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.

The equation

Monday 20 October:

I get ready for work – and don’t get a text. I tell myself it’s ok, there’s no reason to panic. Even if there’s hardly any day jobs around at the moment, money’s taken care of up to the end of the month. But I can still feel that I’m holding my breath a little bit. Because this is the story for the rest of the term; I know it.

I toy with the idea (I really do) of telling the boys I got a call from the agency, and then just ‘going somewhere’ for the day. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about the situation. It’s more that if I worry and they see that, then they’re going to worry. And I don’t want them to worry.

Thankfully I come to my senses, telling myself firmly that that’s the dumbest idea ever. Running away won’t help, fleeing and scrabbling around for a spot to lay low. It makes me laugh, really, to think how very like Tau I am in this regard.

But I miss having a job. It’s not that I miss school, exactly – I miss the routine things. Knowing what time to make coffee, eat lunch. Casual conversations. Some kind of easy professional validation – too easy, really. Facile, often times. But I miss it nonetheless.

Instead, I find myself trying to work on four job applications at once; wondering what time to take a break. I have a routine of sorts, but all the same, I’m on dangerous territory. My fears can so easily take over. And it’s hard to keep my energy steady; it feels like I’m trying to land a big jet aircraft, keeping it level, getting that baby safely on the ground.

 

Thursday 30 October:

The idea of lying in bed on a weekday morning is only tempting up to a point. I get up and take a shower, then find that the boys have finished the yoghurt last night, eaten the kiwifruit I was going to have for breakfast, and used up all the milk as well. I’d say something if they were doing stupid stuff – but eating isn’t stupid. And Tau’s got enough issues around food without me adding to them.

It actually makes me happy, in a way. Happy and scared. Money’s tight – but I’m glad they’re here. So glad that sometimes I can’t even explain it. I have to learn how to work through everything, accept the contradictions and not be afraid

 

I spend eighty dollars replenishing the stock of groceries. Previously, I would have considered this a feat of great economy – now it’s just everyday life. And I’ve got no real action plan as yet. But the need for one is dawning on me.

So I write down all the key dates for the next few months and do a first attempt at adding things up. Straight away, I can see that at certain points along this timeline I’ll need to have my own payroll in place to cover a variety of income permutations – because nothing’s going to be set in stone. And there’s a whole four weeks in January where I need to generate a livable income without school.  It’s like playing the wild card. And yet, somehow I have to do it.

Objectively (if there’s any such thing), finance poses the biggest obstacle right now. But somehow I don’t see it that way. Instead, I feel like I got out of MC just in time.

Besides, I’m convinced it’s not another ‘career path’ I need. I didn’t quit teaching to work on someone else’s institutional goals, and I’m tired of pretending (not always in so many words) otherwise. I just have this feeling that if I can harness the slightly wobbly energies that are around me right now, I could catch a ride to something different.

 

Wednesday 5 November:

I fall asleep to the sound of fireworks outside, like intermittent popcorn at first. After a while it becomes a steady artillery barrage which is actually quite calming to the senses; any rises and falls in tone and volume being constant enough to soothe, rather than irritate my mind.

I drift off to sleep, trying to think of things I’m grateful for, and, “I’m not grateful for anything…” I murmur, at first. Then, “Ok, I’m grateful the boys have a place to go,” I remind myself, quietly and very sincerely.

 

Monday 10 November

The big problem has suddenly hit me out of ‘nowhere’ (I know, right?) The money’s going to run out in, ooooh about three weeks. When that fact dawns on me, I feel my heart kind of flip. For two reasons.

The first is straight panic stations. I can almost hear my own thoughts rushing and gabbling at me: ‘Maan-you’re-such-an-idiot-why-did-you-leave-MC-how-could-anyone-be-so-out-of-touch-with-reality-did-you-really-think-you-could-just-snap-your-fingers-to-get-a-job-and-why-haven’t-you-been-trying-harder-you-are-really-a-dumb-bitch…’ and so on.

The second is a moment of sparkling curiosity which kicks in right when I need it: ‘Oh, I made it this far! I’m here, at the crossroads!’

And both of these feelings flick-flack me up and down like a fish caught and swiveling.

 

Tuesday 11 November:

I stroll past all the cafes at the mall, thinking how good it would be if I could get a coffee just for no reason. There’s two dollars in my account – so when I get home I make one instead.

Trying to stay in the present: There’s food in the fridge, and gas in the car. Right in this moment, I’m not dependent on anyone.

I do need a job though. I need to tie these two; no, three things together: happiness and work and financial security. It’s weird how I’ve always had them two at a time, never all together. The notion of work at all – well, it needs to mean something quite different from the way I’ve always interpreted it. Which until now, has been like this:

Happiness + work ≠ financial security

Work + financial security ≠ happiness

But happiness + financial security has, up to now, seemed an impossible conjunction. It’s just figuring out how to get all three things stacked up. What’s the equation?

 

For practical purposes

Wednesday 7 May, 2014:

The first week of Term 2, and my intentions already seem so unsupportable, compared to a few days ago. I struggle to hold these two contradictory ideas:

1) Financial independence – I have to support both myself and that flexibly constituted entity: the ‘household’.

2) The teacher persona – I can’t outwit it, I can’t hide from it, I can’t redeem it… I don’t know what to do with it except to feel so endlessly, helplessly, tired of struggling with it.

 

This morning we have a ‘Learning Team’ meeting. Chloe starts off with a few of the dreaded games, and then we have a discussion about learning goals and learning celebrations for the year 9’s. The entire time, I miserably accept the role I have to perform. I shrink from it, at the same time as I force myself to behave exactly as expected. Taking part, contributing to the conversation, making suggestions -and also in some way despising myself for all of this.

My mind gets so tired, twisting and turning, and finally capitulating to the task. I take little, shallow breaths, in and out… just getting through it.

But I keep telling myself: people go through way worse. And I will I will I will I will I will be ok. So fuck it.

I’m still lingering in my tribulations though, most of the day. But I’m another person the minute I get in my car and drive away. Not a teacher anymore. And when I get home and see the boys, I think, oh thank goodness! Because someone knows me;  knows I’m not that dumb after all.

 

Thursday 8 May:

9 Social. I hate the fact that they expect a ‘teacher’. I dislike a few of them very much. The one I can’t stand is Jacobina. The thing I resent the most about Jacobina is that she’s not even the power broker in that class. She’s got a smart mouth, but she only jumps on the bandwagon when Audrey and Chenille start trying to wield their own (13 year old, very constrained) authority over the others. And honestly, the ridiculousness of having to deal with it, today.

I try to settle my breath a little bit, but it won’t settle. It’s still shallow and kind of painful. This is what ‘stress’ feels like, right?  I think about how Tau must feel more stressed than this, all the time – no wonder he’s on the K2. Which is, of course, now illegal (as of 12:01 this morning, but that’s a whole nother story).

The one tiny fact about school that gives me consolation, albeit of a very partial and limited kind, is that there’s not even one person there anymore whose opinion I actually give a damn about. And furthermore, if I’m stressing, at least there’s no-one there who it might matter to, or who I need to compose myself for.

But it hurts to hold my breath in. So I think, for practical purposes, there’s only one thing truly to be done today, and that’s breathe. Breathe and then breathe some more. See if I can iron that out.

 

After school, the K2 thing. Tau and Leroi have smoked up pretty much all their seshes by 5 o’clock – there’s one left. They’re stoned as all fuck, and Tau keeps chuckling at my expression, which is slightly perturbed (not at them being stoned, but at the lack of any surplus for days of possible need).

I make dinner, but the boys are way too stoned to do anything except sit on the couch in the sleepout, with the radio providing a soundtrack to the game start menu: just rolling its intro over and over while they sit and watch.

Eventually Tau comes inside and gets a drink… and I sense some kind of look in his eyes, but I don’t know exactly what this signifies. So I just say, “Hey, Tau,” while he busies himself at the sink.

And then, “It just… feels like you were gonna ask me something,” I surmise, and he laughs, saying, “Oh!”

I push on a little further: “I don’t know why, Tau, but I thought you might be wanting a lift somewhere.”

“Oh Miss,” Tau says, coming to sit down by me. “I was gonna ask for a lift… and a loan. For a box,” he explains, with a little sorrow.

“Huh?” I say, but gently. “Are you sure you guys wanna start up on a box, after smoking up all that K2?”

“We can’t get to sleep,” Tau tells me, sighing. “I’ve had like six sleeping pills, and we’ve smoked all our K2, and I’ve been stressing about tomorrow.

Quite apart from the contraindications of mixing sleeping pills and alcohol, this is what I’ve been worried about: the replacing of K2 with other substances. So Tau and I just sit and talk, to try get it a little bit sorted – no preconceived outcomes in our minds. We both approach the situation very calmly, willing to listen to one another’s perspective.

 

Tau tells me he’s been worrying about the K2 situation all day, so has Leroi. This, he thinks, is actually why they’ve consumed their stash in one long burst. They just want to take their minds off what’s going to happen next.

“And have you got no money left?” I ask him.

“No – we spent as much as we could on K2,” he replies. We bought fifteen bags.

“Oh my gosh,” is all I say, thinking about it. And then, “But Tau.. this is just day one. I know you need to get through the day and all. But have you thought what could happen, if you feel like this tomorrow… and the next day.” I add, “I’m not being judgmental – I know you have to find a way to cope. But it’s just that I care about you; both of you. I don’t want to see you start up on the alkies again.”

“I don’t want to either,” Tau says. “I remember how it felt – I hated wanting it every day.”

“I know,” I tell him.

“But it would be the last time, Miss,” he tries. “The only time.”

“I’m not asking you to say that, Tau,” I reply. “I’m not expecting that from anyone. It’s just that I don’t want it to be a strategy you use every day. For one thing, we can’t afford it, and for another thing…” I look at him with a lot of love in my heart, as I continue, “I just want to see you guys happy, and looking forward to things again, you know? Having goals, and figuring out what you want to do, and enjoying your days.”

“I want that too,” Tau says, quietly. “Max talked to me about that as well.”

“And I know you’re trying your best, Tau,” I tell him. “I’m not knocking you for any of it. I’m just… not sure what I should do, that’s all. Just let me think about it for a minute.”

“Algood, Miss,” Tau says. He sits with me very patiently – not even trying to flee. I can see he feels a kind of safety, which makes me glad.

 

After a while, I decide what to do. I don’t know if it’s what anyone else would do, or even approve of. But that doesn’t really matter. I tell Tau I’ll go get him a box, just a 12 pack for him and Leroi. I say I won’t be getting any more than that, if they run out. It’s just to see them through, and they have to pace themselves.

“Sweet as,” Tau says. “I understand everything you’re saying, Miss.”

Then, “Do you know, you guys have been here for a whole month?” I say, in slight surprise.

“Have we?”

“Yup – and it’s been pretty good,” I go on, contemplating this fact. “I mean, you’ve both been calm, and not stressing too much till now.”

“We’ve been algood,” Tau agrees.

“And we want it to stay that way, right? So if I’m worried that you’re drinking every day, I’ll be on the phone to Vailea real quick – and Max.”

Tau chuckles at me, saying, “But that won’t happen, Miss.”

“Just saying,” I tell him. “Just letting you know the deal, from my end.”

Then off we go to the liquor store, and Tau goes in and gets the box. I see him go in, and I think, love ya Tau. And I hope I’m doing the right thing.

My ship

Saturday 3 May, 2014:

Early morning and the fridge is bare, apart from margarine and one almost empty bottle of tomato sauce. I go grocery shopping and spend $122. This is more than I’ve spent in so long that I can’t remember!

Around 11 I take Tau (accompanied by Leroi once again) to counselling. Just as an aside, it amuses me how gangsta Leroi looks nowadays. He’s got this ‘particular’ beanie, which when he wears it, seems to transform him into the biggest hoodlum on the block. And I’m talking Municipal – so I can only imagine how he appears to the citizens of Remuera (where Maxwell has his practice).

I glance at him in the rear view mirror, and can’t help laughing as Leroi smiles at me and says, “I’m gonna read some more of those stories in the waiting room today.”

 

On the way back, Tau’s just tumbling out with all the things he’s learnt. He produces a little card that Maxwell’s written on the back of. It says:

I feel..

when..

I would prefer..

“It’s this way I’m learning to stop myself getting angry so fast,” Tau tells me. “Max just started showing me how to do it today, and he said that’s enough for now, he’s gonna let me think about it some more, and then next time he’ll tell me more.”

 

And he explains how it works. When you feel yourself getting angry with someone, instead of pointing the finger at them, you stop and tell them: I feel… (however it is you’re feeling) when… (whatever’s happened to make you feel that way). And then you say: I would prefer… (letting them know what you want to happen instead).

There’s a way you remember it, too. Tau shows me, saying, “Look Miss, when you point at someone…” He points towards the windscreen, demonstrating: “See how you point one finger at someone, and three fingers are pointed back at you?”

“Yup,” I say, waiting for the next bit.

“Well those three fingers are ‘I feel, when, I would prefer.’ That’s how you remember it. And then you try saying it.” He adds, “It took me a while to get what he meant, and then I was like – oh, fuck, I could do that.”

“Whoa – that’s so awesome, Tau,” I tell him. “Max is really onto it, aye.”

“Haard,” Tau says. “I wish my whole family could go see him. Especially my mum – I reckon it would really help her to do some of this stuff.”

“Maybe she could come along one time,” I suggest. “She might be a bit shy to meet Maxwell at first, but she’d probably be alright going with you.”

“That’s what I think, too,” says Tau. “If she saw me talking and stuff, she’d start to feel alright about talking to him as well.”

“Imagine if your whole family started using that ‘I feel… when… I would prefer’ thing,” I muse.

“Maan, that’d be buzzy,” Tau says. “Instead of just shouting and yelling and going off at one another.”

“Oh, and you could try using it on that guy at High Times,” I say, making them snort with laughter. Because Tau got ripped off to the tune of ten bucks, last week. He bought a twenty bag and the guy gave him a ten bag. They’ve already had an altercation over it, the next time he went back in store.

 

We’re driving along and Tau says, in what is a very relaxed and contented way, “Miss – do you think we could stop at Seventh Heaven on the way home?”

“Course we can,” I tell him fondly. I know he didn’t have a sesh before going to Max’s; the three of us had talked about it, and I’d reminded him not to go stoned. I add, “It’s right next to the café – I can get my coffee at the same time!” and they both grin at me.

And that’s what we do. I get my coffee, Tau gets the K2, and Leroi sits in the car with his beanie on, looking like he’s eyeing up the world, but actually just having a little rest.

And I think, kind of idly, that all this stuff is just one example of how not everything I do can be framed by a job or an institution. ‘That thing’; it’s not a career move. It’s at the heart of who I am.

 

So it’s a little depressing to remind myself school starts again on Monday. I’m trying to be patient – but I want things fast, too. I know it’s almost time for me to part ways with MC.     There’s no reason to stay there. No allies left – they already shipped out. So what have I been sticking around for? Perhaps it was to find something of that same impetus in myself. And I think, maybe I found it… or nearly.

Because in the last two weeks I’ve realized all these things:

  • Personal power comes from self-reliance and boundaries
  • There’s also a mental and moral courage that comes from being kind
  • For me, the collective is the way the music gets made
  • All the same, either my needs are important or no-one’s needs are important
  • It’s alright to make sense of two contradictory ideas
  • One part always embraces the other part.

So subsuming myself to that simple teacher persona just doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t bring ‘nothing’ to the equation – I bring my own thing. And that’s my ship, I guess. The one that’s going to get me from A to B.

This time round

Friday 11 April, 2014:

This morning I get a headache thinking about everything: money on my mind, and Tau’s documents to drop off at Winz before I hit school for the day… and I heard him wheezing and spitting his way through the night again. The residue of those cigs and buckies must be accumulating in his lungs, he admits he coughs up all this green shit.

I also have to keep spelling out the rules concerning visitors while I’m at work. By visitors, I mean that loose grouping of hangers-on who follow wherever they sense opportunities to be had. Stolen goods and crack pipes in the shed, and cars turning up all hours – I can’t just take a laissez-faire approach anymore. There’s a small list of people who are allowed on the premises: Raphael, Inia and Noa, Kost and Zion – and that’s all, apart from family members. I said this to the boys already, day they arrived here. But I’ll have to say it again.

Oh, I don’t want to get that certain look in my eye or be hounded by my own fearful thoughts. Nope, I need to make my decisions and handle my business. Because I know I’m doing the right thing. I just need to do it better, this time round – for myself as much as anyone else.

 

Later, I sit at my desk while 11 Social work on the research for their assessments. It’s completely quiet in here. But I’m really, really tired and I know I’m stressing out. Things just seem so complicated.

The most pressing issue is money. I figure if I’m not going to touch my (still paltry) savings, then I have to find a way to make the money come out right. Of course everything’s been more expensive lately. The doctors, and the prescriptions, and extra gas… and just food and stuff.

 

After work I persuade Tau to get his cough checked out. Sometimes it totally amazes me, the way he suddenly, quietly, acquiesces to things he’s previously insisted he could never do.

We’re at the medical centre for nearly two hours. They don’t even charge us, this time. Afterwards, Leroi says, “That doctor really cares. I can tell.”

But the whole place is like that too. The receptionist, who is just a a young woman, speaks to me with a frank and gentle curiosity that touches my heart. She says she can see that the boys trust me; she asks if I’m family.

I tell her no, but, “I may as well be, I guess,” I say, thinking about it.

“I understand,” she replies at once. “I grew up like that, we always had kids staying with us.”

 

It’s after 6 by the time we finish up, so I pick up Maccas for the boys while we wait at the pharmacy. Tau needs four different things: sleeping pills, and a couple of tablets for his chest (prednisone and antibiotics, I think), and something else, too. I assure him he’ll feel better once his meds kicks in.

I don’t want to waste money on getting takeout for myself tonight. But the boys need something, honest to who. They’re tired, hungry, patient… and broke. Tau’s money all budgeted for K2 and cigs; Leroi not paid yet (and not until next week at the earliest)

On the way home, they talk a bit about their dad, and how he hated going to the doctors too – and we start to laugh, thinking about it. It’s nice how they mention him in that reminiscing way now, sometimes.

 

Then I go to the gym, God knows how I find enough energy for it tonight. I do though, and come back and fix some leftover sausages, make a cuppa tea.

Tau and Leroi come in and out to get drinks, and I think how they feel safe here. It’s going to blow hot and cold, I know – and I still have to patrol the boundaries. But underlying that, I just see this tired, relieved look in their eyes. No reason to smash up the place, no scary vibes, none of those bad memories. Just a bit of space and a bit of rest, which is I guess the thing they need most, in some ways.

Tomorrow I’ll buy a couple things and make chicken curry the way Kuli makes it – with garlic and ginger, carrots and potatoes. Maybe some coriander too.

 

Saturday 12 April:

I don’t get coriander, I just make the chicken curry with carrots and potatoes, plus a lot of onion, ginger and garlic. And tomatoes – I remember that you can add crushed tomatoes.

Anyway, it turns out real good, just like Kuli’s, and the boys like it too – which makes me happy.

But there’s still a moment when I get a bit freaked out, over the money situation. Because Tau asks me if Leroi can borrow forty dollars until he gets paid.

Now Leroi’s pretty useless with money, let’s be honest. And so it throws me. Not least because I’d be touching my savings, to give it to him. So I hesitate, then I tell him, “Um… the thing is, Tau – I get paid fortnightly, and I’d be taking it out of my savings.”

“Algood if not, Miss,” Tau says, in a gently resigned way.

But I get a pit of anxiety in my chest, in that same old place.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” I go on. “But I have a budget for everyday stuff, too – I got the money there, but it’s in my savings. And I try not to take it out, even for myself.” Then I added, “Not unless it’s really important, I mean. And… well, Leroi’s spent a bit of money on stupid shit, before.”

“Yeah, he has,” agrees Tau. “But this is for K2. We’re out – and I’ve run out of money. It was me who said Leroi should get it sometimes, so I can save some of my money.”

“Yeah, I get you,” I say, and I feel better for knowing Tau is being honest with me. “I know you guys need it and all, it’s just that… it’s a pretty expensive habit.”

“Hard,” Tau says, and I can tell he’s alright with me talking about it this way. So I continue, “Tau, if you don’t mind me asking. How much do you reckon it costs you, per day? I’m not trying be judgmental or anything – I just don’t have a clue.”

“About sixty bucks a day,” he tells me.

“Sixty!” I can’t help saying. “Fuuck, Tau – that’s a lot of money.”

“I know,” he nods.

“Is it really sixty?”  I murmur, rhetorically. And then, “It’s ok Tau, I know you guys need it and all. I’ll give you the money, it’s alright.”

“Thanks, Miss,” he says.

 

So I go take out the money, and off we go to the shop to get the K2. On the way back, I just say, “Tau, you know I really care about you, right. But… this is something that I wouldn’t do for most people. I just want you to know that.”

He nods, and I think he understands the way I mean it.

“It’s alright, and I’m not judging,” I say. “When Leroi starts getting paid though, just make sure he saves some for the other stuff you two need, make sure you both do, huh.”

“I want to cut back on our K2,” Tau says, quietly. “I just… it’s hard, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “It’s not easy, and like I said – I’m not judging. I know you’re doing what you got to do, right now.”

It’s true – and then, it’s also true that 400-plus a week is a lot of money to be spending on synthetic cannabis. But I guess some contradictions you just have to live with.

 

Contradictions

Sunday 23 March, 2014:

I wake up before 6 am. After a while I get up and make something to eat, and go back to bed – where I get a text from little Michael.

I like Michael, but I hardly know him and besides, I haven’t seen him in months – he and Tau had an argument a while back. Tau says he can’t remember much of what it was about.

Well, today Michael texts me to ask if I can help him sort something out. He says he owes thousands of dollars in fines on his car. There’s some story about how he sold it, and the person he sold it to is the person who incurred the fines. Only the car is still in Michael’s name, and he can’t prove this with the court. I’m not sure what’s really going on – but I feel sorry for Michael, all the same.

So I just tell him to come round sometime, and, “Today?” he replies, straight away.

 

He turns up around 3. When I let him in, I can see right away that something isn’t right. He’s real skinny (and he’s always been pretty skinny), and jittery and semi-rambling about stuff. Clutching a big sheaf of paper, which turns out to be letters for  fines that he owes. He tells me the story in more detail, about his friend and the car, and then – kind of contradicting himself – he tells me that he’s just had his car taken off him. I still can’t figure it out, but I can see he’s not in a good way. So I just let him talk for a while.

He mentions Tau and Leroi, too. Says they did something which he can’t forgive, after everything he did for them – this is how Michael puts it. He tells me he lent them money when they moved to Rutherford Ave, bought heaps of groceries and stuff (“I put food on the table for Sheree…” he says). And I don’t doubt there’s some truth in all that.

 

But then he starts to rave a bit, telling me he gave them them 10K (which seems not at all credible) and this is how he was treated in return. I don’t even try to find out more, or make an alternative case for anything, because Michael is just going on and on. Telling me he has ‘no problem making money’, he can always make money. And in the same breath he’s asking how to get a loan to pay off all these fines.

I ask him (gently, because I’m pretty sure I already know the answer) if he’s still working at the parts store, and he tells me no. So I explain how he won’t be able to get a loan from the bank, and say that I don’t advise him to take one from a finance company – the interest rate will be way too high.

 

He listens to me, but I can see he’s desperate to get this stuff sorted out. He tells me there’s a warrant out for his arrest – he didn’t turn up to court over the fines. he didn’t know what to do or say.

I suggest that he could ring the Ministry of Justice and speak to someone about paying his fines off. I actually think it might be ok doing it that way – the courts are quite realistic about getting some money – any amount rather than none.

Michael calms down slightly at this idea. He asks if I can help him ring and sort it out. He waves the papers, wanting to do it right then and there. I tell him that there won’t be anyone at the call centre on Sunday, he’ll have to come back sometime during the week.

“Tomorrow?” he asks at once.

“Yeah, tomorrow should be alright,” I tell him. I actually feel pretty sorry for the guy. No matter what the real story is, it isn’t a good position for him to be in.

 

“Thanks, Miss,” he keeps saying, and, “I didn’t know who else to ask.”

“It’s ok,” I assure him. “I don’t mind helping you out.”

“Shall I… come to school?” he asks. I can see from his expression he doesn’t want to. And I guess I understand why: he wouldn’t want anyone at MC to see him this way.

So I say, “No… just come here.”

“Can I come here, Miss?” he checks. “After school tomorrow?”

“Sure,” I tell him.

 

After this, we just talk a bit more. Michael tells me his family don’t want him around. Again, a confusing sequence of events follows. First he says he’s sleeping in the car (this is when he had the car, I guess), then that he’s staying with his dad. “But my dad just sits and stares at the wall,” he says. “Ever since my mum passed away. So I’m staying with… a friend.”

Whatever the story, he isn’t the way he used to be. And in my (not very expert) opinion, he’s definitely on the hard stuff. 

The contradictions

Friday 14 December, 2012:

For a few days, there seems to be some kind of ‘insulation’ around my thoughts, which prevents me from dwelling on things too much… which is just as well, I suppose. What I really, really think I need – is to just be calm. And if that’s how it’s got to be, then that’s how it’s going to be. All week, I have this crazy settled feeling in my heart. Click.. click… and click with that combination, until some space opens up. How does that work? I just don’t feel so afraid as I expected, guess that’s what I’m saying. But it’s a minefield in there.

 

After school today there’s Faculty drinks – Secret Santa and all – prior to the staff farewell dinner. Ross pours us vodka and tonic, with lemon, which he’s mixed in a big jug. I feel kind of quiet, and I only have one glass. I eat a little bit, drink my vodka, talk a little bit, sitting next to Mandy and La-Verne. I think – how do other people do it? Have a warmth and liveliness and grace that I don’t have. I don’t know why these things are barred to me.

Lack of grace, I think . I don’t know why I can’t have what other people seem to just ‘have’ – some sort of grace in the world.

And why should I be surprised? Because I’m not even nice. I’m not funny, I’m not interesting, I’m not fun to be around. I’ve got no energy, I’ve got no buoyancy. Got no cash, either.

 

Dinner is alright. Speeches and farewells, a spit roast and lots of alcohol (which I don’t have much of, just another vodka that Ross presses on me). Fine, who’s leaving, gives me a little present, which turns out to be the Book of Mormon! Ah well, the kind hearted thought is there. She writes something really nice on the flyleaf, too. I’m not sure why I’ve been presented with this gift; later I found out it’s just to a select few. I like Fine, and it kind of touches my heart, despite the fact that I have no more than a passing interest in the Latter Day Saints.

We pack up and I just go home. I don’t get gas, or get the shopping, the way I planned to. There’s no reason to, tonight. I don’t want to buy food, because no-one’s here but me.

But I think about it. I feel like I plummeted through to this place, and this time, for some reason. I can’t quite… get it, but if I could just see the sense in it, then maybe I’d be ok, and everything would may one day be righted, the way it should be, or could be. And it wouldn’t matter whether I was loved. It would just matter that I did something for love, anyway, and maybe if I really and truly accepted that, I wouldn’t be sad anymore.

What am I even doing here? I don’t know. I think I just have to hold on and dive down, and down. I need to take a deep breath and go down again and again. And I need to tell, and tell, I don’t know in what way – but I need to to spit it out.

 

Monday 17 December:

First day of the holidays, and six weeks before school starts again

When I wake up today, I’m just lying in bed, alright with being alive. Then reality kicks in… and suddenly I can’t stand it. I even cry a little, but the sound of my own crying makes me feel so ugly and ashamed. Why can other people cry and not me? Why can’t I even do that?

So I just cut my losses: go take a shower, make a cup of tea, and go to work. Keep the wifi switched off so I can write without going onto the network.

Then I have a good day – somewhat against the grain. The Lundia shelves look packed to the gunwales with crap, so I start clearing them out one shelf at a time, making ‘year level’ piles on the big table in the office – which don’t take long to spill out onto the desks, and the floor, and four big rubbish sacks. There’s kind of a method to it, but it doesn’t look that way to the casual observer: the cleaners walk through very warily. They tell me they’ll ‘leave things for tomorrow’. Can’t say I blame them.

By around 1, I can kind of see what I’m doing – there’s progress being made. Until then, it seems like I’m just pulling things out and not putting them back.

When I leave at 3:30, it looks sort of alright. At least the Lundia shelves do, though my desk (and La-Verne’s desk) were still covered with folders and boxes to sort out. But that’s tomorrow’s job.

 

Wednesday 19 December:

Teri is pregnant. Kepaoa asks me not to tell anyone. They only found out a few days ago, Home pregnancy test, but she’s seen a doctor now.

Kepaoa’s worried about the reaction from his family (not to mention hers). But he tells me, “Miss, I’ve gotta pick up my nuts.” It makes me laugh. “Got to man up,” he continues. “Get a job, as well. Cos I told her I’d stand by her, the whole way through.”

No wonder he wants to come home, his low, quiet voice tells me he needs to be with people he knows, people who care about him – and don’t we all? “Everyone over here’s just out for themselves, honest truth,” he says, explaining this point to me. “There’s no point in telling them, they’re not going to help.”

We talk about it until my phone runs out of charge (which isn’t a long time, luckily for my bill). At the same time I browse flights – no good deals, especially not before Christmas. But I keep looking, and eventually find one on Boxing day, hundreds of dollars cheaper than the others. So we book it; I pay with Visa, and Kepaoa’s going to pay me back – I don’t doubt it.

I just wish there was something that might help bring happier days for Tau, too. I don’t mean money (although by his own admission, he’s only just surviving financially). He doesn’t even want to apply for a benefit at the moment, or not exactly – I think it’s just too much effort for him to contemplate, so he just lets the thought go on by. Paperwork, bank accounts, a CV, an interview… the usual red tape. I don’t even think I should coax him until the new year. I want to, but I’m going to leave it for now. I just try to stand with Tau anyway, and to honour the way he is. I truly do, at the same time as I want him to be safe and be happy, because right now he isn’t either one of those things. And so… I live with the contradictions inherent in what I’m saying.