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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Rogue energies

Friday 26 September, 2014:

Kendrick Lamar through the speakers, news on TV, books and lappy out on the kitchen table. I like mornings; going to work and shit.

Get home again to find three DVDs and a note on the table: ‘Miss will you be able to drop these dvd’s off before you go gym plez. MISS wel B N CLANCY THANKS MISS 🙂 an miss we can’t find the pad locks’.

I carry out this request, then hit the gym. Come back and warm up some leftover chicken curry and rice, which has evidently been mined for its chicken, and is now almost vegetarian.

 

Around 10, Tau texts to see if I can pick them up, they’ll start walking along Carthill Rd. I go collect them and we head back via the shops at Municipal, where Tau does a long and complicated tally of his finances before ordering chicken and chips. They want to buy me takeout as well, and though I keep on explaining I’ve already eaten, this only serves to mystify them (despite the lateness of the hour) and intensify their efforts at persuading me otherwise.

I can’t help but laugh a little bit, despite my worry at their overall state. Both of them are so drunk that it isn’t really funny at all, stumbling around and “m’bro’ing” everyone out on the street.

 

Back in the car, I’m barely able to engage in the general conversation. I’m just trying to stay one step ahead (thinking of the potential for things go awry) – and I feel slightly resentful, too. Not at coming out to pick them up, but at having to absorb all these rogue energies. I can’t tell them they’re being dicks, even in jest. Tau and Leroi wouldn’t cope with that right now. It would just get them all upset, which is not the way to roll with drunk people.

So I put up with them going on fulsomely about everyone and everything, all the way home. I’m quiet and, I guess, reserved – which only makes them more garrulous in their approach; trying to make me happy, I think.

 

The minute we get home, Tau realizes he forgot to pick up a foil (which he already paid Kost for) and so out we go to Clancy again – Leroi stays back to make a start on the takeaways. And as soon as Tau’s on his own with me, everything just comes tumbling out. Because he’s so drunk, there is almost no caution in his approach. I can see (and he even says at one point) that he trusts me enough to talk about certain things. So I can’t keep running that ‘polite’ strategy anymore, holding the vibe at arm’s length.

“Well, it’s good you want to tell me, Tau,” I say.” But I’d listen anytime. You don’t have to get drunk first.”

“It’s hard to talk about it,” Tau says. “I don’t like saying things to people.” He thinks about this and reconsiders his words. “Except you, Miss,” he clarifies.

 

So… all the way to Clancy and back again, Tau talks. First, about the way he wrestles with his conscience. It makes me think of that ‘two wolves’ story, maybe one day I’ll show it to him.

Next he tells me he had another bad day at course today. He and Leroi left early and went home, because Tau was getting aggro with everyone all day long.

“It’s ok, Tau,” I tell him. “If that’s how you were feeling, then you did the right thing going home early.”

And he looks momentarily soothed by this.

 

Then he confesses he almost hit Maxwell – it was at their last counselling session, when Max mentioned Sheree.

“I know my mum’s doing dumb stuff,” Tau says in frustration. “I know she’s doing the wrong things – no-one has to tell me that, I can see it for myself. I

I nod and he goes on: “I wanted to just hook him. But I didn’t – cos we’re getting paid more to go to counselling.”

“That’s not the only reason,” I suggest.

“Yeah, I know,” Tau agrees reluctantly. He shakes his head, saying, “Max’s taught me heaps. And… I like him. I couldn’t hit him – but I did want to.”

“It’s not unexpected though, Tau,” I say. “Counselling can bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Honestly, Max wouldn’t have been surprised if you felt upset. I’m sure he expected it, and knew what to do.

“I think he felt… scared, for a second,” Tau says. He sounds guilty at the thought. “I think that’s why we finished the session early. He just went all quiet, and then he said, ‘Ok, let’s wind this up.’”

“Yup,” I say, getting it. “That makes sense. But, the thing is, Tau – you didn’t hit him. You did the right thing, and you got through it. I’m glad you’ve told me.”

Tau manages a smile, and I think I understand now why Max seemed more reticent than normal last Sunday, when I went to get those forms signed. He was almost… a touch abrupt when talking about Tau.

 

By the time we get back, Tau has a slightly jolty expression of relief, to have gotten at least some of these worries off his chest. I think he’s about to say more, too – but for the fact that Leroi arrives straight out of the sleepout, to celebrate the arrival of the foil.

“You both need a sesh,” I sigh. “Go on then, and I’ll go make a cuppa tea.”

They laugh, tickled by this. “Cuppa tea…” echoes Leroi. “Should have a sesh too, Miss.”

“Hell no,” I tell them. “Someone has to stay straight, round here.”

“Haard.”

 

I come back out with my tea, and we talk, Tau circles back and forth, sometimes bestowing a hug upon me as he completes each tour of the sleepout. “I don’t know how to explain it Miss… I just don’t know how to explain it,” he repeats.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“When I see my family, and they say, oh we’re here for you, your family’s here for you, I feel like telling them – that’s nothing compared to this.” He looks at me and shook his head. “I can’t explain it Miss, I don’t know how to say it. But I just don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have anywhere to go; if I didn’t have you, didn’t have… this.” He holds one arm up to demonstrate, then embraces me, saying, “I love you like family, Miss.”

“Me too, Tau,” I tell him. “I’m here for you through thick and thin.”

“If I was rich…” Tau begins again, dreamily. “If I won Lotto, I’d give you a million dollars Miss, straight up.”

Solace

Sunday 13 July, 2014:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Monday 14 July:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Tuesday 15 July

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Tau nods, grinning.

 

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

Normal

Tuesday 1 July, 2014:

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

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

 

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

“Did he believe you?”

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

 

Thursday 3 July:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes me sniff back tears all over again.

 

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

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

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

 

Friday 11 July:

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

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

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

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

 

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

“So Leroi just stayed and took the bash?”

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

 

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

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

 

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

Deep holes

Friday 18 April, 2014:

First day of the holidays – I can hear Tau coughing outside, but he doesn’t sound too bad compared to yesterday. He and Leroi are just standing around laughing while he coughs, which is a good sign. Yesterday he couldn’t even raise a smile. He was real stoical about it, but I know it must have been pretty bad for them to call me at school.

Tau comes in to get another drink (he’s not actually too shy about filling up a cup of juice), and there I am, eating a yoghurt. Once again I feel guilty for eating. But there’s yoghurts in the fridge, there’s bacon and eggs, and sausages; muesli bars and chips and noodles in the pantry… and I wish they’d just come in and make some lunch, I wouldn’t care if they took it straight out to the sleepout again.

I’m just trying to let it go, that the boys are shy to do that. I can’t force them, and I don’t want to try. But at the same time, it bothers me, just because… I wish I knew how to do this stuff better.

Oh well, I’m not going to just go out so they can cook. At one time I used to do exactly that, with Tau. Not all the time – sometimes though, that’s what I’d do. Go out, hoping he’d come in and eat. But I can’t spend my days second-guessing the way people might be; the things they might want or be able to do.

And if I fixed lunch for everyone, I’d only be trying to ‘cater’ to them. And I’d know it, and they’d sense it – and it would feel like an imposition on both counts.

 

In the evening though, I make butter chicken and rice – and I take two plates out to the sleepout. This is accepted without the least resistance, and Tau in particular looks kind of relieved to be eating something sustaining. I see empty chip packets out there, which no doubt have contained their entire day’s nutrition, apart from the juice.

At least dinner they can handle, for some reason. Maybe because I’m just pragmatic about it, and it’s more of a daily routine (when I’m usually at work during the day and home for dinner).

I know they’re trying with all this, as much as I am. They’re here, and they’re reasonably safe, and they’re reasonably settled (so far), and Tau’s been to the doctors three times lately (totally amazing his family, I might add). And yeah, I still wish they’d eat, but sometimes they didn’t even eat at their place, Tau’s told me that often enough. So it is what it is. And I love them, for all their ways – not just the ways that I’d find easier – but all their ways.

Sometimes I say to myself: maybe one day things will be righted, huh? Everything good and right, for each of us, just like it’s meant to be.

 

Sunday 20 April:

I feel so bummed out by the fact that Sheree’s in the sleepout with Tau and Leroi. After an hour she still hasn’t so much as said hello, so I go out there – and it’s awkward. Once again, it feels like a demarcation, and also a kind of imprisonment for me. It’s a cold day, and there’s nowhere I need to be. And it’s not my fault that Sheree got evicted from Rutherford Ave, I tell myself. If they want to be together, well maybe she should have thought of that ages ago, when she maybe did get a 90 day eviction notice in the mail (that’s what Vailea thinks – that Sheree never read the mail, and there was a stack of letters and bills, and all the rest of it).

I want to burst into tears and then shout at her, “God, are you dumb or what? Go away, isn’t it enough that I’ve got the boys here Sheree? Don’t you think I care, don’t you think I got feelings? And yes, I’m on my own. And so what? Do you think I never had anything? Do you think I never had anyone? Do you think I’m not worth anything? Just fuck off and leave me alone, and go get yourself a damn house, and stop perching here like I don’t exist, and like all I am is a goddam place to be together when you need one.”

I bet Vailea Poe and Maxwell Rosdolsky never get themselves into this predicament. I bet they have a whole heap of people who love them for real, and they never get their priorities all mixed up; never get their boundaries blurred. Meanwhile I sit here like a creeping, shame-filled guest in my own home, while the three of them play at being happy families in the sleepout (which is a freakin mess, today, it honestly is – but that’s another story)

I’m very unhappy, and I don’t know what to do. So just for today, I’m going to act like I’m alright. So that Tau’s alright – I’ll do it, it’s enough of a reason. But there’s a big ache in my heart that won’t go away. It just says: You’re nothing, you got no-one.

It helps a little, tiny, teeny bit to write that down. I write to get myself out of so many deep holes, you know.

 

It starts to get dark; I go out again and Sheree’s asleep on the bed out there. And the only reason I’m putting up with it, is so I don’t hurt Tau, or make him feel shamed and worried about being here.

It would be different, maybe, if I wasn’t so hyper-aware of the bare facts. The fact that we aren’t actually ‘friends’, and I know it, of course I do. Sheree wouldn’t be here if she had a house. And yet, “Love you…” she says, and oh, maybe it’s true in one sense – but it hurts to think of that too, because it’s not ‘me’ that’s loved. It’s the fact that she’s grateful I’m such a freakin push over and have no boundaries in place for this kind of shit, and have obviously no life that anyone else gives a fuck about. That’s the only thing she ‘loves’ about me – that I’m a weak bitch who won’t act like I’m worthy of anything except being walked on.

The thing is, I don’t know how to get boundaries, with a family who pretty much don’t have boundaries.

 

I wrap myself in a rug, and sit out on the steps for a little while, thinking what to do… what to do.

It’s raining, and I realize that it isn’t a good idea for Sheree to walk home in the rain. So I think – okay, I know what to do. I’ll go ask if she wants a ride.

I kind of rehearse what to say. Then I go out to the sleepout and knock on the door, push it open… and there are Tau and Leroi, both sound asleep. Leroi’s on the bed, Tau’s on the couch. Sheree is nowhere to be seen.

I kneel down beside Tau, and just quietly say his name a couple times – and he opens his eyes.

“Where’s your mum?” I ask.

“She’s gone,” he says, his eyes flickering and drowsing.

“Oh, okay…” I murmur. “I didn’t want her to walk in the rain… I came to see if she wanted a lift.”

“Thanks, Miss… my uncle picked her up already,”

“Ohh…” I say.

His eyes slide shut again. I can see he’s stoned and tired, but quite calm. I’m doing okay, I think to myself. Not acting stressed, and not stressing him out.

Oh thank God she’s gone, is my next thought. And then I my body kind of slumps, as I finally allow myself to feel the energy drain of the past few hours.

The real story

Wednesday 9 April, 2014:

I have a alright sleep, I guess… under the circs.

But I wake up with that old feeling of shame twisting up in my chest, just like it’s always done at certain times in my life. It’s exactly the same feeling I remember from childhood. That feeling of thinking people won’t love me anymore if I do even one thing wrong.

The only thing that helps a little is to look at it like this: Well, obviously it’s impossible to do everything right. So if no-one’s going to love me, then I’ve got nothing to lose. I can be exactly the way I am, ha.

Exactly the way I am. And right now, no-one really knows me like that. Except, I think, maybe Tau.

 

I do the long day at school and make it back home, kind of licking my wounds. Sometimes it feels like the only arsenal at my disposal is that teacher talk – and man, do I hate talking that talk. It’s just false deployment, coming from my mouth; as I speak, the words are already floating away. I think the “ringleaders” sense that, and it irks them.

In any case, when I do get home, here’s the real story of the day. Tau and Leroi arrive, having just walked over from Bream, with their possessions (the game, a sesh, and a couple other bits and pieces) in two plastic bags. Tau tries to give me that sixty dollars back too, but I can’t take it. I tell him to save it for the time being, in case he needs to help Sheree out.

 

The fact that I’m here when they arrive is a piece of synchronicity, thanks to my utter horror of this afternoon’s Staff Professional Development. I’ve found (just in the nick of time, too) that today’s activity is a video skit competition, in preassigned groups, on the theme of ‘Home-School Partnership’.

What makes it worse is that my group is led by Chloe, the veritable queen of all things competitive. And I like Chloe – but I also know that literally nothing could induce me to take part in this particular activity. And yet to refuse is going to bring me exactly the kind of attention I don’t want or need, on this day.

So I compose a polite email to Marjorie, saying that I have just received some urgent communication, and need to go off site for a pastoral matter involving MC families. I apologize for the short notice, and add that I would not miss PD unless it was an emergency (which in my opinion, it most certainly is).

 

Then I calmly go home, where as luck would have it, my story is immediately transformed into reality. Not two minutes after I arrive, I hear voices outside, and there, coming up the drive, are Tau and Leroi.

We all just start to laugh. I’m not expecting them to turn up right then, and they’re not expecting me to be home yet either. Next minute we’re unlocking the shed, and they’re setting up the game on the TV, and kind of exclaiming over being back.

I know it isn’t easy for any of us – but they look so relieved to be here. That look in their eyes: it squeezes my heart so bad, and I think, there’s no way I’m letting you two down.

Leroi tells me it was ‘awkward’ at their uncle’s last night. And Tau says he kept the whole house awake, coughing and getting up and down.

“Now you can just keep one another awake,” I tell them nonchalantly, and they grin at me.

 

Vailea Poe rings me later on, and we discuss what to do next. He’s somewhat surprised to learn that the boys are with me – I’m sure he vaguely imagined I would pass the buck. Probably it’s just never occurred to him before that I’m involved (up to my ears, hah). We get on ok. I give him my address and tell him he’s welcome to come around and see Tau and Leroi if he needs to.

He says he’s going to talk to someone about social housing. He thinks he can maybe get Sheree onto the priority list, despite her previous track record with Housing NZ.

 

Thursday 10 April:

I don’t get much sleep last night. Tau coughs outside for a while, then Leroi tries to get in the front door (which is still jammed) using the wrong key, and I have to get up and let him in. This is around 2, maybe 3 am, I guess.

After that I just doze. In between times, I feel a lot of unforgiving rage towards school in general. Then I think about Kepaoa. I just lay there and wonder why people ditch people. I feel tears spring to my eyes, for a few seconds. And then I say – ok whatever, fuck you too, Kepaoa. And I try to go back to sleep.

But I can’t switch off. This morning we’re off to Winz again – and I’m pretty sure I’ll be way late for work. Ross is covering for me, but he can’t cover for ever, and who knows… who the fuck knows? I just hate school right now, and I wish I had a different job – any job would do, as long as it paid the bills, that’s what I think sometimes. It hurts my soul to pretend so futilely. It scrapes me raw. I’d rather have the kids actually hate me for not ‘caring’ the way a teacher should, than have them think I’m a teacher at all.

And once again, there’s so much to try to ‘grab’ and write about… I hardly know where to begin. So again, I’ll start with the simple stuff.

 

Leroi sees a caseworker called Salesi, today. He dots all the i’s and crosses every t on the paperwork, to such an extent that at first I think he’s suspicious of us. But it turns out that he’s ‘just fresh’ (as Tau puts it, making me laugh). Salesi is still in training, and has to check everything with his supervisor before committing himself. A couple times I try to put him straight about the various forms, some of which he is insisting Leroi fills in unnecessarily.

“He doesn’t have to do that one…” I comment, as the ‘Disability Allowance’ is pushed forth.

“I think the doctor needs to fill this page in,” is the reply.

“No, that one’s only if you’re claiming for additional costs, like counselling, or health care,” I inform him confidently.

“Um… I’ll check with my trainer… not sure, one moment please…” and he sets off to another work station.

“Faar, Miss – you know more than he does,” Tau says.

“Hard,” agrees Leroi.

“Should work here,” Tau goes on, smirking at me.

“I reckon,” I say. “But he’s not too bad – just a bit lost.”

 

At the end of the interview, Salesi thanks us for our patience, which is nice of him. He says he has to do a final check with his supervisor, and he’ll ring Leroi when payments are confirmed.

He does – later – but: “I didn’t understand what he was saying, Miss,” Leroi tells me me.

I phone Sarsha, and the matter is resolved. Leroi needs a two-year ID, and (as we know already) an extended medical certificate, covering the next four weeks.

Anyway, all this is progress. We’re at Winz until after 10 though, and I feel sorry for Ross, who texts me to see when I’m coming back. I tell him to ditch the class and I’ll take the rap – this makes Tau grin with amusement.

But he can’t – he has his laptop hooked up to the data projector, to show them a movie. It was his idea to use his own laptop too, poor guy. And I had hoped (in vain) that Leroi’s appointment wouldn’t take as long as I suspected it might.

To give up all claims

Monday 17 February, 2014:

Sheree texts me, in reply to a text I sent earlier on, and it makes me cry for real. I’ve asked if it’s ok if I come over (not wanting to just stroll in), and she responds this way:

I love u, an u are most welcome. u are alwayz part of us im afraid hehe.

 A lot of water’s gone under the bridge since I first met Sheree, four years ago. I remember how I felt ‘safe’, that day. I remember it vividly.

I could never go over to Rutherford Ave and just walk in, the way I used to at Fitzroy – many times I wished I could. But I knew things had changed. I missed Sheree very much, and still do. But I didn’t expect her to swallow her pride, when I couldn’t, that night.

So I never saw Scott after he got out of jail. I regret that, too.

And it’s suddenly all too raw. I don’t mean just the events of the past few days, I mean all of it is too raw; too close to the surface right now. Everything, more than five years worth.

 

Tuesday 18 February:

School’s alright today, all things considered. I have non-contacts, then 12 History, swiftly followed by 10 Social, who sit willingly and alphabetically at my bid, to do their stupid scheduled Asttle test.

When the bell goes I pack up and head round to Rutherford, but the only person there is Raphael. Actually, it’s good to see Raphael – most people would just make me want to skedaddle. We sit out on the steps and talk, and share a ciggie (my first puff in months). He tells me he’s been popping in and out all day, but no-one’s been home. The house is unlocked though.

When I leave, I say to him, “Take care of yourself, and look out for the boys too, aye.”

“I will, Miss,” he tells me. “They’re not really themselves at the moment…” He shrugs, as if to say – that’ll come as no surprise.

“Yeah, I bet,” I say. I feel a lot of affection for Raphael right then.

 

I get home and I’m real sad. Everything’s just jolting quietly up and down in my mind right now, like water returning to its level. I don’t know… how come it’s so hard to change? How come it’s so hard to give up all claims?

 

Wednesday 19 February:

I go round there again today after school. Once again the place is unlocked, but no-one is there. Maybe they’re all at Lorna’s.

But I can’t just turn up at Scott’s mother’s place, I don’t want to barge into their family’s grief, even the idea of going to the funeral tomorrow makes me feel a little uncertain. No matter; I have to go. I’ll be there out of respect, and to say goodbye to Scott.

 

Thursday 20 February:

This morning the police turn up, asking for Tau. They say he’s not in trouble – they just want to return some ‘items’ to him. I look at them with deep suspicion. I don’t trust the cops after the way they’ve operated in the past, and I decline to give them an address.

At this point, one of the constables remarks on how unhelpful I’m being, but I remain polite. I explain that Tau’s dad has recently passed, the funeral’s this afternoon, and the last thing anyone needs is a visit from the cops. They wouldn’t go round there today, she backtracks, in an attempt to sound reassuring. But I’ve heard all that before too, so I just tell them I’ll pass the message on.

“We can find out where the funeral is,” she informs me.

“Well, you do that,” I retort – unhelpfully – and she stomps off.

 

And then the funeral itself. I don’t think Tau even notices that I’m there, and to be honest that’s something of a relief. Sometime during the service, it all becomes too much for him and he walks out. Leroi thanks me for coming, though it barely blips on his radar. And Sheree looks completely shattered, just emptied out. As for me, I feel like I’m too connected, emotionally, to all the ties and shifts and flows that I sense there.

I try to pull back, I really do. I know it won’t help if I don’t let go my grip on that energetic line. Oh it’s hard though, to feel like I can’t do anything. But I have to sit loose to the feeling of chaotic and wild energy.

“Scott, man,” I say to him, as I stand in the queue to lay a flower on his casket. “Man, you better pull your finger out, Scott. Tau needs you to sort your shit out pronto.”

Somehow I feel like that message might be transmitted, to Scott’s heavenly locale.

 

I get home and the only thing I can handle watching is the Food Channel, probably because it’s not ‘about’ anything and it’s not going to make me cry. Other things make me want to cry. Stories, you know.

I’m almost grateful to have work tomorrow. Friday’s a busy day, but it has these twin advantages: I won’t be alone, and at the same time I won’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me. There’s absolutely no-one left at Municipal College whose opinion I care about. So in a funny way, I can just do my own thing.

It seems like a reprieve. Because today – oh, I care. I feel both exposed and connected to every fibre of energy that tears past me. Afterwards, I’m kind of raw from the experience.

Finally, after this whole week of tension, that feeling of being on full alert eases up, and I let myself cry, gently. I sit on my bed with the windows open; crickets quietly calling and shirring outside.

And I think again: Could I change? Could I?  Sometimes I think it’s possible.