Real time

Friday 28 November:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Don’t gap, Tau,” I say tenderly.

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Saturday 29 November:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Sunday 30 November:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 5 November:

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday 7 November:

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

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

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

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

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

“Why were you drinking in the rain?”

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

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

“Um – we got two 12 packs. Bourbon.”

“And did you and Leroi drink it all?”

He nods.

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

 

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

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Solace

Sunday 13 July, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monday 14 July:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tuesday 15 July

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Tau nods, grinning.

 

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

All the fear that has ever been in your heart

Thursday 17 January, 2013:

Tau texts me this morning, tells me the boys are coming to pick him up, they’re going to go round to Robbie’s already. It’s only about 8 o’clock.

I ask him if he’s had a good sleep, he replies that he got drunk first… so he had a good sleep.

 

Just before midnight, I head to the airport to pick up Kepaoa. Not that I’m even holding my breath on this. I just think to myself – well, if he’s there, he’s there. And then it turns out he’s the very first person to clear Customs and make it through the arrivals gate. He embraces me and hoots with laughter at my faux “surprised” look, saying he knew if he didn’t make it this time, he’d be stuck in Australia.

It soothes my heart, you know, to talk to Kepaoa. To acknowledge that it’s been hard lately. I think it’s the same for him, too. He starts to calm down: about Teri and the baby; about things in general.

“Does it feel weird to be back?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “It feels like I’ve never been away.”

 

When we get home, Tau’s here, real horced. He stumbles about as he talks to us – I think Kepaoa is even a little bit shocked to see him this way, though of course he knows about Robbie and what’s happened. The two of them greet one another in a very friendly manner, clasping hands and slapping shoulders. Kepaoa is bringing in his bags, so I leave him to do that, and go talk to Tau in the sleepout.

He’s just walked over from Carthill, via Fitzroy St, where he “played up”, he tells me. Stepped out everyone, stood them over and took their buds – even Leroi. Then he took off, and made his way round here.

“I was angry,” is all he can say, to explain it. “I don’t know why I got like that.”

“I know, Tau,” I tell him. “Everyone understands, don’t worry. Sometimes when people feel real, real sad – they get angry like that.”

He nods, just breathing quietly. He seems calm now. He’s made a feed at my place (just before we got home) and is about to light up the bucky. He tells me, “I’m sorry I stepped out Leroi.”

“He’ll be alright,” I reassure him.

 

The three of us sit out in the shed for a while, just talking. Tau bends over the bucky from time to time. When he offers it to Kepaoa though, he just shakes his head, saying, “Algood ge.”

“Miss?” says Tau, proffering it to me. I just laugh.

“Faar, I’m blazed,” says Tau, sitting back wearily in his chair. He does look extremely stoned.

 

Friday 18 January:

This morning Tau says, “Kepaoa’s algood Miss, he was humble as.” I think he’d been expecting to see some impassive, staunch persona – and Kepaoa can certainly be that way. But last night there was a kind of compassion about him that touched my heart very much. Maybe he saw that Tau was hurting, deep inside. And it wasn’t so long ago that Kepaoa was hurting like that too.

First day after the funeral – it’s a hard time. And Tau finds it so hard to deal with the way he’s feeling; I don’t even know if he can articulate it to himself. He’s so damn ‘elemental’ sometimes, is Tau. Every emotion’s like a flash flood, or a tornado, or a spike of radiant sunshine. Especially when it’s heightened by alcohol.

Speaking of which, Leroi’s over – the two of them have obviously made up – and Tau’s purchased an 18 pack of Cody’s. They’re just drowning everything out with alcohol. They won’t even think about the stuff that hurts them; they can’t. And I’m going out with Mandy; we planned it the other day. Should I leave the boys? I don’t know. Objectively I look at it, and I think – honestly, am I crazy?

I just have this feeling in my heart that I’ve got to trust Tau, from somewhere down in the depths. I have to trust him to look after things up here. I know that sounds crazy, possibly. But I don’t think anyone’s ever trusted Tau before, in his whole life – and I think I have to.

So I just put my arms around Tau and Leroi’s blued up shoulders (they’re still wearing their clothes from yesterday) and say, “Guys, I’m trusting you to look after things. I want you to have a quiet night, and take it easy, k?”

Tau nods, and his body relaxes under my arm. “Yup, Miss,” he says. “We will.”

“Yup, Miss,” Leroi says, and I get the weirdest feeling of safety, God knows why. I can’t see what the hell I’m doing, some days. I just know I have to give Tau what I need from him, which is trust. I just have to. It’s the only thing that just… might… work.

And God, don’t forget for even one second.

 

Saturday 19 January:

Actually last night is pretty nice – unpretentious, busy. We get Mojitos, and bar snacks: fish goujons, beer battered fries. Just sit there and talk.

When I get home, things are all good. Tau comes in and out, he looks quite sober(ish) and in full control of the house and its environs. There’s only Leroi there with him, and they’ve been quiet, no dramas.

But I wake up early this morning and my stomach lurches with that same feeling. I want to cry, because I don’t know how to make it go away. And the more I think about it, the worse it feels. I’m so tired of being afraid, especially a week out from school. I’m tired of waking up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, that seems like habit. I’m tired of seeing my eyes like two beseeching, imploring bunny eyes; I feel like a quivering wretch, timid and ready to dart and hide.

I don’t even know why it’s like this. Not really, or not… essentially. Because it isn’t my essence, but it’s like I said – a habit that’s formed. And breaking this habit seems like the hardest thing in the whole, entire world to me.

Sometimes I feel like freedom’s just one, tiny click away. And other times I think shame will never let me go.

Ohh, I can tell you how I need to throw it off, just shrug it right off and stand up, without the tether of shame. And if I could, then what would be possible?

 

“I pray that God will bless you in everything that you do. I pray that you will grow intellectually, so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into, in that world picture. And I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out…” – Malcolm X