Real time

Friday 28 November:

The boys are over at their uncle’s, drinking. After a few hours I get a text from Tau, and I go pick them up. There’s a slightly odd vibe on the way home; nothing I can really put my finger on, so I just put it down to the alcohol.

Ten minutes later, I hear raised voices. I chuck on my shoes, grab my phone (with both sangfroid and prescience) and go out there.

Tau and Leroi are about to fight. I remonstrate with them, get in between them (several times), while they wrestle, and things are rocked and tipped about the shed. Tau’s eyes are bulging and shiny white; Leroi takes his shirt off and smiles with rage.

Finally I have us all sitting down. I know it’s only a lull in the proceedings, but that’s as much as I can ask for. I ring Nana Pam.

 

Fifteen minutes later, as the atmosphere lurches and threatens to tip back to crisis point, I’m very grateful when I hear Pam’s car in the drive. She comes in and I briefly explain things (in a surprisingly calm way), before she tells Leroi to come with her. There is a short altercation over buds and I instruct Tau to split the foils, which he does, throwing Leroi’s portion on the floor and saying, “He can stick this up his ass.”

As soon as they’ve gone, Tau begins to cry. He cries until there are foaming drops of spittle at the corners of his mouth, and a ribbon of snot bobbing from his nose. His shirt is all ripped from the fighting, and he crouches next to me – and I hold onto him.

“Don’t gap, Tau,” I say tenderly.

“I won’t – it’s alright Miss, I don’t wanna gap anymore,” he sobs. “This is the only place where I feel comfortable. I just don’t want to be around him.”

“I know, Tau… I know, it’s ok,” I tell him.

After a while he has a quick cone. I smoke almost a whole ciggie and don’t even feel sick; this connotes stress city, for me.

 

At 2:30 I go to bed. Four hours later the alarm wakes me up, and I get ready for my day at work: one day shy of a whole calendar month since the last time. After last night I don’t want to go. But I keep telling myself – this is breaking the drought.

Before I leave, I ring Pam and ask her to keep Leroi with her for the day. She says she’ll do her best – but by midday Tau texts to tell me Leroi’s walked back on his own, and they’re “algood now”; this of course does not reassure me greatly.

 

At the close of the school day I take my time sheet up to the office, then go home. The shed’s dark and the door is ajar so I push it open, knocking a little first. Tau’s lying on the bed, Leroi’s asleep – or maybe pretending to sleep – on the couch.

Tau sits up as soon as he sees me. He’s wrapped in a white duvet with a frill, and looks almost comically sweet. It reminds me for some reason of a book I had when I was a little kid – a bear who wore a party dress for some special occasion.

“Oh my gosh, Tau,” I say, touching the frill for an instant. “You look like you’ve got your prettiest outfit on,” and he can’t help but laugh.

 

We talk in low voices. I’m worried and relieved and tired all at the same time, and I can hardly keep my emotions in check. Besides, I’m almost sure Leroi’s only feigning sleep, and the thought that he’s overhearing everything frustrates me so much that I nearly cry.

I go back inside, where I can’t settle, flitting about in the cold breeze that’s coming in through the french doors. I don’t even have the will to shut the door, and after a while I just give up and let a few tears spill from my eyes.

By now it’s getting dark, and, “Oh, who cares,” I conclude, with a degree of insouciance that has kicked in right when I need it. I go out again and find Leroi has ‘woken up’. So Tau and I go do the drug shop run (which God knows how we can afford, but today they really do need it), and pick up fish and chips from Municipal.

 

Saturday 29 November:

Pam rings and we have a talk – during which she tells me that Sheree might not take up her spot in rehab after all, as she “doesn’t like the boys living in the shed”. I’m so enraged by this that I just about can’t speak for a moment. Sheree! She’s already the biggest victim out… and now she’s looking for an excuse to get herself off the hook from rehab before she even gets there.

Anyway, Pam gets an earful about it. I’m actually shaking, and my mouth quivers as I reply. Not that it’s Pam’s fault – I can see that I’m kind of shooting the messenger here. But I still do a big rant about how Sheree doesn’t do jack shit for anyone and if she has a problem with where the boys are she should put her money where her mouth is and sort out her own shit. And (seeing as I’m on a roll now) I add that Tau and Leroi aren’t ‘living in the shed’; they have the entire house at their disposal. I come to a halt with one last flourish, saying that a lot of their shyness and their limited social skills are down to Sheree’s atrocious parenting.

And Pam just keeps saying, “I hear you,” and really being nice about it, the poor lady. She says she understands exactly how I felt, she has to put up with the same crap from people who do nothing and then run their mouths about everything, and, “Oh, what’s going to happen to that fuckin family?” she laments. “Excuse my language, but I sometimes think they’re all fucked, every fuckin one of them!”

“Can I get an Amen!” I exclaim, and then we both burst out laughing.

 

After all that, I do something dumb. Even though Pam has asked me not to mention this to the boys, I don’t have a show of containing my feelings about the matter. I go out to the sleepout, and everything comes tumbling out.

Poor Tau doesn’t know how to respond; his face crumples up with the effort of having to take this on board half-asleep. He starts by surmising that Nana Pam is probably just talking shit, to which I reply that no, she heard it from Sheree herself.

Then Tau says (making a mighty effort to stay calm, I might add) that it must have came out wrong because his mum’s worried about going to rehab. I reply that Sheree isn’t the only one who’s allowed to have worries, and I’m sick of having to hear about it all the time. I have feelings just like anyone else, and if she wants to talk about me and my place like that, she should come say it to my face, not behind my back.

At that point, a kind of impasse is reached. I turn on my heel and walk out; Tau slams the door after me, I hear him yell out once: “Fuck!” and then there’s silence.

Oh well, I think. I can’t be super-human. And what of it?

 

Then the door of the shed just swings gently open again. I’m not sure what this signifies, but I read it as a sign of stalemate rather than open hostilities. So I quietly go back in.

Tau’s busy firing up the bucky. That’s an advance in itself, if you ask me – the old Tau would have already been a mile down the road by now. And I sit on the weights bench and tell him I’m sorry for putting all this on him; none of it is his fault.

Thus all is well again, up to a point – but all the same, if Sheree wants a get out of rehab card, it better not be me.

 

Sunday 30 November:

Tonight the boys are off to farewell Sheree. She’s decided to go to rehab tomorrow after all – at least I’ve heard nothing different – but either way she can’t be a priority of mine. I still feel sorry for her, but that’s almost neither here nor there by now. I’ve played it far too soft so far, worrying about her tender feelings way more than I ought to.

I need to harden up, I tell myself. I actually do need to raise my status, especially with Leroi here. He thinks it’s all ok, thinks it’s kickback. Tau once told me Scott was the only person that Leroi ever listened too.

Which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to Friday, when I had to stop the boys from fighting. There was one thing which really surprised me. Tau admitted, when we were on our own afterwards, that he’d been scared. I don’t mean scared of falling out with Leroi (though of course there’s that, too). He was actually afraid, thinking that Leroi was probably going to waste him. “But I knew I couldn’t let him see that,” he said. “So I just tried to act like I wasn’t scared.”

At first this gave me a shock – I just didn’t see it coming. Tau, who’s always been the dominant one, telling me he was afraid to fight Leroi. But then I actually got it, too. How sometimes you have to act like the world’s your oyster, and show no fear.

And in one way, this is exactly what I’m doing too.  It’s a contradiction I guess, that the higher the stakes, the more confident of victory you have to become – but maybe that’s the point. I don’t have the luxury of stopping to figure it out. I have to learn the game in real time – and not just learn the moves, either. Somehow I also have to learn to feel like I can’t lose

 

Friday 5 November:

Tau and Leroi head off with Nana Pam for some kind of reconciliatory weekend down the line. The boys tell me they’ve been so excited about this trip that they stayed awake half the night.

“I was over-thinking,” complains Tau, cracking me up.

“Hard, I was looking forward to it so much I couldn’t get to sleep,” Leroi says.

I tell Pam, and “I don’t know what they think we’re going to be doing!” she says, giving us both the giggles.

 

Sunday 7 November:

Tau shows me some pictures of the weekend on his phone, telling me that at the motel they got Nana Pammie to take them to the liquor store.

“And she didn’t mind?” I ask opening my eyes very wide at this.

“Um… we just said we wanted to go to the shop, and so she took us to the shops – but we went into the liquor store,” Tau confesses. “When she saw us come out with the cans she growled us – but not heaps.”

“Guess there was nothing she could do,” I said, unable not to laugh. It was like a foregone conclusion, probably to Pam as well.

Tau sneezes and sniffs, and goes on, “We were drinking in the rain… and that’s why we got sick, I think.”

“Why were you drinking in the rain?”

“Cos, there were heaps of people inside, all these people…” Tau begins, and then both of us snort with laughter.

“So how much did you drink?” I ask him.

“Um – we got two 12 packs. Bourbon.”

“And did you and Leroi drink it all?”

He nods.

I think to myself… twelve cans each, that’s still a lot of alcohol.

 

But later, when I’m lying in bed, I hear Tau come in and warm up another bowl of chicken curry. As much as I still get worried about him, I’m grateful he’s here. And just knowing that he’ll eat, and that he can talk about things, sometimes – and that he’s got somewhere to lay his head. It’s more than I can explain. But I just keep on trying to explain… and maybe one day I’ll figure out how to tell it.

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My part of the thing

Saturday 20 July, 2013:

It’s a bright blue winter sky day, even though it doesn’t warm up for a while. And while my mind’s still on the same track: It’s too hard, it’s too hard for me – I’m already starting to push the thought away and tell myself: No, it’s not. It’s not.

And so I take some comfort in that, even if it’s imaginary. Go get my coffee. Just try to smile at the guy when he asks me if I’m having a good day. I say yes, and that it’s a beautiful day out. I try so hard to believe it.

But when I get home and see Tau’s closed off face (“I think Tau really wants his dad to be out of jail,” Leroi tells me), I get another wave of feeling like I’m not good enough. I feel like I can’t expect anything from anyone.

I promised Tau, and that promise stands. But I’m not going to be bowed down before him. I can’t do that.

 

The day winds up happily enough. Tau, Leroi and Raphael are drinking cans of V, which cost them two dollars a pop from the dairy (the store owners must be happy, seeing as there are at least ten cans sitting on the table already).

“It helps us cut back on the drinking,” explains Tau.

“Cos we’re trying to not drink as much,” Leroi adds.

“Good for you!” I exclaim.

“We’ve actually cut back heaps,” Tau says. “And we’ve told the boys that you won’t let them drink here.”

Have you?”

“Yup,” says Tau, triumphantly. “Cos we’re just gonna be undercover, if we want to have a few lazy cans. We can save heaps of money that way, and the boys won’t come round.”

“We like it when they don’t come round as much,” Leroi tells me.

“Ohhh…” is all I say. I’m as surprised as anything.

 

So they play PlayStation and sip their non-alcoholic beverages, and it’s kind of surreal, to see them quite happy without alcohol. Tau has a few inhalations from the bucky from time to time, but that’s the very least of my worries, of course – weed being the least problematic substance for Tau to consume.

I know it’s not suddenly gonna be magically ‘easy’ or anything. But it’s a start.

 

Sunday 26 July:

I barely see Tau and Leroi today. Admittedly, they sleep for the whole morning (this happens when you stay up all night every night, hmm.) But what I’m saying is they don’t even put their heads out to say a single word, all day long. Just stay out in the shed, having sesh after sesh (I’m just surmising here), and Tau communicates via the occasional text.  Only a couple boys roll up later on. Raphael stands and talks to me in a friendly way – meanwhile the shed door is open and Tau doesn’t even acknowledge my presence outside, not even with a hello.  And suddenly I felt heartsick and wrenchingly ashamed.

Oh, I know, they’ve got their issues, that’s for sure. It’s not like I don’t know that. But all the same, it feels like no-one gives a fuck about me from one day to another.

 

I make dinner, no-one eats it. I go tell them it’s ready, and then this morning it’s still there on the counter. I tell myself, oh – it’s nothing, they’re just kids. They just take their path of least resistance and least trauma. But in my heart I think: What? You won’t even deign to have a bowl of food now. Just eat chips and drink V out in the shed, and ignore the fact that someone gives a damn about you.

And this also plays into all my most shaming feelings, from as long ago as I can ever remember. In some ways, I do still expect to be found wanting, and eventually to be despised. Part of me believes I’m not good enough for anyone to love me back. Believes I’m meek, solemn, plain and blank.

So yup, if you wanted to break some old fears, this would be the very time and place to do it, I guess. But I’m ashamed, to be seen and then ignored.

 

Wednesday 24 July:

I go to the gym, and when I come back, Tau is inside on the laptop. Almost soon as he sees me he just stands up and slips out to the shed again. I feel like I barely exist, except as an obstacle.

I take care of a few things, walking around like it’s all ok. But when I get in the shower, I hold my face to the wall and sob, quietly.

Part of me trembles, when it’s like this. I don’t want to slip round like a ghost in my own home. I don’t want my ears to prick up, and my eyes to slide sideways. I think, oh how, how did it get like this? How can it be? And why is Tau even here? Is it just because he thinks I’m soft, and weak, and meek, and blank. And will let him just sit in the shed like a king in his own domain. Refusing any of the poor things I can offer.

I don’t know. My heart clenches and twists, remembering when Tau used to come to me, every day, to sit one inch behind me and breathe quietly, as if he was breathing me in. My own cub, he was then. He was just a young boy of 14, 15…

 

And I promised him – I’ll never forget. Never. I don’t care what anyone else might think. I’m harder than anyone knows, or expects. No-one else knows me like that. But I know I’ll never forget.

Ohhh, how I miss Kepaoa the beautiful, Kepaoa the gracious. Kepaoa, who was always here of his own free choosing. I miss the easy way we could just eat, and talk, and watch TV. Stretched out on the two couches, talking far into the night, until Kepaoa’s eyes would just all of a sudden flutter and close, and I’d lay the blanket on him gently, and go to bed.

 

Friday 26 July:

Elroy’s out on bail again – are they craaazy? He’s never a safe bet on 24/7, no matter how much I want to believe he knows the score.

 

I think about Tau a lot this morning, and I have some kind of epiphany, honestly there’s this one moment when I just… understand it a bit more. No wonder it’s uncomfortable right now. No wonder we don’t know how to get our bearings on the situation. Because it’s never been quite like this before. When suddenly his parents and home have ‘vanished’, and there’s this unsettling space that no-one’s quite sure how to fill. And then, how I am with Leroi is different to how I am with Tau, which makes the whole underlying dynamic different. Tau’s trying to be the ‘adult’ for Leroi, and so am I.

But I’m not the mother here – and I don’t want to start acting like that, even if I’m worried about them both. I have my own role, and it’s not a parental one, and it’s certainly not an institutional one, either. I guess I’m still figuring it out… what it means to be me, here, right now. What does it mean, what’s it ever meant? And how can I do this without submission? Cos honestly, I have to be free right now. I love Tau so much, and at the same time, I need to do my part of the thing. Whatever the fuck that is.

 

 

Point and counterpoint

Wednesday 10 July, 2013:

Tau and I ring Sarsha, at WINZ. I come home at break specially, because I know Tau won’t take this step on his own. And while Sarsha is sympathetic, it’s only to a degree. She trots out the standard line about how Tau ought to have let them know his change of address, to which I reply that Tau couldn’t possibly have let WINZ know anything about an address, as he has been effectively homeless for a week. I can see Tau smirking at me from the couch as I talk it up. I’m getting more and more ticked off (again), but manage to remain both polite and firm. Sarsha says she’ll take advice from one of the supervisors and call me back.

I’m teaching the rest of the day. When my phone rings, I slip out of class for a moment and take the call in the ground floor bathroom. It’s good news though. Sarsha says they will waive the 13 week stand-down and start the application process. Tau needs to come in at 8:30am Friday. Which means I’ll have to miss most of my first class – but somehow I’ll sort it.

It’s all pretty stressy, and at the same time I get this kind of blasé feeling, and my classes go fine. I get into that override mode sometimes, which actually gives me some headspace. It seems like school and all its constraints just fade into a kind of backing track, and I can manoeuvre right over the top of it – almost as if it provides the necessary counterpoint to my actions.

Point and counterpoint. Fugue and counterfugue. I don’t know. It isn’t easy, but sometimes there’s a kind of pattern in it, which calms me a bit.

 

Thursday 11 July:

Today contains ‘Professional Development’ and ‘Celebration Assembly’ – both of which must be endured.

But little things make me tired. Like, it’s cold today. And I have to suffer through the whole assembly, listening to the Deans prattling on about ‘character’.

And the 9 Social girls who think they’re big ladies (the boys are alright). And I have to growl, and it makes me even tireder, because I don’t really care that much about it, I just don’t need the attitude. I wish I could tell them to just fuck off, and go home.

Then when I do get home, the wheelie bin hasn’t been collected (who knows why?) and the whole thing’s still filled up with Cody’s cans. So I put some of them into a rubbish bag, to make more room in the bin (seeing as it’s going to be a whole week till next rubbish day). And I find all this other shit in there: bits of food and meat bones that have gone all furry. I just feel weary of sorting everything out, all the dang time. And I know, it was never going to be easy. But sometimes it feels so hard.

 

Tau’s been painting one of the boards, and tagged all the drops with CLUZO. There’s bits and pieces everywhere, but at the same time it’s tidy enough, you know. It’s just… what I said before, no-one really gives a fuck about what I think or don’t think. Honest truth.

And is anyone else going to help? I don’t expect so. I have to be strong, and I’ve kind of run out of that, right now.

I won’t let Tau down, but all this is real hard to work out, and I’m short of money, and Tau’s bennie’s been stopped, for this week, anyhow, and Leroi’s not eligible for one, and they’ve got nowhere else to go, and I have to stay strong even though I don’t feel strong. Got to be strong enough to look after my own interests, too. Not get hustled by hangers-on, or by anyone.

 

Sheree rings and leaves a message on my cell, and I call her back. Sit in the gym changing room and talk to her, not really caring if people can hear me. She says she wants Scott to be released, so he can ‘be with the boys’. My heart sinks a little, at that. I ask her if Scott has anywhere to stay yet, she says no – and then my heart just drops even more. I try to explain to her, gently, that it might take a while for Scott to be with the boys, while he looks for a place.

But inwardly, I think: maan, I’m not dealing with Scott’s shit on a daily basis. Oh, it’s not that Sheree expects me to, exactly – but at the same time, she isn’t considering how it might go. She just wants them to ‘be together’, and I guess I understand that, too. But this is the first time I’ve ever felt pissed off with her. Because yup, she’s stressed… but so am I, and she and Scott got them into this mess in the first place, and if she’s worried about the boys, then she should have thought of that before now.

I’m not unsympathetic to Sheree’s situation. But I sit there at the gym, talking to her and think: oh well. I actually don’t have much feeling for her tears. I just say, “Yup, it’s gonna be alright,” and, “Don’t worry, it’ll get sorted, and everyone’s gonna be fine.” Kind of trying to soothe her, but in a perfunctory way I guess.

 

After I hang up, insouciance just kicks in. I put my middle finger up to everything that’s been bothering me all day, chuck extra weights on the bar, and feel my mind settle and hold. Afterwards I even go to Countdown to pick up the most urgent supplies: toilet paper, milk… a few things. Then I get pizza at Domino’s.

I come home and distribute the pizzas to Tau, Leroi and Raphael. I wish things were simple, but they aren’t simple, I know that. But I can’t turn away, I just can’t. Sometimes I wish I could. But it’s just the way it is. I can’t stand apart. I can’t say ‘them’. It’s us, and I truly mean that. And maybe if I come running up against fear long enough, I’ll vanquish it once and for all.

 

Friday 12 July

Kind of stressing, because the timeframes are tight this morning. Gotta go to work, set up my laptop for Chloe (she’s covering 9 Social for me). Come back, take Tau to WINZ (they say 45 minutes, but realistically it could be a lot longer) and then get back to school.

And Tau and Leroi have been in and out all night, not meaning to wake me up – but I didn’t get a good sleep. In the morning, I can still hear music pumping out there.

 

We get to WINZ alright, but Tau’s really tired. Been up all night, just as I thought. His eyes can hardly stay open in the car, then he nearly falls asleep during his seminar, when the presenter is talking. I know he’s pretty stressed right now, and I’m so gentle with Tau – I gotta be. It kind of makes me cry, just writing this all down. Because I’m stressed too. I don’t feel very strong, but I know I have to be strong, and try to let them know it’s not too hard.

Mia and I have plans for tonight. Honestly though, I feel kind of ‘buzzy’ (and not in a good way). But I keep telling myself that I have to just stay strong, do things ‘normal’ – even though things are not really lending themselves to that automatically right now. And you know how there are people who are ‘stress eaters’? Well, I’m kind of a ‘stress non-eater’. So I need to do ordinary things, like cook, and eat, and go to the gym, and see friends, and write. Just keep all the routine stuff going.

So that when something comes up, or alters the dynamic (which is happening all the time, right now), I’ve got enough energy to respond, keep my mind calm, tilt the balance in my favour – in our favour, I guess.

And with that in mind, I have a good night. Mia and I end up not even going out, we just drink wine and order takeout. It’s enjoyably low key, and I feel a little bit restored afterwards. And I only spend ten dollars, which makes it even better.

 

I get home round 11:30. The boys aren’t here, but after a few minutes someone knocks on the door, this turns out to be Michael, he’s biked over to see them. I tell him I don’t know where they are, and he sits on the couch for a while, just talking to me. He shows no inclination to leave anytime soon, and I’m tired. Once I would probably have offered to take him home, but I figure he’ll be alright on his bike. So eventually I just say, “Michael, sorry but I need to go to sleep now, so I’m gonna send you on your way.”

He sighs, but not unhappily, and goes home.

Then I go to bed.

 

Saturday 13 July:

First day of the holidays. I’m sitting in bed, with a feeling of semi-relief that I made it through the entire term without throwing in the towel. Only ‘semi’ because there’s so much stuff going on.

It’s kind of wearying to keep having to go over the same old shit, and to have no backup. The cavalry’s not gonna arrive. Kepaoa’s ditched me and I’m doing this tough. But I will do it, all the same.

I have to get used to being in control. I have to find it actually comfortable.

 

This evening some boys (Raphael and a few others) come over, but Tau assures me that no-one’s going to be drinking. I check from time to time, and they’re fine.

All the same, I don’t really have a good night. I get this big ache of loneliness in my chest, because I’m wondering if there are people who would understand any of this stuff. Who would come over and hang out with me, just with the situation exactly as it is. Who would regard it as a normal thing, not some kind of ‘worthy’ cause – as if I’m some nice lady or mother hen. And who wouldn’t be intimidated, either.

Eventually I conclude it’s in my favour – that most people don’t care. It means I can do what I want to. Guess I’ll just keep going my own ways, until either I fall down or learn how to get through. The only things that hold me back are tiredness and fear. Tiredness I can handle, because you get over it. Fear’s the hardest. But maybe I’m starting to get control of it. And that’s what I want. I want to overcome fear.

 

A quite normal thing to do

Thursday 31 January, 2013:

Trying to be more realistic, these days. Yet I dreamed about flying last night. I could swear I flew. If you asked, I could describe exactly how to do it, and what it feels like. This morning when I go outside to put out the washing, I feel almost as if I could give one push with the soles of my feet, spring lightly out of the wet grass and simply rise into the air again. As if it would be a quite normal thing to do. Even though I know it isn’t an actual possibility, in this bounded piece of space and time.

Work pretty much sucks, with the teacher only days today and yesterday. But for now, it’s just a matter of patiently trying to remove all vestiges of fear from my heart. Every little left over piece has to be dislodged and shaken off.

 

The police are looking for Tau, to talk to him about ‘property confiscated during the search warrant’. A detective rings me at school today to ask where he’s residing. Sheree has told them that he’s sometimes at Fitzroy St, sometimes at my place – and I confirm that this is true. But at any rate, they haven’t caught up with him – I see him after school, and there’s been no sign of them yet.

And Tau’s very tired and hungover, after drinking at Clancy last night.

“But Tau, you never get hungover,” I say, somewhat mystified.

“I drank way more than I usually drink,” is his reply. “Leroi spent all his money, bought eight boxes.”

“Fuuuck…” is all I can say, in response.

 

He also tells me about something else that happened, with the cops – during that big interview he had a couple of weeks ago. They asked him if we were having a sexual relationship. As soon as Tau’s told me this, I can see him breathe easier. It must have been sitting on his mind, and he hasn’t wanted to upset me, or… I don’t know, upset the way things are with us. And then, all of a sudden, he simply comes out with it – just like that.

It gives me a jolt at first, and then I look at him, thinking how it isn’t even a surprise at all, really. It’s just something I hadn’t wanted to think about – the spin that the cops might put on our relationship.

I say, “Tau?” and he just nods, quietly, telling me: “They made me put it all in my statement.”

“And what did you say?” I ask, just real gently.

“I said – No, she helps me,” Tau replies. “With my problems and that. I told them I have family problems. And that you let me stay here, and you get me to do stuff, like go to course, or WINZ. Cos most people can’t even get me to do anything. And I told them – she even helps other kids as well.”

“And they asked me about you too – I think they asked all the boys,” Leroi says. He’s heard us talking, and come to stand next to us. “I had to put it in my statement as well. And I told them – Miss cares about Taurangi. She always looks out for him. And she tries to make him go course and stuff.”

I feel upset all over again. Not even for myself as much as for Tau. It upsets me that the cops asked him and not me – well, not exactly me. They stopped short of asking me. Yet they asked a scared, inarticulate, 18 year old boy who saw his friend shot and killed; who knelt on the ground and held his friend while he died.

 

 

Later on, Kepaoa comes over. He’s lost his phone, and texts me from his cousin’s to see if I can pick him up. Tells me the street, but not the number of the house. I get there, can’t see him anywhere, drive up and down the road a couple times – and send a last text to his cousin’s number saying that I’m gonna go past one more time and if he isn’t there I’m leaving.

Next minute he comes running out and jumps in the car, but I’m still cross. I rebuff his attempts to apologize and growl at him anyway (all the usual stuff about not being a taxi service…) and we drive off in silence, which lasts all the way down Carthill Rd, and well into Municipal. It isn’t until we got to Food World (I have to stop and get milk) that I soften towards him, seeing his quiet profile outlined against the evening dusk.

I sigh, noting the little things that make you feel tender towards a person: the slight bump in Kepaoa’s nose; the way he humbly inclines his head, so as to display contrition.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “I shouldn’t have got angry with you.”

“It’s ok, Miss,” Kepaoa responds. “I should have waited out there. I went out a couple of times, just looking out for you, and then I went back in to get my shoes, and…” he wriggles his feet, and I see they are bare.

“Didn’t you get them?”

“No – I was just in there talking, then my cousin showed me the text and I ran back out again.”

“Oh,” I say.

“I could see you were mad with me, so I thought I’d better just leave it,” Kepaoa tells me.

“Aw maan, I’m kind of sorry about that,” I say. “I didn’t mean to go overboard with it.”

“Awgud, Miss.”

 

Kepaoa insists on coming into the supermarket with me and holding the shopping basket all the way round. We start giggling about the items going in: milk… rice… jam.

“Should put this on facebook as my status update,” Kepaoa says, pretending to compose it: “Went… shopping… with my teacher. Got the rice… and some jam.”

We crack up laughing at that, and right then I hear someone call my name – it’s Sheree. She’s at the checkout with Scott and Leroi, so I go over and we give one another a hug and talk for a minute.

“Who’s that you’re with?” asks Sheree, looking at Kepaoa curiously. He’s just standing a little distance away, shoeless and dignified, patiently awaiting my return.

“That’s Kepaoa,” I told her.

“Ohhhh – I wondered if that was Kepaoa,” she replies, with some interest.

Scott is fried – maybe coming down off it. His eyes swim and bulge, but not at the mention of Kepaoa’s name. However I think it best not to make a proper introduction, right now. The first and only time that Scott has met Kepaoa was over the ‘shoe’ incident.

 

Kepaoa agrees with me, when I got back to the aisle. “Yeah, I thought that was the dad,” he says. “Maan, if he’d said anything, I would have hooked him.”

“Nah, algood – he probably wouldn’t have even recognized you, anyway,” I say. “But it’s probably best to just keep your distance.”

“That’s what I was thinking too,” he says. “Don’t want any trouble with you here.”

 

 

Signs of power arise

Wednesday 23 January, 2013:

Human nature is so constituted, that it cannot honor a helpless man, although it can pity him; and even this it cannot do long, if the signs of power do not arise. (Frederick Douglass)

 

Every morning when I wake up, I still get that sinking feeling in my solar plexus… but it’s not as bad as it used to be. Ha, I write that like it’s a positive, and I guess it is. It’s still there… it’s there right now, as I write this very line. But it’s less than it was. And that’s something.

Maybe I’m starting to learn the game. And about time. But it feels like a slow process, and I just wish I could be quicker on the uptake.

I get impatient with myself, because I want to just be done with fear. But I guess it’s only the experience of fear that can get you over it, hmm. If you’ve never been afraid, you can’t say: I have no fear.

 

Sandra Martens calls me; I’m at school. She wants to know if I’ve spoken to Tau. I tell her that yes I have, and he said he was holding the stuff for someone else – I don’t know who – he wouldn’t tell me. I say he was sorry, and upset, and that I was upset too, and had told him I felt unsafe about being put at risk this way (which is certainly true in one sense). And that Tau assured me he would never do anything like this again.

And that’s where our conversation ends. Except that she does ask me if I still have the search warrant. I say I probably have it somewhere – and that I’ll look for it.

To be honest, I don’t know exactly where it is. I put it out of sight (and mind, obviously) months ago. But obviously I’m not going to look for it either.

I don’t know if the police have even finished talking to me, either. I hope so – but I don’t know.

 

When I get home, Tau arrives with a group of boys. Although I’m unsurprised that they feel the need to be drinking quantities of alcohol at present, I intimate to them all that if they’re planning on staying here, they needed to have a ‘quiet night’. This is met with general nods of heads, etc. But Tau looks kind of grumpy at being thwarted, even though I don’t put it in so many words. After a bit, he suggests to the boys that they should go round to Fitzroy, and they were (as ever) at his disposal. He’s ok with me, really. It’s just the same ol’ same ol’…  we’re tugging the power a little bit this way and a little bit that.

 

All this has made me think about a few things, that’s for sure.

First thing is that I definitely don’t want to stay in secondary teaching much longer ( I already knew that, but it’s just confirmed it, on so many levels).

Second thing is that I’ve got to be way more cautious, and not just assume that I’m somehow ‘protected’ by my own personal code of ethics, because not everyone is going to subscribe to it. I already knew that too. But once again, it just brought it home to me.

Third thing is that I’ve got to make a distinction between Tau having freedom and autonomy here (which he does) and having free rein (which he does not, particularly in regard to his friends and their activities) And yup, I already knew that one as well.

Fourth thing is that I need to value my own freedom and autonomy, and I need to stand up for myself, and (perhaps more importantly) as myself. With school; with the law; with what I say and what I write – and even with Tau. Because as much as I want to protect him from all harm – I need to look out for myself too. Ha, and that’s kind of a new one, for me.

Fifth thing is that I need to have some grown-up allies in this milieu. I don’t mean my friends, like Mia, La-Verne, and Kuli, who aren’t really involved – or not in any practical way. I need to talk to other people who actually know what’s what. And I have literally no idea where they might be found.

 

Friday 25 January:

Actually, I’m feeling alright. I got this kind of ‘every day is a good day’ feeling, sprung from who knows where.

Tau is all ready for his appointment this morning. He texts me at 8, and I go pick him up, and we head off to Work & Income.

Take him home round 11, and Sheree makes me a coffee. She looks out some paperwork that the caseworker needs, and finds a lot of Tau’s old report cards; primary school stuff – his ‘portfolios’, with samples of work, and photos. We leaf through them and cluck at one another.

Tau chuckles; he’s actually quite pleased at the find.

“Loook…” we croon, reading stories and looking at fishing photos.

“I was a good boy then,” comments Tau. “Before I discovered guns, money, and drugs.”

“You still are a good boy,” I tell him. I see him register my tone, and he doesn’t scoff; instead he just nods, softly.

.

Hell, I can’t believe I’m even writing this stuff down, some days. Haven’t kept any hard copy at all since the end of August. But I just do it; I have to do it. It’s the thing that keeps me steady. And it’s more than that – it’s my report from the battlefield. For what that’s worth. And who knows… how I’ll ever find a way to communicate any of it to anyone. But if there’s a way, I’ll find it. It isn’t just for me – I don’t know who it’s for, exactly. But I guard it and I kind of treasure it, all the same. So that one day maybe I can say something, about this place and this time, and these very brave people.

 

 

The things that need to be said

Sunday 20 January, 2013:

I find it harder and harder to just ignore the things that need to be said. There’s something on my mind, which has been sitting there for a few days…

 

On Thursday night, when Tau’s still drinking at Clancy with the boys – this is after the funeral – I notice the light is on in the sleepout, so I figure I’ll turn it off as I go by. But my key won’t fit into the padlock on the shed door, and when I feel around in the dark, I can tell it’s a different lock on there

The next day I mention it. I say to Tau, “So – you got a spare key for that lock?”

“Um… yeah, somewhere,” he replies.

“Oh, k…” I begin, feeling a little bit uncomfortable at the look in Tau’s eye, which says:  ‘And what?’ I continue, “It’d be a good idea if we put the spare key somewhere, so you don’t get locked out.”

“Nah all good, I’ll find it later,” Tau says. I can see he is not particularly wanting to discuss this. But I just say “Ok, but don’t forget though, Tau. Cos you’ve locked yourself out before, a few times – and we’ve had that spare key.”

“I can get in if I need to, I got ways,” says Tau, with a shrug.

“Yeah? What ways are those?” I ask.

“Um… once I was locked out and I pushed on the front door until I made a little gap, and then I got little Michael to squeeze through it.”

“Oh,” is all I say. “Well, even if you could do that, you’d still have to get the lock cut off – if you didn’t find the key again.”

“Yup,” Tau says, but very shortly.

Perhaps unwisely, I persist with one more point, saying, “And it’s good to have a spare key, in an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?” says Tau, scoffing slightly.

“Like that time your shed got broken into,” I tell him. “Or just… any kind of emergency. You need to be able to get in.”

Tau doesn’t reply, he just gets off the sofa and goes quietly back out to the shed. He looks impassive, rather than upset. The discussion is definitely over though, for the time being.

 

But I keep thinking about it, off and on. Am I pushing Tau? Am I wrong, to ask him about the spare key? And I don’t think so. I ask myself: If it was someone else in the shed, would I want a spare key? If it was Kepaoa, for example. And yes I would, of course I would. Everything I’ve said is true. You do need spare keys – people do lock themselves out. Tau’s done it before, and so have I. It just makes sense.

So it troubles me, and every time I think of it, I know I’m going to have to mention it again.

 

Then yesterday morning, it’s on my mind from pretty much the second I wake up. Tau comes in and out all morning, we just chat and stuff. He seems ok, it’s me who’s kind of quiet. At one point I just lay on my bed and feel little tears start up in my eyes. I think – maan, I have to go talk to him, I need to get this out in the open.

Because I’m starting to realize that being afraid of the possibilities is no way to live.

I get up and right then Tau comes indoors, saying, “Miss – I’m just going down to the shop to get a lighter,”

“Yup,” I say, kind of absently, but at the same time, I just walk outside with him, saying, “Tau? Can I talk to you for a sec? There’s just…”

“What is it, Miss?” he asks, looking immediately wary. I think he just reads the tone in my voice, and goes on alert.

“Um…” I begin. “It’s about the shed. I don’t feel comfortable with not having a spare key.”

 

Tau kind of shies away, like a horse refusing a jump – I can see he’s angry (the emotion that takes instant hold when he’s feeling thwarted or challenged). He puts his head down, so that he isn’t looking at me. But he stands still, and kind of holds, for a moment.

So I say, “We need to have a spare key and put it somewhere safe. You know I won’t go into your sleepout unless I need to, Tau. I’d never go through your stuff. I never have, and I never will. You can trust me. And I trust you, Tau – that’s why you’ve got the key to the house, too.

Tau doesn’t reply. He just marches off down the driveway, and straight out the gate – silently at first – but when he gets out onto the street, I hear him shout, “Fuuuck!” And then he’s gone.

I feel myself kind of tremble, but it isn’t really fear anymore. I just think: ok, I’m glad it’s done. I’ve tried to say the right thing, and say it respectfully. Then I just sit on the deck, in the sun, and I felt a kind of peace steal into my heart. Because I know, at that moment, that I’m no longer willing to be afraid.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know when, or even if Tau will come back. I’m not sure that he’ll be able to give up the slightest particle of his autonomy. And I think, well, it’s ok, if that happens. I don’t want it to happen, and I love Tau, and I want him to have a place to go, and to be safe. But I can’t be afraid anymore.

 

Tau is probably halfway to Fitzroy St by now, I figure. So I’m very surprised, when about ten minutes later I see him come back and go straight into the shed. I hear the door being firmly closed and bolted, and the next minute music starts up real loud. And I’m sure there’s a biiig blaze going on in that bucky.

I don’t even attempt to go out there. I just do my thing, and a little bit later, Raphael arrives. He waves at me. He’s carrying a paper parcel and says, “I’ve just come to bring Tau a feed,” and I say, “All good.” Tau must have texted him, I think. And the door opens and closes… and then opens again. It must be pretty hot in there, and I reckon now that Tau has a ‘support person’ he wants to leave the door open again.

 

Hours pass. It’s about 3 or 4, I think. I see Tau coming past the window, and he comes up the steps and then inside. He walks past me and into the kitchen, then turns round and comes straight back out again, hovering beside me and clearing his throat before saying, “I’m sorry about before, Miss, and… here,” and he puts a small key down on the table next to me. He looks relieved that he’s said it, and then alarmed at himself for talking about it at all.

I just say “Thanks for that, Tau.”

“It’s ok, Miss,” he tells me.

I don’t press him to say anything more. He goes back out to the shed, but a little while later he comes in for a drink, and hovers beside me again.

“Hey Tau,” I say.

“Hey Miss.”

I put my hand gently on his large arm. Tau waits, and he has a calm look in his eyes, so I say, “I just want you to know that you can trust me.”

He nods.

“And you know I trust you too, Tau.”

“Yes,” Tau replies, just real simple and quiet.

“I really care about you,” I tell him. “And I’m sorry the situation upset you. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s alright, Miss,” he said. “I’m sorry too.”

 

After that, there’s a kind of healing atmosphere in the air. I don’t know how else to describe it. We just hang out together all night, until almost midnight. Sit around and talk about all sorts of shit – just any old thing. Nothing which has to be ‘important’, or put into words. And I can see in Tau’s eyes that he feels safe.

And me too. Things aren’t perfect, and that’s for sure. There are so many things I want to do better; so many things I just want to do. But even while I say that, I also know something’s shifted inside me, and I’m not scared in the same way as I was before. I feel a certain quietude, and I just think: oh well. Here we go, let’s see what we can do.

 

All the fear that has ever been in your heart

Thursday 17 January, 2013:

Tau texts me this morning, tells me the boys are coming to pick him up, they’re going to go round to Robbie’s already. It’s only about 8 o’clock.

I ask him if he’s had a good sleep, he replies that he got drunk first… so he had a good sleep.

 

Just before midnight, I head to the airport to pick up Kepaoa. Not that I’m even holding my breath on this. I just think to myself – well, if he’s there, he’s there. And then it turns out he’s the very first person to clear Customs and make it through the arrivals gate. He embraces me and hoots with laughter at my faux “surprised” look, saying he knew if he didn’t make it this time, he’d be stuck in Australia.

It soothes my heart, you know, to talk to Kepaoa. To acknowledge that it’s been hard lately. I think it’s the same for him, too. He starts to calm down: about Teri and the baby; about things in general.

“Does it feel weird to be back?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “It feels like I’ve never been away.”

 

When we get home, Tau’s here, real horced. He stumbles about as he talks to us – I think Kepaoa is even a little bit shocked to see him this way, though of course he knows about Robbie and what’s happened. The two of them greet one another in a very friendly manner, clasping hands and slapping shoulders. Kepaoa is bringing in his bags, so I leave him to do that, and go talk to Tau in the sleepout.

He’s just walked over from Carthill, via Fitzroy St, where he “played up”, he tells me. Stepped out everyone, stood them over and took their buds – even Leroi. Then he took off, and made his way round here.

“I was angry,” is all he can say, to explain it. “I don’t know why I got like that.”

“I know, Tau,” I tell him. “Everyone understands, don’t worry. Sometimes when people feel real, real sad – they get angry like that.”

He nods, just breathing quietly. He seems calm now. He’s made a feed at my place (just before we got home) and is about to light up the bucky. He tells me, “I’m sorry I stepped out Leroi.”

“He’ll be alright,” I reassure him.

 

The three of us sit out in the shed for a while, just talking. Tau bends over the bucky from time to time. When he offers it to Kepaoa though, he just shakes his head, saying, “Algood ge.”

“Miss?” says Tau, proffering it to me. I just laugh.

“Faar, I’m blazed,” says Tau, sitting back wearily in his chair. He does look extremely stoned.

 

Friday 18 January:

This morning Tau says, “Kepaoa’s algood Miss, he was humble as.” I think he’d been expecting to see some impassive, staunch persona – and Kepaoa can certainly be that way. But last night there was a kind of compassion about him that touched my heart very much. Maybe he saw that Tau was hurting, deep inside. And it wasn’t so long ago that Kepaoa was hurting like that too.

First day after the funeral – it’s a hard time. And Tau finds it so hard to deal with the way he’s feeling; I don’t even know if he can articulate it to himself. He’s so damn ‘elemental’ sometimes, is Tau. Every emotion’s like a flash flood, or a tornado, or a spike of radiant sunshine. Especially when it’s heightened by alcohol.

Speaking of which, Leroi’s over – the two of them have obviously made up – and Tau’s purchased an 18 pack of Cody’s. They’re just drowning everything out with alcohol. They won’t even think about the stuff that hurts them; they can’t. And I’m going out with Mandy; we planned it the other day. Should I leave the boys? I don’t know. Objectively I look at it, and I think – honestly, am I crazy?

I just have this feeling in my heart that I’ve got to trust Tau, from somewhere down in the depths. I have to trust him to look after things up here. I know that sounds crazy, possibly. But I don’t think anyone’s ever trusted Tau before, in his whole life – and I think I have to.

So I just put my arms around Tau and Leroi’s blued up shoulders (they’re still wearing their clothes from yesterday) and say, “Guys, I’m trusting you to look after things. I want you to have a quiet night, and take it easy, k?”

Tau nods, and his body relaxes under my arm. “Yup, Miss,” he says. “We will.”

“Yup, Miss,” Leroi says, and I get the weirdest feeling of safety, God knows why. I can’t see what the hell I’m doing, some days. I just know I have to give Tau what I need from him, which is trust. I just have to. It’s the only thing that just… might… work.

And God, don’t forget for even one second.

 

Saturday 19 January:

Actually last night is pretty nice – unpretentious, busy. We get Mojitos, and bar snacks: fish goujons, beer battered fries. Just sit there and talk.

When I get home, things are all good. Tau comes in and out, he looks quite sober(ish) and in full control of the house and its environs. There’s only Leroi there with him, and they’ve been quiet, no dramas.

But I wake up early this morning and my stomach lurches with that same feeling. I want to cry, because I don’t know how to make it go away. And the more I think about it, the worse it feels. I’m so tired of being afraid, especially a week out from school. I’m tired of waking up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, that seems like habit. I’m tired of seeing my eyes like two beseeching, imploring bunny eyes; I feel like a quivering wretch, timid and ready to dart and hide.

I don’t even know why it’s like this. Not really, or not… essentially. Because it isn’t my essence, but it’s like I said – a habit that’s formed. And breaking this habit seems like the hardest thing in the whole, entire world to me.

Sometimes I feel like freedom’s just one, tiny click away. And other times I think shame will never let me go.

Ohh, I can tell you how I need to throw it off, just shrug it right off and stand up, without the tether of shame. And if I could, then what would be possible?

 

“I pray that God will bless you in everything that you do. I pray that you will grow intellectually, so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into, in that world picture. And I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out…” – Malcolm X