Safe right now

Monday 8 December

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

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

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

 

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

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

Photo ID

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

IRD Number

Bank Account Number

Current CV with minimum of 2 work-related references

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

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

We look forward to meeting you.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Thursday 11 December

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 12 December

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

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

 

Monday 15 December:

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

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

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

 

Friday 19 December

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday 20 December:

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

A grown ass woman

Monday 8 September, 2014:

I remember how Kepaoa used to say, “If anything happens, just text me – I’m only a suburb away.”

Words. Because on Saturday, I was facing things alone. My phone losing charge in the bedroom; it might as well have been a suburb away too. And even if I’d had it right in my hand, there was no Kepaoa to call in the middle of the night. So I stood my ground – I didn’t once let myself become afraid. It’s only now I feel kind of scared, kind of sick about it all.

I’ve just about decided to take the day off when I get a text from the agency. So I accept the job, and get out of bed.

 

Afterwards, I reflect that it’s lucky I didn’t know I’d be teaching drama all day; that’s some pretty out-of-it relief: warm up games, impromptu performances, and all the rest of it. But I don’t really mind. All care and no responsibility – and sometimes it’s ‘no care and no responsibility’.

The daily contradictions don’t stay on my mind for long, with substitute teaching. It doesn’t really matter whether things go good, bad, or indifferent. It wasn’t like that when I had a permanent teaching job. The dissonance rubbed away at me all the time. Of course the feeling’s still there… it just has less of an impact, I guess.

 

This evening I get a text from Rose: Leroi is still here, sorry about all the trouble I know how you are feeling.

I’m glad he’s still with his Nan. I remember one time La-Verne said (rather glibly and irritating me) that the family was a ‘package deal’. But that’s just the point – they aren’t a package deal. I’ll do whatever I can reasonably do. But I know I can’t do for everyone what I’ll do for Tau.

And as well, nothing’s been cleared from the weekend. I’m still kind of upset with Leroi – but it’s Sheree I’m really angry with. I’m sick of the way she wants to be babied when something goes wrong, like she’s still a little kid, when she’s a grown ass woman.

 

Tuesday 9 September:

I get a text from Leroi tonight, which means I have to make a decision:

Hi mis me Leroi I feel so terrible for what ive done im so sry for my behaviour mis iknow that waz totally unexceptable towards you and  urv done so much for us more then anyone and idont want ruin the progress me and tau have made at course or let anyone down. please cud i come bak?  ican understand if u don’t want me there. but i promiss u miss that will never happen again, and ipromiss there will be no more drinking ever miss hope u cn forgive me.

I think it over for a while.  I know Leroi’s young, and I tell myself he’s allowed to make mistakes. Still, the way he turned on Tau really shook me. Well, where’s the loyalty now? I ask myself.

It takes me ages to reply and poor Leroi must be worried, he sends a few of those ‘Miss?’ texts as he waits. Eventually, I decide: I tell him he can come back

 

Wednesday 10 September:

Everything goes ok, but at the same time I can see that the boys are slightly anxious and on their best behavior – especially Leroi. You know, just being that extra bit more polite. They’ve had a good day at course and want to shout dinner, which is nice. Even so, we’re aware of recent events, so it feels a little awkward. Leroi asks if he can take a drink out of the fridge; that kind of thing. It’s all kind of tiring. Not in a bad way, just… in a way.

 

Thursday 11 September

I miss a call from the agency and debate with myself over whether to ring them back or not.  I eventually decide I’d rather crawl over broken glass than go do a day’s substitute teaching today. I don’t know why, because it isn’t that bad. But really? – I ask myself. Did I quit teaching at MC just so I can keep doing the same old thing somewhere different?

Bang goes another 230 bucks (that’s about what it is after tax), but I just can’t do it today. And I even packed up my lunch, too. Oh well.

 

Friday 12 September

Pretty crap weather out – and I’m supposed to be teaching PE all day. But I see a narrow window of opportunity to be seized, as the relief coordinator at Carthill High comes out with the timetables. “Which one do you want?” she asks the assembled group of substitute teachers, vaguely proffering a couple of sheets towards two of us. One of these looks to be Junior PE from start to finish; the other has a mix of PE and other subjects. I see Samoan 301 in period 1, English 101 in period 2… “I’ll take this one,” I tell her.

The other reliever, who has waited too long and now hovers just behind me, says uncertainly, “I was told I was having English…”

The relief coordinator looks a touch exasperated at this, saying, “We’ve asked for eight relievers and we’ve only got six. I’ve got all this internal cover to do as well…”

So off I go to 13 Samoan.

 

Saturday 13 September

I get up to make a cuppa tea and some toast, thinking how this time last week, Sheree was here and clinging like a leech to the boys. And this time Sunday, I was still outside with Leroi as the sun came up.

It doesn’t sound nice to write that Sheree’s clinging like a leech. But ‘nice’ is not where I need to be at present.

 

Friday 19 September:

My evening doesn’t work out quite as planned. Because after school, where am I? At the doctor – waiting two whole hours to get Tau’s  forms filled. And where’s Tau? Out at Clancy with the boys, who’ve come to pick him and Leroi up. And why do I do it? Because I can’t not try. Sometimes I wonder at myself, though. I question my sanity, sitting there in the waiting room, having already been told by one of the receptionists that the doctor (not being Tau’s regular GP) might not be able to sign the forms without his actual presence. She shrugs, not unsympathetically, saying, “Try if you want. But I can’t guarantee it.”

 

Admittedly Tau had tried too, earlier on in the day (they told him to come back later; there was only one doctor on). So I wait patiently, talking with a man called Wiremu – who turns out to have Alzheimer’s – about his army days. His wife (Joy is her name), comes out from her consultation and sees us, flurries straight over to ask if he’s been bothering me.

They affect me greatly, Joy and Wiremu. His voice has the unmistakable tone and oratorical style of a native speaker of Te Reo. She’s Pakeha. He remembers the old days, she tells me; his army days. All the people, all the places – he served in Malaya and Singapore. He forgets the things that happened a few minutes ago. They married in 1960 and have been living in Municipal for 48 years.

He doesn’t drink beer anymore, doesn’t go out in the evening nowadays. And every afternoon, he says to her, “Mum, can I have an ice cream,” and she makes him a big one. He eats it in the room, and five minutes later, he asks, “Mum, can I have an ice cream.”

“You’ve already had one,” she tells him.

“When did I have one?” he asks. “I didn’t have an ice cream.” He insists, and gets bad tempered, argumentative. “He takes it out on me,” Belle tells me.

“It must be very hard on you,” I say.

“It is,” she replied. “Sometimes it’s like that all day long.”

She doesn’t have a single complaint to make about her situation – she’s just tired, and acknowledges it. I’ve already heard her coughing in the doctor’s room. She has high blood pressure, and edema in her legs (cellulitis, she says, showing me the purple swelling).

 

At 5:45 I come away with Tau’s signed paperwork. The boys are still up at Clancy, of course. I have a feeling they’re going to ask me if they can have a few cans here again, sometime soon. I don’t know how I’ll play it when they do. It’s not a ‘never again.’ (despite Leroi’s text hyperbole). It’s just… I do need to set boundaries.

 

 

I approve

Wednesday 27 August, 2014

I teach year 7 today – Carthill has a senior and a junior campus  – just for an hour. And, just for an hour, it’s cool. The most fun part is reading through their stories (‘narratives’, as they refer to them), aloud, on a corner couch to which they all flock with me. I put on my best storytelling voice (channeling Kuli here) with great effect. Slightly deadpan delivery, emphasis on certain off-beat syllables, especially when coming to the names they’ve given their characters: Keneti, Highfive, Myshon… I take a punt and pronounce this as ‘Mah’Shaun’, causing great hilarity amongst the audience.

“It’s not ‘Mah’Shaun’, it’s ‘Mission’, Miss,” they giggle, collapsing around me on the sofa.

“Well, I say it Mah’Shaun,” I tell them, straight-faced.

Mission,” they snort.

“Sad, Miss – that’s my name!” one boy says.

“Are you Mission?” I ask him.

“Yes.”

“Oops,” I say, making them all crack up again.

It’s fun – and at the same time I can only get away with being there for an hour. I know I couldn’t handle narratives, and learning intentions, and success criteria all day long. I kind of wish I could, but I’d only end up a grumpy bitch, perplexing these eleven and twelve year olds.

 

When I get home, Tau tells me that a new intake of students had their orientation today. When they visited his class, the teacher showed them Tau’s book as an exemplar.

“Oh my gosh Tau,” I say. “I bet yours was the best book there, and that’s why he picked it.”

An expression of soft and happy pride comes into Tau’s eyes as he reflects, “I don’t think anything like that’s ever happened to me before…”

“I’m so proud of you,” I tell him, just stroking his arm for a second.

 

Wednesday 3 September:

There’s a text from the agency this morning: Do you want a challenge in the PE area at Bream for the day?

First I dick around with trying to say ‘no’ politely by text, then I think better of it and reply with a yes. 230 bucks is 230 bucks, and really I can’t afford to mind what subject I teach, or what year level. My pay is, unsurprisingly, 800 dollars down from the norm, after working seven out of ten days in the last fortnight – and with only five of the days processed yet.

Seeing as there’s no non-contacts for relievers, I just take downtime wherever I can find it. I even fall asleep in the car during lunch break today (fifty minutes at Bream – so long it might as well be a holiday, compared to Municipal’s twenty five).

 

Thursday 28 August

Back to Carthill again today. Honest, I don’t want to go teach, not even a little bit. I just keep telling myself: 230 dollars. And the kids are nice – it’s not that. I just feel like I left MC for what? And I don’t know at all.

Speaking of money, it’s been on my mind lately that Tau borrows twenty bucks here and there, but sometimes forgets to pay it back. Normally I wouldn’t particularly care, but I’m starting to question myself on it. First of all, my boundaries with Tau are obviously (even to me), somewhat flexible, so I can’t blame him for testing them, even though I’m sure it’s not deliberate. But secondly, my pay could be down by nearly half this time – even if I do get work tomorrow.

I’m so used to looking after Tau’s tender feelings, but right now I’m more worried about the bills. I can’t seem to counter a certain resentfulness inside me. I keep thinking: Really? They get (between them) over 400 dollars a week. No rent to pay, no bills. And Tau can’t pay me back a twenty dollar loan?

 

Then I just sigh, and try to unravel my own tangled up feelings a little more. First off, I tell myself, I know the boys do have things to do with their money. Each of them saves fifty dollars a week towards a bond (for when Sheree gets a house); their Nan holds it so that they don’t touch it. They help Sheree out with other stuff, too. And every Wednesday, they bring home groceries from the supermarket, looking proud of themselves as they unpack bags to stock my fridge.

Of course there’s also weed (being totally realistic, this must cost them twenty a day at least), and smokes (another forty dollars a week). Essentials, for now, anyway. And it’s a kit better than being on the synthetics.

Plus they’re trying so hard with course.  I remember something else Tau said the other day. He was telling me how it had started to feel good having a daily routine; working hard. “I like that feeling,” he said. “It’s better than any drug.”

And to hear him say that –  well, it made me want to jump for joy.

 

Then I think how Tau can relax here; he’s told me so himself. Sometimes I think he even feels happy and safe, at least for a little while. And I guess I realize right then – it’s probably been the only time in Tau’s life he’s ever been able to relax a little bit about either food or money. And maybe that’s why he hasn’t remembered about borrowing twenty from me here or there.

I wish I could see myself the way I see Tau. I always see him through loving eyes: I wish I could do that with myself too. And sometimes I think, Well, couldn’t I?

 

Friday 29 August

Lying in bed this evening, I yawn, having a singular moment where I think, “I approve.” Not of substitute teaching per se, but of whatever it is I’m trying to do. And you know, I really don’t mind substitute teaching. Temperamentally, I like the ebb and flow. Sometimes I miss having regular classes and knowing the kids, but I can assure you I don’t miss having to talk shit on my own behalf. It makes it easier, somehow, to know that I’m supposed to be fronting.

Though of course, it’s tiring to never know if I have a job lined up ahead of time. It makes my brain tick and tock over money.

I fall asleep listening to rap battles outside my window. Leroi’s staccato laugh and Tau’s softer one.

 

 

Distance

Tuesday 22 July, 2014:

Funny, but it’s not so bad being back at work this week. For some reason I’m quite uninclined to create unnecessary dramas; in fact I’m on a kind of ‘days gone by’ buzz which is not unpleasant. Anyway, I’m grateful to whatever impetus is allowing me to distance myself from things a little more.

A lot of times today, I miss Kepaoa and feel alright at the same time. Just as I said, I’m uninclined to cause dramas, even in my own mind.

 

Thursday 24 July:

9 Social – I get all the bro hugs – and some girl hugs too.

Obey begins multi-tasking with peaceful joy: completing his ten ‘confidence questions’, and drawing with one of the graff books propped up in front of him.

But it makes me want to cry, a little bit, to see him so content. “Why are you leaving?” he keeps asking me quietly. “I don’t want you to go.”

At the end of class, he just comes up and says, “Miss? Can I get a hug?”

“Course you can,” I tell him, and we put our arms around one another. It isn’t really a bro hug this time, it’s kind of a goodbye.

 

I remember one of the other teachers saying to me one time, “I get on ok with Obey. But it’s his foul mouth that gets me so riled.”

“Obey?” I said, wonderingly. “Are you sure you mean Obey?”

“Oh yes,” she replied. “He can’t even go for a whole sentence without swearing. I’ve already made a pastoral note about it.”

And I’ve never heard Obey swear. Not even once.

 

Friday 25 July:

Tau and Leroi are truly pleased about the fact that I’ve booked them to look around another course on Tuesday morning – this one’s called ‘Aspire Institute’.

“I’m keen to go,” says Tau. “We need something positive.”

“Actually, this one sounds alright,” I tell them. “The lady on the phone said to tell you not to be nervous if you haven’t been studying for a while, there are heaps of other people there in the same boat.”

“Saaalid,”

“It does sound alright,” reflects Leroi.

“Well, I hope so,” I say. “But no pressure, we’re just there to take a look.

 

Wednesday 23 July:

Very weird how this week’s panning out at school. I can see the distinction between aspects of the job which I like and am good at, and other things I simply can’t accept or do. For the first time ever really, this contrast is standing out as if illuminated by some exact, momentary ray of sunlight.

But writing frustrates me. So, so much to say, and right now that just seems way beyond my capabilities. Just writing these few lines is like composing some orchestral score: letters advance and retreat; are typed and deleted, placed back and forward in versions on a theme. Thirty minutes on – and I’ve barely said a thing.

It’s not exactly that I ‘don’t want to’ write, I just think, well, I can’t – obviously. I can’t tell it, I don’t know how. I started it off and I don’t know how to keep going without telling secrets; messing with things that I don’t have the skill to reveal.

I’ve said it probably a hundred times already: That thing. That two-part, indefinable thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it. But I’m wrapped into it like a hand in a glove. And yet sometimes I just want to give up.

Personal

Wednesday 16 July, 2014:

Well, I’m employed (pending the standard reference checks). The interview at the agency goes fine – the manager makes me a cup of tea and we just chat.

And the idea of relief teaching, or for a while anyway, doesn’t irk me the way a permanent position would. I’m selling my skills only – like a mercenary – and not my values.

 

This evening Tau and Leroi are drinking. Admittedly it’s just an eight pack of Cody’s, and Tau wants to discuss it with me first – which I appreciate. But still, the potential for disturbance exists; no point in denying it. I guess I’m trying to ‘minimize harm’, as Vailea Poe once put it, by agreeing they can have a drink in the sleepout. Because the alternative (which is also discussed, and rejected) is to drink round at their uncle’s, with Sheree. Tau and Leroi don’t like that idea any more than I do.

But when Tau says they ‘promise’ to be good, I just sigh to myself.

“You can’t really promise that, Tau.” I say. “No-one can. Oh, I know you mean it, and I’m happy we’re even talking about it at all. But…” and then, I actually do sigh, and so does Tau. “It’s just that with alcohol there aren’t any guarantees,” I finish.

The agreement is that it’s just the two of them – definitely not Sheree, and no-one else either.  That’s the least-risk scenario I can think of. I just hope they don’t finish up their four cans and want more. Oh, that’s a possibility, I know it. They can promise whatever they want, but they can’t control it past a certain point.

I’m trying pretty damn hard here, and sometimes I think I’m doing shit all wrong – but at the same time it’s not simple. It never seems to get any simpler; maybe it never will.

 

Tau and Leroi do keep to their word, tonight. They have their four cans each (it takes them a whole three hours), and then want to go get DVD’s. On the way to Video Ezy, Tau tells me that they’ve already turned down an invite to drink round at Clancy.

“We just told the boys we wanted to stay here tonight,” Tau informs me, without dismay.

“But was it hard to say no?” I ask.

“Not really,” Tau says. “I just tell myself, parties and shit’ll still be there. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Wow,” I say. “Tau – listen to you.”

“Hah, I know,” he admits. “It actually feels pretty good to think like this. I’ve never done it before, ever.” He mulls it over some more and concludes, “Yeah, I like having strategies, nowadays.”

 

Tau also tells me he’s been having ‘good dreams’ about his dad, “Where we’re all running around and happy and stuff,” he says. Not like the nightmares he used to have a few months back.

“I’m sure your dad’s watching over you,” I say, and Tau smiles. “Bet he’s sorted his shit out, up there.”

“Hard,” says Tau, in a contemplative way.

 

Something occurs to me, and “Tau?” I say, merely touching on the idea. “Have you ever talked to Maxwell about… have you ever told him about Robbie?”

“Nope,” Tau replies with a little sigh. “I never have. But I think about him a lot, think about that cunt at least once every day. And every time I do, wherever I am… I just do a quick Cipher tag, just with my finger.”

“True,” I say, quietly affirming him. “But you know, Tau, it might be a good idea to mention it to Max one day – it just might help to talk about all that stuff, sometime.”

“Haard,” says Tau again, and I can tell he isn’t ruling out the idea.

 

Friday 18 July

There’s a barbecue at Aunty Yvette’s, and I’ve just dropped the boys off there (straight from counselling – which bodes well, I’m hoping).

But of course they’re going to be drinking again. Even though Tau assures me it won’t be a late night.

“Just pace yourselves,” I tell them, as they hop out of the car, each with their box.

“We will,” says Tau, very sincerely.

 

I go home and sit, just think-think-thinking. I look at some job ads, and think some more, and get that shackled feeling I always get on reading them – even those that sound as if they should be right on target. Like the one that just came through my inbox, for a ‘Personal Advisor’ at a not-for-profit youth organization:

Based in our Waitakere office, your key competencies will include:

  • experience in working with young people
  • A sound knowledge of community resources and how to access information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services
  • Experience working with a range of cultures
  • Experience developing and facilitating the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs
  • Previous high level conflict resolution experience
  • Ability to critically analyse and problem solve
  • Ability to build strong relationships with peers and stakeholders
  • Hold a full and clean drivers licence

Apart from the fact that it’s way out west – it should be the perfect job for me. I mean, I have every single one of those key competencies, don’t I?

 

Well yes, but here’s the problem:

First, I’m not comfortable making an explicit or even tacit commitment to institutional values. Even when they come cloaked in words like Aroha and Whanaungatanga – the education system being a case in point.

Second, I’m not very good at working with people generically (a ‘caseload’ – or even a tutor group, for that matter), or categorically (‘youth who are at risk of poor outcomes’).

Third, I’m trying to decrease the amount of formal and predefined structure in my day, not increase it. I want structure, for sure. But I want the pattern to come from me: I want to be autonomous.

It interests me, this realization gradually dawning in my mind – that I don’t even want any of the jobs I’ve been applying for. And I keep coming back to the same question: Why do I apply for them at all? Is it because I think I’m not entitled to have the relationships I want? Should I accept a substitute version, filtered through some institution?

 

I consider what I did “today.” Though it could be any day, really.

Today, I did a whole lot of things that could be translated into those key competencies. I ‘worked with young people’ and ‘accessed information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services.’ I ‘worked with a a range of cultures’ and ‘developed and facilitated the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs.’ I showed ‘the ability to critically analyse and problem solve.’  I ‘built strong relationships with peers and stakeholders’.  I even held my ‘full and clean drivers licence’.

But none of it was a key competency at all. None of it was as part of a contract to any institution whatsoever. All of it was personal; the only thing that mattered was that it was a sincere and personal commitment to a few people I love and care for.

 

Saturday 19 July:

Tau rings. They’re still at Aunty Yvette’s, and he sounds alright; it seems like they’re ok. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s an additional day of celebrating going on for Scott’s birthday. Well, nothing I can do about it if there is.

Around 8:30pm, a car pulls up, and the boys get out and wave a bleary goodbye to someone. Turns out I was right – they’ve been drinking all day. I feel… uncomfortable, I guess. Things seem more like the way they used to be, which is something I never, ever want to see repeated.

Leroi comes straight in and says that Tau is going to throw up; he needs a bowl.  In Leroi’s opinion it isn’t so much from the drinking as from the big sesh they had on top of it.

I look around and find a suitable bowl. “I’ll wash it after,” Leroi tells me, which kind of makes me laugh – but only kind of. Because I don’t really feel like talking. Leroi’s still a bit drunk; he asks how my day’s been going at least three times. I reply politely and automatically. Meanwhile my mind’s going down an old track of stressing about money, while feeling resentful that they can drink for two days straight like it’s no big deal.

 

All night I watch dumb stuff on TV (truly, stuff I never watch; mostly interchangeable crime dramas), and just try to tune out. I doze awkwardly on the couch until I get cold. Then I just get up and go to bed – which is at least more comfortable.

But comfortable is not the right word to describe this feeling in my heart. It’s like how I ‘always’ feel anyway, but writ large. Scale factor 2 (at least).

Tick and frickin tock. Money, school, trying to write, trying to support the boys, not having a blueprint for how to do things without getting hustled. Oh, I wish I knew how to get calm and stay calm about it.

Really, it’s my mind which is difficult to harness. ‘Those of us with minds that are strong and wild’… where did I read that, long ago? I remember thinking of Tau – and then of myself too.

It’s not a bad thing, to have a mind that’s like that. But sometimes it’s like trying to catch a runaway horse.

 

Sunday 20 July

Pump class calms me down a bit – and I chuck extra weights on the bar for squats and biceps. Actually I work really hard for the whole entire time.

Afterwards I go take some cash out and get a pie at Municipal. There’s a guy sitting on the footpath asking for spare change, and I say to him, “Sorry, not today,” as I go past.

“Have a nice day anyway,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply.

Then, “Have you been doing some fitness this morning?” he enquires, conversationally.

“Yup,” I say, pausing for a moment.

“Thought so, I can tell you been doing fitness.” He adds, “You look healthy.”

For some reason it touches my heart a little bit, and on the way back from the bakery I give him five bucks out of my wallet. Hey, I think – I can still do what I want with my money. The thought gives me a quick moment of something like joy

Right then I see a little kid tug on her mum’s arm and point to the same guy. The mum pulls her daughter away into a shop, saying as she does so, “He looks like a strong young man, he could be out working…”

Whatever, I guess so. And yet it’s hardly ever that simple either.

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.

A routine urban way

Monday 16 June, 2014:

This afternoon in 9 Social: “We’ll sit by you,” announces Obey.

“We’ll sit by you, the whole time,” Aidan echoes him.

They join me at my table; Kuli comes past and laughs at the sight. “Little puppies,” he says, with a grin. “That’s what they’re like with you.”

 

I’m going to bring Obey a graff book on Thursday (there’s some at home). In a time and place, just a few years ago, he would have been one of the boys, I don’t doubt it. His serious, concentrating squint and blink remind me so much of Inia. I lend him my own earphones, out of my bag – and I never do this kind of thing for anyone, these days. Obey plugs himself in and freestyles along to 2Pac on the chrome book, making the class giggle.

I’m going to miss them – but I can’t get a hold of it anymore: school. I can care for others, and I do. Even so, I can only hate the hypocrisy of myself teaching.

 

I get a call back from the City Mission today, about the vacancy for an ‘assessment professional.’ They want me to come in for an interview on Wednesday evening. Of course, I have no social work experience. But still, I say to myself: Why not?

 

Wednesday 18 June:

As I drive into the city, I think how I might even like this job. I’ve done my homework on the organization – I’m not even particularly nervous. Rush hour is beginning, but I still arrive in advance of my appointment time – only to find that the manager has ‘gone home’.

I’m so surprised that I don’t really know what to say. No-one else seems to be expecting me, and to be honest, no-one is particularly interested in what I might be doing there either. The place is ‘busy’ I guess – though not crowded. There are four people in the office, all of whom tactically ignore me. I suggest someone could ring the manager; this suggestion doesn’t even rate a response. One guy eventually goes to ‘look upstairs’ for him.

While I wait, I speak briefly with a woman working at an office computer. She looks at me with a disparaging eye, before saying, in my opinion somewhat patronizingly, that it would be “pretty full on” working here.” I immediately feel myself go on the defense. But then I decide if she wants a pissing contest – I’m out. So I say not another word.

The guy returns – the manager has definitely left for home. He asks me to write a note, which he’ll leave on the appropriate desk. I scribble a few lines and give it to him.

And that’s it – I have to go home too. It’s busy on the motorway now, and I’m not back in Municipal until after 7.

 

Tau and Leroi, who texted me earlier to wish me luck, listen to my tale of woe. “Ditched by the guy at the Mission, aye Miss,” Leroi says, sorrowfully.

“Yup,” I sigh. “And I didn’t get a good vibe from the place – I’m sure those other people in the office thought I was all shit.”

“Fuck ’em,” Tau growls. He adds, “You should have told them – I’ll just go back to the hood then.”

This makes me laugh and after all the bullshit, restores my equilibrium a little.

 

Later though, I think again about the unspoken message I got from the staff there: Who are you? What do you know?

Well I know a lot of things. And I don’t have to explain them to some bitches in the office.

Perhaps it’s a lucky escape, I tell myself. I don’t even want to give generic help to an interchangeable case load in a setting of institutional care. I’m not a social worker – probably every bit as much as I’m not a teacher. And I wonder, not for the first time, what I have to offer when school’s particular set of constraints no longer apply.

 

Thursday 19 June

I wake up with that ‘normal’ tired, anxious, achy feeling. Brain switches straight on, reminding me that I’m finishing up at work in six weeks, and what am I going to do then? I get a big wave of panic as I think about it. What if I don’t find a job? What if I wind up stony broke? What if I fail – and everyone sees it, and secretly pities me for such a poor attempt to break free?

That’s just stone cold fear talking though. The timing’s right, and every single cell in my body knew it weeks ago; months, probably.

 

Friday 20 June:

They’ve been drinking, and Tau wants to come home tonight, but Sheree’s crying and begging him to stay. Tau texts me from his uncle’s and tells me so. He says he’s stressing out a bit, trying to look after her. And he needs time out from Leroi, too – but it’s hard to tell Leroi that.

It hurts to see Tau stumble, when he tries so hard to be strong.

 

Saturday 21 June:

This evening, Tau arrives back on his own. I’m glad he’s finally getting some time out from his family. He just lies on the couch in the sleepout looking rested; kind of neat and nipped clean. It makes me happy to see him that way – I feel like a mama cat purring over its kitten. I go cook us a feed: crumbed chicken drumsticks, with mashed potatoes and vegies, and bread & butter on the side. Tau walks down to the shop to get the bread, and some drinks and Zig Zag papers.

 

Monday 23 June:

I like ‘work’. Not school, or teaching – but the workday routine. I like packing lunch at night, and getting up to the alarm, and all that shit. I like eating breakfast and jamming the lappy while watching the morning news on TV. And I like heading out on a routine city day, to earn my money in a routine urban way.

But I can’t even drive past a school nowadays without getting a physical sensation of resistance and loathing.

 

I feel guilty after 10 Social today. They’re the sweetest kids you could ever meet. And I still hope there’s some chance of them getting what they want out of school, the way Slade did.

I don’t value anything I have to teach. But I do value them, and I wish there was more I could do about it. I just can’t pretend to be a teacher – and that’s all I can say.

 

Thursday 25 June:

This morning I teach (and I use the word extremely advisedly) 11 Social. After about 15 minutes of faking it, I feel this big refusal in my heart kick in – and I just give out some paperwork and let them do it. I try quell my loathing for school just a little bit longer; a couple days more till the weekend.

Then 9 Social  greet me with hugs – can you believe it – and sit around me like chickens.

The boys say, “Everyone likes this class.”

And they tell me, “When we ask what’ve we got next, and someone says ‘Social’, we’re all like: ‘Yussssss!”

 

Friday 27 June:

It’s the day of the 10 Social assessment – somehow they manage to pull this off with aplomb. Good old year 10’s. I’m kind of astonished by the fact that they have evidently been revising for this event. I feel bad, too – I could have taught them way more than this. Or nah, maybe not. I did the best I could with it. I really like them, and all year I’ve tried to give them something.  Not the stuff I didn’t have and couldn’t manufacture (‘teacherly’ stuff, I mean). But something of me.

 

In 12 History, Aurelius tells me he wants to be a cop one day.

“Well, you’re just what the police force needs,” I say, and the conjunction is easy to imagine. “Even though I don’t really like cops, as a rule,” I add truthfully. “I’ve never had good experiences with the police.”

“Me too, Miss,” Aurelius says at once. “My whole family don’t get along with cops.”

We can’t help snorting at one another.