Strategies

Thursday 4 September 2014:

Tau and Leroi have ‘a few’ cans tonight – this turns out to be more like two boxes. I’m alright with it, or kind of. It’s the end of another successful ‘week’ of study (course runs Mon-Thurs and Tues-Fri on alternate weeks). Not just that, but it seems wiser to drink here, rather than round at their uncle’s (the alternative strategy).

It’s just that… 24 cans is a lot, actually. Or maybe it’s only 18, but that’s a lot too. It doesn’t seem like a lot to them – which in some ways is the thing that bothers me.

Still, they do ask me. I give the decision some thought, and it seems like the safest way to play it. I try to be as pragmatic and reasonable as I can, considering that: a) I love them and am proud of them, b) I want to try minimize risk, and c) I know there’s always a risk.

Everything goes ok though. I make dinner and leave it on the counter when I go to bed.

 

Friday 5 September:

When we get home from Municipal (DVDs, fish and chips, and the drugs run), Sheree’s sitting in the sleepout, and looking quite comfortable there too. A couple of things immediately occur to me. First, that she hasn’t even bothered to let me know (she texted me not five minutes earlier to ask where the boys were, but didn’t say she was here.) So the tacit assumption troubles me: that it’s Tau’s place and she can come and go as she likes.

Second, the boys have left the sleepout unlocked again – I’ve mentioned this to them a few times, but it keeps happening. I don’t like leaving the place unsecured, anyone could stroll in. I don’t just mean Sheree – I mean anyone, with who knows what intention.

I tell Sheree I’ll drop her off “soon as she’s ready”, though the temporal implications of this statement don’t sink in as quickly as I hope.

 

Ha, and then all that’s nothing, compared to what comes later.

Round 1 am, I hear someone crying and knocking on the door of the sleepout. First I think it’s Leroi, and that he and Tau must have had an argument. It’s raining and I tuck a rug around my shoulders and go out.

Sheree is in the sleepout, weeping and wailing. She’s huddled on the weights bench, while Tau sits impassive on the bed and Leroi lays on the couch, still snoring. Turns out her family has given her a hiding, and a ‘taxi man’ has seen her wandering in the park and dropped her off here (at her own request).

She crouches and cries, “I miss Scott… I miss him so much!” There’s nothing really to be done, so I just sit next to her while she sobs. Tau looks super-stressed, which is the way I feel inside too. Leroi just slumbers on (or pretends to), either of which is probably a good thing.

Sheree has that drunk, little-girl voice as she asks, “Please Miss… can I stay here for the night, I’ll be gone in the morning?”

“Yup, ok…” I murmur, knowing this is the only kind thing I can say, but feeling a great surge of resentment that Sheree is both dumping her problems on Tau’s already overburdened shoulders, and using my place as a convenient bolt-hole.

I leave the shed and fall asleep quickly, probably out of desperation to have my mind rid of problems for a while.

 

Saturday 6 September

In the morning, Sheree comes in to use the bathroom. She’s limping, can hardly walk – and is obviously embarrassed about last night. In some ways I feel for her. But still using that same girly voice, she calls me Miss again. I feel like saying – fuck, I’m not your Miss, you’re a grown woman. Instead, I just offer to make her a coffee, but she beats a hobbled retreat back to the sleepout.

An hour later, a car arrives, and Sheree emerges again, leaning on Tau’s shoulder and hopping on one leg. She gets in. I hear her call out, “Love you…” to the boys.

 

Tau comes straight in to inform me she’s going down the line. He looks relieved, to be honest.

“That’s a good idea,” I say. “Go down for a few days, sort stuff out.”

“Mum says she wants to stay there,” he tells me. “Get us a house.”

Whatever, I think to myself. She can just keep drinking and see how far she gets.

Actually, it distresses me to feel like this towards Sheree. But I’ve gone far past the point of pretending we can be friends. Too much has happened, and when it comes down to it: family’s family. I’m just her Plan B – and probably Leroi’s too, for that matter, and maybe even Tau’s. And yet I allow it to happen. I hold that line for Tau, if only they knew it. And perhaps they do, who knows?

 

Like me (though of course I don’t say as much), Tau surmises that Sheree will be back at her brother’s before too long. “It’s the only house where she can drink,” he says, counting off reasons. “And down the line she’s got nowhere to score. Plus she said uncle’s is the only place she feels comfortable.”

“Yeah, well she wasn’t very comfortable last night,” I say, trying not to sound too sarcastic.

“Hard,” Tau replies, and then, “But I still reckon she’ll go back there.”

“What about moving down the line?” I ask.

“She says she wants to,” says Tau. “But I don’t think my mum could get a house anywhere. She doesn’t know how to do any of that stuff. So she’ll just go back to Uncle’s.”

“And then the same thing’s going to keep happening, probably,” I say, and Tau nods, without rancour.

“Anyway me and Leroi don’t want to go down the line.” He looks horrified at the thought, adding, “And we’re doing good on our course, we’d hate to give that up.”

 

Sunday 7 September:

I hardly know where to start. The boys head off to Clancy, and things intensify even further once they return home. Of course, alcohol is again the prime mover.

Tau gets back first – this is around 2 am. He arrives without any signs of distress whatsoever. His footfall is light and untroubled, and he lets himself in to make a feed. His state registers as ‘normal’ on my radar; in fact I don’t even get out of bed – there’s no need.  Idly, I wonder if Leroi has stayed over at Clancy. Then I fall back to sleep.

 

An hour or so later, I wake again, hearing Leroi come back and go into the sleepout  And that, I assume, is the end of their night.

A couple of minutes later, I hear voices start up. At first I think it’s another one of their famous rap battles. But then there’s a scuffle and a shouts; a door bangs, and I hear someone crying.

When I go out, I see a figure by the car, and “Who’s outside,” I call.

“Me, Leroi,” comes the reply. “Tau’s locked me out of the shed, I don’t know why he’s angry!” At the end of this sentence Leroi’s voice rises in a wail.

“Okay, okay Leroi,” I tell him. “I’ll go see what’s happening in there.” And I tap on the door, saying, “Tau, it’s me – let me in.”

The door opens and admits me, and I lock it behind me, automatically.

 

Inside the shed a few things have been knocked to the ground (a plate, cups, some DVDs), and Tau stands amongst them, his breath heaving out and his jaw clenched and twitching. “I just wanted to kick back!” he bursts out. “I just wanted to watch a DVD and go to sleep. And then Leroi came back and tried to step me out.”

“What’s it over?” I ask him, and I put one arm across his shoulders. “What happened?”

“I don’t even know,” Tau tells me. He’s struggling to restrain himself, I can see that. “I just wanna hook the cunt…”

“No you don’t; no you don’t,” I say, trying to keep my voice calm.

“I wanna smash that cunt, then gap.”

“Nah Tau, you don’t want to do that,” I say, my hands still firmly against his back. “I’ll take him inside, you guys need some time out.”

“I’m fuckin sick of him,” Tau rails. “Fuckit, I feel like gapping.”

“I know,” I acknowledge. “But if you go out on the road like this, anything could happen.”

Tau nods, and I chance my arm a bit more, using one of La-Verne’s favourite words: “Is that a good strategy, Tau? What do you think will happen if you use that strategy?”

“Smash something up,” mumbles Tau. At least he’s listening to me.

“Yup… and probably get locked up for the weekend,” I sigh. “Come on Tau, you’re too smart for that now.” And I carry on coaxing him, gently: “You’re strong, Tau. I know you can stay calm.”

“Wanna gap…” Tau’s face crumples and he breathes out a few sobs. “Miss, I just wanna smash him and gap, I don’t want to be around him.” I can see what a mighty effort he’s making to do what I’m requesting of him.

“I know,” I try to soothe him. “I’ll keep Leroi away from you, and you can just stay in here, okay? He can sleep on the couch, let you guys get some time out.”

Tau nods, half unwillingly, but nods all the same.

“I’ll go out and talk to him,” I say “But I want you to promise to stay here, ok? Can you do that, Tau?”

He nods again, and I can see the intention is there at least. So I have to risk it. “Good boy,” I tell him. “Thank you Tau, I really appreciate it that you’re listening to what I’m saying.

When I leave, I tell him, “Lock the door behind me,” and he does.

 

Outside, Leroi is pacing and now I see that he’s shirtless, too. He looks all puffed up, and reminds me suddenly of Scott.

“Fuck that faggot,” he says, when he sees Tau close the door. “Fuck him… Fuck that lil cunt.”

“Nah Leroi, come inside,” I say, as a first attempt.

“No Miss, I’ll hook that fuckin cunt, he’s all shit,” Leroi replies. He’s still pretty drunk, and is striding around as he talks.

“You guys need some time out,” I tell him. “Let’s go inside – it’s cold out here.” (which it most certainly is)

But Leroi keeps on walking back and forth, around the car and towards the shed door. “Come out, fag,” he calls. “Fuckin little fag, no nuts, soft nuts.. too chicken to come out.”

“Stop it Leroi,” I say quietly.

“Why won’t he come out then – cos he’s too fuckin scared,” Leroi asks, rhetorically. “This is what he always does when I want to fight at parties: ‘Come on Leroi, let’s go’,” he quotes, in a withering tone. “Drops his fuckin nuts, wants to go home.” He casts a look of scorn towards the windows, adding loudly, “Everyone knows it – your dad, everyone. He used to tell you, ay Tau, ya soft nuts.”

From inside the shed I hear a growl of seething rage, which is also the sound of Tau keeping his promise, and so I place my back to the door, saying firmly, “No, Leroi, leave it. I’ve asked Tau, and that’s why he’s leaving it.”

And thus, to give you the essence of it, begins the pattern of the next few hours.

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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.

Betting my bankroll

Saturday 31 May, 2014:

Couple of boys on bikes appear in the driveway. The visit seems unscheduled, so I just wait to see what eventuates.

Literally a minute later, I see Tau escorting them down the drive again in a friendly and low-key manner. A few minutes after that, he pads inside and says, “Ahem… sorry about that Miss.” The way he clears his throat suggests he is expecting to be slightly reprimanded.

But I tell him, “No need to be sorry at all, Tau. You handled that real good – I wasn’t worried about it for a second.”

Tau looks pleased. “I didn’t know they were coming,” he assures me. “They were just biking past and saw us. Me and Leroi explained it to them straight away. We just had to think how to say it.”

“I could see that you were dealing with it,” I say. “And it’s not that I don’t want you guys to have your friends over – but just the ones I trust, these days.”

“I know – and it’s algood, Miss,” Tau says at once. “We’re happy about it. We don’t want to go back to the old ways either. He thinks about it and goes on, “It’s a good buzz doing things differently – I want it to stay that way.”

They just keep on amazing me.

 

This evening the boys visit Sheree, round at her brother’s place: “They’re the brokest family I’ve ever seen,” Tau tells me. “But they’re used to it,” he adds with an equinanimous shrug.

The two of them leave armed with just three cans each. I take Tau to the liquor store to procure the goods, he having first asked me if they can have one at home before they go.

I agree to this, on the condition that no-one else comes around to drink, and it’s not a daily event or anything.

It’s obvious – well it is to me – why I have to be this pragmatic with Tau and Leroi. They need to know there’s at least one functioning adult around: someone who won’t go off the emotional deep end with them while they try and work things out. And it’s a privilege to be in that role. But at the same time, I got my big feelings too. And nowhere to put them. Absolutely nowhere to put them, unless it’s down on the page.

 

Monday 2 June:

Driving to school, in the clarity of the early morning, everything seems quite simple. I feel like I want to forgive anyone who’s ever hurt me. I can’t keep a single grudge alive as the mega-pixels of the day kick in, every leaf on every tree traced limpidly by the rising sun.

That feeling bathes my heart until I get to morning briefing and listen to an edifying address from Marjorie, about WiPC:E (World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education, which she attended in the holidays). I guess she had a good time, but her reminiscences on “these beautiful people” are a sore trial to me. She has this way of domesticating everyone and everything she encounters, filtering it through her personalized lens to present it as a sentimentally uplifting story.

 

Thursday 5 June:

On the way to the car this morning, laden with bags, I stumble on a stone that’s on the path, losing my footing for a second. Almost idly, the thought flashes up in my mind: At least if I broke my leg, I wouldn’t have to go to school.

This is laying me low and I can’t be laid low – I need to keep my energy simmering on some kind of minimum function. If I let it run out, then how am I going to find anything new?

Truth is, though, I don’t care about any of it, and even the merest pretending to do so seems less and less plausible.

 

Friday 6 June:

I enact my usual morning routine: breakfast; lappy; 3 News… I actually like getting ready for work in the morning. Getting dressed and doing my hair and makeup; looking nice and all. Feeling like there could be somewhere to be, and something useful to do.

It’s just school that isn’t useful anymore. There’s not one useful thing about it, apart from making money.  Guess there used to be… when I had my campaninos, and a reason to be there.

So today’s the day, I think. I’m going to mail my notice to Karys, and I guess I better cc her PA, and put a hard copy in her pigeonhole as well.

 

Of course, once I actually go through with it (at the end of the school day), I feel siiiiiick. Oh God, what have I done? – I mutter to myself.  Then I just pack up and get out of there.

On the way back home, I long for someone to comfort me. I grumble to myself: Where’s Kepaoa when you need him? The stray thought makes me laugh, which is not a bad thing.

It occurs to me that it’s been a whole year without Kepaoa. And I won’t lie, I miss all that stuff. Night rides, jumping into the car for the Municipal-Carthill run. Rugged up on our respective couches, watching Sky movies and listening to reggae. Bowls of noodles; toaster pinging; butter chicken on rice.

I miss it alright. And at the same time, I knew I was on a hiding to nothing; I think I always knew it. But for a little while, I was happy, when not much else made me happy. I felt… better, you know?

I’m never going to say a bad word about Kepaoa Alesi. I cared about him the exact way he was, violent side and all. Yes, he was a hustler, and I guess he hustled me too, but that wasn’t the whole story. In his way, he was an honorable person.

 

Sunday 8 June:

Wake up feeling all out of whack with everything.

had to give in my notice, I tell myself. I couldn’t stand it anymore (this phrase brings Argos to mind, suddenly and vividly).

All the same, I half-panic about the repercussions. Am I just getting caught up in a slipstream going the wrong way, about to be spat out into some chaotic, broke, mixed-up maelstrom?

I’m lucky to have a job.. aren’t I? Who knows if I can even get another one. I haven’t been shortlisted for anything yet – emails keep coming: we regret to inform you that on this occasion, we have not selected your application to proceed

So I wonder what the fuck I’ve done, and what’s going to happen, and how it’s all going to play out. Because I’m literally betting my bankroll on it.

 

I just head off to pump, anyway. Coming down the stairs after class, the woman behind me says, “Oh, thank God all that pain’s over,” and I just look back at her in silent empathy – and we start to laugh.

Interested

Monday 12 May, 2014:

Events take a somewhat unexpected turn this morning. Or maybe not unexpected at all, though I didn’t expect things to happen quite so soon.

I wake up at 6, to the usual alarm ringtone (Bet Yo Bank Roll.) Feel the same old responses kick straight in: shallow, tight breathing, left eye that won’t stop watering, feeling of complete dissonance with the teacher role.

So I get up, wash my hair, turn on the morning news, eat breakfast, take my lunch out of the fridge. All of it – anyway – just like it’s no thing. Which, in a way, is true. I’m used to waking up and feeling this panic in my chest. It’s been a dulled, ‘no-surprises’ panic, all year long; longer even. But lately I’ve found it almost impossible to suppress.

 

The boys come bowling in, looking happy and wide-awake. They haven’t had K2 for four days straight, and, as Tau tells me proudly: “We’re not even feening for it!”

I feel a big rush of love for them, which for some reason makes me hate the thought of school even more.

While I pack my shit up, and they go light a ciggie outside, I get this impossible feeling in my heart: a feeling that I can no longer square even one thing about school with anything else in my life.

 

I calmly sit at the laptop and compose an email to my primary healthcare provider:

Hi there

I would like to book an appointment with Dr Mandel (if the times below fit in with his hours). Or if not, then one of the other doctors please.

I could make it into the city by 4pm on Wed, Thurs, or 4:30 Friday.

Monday and Tuesday are both out this week, as I have meetings after work.

I would like some general advice about work-related stress (exacerbated by personal pressures), with the view to taking a fortnight’s sick leave to consider the options available.

If you are able to fit me in, that would be great, as obviously I would like to attend to the situation as soon as I can.

Thanks for your assistance,

 

Then I head down Municipal Rd towards work, though all my normal actions have a slightly surreal quality by now. It’s almost 8 o’clock; I think how I’ll be late for staff briefing, and: k then, I’ll just set up in my room instead, I tell myself.

But even that isn’t enough to counter the feeling of impossibility in my heart. Somewhere before the lights on the corner of Municipal and Hayworth, I realize I can’t go to school today. I can’t pretend to be a teacher, not on this day.

I stop the car – it seems simple. It is simple, I guess. And there on the side of Municipal Rd, I text Shakira, setting relief in a few lines:

Hi Shakira there has been a family emergency which I need to deal with urgently. I wont be at work today, apologies for the inconvenience. Im not at home atm cannot email work through. Folders for year 9 are upstairs, they can start human rights section. Year 13 can work through green txbook ch 1 on early contact/missionaries. In pigeonholes on l.h. shelves in my room. Thank you & again my apologies.

 

At first I think of going home, but then decide I should get right away; the boys don’t need to see me like this. And I have my lunch all packed up already. A sandwich; a kiwi; some left over fried rice. So I fill up a bottle of water at the gas station – and I drive to the carpark at the mall. It seems like the most unassuming, calm, environment I can think of. And private, in some kind of visible but anonymous way.

When I turn on my data, I find the doctor’s surgery have mailed me back: they’ve offered me an appointment for Wednesday at 4:15 pm. So I text Shakira again to say I’ll be out tomorrow and Wednesday (I don’t mention any further days for now) and that I’ll have a medical certificate.

Then I just sit there. I don’t know what to do. I just know it all has to stop right now. I can’t make it fit any longer. I just can’t pretend it does – not even in the littlest, least. I can’t willingly suspend my disbelief for one moment longer.

I think and think about everything, scouring it all for a solution. I could just take the rest of this week off, I think. Then go back to work and try handle it.

But if that’s the sensible option, then why isn’t it working? Why did I feel like I couldn’t even bear to go there, this morning. The idea of having to open my mouth and spout drivel in a classroom… well the very idea of it made me want to cry my eyes out.

One way or another, this feels like a total refusal. Though at the same time I’m scared that now everything’s just going to go to hell in a handcart. I could wind up broke and homeless. We could, I think. I’ve only got enough savings for a month’s rent.

Then, all of a sudden… for just a few precious seconds, another thought comes out of nowhere and fills my mind, and I can vividly imagine what it might feel like to have a different life – not to be miserable at MC, talking smack about smack.

 

When I get home, Tau and Leroi have been fine. They say they’ve a fun day, even with no drugs. They’ve just been playing (literally playing outside, bouncing one of the balls that came over the fence from the park). This amazes me so much that I just look at them in stunned silence, and then they laugh as much as I do.

 

Tuesday 13 May:

Wake up at 5:30, and I just set my relief (in a few lines) and mail it through.

The main thing I need to get right today is some feeling of structure to all this. It’s tempting to just panic about the possible outcomes (and in particular the money), but that isn’t going to help my equilibrium whatsoever.

When the boys get up, I just say I’m “sick”, and taking the day off. They are unalarmed, especially as I was tired yesterday. And Tau says, as casual as you please, “Hey Miss, is it algood if I warm up the leftovers from last night’s dinner?”

“It sure is,” I tell him. I’m trying to sound like it’s no big deal, but inside of me, little sparks are igniting and jumping for joy.

Because this is Tau; this is a big deal. Oh, I think. Something’s working, I don’t know what it is – but something’s working. And again I get that “remembering” sensation of what it could feel like to be happy with my daily routine, to feel like I’m doing something meaningful with my time. I kind of hug the feeling to myself, then let it expand out into the air.

I know I’ve learned a lot: Is it enough? Honestly – have I done enough to give myself a good shot at this? Because that’s what I’m counting on; that’s really what I’m putting my bets on.

 

Wednesday 14 May:

The doctor’s appointment goes fine, and he writes me a medical certificate for two weeks’ leave. But when I get home, Sheree’s here. She’s been having more problems at her brother’s, she tells me. Her eyes travel to mine, hopefully.

I know I have to look after myself. I tell her (as gently as I can) that it isn’t possible for her to stay here. But already I see that the boundaries are getting blurred, as Sheree sits crying in the sleepout, saying she understands; she doesn’t know what to do… she just wants to be with the boys. She’s giving off that helpless vibe which takes so much of my energy to ‘block’, rather than let it soak in. Sure, she needs help.. she needs help alright but not primarily from me. I can’t do everything for everyone else, and I don’t want to try.

Ok – strategy for today, I tell myself. Sheree can stay here for a couple hours. I’ll drop her off later, before I go to the gym.

 

But by then, I’m a mess of smouldering resentment. I’m sick of caring about everyone else’s big feelings, that they’re allowed to have. Sheree’s allowed to feel stressed, and be sad, and want comfort, and cry, and ‘go funny’ as Tau puts it – and when she leaves, she says, “Love you,” and he gives her a hug and says to her, “Love you too.”

You know… they’re allowed to feel whatever: grief, anxiety, love. And I? I have to keep being strong and calm, like I got no feelings for anything at all. Like I’m not worried about what I’m going to do, or how to earn a living. Like anyone cares how I earn a living, long as the rent’s paid and there’s a roof over Tau and Leroi’s heads, and Sheree can come and cry in the frickin sleepout.

That’s the resentful, angry, upset part of me. Honestly – I’m not proud of it. But neither can I deny that there’s a bit of validity to it, despite the way I’ve expressed it just now.

There’s also a part of me that kind of ‘sits’ with all this, and shrugs, like: how many times you have to go through this, before you learn the lesson?

And I don’t know. I don’t know at all. But it all swings round, and round, and round. Sometime, I’ve got to grab hold of it and grapple with it, and knock it down and make it mine.

It also strikes me as funny how I’m so interested in all this – even when I’m gnashing my teeth with frustration. It’s like my saving grace, in a way. The fact that I’m more ‘interested’ than I’m ‘not interested’. I’m just not the type to do anything for a quiet life. At the end of the day, I’ll take my chances with an adventure.

 

Feel and do

Saturday 26 April, 2014:

I take Tau to his counselling appointment with Max Rosdolsky. Leroi comes along for the ride, just to see what it’s all about; he tells me he’s going to sit in the waiting room.

While they’re in there, I go for a walk. The surroundings look weirdly familiar in some way. The air seems to hold a gently disturbing feel to it, almost as if I’ve time-travelled back to my childhood – as I walk past the independent bookseller; the boutique dress store; the deli.

A whole multitude of ‘white people’ are promenading up and down the leafy suburban street, and I remember Kepaoa… and then push the whole thing away, abruptly. Instead, I concentrate on the store fronts. I feel my energy drain away, and I bumble along automatically. But I have no thought at all to even go into any of those places.

 

After a while I go back to the car. I see the boys strolling back too, and: “That was quick!” I tell them. It’s only been 45 minutes.

“Oh, but Miss, Max wants to meet you, that’s why we came out – to get you,” says Tau, with the greatest of ease.

I’m surprised by this, but try taking it in the spirit intended by Tau, and hop out. Though idly and inwardly, I wonder if Max wants to suss me out; check if I’m dodgy or something. This passing thought doesn’t really disturb me too much. Well, fair enough, I think to myself.

So we go along the street again and up some stairs to the consulting rooms. Maxwell immediately shakes my hand, telling me it’s good to meet me. Then he ushers Tau and me into the office – Leroi waits outside.

 

As far as I can make out, Maxwell genuinely wants to share what Tau has been working on, with a view to having even more people on the same page with it. He goes over a schema which has been drawn on a mini white board. Four saucer shaped tiers with ‘think’ at the top, then ‘do’ underneath that, then ‘feel’ and ‘body’. Key words have been written on the diagram (‘K2’  currently featuring in the mediation between ‘feel’ and ‘do’), with arrows showing how everything connects.

It makes a lot of sense, when I think about it. Your physical body, supporting your feelings and moods, which influence the actions you take, which can change your thoughts and beliefs. And then the reverse: your core beliefs about yourself in the world, influencing the actions you take, which have the potential to shift your feelings and moods, which you can stabilise by looking after your physical well-being.

Tau and I both mention the ‘feel/do’ thing. Because how Tau’s feeling at any given time always makes such a big difference to his actions. Max says something interesting in response: “Moods change all the time – that’s normal. They’re like clouds in the sky; they shift constantly. Letting your moods dictate your actions is like letting the clouds tell you what to do.”

The thought makes Tau laugh and nod. And Max goes on to talk about how he can use all his support people, and strategies, and the other levels of the whole process: to keep on ‘doing’ – and to achieve his goals.

It’s actually pretty helpful, and Tau feels comfortable – I can see that. Afterwards, he’s happy and talkative in the car; even Leroi comments on this, saying, “Far, Tau’s always in a good mood after counselling.” He adds wistfully, “I wish I could go.”

“Maybe you can,” I say. “We could find out.”

 

Sunday 27 April:

I wake up with certain thoughts still kind of troubling my mind. Thoughts about myself, first of all. I don’t feel so jumpy (that fish on the hook, twisting futilely), but I do feel like I’m still kind of thrashing about – maybe in a little puddle of water (but in water all the same, which has got to be a improvement).

The heart of the thing for me, right now, is my own beliefs about myself (thanks, Maxwell). Because my words and actions rest on them – and at the moment it isn’t much of a rest. You know, I can state things calmly; clarify the boundaries. But my beliefs are putting out a different vibe which is… what? Appeasement? Fear of abandonment? I don’t know

I too, get mixed up about the links between ‘feel’ and ‘do’. Right now, I want to feel I’m strong, and convey that to the world. But my actions give my real feelings away. Not the actions themselves… but the timbre of them.

 

By the time I go to the gym, Tau and Leroi are also heading off on their morning constitutional – to Ellis (it opens at 8, they’re not even going to be the first of the day’s customers).

When I come back though, there’s a motorbike parked in the carport, just parked up in my spot like it’s no thing.

I drive in and park in front of the sleepout, and soon as my car pulls up, Tau and Leroi come out with someone. It’s a guy I think I’ve seen before, but I’m not sure exactly who he is. It occurs to me though, that he might be family – so I just look at him, and he says, “Hey,”

“Hey,” I reply.

And then he leaves, and for some reason, Tau and Leroi drift to the front gate and just stand there, kind of waiting for me, looking kind of guilty – knowing I’m going to say something, I guess.

 

I go over to them, and, “Who’s that guy?” I ask.

“Inherit,” Tau replies.

I sigh, can’t help it. Then “Inherit?” I repeat, incredulously. “What’s he doing here?”

“He just came to drop us off…  something.”

“Huh?” I say. “But what did he come round here for?”

“Just to drop it off.”

“Well, I don’t care,” I tell them. “You should have met him somewhere else.”

They look down at the ground, and from side to side, saying nothing.

I continue, “I couldn’t remember who he was – I knew I’d seen him before, but I didn’t want to say anything in case he was one of your relations. I wish I had, but..” I break off, feeling my voice half stopped-up and lacking in power. Then I try again, something like this: “I remember who Inherit is now, and I don’t trust him –  I’ve never heard anything good about him.” I add, truthfully: “Kepaoa always said he was dodgy.”

More nods from Tau and Leroi, though they still haven’t replied. And I keep talking – feeling like I’m just trying to cover up the fact that I have no real authority for any of this. I keep on thinking: Who am I? To be saying… to be expecting?

Even writing it down now, my breath feels constricted, and I’m holding my eyes tight still. I hate this feeling so much.

 

Anyway, I just go over it all one more time; reminding them of the protocol for visitors. I tell them they have to be tough enough to say no to the others; they can use me as an excuse, I don’t mind. And even if I’m not home, it doesn’t make any difference – the exact same rules apply.

“I do trust you,” I tell them. “But that means you. – it doesn’t mean just anyone.” They still haven’t said anything, but I get a few more nods in response.

 

Around half an hour later, the shed is still open: a good sign – they haven’t battened down the hatches. So I knock on the door and go in.

They’re having a bucky (of course), and look at me quite placidly. I sit myself down, and say, “I just want to check things are alright between us.”

“They are, Miss,” says Tau, faithfully, and Leroi nods.

“I trust you,” I tell them again, looking from one to the other. “That’s why I’m happy to go out and leave you guys here – cos I trust you. Both of you.”

“Thanks for that, Miss,” Tau says.

“Algood,” I say. “And there aren’t many people I’d trust that way – just a few.”

They nod.

“And yes,” I tell them. “You could just have the boys over while I’m away, and say – sweet as, Miss will never find out. And maybe I wouldn’t and maybe I would… but that’s not even the main thing. The main thing is that you know it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Because you know I trust you.”

“Yup,” they say, and Tau even chuckles.

“Oh,” I continue. “I know it might seem hard, at first. But there are other places to go if you want to kick it with the boys. They’ve all got houses too – there’s nothing to stop you going to see them. They don’t have to come here. And that’s just the way it’s got to be, from now on.”

I know Tau and Leroi understand that. I know they respect what I have to say. But will they be strong enough to follow through, when someone turns up with a box? I honestly don’t know if they have the discipline of mind, just yet.

Chapter and verse

Monday 21 April, 2014:

Still wondering what I’m going to say next time it happens.

Part of me wants to just gloss over things, wipe them away with ‘compassion’. Well, I do have compassion, I say to myself. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have any boundaries.

It’s not so much that I want Sheree and me to be friends, or anything like that. It’s just that… if we aren’t, and if she’s going to come sit in my shed for hours with the boys and not say a word to me, and expect me to be alright with it – well, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m sure my discomfort is partly for reasons which are just as much to do with my old patterns as hers. But that doesn’t mean I have to be “nice” or let everything slide, so that I don’t have boundaries, and she doesn’t have to try to find another way to be with her family (like getting a house, and paying the dang rent this time).

I know it’s hard for them. But I’m doing my best with Tau and Leroi, at some cost to myself, too – which I accept. However, I don’t accept every cost it’s assumed I’ll bear. I can’t do that, unless I also accept being resentful and unhappy. So I’ll have to clarify my boundaries: first to myself, and then to everyone else as well.

I need to keep my equilibrium though, and rely on my own set of ethics. There’s neither happiness nor morality in being unkind. I need to get some things clear in my mind before I speak to anyone about this. And that’s where I’m at with it, for the moment.

But I can still see that it’s going to lead to one of those ‘uncomfortable conversations’, some time down the track. The very idea of Tau thinking, after such a conversation, that he has nowhere to go is hard for me to sit with. But if I’m honest, it wouldn’t actually be the correct conclusion that Tau has ‘nowhere to go’ – it would be maybe that he chooses not to stay, after I make some boundaries clear.

 

Kuli and I go for a walk in the light rain.  It’s around 4.30 when I get home, bearing some Easter eggs (a present from Kuli).

Tau and Leroi (who are both totally zonked on K2) gratefully accept the big chocolate bunny which I give them. And I go make dinner: chicken nibbles and kebabs, stir-fry vegies with lemon and chilli, and mashed potatoes – and bring some out to them.

It makes me feel that same kind of aching tenderness to see them eat without any hesitation. Tau’s fork is pitching into the vegies before I’ve even taken a step out again. I can see they’re hungry, and tired, and just relieved to get a proper feed.

They come in to do the dishes and finish up the last pieces of chicken at the same time. Tau’s so tired he’s almost dropping the dishes, but he is determined to do them anyway.

 

Wednesday 23 April:

This morning Leroi tells me his money didn’t come in – so we contact Winz. The issue turns out to be his medical certificate, which hasn’t been ticked off by Salesi, even though we took the paperwork in ages ago. We can’t help laughing, thinking of the new caseworker and his amo ways.

Thank goodness it’s sorted, though. Because if Leroi doesn’t get paid, then Tau has to cover him… and I have to cover Tau… and I actually can’t loan any more money this week; I need it for groceries and gas and stuff.

Emergencies are: medical, food, transportation. That’s it, pretty much. K2 is not an emergency, and they’re going to have to budget their money. Tau will have to learn to cope, and I will have to learn to be strong.

Bottom line is: I love them, and I’ll help them any way I can – but I’m not touching my savings for drugs money.

 

All afternoon, Sheree’s here, and at first I think I can’t handle it. Yet something’s telling me I have to, this time round. Handle it different, that is.

Writing helps me make some sense of the way I feel, which is to wonder why I’m putting up with assumptions, and encroachments, and people taking advantage, even if they don’t really mean to. And it seems taken for granted that I won’t mind, that I’m a person who’s willing to be blank and absorbent. Not like them, with all their big feelings.

People to love and to be with, people to create things with. Sometimes I think I’m the biggest idiot on the planet, to think anyone might actually see me as anything more than a prop, to be taken out of and put back into their real and passionate lives.

And the whole thing gives me flashbacks to other times when I felt this way… it isn’t just Sheree herself, you know. She’s pushing buttons that she doesn’t even know she’s pushing.

Oh well, I guess you can’t have it all. Sure can’t have every damn thing, right when you want it. So I take the washing off the line, and tidy up around the house a bit, and just sit down.

 

When the sun starts to go down, I know I have to talk to Tau. I wait until he comes in, then I tell him Sheree has to go home later on. “I’m sorry Tau,” I say. “I don’t want to bum you out. But I only feel comfortable with you and Leroi staying, no-one else.” I feel horrifically apologetic, as if I have no right to my feelings on the subject.

But Tau just says, “For sure Miss, yeah hard,” and he seems ok with it.

Afterwards, the jumpy feeling is gone, for a while. That sparky, nervy feeling that I’ve had most of the day – it all flattens out. Sheree goes home, and Tau and Leroi come in and watch TV for a while, and Tau makes a feed; wonders will never cease, huh.

It’s getting cold at night; autumn’s kicked in. Bigger power bills, especially with that game freak Leroi – the PS3’s on night and day out there. But I’m glad to see them eat. I bought Nutella yesterday, and it’s half gone already. If I get juice, it’s like a three litre down the hatch, overnight. I don’t care though, I don’t want to see them stressing about food.

When the boys come in tonight, I feel normal again. I’m not wary of them, the way I am of Sheree. I feel more understood, I guess. Like they see me stressing, and still think kindly of me.

Tomorrow can’t be suckier than today’s tale of woe; chapter and verse as it went.