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.

Bit part

Friday 13 June, 2014:

12 History. Aurelius asks me, “Miss – will you teach 13 History next year?” He adds, “I hope so.”

“Um,” I begin, and then, “Ah.” I wonder how much I should actually say about anything. But I really like Aurelius a lot, and I don’t want to lie. So I just say, “Actually Aurelius… I probably won’t be here next year.”

“You won’t be here?” he says, looking at me disbelievingly. “Are you going to another school?”

“Probably not another school,” I tell him.

“Then where?” he asks.

And we just talk about it. I tell him the truth, or as much of the truth as I’m able to let out right now. I can’t quite bring myself to tell him that I’m not even going to be at MC next term. But Aurelius knows a little bit about me: stuff that most of the other kids don’t know. He knows, for example, that Kepaoa used to stay at mine. And I think we have some kind of understanding – so I tell him what I can.

It’s good, in a way, to be frank like this with Aurelius. For weeks now, I’ve felt like I’m letting him down. I’ve even wondered if he thinks I’m all shit these days. Sometimes when he switches code and talks in Samoan during history class, I perceive it – unfairly – as a signal that I don’t know jack about anything. But today, I see that he’s speaking Samoan because he feels comfortable. His voice is so everyday and matter of fact, and unselfconscious.

I say, “Sometimes I miss our history class from last year.”

“Me too,” he says. “That class was gangsta as.”

“I miss it too,” says Carly, from across the room.

And we just talk and stuff.

 

After school I pick up Tau and Leroi from their uncle’s, and all the way home they talk about the family group conference and how it went. They tell me the other social worker was talking shit, but Vailea stood up for them, saying how much they’d changed. He said he was going to get letters from me and Maxwell, to prove it.

“Cos we need more support, aye.”

“Hard.”

“You should have asked me to come too,” I suggest. “I wouldn’t have minded.”

“Nah… nah, it’s okay Miss,” they say.

“You’re busy and everything.”

Busy alright. Busy with fuckin school, busy hating everything about it.

 

And their Auntie Yvette stood up for them too at the meeting – they go on and on about the whole thing. I can tell they’ve had one, maybe two cans already. It makes them more voluble, and so I hear all about how great Vailea is, and how it’s been ‘costing him a fortune’ to pay for the counselling, and how he said CYFS should pay for some of it.

“Yeah – they should,” Leroi says.

“Haaard.”

They continue: “And Vailea told us – you have to speak up.”

“It was hard, but we did it.”

“Vailea said, (this is Tau) that when he first met me, I couldn’t even speak in a whole sentence…” They both laugh. “And look at me now!”

I just think – well I’ve always seen that you could, Tau.” But I don’t say that.

“And we told that social worker: Faar, we’ve changed heaps  since Vailea came into our lives.”

“Fuck yeah.”

My eyes are already going a little bit blurry, but I just keep driving. I got no objections, matter of fact. But all the same, I think – what about me what about me what about me? – until my mind just coasts on it.

 

We get home – they’ve left the heater on all day, and I rebuke them mildly. I think – aw fuckit, power bill. And really, who cares? It’s more important that Vailea doesn’t spend his money. I’m just here to look after that everyday stuff.

I’m so tired of hearing about Vailea (and Maxwell, for that matter), who appear on the scene like frickin gods from heaven, every now and then. I’m tired of hearing about all the things they do, and how great they are, and how much they help everyone. I’m tired of hearing about Auntie Yvette, and I’m tired of hearing about Sheree and her 99 problems. And I’m just plain tired all round. Tired of not being important, and of simply plodding on – like some pony going up and down the mountain every day. Tired of trying to stay calm, and never get upset, and never complain about work, or expect… anything really. Certainly not attention; certainly not affection.

 

I go into my room and gently shut the door, and my chest heaves, and I feel my breath panting out in quiet gasps. Tears tumbling out of my eyes; no sound.

Briefly, I think again: Ohh, where’s Kepaoa when you need him? And then I tell myself – he isn’t coming, better harden up my girl.

I start to cry, cry properly. I lean forward and cry, then I lie on my back and cry, and the whole time I try to stop.

I kind of stop. I can hear Tau reading out some text he’s got from Auntie Yvette, saying how she’s proud of them, and their dad would be proud of them too, and how they’ll all have their house soon, and, “I love you my nephews,” it finishes.

“Saalid…”

“Mean…”

 

That’s the other thing. Getting a house. Apparently they have to wait three months (three months!) before CYFS will even decide if they’re allowed to all live together. It depends on ‘if they’re good’ (or that’s how the boys put it).

“Especially mum,” they tell me. “She’s the one that’s stuck.”

Oh – I think. So I have to keep things on lock while Sheree stuffs around all over the place. No one checks if it’s ok, or asks how I feel about it – I’m not even invited to the goddamn meeting. It’s all just assumed and taken for granted. And Vailea’s going to ask me to write a letter of support, as if my role is nothing but a bit part. As if I don’t have a single feeling about anything, or any sorrows of my own.

I look at myself in the mirror and wonder if there’s something wrong with me, that makes me unlovable and unremarkable. Because I can never be, ever be quite sure.

 

Out there in the sleepout, the boys are on that happy vibe. I can hear them still talking about Vailea, and how he understands them, and how they’re buzzing themselves out with how good they’re doing.

I can’t begrudge them any of that. And I don’t want to ruin their evening, either. It just breaks my heart a little bit to be so commonplace and invisible.

I wonder if I should go to the gym maybe, just go do something so that I don’t stay here and have to listen to them and feel this way. But honestly I got no heart for it; not right now. I don’t think I should even try.