I approve

Wednesday 27 August, 2014

I teach year 7 today – Carthill has a senior and a junior campus  – just for an hour. And, just for an hour, it’s cool. The most fun part is reading through their stories (‘narratives’, as they refer to them), aloud, on a corner couch to which they all flock with me. I put on my best storytelling voice (channeling Kuli here) with great effect. Slightly deadpan delivery, emphasis on certain off-beat syllables, especially when coming to the names they’ve given their characters: Keneti, Highfive, Myshon… I take a punt and pronounce this as ‘Mah’Shaun’, causing great hilarity amongst the audience.

“It’s not ‘Mah’Shaun’, it’s ‘Mission’, Miss,” they giggle, collapsing around me on the sofa.

“Well, I say it Mah’Shaun,” I tell them, straight-faced.

Mission,” they snort.

“Sad, Miss – that’s my name!” one boy says.

“Are you Mission?” I ask him.

“Yes.”

“Oops,” I say, making them all crack up again.

It’s fun – and at the same time I can only get away with being there for an hour. I know I couldn’t handle narratives, and learning intentions, and success criteria all day long. I kind of wish I could, but I’d only end up a grumpy bitch, perplexing these eleven and twelve year olds.

 

When I get home, Tau tells me that a new intake of students had their orientation today. When they visited his class, the teacher showed them Tau’s book as an exemplar.

“Oh my gosh Tau,” I say. “I bet yours was the best book there, and that’s why he picked it.”

An expression of soft and happy pride comes into Tau’s eyes as he reflects, “I don’t think anything like that’s ever happened to me before…”

“I’m so proud of you,” I tell him, just stroking his arm for a second.

 

Wednesday 3 September:

There’s a text from the agency this morning: Do you want a challenge in the PE area at Bream for the day?

First I dick around with trying to say ‘no’ politely by text, then I think better of it and reply with a yes. 230 bucks is 230 bucks, and really I can’t afford to mind what subject I teach, or what year level. My pay is, unsurprisingly, 800 dollars down from the norm, after working seven out of ten days in the last fortnight – and with only five of the days processed yet.

Seeing as there’s no non-contacts for relievers, I just take downtime wherever I can find it. I even fall asleep in the car during lunch break today (fifty minutes at Bream – so long it might as well be a holiday, compared to Municipal’s twenty five).

 

Thursday 28 August

Back to Carthill again today. Honest, I don’t want to go teach, not even a little bit. I just keep telling myself: 230 dollars. And the kids are nice – it’s not that. I just feel like I left MC for what? And I don’t know at all.

Speaking of money, it’s been on my mind lately that Tau borrows twenty bucks here and there, but sometimes forgets to pay it back. Normally I wouldn’t particularly care, but I’m starting to question myself on it. First of all, my boundaries with Tau are obviously (even to me), somewhat flexible, so I can’t blame him for testing them, even though I’m sure it’s not deliberate. But secondly, my pay could be down by nearly half this time – even if I do get work tomorrow.

I’m so used to looking after Tau’s tender feelings, but right now I’m more worried about the bills. I can’t seem to counter a certain resentfulness inside me. I keep thinking: Really? They get (between them) over 400 dollars a week. No rent to pay, no bills. And Tau can’t pay me back a twenty dollar loan?

 

Then I just sigh, and try to unravel my own tangled up feelings a little more. First off, I tell myself, I know the boys do have things to do with their money. Each of them saves fifty dollars a week towards a bond (for when Sheree gets a house); their Nan holds it so that they don’t touch it. They help Sheree out with other stuff, too. And every Wednesday, they bring home groceries from the supermarket, looking proud of themselves as they unpack bags to stock my fridge.

Of course there’s also weed (being totally realistic, this must cost them twenty a day at least), and smokes (another forty dollars a week). Essentials, for now, anyway. And it’s a kit better than being on the synthetics.

Plus they’re trying so hard with course.  I remember something else Tau said the other day. He was telling me how it had started to feel good having a daily routine; working hard. “I like that feeling,” he said. “It’s better than any drug.”

And to hear him say that –  well, it made me want to jump for joy.

 

Then I think how Tau can relax here; he’s told me so himself. Sometimes I think he even feels happy and safe, at least for a little while. And I guess I realize right then – it’s probably been the only time in Tau’s life he’s ever been able to relax a little bit about either food or money. And maybe that’s why he hasn’t remembered about borrowing twenty from me here or there.

I wish I could see myself the way I see Tau. I always see him through loving eyes: I wish I could do that with myself too. And sometimes I think, Well, couldn’t I?

 

Friday 29 August

Lying in bed this evening, I yawn, having a singular moment where I think, “I approve.” Not of substitute teaching per se, but of whatever it is I’m trying to do. And you know, I really don’t mind substitute teaching. Temperamentally, I like the ebb and flow. Sometimes I miss having regular classes and knowing the kids, but I can assure you I don’t miss having to talk shit on my own behalf. It makes it easier, somehow, to know that I’m supposed to be fronting.

Though of course, it’s tiring to never know if I have a job lined up ahead of time. It makes my brain tick and tock over money.

I fall asleep listening to rap battles outside my window. Leroi’s staccato laugh and Tau’s softer one.

 

 

Processing the story

Friday 15 August, 2014:

On the positive side, I left MC with some grace, which was probably more than I’d expected of myself. But that was three weeks ago, and – to put it in a nutshell – I can see substitute teaching is definitely not ‘it’.  Not only that, but the agency has been pretty hit and miss with offers of work so far, and just how I’m planning to make rent and bills is, at present, something of a mystery to me.

As well as that, not being able to write for three weeks (no longer having the school laptop) has been a special torture all of its own. At times I felt like I didn’t know who I was, having no way of processing the story, so to speak.

Today though, I bought my new laptop, installed Chrome, and Dropbox, and opened up a new document – and so here I am once more.

 

Saturday 16 August:

The boys have been drunk as lords all day – up at Clancy, with Kost and Zion. Admittedly, Tau’s been trying to avoid the whole ‘drinking with the boys’ buzz lately. But when Kost turns up (unannounced) to collect them, they feel duty bound to go.

Then they feel duty bound to stay – it’s all a bit of a predicament – and by the time I arrive to collect them, Leroi’s vomiting against the wall.

“Don’t throw up in my car, Leroi,” I tell him as he gets in. “If you feel sick let me know and I’ll stop, ok?”

“Ok Miss,” says Leroi. He looks alright now, though.

 

All the way home, Tau talks to me with a tender note in his voice that indicates both happiness and a little ambivalence about the day’s events. Being Tau and intoxicated, all sorts of things tumble out: a few worries that have been on his mind, and a few triumphs as well. He tells me all about their new course; he says he likes the work, and he gets it, and he passed the first assessment last week. The light in his eyes makes me want to cry a little bit. Many times I’ve been scared for Tau, so to see and hear him feeling happy and successful packs an emotional punch. But at the same time, I’m aware that the situation – especially in light of today’s drinking – just isn’t stable yet.

The boys settle in to watch DVD’s and I go and crash on Kepaoa’s couch (well, it used to be), where I pay some intermittent attention to the 20th anniversary screening of Once Were Warriors, before falling asleep with a kind of equilibrium in my heart.

 

Monday 18 August:

Objectively (or at least according to all sensible opinion) I should be trying to get as much relief work as possible. And yet I didn’t answer my phone when it rang just now. It looked like one of the agency numbers (landline, 3-something), and I let it ring. For what? For the chance to work for free. That is to say, I’m going to Winz with the boys, to help them sort out their course fees.

Actually, I know I’m going to do more work today than if I was at school, not less. Last Thursday at Carthill High I was bored for most of the day; really it was just babysitting. And yet I’ll get the $230 or whatever it is… so that’s ‘real’ work, right?

Everything feels so precarious that it freaks me out. I tell myself things are ok for the next two weeks, and if I get just three days a week relief work I can pretty much break even.

I haven’t said anything of this to Tau and Leroi, I don’t want them to worry about money on top of all their other worries. At least, that’s part of it – but just as much, I want to believe that I can do this, that I got the timing right – that I made my ship strong enough. Still, my mind flutters and panics. Sometimes I feel that panic migrating all the way down to sit dankly in my chest for a while, and then I doubt myself; I doubt myself so much.

 

Tuesday 19 August:

I get up at 6 o’clock, get ready for work and eat breakfast. Wait for the phone call or text that never eventuates. Time ticks by, and I take the lunch out of my bag and put it back on the counter.

Tau and Leroi wave goodbye as they leave for their course. Good for them – and here I sit. Half of me wishes I was back at MC, Tuesday wasn’t a bad day there: 12 History, 10 Social.

But I also remember how much I resisted it, with every cell in my body. Having to stand there and talk smack about smack. Not wanting that authority, resenting it so bad. And wondering where a different authority might come from. Remembering when I felt strong and brave with my campaninos – with Slade, last man out. A time a place.

 

I just sit there for a while, thinking about other times and places, and wondering what any of it really means. Memories get all jumbled up in my mind: us as kids, and my mum and dad. They tried so hard, I think to myself. They really tried. And does any of it last? I don’t know the answer to that one. Then I think of myself, and how I’ve tried to make something out of a time and place. But time can’t be clutched at; can’t be made to stay in one place forever. It just can’t do that. That isn’t the way it works. Even though people try and try.

I know there’s a trick to all of this. I call it a ‘trick’ but it’s more like a pattern to rearrange; an orbit to jump. Because times and places shift, and you have to jump, so as not to get left behind when it happens. That’s what I know, and maybe it’s going to be alright after all. All of it, I mean. Maybe somewhere, my mum’s alright now. Maybe it didn’t ‘end’ badly; maybe it didn’t end at all. And maybe Scott’s going to be alright too, huh. One day.

But right now, I have this time and place, and I want to call the moon down to lie in my arms.

 

Wednesday 20 August:

My pay came in last night. It’s only a few hundred dollars, instead of the familiar fortnightly salary. Those two days at Carthill haven’t even been processed yet. And what am I going to do?

In a way, I could care less what school it is right now; I just want to be earning. But this morning I hit rush hour traffic all the way to the city, do my stint at some private language college, then come straight back out to Municipal (again with cars queued up along the motorway). It’s getting dark, and it’s cold, and I’m planning to chuck dinner on straight away. But I hear footsteps outside, and then Sheree’s voice – and my heart sinks.

I drift around a while, wondering what to do. I’m hungry, and the boys will be too, but I don’t want to make dinner now, not when Sheree’s here. I think of Kepaoa – and just the way I always felt so dang normal when he was around. I wish he was here right now, so that those stray sounds contained some comforting inner pattern of homeliness and affection, instead of just being voices from someone else’s camp.

 

At 9 o’clock I go knock on the sleepout door, and find Sheree still lying there on the couch like the whole place is under the rule of Tau. I can’t help but be irked by the fact that she doesn’t even acknowledge me unless I go out there myself. But I don’t say anything; I tell myself this is because I don’t want to make the boys feel bad.

After a few moments of polite conversation, Tau and Leroi (wisely) ask if I could give Sheree a lift back to their uncle’s. Indeed I could, and do. But I also sense that I’ve cringed away from clearing my boundaries.

It’s 10 when I get back – and so I never make dinner, just fix a sandwich for myself and pack up another ‘for work tomorrow’ – I think, crossing my fingers.

Distance

Tuesday 22 July, 2014:

Funny, but it’s not so bad being back at work this week. For some reason I’m quite uninclined to create unnecessary dramas; in fact I’m on a kind of ‘days gone by’ buzz which is not unpleasant. Anyway, I’m grateful to whatever impetus is allowing me to distance myself from things a little more.

A lot of times today, I miss Kepaoa and feel alright at the same time. Just as I said, I’m uninclined to cause dramas, even in my own mind.

 

Thursday 24 July:

9 Social – I get all the bro hugs – and some girl hugs too.

Obey begins multi-tasking with peaceful joy: completing his ten ‘confidence questions’, and drawing with one of the graff books propped up in front of him.

But it makes me want to cry, a little bit, to see him so content. “Why are you leaving?” he keeps asking me quietly. “I don’t want you to go.”

At the end of class, he just comes up and says, “Miss? Can I get a hug?”

“Course you can,” I tell him, and we put our arms around one another. It isn’t really a bro hug this time, it’s kind of a goodbye.

 

I remember one of the other teachers saying to me one time, “I get on ok with Obey. But it’s his foul mouth that gets me so riled.”

“Obey?” I said, wonderingly. “Are you sure you mean Obey?”

“Oh yes,” she replied. “He can’t even go for a whole sentence without swearing. I’ve already made a pastoral note about it.”

And I’ve never heard Obey swear. Not even once.

 

Friday 25 July:

Tau and Leroi are truly pleased about the fact that I’ve booked them to look around another course on Tuesday morning – this one’s called ‘Aspire Institute’.

“I’m keen to go,” says Tau. “We need something positive.”

“Actually, this one sounds alright,” I tell them. “The lady on the phone said to tell you not to be nervous if you haven’t been studying for a while, there are heaps of other people there in the same boat.”

“Saaalid,”

“It does sound alright,” reflects Leroi.

“Well, I hope so,” I say. “But no pressure, we’re just there to take a look.

 

Wednesday 23 July:

Very weird how this week’s panning out at school. I can see the distinction between aspects of the job which I like and am good at, and other things I simply can’t accept or do. For the first time ever really, this contrast is standing out as if illuminated by some exact, momentary ray of sunlight.

But writing frustrates me. So, so much to say, and right now that just seems way beyond my capabilities. Just writing these few lines is like composing some orchestral score: letters advance and retreat; are typed and deleted, placed back and forward in versions on a theme. Thirty minutes on – and I’ve barely said a thing.

It’s not exactly that I ‘don’t want to’ write, I just think, well, I can’t – obviously. I can’t tell it, I don’t know how. I started it off and I don’t know how to keep going without telling secrets; messing with things that I don’t have the skill to reveal.

I’ve said it probably a hundred times already: That thing. That two-part, indefinable thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it. But I’m wrapped into it like a hand in a glove. And yet sometimes I just want to give up.

Personal

Wednesday 16 July, 2014:

Well, I’m employed (pending the standard reference checks). The interview at the agency goes fine – the manager makes me a cup of tea and we just chat.

And the idea of relief teaching, or for a while anyway, doesn’t irk me the way a permanent position would. I’m selling my skills only – like a mercenary – and not my values.

 

This evening Tau and Leroi are drinking. Admittedly it’s just an eight pack of Cody’s, and Tau wants to discuss it with me first – which I appreciate. But still, the potential for disturbance exists; no point in denying it. I guess I’m trying to ‘minimize harm’, as Vailea Poe once put it, by agreeing they can have a drink in the sleepout. Because the alternative (which is also discussed, and rejected) is to drink round at their uncle’s, with Sheree. Tau and Leroi don’t like that idea any more than I do.

But when Tau says they ‘promise’ to be good, I just sigh to myself.

“You can’t really promise that, Tau.” I say. “No-one can. Oh, I know you mean it, and I’m happy we’re even talking about it at all. But…” and then, I actually do sigh, and so does Tau. “It’s just that with alcohol there aren’t any guarantees,” I finish.

The agreement is that it’s just the two of them – definitely not Sheree, and no-one else either.  That’s the least-risk scenario I can think of. I just hope they don’t finish up their four cans and want more. Oh, that’s a possibility, I know it. They can promise whatever they want, but they can’t control it past a certain point.

I’m trying pretty damn hard here, and sometimes I think I’m doing shit all wrong – but at the same time it’s not simple. It never seems to get any simpler; maybe it never will.

 

Tau and Leroi do keep to their word, tonight. They have their four cans each (it takes them a whole three hours), and then want to go get DVD’s. On the way to Video Ezy, Tau tells me that they’ve already turned down an invite to drink round at Clancy.

“We just told the boys we wanted to stay here tonight,” Tau informs me, without dismay.

“But was it hard to say no?” I ask.

“Not really,” Tau says. “I just tell myself, parties and shit’ll still be there. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Wow,” I say. “Tau – listen to you.”

“Hah, I know,” he admits. “It actually feels pretty good to think like this. I’ve never done it before, ever.” He mulls it over some more and concludes, “Yeah, I like having strategies, nowadays.”

 

Tau also tells me he’s been having ‘good dreams’ about his dad, “Where we’re all running around and happy and stuff,” he says. Not like the nightmares he used to have a few months back.

“I’m sure your dad’s watching over you,” I say, and Tau smiles. “Bet he’s sorted his shit out, up there.”

“Hard,” says Tau, in a contemplative way.

 

Something occurs to me, and “Tau?” I say, merely touching on the idea. “Have you ever talked to Maxwell about… have you ever told him about Robbie?”

“Nope,” Tau replies with a little sigh. “I never have. But I think about him a lot, think about that cunt at least once every day. And every time I do, wherever I am… I just do a quick Cipher tag, just with my finger.”

“True,” I say, quietly affirming him. “But you know, Tau, it might be a good idea to mention it to Max one day – it just might help to talk about all that stuff, sometime.”

“Haard,” says Tau again, and I can tell he isn’t ruling out the idea.

 

Friday 18 July

There’s a barbecue at Aunty Yvette’s, and I’ve just dropped the boys off there (straight from counselling – which bodes well, I’m hoping).

But of course they’re going to be drinking again. Even though Tau assures me it won’t be a late night.

“Just pace yourselves,” I tell them, as they hop out of the car, each with their box.

“We will,” says Tau, very sincerely.

 

I go home and sit, just think-think-thinking. I look at some job ads, and think some more, and get that shackled feeling I always get on reading them – even those that sound as if they should be right on target. Like the one that just came through my inbox, for a ‘Personal Advisor’ at a not-for-profit youth organization:

Based in our Waitakere office, your key competencies will include:

  • experience in working with young people
  • A sound knowledge of community resources and how to access information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services
  • Experience working with a range of cultures
  • Experience developing and facilitating the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs
  • Previous high level conflict resolution experience
  • Ability to critically analyse and problem solve
  • Ability to build strong relationships with peers and stakeholders
  • Hold a full and clean drivers licence

Apart from the fact that it’s way out west – it should be the perfect job for me. I mean, I have every single one of those key competencies, don’t I?

 

Well yes, but here’s the problem:

First, I’m not comfortable making an explicit or even tacit commitment to institutional values. Even when they come cloaked in words like Aroha and Whanaungatanga – the education system being a case in point.

Second, I’m not very good at working with people generically (a ‘caseload’ – or even a tutor group, for that matter), or categorically (‘youth who are at risk of poor outcomes’).

Third, I’m trying to decrease the amount of formal and predefined structure in my day, not increase it. I want structure, for sure. But I want the pattern to come from me: I want to be autonomous.

It interests me, this realization gradually dawning in my mind – that I don’t even want any of the jobs I’ve been applying for. And I keep coming back to the same question: Why do I apply for them at all? Is it because I think I’m not entitled to have the relationships I want? Should I accept a substitute version, filtered through some institution?

 

I consider what I did “today.” Though it could be any day, really.

Today, I did a whole lot of things that could be translated into those key competencies. I ‘worked with young people’ and ‘accessed information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services.’ I ‘worked with a a range of cultures’ and ‘developed and facilitated the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs.’ I showed ‘the ability to critically analyse and problem solve.’  I ‘built strong relationships with peers and stakeholders’.  I even held my ‘full and clean drivers licence’.

But none of it was a key competency at all. None of it was as part of a contract to any institution whatsoever. All of it was personal; the only thing that mattered was that it was a sincere and personal commitment to a few people I love and care for.

 

Saturday 19 July:

Tau rings. They’re still at Aunty Yvette’s, and he sounds alright; it seems like they’re ok. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s an additional day of celebrating going on for Scott’s birthday. Well, nothing I can do about it if there is.

Around 8:30pm, a car pulls up, and the boys get out and wave a bleary goodbye to someone. Turns out I was right – they’ve been drinking all day. I feel… uncomfortable, I guess. Things seem more like the way they used to be, which is something I never, ever want to see repeated.

Leroi comes straight in and says that Tau is going to throw up; he needs a bowl.  In Leroi’s opinion it isn’t so much from the drinking as from the big sesh they had on top of it.

I look around and find a suitable bowl. “I’ll wash it after,” Leroi tells me, which kind of makes me laugh – but only kind of. Because I don’t really feel like talking. Leroi’s still a bit drunk; he asks how my day’s been going at least three times. I reply politely and automatically. Meanwhile my mind’s going down an old track of stressing about money, while feeling resentful that they can drink for two days straight like it’s no big deal.

 

All night I watch dumb stuff on TV (truly, stuff I never watch; mostly interchangeable crime dramas), and just try to tune out. I doze awkwardly on the couch until I get cold. Then I just get up and go to bed – which is at least more comfortable.

But comfortable is not the right word to describe this feeling in my heart. It’s like how I ‘always’ feel anyway, but writ large. Scale factor 2 (at least).

Tick and frickin tock. Money, school, trying to write, trying to support the boys, not having a blueprint for how to do things without getting hustled. Oh, I wish I knew how to get calm and stay calm about it.

Really, it’s my mind which is difficult to harness. ‘Those of us with minds that are strong and wild’… where did I read that, long ago? I remember thinking of Tau – and then of myself too.

It’s not a bad thing, to have a mind that’s like that. But sometimes it’s like trying to catch a runaway horse.

 

Sunday 20 July

Pump class calms me down a bit – and I chuck extra weights on the bar for squats and biceps. Actually I work really hard for the whole entire time.

Afterwards I go take some cash out and get a pie at Municipal. There’s a guy sitting on the footpath asking for spare change, and I say to him, “Sorry, not today,” as I go past.

“Have a nice day anyway,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply.

Then, “Have you been doing some fitness this morning?” he enquires, conversationally.

“Yup,” I say, pausing for a moment.

“Thought so, I can tell you been doing fitness.” He adds, “You look healthy.”

For some reason it touches my heart a little bit, and on the way back from the bakery I give him five bucks out of my wallet. Hey, I think – I can still do what I want with my money. The thought gives me a quick moment of something like joy

Right then I see a little kid tug on her mum’s arm and point to the same guy. The mum pulls her daughter away into a shop, saying as she does so, “He looks like a strong young man, he could be out working…”

Whatever, I guess so. And yet it’s hardly ever that simple either.

Solace

Sunday 13 July, 2014:

Feeling a bit… ‘depressed’ today. It’s a word I don’t often use – but today it just seems to fit.

And stressed (now that’s a word I do often use). Less than three weeks – and then I’m flung to the four winds. Though I have an interview at the relief agency on Wednesday, and someone else (HR at a Private Training Provider) wants to have a phone discussion.

But all that isn’t really the main thing, today. I just feel sad. I think about how Tau and Leroi are here, and if they didn’t need to be here, they’d never even come; why would they come?

I know I’m letting… encouraging, almost, my mind to feel this way. That same old shotgun of regret and anxiety, blasting away from both barrels. And being cold and tired this morning doesn’t help.

So I go to the gym, which warms me up at least – it’s a very cold day.  Something stubborn gets me there, despite that useless feeling of ‘For why, for what?’  And I guess it’s better than not going.

When I get back the boys are inside watching TV. A few minutes after I come in, they go back out. And yes I know, they’re giving me space and everything. But it’s not space I want. It’s to be cared about (in general; I don’t even mean ‘by Tau and Leroi’) – and maybe that’s the real problem.

 

Monday 14 July:

Tau and Leroi’s visit to CAGS (the un-modestly named ‘Corporate Academy Group’) goes no better than ok. Actually CAGS is… frickin annoying, really. The whole place is annoying. A woman named Sharon, who interviews Tau and Leroi is annoying. The rules (no hats, no phones) are annoying too. And Tau and Leroi are nervous: “I was almost having a nervous breakdown!” Leroi says afterwards, and I don’t doubt it.

Sharon puts Tau on the spot with a number of personal questions about why he ‘hasn’t been doing anything’ (no recent education or training), and whether he has any criminal convictions. It isn’t so much the questions themselves – I suppose she has to ask them. It’s her interrogative but at the same time common-sense tone that irks me the most. Plus she asks me, “Who are you, where are you from?” I tell her that I’m Tau and Leroi’s high school teacher; that’s the only way to play it right back. I’m not about to disclose anything more sensitive than that, because she isn’t sensitive at all.

I do have to mention Scott though, otherwise the boys would be floundering. Tau alludes to ‘personal problems’ and she latches onto that, saying rather extravagantly, but with that same normalized sarcasm. “So – personal problems got in the way of you continuing your education for more than a year?”

That’s when I step in, and do a bit of explaining. God knows what she thinks about that –  and really I could care less.

But nonetheless, it just all adds to the anxious and doubtful feelings that Tau and Leroi already have. They haven’t done anything like this for ages, and as a first pass, it’s tricky.

 

Afterwards in the car, we discuss it at some length. Tau is quick to dismiss the whole idea at first, and Leroi follows his lead. Then Tau confides that he does feel like doing a course. He just thinks it would be haaaaaard. And this one looks real strict; too strict – as well as too ‘flash.’ And then there is that perennial problem of ‘the overalls’.

When Tau brings up the overalls, I can see he’s feeling safe enough to talk about stuff now. I’d never discount the significance to Tau of wearing overalls. Nor would Leroi, although he himself is completely untroubled by the prospect.

“If they gave me overalls and they didn’t fit… I’d just take off,” Tau says, truthful and horrified at the thought.

“I know you would,” I agree. “And that’s absolutely fine, Tau. I know it’s really important that you feel comfortable with what you’re asked to do. It’s just that… they wouldn’t know that, at the course. And if you didn’t tell them, and just took off – they’d just think you were wagging, or trying to look hard or something.”

“True,” laments Tau. “That’s what always happens!”

Leroi and I can’t help laughing, but our indulgent looks make Tau grin too.

“What kind of course wouldn’t have overalls… or tool belts…” Tau goes on. “Maybe electronics?” he finishes hopefully.

So we’ve reached an impasse, for the moment. But at least at Winz tomorrow the boys can say they’ve had a look at a course – and maybe the caseworkers will have an idea or too.

 

Afterwards I take Tau to the tinny house, and to buy cigs. Start dinner off before we leave; the crumbed chicken thighs are sizzling away in the oven by the time we get back.

 

Tuesday 15 July

Something inside me has just had enough of racing, and stressing, and my mind going haywire over it. And so I call some kind of halt, for now.

The morning doesn’t signal this, at first. I wake up with my thoughts galloping: first you have to do this, then you have to do that, and don’t forget about that either, or that… and so on and so forth. On and frickin on. I stop at Z on the way to school, for gas. Pick up a coffee as well, then swipe my card without remembering I already took the cash out; thus throwing my bank balance out of whack and throwing me into further panic.

I drive to school and sit in the carpark, sipping on my coffee and trying to get my head together. And I suddenly just think: No more! Absolutely more of this. So I walk into my room, and plug in my lappy and I say to myself – ok, I’m going to write now.

It just feels like the thing I was meant to be doing all along. ‘That thing’… along with that ‘other thing’, ha

 

By 3:30 I’m back home to take the (very stoned) Tau and Leroi to their Winz appointments.

“Your seshes are starting to creep up again,” I say bluntly. This causes a lot of hilarity in the car, and Leroi manages to say, through muffled laughter, “It’s Tau’s fault.”

“Eaaa, it’s not my fault,” retorts Tau from the front seat.

“Well whatever it is, you should be thinking about cutting back again,” I tell them,  and they agree, at least in principle.

 

Tau’s case worker (Sue) enquires very sympathetically if he’s ‘on meds’.

“Well, you did look quite sleepy,” I tell him later on, making him chuckle; and I haven’t seen a lot of chuckling from Tau lately – what with his injuries and everything. Both his hand and knee are still giving him  pain, and he can’t do weights. It seems to me like one source of solace has been removed from the mix, albeit temporarily, and been replaced by another.

“I’ve got sleeping pills – from the doctor,” he replies to Sue.

“Oh, sleeping pills…” she says, with a dubious look.

“But you’re starting to cut back on those now – aren’t you Tau,” I ask in a somewhat rhetorical tone, principally designed to reassure the case worker.

“Yup,” Tau says, picking up the cue. “I’ve cut back quite a bit on my sleeping pills.”

And he has, too. But this isn’t exactly the point, just now.

 

Leroi’s caseworker, Gurpreet, is a stickler for the rules and regulations – I have to go home and get his birth certificate (Sue hasn’t required one for Tau). But eventually it all works out fine.

Tau’s good at Winz now. He’s quite au fait with the whole process. In fact he blithely tells me, “I like the feeling I get when I walk out of Winz. I always feel… satisfied.”

I can’t help laughing my head off, at this.

Leroi finds it very amusing as well. Although, “I don’t like going to Winz,” he adds. “I feel uncomfortable there.”

“Tau used to feel like that too, but not anymore,” I say. “He could work there now, pretty much!”

Tau nods, grinning.

 

We get home and they fire up the bucky (again). I shake my head at them, just in a cautionary way. It doesn’t need a lot of saying.

Normal

Tuesday 1 July, 2014:

I leave fifty dollars on the table when I go to work, with a note, so Tau knows to get a taxi to the doctor’s, and to use the rest to pay for the bill and the meds. It’s cold and pouring with rain, but I’m still hoping he’ll go get checked out.

Later he texts me to say he went. It turns out he hasn’t broken his wrist. But it’s badly sprained, and he needs antibiotics for the gouges on his legs.

 

“Told the doctor I fell down the stairs,” Tau says, implacably.

“Did he believe you?”

“Don’t think so…” and we start to laugh.

 

Thursday 3 July:

This morning Tau finds his beni has been chopped by half. And I say, just to myself: Oh, what the fuck do I know about anything? What am I going to do about anything?

I ring Sarsha at Work and Income. Her calm voice just scratches at my thin veneer of equilibrium even more, and I feel myself start to sniff, and my eyes drip with tears which I brush away. There seems so little point in trying to explain. Our call finishes on a semi-positive note; she suggests I bring Tau into the office this afternoon – I say I’ll try, after counselling.

I go out to convey the news to Tau. “Yup, algood,” he says in a resigned and weary tone.

But algood it is not. I feel so tired, and so little regarded in any of the morning’s events, that a big wave of unfairness starts to topple down upon me. My eyes swim again, and I mutter to the boys, “Ok then.”

There’s silence. And so I start over again, as a few tears splash down. “I’m trying really hard here,” I say. Then I swallow, and add, “I know it’s hard for you, I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s not easy for me either. I’m doing what I can to help – and I think you should appreciate it a little more.”  Then I shut the door and leave.

 

Inside, I expect that soon I’ll hear footsteps on the drive: Tau and Leroi taking off. Either that, or the sleepout being firmly bolted from the inside.

But the boys astound me by neither fleeing nor battening down the hatches. Instead, they materialize at the French doors, looking at me with concern and sympathy.

“We’re really sorry, Miss,” Tau begins.

“We didn’t mean to stress you out,” says Leroi.

“We appreciate everything you do to help us,” Tau goes on. He looks not the least bit likely to run away, and his eyes convey patience and truthfulness. Leroi nods, saying, “You’re the only person who does help, straight up Miss.”

“You’ve done more than our own family,” Tau says.

“And it means a lot to us,” adds Leroi. “This is the place where we feel most relaxed, and safe.”

“Hard, it’s the only place we feel relaxed,” Tau tells me. He adds simply, “It’s the only place we got.”

It makes me sniff back tears all over again.

 

Later on, Tau and I sit in the car and share a ciggie (my two puffs) after his counselling session. We’re waiting for Leroi – it’s his very first time seeing Maxwell today.

“Sometimes I just want to give up, Miss,” Tau murmurs. “It’s so hard… sometimes it feels like it’s too hard. Max acts like it’s easy or something.”

I put my arm around him, and we just sit a while. “Don’t give up, Tau,” I tell him. “It’s going to work out, it is.”

 

Friday 11 July:

Sarsha has given Tau some paperwork to complete, in order to get his benefit reinstated. There’s one document Max needs to sign as well – it’s for the disability allowance. I phone him, and he says he’s between clients from 1:30 till 2; he’ll see me then.

When I get there, we sit down at a table in his waiting room, and to my surprise the first thing he wants to talk about is his meeting with Leroi yesterday. He explains that while he can’t breach confidentiality – Leroi has given him permission to disclose certain things to me.

Turns out Leroi is very depressed. “He broke down and cried,” Max says. “He told me that all he’s ever wanted is a normal family who do normal things, like… just come home and watch TV together.”

It affects me so much, to think of how modest Leroi’s wishes are, and how little they’ve been fulfilled over the years.

 

I tell Max what I know of the boys’ family life, round at Fitzroy. “Leroi got a lot of hidings,” I say. “Tau used to come to school and tell me about it. Oh, he got hidings too, but he’d take off and run away. Leroi wouldn’t, or couldn’t.”

“So Leroi just stayed and took the bash?”

“Yes, Tau was better at removing himself from the situation, though of course that caused other problems for him…”  I thought of the fourteen  year old Tau, sleeping in the park with P addicts, and the seventeen year old Tau, starving and robbing strangers on the street, his appendix already painful and festering.  And I didn’t say any of this stuff, and I thought – I want to tell it, sometime. I just don’t know how yet.

 

Then Max asks how Tau and Leroi are coping at my place. I tell him they’re doing ok – though I hardly know what else to say about it. I don’t know how to explain things, without sounding like I’m some professional support person. So I go on: “I’m sure it’s hard for them, doing things differently from the way they’ve always known. But it’s quite amazing that they’re willing to stay somewhere else at all, to give it a try. I think it’s surprised everyone in their family.”

“You’re an amazing woman,” says Max, and I let these words touch my heart a little bit, and then at the same time I think – well obviously I’m not. But that feels ok too, I don’t think badly of myself for it. Because it isn’t easy to do any of this stuff, and I know I try.

 

Later, it all keeps going round and round in my head. From time to time I think of Kepaoa, too. Huh? I think. You forgot about me? It seems almost incomprehensible, for a moment. And then I just shrug and accept it one more time.

Small stuff on top of big stuff

Saturday 28 June, 2014:

Trying not to be grumpy, but I’m grumpy anyway – mostly about small stuff. It feels like that small stuff is just inconvenient, on top of the big stuff. So it annoys me more than the big stuff.

It’s raining, for one thing. Squally, cold rain, so that I can’t put the washing out.

And this morning Tau asks me if I can take them to their family counselling session. ‘Them’ turns out to be everyone, right down to Sheree. I do it, although I feel like saying, “Where’s Aunty Yvette now?” It irritates me that I wasn’t invited to the FGC meeting last week – but today I’m good enough to drive them round like the chauffeur.

I know it doesn’t sound nice, to put it that way. And so I keep that tetchy feeling to myself. Because there’s stuff I can keep – that’s my job, in a way. What do I keep? Ohh, promises, and secrets… and watch. And other things.

Small stuff on top of big stuff – that’s what I mean. The small stuff just annoys me, but the big stuff makes me want to weep.

 

I don’t weep though. Instead, I embark on a four hour jaunt of family counselling, lunch at the Unbakery, retrieval from counselling, and home again via Municipal.

Tau tells me on the way home: it’s exactly one year ago since the day they left Fitzroy; the night Scott ended up in jail. “Today’s way better than last year,” he says, and he smiles at me.

 

The Unbakery is where Mia and I meet for lunch while I’m waiting for the pick-up. It’s extremely ‘bijou’, and is filled with white people; college kids mostly – Kepaoa would have hated it. To me it’s just a curiosity, really. It brings to mind those old-style whole food stores, only with more glamour.

I have a salad bowl which is unquestionably full of healthy deliciousness. Mia has some kind of apparently Mexican-styled wrap. Everything’s raw, right down to the cold-brewed coffee: ‘neat over ice’ – a descriptor which does not appeal.

Back at Municipal, I pick up a real coffee while Tau goes to get fish and chips. And that feeling of being used gradually dissipates. There’s choices we make – me as much as anyone else. It’s hard for Tau too; I know how much he suffers asking for help, even from a person he trusts. And sometimes I realize that Tau probably over-thinks this stuff, just like I do.

 

Sunday 29 June:

The boys ask if it’s ok for Sheree to come over for a couple of hours. Straight away I get that uncomfortable feeling inside, but now they’ve asked, I can’t see any reason to refuse. Anyway, I’m going to the gym, then meeting Mandy for coffee – I won’t even be home. So I say to myself: What harm can it do?

 

I’m back round 4 and no-one’s there. In itself that’s not a big deal, but I just get a feeling that something’s going on somewhere.

The feeling only gets stronger as the afternoon goes by. Still, I try not to worry. I do some little everyday tasks: the washing, the vacuuming. But I can’t settle… and that same feeling just crouches in my chest, like a bird huddled against the rain.

I take a shower, wash my hair. Make some noodles with egg and avocado, and chili sauce – and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The sun goes down, and there’s still no sign of the boys. Tau usually texts me if they’re going to be back late. It’s not like he has to or anything, it’s just been his way lately – and I appreciate it. All the same, for a while I cross my fingers and try to believe everything’s ok. Probably is, I tell myself hopefully.

But my instincts are spot on – this unnerves me a little, when I think about it afterwards

 

Around 10 o’clock I hear footsteps on the drive – Leroi appears at the French doors. He’s flushed, and distractedly but patently upset. “Miss,” he begins. “Can I ask you a big favour?”

“Of course,” I say.

“Can we go out in the car and look for Taurangi?”

“What’s happened…?” I murmur. I feel so calm, and almost grateful for my sense of worry earlier, which has somehow allowed me the processing time ahead of events.

“He got in a big fight and he went all psycho, and then he took off,” Leroi tells me. “I don’t know where he is. Me and Sheree ran straight back here.”

“Where was this?” I ask.

“In the park – the park where Scott hung himself,” Leroi says. He sounds calm too, although his eyes are bright with panic.

“Ok, just let me get my shoes,” I say. “I’ll be just a sec.”

“Take your time Miss,” Leroi says, and his voice is patient and scared.

As I lace up my gym shoes and grab my bag, I hear voices out at the gate. At first I think it’s the cops:

A man asks someone: “Who are you?”

Then Sheree, quietly replying.

So Leroi and I go out.

 

There’s a car parked outside the drive, and a man holding Tau. Holding him up, I mean: Tau can barely stand. He’s groaning and collapsing to one side, and his right arm’s hanging down limp – in his left hand there’s the smoking end of a ciggie, which he brings to his lips and puffs at feebly.

“Sorry, Miss,” Tau manages to say. He groans again, and staggers, and I go take up the hold on the left. The man, who’s been propping him up from the right, passes him over to Leroi. Our arms pressed to Tau’s warm sides, we get him to the sleepout. He’s shivering and falling as he walks.

“I’m sorry,” he tells me again. “I’m really sorry Miss.”

“It’s ok Tau, it’s alright,” I say. “You’re safe, and that’s the only thing that matters right now.”

 

Inside, Tau sinks down mournfully onto one of the couches. “I fucked up,” he breathes in dismay. “Fuuuck, I really fucked up.”

We all soothe him: Leroi and Sheree and me. “You didn’t. Course you didn’t, Tau.” And I don’t even know what’s happened yet, but I just want Tau to know it’s alright.

Then I say, “I’ll go see that man.” I have no idea who he is. But he’s been kind, and I want to thank him, and to find out what I can.

 

He’s waiting patiently by the car: a guy who looks to be in his 60s.

“Thank you so much for bringing him home,” I say.

“He smashed my car,” he tells me. “It’s just the wing mirror, it’s alright. I chased him – he’s bloody quick,” the man adds.  And even with all the worry, this amuses me and I can’t help laughing. Because Tau’s nippy, for a big guy.

 

The story, which I piece together from him, and later from the others – goes like this:

They spend the afternoon drinking Cody’s in the park, right where Scott hung himself. Turns out Sheree shouted the cans, to help everyone ‘bond as a family’. “We just wanted to hang out with him for a while,” she explains. She rolls her eyes at herself.

But as the alcohol runs out they start arguing. And that’s when Tau gets upset, and takes his frustration out on a random car parked on the side of the road. Punches the door, smashes up the wing mirror… two men come running out of a house and chase him, and beat him up. Later, he tells me he remembers hearing Leroi call, “Run!” But the men are older and stronger, and in the end he gives up and lets them kick him to the ground and pummel him.

Then the car’s owner – the man who brought Tau back – catches up too, and sees him laying there. He steps in, and the others back off a bit

“Why did you do it?” he asks. There seems no rhyme or reason for the act.

Tau manages to admit he’s just taking his anger out on something – anything – and the guy asks him why.

“He told me what happened to his dad,” the man tells me. “And he said he was worried about his family – his mum and his cousin. I was going to call the cops, but after that I didn’t want to. I told him we’d take him home instead.”

“Thank you so much,” I say. “I really appreciate it.”

 

I try to give him fifty dollars for the mirror – if it costs more, I say, he can come by tomorrow.

But he shakes his head. “It’s only a mirror,” he says again. “I’m just glad he’s safe.” He smiles at me, and says, ‘He was talking about you on the way home, saying how much you’ve helped him.”

“Oh,” I say. “Thanks,” and then, “Thank you for helping him.”

“It’s no problem,” he assures me.

Oh, what to say… what to say to such a good person.

 

Sheree and I sit and talk to the sad and sorry Tau, after that. He’s in a lot of pain. He gets the shakes, and says he’s cold.

“That’s because you’re in shock,” I tell him, and Sheree puts a blanket round his shoulders, and rolls him her last ciggie.

I go look in the bathroom for some Neurofen. Leroi’s inside too, making himself a cup of tea. He looks miserable, and my heart goes out to him. “You ok, Leroi?” I ask.

“Yeeeeeh,” he exhales, not very convincingly. His face crumples a little. “I’m a bit angry,” he explains.

“That’s not surprising,” I say, thinking he means with the guys who beat up Tau.

“I’m kind of angry with Tau,” he confesses. “I’m glad he’s ok. I just think how… he shouldn’t have put us in that position. Sheree was really scared, I had to keep shouting at her to run; jump over the fence. And I thought they were gonna fuck me over too – and I didn’t even touch their car.”

I nod, and: “He shouldn’t have put us in that position,” repeats Leroi.

“I know,” I say. “I know, Leroi. You’re doing real good, the way you’re dealing with it.”

“I don’t want to be angry with him,” says Leroi. “I’m trying to handle things.” Then he suggests, “Miss, maybe we could go out for a while, go look for my bag. I ditched it in the park so we could run faster, and in case those people gave a description to the cops.”

“Sure,” I say.

And amazingly enough, the bag’s still there, “In that park where Scott hung himself,” Leroi tells me again calmly, as we drive.

 

No-one can convince Tau to go to the emergency medical clinic, he just shakes his head. “I’ll be fine – I just need to get stoned and sleep it off,” he informs us.

“You need to go to the A and E first, then get stoned and sleep it off,” I try.

Tau laughs, then, “Ohh, I’ve got no stoneys though!” he laments. He looks at his drooping hand, ruefully. “Should have cut my nails…” he says.

“Never mind – you can get a manicure,” I joke – and Sheree splutters with laughter.

I turn the heater on, and Tau gradually stops shivering as the Neurofen kicks in.