Light

Friday 7 March, 2014:

I’m fine all day until Chloe’s baby shower, which seems to drain the resilience out of me. Not that I say so, or act so. I mix and mingle with everyone, eating a duckling-yellow sugar cupcake (Chloe doesn’t know if she’s having a boy or a girl). I participate in all the games, which include singing lullabies, naming baby items and guessing on the staff baby photos. I do this because I like Chloe, and because I don’t want to be rude.

But I’m pretending the whole time. The event reminds me uncomfortably of all the managed ‘fun’ that I hate about school. So I go home feeling very subdued

 

Saturday 8 March:

I drive to the beach, take off my shoes and walk along the sand, finishing right up at the other end of the strand, where I sit on some rocks for a while, just breathing in the air and taking a couple pictures on my phone. You know… it isn’t much; it’s nice all the same.

 

Sunday 9 March:

Wake to a very loud knocking on the door. It’s 6 am but still dark, and I stumble to open up, rubbing my eyes, before stopping to ask, “Who is it?”

“Tau.”

The front door jams again, so I go round the side to the French doors, and let him in.

 

We hug, and I notice straight away that he’s fully sober (which to be honest I wasn’t expecting, considering the earliness of the hour).

“You okay?” I ask.

“Just been let out of the cells,” he tells me.

Now the sobriety makes more sense. “Tau?” I say, just giving his shoulder a little squeeze. “What were you doing in there?”

“Honestly, Miss, I can’t remember,” Tau tells me. “I’ve been thinking about it all the way here. Fuck, I’ve got no idea what they took me in for. I can’t remember anything.”

“Ok,” I say, without the least judgement to make about this. “Well, at least they let you out, huh.”

“Sorry for for waking you up, Miss,” Tau goes on. “But do you think you could… give me a lift home, please?”

“All sweet,” I say. “Just hold on a second, I’ll go get my shoes.”

 

“So what can you remember?” I enquire as we drive.

“Last night was alright… we were just drinking with the boys, round at mine. Kost and them, and Raphael, too.”

“Oh,” I say. “And is that where the cops picked you up?”

“I think so,” Tau says, and I can see he is trying hard to remember. “I think the neighbours came over, and…” He ruminates on this for a bit and adds, “I think they came with weapons and shit.”

“Fuck!” I exclaim. “You got beef with the neighbours now?”

“I… dunno.”

“Maybe they wanted you to turn down the noise,” I suggest mildly – and the thought of it makes us both snort with laughter.

“Fuck, Miss, I think there was some trouble though.”

And then the cops turned up?”

Think so,” he surmises.

 

“Oh well, at least you’re out now, Tau,” I say again. Which indeed is true. A thought occurs to me, and I ask, “But you don’t have to go court or anything, do you?”

“No – but Leroi’s still in the cells. He’s got to go court on Monday, there was a warrant out for him. When I got let out, he was calling out, ‘Bro, are you leaving me?’” Tau laughs at this, managing to convey that Leroi was ok, and irritable rather than upset.

“Why did they have a warrant out for Leroi?” I ask.

“Not doing his PD hours,” Tau tells me.

“Oh well, at least it isn’t major,” I say, taking this as a slight positive. “And yours was just… to sober up, right?”

“Yup, just a detox.”

“Well, that’s good,” I say.

 

“And did the cops ever catch up with you?” I wonder, after the time I’d seen them on the day of Scott’s funeral.

“Yeah, they did,” Tau says. “They tried to give me four hundred spot, the sneaky bastards.”

“Is that what they were after?” I say, as the situation begins to make sense.

“Yeah Miss, they asked me if I wanted the money, at first I was like – oh, yup, and then I thought about it and asked them, “So… what happens if I take the four hundred dollars?”

“Ohhh,” I say, getting it. “And, if you did…”

“Yeah, if I did, that meant I was saying it was mine, and…”

“And then you can be charged with dealing,”

“Yup,” says Tau. “So I told them, “You can keep the money.” He adds, “Bummer,” and I start to laugh. “Geez, they can be tricky like that,” I say, thinking about their strategies almost admiringly. I knew there’d be more to it than the cops had suggested to me at the time.

 

By the time we get to Rutherford Ave, Tau has started to recollect and process a little more of the night’s events.

“I think, I’m not sure… I think I might have smashed up the house,” he reflects, as I pull into the drive. He looks at the windows (which seem to be intact) and remarks, “Ohhh, hotty.”

“Why?”

“I remember the neighbours did come over… and I was trying to pick up chairs and smash them over their heads and shit. I don’t think anyone could control me…” he says, rather sorrowfully. “So I think it might be my fault that the cops came, and that we got taken to the cells.”

“Well, never mind that, at least everyone’s alright,” I say with some actual cheer, knowing it could have ended up a lot worse. I stop the car, and we just look at one another. “I’m glad you’re alright, but just take it easy, ok?” I conclude.

“I’ll try,” he says.

And I can sense we’re both trying to just keep things light.

 

Later, Mia and I wind up at the park, where we get ice-cream and sit on the grass under the shade of a huge tree. Mia tells me all about her dates (there are many) – I must say it makes me even less inclined towards online dating than I was before. It’s kind of fascinating listening to those stories, though.

Afterwards I come home and cook up a big as stir fry.

 

 

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The real stuff

Friday 26 October, 2012:

In the evening, I pick up Kepaoa from the gym. He’s texting me, saying ‘Kum up ms’. When I arrive, he’s in the middle of sparring practice: drenched with sweat; belt and headgear on; mouth guard constricting his tongue. He throws himself onto the ropes for a second and smiles, rolling his eyes in the direction of his sparring partner.

Between rounds, he lounges by my chair, flashing me grins and exaggerating animosity towards his opponent with facials and feigned punches. And I feed off the big male aura of the whole place. I know, it’s dumb. Dumb as they come. But there’s a masculine side to me, and I tiptoe round that feeling – it means both a lot, and nothing at all. It is what it is. Still, being there, unashamed, really makes me happy, today.

Leaving the gym, we make a detour to pick up Elroy, then off we go. To a house in Diplomat Place – near Municipal – to retrieve Kepaoa’s speakers. Some associate of Kepaoa’s bought them on tick for $100, but he hasn’t paid off a cent so far, and Kepaoa wants them back.

 

Elroy is blued up, stoned out of his mind, and sweetly happy. He sits in the car and talks to me, while Kepaoa goes in. We can hear a band practising in the garage. After a while Kepaoa returns, looking pissed off: the guy’s not there. He tsks a bit, and snorts through his nostrils, but lets himself be carried off in the car, all the same. We drop Elroy off on the way home (outside a primary school, of all places).

“What are you gonna do now?” I ask Elroy.

“Have a wander round,“ is the reply.

“Aye? At the school?”

“Yeah, and then I’ll be a cop, look Miss -” Elroy pulls a police torch from his clothing, and grins.

“Oh my goodness,” I tell him. “You just be careful, walking around all night like this. The real cops might have something to say to you.”

“I’ll be awgud,” he tells me, without the slightest apprehension, and hops out of the car. Even Kepaoa is able to laugh, at the sight of Elroy’s skinny and lackadaisical figure disappearing into the shrubbery. We wave at him, and he raises one hand, gently.

Then we drive on to Carthill.

 

As we near Montgomery Rd, Kepaoa begins to ruminate on the events at Diplomat Place. He lets out a couple of agitated huffs, and his cheek twitches. When we pull up outside his house, he just stays in his seat, and mutters, “Miss, I’m getting hyped as.”

“Yeah, I know,” I sigh.

“Sorry Miss… but I’m just thinking about my speakers. Dodging me, that little faggot. Feel like going back there and fucking them all up.”

“Nah… nah,” I rebuke him, but calmly. “Just leave it tonight. Talk to him tomorrow.”

“Fuckit, I bet he was there…”

“Yeah, well there’s no point in making trouble until you know for sure.”

“I’m not starting it,” Kepaoa tells me. “He’s the one making trouble – that fuckin fag started it, by not paying me. And if he can’t pay me, he should give back the stuff. Not dodge me.”

“I’m just saying – wait till you talk to him tomorrow,” I persist.

“Fuck, why did he say he was gonna be home, then?” asks Kepaoa, with a rhetorical flourish in his tone.

I answer anyway. “I dunno, it’s like… you could say you were gonna be home tonight too, and then look: you’re out for a bit,” I say. I do think Kepaoa has a point, but I’m trying to calm him down, more than anything else.

“Yeah, you’re right, you’re right…” Kepaoa considers this, and then sighs. “But I’m amped now, Miss. I wanna take my brother’s car and go round there. Take my gatt…” He draws in his breath, saying, “They don’t know what they’re in for.” As he breathes out again, he shakes his head, sorrowfully.

 

I try a different tack. “But there’s no point in you getting in trouble – not if you wanna go see Teri,” (this is his plan, divulged to me the other day)

Kepaoa sees the sense of this, but there is an internal struggle going on, all the same. “I know, but… right now I don’t care, I don’t give a fuck, I’m amped, Miss…” He makes a fist with his right hand, and bumps it against the dashboard, lightly but over and over. The muscles in his arm pump up hard, and he gives that little hyped up laugh.

“Hey,” I say, and he turns towards me, saying, ‘Sooorry Miss,” But his eyes are kind of swollen and shiny.

“Maan, look like you’re on crack,” I tell him. “Calm down aye.”

“I can’t… I can’t…” he mutters. “Sorry Miss, it’s too late. Gonna go round there.”

“Shit,” I say, aware that he’s battling with his instincts and possibly going to lose. “If you do go, you better take Paki with you.”

“Maybe…” he admits. He reaches forward and hugs me, holding me close the way a boxer holds his opponent. “Aw, Miss… I’m sorry aye,”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just worried,” I say. My voice comes out quiet, and I realise I’m tired. And that there’s nothing I can do; I have to go home.

 

When I get home, Kepaoa texts. Tells me he’s sorry, he knows I’m worried: ‘ms I could c it ay,’  he writes. ‘I wil try mis.’

And try he does. My phone keeps on beeping: Kepaoa kindly enquiring how my marking is going… what I’m munching on.

But as the night wears on, his communiques change, and begin to contain the usual signifiers: ‘Fcuk!’, ‘Ampd az’, ‘Gota take tha ka, fucck dem uhp’. Though, ‘Sory mis,’ he adds, every now and then.

Things exhaust me. My last text reads, simply:

😦

 And it’s then that I lay down on the couch and go to sleep, holding my phone.

 

Saturday 27 October:

I text just once, to ask if things are alright. I don’t hear back. I try to put it out of my mind.

And then late in the afternoon, I get a reply:

‘Yeap im alryt ms thanks, ha.’

Turned out he didn’t go back round there last night at all. He ‘couldn’t be bothered’, he says; ended up talking to Teri instead. I feel so relieved, and pissed off, and tired – all rolled into one. Relieved that he’s ok, and pissed off that he didn’t tell me any of this last night… even today would have done. And tired out, just plain tired.

I send back one more text. It reads:

‘K wel thts good thn. Yup. Ok tc.’

 

Rest of the day, I just piss around, feeling like I’m half falling asleep. The whole time I’m fucked off at myself, and at Kepaoa. I think how I have to take a step back from this whole thing. I really care about him, but I can’t squander my energy like this.

And you know, last night, when Kepaoa was all hyped up, hissing and bobbing; eyes swollen and glazed. Well… I felt so tired that I kind of let it happen, if you get what I mean. I don’t mean I caused it, or even that I aided it in any way. What I mean, is that I let it run. That’s all. I let it run, I didn’t try stop it. I didn’t try to counter it with lightness, or buoyancy – the way that sometimes you can do, when you’re feeling strong. And because I let it just go past me, I actually ‘saw’ it as well. And… even though I was as worried as fuck, I felt jolted towards it, drawn in. That’s something that I’m aware of in myself, to be honest. Aw, it isn’t a bad thing to say. I just know I have to be respectful of that feeling, and draw a line somewhere with it. So, yup.

 

Sunday 28 October:

I cry my eyes out this morning, thinking I’m waiting for the real stuff. But maybe that’s not even true. Maybe the real stuff’s all around me, and I already have access to what I think I’m searching for (this reminds me of a story I read once… I’m trying to remember it now.)

I wish I could be bold; turn this sad, empty feeling on its head and see the real stuff everywhere. Think that way. Actually think that way. I know it’s possible. I feel like I’m sooo close to getting it. Like just one little click’s gonna keep me in the zone, instead of crying and imagining I’m miles away.

 

Slade and I go get the last five colours for the new canvas. It’s a fun trip – Slade’s never been into the city before. In fact: “I thought this was the city…” he says, in mystified tones, as we drive past the Municipal turn off.

“No – we’re going all the way into the city,” I told him. “Downtown.”

“Ohh, is that with like the Sky Tower and everything!” he exclaims.

“Yeah, the Sky Tower.”

“Ohhh – I’ve never been there before!” he replies, with happiness. He stretches out in his seat, rolling a ciggie, which he has obtained permission to smoke.

 

“This is buzzy!” says Slade, as we turn into High St. “Faar, this is buzzy shit. It’s like being in another country.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think sometimes too,” I say.

 

When we drive back to Municipal, it feels like home – the nice smell of weed, drifting in from two guys walking past; the sausage roll which we eat in the car. I come back home and make a coffee. And that’s it, the day so far.

 

 

 

Litigants

Thursday 25 October, 2012:

I haven’t wound down from the Karys meeting, or not really, despite the outcome being in my favour. And we can’t even paint anymore, now that it’s a general edict. Though Karys has no idea how long that had been going on for! She thinks it was one day, and called it ‘sneaky’. If she only knew how totally un-sneaky it was. Painting at break and lunch every day for weeks on end, it was common knowledge, round the block. But the DP’s never came once – they live up in Admin, basically. That’s the way they like it. And me too.

 

Still, I feel for Slade, because I see that Karys’s ban is really affecting him. More than I guessed it would. He still comes in every break time, no matter who is or isn’t at school. Scowling and smelling of smoke.

“It was soliid when we painted…” he says. As he scratches felts across paper, tagging incessantly. He needs to paint, more than anyone else I know. More than Zion. Because for Slade, it’s kind of a survival mechanism. He tells me he’s been getting up to ‘mischief’, and then, “Ohwell,” he says, shrugging.

“Not ‘ohwell’!” I chide, and he laughs: “Nothing else to do…” He shrugs again, shifts in his chair and sighs, clears his throat, leans forward, leans back, leans forward again.

Stoneys, hawceys, truck across the road to pop, burgs to do. “Might get on the earns…” Slade tells me.

“You just be good,” I say. “I don’t want you to be banged up when we start painting again.”

“Ohwell…”

“Geez, not ohwell. I don’t wanna see you in boys home,” I tell him.

“Probably end up there…”

This time, it’s me who sighs: “Ohhh, Slade,” I say. “You need to be painting, huh?”

“I do,” he agrees. “When I’m painting, I reckon I just handle everything better… I don’t get into mischief as much.”

“I know,” I say.

“I wish we could have started that canvas today…” Slade mutters.

“Never mind, never mind,” I say. “There’s always the weekend.”

“But – I’ll probably be horced in the weekend,” he says, plaintively. “Stowwneys, horceys alday.”

“K, next week then,”

He nods, cross and restless.

 

Second break, Slade still wears that same disgruntled look, and his elbows point and knock on the table. He talks and tags, saying at one point: “Sometimes I can’t believe I’m still alive… got to this age.  All the stoopid things I’ve done.” Then he adds, “Might be algood though, being dead.”

“Hey!” I say. “Don’t be dumb. It would not be!”

“I don’t think I’ll get to be old,” he says.

“Yes you will,” I tell him. “You’ll be a grumpy old man… coughing and spitting.”

He starts laughing. Cos he does cough and spit. “Yeeeh,” he says, taking pleasure in this idea.

“Growling at all your grandkids…”

“Hahah, yup,” he says. “Fuck off… go on, you fuckin’ kids…” He swipes some imaginary grandchildren with the flat of his hand. “I’ll be a grouchy old kieeent.”

“Yep, that’s for sure,” I say, and we grin at one another for a second.

 

Sometimes, when I think about Tau, Kepaoa and Slade, the mental picture I have is of three old-style alarm clocks, wound up tight. Like the one I used to have, which sat on the kitchen window and ticked loudly. It fell into the sink one time, and after that it stopped and started, went off at random moments, or didn’t ring when you expected it to. Unpredictable, and a cause of tension – but very effective on the day.

 

After lunch I check my emails: letter from Karys, via Yasmin. Very good outcome. She has expressed ‘disappointment’ (I can live with that). And looks forward to me complying with future directives around the use of spray cans, and learner curriculum time (which she will clarify to ‘All Staff). Ok, I’m officially in love with Arnie now, ha.

Ohh, I was lucky to get out of that one unscathed (or relatively unscathed). ‘Better to be born lucky than rich’ (as my dad always says). Lucky, yes. But I think I’m getting better at this strategy business, too. Goes some way to counter the prevalent feeling of the day, today. Which was definitely subdued.

 

I haven’t shed a tear for ages. Not since I cried for Tau, in the car with Kepaoa. And I think there’s lots of tears stored up right now, gonna spill sometime… got to. Tears for Kepaoa, and tears for Slade, and tears for my Tau. And tears for me. I don’t know why – I don’t know why I have to be this way. I just do. There’s something in me which is ‘compatible’… which resonates alongside these three wound-up, strung-out, gangstas. I can’t figure it out totally, I just accept it. Some days I think I’m the most useless frickin idiot that God ever put breath into. But I still don’t question it. There’s not a lot of things that make sense to me: this does.

 

I was taught by some of the best litigators in the country. They taught me how to get up on my hind legs and advocate. (Justice Joe Williams)

Me – I’ve been taught by the best too. I still remember the day Tau and I walked over to DP Alley, the day of that very first tagging incident. And what I learned from Tau: how to stand, how to have the courage. I remember my first Board meeting too, with Inia, Noa, and their lawyer. I was shit scared, I won’t deny it. But I got up on my hind legs and advocated. And so when I read that quote, I understood it. Though in my case, it’s not litigators, but litigants.

A need to communicate

Monday 23 July, 2012:

Busy at school – but I create some space and time anyway. I just straight out take it. And somehow there’s quite a response. It’s most notable in 12 History today, of all my classes. At the end, Theresa says, “Miss, high five!” She puts her hand up, and we touch palms.

“What’s that for?”

“For… for making us laugh. We had fun, today.”

“Yeah, we did,” and we exchange slight grins, at the acknowledgment.

 

At break, I decide to act on Friday’s feeling of ‘availability’, so I stay in my room. Not really expecting… just wondering if anything will happen. And sure enough, after a few minutes, two heads pop around my door. Slade and a boy called Carlos, like two peering, sniffing mice.

“Seen Quest?” they begin shyly.

I shake my head. “I don’t know if he’s at school today.”

“I don’t think so,” Carlos says. “He wasn’t in my first class.”

Then, “Miss?” asks Slade. “Could we… come in?”

“Sure,” I say.

They pull up chairs, and sit by my desk, looking very relieved to be somewhere. I feel soothed as well, just to find a little bit of space and time opening up again, after all.

 

Second break, Slade returns on his own. “Carlos gapped – he’s gone home,” he tells me. “But I’m staying till the end of school, I have to wait for my cousin. Could I just… kick it in here again?”

So it’s companionable today, in a way it never really is up in the office. I don’t quite understand why – but that’s how it is.

 

Tuesday 24 July:

Yesterday after school, La-Verne mails me: Everything ok? – haven’t seen you all day. We wind up going for coffee at macca’s, and it’s good to just sit and talk, after school.

Then, “Will I see you upstairs today?” she asks, this morning.

“I guess so,” I say.

 

But when break time comes, I stay at my desk, and twiddle with some work. A few minutes later, in come Carlos and Slade. They look at me with tentative hope.

“Zion not here again today?”

They shake their heads. Slade reaches for a chair.

And so, I don’t go upstairs.

They’re gone at the first sight of 13 History, when the bell rings. But Slade leaves behind a drawing, which he is casually pleased with, and I think wants me to see.

 

For some reason, I feel very much in control of my classes today. I think it stems from a feeling of having located some space and time again, instead of scurrying to chase it. After History, Lauren, of all people, just stays quietly in her seat and brings out some homework. She shows no inclination to go, and where once I would have made a show of wanting to lock up and go upstairs – I just let her stay. She tells me about the Drama production: Lauren loves acting, but: “I could never make a career out of it,” she tells me.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because I can’t do parts with swearing.” (She’s a Jehovah’s Witness).

“But couldn’t you just play the role, and know it’s only the character – not you – who’s swearing?”

“No… I don’t know,” she says, a little bit sadly.

I really quite like her. She can be so adamantly (and a bit irritatingly) sure of her own right thinking – but today she seems uncertain.

 

While she’s sitting there, in come Slade and Carlos again. This time they sit down quite freely, and talk to me. Slade tells me he was with a crew down the line, but doesn’t have one here. “I just like to get up,” he says. “I don’t want beef with anyone. If you have a crew, you gota have beef.”

“So you’re a lone wolf,” I say, and he grins: “Yup.”

“That’s unusual, though,” I reflect.

Slade nods, kind of proudly. “Most people don’t wanna be out there hitting up on their own. But I’m ok with it. I get on with the crews though – CP and them.”

“So, if they asked you to join – would you?”

He thinks about this, and then, “No,” he replies.

 

After lunch, I have 9 Social. Again, I feel in control, and quite rested; I actually experience a feeling of slight expansiveness.

But inside, I’m quietly grieving – just a little bit. I think to myself: well, sure can’t have it all.

I know that’s true. Can’t have everything. But you can have something.

 

Thursday 26 July:

At break, I’m visited by Slade and Carlos – with Zion today as well. La-Verne comes in and finds us gathered round the front table.

“Can anyone come in?” she asks, half-jokingly, and sitting herself down.

“Not anyone… but you can,” I tell her.

 

The boys come back at lunch and spend some time tagging my board – it reminds me of days gone by, and soothes my sad heart somewhat.

“Have you got a hit, Miss?” Slade enquires, as he inscribes ‘ROOK’ next to the Independent Learning Quality of the week (which is ‘Caring’).

“Well…” I begin, thinking of Alexander. A few years ago, someone did give me one… Cici”

“Cici! That’s cool…” exclaims Slade, trying it out at once. “C’s are hard letters, but… there you go Miss!” and he writes it underneath his Rook.

 

The bell’s going, and I say to them, “Ok you guys – go to class.”

“Oh Miss, we’ll go… but when it stops.”

“Nah, you better get there before it stops,” I tell them.

“Our teacher doesn’t care if we’re late,” Slade says. “He doesn’t – honest. He thinks we’re just stupid taggers!”

And they laugh, and leap out to class.

 

Saturday 28 July:

Cold night. Though cold bothers me far less than it used to. I feel like I’m much warmer inside.

I’ve been working for a couple hours at least. Interesting – how you can write 400 words, and edit, and still not be satisfied yet.

But at the same time, it’s the thing that ‘flows’, for me. Well, it both is and it isn’t. It’s not just writing per se. For example, I can’t write fiction. I tried, years ago, but it felt just empty to be making shit up. I don’t really even like reading fiction… so there you go. Nor is it academic writing. That feels different again, kind of cold.

When I was younger, I imagined being some kind of theorist. But I could never really get into it; not really. I always ended up stuck in the maze, with theory. Like a corridor out of the world, that twisted and turned and got smaller and smaller, and you couldn’t see the sun anymore, or feel the rain on your face. I thought perhaps I just didn’t understand it well enough. I told myself I’d come back to it… little did I know that the only way for me to do this was to leave it behind. And to find something else, which blasts that whole catacomb to pieces and leaves it strewn in a thousand fragments which you can look at, bit by useful bit. What I mean by that, is that theory in the abstract doesn’t interest me. It only interests me in so far as it can be dismantled and used in the service of real life.

And that’s what I discovered, first in seeing things that I couldn’t ignore, and then in being able to stand with others. The only way I can do theory, or even write, is when I know I’m not alone.

 

No wonder I was always drawn towards anthropology. But I can see now that it wasn’t the ‘other’ I wanted to construct. It was to get right inside something, and to let worlds collide and merge. It wasn’t an academic interest; more like a free fall. And then, when I met the taggers and gangstas of MC, it felt like I could rest. Like a bird to its perch. For probably the first time in my life, I felt like I already knew what to say, and how to behave. I remember how this dawned on me. At first it was puzzling… until I realised that I had found a little bit of space in the world. Dropped through all the gaps, to that one, peaceful, bed of wire.

The real things came first, and then the writing. Until I realized that, I couldn’t do it. It was a ‘desire’ I guess – but a cold one. When it became linked with real people, and real struggle, it became warm. And then I could do it.

Only now it’s more than that, too. It isn’t just writing for myself anymore. It’s a need to communicate somehow. And how do you do that? The standard ways feel… not quite right, to me. I’m not an academic; I don’t want to jump through the hoops of a PhD. I’m not a theorist, and not an ethnographer. And I don’t want to write stories, either. The only thing I want to do is bow towards my compadres. And report back from where we stand. Sounds like a journalist. But yes… and a little bit not. Because I’m not that person who can find just ‘anywhere’ interesting, or who can be objective.

It’s a place… a time. And a campaign. That’s about it.

 

 

Feeling alright

Tuesday 17 July, 2012:

Here’s how school’s looking:

1) Tutor ‘initiatives’. Everything that used to be cool about tutor is being dismantled, bit by bit. It’s been slowly happening over the last couple of years. We now have a designated way of doing pastoral. Everything has a prescribed format, and its own jargon… it’s all far from real connection between people. Lucky it wasn’t like that when I had Tau and Inia; the ‘special assemblies’ and ‘special guests’… ohh, those days have gone. Now we have to ‘actively’ track attendance, and pay class visits to our tutees (all this logged on the pastoral notes), and have ‘learning conversations’; we have to teach ‘values’ and build ‘significant relationships’. And it all takes up so much time, and feels so false.

2) Tick-tock. Everything is continually squeezed into the day. There are smaller and more exact bits of time apportioned to everything. It makes me feel stressed, having to clock-watch just to get a 20 minute break (which is the most you ever get: it takes 5 to just get outa class, and then the bell goes after 25, so that leaves 20 in between, max).

3) The never-ending cycle of meetings and ‘Professional Development’, where we have to ‘engage’ with stupid crap (today: Y charts to fill out)

Honestly, MC with its tinkering interference, and itemization of time, and its narrow and increasingly structured roles for everyone. And the things we’re supposed to do… or prevent… who knows?

 

Wednesday 18 July:

Sitting by the heater – actually pressed against the heater.

School goes okay, in parts. Urban Art is alright, when I employ the strategy of ‘making the most of what you have’. It’s all I can do, apart from give up, that is. Chloe has given me a lot of kids, most of whom are not really interested in graff, but have picked randomly from the blurbs: each reduced to a sentence of microscopic font on her Excel spreadsheet.

And – let’s be blunt – the only reason I do UA is because of the taggers. My niche market, haha. So we need cans again: Zion’s eyes light up at the thought. Another very keen person is Andre (of course) and a third is the very nice Slade Harete – who is a big help today just for his obvious on-side-ness. And I really appreciate people like that, right now at MC. Because yes, I want to leave, but right now there’s nowhere to go. And until there is, I’m gonna try every trick in the book to keep things moving and not stagnant. I don’t want to be full of hate for it. There are many things about both this school, and the education system, that I reject, and find false and sometimes actually ‘evil’ – it’s not too strong a word (I don’t mean people, but ‘things’… qualities, you know.) But I don’t hate life. I don’t want to be full of poison towards it. I want to make so much more of what I have, and what we have. Like I’ve always said: to create space where there seems to be none. A small goal – but maybe it matters.

 

Thursday 19 July:

Life goes on. And I want life. I want to get that little resilient spark of life glowing… and to steer my mind away from the things that can simply grind out that spark. Trying to keep control of the attempt is kind of tricky; it requires a light touch – and distractions.

Distractions, for what they’re worth. After pissing around for a while (Police Ten 7, facebook), I make coffee and start reading Graffiti Lives. At the same time, I flick channels and end up watching a documentary about Martha Gellhorn – actually it’s really interesting, and weirdly timely, for me. The narrator’s last sentence, something like this: ‘She never stopped writing for the underdog.’

And I think about equality, my guiding principle. And trust, and bravery – the two things I need to find so much more of in my life.

But yeah, I feel better. Distractions/work: no binary simplicity to be found there.

 

Friday 20 July:

After school I park up at the mall, feeling kind of numb, tired, warm, and uncomforted. Distractions aren’t working too well at school today. Things are less distracting, there. I feel like I can’t get that ‘sad’ look out of my eyes. But I make some kind of effort. And get through the whole, livelong day – feeling a bit dissociated from my own voice..

During tutor Kuli comes in to see me, and so I just let the kids talk. Actually, they’re nice and very low key – almost like they can sense not to push the bounds of their freedom. I mean, they don’t wanna do ‘confidence’ worksheets either.

Straight after that, it’s 9 Social. For some reason, this is my favourite class at the moment. Something about them soothes me. And vice versa, I think. I’m not sure why – because it hasn’t always been this way. Funny, how the formerly diabolical (Campbell), and the totally hyped (TJ, Ahmu) have settled right down. TJ and Ahmu (friends) vie to do their work more beautifully and artistically than one another. Campbell does little actual work, but he’s courteous, friendly, and calm – which is a great improvement on his previous ‘incarnation’. He shows me a joke on his phone; talks to me about his day. The entire class cruise peacefully right through till lunch, pack away, and go out, leaving the room spotless.

 

Lunch – I’m on duty. I go get a Turkish bread from the cafe. Put it on my tab (first time I’ve racked up a debt there in months). Walking back, I see Slade – he stops to chat. Asks me if I’ve seen Quest.

“No,” I say, kind of absently.

“Cos… he said he was going to your room.”

“Oh,” I reply, and then, “Ok… I dunno. I haven’t been there, I’ve been at the cafe.”

But I remember, Slade said the same thing to me on Wednesday: “Quest said he was gonna be in your room at break.” And at that time, I thought: No, you must be talking about a long time ago. I don’t stay in my room at break anymore. I didn’t say that. But it’s true – I haven’t been in my room during breaks for the whole of last term; longer than that, even. So I wouldn’t know if Zion comes by or not.

I suddenly feel a flash of something like dismay,  to think of it. Why have I retreated to the office, every day?

And I just keep thinking of Tau there, safely at school. And of Nio, shimmering like the sun. Cluzo and Axis. Rich and Statik. Hazard, and Romer, and Sir C – all of them – and those days.

 

Then, for some reason, after talking to Slade, I just go to my room, and sit there and finish my lunch. I leave my door slightly ajar, for the first time in ages. It’s the end of lunch – I’m not expecting anyone, and yet I still leave it that way. I think to myself: What if Zion’s been coming? I’m never there anyways. I’m always up in the Faculty office. With La-Verne and Mandy. Having our coffee, trying to factor some food into our squitty MC lunch breaks. Talking about… what? Just, you know: ‘school’ stuff. Nothing much.

When all around me, the river’s running, the sun’s up high, there’s a scent on the breeze. Fluidity of movement. The agility of shadows crossing paths, and re-crossing, and what? I’ve stepped away from it, somehow. And for some reason, I just think: ok, I’m available again.

 

Bell goes. I step out of my room. First person I see is Aiga (Elroy’s friend).

“Miss,” he says. “Heard from Elroy lately?”

“No…” I say. “Not lately.”

He smiles at me, and me too – I smile. I don’t even know Aiga really, you know. Kepaoa wanted to smash him, then didn’t, then did again (Kepaoa styles). But that’s not the point, the point is that… I feel different. I feel like my path just crossed with someone’s again, in a way it never does lately.

I’ve been isolating myself from the signals that others send. I’ve honestly been cutting myself off at the switch. I kind of ‘shake’ myself, at this point. Like it might make me remember.  And suddenly I get that feeling of ‘cold spring’. Ice on the ground, but things pushing up from underneath, urgently and vibrantly. Oh God… I dunno. Haven’t got a clue. I just feel half distraught. Because I’m so tired of wishing and missing. And I’m tired, just plain tired, fullstop.

I’m not ready to give up. But times have been tough, lately. And I’ve felt – so unworthy. To earn, or to keep love. I’ve been creeping, and I’ve been imploring, and I’ve been so scared I’ll lose.

And all of a sudden, I think of it this way. Why today? – I don’t know. But I need to get life back, in my eyes, my voice, the way I stand and move. I still have a lot to do. A lot of ground to catch back up, and not fall behind anymore.

 

You know how you get those moments when you understand a little bit more? Well, it’s like that. Like my foggy thoughts just cleared, a little bit. Like the de-mist button working on the windscreen.

It’s not like everything’s suddenly obvious. But it doesn’t seem as confusing. And so, I can say: Feeling alright.

One thing, or another

Friday 22 June, 2012:

TV’s on, and I’m watching a documentary about some kind of long term mentoring project, started ten years ago ago with a group of primary school kids; they’re now in year 13. Worthy: yes, I concede it is, despite the clichés. And the founder – a businessman and philanthropist – is genuine (if a little bit patronizing, with his talk of ‘good’ families, as opposed to ‘disadvantaged’ ones).

But something about it doesn’t sit with me He talks about the ‘soft racism’ of low expectations – he’s got a point. The tacit directing of particular groups of students (particularly in low-decile schools) into taking ‘vocational’, rather than university-approved subjects. But it still doesn’t sit with me. Because no matter how well meaning, it’s predicated on the unchallenged assumption that going to university is a social good; that it levels out the playing field; that university is unproblematic in terms of its value, equity, function; or as a predictor of future success. And any lens that uncritically views failure at school as the central problem (not to mention university entry as the pre-condition for its solution) – just doesn’t search far enough.

I wish I didn’t think this way, sometimes. I wish I could believe. But I can’t, and that’s after years of trying (hah and then at least three years of getting past the point of trying at all!!)

 

Now and then I still think: What’s wrong with me? That I can’t sentimentalize ‘success’ at school, the way teachers, and parents, and… people do. That I can’t ‘celebrate success’. What is it about me? Am I such a killjoy? But you know, I don’t think that’s it. I think I just have some missing piece, somewhere. Some piece that almost everyone else seems to have: sewn in, or implanted, when they get to a certain point in ‘education’. Well – I haven’t got it. I don’t know why.

I’m glad, but at the same time, it rattles me – it means that I’m always and always pretending, to some degree. To kids; to their parents; to teachers; to the management; to my family… to everyone except a few gangstas – and they save my sanity, pretty much. Because it’s only then I know I’m not alone.

I feel alone, sometimes; lots of times. But that’s probably not so bad. I wouldn’t give up my lack of belief for a million bucks, or for peace of mind. It’d be like getting that implant after all.

 

But then I go back to that question: So what do I do instead?  Oh, the contradictions inherent in my position. When all along the way: I don’t wanna see them fall. I want people to hold on, whichever way they want it. It isn’t that I believe school really offers them anything; it’s more that I believe they can go on and take something anyway. I don’t want what I ‘should’ want for them – or for me. Don’t want to change them. Don’t want them to be cowed. Don’t want their heads to bow to the stupid, false, rationality of it all. I don’t… I didn’t think it would be anything other than cruel to try to keep Tau and Nio at school. Despite missing them so much that I cried to myself every day, at first. And if I’m honest, I kind of celebrate that some people can’t bring themselves to be a part of it. Don’t believe in what it promises. Know what they might have to give up, to gain from it. And yet – if they do want it, I’ll be there with them, one hundred percent

Because I’m aware that you can hold on in many different ways. Hold onto courage, and to your soul. Zion: 70 credits at Level 1 now, despite everyone else’s predictions. Thing is – I’ll buy that too. I see the contradiction, but I have no problem with it. In war, pragmatism’s as good a strategy as any, if you want to win. Kick Quest out when he wants to stay? Hell no!

There’s satisfaction in beating the odds, too. There’s satisfaction in one thing, or another. It reminds me of lobbing hand grenades, blowing up one little corner, then setting up for another – and it all adds up. To something – I’m not sure what. But something.

More and more, I realize that I need to say this stuff. I actually do.

 

Sunday 24 June:

Nothing much happening today. Tau, Leroi, and Robbie appear for a short while. The other two are a lot more conversational than Tau, who looks preoccupied, tired, and slightly grim. He goes to get changed; meanwhile Leroi and Robbie chat to me outside. Then they leave in the rain – Tau driving Robbie’s car. My heart sinks just a little bit.

 

Friday 29 June:

Last day of Term Two. It isn’t anything out of the ordinary, really. Slade pops in near the end of lunch break, just to seek some advice, I think. I like Slade, though I hardly know him – just from Urban Art is all. Anyway, he tells me he was questioned by the DP’s today, on suspicion of tagging the toilets in the block. “It wasn’t me,” he said. “I know who did it though – Luxe.”

“Luxe?” I repeat.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know who that is,” I sat.

“Yeah, well I do – and he’s amo,” Slade says. He rolls his eyes and then laughs a bit.

“And you didn’t say anything?” I ask, knowing what the answer would be.
“Nah – I’d never snitch,” Slade assures me.

“What if you found out that he said it was you. Would you name names then?”

“No, I still wouldn’t snitch. I’d just give him a hiding,” is the reply. “But I don’t think he did. I think it’s just cos I tag – it’s all I do in all my classes.”

I laugh, saying, “Oh well – if it wasn’t you, then they’ve got no evidence, have they. So there’s nothing they can do. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”

Slade nods. He said, “I just don’t like the way the DP’s do things.”

“Neither do I,” I reply, honestly.

“Are they allowed to search us?”

“We-ell, technically they are, if you give them permission. They’re allowed to request it. But if you say no…”

“What happens then?” Slade asks, with great interest.

“Then, they can’t do anything unless they want to bring the police in. Or they could call your parents. Or if you consent to a search, you can ask for another adult you trust to be there – you’re allowed to do that. There are rules, you know.”

“I thought there must be,” Slade says. “I wish I knew what they were.”

“Well I know,” I tell him. “I’ve read them, every word.”

So we talk about this for a while, and I explain more about the guidelines for ‘Search and Seizure’. And then, a little later, Slade just casually says, “Luxe is Andre’s brother, Miss – Rawiri.”

“Oh, really?” I’m kind of surprised. “I Didn’t even know he tagged.”

“Yeah – he’s pretty amo.”

I just nod. I see that Slade is giving me a certain amount of trust, and I appreciate it.

Consistency

Wednesday 28 September, 2011:

I ring Tau, just like I said I would. I’m so consistent with Tau, come hell or high water – I always do what I’ve told him I’m going to do. I sometimes wonder at myself – this ability to show up, no matter how dumb or useless I sometimes feel. I just sigh… and do it anyway.

And Tau wants to talk, too – so I let him talk, and tell me all about his week, and about course, and about Math, and how the tutor wasn’t much help lately, moving ahead before he understood the work. “He’s a faggot,” complains Tau bitterly, “And he didn’t even give me any homework.”

“Never mind,” I say. “Let’s do some math on Friday – I remember the stuff you were doing – we’ll just do some more questions like that, ok?”

“Ok,” says Tau, trustingly.

“And we’ll have a talk, about how you can ask him to stop and explain things again, if you need to. Cos Tau, he probably doesn’t know he’s going too fast.  I mean, if you aren’t saying…”

“But I can’t say – cos he just keeps going, and I don’t know how to tell him.”

“Well, you will be able to, Tau – don’t worry, you can easily sort that out.”

“He’s a little faggot,” Tau grumbles, but I can see he’s mollified to some degree.

 

Friday 30 September:

I go pick up Tau this morning – just the usual Friday. I’m there a few minutes early, so I start walking down the drive, and I see Tau close the tilting door of the shed, and come down to meet me. He looks… a bit dishevelled, to be honest. He treads heavily towards me, and in his eyes is that weary, stoical look I’ve seen so many times before.

“Hey Tau,” I say, and then, “Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m alright,” he says, and then, “Just a bit tired.”

I give his arm a little stroke, as we walk. “Yeah, you look a bit tired. Everything ok?”

Tau half-nods, half-shrugs, just walking beside me. He draws me further down the drive – steering me with an arm – then says, urgently, “Today’s not a good… not a very good day to come round here, Miss.”

“Ok,” I say, accepting this at once. “So – something’s going on? That’s what I thought, when I saw you.”

“Yeah, Miss – I was gonna tell you in the car. It’s not a good day to come over, my dad’s been on fries for the last two days, he’s just coming off it now.”

 

This explains a lot about Tau’s appearance today. “Oh,” I say, and then, “Man, I thought your dad was going through a good patch lately.”

“He was, but…” Tau says, resignedly.

“And – have the drug and alcohol people been round? I thought you said they were coming every day.”

“They have, but the last two times my dad just yelled out to them – Fuck off, unless you wanna get shot in the head.”

“And so – they did?”

“Mmm hmm,” nods Tau, wearily.  “My dad should be alright by… um, about Sunday. Today will be like his worst day for mood swings, then over the weekend he’ll get a bit better.”

“Is this his worst day, coming off it?”

“Yup,” says Tau. “It’s always like this.”

“So tonight’s like the danger time?”

“It is,” Tau nods. He leans against the car, patient and tired. “Lucky I’ve got the shed,” he says. “If I go in the house tonight I’ll just get stressed, and then I’ll probably lose it. So I better just stay in the shed.”

I try to be as matter of fact as I can be, saying, “Well at least you know what to do, and that’s good, Tau.” I unlock the door, and he smiles, getting in and sitting back – just resting.

“K then, Tau – shall we go?” I ask. “Do you still feel like going?”

He nods.

 

And like always, with Tau… bits and pieces just come out when he’s ready.

“Miss,” he says, as we drive to the TI. “When my dad’s coming off fries, he talks about killing himself.”

“Does he? That must make everyone feel really stressed, Tau,” I said, acknowledging it, while trying to sound calm.

“It does, Miss… and he cuts himself, he cuts and cuts at his wrists.” Tau turns his palms up and runs one finger across his own skin, saying, “There’s scars from where he’s done it.”

“I didn’t know that,” I say, and then, “So is that why the mental health people have been coming round a lot lately?”

“I think so,” Tau says.

“Has… he always been like this, or do you think it’s getting worse?” I ask.

“It’s always been like this, but it’s getting worse, too,” Tau replies. “He’s done it before, but now it’s more…”

“More often?”

“Yup. It used to be like he was alright for a while, in between – but it happened when I was younger, too.” Tau pauses, and then tells me, “When I was a little kid, my dad tried to hang himself in my room. I came in, and he was in my closet, and I saw him just hanging there –” Tau’s hands describe it, calmly and vividly outlining the shape.

“And… what did you do, Tau?” I ask him, very gently.

“I called to my mum, and she ran in – and we pulled him down.”

 

“Tau,” I say, imagining the scene, and the fear. “How old were you, when that happened?”

“I was 9,” he tells me.

“That must have been terrible for you,” I say, and he nods. “It’s hard on my mum, too,” he adds, and I know he means now, as well as then.

“Course it is,” I murmur.

“Cos my mum’s like… she’s the only one who can calm my dad down. But then she gets stressed out, and she does stupid stuff and makes it worse.”

I nod.

“Getting drunk, getting all mouthy… fucking my dad off.”

“I guess,” I say. “You know, getting drunk is like her way of coping, huh.”

“Yup, getting drunk is her way of coping,” agrees Tau.

“And I guess it’s understandable… just like getting stoned is your way of coping.”

 

Tau chuckles, saying, “I got drunk on Wednesday though, Miss.”

“Did you? Where was that?”

“After course, well, after lunch – with the boys. We gapped it, and went to the park and got drunk.”

“Which boys – the boys from course?”

“Yup. we took the cars, went to the liquor store, went to the park and sat there drinking.”

“Did you drive?”

There is a little silence, which means yes.

By now, we’ve arrived at the TI, and are just sitting there in the carpark, in the sun. It’s quiet, and Tau’s elbow rests softly on mine. I said, “Aye Tau, you shouldn’t be driving.”

“I know, Miss.”

“And what will happen… if the cops pull you over again?”

Tau shrugs. He just says, looking down, “I don’t care if the cops pull me over.”

“Yes you do care,” I tell him, tenderly and with conviction. “You do care if the cops pull you over.”

“Nah…”

“Yes you bloody do, you idiot!” I say, just to make him laugh, because he knows both that I mean it; and that I understand.

 

And so we just go into McDonald’s and sit down, and I go get us a feed. When I come back with it, he just says, “Shot Miss,” and eats everything up, and pads off to refill his drink several times – and I realize that Tau is real hungry and thirsty, today. It kind of breaks my heart to think of it. Tau just waiting – down in the shed – for Scott to come off the fries. Because he’s as damn patient as he can be, when he has to be. I look at him just sitting there close, weary and unshaven, and at least fed now. It doesn’t matter – Tau always looks beautiful to me. That’s the honest truth. I always look at him and see his strong, brave, and exceptional character, and it’s always like that. Always.

 

The other thing is we start filling out the Independent Circumstances forms. I need to talk to the Youth Law people, before we do the part about addresses and stuff. But we do all the parts we can do, right now. Tau has to write a statement about why he needs to live apart from his parental home, and it’s difficult to put into words, of course. Just objectifying it like that seems to make it stand out; make it loom in front of us.

“Can you write it?” pleads Tau.

“No Tau, it has to come from you. There’s a whole page that I have to write, as well – but this part has to be what you think.”

“Can you help me, though?”

“Course I can,” I tell him. And together we discuss it, until Tau comes up with a statement which he writes down. “Fuck, that’s the most writing I’ve done for ages,” he says, when it’s finished.

“Well, I guess it’s good practice then!” I say, and he grins.

We’re not sure how to answer the part which asks him to: ‘Describe how you have been supporting yourself.’

‘By selling… illegal… drugs…”  I pretend to write, and we both fall about laughing.

“I think you should just leave that section for now. I’ll ask Youth Law, cos there’s no point in being honest now, is there,” I say. We sit there and joke about it – which sometimes is all you can do.

Tau fills up his drink again, and clears our table, and gives me a hug before going to his tutoring appointment. And I go back to school.