Safe right now

Monday 8 December

Out of bed at the usual time, making a cup of tea and some weetbix. Normal, routine, everyday things keeping me from manning the panic stations. But only just.

I check my mail, hear back on a couple of teaching applications: “We regret to inform…” etc. I’m sure it’s because I don’t trouble to hide the fact that my interests and experiences barely place me in the path of mainstream education anymore – and I guess it’s just as well, because I don’t want to go back there either.

But how long can I keep this up? A few months ago, I had a 4K cushion put away; now there’s twenty dollars in my savings account, and just one day’s pay coming in next Wednesday. Oh, my systems are still in place, enough for a couple more weeks, almost. But if I don’t have something lined up by next Friday, no, Thursday – then what?


There’s an email from one of the general temp agencies too. It’s only a form letter, but I read it closely anyway:

Thank you for your online Registration of Interest in Employment with Lumsden Recruitment.  We are constantly looking for people with skills, diligence and a great attitude to join our Lumsden Team!  We would like to meet you and learn more about yourself, please come into one of our Branches with the following items;

Photo ID

  • Born Overseas– Passport and Visa
  • Born in NZ– Passport Or  NZ Driver License and Birth Certificate Or Statutory Declaration (signed within last 2 weeks)

IRD Number

Bank Account Number

Current CV with minimum of 2 work-related references

PLUS;  Any licenses (Counterbalance, Reach, Stock Picker etc), Certificates or Endorsements that you currently have.

Our Branches are open from 7am – 6pm Monday to Friday.  If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact the Office on our Freephone number.

We look forward to meeting you.


I could go this morning, nothing to stop me except gas money. And I have to put gas in the car sometime – so why not? Guess so, but the idea still gives me an uncomfortable feeling. It’s like I’m 17 all over again; no skills, no experience… just hustling for vacation work. Minimum wage: is that all I can ask for or expect?

What’s the alternative, though? Is there one? Maybe in some parallel universe. Here and now, the choice seems to be between the economic doom of a temping job, or the steadier income founded on talking smack in a classroom to perpetuity. Should I just give up and become a ‘good teacher’. You know, a sentimental idiot who cares about about “those kids”. Because don’t we we live in two worlds? Ha whatever. And what am I going to do? Oh what am I going to do?


The boys come in and are in good spirits, seeing as Sheree’s still hanging on in there at rehab. I engage politely with the conversation, but that’s as much as I can manage. This whole thing with Sheree (not to mention Leroi) lately has the least straight-up vibe I can think of. And the feeling of not knowing where I am with people, added to the money situation, is messing with my head.

It feels like I’m swimming through glue, or golden syrup. Sheree, the boys, work, money… everything sticks for a moment, lets go, then sticks again. It almost makes me wish I’d never left MC. Almost… but not quite. I just keep thinking to myself how I didn’t come all this way to lose. But something needs to be shifted, and fast. So what do you do with constraints? I guess you find the workaround.


Thursday 11 December

I wake up, reality kicks straight in, and with it another wave of panic. But I get up and enact the routine obediently; take a shower and wash my hair. Turn on Firstline, make myself a cup of tea. Slice up some kiwifruit in a bowl, add a scoop of muesli on top and snow-cap it with a spoonful of coconut yoghurt.

Then I check the bank accounts. My payments have gone through like usual. But my mind races ahead to the next set of bills, just over a week away. I try to apply reassuring directives to myself: Look at the whole picture. Don’t use those all-or-nothing lines, like as far as I can go’, or ‘a failed experiment’.

Because it’s neither. I’m learning the game; sometimes I struggle to understand things I didn’t understand before. But there’s a part of me that feels like taking the next steps.

With that in mind, I mail the bank to make an appointment with a financial adviser. You never know your luck, I think. And even though I’m still feeling somewhat resistant to the idea, I’m going to schedule a trip to Lumsden Recruitment. You could, I think, argue that I don’t have many other cards to play.


Friday 12 December

My email to the bank has been followed up by a call, then a meeting, the result of which is a signed loan agreement. As of this morning, therefore, there’s five thousand dollars in my account; this takes the immediate pressure off making payroll – to the point where I feel soporific with relief for a little while. But that feeling has quickly been replaced with a kind of urgency to get started out earning money.

And then I go sign up with Lumsden. The process is going to take a week at least: the standard reference and police checks, and all the rest of it. And then they’re closed for Christmas – but they say I’ll be on their books by January.


Monday 15 December:

I’m hanging out for a coffee this morning, but payday’s payday, whether it’s the Ministry of Education, or my own savings, or the bank loan paying me. Tuesday night, fortnightly.

For dinner (*pre-payday*) I clean out the fridge and make stir fry noodles with pork mince and all the vegies: ginger and garlic and onion, red and yellow capsicums, cabbage and carrots and broccoli. And steamed rice. And buttered bread on the side. It’s good, and gets eaten up fast.

Again, that feeling of gratitude that the boys are here, and – for what it’s worth – safe right now.


Friday 19 December

Tonight I go pick up Tau and Leroi from Clancy. They’re pretty drunk (no surprises there) and Leroi dozes in the car all the way home. Alcohol really unsettles me these days – the idea of not being in control. Driving back, I feel very grateful that I’m in charge of my own faculties. There’s something I can’t ‘like’ anymore about even that feeling of relaxation produced by a glass of wine.

Tau chats to me in a ‘drunk person’ way – fulsomely and about nothing in particular. He’s on a mellow buzz, but I’m no less anxious for that. I just keep on thinking how I don’t want any trouble; I’m  too tired to deal with trouble.

A couple of times I even check: “You guys are  ok with one another though.”

“We are,” Tau says, and laughs – to reassure me I think, but it just makes me feel more uncertain.


They tip themselves into the shed with their drive through Macca’s. Tau hugs me, then Leroi hugs Tau. Again, this doesn’t actually guarantee the peace. Things are very difficult to predict when alcohol has figured in the evening.

“Don’t stay up all night – try get some sleep,” I suggest, thinking if Leroi (at least) went back to sleep this would also fulfill a peace-keeping function.

“Don’t worry Miss, we will,” they say.

But I’m still worried, and lie in bed trying not to startle at every slight noise. The door opens and closes a couple of times; there’s voices every now and then. My heart is beating over the sound. I have that familiar dampening ache in my solar plexus and I can’t sleep for a long while.


Saturday 20 December:

I have a couple puffs of Tau’s cig, and we talk a bit in the sleepout while Leroi goes to make noodles. Tau’s not much of a talker I know, but all the same, I’m kind of clasping at comfort; wanting to feel safe with someone I know and trust. Ohhh Tau, sorry – you’re the only safety valve I’ve got right now, I think. It makes me want to laugh and cry, thinking how I’m expecting the least likely person to conversate. But I’m very grateful, because he does his best.

Maybe he senses how my heart’s kind of breaking over things, for no particular reason at all. Regrets pour in and out, through holes in my flimsy boundaries. I feel them in my solar plexus, and at my throat. And why didn’t I stay at MC and agree to be a teacher. Isn’t that better than nothing. And is this nothing?

At first, the question really bothers me. Then I think how I’ve never been ashamed to create something out of nothing much; this tenacity having saved me many times. I’m like the weed in our driveway that springs up almost flat to the earth, busily working out how to hold its ground. It’s unobtrusive, and then, when you look – even pretty, with its dappled, almost khaki colored leaves and tiny pink flowers. I pull it out every now and then, but only when it’s forgotten its economical ways – and it just pops up somewhere else, pragmatically.

For some reason this reminds me of the Manning Marable book I’ve been reading, about Malcolm X. Whether any of the supposed ‘reinventions’ can be verified is neither here nor there, far as I’m concerned. Everyone has inconsistencies, failures and secrets. It doesn’t matter so much what they are – they exist. And so we either default and capitulate to our weakest moments, or we amass the patience and diligence to make a set of ethics we can live with.


Further than school can go

Friday 9 May, 2014:

This morning, Tau tells me – with some pride – that they only had three cans each. Once they started drinking, they didn’t feel like it, so they just went to sleep. He adds that today they’re doing ok, even with the thought of no K2.

But when I get home after work, Sheree’s there. And Sheree’s the one who’s really suffering the worst effects of this involuntary substance withdrawal. She’s been crying all night and all day, according to Tau.


“I think I need some happy pills,” she says, trying to joke about it. We’re sitting out on the deck, in the sun. “Last night was so stressful, a couple of times I started feeling like I might hurt myself.”

“I told mum she should go doctor,” Tau puts in. “We were gonna go earlier, but then it didn’t happen.”

“That’s a good idea though – you didn’t want to go?” I ask Sheree, but gently.

“I chickened out,” she tells me, with a grimace. “Didn’t know what to say there. And I didn’t have any money, so I was too shy.”

“We walked all the way there,” says Leroi. “And then we just came back here.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded about the money,” I say. “They’re pretty good round there. I think they would just let you pay later.”

Tau nods, saying, “Haard,” and then, “You should have gone, mum.”

“You still could,” I suggest. “We could go round there now, want to go?”

Sheree considers this, before shaking her head, saying, “I want to… I think I need to. But I’m shy of talking to them about this stuff.”

“They’re alright though, aye Tau,” I say, and he agrees straight away: “Yeah, they’re algood there.”

“See…” I coax Sheree. “Even Tau doesn’t mind going to the doctor nowadays.”

This actually makes her laugh.

“I’ll come in with you,” offers Tau. “If you go, I’ll take you in.”

“Oh!” says everyone, in surprise. I think it’s Leroi who adds, quietly, “Faar, look at you, Tau.”

Tau grins.

“I can’t believe it’s Tau, sometimes, talking like that,” Sheree says. And with that, she agrees to go.


There’s a 45 minute wait at the doctor’s, and the last thing I want is to interfere, especially with Tau’s excellent support of his mum. So I say, “Ok guys, I’ll come back later. Just text me when you’re done.”

“Ok,” Sheree says.

But as I leave, Tau follows me out, and says, hesitantly, “Do you gotta do something, Miss?”

“Um…” I decide to be honest. “Well, I can just go look around Municipal for a bit. I don’t want to bum your mum out, Tau. It’s hard enough for her to come here, she doesn’t need me getting in the way.”

“No,” Tau says. “I think mum feels better with you staying. I think she likes knowing you’re out here.”

“Oh,” I reply, and then, “But what about you, Tau? I don’t want to take over when you got it all under control.”

“No, Miss,” he says. “I want you to stay too… I mean if you don’t gotta do something else.”

“All sweet,” I say, and then, “You’re doing so awesome today Tau, everyone’s really proud of you.”

“Thanks, Miss,” says Tau, accepting this compliment very graciously.

“So… how does it feel, to be straight and sober for a whole day?” I ask, then.

“It feels… pretty good, actually!” says Tau, which stupefies the both of us into silence for a moment, then we just burst out laughing.

“But seriously, Tau,” I tell him. “Can you hear yourself?”

“I know,” he says, with a bit of amazement at his own behavior. He adds, “It’s all thanks to Maxwell – he’s got heaps of good tips.”

“He’s been awesome,” I agree. “And so have you.”


When Tau and Sheree come out of the consulting room, “Our whole family’s going to see the counsellor in two weeks,” announces Tau. “And the doctor said it was good to see me looking better… and he gave mum sleeping pills, and some other pills.”

“My happy pills!” says Sheree triumphantly. She hands the prescription over at the pharmacy counter, and gives me a pleased, kind of beady-eyed look, which for some reason makes me giggle. And then we just put our arms round one another and hug, standing there for a moment.


Later, I remember what Tau said about Maxwell. There’s a little part of me that just whispers, inwardly, “Oh, what about me.”  Honestly, I’m not proud of it. But I want to tell the truth right now: part of me’s envious. Envious of people who can do more, just… help more. Maxwell gives Tau his attention for one hour a week, at a cost of $150 (to someone: the government, I guess, or Vailea’s agency) – and I reckon that alone helps more than anything I do. I can put in all the hours god sends, and really, what do I do? I don’t know the answer to that – and so today I feel a little bit jealous, of Maxwell, and Vailea; the people who ‘know what’ and ‘know how’. They’re like the impact players on a sports team; the ones who get on the field and change things up straight away.


Saturday 10 May:

This evening Mia picks me up, we’re going to the movies. When she arrives, I’m in the sleepout with the boys, and so I ask them if they want to come out and meet her.

Tau just shakes his head slowly, saying first, uncertainly, “Oh nah,” and then, with a very sorrowful and bashful look in his eye, “I can’t, Miss… too shy.” He kind of breathes out the last word, and I see he’s tremendously anxious at the thought.

Leroi gives me the same quietly petrified look. He shakes his head too, and his eyes roll a bit.

“Sorry, Miss,” Tau says imploringly. “We just…”

“It’s ok, it’s ok,” I tell them at once. “I don’t expect…” And before I even finish my sentence, they look at me with great relief, and I go on, “It’s ok, you guys. I’m not going to make you do anything you can’t do.

“Thanks, Miss,” Tau murmurs. I can see he knows I mean it. Meanwhile, Leroi has pulled the blanket over his head with fright. I feel this big huge compassion in my heart for Leroi. I haven’t seen him like this for a long time. “I’m shy…” I hear him kind of whimper, under the purple blanket.

“Don’t worry, it’s sweet as,” I soothe. “It’s ok, Leroi.”


So I go out to Mia, and just say quietly, “I said to come out, but they’re too shy to meet you.”

Mia looks towards the closed door of the sleepout, a bit wonderingly.

“They’ve got a lot of stuff going on,” I tell her quietly.

“What kind of stuff?” she asks..

“Um, their dad,” I begin. He committed suicide, a couple of months ago. And since then, they’ve had some… issues.” I add, frankly, “Actually there were already some issues before that, but now there’s even more.”

She nods.

“Anyway,” I finish. “They’re just really shy, with people they don’t know. It’d be cool if they came out to meet you – but they aren’t ready for that yet, I guess.”

“That’s ok,” she says.

I feel my energy settle, because everyone has been honest. I’m relieved too – relieved that I’m not just a spinny bitch, and that there really are reasons why I’ve been reluctant to have my friends and family round, and that I’ve read it right, in a way. Not that things can’t change. But it’s got to be a slow, very gradual process.

I’ve beat myself up over this for literally years, ever since Tau came to stay the first time. Telling myself how I should just sort shit out and stuff. But it’s taken me this long to see that the complications are genuine, and not just all in my head. It’s like a lightbulb switches on, when I see Leroi pull the blanket over his head.


And suddenly it seems my life is getting more integrated, in a way. What I mean by that is I’m working out how to combine things, or at least start to. But being ‘a teacher’ is way over there, out on a limb. It can’t be combined with anything that’s meaningful to me (except, currently, earning money).

I’ve learned a lot, not from teaching exactly, but from figuring out how to operate within it; do something of my own, despite all the constraints. Everything I’ve needed has been in some way scratched (painfully, at times) out of it, like a means of inscribing my own movement in the world, leaving signs there for those who can read them. I think of how Tau trudged to school and waited for me in the car park – he’d already been taken off the roll. I remember how he was limping. His heavy, patient eyes, as he told me, “I’ve got nowhere to go.” And I think I knew then that whatever I could create, out of whatever I could lay my hands to, I’d share it.

All of that; everything I’ve done and tried to do, it’s taken me further than school can go. I’ll never do graff at MC again, I know it. I don’t think I’ll ever have real allies there again, either. Everything’s shifted outwards, and moved on, and it’s taking me in a whole new direction too – I just haven’t figured out exactly what it is.


This time round

Friday 11 January, 2013:

When I wake up, Robbie’s car is backing down the driveway. No warrant, no registration, no license – probably a gun in there as well; whatever. And off they go.

I don’t know if I’m up to this, any of it. And what makes it harder, is that it actually hurts when I see Tau’s upset with me. But I have to be tougher, with all of it. I have to look after things here.

I don’t know if Tau can handle that. I know at Sheree and Scott’s, he just does exactly what he sees fit, even though sometimes the whole situation tips out of control and there’s nothing to constrain him. And here – well, I’m attempting to constrain Tau, and he doesn’t like it one little bit.

But I still have to try.


I sigh, and decide to start the day  off by sorting out the rubbish. Get the rubbish sacks out, and just go through the bin, loading up two big bags with bottles and cans, mostly. That leaves the wheelie bin half full again, which is better.

After a while, the boys come back. Tau notices the rubbish bags (I see him walk over and look), and so I go out and say, “Hey, Tau.”

“Hey, Miss.”

“There’s some space in the bin now,” I tell him. “If you wanna clean up in there.”

“Oh yeah,” says Tau, with reasonable alacrity. “Cos there’s like five boxes out there with the empty cans.” Then he looks ruefully at me and adds, “It’ll probably fill up the whole bin again, though.”

“Well that’s alright,” I tell him. “Better than leaving it out in the shed,”

“Hard,” he remarks, and strides away with a purposeful air, returning with a box of empties under each arm.

We look at each other, kind of snorting. I don’t know why it’s funny. I think he’s been expecting more of a lecture, to be honest. I just say, “Um… I know! Why don’t I bring out some more rubbish bags, then we can fill those up with the boxes, and we’ll still have space in the bin.”

“Good idea,” Tau says.


We spent the next little while sorting out the rubbish situation, very companionably. I say, just kind of ‘in passing’, “Tau – you know last night?”

“Mm,” says Tau, without alarm. I think he can sense that I’m going to keep it light.

“You know when that guy turned up? I wasn’t growling at you, Tau. I just… didn’t know him, and I want you to be careful, k?”

Allgood, Miss,” says Tau, and I can see he’s ok about it.

So this morning feels somewhat more restorative. But I’m under no illusions. When alcohol’s added to the whole dynamic, it’s much harder to read; proceed. I already know that – from long ago. It’s a remembering, as much as anything else. I’m a hundred times better prepared, this time round. But the stakes are higher, because I care so much more.

And for sure, there’s a little power tussle going on as well. I’m cautious… and today I feel alright.


Just before 5 pm, Tau gets arrested. I miss the whole thing. First I hear of it is when I become aware of a forlorn voice at the door: “Miss… Miss?”

I look, and Leroi’s standing there. His head droops, and he says dejectedly, “Miss, the cops just took Cluzo.”


“We were leaving to go to the shop. The cops stopped us just out there – didn’t you see?”

“No,” I tell him. “I was in the kitchen.” Which is kind of lucky, I think. I would probably have found it hard to stay calm, seeing Tau get taken away. And it wouldn’t have helped him at all.


“So what happened?” I ask, then.

“We were backing down the drive… and the cops stopped us right outside.”

“Why did they stop you?”

“Just to check Robbie’s rego and that.”

I nodded; this coming as no real surprise. The age of the passengers, their appearance – cops would have checked just as a matter of course.

“And Robbie showed the cops his license, so that was ok. But then they checked everyone’s details – they can do that.”

I nod.

“And Tau tried to give a false name, but he stumbled, saying it, and they got suspicious. They talked to him, then they just arrested him and took him away.”

“Did he say who he was?”

“I think so,” nods Leroi. “Cos, you know how there’s a warrant out for him missing court.”

“Yup,” I say. “Guess it would have been worse not to.”


Next thing I ask: “Was he clean?”

“Yes,” Leroi tells me.

“He didn’t have foils on him?”

“No, and he didn’t have his gun. We were only going down to the shop.”

“That’s good…” I murmur. “Had he been drinking?”

“No, he hadn’t started.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I say. “It could have been worse.” But I still feel a bit heartsick.


Five minutes later I get a text from Tau: ‘Mis im gtn lockd up’.

I go round to tell Sheree. Stay there a while, come back and cook dinner.


Saturday 12 January:

I wake up, and it’s real quiet. Around midday Tau texts: ‘Miss cn u pic me up pleaze’. He’s been to court; been let out of the cells, and says he’ll wait for me outside the police station.

Tau’s pleased, I must say, at this turn of events. He has that bumptious look in his eye, that ‘good day’ look. Which isn’t surprising, considering everyone (including himself) has been thinking he might be in there till Monday. All he wants to do – at least to start with – is come back and take a shower; have a rest. His happy eyes shine, as he tells me everything that’s happened.

As we drive past some guys sitting on a step near the station: “Those are all the guys I was locked up with last night,” says Tau. “Far, it’s hard to sleep in there, everyone’s just banging on their cell doors and yelling at each other, saying, I’m gonna fuck you over, bitch.”

“And what about you?” I ask him.

“Nah, I was quiet,” he tells me.

“Well, that’s good.”


We get home, and after a while some of the boys arrive to pick up Tau. I say to him, “You just take it easy today, just keep having a good day, okay?”

“Yup, Miss,” he says.

“Keep things nice and quiet huh,” I suggest, and he chuckles, nodding at me.


Later on, I remember saying these words… and you know how sometimes you just wish you could say it over, and say it better.


Just before midnight, I get a text from Tau. It reads: ‘Miss we at the cop station tha bro robbie jus died’.

I ring Tau, tell him I’ll get Sheree and come. He’s crying, quietly. “Some fucked up shit happened,” he tells me.


We drive to the station, where the gate is locked and we speak to the cops through the bars. They confirm that someone has passed away, and tell us they’re still interviewing witnesses; they haven’t finished with anyone yet. But they bring out Tau for a minute to see us, and we hug him and talk to him. Tears are trickling down his face as he says, in a voice soft and hoarse with pain, “Robbie got shot, Miss. But it was a accident.”

“It was an accident…” I murmur. “Then – who? Do you know who did it?”

In answer he just nods, swallowing tears. “But I can’t say anything to the cops,” he whispers.

“That’s ok, Tau, shhhh, that’s ok,” I whispered back. “You can tell me if you want to, I won’t say anything.”

He nods, and chokes out, next to my ear, “It was Mischa. We were shooting cans out on the back lawn, round at his place, and Robbie stepped the wrong way. Mischa shot him… but it was an accident.

“I know, shhh… course it was, Tau, it’s ok.”

And we just stand there for a bit longer, until a cop comes over and takes Tau back inside.


Around 2, Leroi appears: he looks shell-shocked. He and Sheree and me sit on the concrete, outside the gates, and smoke, and wait for Tau. I have one of Sheree’s ciggies. Every puff is a jolt of emergency relief.

Tau’s let out at 3, but Mischa is still locked up.


I take Sheree, Tau and Leroi over to Fitzroy. And then I come home and sleep.


Sunday 13 January:

Tau arrives back around 8:30. Within the hour, a few boys arrive; there is no drinking or any sign of alcohol – just quiet, intermittent conversation, in a very subdued atmosphere. That remains the case till midday, at about which time people start to turn up, gradually. I know most of them (not all), but as the numbers swell, I start to feel a bit apprehensive, knowing it’s an emotional, and potentially volatile buzz. When I hear bottles clinking and boxes being lifted from cars, I realize I have to go out and do some redirecting of personnel.

I speak to (in turn), Noa, Kost, then Leroi and Tau. Explain that I don’t want to host anything here. Explain why. Tell them if more and more people keep arriving, something could flare up; state everyone’s in. And I don’t feel sure that I can control it, especially if I don’t know them all – and with alcohol in the mix.

“You’re right, Miss,” Noa says. “Cos it was alcohol that caused it to happen in the first place. We’ll go over to Clancy, set up there.”

I’m worried about that too, of course. But I know they’re gonna drink anyway. And very importantly there’s going to be adults there, plural. Not just me.


I go help with the drop off. I feel kind of sick: Robbie gone. He was a good friend to Tau – to all of them. If I feel sick at that, those boys must feel totally ripped up by it.

It could so easily have been any one of them. And if I’m honest, it could have happened anywhere; it could have happened right here.


Leroi says, on the way to Clancy, “I’m just glad he had a good day, yesterday.”

“Hard,” echo the others. “It was a good as day.”

“We went to the beach.”

“And to this place under the Harbour Bridge,” they tell me. “It was cool as.”


As I’m driving back home down Carthill Rd, I keep getting little sniffs of Tau’s scent, from the seat next to mine, and it clutches at my heart so much, because I don’t know what the fuckin fuck I’m really doing, and I’m scared, today. I’m scared, because Robbie didn’t make it, and things don’t always get righted, do they; sometimes they just… go wrong. And I just breathe in and think, oh God please do look after Tau, please do not forget. Not even for one second, ok.


Something old, something new

Saturday 21 July, 2012:

Tau and Shay are here this evening, for a little while. Tau comes in on his own, briefly, and tells me he’s been drinking all day… he looks so tired. I ask him how Shay is – he says she’s here too. So I go out to see her – I don’t know anything is wrong. How could I know?

Tau just lies on his bed, his back towards us. Right then, I don’t exactly know what to say.

I kind of stumble over my words… everything seems so inscrutable. Tau not even turning round. Shay’s apologetic eyes, as she says, “Sorry, Miss, it’s ok… and everything is all good.”

Oh it isn’t, it isn’t. There’s a great weight of sadness in my throat. I’m afraid, in a way. Not scared, exactly. But vulnerable. Vulnerable, to be caught in the middle of currents I can only sense and can’t read.

Then they leave again. Where to, I don’t know. And I wish, and I wish, and I wish… and God please don’t forget. Not even for one second.


Sunday 22 July:

Tau’s not 15 anymore. He’s not that kid: the one without even ten cents to his name. Who didn’t have dinner yesterday, or the night before that. Who hasn’t had anything to eat since “that lunch you bought me yesterday.” Who doesn’t have any semblance of a uniform, apart from the school jacket he wears day in and out, through all seasons; which smells musky, and weed-permeated and Tau-scented, in a way that takes my heart and grips it like a vice. Who rests and snuffles at my desk and my shoulder. Who nestles beside me, breathing quietly. Who causes havoc all over the school, and then boomerangs back to the ROR, running and panting: “Fuuck – almost got caught.”

These things, and a thousand other things. The way he looks at me hopefully, with his ‘black’ eyes. The way he says, “My oncle,” or begins, “Miss… you know my cousin? That faggot?” The way he uses up all my spare paper, then tags on anything that isn’t actually structural, so that my whole room’s a little treasure hunt of ‘CLUZO’ clues.

Oh yup… that boy. The one who I love like he’s my own cub. And he says, wearily, “You’ll get sick of me soon, Miss.”

I say, “I won’t, Tau. I promise – I’ll never do that.”

And it’s true – I never will. Not just because I promised. But because… I never could. It would be unpossible. The stars could fall from the sky, and I’d still stand firm.


Soon Tau will be 18. He’s not in jail. He’s – he’s had a place to go, times he’s needed one real bad. He’s believed, or maybe even half-believed, that he’s cared for, and that somebody will come through for him when it really matters.

At the same time, it’s possible that Tau’s already an alcoholic, or close to it. He’s dealing; he’s also heavily dependent on cannabis (which worries me far less than alcohol); and I’m not kidding myself – he’s still violent towards Shay. He’s already heading through the court system, in an ‘age appropriate’ Southside way, if we’re talking stereotypes. Petty offending; drug or driving convictions. Taking the first steps, like his peers: Inia, Levi, Kepaoa, Elroy, Nio, Alexander, Mischa, Zion, Kost, Leroi.

The world’s full of freedoms and constraints. Of love and hope, and sometimes fear and pain. And I took my chances with Tau. I did – and I’m proud of that. I wouldn’t go back and choose to do any different. Sometimes I believe it’s my ‘one good thing’, my atonement for a lot of other things. That’s not why I did any of it. I did it because I really loved Tau, and I still do. And that’s… all I got to offer, I guess. And it might not be enough. But Tau’s still here, and he’s just the way I always honoured him, if I’m really, really honest.

So, you could ask: What did I expect? Well – I expected a lot of things. And I wasn’t disappointed.


And do you know what? I’m also tired of thinking I should have to be any different. All of a sudden I feel weary of that imploring, pleading, feeling. I’m just gonna be the way I am, and if no-one else shows up, then all good. I don’t care.

To hell with school, and its constant policing of time, and division of time into smaller and more specific units. I miss those days when time expanded, when we created space, and time, and made it our own. The way Tau could just stroll into my room; any time, any class – and settle right down. Just settle in for the day. And so could Nio. And my other guests: all in the Room of Requirement.

I know… but all that was before I had to go above the radar. Before the ‘Chris Hapuru’ incident. Before graff project. Before the fight at the station, and disciplinary proceedings brought against Inia and Noa. Before I rang Inia’s lawyer. Before Zion ran slap-bang into the SLT and the Board. Before La-Verne and I tabled the ‘due process’ email. Before Tau stepped out the caretaker. Before Karys’s surveillance; before the meeting; before the ‘search and seize’ guidelines – before Kepaoa sold ciggies and packed a gat. Before the walkthroughs, and the ‘MC Way’ observations.

And yet, half the battle was always won on audacity alone. In doing things right under the noses of whoever might be there. And so… and so. Time to try something old, something new.

Feeling alright

Tuesday 17 July, 2012:

Here’s how school’s looking:

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

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

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

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


Wednesday 18 July:

Sitting by the heater – actually pressed against the heater.

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

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


Thursday 19 July:

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

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

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

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


Friday 20 July:

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

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

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


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

“No,” I say, kind of absently.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

“No…” I say. “Not lately.”

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

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

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

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


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

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


Saturday 30 June, 2012:

I go see Sheree at Municipal Hospital. She hugs me and introduces me to her mum, Lena, who tells me it’s good to meet me at last.

I have some time just with Sheree, while Lena is organizing the transfer to the maternity centre. That’s when I give her the card, which has 100 dollars slipped inside it. I don’t want anyone else to open it. If Scott takes it home, it’ll be gone – probably within the hour. So I just say to Sheree, “Don’t lose the card. There’s a little present in it for baby.”

“I won’t,” she says, understanding. She puts her arms round me, saying, “Naughty girl… I should give you a ‘mack…” and she pretends to smack me, and we giggle. “But thank you,” she says, and we sit there with our arms round one another.

Sheree tells me, “I’m alright, but I don’t wanna go home yet.”

“Yeah, you make sure you stay in there for a bit,” I say. “I guess they’ll wanna keep you in anyway.”

“Scott wants me to come home.” She wriggles her nose, making me laugh. “I think he wants me there, to clean up!”

“Well, he can just wait,” I say, lightly. Of course I know that Scott doesn’t manage well without Sheree. He’ll be wanting her home – but she needs a rest.


Just before I leave, a nurse comes in and says, “Oh, hello,” and: “Is this your midwife, Sheree?” she enquires.

“No, I’m not the midwife,” I tell her, and then, as she continues to look at me curiously, I add, “I’m just… a friend.”

But obviously the nurse still assumes I’m a social worker or something. Later I hear her say in an undertone, to Lena:

“So… who is she; what’s her role?”

I don’t listen to the rest of the conversation – don’t even try to. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, anyway. But something about the assumption keeps bugging me. That obviously, I’d have a ‘role’. That my clothes, appearance, skin colour, whatever: fits in with one set of assumptions and not another.


Actually that’s the second time it happens. The first time is when I’m walking up the corridor, looking for Sheree’s room. And as I walk past a group of staff (I don’t really take much notice of them), someone calls out, “Excuse me…”

At first, I don’t think this interjection is even directed at me, so I keep on walking. But the same voice calls out again: “Excuse me! Oh… excuse me!”

This time, I turn round. A woman leaves the group and comes towards me. “Hi!” she says, and then, “Did you do your midwife training at City hospital?” It’s clear now that she is a midwife, and that she ‘remembers’ me.

“I’m not a midwife,” I tell her. “Do I look like someone else?”

“Yes,” she replies, a little crestfallen. “You do – I thought you were someone I trained with.”

And we just laugh, and I go on down the corridor.


But, you know, when she first speaks to me – I honestly think, for a few seconds, that she’s going to tell me I can’t go that way; don’t have access or something. I think she’s going to ask me if I have ‘permission’. I always feel like I might be snapped –  just pretending to know the ropes. Using the persona, whatever it is: teacher, ‘professional’, ‘good’ person, person with all the correct authority to proceed, recognized as such by some learned trick of bearing, and some accident of race. Of course I’d be seen as the midwife and not the visiting friend. The midwife; the social worker or psychologist.

It’s almost a game… only, it always gets real hard to feel like I’m living some kind of double life. Spy in the camp. And to what ends and purposes I don’t know. All I know is that I’m real lonely, round about now. Gotta marshal the troops. What troops? And oh, oh, oh; I don’t know what any of it means.


Sunday 1 July:

3 years “since”.

My mind is like a wild animal tethered, worn out from trying to escape the leash. Defeated, tired… and still too strong and wild to be set free. Haah. So who’s keeping me locked up. And why?

I’m so tired. Sometimes I just, simply, long for freedom. Just to walk away and rest, lie in the grass; breathe quietly. I fear that I’ll never be released. And I don’t want to just live and die like this.

And it’s so shaming when others see the whole sorry performance. Sometimes it shames me terribly, just to limp and creep round this circuit again and again and again – shackled and chained. No beast could be more pitiful.

But I don’t want to give myself the minor luxury of whimpering. It does shit – honest, it does nothing. I know, because I’ve tried it. I just need to… to get so fuckin’ tough. Want me to be laid low? Crawl on my knees is it? I need to escape the prison of my mind. Isn’t that what Brother Baines (that composite character) said to Malcolm Little, there in the penitentiary: “I can teach you how to get out of the prison of your mind.”

But who can teach me?


Monday 2 July:

Shay stays over. She’s shy lately, and only says, “Hi Miss,” when she comes in one time. Apparently (this according to Tau) she feels shy after what happened.

And I kind of get it. Because, when all that stuff – the big bust up – happened, I was aware that I was ‘Tau’s’ person. That through everything, my loyalty and my support would be given to Tau without question. Even though I care about Shay. I’m not ‘Shay’s’ person. And that’s just the way it is.


Wednesday 11 July:

Tau has a few people over this evening: Leroi, Mischa, Robbie.  There is a quantity of alcohol consumed:

“We’ve got casks of wine,” Tau tells me.

“Aye? I thought you didn’t like wine.”

“I drink anything,” Tau replies, matter of factly and with no particular pride.


Later on (and probably ‘of course’), Leroi can be heard shouting the odds to the world in cgeneral. “Fuck! Whaat… Whaaat!” he yells, meandering about on the gravel. “Fuck it, I wanna rumble!”

It’s around midnight when all this shouting and stamping around starts. On one hand, I’m glad it isn’t Tau. But Leroi sounds very similar, just not quite as adamant. I think – and not for the first time – of Scott’s influence on the boys.  The way they snap so fast. Go from proximate happiness to dishonoured rage in a matter of seconds. It’s so close to the surface; all the time.

And when I hear Mischa (the voice of reason), I’m thankful. “Tomorrow, my ge, tomorrow. Is that all good ge? Come on; come inside. Tomorrow my ce… that’ll be all solid; come on inside now. Tomorrow, and I gotcha back…” he soothes, and Leroi goes back in. So I don’t have to get up (which, until then, I have considered doing).


This morning, I ask Tau, “What does your mum say, when things start up like that with you guys?”

“She just leaves it,” Tau says, and I nod.

That’s true – and should I? Should I not? What do you do – when they’re out there in all their unsettled, alcohol-inspired bravado. When they think they can go anywhere, and step to anyone. Who knows what I’m supposed to do.

Anyway – it all ends up alright. No trouble – except that someone’s lost the padlock to the shed. But I have another one, so all’s well.




Saturday 2 June, 2012:

This morning, Tau arrives on Leroi’s bike. Says he was over the Shore last night; went in someone’s car. “But everyone was drunk as,” he says. “So I drove all the way back.”

You drove?” I say. “Man, Tau – but you were drunk too, right?”

“Yeah, but I was all good,” Tau informs me casually. “All the boys said I was driving good, I asked them and they said…”

“But everyone was drunk, so how would they know?”

“Nah Miss, I was allgood, I was fine. I was driving slow,” he insists.

“Well, it still makes me feel worried, Tau.”

“I’m ok – I can drive good when I’m drunk.”

“That’s what you think,” I sigh, somewhat unwisely persisting with this line of argument. Tau, after all, has had only a few hours’ sleep, is hungover, and is not particularly open to discussion.


The conversation continues in the shed, as I try to make the increasingly grouchy Tau see reason. He also informs me that he’s going to Mischa’s party after all. Up until now (and considering recent disputes), he hasn’t been planning to go  But the residue of a long night of alcohol is back in his system again, and he’s all bravado.

“Nah Miss, I’m not dumb – I’ll be fine.”

“I know you’re not dumb,” I say patiently. “But you said yourself – you don’t wanna get drunk and do something you might regret.”

“Nah, I’m allgood when I’m drunk,” repeats Tau, with scant basis for this opinion. “It’s just Mischa’s dad – and I’ll only step to him if he steps to me first.”

“Ohhyup” I mutter. “Yeah, you’re all good when you’re drunk – yeah right.”

“I am,” Tau says, unconvincingly and grumpily. “You ask my mum and dad – I’m all good when I’m drinking.”

‘I don’t have to ask them – I’ve seen it for myself,” I retort, rather significantly.

Tau puts his head down firmly, and focuses on the laptop. Smashed doors and raised fists and glittering eyes lie quietly in the air between us. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to talk anymore, so I back off tactically, and go do something else.


Later on, the shed door’s still open (which is a promising sign), but Tau’s body language remains closed and huffily offended. In a way, I want to go tell him: Tau, I’m sorry. Not sorry for being worried, of course. Just sorry for reminding him of things… and for wanting to be right.

But the time for that is still some way ahead. With the alcohol back in its accustomed bodily channels again – and no sleep – Tau sits large and implacable on the couch, and gives me the courtesy of a short acknowledgement.


Tuesday 5 June:

Teacher only day. I don’t like it any better than normal, but I handle it better than normal. Why? Because I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Of course, it’s a given – that I don’t like teacher only day. And I feel like I’m onto something, saying that. I’m not mired, or not as mired, in the elements of the dislike. Instead, I want to get out of this game, which I’ve pretty well exhausted. Done it; lived it; given it something, and taken something from it. And now I want more. I want to say more. I want to open up a little corner of this space and lift the lid as high as I can. So that it’s open to see inside.


Tau tells me he can’t sell from Kaiser St anymore, now that Scott’s back in business (sold the van to buy three ounces). So he’s been doing a bit of retail outside the mall again – he stands by the ATM and asks people, “Looking for anything…” while they’re getting their cash out. Telling me this, he demonstrates the tone he uses (kind of casual largesse) – which makes me laugh. I can just imagine the scenario.

And he’s clearly ‘forgiven’ me over the conversation on Saturday: the hard conversation he didn’t want to have. It always touches my heart to have Tau’s trust – that even when things don’t go to his liking, he doesn’t need to cut and run. I know it’s real hard for him to stay put, when he feels under duress.


Friday 8 June:

Tau’s ‘weekend’ starts early. Last night he goes out drinking with Kost, and a boy called Robbie (who I vaguely remember from his MC days). They drive to some new subdivision on the heights,  whereupon they set up to drink in a half-built house, while taking in the view. Stoned and drunk, they watch as Robbie goes to move his car off the road. Tau says, idly, “That grass looks slippery,” – just before the car slithers down a hill and crashes into a fence (luckily this also prevents it from dropping over a bank). Robbie tries in vain to start the car and get it back up the hill, while neighbours appear in force, restraining him and calling the cops. Kost and Tau look on from their vantage point in the building site, but, “I just boosted it,” Tau tells me. He scrambles across the back of gardens, then dashes into the streets and away, as the bystanders shout after him, “You won’t get far!”

Tau clutches his bottle (of course) and runs – “Cos I’d only just opened it,” he explains. “I wasn’t gonna leave it behind.” Stopping every now and then to take a brief and reviving sip, he makes it safely home. By which time the other two are at the police station in Municipal, where they’re questioned, charged, and released – eventually to rendezvous with Tau, around 3am.

He looks a bit shaken, to be honest, as he recounts this saga.

Right then, I’m just so glad that nothing has happened to him. “Now can you see why I don’t like it when you drive drunk, Tau?” I ask, but very gently.

“Yes,” replies Tau, simply. He adds, “Miss, if I’d been the one moving the car, I probably would have been going faster. I think I would have gone right through the fence.”

“Oh Tau, I’m so glad it’s made you think, you know,” I say, hoping fervently that the ‘thinking’ part of the equation will kick in more often during such eventful nights.

I give his shoulder a little pat; he’s had only a couple hours sleep, and is coughing. Oh, who knows – maybe he’ll get tired and sleep.


Sunday 10 June:

Thinking about school: the crucible of both my rebellion and my rebirth, I guess you could say. The struggle to survive, in that brutal place, and then – like a kind of magic – to find a meaning and a solidarity right inside it. To learn how to partake of freedom, there in the middle of all constraints. And these things are part of me now. But at the same time, the setting is shifting outwards. I’m not sure I can stay there much longer.

I don’t know exactly what that means, or will mean. Or quite where I should place myself. I think I really don’t know much. But then, there’s nothing much left I want from school, except to say that I was there, and that this is how it was. I don’t know how, but  I have to bear witness to it somehow. The feeling grips me so hard that sometimes it feels like it’s carrying me, and I just have to hold on. Will I learn how to control it, or even to direct it?

For now, I’m going to try and remind myself every day – there’s things I can do more of, do better. I just need to find out what they are, and where.

I feel kind of relieved, to write that down, and so to begin (in some sense) the actual process of… not withdrawal, yet but redeployment.