk first.”

“It’s hard to talk about it,” Tau says. “I don’t like saying things to people.” He thinks about this and reconsiders his words. “Except you, Miss,” he clarifies.

 

So… all the way to Clancy and back again, Tau talks. First, about the way he wrestles with his conscience. It makes me think of that ‘two wolves’ story, maybe one day I’ll show it to him.

Next he tells me he had another bad day at course today. He and Leroi left early and went home, because Tau was getting aggro with everyone all day long.

“It’s ok, Tau,” I tell him. “If that’s how you were feeling, then you did the right thing going home early.”

And he looks momentarily soothed by this.

 

Then he confesses he almost hit Maxwell – it was at their last counselling session, when Max mentioned Sheree.

“I know my mum’s doing dumb stuff,” Tau says in frustration. “I know she’s doing the wrong things – no-one has to tell me that, I can see it for myself. I

I nod and he goes on: “I wanted to just hook him. But I didn’t – cos we’re getting paid more to go to counselling.”

“That’s not the only reason,” I suggest.

“Yeah, I know,” Tau agrees reluctantly. He shakes his head, saying, “Max’s taught me heaps. And… I like him. I couldn’t hit him – but I did want to.”

“It’s not unexpected though, Tau,” I say. “Counselling can bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Honestly, Max wouldn’t have been surprised if you felt upset. I’m sure he expected it, and knew what to do.

“I think he felt… scared, for a second,” Tau says. He sounds guilty at the thought. “I think that’s why we finished the session early. He just went all quiet, and then he said, ‘Ok, let’s wind this up.’”

“Yup,” I say, getting it. “That makes sense. But, the thing is, Tau – you didn’t hit him. You did the right thing, and you got through it. I’m glad you’ve told me.”

Tau manages a smile, and I think I understand now why Max seemed more reticent than normal last Sunday, when I went to get those forms signed. He was almost… a touch abrupt when talking about Tau.

 

By the time we get back, Tau has a slightly jolty expression of relief, to have gotten at least some of these worries off his chest. I think he’s about to say more, too – but for the fact that Leroi arrives straight out of the sleepout, to celebrate the arrival of the foil.

“You both need a sesh,” I sigh. “Go on then, and I’ll go make a cuppa tea.”

They laugh, tickled by this. “Cuppa tea…” echoes Leroi. “Should have a sesh too, Miss.”

“Hell no,” I tell them. “Someone has to stay straight, round here.”

“Haard.”

 

I come back out with my tea, and we talk, Tau circles back and forth, sometimes bestowing a hug upon me as he completes each tour of the sleepout. “I don’t know how to explain it Miss… I just don’t know how to explain it,” he repeats.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“When I see my family, and they say, oh we’re here for you, your family’s here for you, I feel like telling them – that’s nothing compared to this.” He looks at me and shook his head. “I can’t explain it Miss, I don’t know how to say it. But I just don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have anywhere to go; if I didn’t have you, didn’t have… this.” He holds one arm up to demonstrate, then embraces me, saying, “I love you like family, Miss.”

“Me too, Tau,” I tell him. “I’m here for you through thick and thin.”

“If I was rich…” Tau begins again, dreamily. “If I won Lotto, I’d give you a million dollars Miss, straight up.”

A grown ass woman

Monday 8 September, 2014:

I remember how Kepaoa used to say, “If anything happens, just text me – I’m only a suburb away.”

Words. Because on Saturday, I was facing things alone. My phone losing charge in the bedroom; it might as well have been a suburb away too. And even if I’d had it right in my hand, there was no Kepaoa to call in the middle of the night. So I stood my ground – I didn’t once let myself become afraid. It’s only now I feel kind of scared, kind of sick about it all.

I’ve just about decided to take the day off when I get a text from the agency. So I accept the job, and get out of bed.

 

Afterwards, I reflect that it’s lucky I didn’t know I’d be teaching drama all day; that’s some pretty out-of-it relief: warm up games, impromptu performances, and all the rest of it. But I don’t really mind. All care and no responsibility – and sometimes it’s ‘no care and no responsibility’.

The daily contradictions don’t stay on my mind for long, with substitute teaching. It doesn’t really matter whether things go good, bad, or indifferent. It wasn’t like that when I had a permanent teaching job. The dissonance rubbed away at me all the time. Of course the feeling’s still there… it just has less of an impact, I guess.

 

This evening I get a text from Rose: Leroi is still here, sorry about all the trouble I know how you are feeling.

I’m glad he’s still with his Nan. I remember one time La-Verne said (rather glibly and irritating me) that the family was a ‘package deal’. But that’s just the point – they aren’t a package deal. I’ll do whatever I can reasonably do. But I know I can’t do for everyone what I’ll do for Tau.

And as well, nothing’s been cleared from the weekend. I’m still kind of upset with Leroi – but it’s Sheree I’m really angry with. I’m sick of the way she wants to be babied when something goes wrong, like she’s still a little kid, when she’s a grown ass woman.

 

Tuesday 9 September:

I get a text from Leroi tonight, which means I have to make a decision:

Hi mis me Leroi I feel so terrible for what ive done im so sry for my behaviour mis iknow that waz totally unexceptable towards you and  urv done so much for us more then anyone and idont want ruin the progress me and tau have made at course or let anyone down. please cud i come bak?  ican understand if u don’t want me there. but i promiss u miss that will never happen again, and ipromiss there will be no more drinking ever miss hope u cn forgive me.

I think it over for a while.  I know Leroi’s young, and I tell myself he’s allowed to make mistakes. Still, the way he turned on Tau really shook me. Well, where’s the loyalty now? I ask myself.

It takes me ages to reply and poor Leroi must be worried, he sends a few of those ‘Miss?’ texts as he waits. Eventually, I decide: I tell him he can come back

 

Wednesday 10 September:

Everything goes ok, but at the same time I can see that the boys are slightly anxious and on their best behavior – especially Leroi. You know, just being that extra bit more polite. They’ve had a good day at course and want to shout dinner, which is nice. Even so, we’re aware of recent events, so it feels a little awkward. Leroi asks if he can take a drink out of the fridge; that kind of thing. It’s all kind of tiring. Not in a bad way, just… in a way.

 

Thursday 11 September

I miss a call from the agency and debate with myself over whether to ring them back or not.  I eventually decide I’d rather crawl over broken glass than go do a day’s substitute teaching today. I don’t know why, because it isn’t that bad. But really? – I ask myself. Did I quit teaching at MC just so I can keep doing the same old thing somewhere different?

Bang goes another 230 bucks (that’s about what it is after tax), but I just can’t do it today. And I even packed up my lunch, too. Oh well.

 

Friday 12 September

Pretty crap weather out – and I’m supposed to be teaching PE all day. But I see a narrow window of opportunity to be seized, as the relief coordinator at Carthill High comes out with the timetables. “Which one do you want?” she asks the assembled group of substitute teachers, vaguely proffering a couple of sheets towards two of us. One of these looks to be Junior PE from start to finish; the other has a mix of PE and other subjects. I see Samoan 301 in period 1, English 101 in period 2… “I’ll take this one,” I tell her.

The other reliever, who has waited too long and now hovers just behind me, says uncertainly, “I was told I was having English…”

The relief coordinator looks a touch exasperated at this, saying, “We’ve asked for eight relievers and we’ve only got six. I’ve got all this internal cover to do as well…”

So off I go to 13 Samoan.

 

Saturday 13 September

I get up to make a cuppa tea and some toast, thinking how this time last week, Sheree was here and clinging like a leech to the boys. And this time Sunday, I was still outside with Leroi as the sun came up.

It doesn’t sound nice to write that Sheree’s clinging like a leech. But ‘nice’ is not where I need to be at present.

 

Friday 19 September:

My evening doesn’t work out quite as planned. Because after school, where am I? At the doctor – waiting two whole hours to get Tau’s  forms filled. And where’s Tau? Out at Clancy with the boys, who’ve come to pick him and Leroi up. And why do I do it? Because I can’t not try. Sometimes I wonder at myself, though. I question my sanity, sitting there in the waiting room, having already been told by one of the receptionists that the doctor (not being Tau’s regular GP) might not be able to sign the forms without his actual presence. She shrugs, not unsympathetically, saying, “Try if you want. But I can’t guarantee it.”

 

Admittedly Tau had tried too, earlier on in the day (they told him to come back later; there was only one doctor on). So I wait patiently, talking with a man called Wiremu – who turns out to have Alzheimer’s – about his army days. His wife (Joy is her name), comes out from her consultation and sees us, flurries straight over to ask if he’s been bothering me.

They affect me greatly, Joy and Wiremu. His voice has the unmistakable tone and oratorical style of a native speaker of Te Reo. She’s Pakeha. He remembers the old days, she tells me; his army days. All the people, all the places – he served in Malaya and Singapore. He forgets the things that happened a few minutes ago. They married in 1960 and have been living in Municipal for 48 years.

He doesn’t drink beer anymore, doesn’t go out in the evening nowadays. And every afternoon, he says to her, “Mum, can I have an ice cream,” and she makes him a big one. He eats it in the room, and five minutes later, he asks, “Mum, can I have an ice cream.”

“You’ve already had one,” she tells him.

“When did I have one?” he asks. “I didn’t have an ice cream.” He insists, and gets bad tempered, argumentative. “He takes it out on me,” Belle tells me.

“It must be very hard on you,” I say.

“It is,” she replied. “Sometimes it’s like that all day long.”

She doesn’t have a single complaint to make about her situation – she’s just tired, and acknowledges it. I’ve already heard her coughing in the doctor’s room. She has high blood pressure, and edema in her legs (cellulitis, she says, showing me the purple swelling).

 

At 5:45 I come away with Tau’s signed paperwork. The boys are still up at Clancy, of course. I have a feeling they’re going to ask me if they can have a few cans here again, sometime soon. I don’t know how I’ll play it when they do. It’s not a ‘never again.’ (despite Leroi’s text hyperbole). It’s just… I do need to set boundaries.

 

 

The first birds singing

It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver.  Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.

Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.

But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”

He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.

“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.

A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”

I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.

Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.

 

After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.

“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”

Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.

“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”

“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.

I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”

 

“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.

“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.”  Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”

I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.

 

After that thought, words come easier to me.  “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.

“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”

“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.

I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.

 

I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”

Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”

Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.

 

At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.

“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.

“What?” he groans.

“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”

“Then go get a blanket.”

“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.

“How come?” asks Leroi.

“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”

“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.

 

We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.

“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.

As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.

“Hello,” says a voice.

“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”

“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.

 

Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.

“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.

“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”

“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”

“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.

 

The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.

Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.

“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”

Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.

 

Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”

“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”

So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”

“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.

“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.

“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.

Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.

 

By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.

“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”

“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”

“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”

“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.

I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain.  I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.