Rogue energies

Friday 26 September, 2014:

Kendrick Lamar through the speakers, news on TV, books and lappy out on the kitchen table. I like mornings; going to work and shit.

Get home again to find three DVDs and a note on the table: ‘Miss will you be able to drop these dvd’s off before you go gym plez. MISS wel B N CLANCY THANKS MISS 🙂 an miss we can’t find the pad locks’.

I carry out this request, then hit the gym. Come back and warm up some leftover chicken curry and rice, which has evidently been mined for its chicken, and is now almost vegetarian.

 

Around 10, Tau texts to see if I can pick them up, they’ll start walking along Carthill Rd. I go collect them and we head back via the shops at Municipal, where Tau does a long and complicated tally of his finances before ordering chicken and chips. They want to buy me takeout as well, and though I keep on explaining I’ve already eaten, this only serves to mystify them (despite the lateness of the hour) and intensify their efforts at persuading me otherwise.

I can’t help but laugh a little bit, despite my worry at their overall state. Both of them are so drunk that it isn’t really funny at all, stumbling around and “m’bro’ing” everyone out on the street.

 

Back in the car, I’m barely able to engage in the general conversation. I’m just trying to stay one step ahead (thinking of the potential for things go awry) – and I feel slightly resentful, too. Not at coming out to pick them up, but at having to absorb all these rogue energies. I can’t tell them they’re being dicks, even in jest. Tau and Leroi wouldn’t cope with that right now. It would just get them all upset, which is not the way to roll with drunk people.

So I put up with them going on fulsomely about everyone and everything, all the way home. I’m quiet and, I guess, reserved – which only makes them more garrulous in their approach; trying to make me happy, I think.

 

The minute we get home, Tau realizes he forgot to pick up a foil (which he already paid Kost for) and so out we go to Clancy again – Leroi stays back to make a start on the takeaways. And as soon as Tau’s on his own with me, everything just comes tumbling out. Because he’s so drunk, there is almost no caution in his approach. I can see (and he even says at one point) that he trusts me enough to talk about certain things. So I can’t keep running that ‘polite’ strategy anymore, holding the vibe at arm’s length.

“Well, it’s good you want to tell me, Tau,” I say.” But I’d listen anytime. You don’t have to get drunk first.”

“It’s hard to talk about it,” Tau says. “I don’t like saying things to people.” He thinks about this and reconsiders his words. “Except you, Miss,” he clarifies.

 

So… all the way to Clancy and back again, Tau talks. First, about the way he wrestles with his conscience. It makes me think of that ‘two wolves’ story, maybe one day I’ll show it to him.

Next he tells me he had another bad day at course today. He and Leroi left early and went home, because Tau was getting aggro with everyone all day long.

“It’s ok, Tau,” I tell him. “If that’s how you were feeling, then you did the right thing going home early.”

And he looks momentarily soothed by this.

 

Then he confesses he almost hit Maxwell – it was at their last counselling session, when Max mentioned Sheree.

“I know my mum’s doing dumb stuff,” Tau says in frustration. “I know she’s doing the wrong things – no-one has to tell me that, I can see it for myself. I

I nod and he goes on: “I wanted to just hook him. But I didn’t – cos we’re getting paid more to go to counselling.”

“That’s not the only reason,” I suggest.

“Yeah, I know,” Tau agrees reluctantly. He shakes his head, saying, “Max’s taught me heaps. And… I like him. I couldn’t hit him – but I did want to.”

“It’s not unexpected though, Tau,” I say. “Counselling can bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Honestly, Max wouldn’t have been surprised if you felt upset. I’m sure he expected it, and knew what to do.

“I think he felt… scared, for a second,” Tau says. He sounds guilty at the thought. “I think that’s why we finished the session early. He just went all quiet, and then he said, ‘Ok, let’s wind this up.’”

“Yup,” I say, getting it. “That makes sense. But, the thing is, Tau – you didn’t hit him. You did the right thing, and you got through it. I’m glad you’ve told me.”

Tau manages a smile, and I think I understand now why Max seemed more reticent than normal last Sunday, when I went to get those forms signed. He was almost… a touch abrupt when talking about Tau.

 

By the time we get back, Tau has a slightly jolty expression of relief, to have gotten at least some of these worries off his chest. I think he’s about to say more, too – but for the fact that Leroi arrives straight out of the sleepout, to celebrate the arrival of the foil.

“You both need a sesh,” I sigh. “Go on then, and I’ll go make a cuppa tea.”

They laugh, tickled by this. “Cuppa tea…” echoes Leroi. “Should have a sesh too, Miss.”

“Hell no,” I tell them. “Someone has to stay straight, round here.”

“Haard.”

 

I come back out with my tea, and we talk, Tau circles back and forth, sometimes bestowing a hug upon me as he completes each tour of the sleepout. “I don’t know how to explain it Miss… I just don’t know how to explain it,” he repeats.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“When I see my family, and they say, oh we’re here for you, your family’s here for you, I feel like telling them – that’s nothing compared to this.” He looks at me and shook his head. “I can’t explain it Miss, I don’t know how to say it. But I just don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have anywhere to go; if I didn’t have you, didn’t have… this.” He holds one arm up to demonstrate, then embraces me, saying, “I love you like family, Miss.”

“Me too, Tau,” I tell him. “I’m here for you through thick and thin.”

“If I was rich…” Tau begins again, dreamily. “If I won Lotto, I’d give you a million dollars Miss, straight up.”

The first birds singing

It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver.  Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.

Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.

But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”

He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.

“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.

A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”

I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.

Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.

 

After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.

“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”

Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.

“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”

“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.

I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”

 

“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.

“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.”  Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”

I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.

 

After that thought, words come easier to me.  “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.

“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”

“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.

I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.

 

I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”

Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”

Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.

 

At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.

“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.

“What?” he groans.

“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”

“Then go get a blanket.”

“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.

“How come?” asks Leroi.

“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”

“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.

 

We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.

“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.

As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.

“Hello,” says a voice.

“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”

“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.

 

Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.

“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.

“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”

“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”

“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.

 

The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.

Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.

“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”

Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.

 

Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”

“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”

So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”

“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.

“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.

“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.

Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.

 

By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.

“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”

“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”

“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”

“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.

I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain.  I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.

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 good man

Wednesday 12 March, 2014:

Tired all day, and I don’t bring enough to eat. I spend the whole time feeling grouchy and wishing I had more food, and just getting tireder and tireder. Eat my yoghurt, and my sandwich… I don’t even think of supplementing this at the café. It doesn’t even cross my mind one time, so accustomed have I become to packing my lunch, now days.

After school, I make myself do one set of report comments for the year 10s, and then drag myself to the gym. Ohh, I don’t want to go. But I tell myself firmly: if you go tired, then you just go tired.

 

Afterwards when I get my bag out of the locker, there are four texts from Tau. Just: ‘Miss, r u bizzy?’

And then, after a pause: ‘Miss?”

Miss?

Miss?

So I text him back, saying I’m free now.

Within a few minutes, he replies, telling me he’s confused and angry. Doesn’t know who else to tell or talk to. He’s at the park right now, because he’s scared if he goes home he might smash up the house.

I don’t know what to do. I just drive round to the park to get him.

 

Tau emerges from a patch of trees and pads over, looking strung out. I get a huge wash of actual relief that I’ve collected him. He gets in the car, saying he doesn’t want to stress me out, he’s sorry… and then I just put my arm around his shoulders and feel him relax a tiny, tiny bit. Just, I think, to know that someone would come for him.

I go buy him a sesh. That’s the only thing that’s going to calm him down, and he knows it; so do I.

Then we just sit in the car and talk for a while.

 

Tau’s grieving so bad. He doesn’t explain it exactly that way, but he says, “There’s stuff just going round and round in my head, and I can’t stop it, and I can’t calm down. Sometimes I just want to smash up everything. There’s holes in the walls, and everyone’s angry with me. My mum says she’s scared… scared of the stuff I do, sometimes.”

He tells me all this with a gentle patient misery, and I look at his dark eyes and say, “It’s ok, Tau. That’s grief, making you feel that way.”

He nods, and I say, “You’re gonna get through, Tau. You’re strong. You’ll get through this.”

“I want to, Miss…” Tau murmurs.

“You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” I say, truthfully. “Maybe the strongest.”

“I seen stronger,” Tau says, but I can tell he’s glad.

“Well – I don’t know about that, but you’re strong too,” I say. “You are.” I look at him and say, “Far, almost 20 aye. A grown man… almost.”

“Not much of a man,” Tau says

“Nah,“ I tell him. “Nah, you’re a good man, Tau.”

And he smiles, just a little bit.

 

He tells me he blacked out after the funeral. He and Leroi wanted to run away before the service. They went and bought a box and started drinking. But then they came back to carry Scott’s coffin out of the house.

“That’s good though,” I say. “You did your duty, Tau,”

He nods, saying, “It was hard…”

“Course it was,” I affirm, and I put my arm around him, not for the first or last time today.

 

I don’t really push him to talk about  the thoughts going around in his head. “Is it mostly… stuff about your dad?” I venture.

“Yup,” he nods. “Heaps of stuff, sometimes it’s stuff that happened a long time ago.”

“I’m not surprised,” I say. “ Tau, you’ve lived with this your whole life, the same old cycle going around and around, and now all of a sudden it’s stopped, and at the same time you can’t… fix things anymore. That would make you real sad.”

“That’s true, Miss,” Tau says. “Before, it was always like there was this little, tiny chance he might change.”

“I know,” I say, real gentle.

 

And he tells me his dad’s family – his uncle and cousins – told him he could come over and see them if he needed time out.

“I tried that a couple times,” he says. “But it gets awkward… cos I didn’t grow up with that side of the family. They’re nice and everything – I just don’t know what to say. So I just sit there and say nothing, and it goes real quiet and I get more and more uncomfortable. I’m sure they think I’m weird.”

“I bet they don’t,” I say, truthfully. “I reckon they know what you’re going through.”

“Maybe… but I don’t like going around there, I hate talking, especially when I don’t know people,” Tau says, with a big sigh.

“Well that’s ok,” I tell him. “And if I’m talking too much, you just let me know, alright? I don’t care if we just sit here for a bit.”

“Nah, you’re algood Miss,” Tau says. And he just keeps talking anyway.

 

He tells me weed doesn’t cut it anymore, it doesn’t calm him down enough. That really bothers me, but I don’t say so… or not directly. He knows what I think about K2, which he says is the only thing that can get him to sleep. He has to have it all day long, pretty much. If he runs out, he can’t cope.

So that’s what we get – K2 from Municipal. I don’t ‘want’ to, but at the same time, I know Tau’s telling me the truth: right now he can’t cope without it. And when he gets back in the car he’s shaking and I ask him, “You okay Tau?”

“He breathes in and out a few times and calms down, knowing it’s there.

 

I just want to help him and I don’t know how. I love Tau like I raised him, and like I said he’s almost a grown man now, and he’s strong –  but this is some shit to get through. So I just tell him how great he’s doing, and how I know that he’s had to carry stuff for everyone his whole life.

“Sometimes I try to talk about that, with my family,” he says. “But then Leroi just gets upset and says no-one knows how hard it’s been for him.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “But maybe you can talk about it with someone else? When you’re ready, of course. But I think it would help, Tau. Because your whole life, you’ve taken it on, and I think it might be time to let some of it out, you know.”

“I want to,” Tau says, thinking about it. “I hate talking about stuff. But I don’t want to just think about it and think about it until I go crazy.

 

Tau says he hates it at home. He itemizes a kind of list for me, not really complaining about any of it:

  • ‘Everything’s broken’ (no thanks to Tau himself, as well he realizes).
  • Stuff keeps going around and around in his head there.
  • The others try to make him talk when he doesn’t want to talk
  • They’re always telling him he’s the man of the family now

 

I say he can come round any time, get some time out.

“I’ve thought about coming round, I’ve thought about it heaps, he says. “But I didn’t wanna stress you out.”

“You don’t stress me out, Tau,” I tell him. “You never do.”

He nods, just sitting there in the car, quite calm for a while. I’m so grateful to be able to give him the least bit of space to relax, and it soothes my heart right down to see that tense look gradually leave his eyes. And there we stay for an hour or more.

 

We share a ciggie, round about then. Tau lights up, and I have my two puffs, making him laugh.

When I drop him off home he seems pretty calm, even if only for the time being.

“Remember, if you need help, you only have to text me,” I remind him. “Even if I was at work. I’d come as soon as I could.”

In reply, he reaches over and hugs me real tight, before hopping out of the car and going inside (‘inside’ being down the road a hundred metres or so – it’s dark, and I’ve overshot the house; no surprises there.)

 

Feeling alright

Thursday 27 February, 2014:

Lorna rings – all she wants to do is talk, really. Not even about Tau, just about “everything”. It’s been hard for her, and I think she just needs to let it out to someone who’s not as mired in the whole business.

Ohh it’s been so hard for them all, and tonight I get to hear about it, till it almost breaks my heart. Afterwards I take a shower; make a cuppa tea. Routine things. And I put the Food Channel on again, which is the most calming background I can think of. No dramas, no life stories, just how to prepare lobster with avocado.

 

Much later, I sit on the bed in my pj’s, window open, laptop open beside me. But then I think, I don’t want to write… I don’t want to let worry and fear wash over me. It isn’t going to help Tau or anyone else if I freak out.

Because part of my heart’s kind of wrapped around Tau, somewhere out in the ether. And that ‘way’ or path is never going to close up again, even if a trillion billion years pass. And that’s just how it is, honest truth.

 

Friday 28 February:

I’m starting… just starting to wind down, after a whole day at school followed by two hours of the most boring marking on the planet (the year 9 ‘Exploring Municipal College’ assessment). The last half hour is the hardest; all I want to do is go home. Opening up those folded, glued-in maps seems like eternal torture. But I keep plodding through the books one at a time: the map, the report, the paragraph – and then the infernal marking schedule, with space for “feedback and feedforward”. Talk about overkill. Grade on the page; tick on the mark sheet; grade on the mark sheet; comment on the strengths; comment on the ‘next steps’.

 

The minute I get home I throw a pack of sausages in the oven, chuck in some potatoes too, and make a salad out of the bits and piece in the fridge. As soon as those potatoes are baked, I’m eating dinner, trying not to burn my mouth.

And all day I know I’ve been trying to put off writing about last night, and the things Lorna said. Not that she said anything unexpected. But my mind’s been twisting around all day, putting it off and putting it off some more. Because I don’t want to take anyone’s pain into my heart, and I’ve been scared that’s what might happen.

 

Sooooo… our conversation began with Lorna thanking me for coming to the funeral, and for the ‘kind words’ I wrote on the little card (they’d left cards on a table at the front, to write down our memories of Scott).

I remember well what I wrote. I wrote that the thing I would always remember was how much he loved his kids. Despite everything.

Anyway, Lorna told me she appreciated it a lot. Thank you for saying he loved his kids, she said – because he did. Even though a lot of people think he didn’t care about his family, to do this to them.

 

But not many people knew how bad things had gotten, in the last two weeks before Scott died. She didn’t even see it herself. She’d only been over once in that time, and he’d called her ‘Mummy’, when she came round. According to Lorna, he did that when he wanted something. So he said to her, “Hello Mummy,” and Sheree said, “Oh, now you’re talking.”

Later it turned out he hadn’t been talking to anyone. Just crying all the time, wandering off, crying and gibbering, then coming back and terrorizing the kids. He hit Tau and Leroi and smashed up the place. Sheree had her dramas too, drinking and screaming at everyone, and chucking all their stuff out in the rubbish. And she locked Scott out of the house, when no-one could handle him.

Lorna didn’t find any of this out until after the night it happened. “They all blame themselves,” she told me. “He kept muttering about killing himself, and they blame themselves for not believing him – because he was making their lives hell at the same time.”

“I know,” I said. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just… the way it was.”

“The way it’s always been,” Lorna agreed. “With those two – Scott and Sheree – it’s the way it had always been. And I couldn’t part them. I tried, so many times.”

“I know,” I said again. “Sheree told me so.”

 

When Scott lay there on life support, he seemed at peace. “Like his cares were gone,” Lorna said. “All the lines – gone. It was the way he used to be, a long time ago.”

“Just like the photo,” I said, referring to the one on the cover of the funeral programme. It was such a lovely photo of him.”

“He was 20,” she told me. “That picture was taken when Scott was 20.”

“Tau’s age, almost.”

“Yes, around the age Tau is now. And that’s when Scott and Sheree met, too – when he was 20.”

 

Then, “I wanted his body to be brought back here,” Lorna said. “This was always his home.”

“I’m glad he was with you,” I said. “I’m glad they were all there.”

“Tau took it harder than I thought,” she went on. “He just sat by his dad all day, sometimes with his head down, sometimes having a little cry.”

“Of course…” I murmured.

“Leroi couldn’t go in at first. He just hung around the doorway to the lounge, where Scott was. But on the last day he I saw him go in and see him.” She paused. “And Sheree – well, the last thing she said to him was, “Fuck you Scott, I hope you rot in hell.”

 

“Poor Sheree,” I said. “She didn’t mean it.”

“That’s what I think, too,” Lorna said. “It’s just how he left her to cope with everything. Dropped her right in it.”

“She looked so empty,” I remembered, thinking of the day of the funeral. “I’ve never seen her like that before. She’s always been such a strong person, no matter what’s happened. But this…”

“True,” Lorna said. “It’s knocked all the stuffing out of her. And now Winz has been on her case too, the heartless bastards.”

“Oh, fuck, have they?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.

“Yes, they’ve already done home visits and poked and pried around, told Sheree that they’re cutting her money, seeing as the boys are both living there, and on benefits themselves.

To be honest it didn’t surprise me, Winz and their stupid pursuit of Sheree.

“Oh, I swore at them,” Lorna went on. “I told them straight – you’re a pack of heartless fuckin pricks, talking about this family as if they’ve got no feelings, and aren’t grieving enough as it is.”

“Ohh, good on you!” I said, with great admiration.

 

The night of the funeral, Tau freaked out. Pounding up and down the street, smashing things up and screaming. He was drinking and on the synnies. “In the end, I just got him some weed,” Lorna told me, matter of factly. “I didn’t know where to get it, I sent someone out to buy it. Gave it to him and said, ‘Here you go – and make it last, Tau.”

“Man, good on you,” I said again. “That’s probably the only thing that would have calmed him down.”

“Oh, and don’t I know it!” she replied. “I’d rather he was on the natural stuff, any day.”

“Me too,” I said. “I never had a problem with him smoking weed. I hate that synthetic shit.”

“So do I,” she agreed. “I’ve told him and Leroi – stay off that crap.”

 

For now, everyone’s gone down the line. They wanted to get away from Rutherford Ave, where everything reminded them of the last days with Scott.

But Lorna’s taken all his things back home with her. All his clothes, his trophies and photos. And his ashes. She told me, “There’s no bad vibes at our place, never has been.” And then she said again, “This was always his home.”

 

It’s funny, now that I’ve written some of this stuff down, I’m alright with it. I don’t feel anymore like I’m going to cry, or take on someone else’s pain. I only hope that the very little I’ve ever done has meant something, mattered.

I think of how people are so strong, and I can be strong too. The day’s tiredness has lifted and I can say to myself: feeling alright.

Part of me

Saturday 15 February, 2014:

I think about what Mia said last night. She’s been on a couple of dates with a guy called Chris, who she met on ‘Find Someone’. It didn’t really go anywhere, but she said it was alright. And she’s been mailing another guy too, who she might see for coffee.

So I just go on the website for a bit, and look around – and I can tell right off the bat, it’s not for me. For a start, most of the guys look like the stereotypical ‘Kiwi bloke’. Second, there’s all these tabs with headings like Who should pay? and Sexual etiquette, and when you click on them, there’s advice about keeping your sheets clean (like, seriously?) and that it’s nice to make a phone call the day after. And tips for what to say in advance: ‘I believe in equality, so I’d like to share the cost of our dates.’

And I just can’t handle the patter. I think I’ve been spoilt for all that nonsense, by the reality of the the things that have happened in the last five years. It could never compare to the feeling of boldness and confidence which you get from knowing you can pack up at a moment’s notice, and ride out through the narrowest path, with the tightest of time frames. There’s a strong “male” energy – I have it too, somewhere. It isn’t the whole of me, I know that too. But it’s part of me now, and I can never go back to those same old mores and conventions.

 

Later I’m hungry and grumpy when I realize that I’m pretty much out of snacks, thanks to the burglars. Hope they enjoyed those snacks. I wish I could have a bowl of noodles, round about now. Instead I’m starting to make dinner (early, but it’s going to take me a little while to bake the potatoes).

It makes me laugh how I’m starting to cook again – I think that all started when Tau and Kepaoa were here. I wanted them to know for sure it was ok to eat, there wasn’t a shortage. Especially Tau, who’d dealt with conditions of scarcity his whole life. And then it just snuck up on me that I still like cooking. Even though I’d told myself for a long while that I didn’t care about it anymore.

I keep noticing little things gone too, like the margarine… and the hand wash in the bathroom. But in a way, it’s good to free up space. And so I keep on looking appraisingly at my stuff and thinking, ooh, I don’t really need this, is it just going to be back in the cupboard again? I don’t want to do it all at once – but I’m sure there’s things that I could give away or throw out.

Temperamentally, I’m not a hoarder at all – that figures, I guess. So it’s not a big task or anything. It’s just something that’s occurred to me.

 

Sunday 16 February:

It’s been, in the immortal words of Levi – a cunt of a day.

It starts off alright, at the gym. Afterwards I skip off to Municipal for no particular reason. I park out the back of the supermarket (by the bakery), then I walk through the shops and cross Municipal Rd. Pick up a takeout coffee – that takes a bit longer than usual, there’s a big queue of people in the café. I come out, heading back to the car – and there’s Leroi, walking by at exactly the same moment.

Only he doesn’t even notice me. He has this faraway expression in his eyes.

I say, “Leroi?” and I see him gently snap his mind back to the outside world, saying, “Oh!” and then, “Miss…”

“Hey, Leroi,” I say again. “How are you?”

“Algood,” he replies, as a pleasantry I guess.

“What you been up to?”

“Um, not much… um, Miss?” he says, hesitating and then looking at me very searchingly.

“Yeah?” I say.

“Have you heard?”

“No, heard what?” I begin, and then, sensing something is up: “Leroi? No, I haven’t heard anything, why? Has something happened?”

“My dad…” he says, sighing once and deeply. “The stupid cunt hung himself. At the park, on Friday afternoon.”

I just gape at him, I guess.

“It’s alright, Miss. I’m algood. Fuckin stupid cunt, aye Miss.”

“Geez, Leroi,” is all I can manage. And then, “I’m so sorry.

“It’s alright,” he says again. “I’m ok. He’s been on life support, at the hospital. But they’re gonna turn the machine off. My mum and that are already arranging the funeral.”

“Oh my god,” I think I say. It’s a shock, and I just repeat, “I’m so sorry…” and then, thinking of Sheree, “Fuck, your poor mum.”

“She’s doing ok. My Nan’s there,” Leroi tells me.

“Shit…” I say, in the most futile way.

 

“Miss?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Can you… could you get me a sesh?”

“I don’t have any money on me right now,” I begin (which is true).

“Aw, no it’s ok, I got money – I just need you to get it for me, cos I’m under age.”

“Oh, I see,” I say, suddenly realising he’s on his way to High Times (right next to the café). I can’t help laughing, just a little bit. “Aww, you know how much I hate that synthetic shit. But yeah, alright Leroi. I think the occasion probably calls for it, huh.”

“Thanks, Miss,” Leroi says gratefully.

 

We proceed to the store, where Leroi consults the sales assistant as to the available choices, deciding fast on ‘Silver Skunk’. He hands over the money, and the guy looks at the two of us with a passing interest (hesitating only slightly I think, maybe in case I’m part of some kind of media sting).

“It’s ok,” I tell him. “I’m getting it.”

“Sweet,” he says, happy to ring up a sale.

 

Leroi receives his legal high (which is, after all, technically a legal purchase by me), and we walk out, just talking

“So he’s still on life support?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Leroi, is there any chance your dad could still… make it through?”

“No, the doctors said he’s already brain dead,” Leroi tells me.

We stand outside in the sun. “Do you need to go anywhere?” I ask. “Can I drop you off?”

“Nah, it’s ok Miss, I’m just gonna kick it round here for a bit.”

“Ok,” I say. And we part company.

 

I retrace my steps to the car. My mind is just thinking, thinking, the whole time. And I go take some cash out of the ATM ($200), and put it in an envelope. I’m not sure who I’m going to give it to. First I think, Sheree – then I think, no, Tau. And I don’t know. I just drive round there anyway, telling myself there’s no point in talking myself out of it, even though I haven’t got a clue what I’m going to say.

I get there and walk round the back, and the first person I see is Tau. He’s standing out on the steps, as stoned as fuck. So stoned he can barely stand up. His eyes are half shut, and he says a slow, sleepy, “Heeey, Miss.”

“Hey, Tau,” I say, and then, “I saw Leroi a little while ago.”

He nods.

“He told me what happened…”

Another nod, and a very stoned smile. To be honest, he looks quite approving of my presence there.

“I won’t stay for long, but I just… wanted to come,” I finish, and he says, “Thanks, Miss. Thanks for coming over.”

“No worries, Tau.”

 

Turns out Sheree’s not home, so it’s easy to decide what to do with the money. I simply hand the envelope over to Tau, saying, “This is just to help out.”

“Awww,” he begins, and then, taking it, “Thanks, Miss.”

We stand outside talking. I don’t ask too many questions about what happened, I can see it isn’t the right time. But Tau tells me Scott was taken off life support late last night, it was just Sheree there.

“Me and Leroi were drinking round here, with the boys, Quest and Kost – and then Statik and Rich came over too,” Tau informs me.

“Well, that’s good,” I say. “It’s good they came.”

“We were drinking till 5 this morning,” Tau continues. “I’m really tired – it’s just that I can’t get to sleep.”

“That’s not surprising,” I said. “Algood Tau, just try to get some rest later on.”

“I’ll try,” he tells me.

 

I only stay around half an hour, I keep thinking of how tiring it must be for Tau to have to talk about ‘stuff’ – not Scott exactly, but just anything, really. But like I said, he seems pleased to see me, in his way. He says again, “Oh, thanks for coming, Miss. I really appreciate it.” He smiles, and my heart goes out to him so bad.

When I get home, I can’t settle. I go tidy up in the shed a bit, I think Tau will be ok with that. I just pick shit up (there’s still stuff on the floor from the break in) and then dust a little bit, and you know… just sweep. For some reason it makes me feel a tiny bit better.

Much aroha

Monday 21 October, 2013:

Ezekiel seems ok, quiet. Asks me for a pencil, does some work, then draws on his diary a little bit. He slips out at the end of class without saying a word about the phone.

“Think he needs another talk…” says Slade at interval, in a significant way. “Fuckin sketchy fulla.”

But I tell him to leave it.

It’s funny, because ‘sketchy’ is exactly the right word to describe Ezekiel, in a way (not in the exact way Slade means it, but there’s a link there all the same). It’s like I’ve only got an outline of him, and more than that I don’t know, at present

 

Tuesday 22 October:

Slade’s in my room most of the day, working on his art board. It’s all legit, he’s signed out of class – the board has to be done by tomorrow. Together we create a work space at the back table, and I provide some fine markers and earphones, and then go make him a coffee.

I’m going to miss Slade so much at school, it’s one of those happy-sad feelings right now. There’s a kind of tenderness in the air between us, with the knowledge that something’s almost over. Oh, it’s not ‘everything’ that’s over. But, you know, it’s a time and a place, and it’s been an honour to share that with him.

Today the two of us talk quietly, but very freely, about a lot of things. Sometimes the vibe just makes everyone else in the room go quiet too, I can sense it.

I really have a lot of love for Slade today. Much aroha.

 

After school, I call round and see Nio, taking some leftover cans (he wants to do some throwies in their shed).

I also feel a lot of love for Nio today. Ohh, fatherhood suits Nio. I’ve never seen him so happy, and settled, and so dang positive about the world and everything in it. He doesn’t say a bad word about a soul, the entire time I’m there, just holds his son and feeds him his bottle, and we talk.

 

Wednesday 23 October:

Slade and I set up in my room again. Before I go to the staff meeting, I write down my logon and password on a sticky note, and give it to him in case the laptop times out.

It’s kind of a big deal, and though I don’t say as much, Slade knows it. I never give my password out to anyone at school, not since Tau was there. Slade folds the small piece of paper and slips it into his pocket, saying, “Shot, Miss.”

When I get back from the meeting, he looks at me triumphantly. “Finished, Miss!” he says. “I’ve finished my board – the whole thing!”

Big grins on both our faces, as he continues, “I just took it over to my art teacher, and she’s put the number on it and everything, and it’s going down to Wellington!”

“Ohh…” I say, and then, “Wow, you’ve really done it!” I glory.

“I know!” he says in elation.

 

We have fifteen minutes before my first class, so I go upstairs and make us coffees. We kick back and share a piece of banana cake which I got on the way to school.

“Shot, Miss,” Slade says again. He looks super-content, which almost brings tears to my eyes. “Where did you get this from?”

“Bakery,” I tell him.

“Solid…”

 

Slade’s going up north this afternoon, for his uncle’s unveiling. “I have to,” he tells me matter of factly, but with a worried look all the same, not wanting to miss out on his last few assessments: PE and Hospitality. He can’t get back until sometime next week, soon as he can hook up a ride.

I email the teachers concerned. They say he can finish off the assessments when he returns.

At interval, I drop him home (hard and fast, because of the short break).  We share a quick cig outside, and I get back just in time for tutor. Have to piss around opening the bollards at the gate,  then sign myself in at reception, and cruise into the block like it’s no thing.

After that, the day is just its usual busyness, one class after another. I take the path of least resistance, much as I can and wherever I can. The only person I’ve put myself out for today is Slade.

 

Ezekiel comes to see me at the end of lunch. He has some story all prepared about the phone, and telling his parents, and them locking it away, and him needing to apologize… but I still don’t get the phone, and I don’t really believe his story (which in any case is confusing).

Lucky for him Slade’s left by then. I, on the other hand, am reasonably unperturbed at Ezekiel’s tale, and his (feigned?) remorse. I just tell him I’ll talk to him after class about it – 9 Social is about to start.

He works ultra hard in class, too. Keeps coming over and asking me “learning related” questions. So it’s easy to just shelve the whole business, for the time being.

But after class, he doesn’t wait back.

I don’t really know what to think about the phone. I’m reminded of what Alexander said once, about that DVD: “I think you might have to let it go, Miss.” In my mind, I’d let it go already. And that’s how I feel about the phone, too.

As for Ezekiel, although I don’t believe him, I can’t help feeling for him, all the same.

 

Thursday 24 October:

Without Slade, how do I cope with the sheer banality of school. Ohh it’s brutal, too, but it’s… blunted, it’s normalized for its citizens (including me – because how else do I stand it?)

And just the happy and resilient ‘everydayness’ of having one real friend in this stupid place, I’m going to miss that like crazy. Just writing it down makes my eyes sting with a couple of tears.

 

I get home, fix something to eat. I’m just sitting on the couch, and I get this feeling… like something is about to happen.  I’d  had that same intuitive sensation this morning as well. Actually took a peek out of the blinds to check whether anyone was there. No-one was, and I laughed at myself.

But then, tonight… I hear a lot of thumping and bumping at the front door. I know it’s Tau, before I even open it.  He has obviously been running, and he’s panting heavily – and drunk.

Tau gasps, “Miss… is it algood to get a lift, would that be ok?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I murmur. “You ok, Tau?”

He nods, but his eyes have that glazed-over, amped look.

 

In the car, he settles just a little bit.

“You ok… Tau?” I say again.

He takes some deep lungfuls of air, and his head and eyes swivel, and he just nods again.

“It’s ok Tau…” I say. “I’ll just drive, kay.”

 

As we drive, he tells me bits and pieces: someone is after him, over something that happened ‘ages ago’. The worry in my heart causes my driving to suffer somewhat, and we can’t help laughing at this, despite ourselves. Tau wants to stop at the liquor store (but of course) and I do a hasty U-turn into an angle park.

“Sorry Tau,” I say, unable not to smirk at myself.

“Algood Miss,” Tau says. He has gained a slight amount of equilibrium, the danger of my driving being comparatively much less than whatever has caused him to flee to my door.

A couple of minutes later, he’s back with a box of Cody’s. I don’t bat an eyelid, of course. And as we drive on to Rutherford Rd, he tells me that Scott is getting out of jail on Wednesday.

“Oh,” I say, and then, “Where’s he, um… gonna stay?”

“I wouldn’t have a fuckin clue,”  Tau replies, rather wearily. And the thought of Scott being out, and possibly at home, despite what doubtlessly are everyone’s doubts and fears, makes my heart kind of sink.

Tau directs me to pull up next to a ‘Give Way’ sign, saying, “That’s it, Miss. This is our house.”

It’s a friendly looking house with a white picket fence, and I coo, “Ohh Tau… that is a nice house. It’s nice as.”  And I really mean it.

Although Tau has already told me it was only ‘ok, better than nothing…’ he still looks pleased. And to my surprise, he just reaches across and gives me a great big hug.

Then he goes in, with his cans.

 

I come home, and for some reason I have this urge to clean up my wardrobe. I pick out few shirts and some shoes, and a couple other things that I don’t really wear anymore. Fold them in a bag to take to the charity skip tomorrow.

And then I just make a cup of tea.

There’s no-one else quite like Tau, I think. I can’t not love Tau. It would be unpossible. I just wish he was happy and safe.