Wednesday 7 August, 2013:
Last night, Sheree asks me if she can stay over again. I’m ok with it, I guess. Sheree and I have been getting on good, and it was fine the other time she stayed… so why not?
I make dinner and we just hang out and talk – and I go to bed feeling like things are alright. And they are. Though in my heart there’s also this tiny incipient feeling that Sheree’s getting used to this, she likes it, and am I algood with that? I am… and also it kind of makes me anxious. Because there are so many things to take into account.
In the morning, while I get ready for work, Sheree lays on ‘Kepaoa’s’ couch with the TV tuned to some David Attenborough documentary, his comforting and reassuring tone providing the backdrop for our conversation.
We leave around 8, and I drop her off at Municipal on the way to school – it’s payday for the both of us. Pick up a coffee from the gas station, then go to Staff Professional Development, where I edit the 13 History essay drafts while listening to the DP’s crack on about some new whole-school initiative called ‘PB4L’ (Positive Behaviour for Learning). Their pitch comes complete with a patronizingly simplistic level of analysis, putting me in a bad mood. I resent being told that ‘some kids come from a home environment which may be very different from the one they find at school’. Like really? Oh my gosh, fuck teachers, fuck ‘em all – that’s what I think as I sit there and try not to let the trite, stupid words annoy and bother my mind.
I’m thinking about my home environment, too. I think to myself – why are we supposed to be the mouthpieces of white, middle class values? And I feel sick at heart, at the stupidity and falseness of school and its assumptions.
PD finishes a few minutes over time, and me and Ross are the only ones who leave, the rest of the staff politely remaining to watch a skit which the PB4L ‘team’ have put together for our edification.
So I get to my first class on time (10 Social – I can take it or leave it, guess I’d rather leave it), and then just do the whole, long, back-to-back day. There are some ok moments (tutor is one, my last term’s outburst seems to have heralded in a period of genuine rapprochement with the old guard – Andre et al.)
And then, when school finishes, I get a text from Sheree, asking if she can stay one more night.
I reply, saying it’s ok and I’ll be home soon.
Sheree texts back, says she’s cooking tea for us.
Everything is ok at first, when I get home. Tau is sitting out on the deck, in the sun, we have a little talk, just… you know, nothing in particular. And I go inside. It takes me a minute to register that something is different. The furniture, and other things, have been shifted around. Couches arranged at an angle, coffee table switched to one side. Table and chairs pulled out from the wall and rearranged. Little things moved: pictures and ornaments. I just stand there, and my heart kind of drops. It feels – all wrong to me. Like it isn’t my house anymore. And Sheree sings out from the kitchen, “Hi Miss, how was your day?”
“Ok thanks,” I say mechanically, and then, “Sheree… you’ve changed the furniture around.”
“Yes,” Sheree says, easily, and then, I think sensing something in my tone, “Is that ok?”
“Um… not really,” I murmur, feeling my words kind of tail away. As I speak, I’m already pushing the couch with one distracted hand; shifting a chair with the other.
Sheree comes out from the kitchen, and sees that I’m dismayed. “I’m sorry, Miss,” she says, her face falling. “Here, I’ll put everything back.” And she begins to move the table.
“It’s ok,” I say, my breath bumping out. “It just… feels funny, that’s all.”
“I’m sorry, Miss,” she says again, sincerely.
“I know, it’s ok… it’s ok,” is all I can say. And then I add, “I would never move things around in your house, Sheree.”
I want to cry at her – Don’t call me Miss, I hate being called Miss. But I don’t. I just push furniture, quietly, and Sheree flees out to the deck.
Then I go to my room and shut the door, and sit on my bed. My body is trembling, and I’m not even sure why. I wish so bad that Kepaoa was here. But: no-one cares about me, I think. No-one cares about me.
And then I go to the gym. Sheree and Tau are standing there as I go out, and we keep our eyes averted from one another. I don’t say anything, and neither do they. I want to, but don’t say – Go away, go away. It’s because I feel ashamed though, as if all of a sudden my house isn’t good enough for them. And I want Tau to care, and to talk to me, and I know it’s not going to happen. That’s like asking the least likely person to begin the process of communication.
For the first time ever, I hate the gym. I try doing my usual pump class, but tonight the instructor plays a lot of rock tracks, which aren’t my thing at the best of times. I have no energy and can find no motivation in the music. I manage to drift my way through the warm up, legs, chest, and back routines. Then I lose interest during the triceps, think ‘fuck off’ at the bicep track – and leave, as the lunges begin. And I go drive around for a while.
The front door is locked and the lights are off, when I get home. I walk past the sleepout, where out of the corner of my eye I can see a mattress on the floor: Sheree is obviously bunking down there for the night. I don’t know if anyone’s awake, but the door is ajar, so I guess so. And no-one speaks as I go by, so I don’t want to stop and stare in. I feel like a stranger in my own home.
In the house, Sheree’s clothes and stuff have evidently been moved out there too. It feels to me like a demarcation, and my heart just kind of squeezes and jumps, and then aches. I try to sit and rest, but I flutter up and down a couple of times, then just stand, wondering what to do.
My next thought is to try and sleep, but I’m sure that will be impossible. I text Sheree, asking if she can come talk for a minute. No reply – so I dial her number, this time she answers, saying yes, she’ll come inside.
We sit on the corners of the couches, facing one another obliquely. Me sitting cross legged, Sheree with her legs drawn up underneath her. I feel so tense I think I might snap, and Sheree just looks kind of crumpled, tired.
I try to tell her how it feels – coming home and seeing that they’ve packed up and gone to the sleepout. Like… I’m not at home anymore. Like the shed is ‘theirs’ and I’m not welcome. How it makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward, and kind of afraid. And how I can’t handle the silence.
The whole time I’m kind of trembling. My body is actually shaking, and quivering. Sheree says, “I’ve never seen you like this… Miss?”
“Don’t call me Miss,” I say, in desperation. “I don’t like being called Miss. It makes me feel like all I am is some kind of teacher person. Like that’s all I am, to you.”
Even just writing about this now makes me want to weep. Sheree’s defeated look, as she says, “Do you really feel like that?”
“Yes… yes I do,” I tell her, and a couple of quiet tears slide down my cheeks, but I know I won’t cry, not really. I keep the rest of my tears back, and hold myself as still as I can, which is why I keep on shivering, I think.
And I tell Sheree, “I thought we were friends. I thought there was a connection between us. But when I came home tonight and found you all out in the shed, I knew I was kidding myself. It just brought it home to me, all of a sudden.” I add, “Why should you care about me? – I’m not family.”
“It’s not like that,” Sheree says. She looks so unhappy. “I don’t feel that way at all.”
“I don’t know,” I say, shrugging. “It doesn’t really matter. Cos… all I am is a roof. At the end of the day, I know that’s all I am. I may as well face it.”
And I tell her, “I can’t have all of you staying in the sleepout like this. It’s ok tonight, but don’t ask me again. I can’t handle it – being a stranger here, in my own house. I just can’t. You can’t ask me to.”
And she just nods. I’m expecting her to get mad with me at some point, I guess. Have one of her famed outbursts. But she doesn’t. She just sits there, looking at me with an expression of shock, I think. Keeps saying she’s never seen me this way before. Seen me upset like this.
“It’s like I’m the only one not allowed to have feelings…” I stumble on the words. “Everyone else is allowed to get upset – but I’ve got to be this calm person, the whole time. And I try to stay calm for Tau, ohh you know I do. But this, tonight, this is just too much. I can’t do it anymore. You are not the only ones with feelings. I’m not just some dumb, stupid, teacher!” I spit out the hated word.
I could try and write about what Sheree says – she handles it ok, actually. She’s pretty honest, and humble. But I don’t want to write about that, just now. I feel so hurt. And that feeling won’t go away – of being cut out.
After we talk, we go out for a smoke in the cold night air. We just sit close and talk, and puff our cigarettes. About halfway through mine, I feel dizzy. Then I just get that tired, poisoned, sick feeling.
We give each other a little squeeze and pat one another’s shoulders, before Sheree goes back to the sleepout. I do care about her – but I don’t have those illusions anymore about how it ought to be. I know they’re only here because they got nowhere else to go. And at least I know that. But at the same time, I can’t be trampled on either. I just can’t handle it anymore, not even to have the feeling of being loved or cared for.
I kind of creep back inside, and lie on the couch for a bit, feeling zonked from the cig and the tiredness and the unhappiness. My stomach heaves, and my breath huffs, but eventually I’m able to totter to the shower, where I soap my skin, wash my hair. Then I topple onto my bed, and sleep until the alarm wakes me at 6.
“Love you. See you in the morning,” Sheree says to me, out there. But in the morning, she never comes in.
When I get home from school, they’ve gone – Sheree, Tau and Leroi.