Strategies

Thursday 4 September 2014:

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 5 September:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday 6 September

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday 7 September:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“I wanna smash that cunt, then gap.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop it Leroi,” I say quietly.

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

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

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

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Normal

Tuesday 1 July, 2014:

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

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

 

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

“Did he believe you?”

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

 

Thursday 3 July:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes me sniff back tears all over again.

 

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

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

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

 

Friday 11 July:

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

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

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

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

 

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

“So Leroi just stayed and took the bash?”

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

 

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

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

 

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

In heaven and earth

Saturday 1 March, 2014:

I’m calmer than I imagined, after last night. When Lorna tells me about Tau ‘going berserk’, as she puts it, I feel scared for him. But at the same time, it’s what I expected – and when I realize that, I’m ok. I guess I have to be.

And there’s still no point in me yanking on that particular line, and getting myself all spooked. Tau’s got to deal with things his own way. So I just have to let it go, as much as I can. Because there are energies in heaven and earth that are way more powerful than mine, and I have to trust that Tau gets some of that help.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t think about it. Just that I can’t let it be a destructive thought, because I want to stay as steady as I can. It isn’t going to help me or anyone else if I’m jumping around like a fish on a hook.

 

Sunday 2 March:

I don’t really mind doing the cleaning. I just put some music on, and take my time. All the while I’m thinking about… stuff. Stuff about stuff.

I think about Sheree, and I wonder how she’s doing. I half want to text her and ask. But it’s too soon, you know

Then I think about that time she switched up my furniture. I wonder if I was ‘cold’ that day – or maybe just straight cold. I longed to be warm and I wasn’t sure how. But all things considered, it was a tough situation; it wasn’t just that one day. So I think to myself, well, I wasn’t just cold – I tried real hard. It makes me kind of sad now, to think how I tried and tried and tried.  I don’t think many people would have even given it a try. Maybe I didn’t do so good with it. But it’s not like there was an ‘example’ I could use.

When I ask myself: Am I cold? – I also remember how it was with Kepaoa. And then I know for sure, I’m not cold. I tried hard, with a lot of things.

And I’m still trying, guess so.

 

Later I have some time free, so I go do some more decluttering, sorting out a couple of boxes in the wardrobe. One of them contains photos, these spin me into a bit of a crisis. When I look at these photos, most of which date back at least ten years, I wonder at how I looked so solemn all the time, if not actually unhappy. And there’s not even one photo in which I don’t see a kind of panic in my eyes, like a wild creature that’s been tethered. My expression trying to approximate the regular, but you can see that my eyes are just hovering.

When I see myself that way, I feel kind of aghast.  I chuck a lot of those photos out today. And I’m glad.

I didn’t know then I was meant to be strong and wild. I didn’t know that I’d have to go way down in the valley with the troops; that it would call to me until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I didn’t know I had any skills. Ha, that reminds me of Sheree. She would use that word, ‘skills’. She used to say to me, “You’ve got so many skills.”

No, Sheree. You’ve got survivalist skills. To be honest, I think we both do.

And I mean, I’ve thought about this enough times that I also realize there must be a reason for how it was, and how it is now. A time a place.

 

Tuesday 4 March:

The year 10’s are so sweet today.

Miria says, “Miss, do you got a ruler?”

And I say, “Yup, sure thing,” and find one on my desk and give it to her.

“Do you ‘have’ a ruler…” quotes Lauralee, looking from Miria to me and back again.

“Huh?” I say, because of her tone, more than anything else.

She laughs, saying, “That’s what teachers always say – ‘Don’t say ‘got’, it’s do you have a ruler?’”

“Oh…” I say, getting it. “Do they?”

“Yes,” she tells me.

“Do they, really?” I ask again, with great interest. “It must be those English teachers.”

“No – it’s all of them. Teachers always do,” Lauralee explains, and then thinks about it and adds, “Ohh – not you though, Miss.”

“Oh god, no way,” I confirm, aghast at the thought, and giving a little ‘pfffft’ towards those absent teachers.

 

Wednesday 5 March:

Still got stuff on my mind.

The front door, for one thing. I better email the property manager tomorrow, because it jammed shut this morning, and when I got home I couldn’t unlock it. Lucky I had the key to the French doors, and got in that way.

At first I think the door sticking is something to do with the break in, a few weeks ago. But after a while, I realize it’s more likely to be related to the time Tau kicked it in, to get to Shae (two years ago… and oh, how much has happened since then.)

 

And this morning’s ‘Staff professional development’ for another. It’s actually better than usual – one of the Youth Court Judges comes in to talk about young offenders. But it clutches at my heart too much. Everything he says is true, in a way. But listening to him talk about that small percentage of hard core repeat offenders and their characteristics; well it beings to mind the sorrows of people I know and love, and my heart squeezes and contracts with a kind of grief – for myself as much as anyone else.

I warm to the Judge. He strides two ‘worlds’ – which of course, aren’t separate worlds at all, though many people believe they are. And he shows compassion,  much more so than the assembled teachers, who are horrified in that patronizing, ‘caring’ and well-to-do kind of way. Some offer up comments about ‘crap parents’ and ‘neglect’, and ask him why social services don’t remove more children from their families.

I say something, at one point. But I feel all choked up and try to keep myself in check.

 

Thursday 6 March:

Overall, school and me… it’s a funny kind of thing, trying to stay positive. I’m doing ok with it, but every now and then I’m driving there in the morning, and I remember how it was, just a year ago. How oftentimes I’d eat my breakfast while Kepaoa slumbered on the couch, arms flung back and legs kicked out. Sometimes I’d just give him a little pat on the shoulder on my way out, and he’d wake up for a moment and yawn and grin. And when I got to school, Slade would come straight in and we’d just sit down for a while before the bell rang, talking about any old shit.

I miss those days, hard. And yet I’m trying very hard, too. I’m not even letting myself think, ‘For why? For what?’ There’s got to be a reason, and that’s what I tell myself. For all of this – there’s got to be a reason.

And you never quite know when, or why something’s going to be important. You just have to hope and believe it might be. It’s enough to go on with. I think about that word, dharma. Guess maybe it’s my dharma to do certain things, and perform certain tasks – or even duties – faithfully, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t regret a single one of those things, I just wish I could do them better, especially for my Tau. But maybe I’ve done something. And maybe I’ll do something. All I know is I can’t be sad, and I can’t give up.

 

 

Happier days

Thursday 6 December, 2012:

After school, I go over to Fitzroy. Tau is in the shed with Misha, Robbie, and another guy  I don’t know. A single lightbulb stands in a broken lamp, casting its dim glow over the surroundings. Tau sits next to it, near the open door, his watchful and scrutinizing air reminding me of nothing so much as a fortune teller signalling his availability to those who might be looking for guidance. Well, looking for tinnies, anyway.

“Hey, Miss,” he says, just sitting there. He doesn’t seem drunk, I’m happy to note.

“Oh, hey Tau.” Then, “Sheree home?” I ask.

He nods. But he warns me, “Mum’s drunk though.”

“Uh-huh,” I nod. “It’s ok if I go up though? She asked me to come over.”

“Yeah, it’s awguds.”

 

I go up the stairs. There’s music playing, and Sheree is sitting at the table with a couple of friends, who she introduces. “Kia ora,” they say, and I sit down with them.

Turns out Sheree has received some paperwork she wants me to look at. She’s really drunk, and kind of bobs over us, saying, “My life’s falling apart… I don’t know what’s gonna happen.” She murmurs, almost to no-one in particular. “I don’t know if I can be there for anybody, I don’t know if I’ll be available when anyone needs me…” She looks gripped with urgency, and kind of glares at us, her eyes a little wild and rolling.

Scott calls to her from down the hallway, and she drifts away, distracted. I start on the forms, and, “Do you want a coffee, Miss?” Sheree sings out to me, as she comes back in.

“I’m ok, thanks…”

“Do you want a bourbon?” she continues, merrily. “Have a bourbon!”

I crack up laughing. “Nah, better not. If I start drinking bourbon, I’ll probably be here all weekend!”

Sheree looks at me and grins.

“Fuck, I’m scared to drink with you,” I tell her. “You’ll drink me under the table!”

The other women laugh.

 

When I leave, I say goodbye to Tau and the boys. They’re eating a parcel of chips now, and offer me some. I pick at a couple, just stand there chatting. For some reason I get that hopeful feeling… it’s still there.

 

Saturday 8 December:

I look out the window this morning, and see the shed door is ajar. I don’t go out straight away. Maybe Tau just needs a quiet place to be. So I leave him to it.

Later on, when I go put out the washing, the door opens and stays open. This signals, I think, that he’s now ‘available’. So I say, going past, “Tau?”

“Hey, Miss… in here.”

I go in, he’s just sitting on one of the couches, drawing. He looks big, quiet, patient, and impassive.

“You algood, Tau?” I ask him, sitting across from him on the other couch.

“Uh, yeah,” he replies, with a shrug.

“So, what you up to today?” I try.

“Nothing, just…” He shrugs again, and keeps drawing – but as he draws, he talks.

 

“Miss… you know that other day, the day you came?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, after you left, some Black Powers turned up, stepped us out. It was just after you left.”

“Aye? What did they want?” I ask.

“Want us to pay rent… for selling in Municipal. That’s their hood, they do all the selling round these ways. They wanted to take our car.”

“For rent?”

“Yeah, instead of rent… and they had guns,” says Tau. “They just came into the shed and sat down with their guns. One of them kept showing his gun to Leroi, to scare him.”

“And what did you say?”

“Said nah,” Tau tells me. “I ain’t paying rent to them. They don’t know I sell anyway – they think it’s my dad. And he’s not even dealing right now.”

“So it’s just you – but you didn’t tell them that, aye.”

“Fuck, no way,” Tau says. “They don’t know shit, if they think my dad’s dealing – someone’s been talking shit to them anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I murmur. “And your dad wasn’t home, aye.”

“Naah… I told him when he got back. But after the Blacks left, I rang my cousin. He came over with his guns, and sat with us.”

 

So that seems to be alright, for the time being. Apparently, Tau’s cousin is going to put the word out anyway. He’s got contacts in the Blacks – he sells for them somewhere else – and intends to use the usual channels of communication to let them know that Fitzroy Rd is thus technically under the Black Power, anyway.

But to be honest, that’s the least of it – the least Tau wants to talk about. We talk about heaps of stuff. He tells me what happened on Thursday, after I left. Sheree and Scott were out on the road, making a big commotion. She got mouthy and Scott started beating her up, right there on the street, until one of the neighbours called the cops and they turned up. Sheree got even lippier to the cops, and they told her she had a choice – either she could be locked up in the cells, or she could go stay with someone. So she ended up being taken to a relative’s place, and was back home in Fitzroy St last night.

“She never told the cops though, about my dad beating her up,” Tau says, matter of factly.

“Nah, well she wouldn’t,” I agree.

He nods, saying. “ I don’t think she’s been charged with anything, for that night.”

“What about her other court case – has she had that yet?”

“No… I think that’s next week,” Tau says, thinking about it. “I dunno though, cos my mum’s being a bitch at the moment.”

“Well, she’s probably worried about all of it,” I suggest.

“Probably.”

 

And then there’s a lot more. It’s making me tired, physically tired, to write this down – but I want to, and I kind of have to. It’s actually putting me to sleep, which I think is a reaction in my mind and body, an attempt not to think about it.

Some time during the conversation, I cross over to sit beside Tau, on the couch. He keeps on drawing, and keeps on talking, and I sit real close to him, just every now and then stroking his arm, or back. Writing this down right now, I feel my body kind of quiver with tears, because what I’m writing about hurts me.

Tau is very quiet and almost ‘relaxes’, as he speaks. But it’s plain weariness and resignation as well. The air smells of weed, which is comforting to both of us, I think. He tells me he’s just surviving, just getting by. He wakes up every day feeling angry, and drinks to make the anger go away. Whatever he can afford, as much as he can afford.

“Tau,” I say gently. “What you’re telling me, I understand, but… that’s a lot of alcohol, that’s addiction.”

“It is,” says Tau, nodding. “I drink more than my parents, now.”

I rub his arm, just letting my hand rest there, and he sits and breathes quietly. He tells me, “And I’m smoking heaps more weed than I used to – way more.”

“How much?”

“As much as I can, whenever I can – I’m stoned almost the whole time, I reckon. Spend heaps of money on drugs, alkies… I’ve gone useless at saving, these days.”

I just nod, and stroke his back, and he continues:

 

“And I’m doing heaps of drugs… other drugs, too.”

“What kind of drugs?” I asked, fearing the answer.

“Ecstasy… and fries.”

“Aye Tau?” I say, keeping my voice real calm, and trying not to seem upset. “Are you into fries much?”

“Much as I can,” he tells me. “Me and Misha, we score whenever we got the money.”

“How much does it cost?” I asked.

“A hundred,” he told me. “From my cousin.”

“And… what kind of buzz is it?”

“It’s algood,” he said. “It just makes you high as, and hyped. It makes you algood for the whole night.”

“And… um, what do you do, when you’re fried? Do you go anywhere – or just kick it at home?”

“Mostly just stay in the shed and talk. It makes you wanna talk heaps.”

“Ohyup,” I said. “You and Misha?”

“Yeah, mostly just me and Misha – and then sometimes we do weights as well.”

I start to laugh, can’t help it, at the thought of Tau pumping iron in that state.

Tau chuckles too, and I give his shoulder another little stroke, saying, “I know… but Tau, I’m worried about you too, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” he admits. “And Miss, sometimes I do different drugs all at the same time.”

“What? Like weed and ecstasy and P all together?”

“And alcohol,” he says, with a little sigh.

“Oh…” is all I can think of to say at that point, and he turn his paper over and draws some more, while we sit close and quiet for a bit.

 

“Tau?” I begin again. “Remember when you had like… some course days, and some drinking days? In your week, I mean.”

He nods.

“That was better than this, huh? I mean… better for you.”

“It was, Miss,” he says. “But… I don’t have anything else to do now, apart from drink and take drugs. Spend all my money on that shit.”
“Is there anything that helps; makes you wanna cut back?” I ask him.
“Nah,” he says simply. “I don’t think so. I don’t care.”

“You do care,” I say, and he laughs, just a little bit. “But I know what you mean though,” I continue. “Just… happier days is what you need to get to, aye.”

“Haard,” nods Tau. He concentrates on his drawing, and sits there, quite secure in having told me all of this. He shows no sign of wanting to bolt. And so we just keep chatting about this and that; a lot of other stuff. Until Scott texts, to say they’re waiting for him. They need to get going somewhere.

“K then, I’d better go. See ya, Miss,” says Tau.

“Yup, see you soon.”

 

If there was something I could do, I’d do it. I don’t know if there is. I can help with the obvious stuff… WINZ forms and course applications (Tau says he wants to go back to the TI next year, but I know, realistically – it’s easier said than done). But with other things, I don’t really know what to do. I guess it’s something, it isn’t quite nothing, for Tau to know he can come over if he needs to. But it doesn’t do much, and that’s the truth. It doesn’t stack up against the drugs, and the alkies and all the earns he’s on, for his cousin. And his cousin wants him to patch up, too.

Now I’ve written it down, I feel ok… kind of. I feel like I’m chronicling something I don’t actually wish to observe, let alone talk about. When I think of Tau, and when I see him like this, it hurts my heart, bigtime.

But when I think about it, of course I’d rather see it than not see it. So I can handle it, and any thing I can do, I’ll gladly do it. But I just wish for… for ‘happier days’, like I said. Because this is some hard things to be going through, for my Tau.

 

 

The real stuff

Monday 26 November, 2012:

I don’t do much at school today, except teach (which I guess is more than nothing). I just mean that when I’m up in the office, I’m not really working on anything. I keep fiddling around with little things I don’t even need to do. Sending emails; cleaning up my folders on the shared drive… that kind of non-urgent stuff. When actually I should be working on those frickin report paragraphs.

And I don’t have enough to eat, today. Just a chocolate bar… lucky the Oracle isn’t there to tell me off.

I wish I could just go get drunk, actually. God knows why. I just feel like I want to stop holding myself together all the damn time. Make of that what you will!

Because I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m close to the ‘real stuff’ or if I’m a million miles away.  Don’t have a clue. Don’t even know, honestly, what I look like. I just know that I get … tired. And right now I wish someone would come round and tell me it’s going to be ok, and it’s not too late, and things will be alright.

 

Tuesday 27 November:

Wake up tired, get my ass to school anyway and do all the reports.

Everyone’s coming in and out, talking… and for some reason Caitlin’s babyish voice just does my head in. Going on and on about the Inquiry presentation, and how it was really good, and how the SLT were marking them, and how she likes Marjorie, and so on and so forth. Ohh, I guess she’s alright, but honestly how can anyone be such a goody two shoes at such a young age (she’s like 25 or something)?

9 Social are as sweet and lovely as I’ve ever seen them, today. AJ makes a couple of false moves (like opening the door to the adjoining classroom one time) and I growl at him, saying “Maan… need a smack in the head,” and he bends his head forward, saying, “Here you go, Miss.” Actually I feel more like stroking his head, the goof.

 

Wednesday 28 November:

Kendra comes to see me this morning; wants to talk to me privately. She’s the girl who lives across the back fence from Scott and Sheree’s – and something major went down there last night. She heard them all screaming at one another. Says she could hear Tau yelling, Why don’t you just kill me now then? Go on, kill me, I don’t want to be alive anyway, I got nothing to live for. Why don’t you just stab me right now? The door was smashed, glass everywhere, people falling down the steps; the cops arrived. She thinks he was taken to hospital. Heard the cops talking about blood, saying – hurry up, wrap up his arm. She could hear Sheree crying afterwards – bawling and bawling.

“The whole time, I could hardly bear it,” Kendra tells me. “Fuck, that poor guy… and that poor family, going through all that, all the frickin time.”

My mouth opens and closes, like a fish. I felt like I can hardly bear it either, can hardly breathe.

“I didn’t wanna bum you out,” says Kendra. “But I wanted you to know, because you’re close to him. I had to tell you… you should know.”

“I’m glad you told me,” I say. It’s true, but at the same time I feel like my heart is about to burst out of my body and fly away somewhere.

 

We decide that I’ll just text Tau, not say anything about what Kendra’s told me – just check in about the painting tomorrow

So I do:

Hey tau its ms..u stil keen to paint tomorrow? Can u make a early start is tht ok?

 Yeap hard what time ms?

 Can we leave at 8:30? Sorry its so early bt we have to be out there by 9. Il pick u up. It’s a prety cool job saw the place on Sunday. Im realy glad ur coming:)

 Hahar yup il b up ms’

 

So it’s kind of a good sign… at least Tau’s alright, isn’t in hospital or locked up. Then, a couple of minutes later, another text comes:

Miss r u bizy?

No i dnt have a clas atm. How come?

Oh do u thnk u could come ova

K il be there soon

It’s just before interval, and I think I can probably get back just after. Luckily there’s some kind of year 9 presentation in the library, so there’ll be other teachers there as well. I mail Chloe just as a precaution, and off I go to Fitzroy St. To be honest, my heart is pounding; I don’t know what I might find.

 

Get there and Tau comes down the drive, he looks… alright, I dunno. Can’t see any injuries to his hands as he strides along, hops in the car.

“Hey Miss,” he says.

“Hey Tau. We off?”

“Yes Miss, please. Could you run me to the station? Our car’s been impounded, the cops pulled mum over and took the keys.”

“When was this?” I ask.

“This morning. And they took my mum to the cells.”

“Took Sheree to the cells… why?”

“Cos she was supposed to go to court this morning – but she missed her court case and then the cops pulled us over. First they said they weren’t gonna lock her up. But then she got all mouthy to them, you know how my mum is…”

“What was she going to court for?”

“Drunk driving… but Miss, we were going to hospital. That’s where we were going; that’s why she wasn’t going to court. We were going to see Leroi. He cut his wrist last night.”

My mind kind of processes this… Leroi, not Tau.

“Is he… ok?” I ask.

“Yeah. I think so. His girlfriend’s there, he’s just kickin it at the hospital with her at the moment,” Tau says. Then, “Everyone was drinking at ours last night, and my dad and Leroi had a really big fight. My dad beat him up with a bat. Leroi was down on the ground and dad whacked him in the face, here… and here…” He shows me: forehead and temples.

My mind’s still whirling… not Tau, Leroi. I feel a little bit of ‘relief’, and then a wave of pain.

“And Leroi smashed the back door. He put his hand through the door, cut his wrist – there was blood everywhere. My dad fell on top of him and they went rolling down the steps. Leroi was yelling: Just kill me – I don’t care, just fuckin kill me. Neighbours must have called the cops, then they came and took him to hospital.

“Fuck…” is all I can say, and Tau nods.

 

At the station we sit in the car for a bit, talking – and then I go back to school. Tau seems actually quite excited at the prospect of painting in the morning, and so I feel a fierce quiver of hope, coupled with a stabbing sensation at the thought of Leroi’s face.

After work’s finished I text the relief coordinator and take a sickie for tomorrow. There’s no classes to cover: I’ve don’t have juniors on Thursday, and seniors are on exam leave. . And honestly, I think it’s a great use of my time, and if Karys was on board with it, I’d run it all past her. But she isn’t, so I won’t. That’s what happens when there’s no equity – you have to go under the radar, and this time I’m doing it properly. So there.

 

 

Hush little baby

Saturday 13 October, 2012:

I go round to Carthill, drop off a big bag of clothes at Kepaoa’s (and when I get back I find more stuff still here!) and talk to him and Elroy for a while. They seem calm enough. Kepaoa tells me he needs to ‘stay busy’, and so we toss round a few ideas. The gym (his trainer rang today). Finishing off his CV and applying for part time jobs. Even starting the counselling (he isn’t so keen on that one – but I think he knows it can’t hurt).

Elroy (skinny, shirtless, wearing his old school shorts like boxers under his pants) grins at me and picks buds off the little tree outside their house. “Got me some mean buds, Miss,” he remarks, holding them in the palm of his hand.

“Should start selling,” I say, and we crack up.

“Hey Kepaoa, there’s a tree there,” Elroy continues. “Try that one!” He grins again, and Kepaoa reaches out a hand and casually biffs him. Elroy jigs around, laughing at his own gallows humour.

 

They’re planning to go out tonight: “Mingle with the people,” as Elroy puts it.

I remind Kepaoa not to drink. He shrugs, saying, “Probably might…” but in a half-hearted way.

“No!” I chastise him. “Don’t let him, Elroy.”

“I won’t Miss, he can be the sober driver,” Elroy tells me. “You should come with us,” he suggests, and I snort.

But I’m a little worried about Kepaoa drinking, all the same. Still, he seems ok, and you can’t watch someone every moment. When I leave, I hug him tight, saying, “You know I’m there, anytime.”

 

I’m planning a quiet night at home. But Mia calls, and we arrange to go out for dinner. I don’t get back until 10:30. Everything is quite normal, until I pull into my driveway and see there are two cars parked, and the shed light is on. The ‘DSL’ number plate of Robbie’s Toyota might as well have been lit in fluoro, the way it appears to my eyes. I feel my leg actually start to shake (kind of like Kepaoa, at the airport). And I park the car, and go into the shed, tapping on the door as I push it open.

“Hey, Miss…” say a few voices. Sitting round on the couches are Tau, Leroi, Robbie, and Misha.

Tau and I just look at one another. “How you been, Miss?” he says.

“I’ve been ok Tau, how you been?” I reply.

“Yeah, been awgud…” he says. He tips the remains of a large bottle of something down his throat, then sits back, picks up an exercise book, and starts penning a ‘CLUZO on the cover.

 

There are bottles on the table, and the shed smells of weed, and is miraculously very tidy.

“Wow…” I remark. “You tidied up, Tau.”

He gives a little laugh. “Yeah, I did.”

“When did you guys get here?” I ask.

“Ages ago – a few hours ago,” he tells me. “Dad just got his ankle bracelet off… he’s been on fries for days though, and he was gonna smash Leroi, we had to take off.”

Algood, Tau,” I say. “Glad you came here.” And I go sit beside him on the couch, and the two of us just talk quietly. I can see he’s stressed, drunk, semi-impassive. But there’s a gentleness somewhere deep underneath that pulls my heart this way and that, because it brings back so many reminders of what we’ve been through together.

 

 

Then, “I saw Kepaoa the other day, at the station,” he says.

“Yeah, I know. He told me.”

“How’s he?” Tau asks.

“Alright… did you hear what happened?” I ask, wondering if he knows anything else.

“No,” says Tau, hearing a particular note in my voice and turning to me at once. “What happened?”

“Well…” I begin. “I know Kepaoa won’t mind if I tell you… but just keep it to yourself, k?”

He nods, and listens while I outline what has taken place.

“Fuuck…” Tau exhales. Even in his drunk, numbed, state – he can see it’s serious.

“Why, Miss?” he asks. “Why did he do it?” And we talk about it a bit. I feel ok telling Tau, I’m glad I’ve told him. And in my heart – no matter what happens or doesn’t happen – I know I can trust him.

 

But Tau doesn’t look good. I can honestly say that, and mean it, and still love him just as much as ever and no less. He looks… like someone who’s been drinking non-stop for weeks; months. How can I put it? He looks weary, and heavy, and kind of bloated, and his beautiful face is coarsened and puffy. I don’t mean any of this in a judgmental way. And honest truth, he’s no less beautiful in my eyes. Nothing could alter the way I see Tau, when I look at him. But I can see what Kepaoa meant now, when he said Tau had changed.

I want to put my arms right around him and hold on. But the others are all  just sitting around, talking. So I just speak quietly to him, and I silently take in all these changes.  We don’t mention Shae. Tau says though, without either irony or pleasure, “Things have been algood. Every day the boys come over and we just sit round and plan what we’re gonna do; see how much money we got. Been going beach nearly every day… getting bitches, getting horced, getting stoney.”

“Yeah, for now, maybe,” I tell him. “But you might want to do something else as well, one day.”

Tau just looks at me and nods without affect. He’s not dismissing what I’m saying, exactly, but I don’t think his brain is really responsive to processing anything.. Everything’s filtered through a film of alcohol.

 

Round midnight, they all go back to Fitzroy. And I go to sleep; there’s nothing else to do. But I wake up at 3am and think about Tau’s beautiful black eyes, and his very tired face.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird

 

A way back

Wednesday 12 September, 2012:

Shit hitting the fan. I get one of those ‘Karys’ letters today. Not that I haven’t been expecting it. But still… it’s always kind of a shock, just to see things in black and white.

I know it’s important – that I can’t just say school’s right, and I’m wrong.

 

Thursday 13 September:

Late at night, I get a succession of increasingly hyped up texts from Kepaoa. There’s obviously some drama going on. The last text, which comes shortly after midnight, reads:

Ms plz kanu pk us up frm municipal? Plz?  He’s been kicked out of home; he and his girlfriend (Teri) are at the bus bay at the train station.

Well, God; can’t say I didn’t try. A lota things I don’t know – but I can’t leave them out in the street all night. I can’t, and that’s all there is to it.

When I get out of the car, Kepaoa gives me a hug so tight it bangs my forehead.

 

Friday 14 September:

Kepaoa and Teri are still here. They have (to a certain extent) sorted things out with Kepaoa’s parents; there’s been a meeting up at Montgomery Rd, earlier in the evening. I drop them off there, and give Elroy a ride back to Municipal. It’s good seeing Elroy, that bad lil gangsta. And intelligence shines forth from him, no matter how much he tries to hide it.

When I leave Kepaoa and Teri, within two minutes I get a text, asking me to come back.

I pull the car over, and Elroy and I consult one another on this.

“Leave them there,” Elroy advises. “They need to sort it out with mum and dad, and you got your own stuff to do in the meantime.”

I agree, and text back: ‘Nah il come bk later best to sort it out wf your mum’

Kepaoa bites the bullet. ‘Yhhp k. Cweet’ is his reply.

 

They stay again tonight, though Actually, they’re the easiest house guests. We bring the spare mattress into the lounge, and make a bed up. They make noodles, put on Sky movies (which I’ve just got free for 3 months), and drift off to sleep.

Kepaoa’s so different from my quiet, wary, private Tau. After just 24 hours here, he can stroll in and out of the kitchen, picking at the leftover chicken; opening the freezer to get himself a second serve of ice cream. And I care about Kepaoa a lot, I really do. And also sometimes I just pine for Tau. I know, I know… you can’t always see how things are going to turn out, and so I just have to keep in my mind some kind of faith that he’ll be ok, and that somehow there’s always a way back: a way for everything to be righted, the way it could and should be.

 

Saturday 15 September:

I’ve reminded Kepaoa that if Tau comes round there won’t be any dramas, will there. “No dramas,” he replies. “Me and Tau are awgud.”

They’ll have to go home soon, though. I’ve told them as much. Teri’s got school next week – she’s at Carthill High – and Kepaoa needs to be back at his course. As much as they might want to, they can’t just remain here in limbo indefinitely. They feel safe, they feel cared about; I understand that. After days of trying to find a place to lay their heads, away from all the arguments at both their homes. Teri’s mum thinks Kepaoa’s a gangsta (she’s not exactly wrong there… but he’s a good gangsta, nonetheless). And Kepaoa’s parents are cracking down hard on him after Elroy’s stint in juvey.

Kepaoa finds it hard to talk about what’s happening at his place, and changes the subject. Teri tells me, privately, “He does that with me, all the time. He doesn’t answer, or he just says anything, then when I ask him again he says something different, and I don’t know what’s really going on.”

“Yeah, he’s like that,” I agree.

But I also remember the day I picked Kepaoa up, when he was ready to escape down the line. His dad’s a hard man… I can understand why he might not want to be at home just now. I remember his brother saying to me, “Once dad hit him so hard it knocked his tooth out.”

 

I’ve got to write a ‘response’ for Karys, too. I guess that’ll be tomorrow as well. I can’t see myself doing it tonight, though you never know.

 

Monday 17 September:

It takes me a long time to write the ‘written response’ (412 minutes editing time, late on Sunday) By the time I finish, the night has turned to wild rain, and I’m jumpy and restless.

But once I arrive at school this morning, some combination of alertness and tiredness has blunted my nerves about the Karys affair. A kind of ‘oh well’ feeling takes over instead.

I mail a copy of the letter to the Union rep. Well done, very clear and precise,’ is the reply.

During the course of the day, Karys does one of her walkthroughs, and comes briefly into my room. The visit is uneventful. In my opinion, it is notable only for the quite reasonable way that we speak to one another.

At the end of the day, I hand-deliver my letter (marked ‘PERSONAL, PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL’) to her PA.

 

I get home around 4:30 to find Kepaoa and Teri sleeping on the mattress. They rise, without undue haste, and we have a discussion about ‘Where to from here?’ Teri needs to sit an exam at school tomorrow, and I encourage her to go. I also tell Kepaoa he should go back to course tomorrow, and though he isn’t exactly keen, he agrees.

They ask to stay one more night – they look at me so hopefully. “We were even going to make dinner for you,” Teri tells me. “But we fell asleep.”

I can’t help laughing at them. “Ok, you guys,” I tell them. “One more night. But tomorrow, it’s back to reality.

 

When I go into my room, I see straight away that someone has been in there. Little things are different: moved slightly, or opened and closed. I feel a kind of wariness; not exactly that. But just… inwardly I’m a little bit snippy about it. And I know Tau would never have done that; never touched my things.

I go back in the lounge and we just chat, and do stuff, but at first I feel a degree or two cooler towards Kepaoa and Teri. Put it down to curiosity, I guess. I might have been nosy about things as well, at their age. But all the same, right then I miss Tau so much.

Later on, I feel ok again. And it’s so dang easy to just sit there and talk, with Kepaoa and Teri. They’re relaxed and happy, and we eat (Kepaoa can eat, which makes me laugh), and things are fine. But that kind of isn’t the point, or at least not the most important point. The point is that I trust Tau more than most people I know, and I think Tau trusts me back just the same way – all his stuff’s still in my shed, and he knows it’s safe and that I’d never rummage through it. Because really, we both understood how things work, without a word needing to be said. And it’s just one of the many reasons why I’m always so loyal to Tau. No-one can say a bad word about him, far as I’m concerned (not that that stops me being worried).

And I miss that feeling of mutual respect, and yes, I know – that’s despite all the obvious incongruities. But I do.

 

Tuesday 18 September:

Romeo and Juliet have gone back to Verona.

Later I get a text from Kepaoa, which reads:

Ms idont know how to repay u for being thea when we needed help the most, sht glad ua my teachr/frend/aunty ha.

Yeah, Kepaoa means a lot to me too, he really does. But I’m glad they’ve repaired the situation with their parents.