Safe right now

Monday 8 December

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

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

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

 

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

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

Photo ID

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

IRD Number

Bank Account Number

Current CV with minimum of 2 work-related references

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

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

We look forward to meeting you.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Thursday 11 December

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 12 December

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

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

 

Monday 15 December:

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

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

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

 

Friday 19 December

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday 20 December:

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

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

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

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

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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.

The equation

Monday 20 October:

I get ready for work – and don’t get a text. I tell myself it’s ok, there’s no reason to panic. Even if there’s hardly any day jobs around at the moment, money’s taken care of up to the end of the month. But I can still feel that I’m holding my breath a little bit. Because this is the story for the rest of the term; I know it.

I toy with the idea (I really do) of telling the boys I got a call from the agency, and then just ‘going somewhere’ for the day. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about the situation. It’s more that if I worry and they see that, then they’re going to worry. And I don’t want them to worry.

Thankfully I come to my senses, telling myself firmly that that’s the dumbest idea ever. Running away won’t help, fleeing and scrabbling around for a spot to lay low. It makes me laugh, really, to think how very like Tau I am in this regard.

But I miss having a job. It’s not that I miss school, exactly – I miss the routine things. Knowing what time to make coffee, eat lunch. Casual conversations. Some kind of easy professional validation – too easy, really. Facile, often times. But I miss it nonetheless.

Instead, I find myself trying to work on four job applications at once; wondering what time to take a break. I have a routine of sorts, but all the same, I’m on dangerous territory. My fears can so easily take over. And it’s hard to keep my energy steady; it feels like I’m trying to land a big jet aircraft, keeping it level, getting that baby safely on the ground.

 

Thursday 30 October:

The idea of lying in bed on a weekday morning is only tempting up to a point. I get up and take a shower, then find that the boys have finished the yoghurt last night, eaten the kiwifruit I was going to have for breakfast, and used up all the milk as well. I’d say something if they were doing stupid stuff – but eating isn’t stupid. And Tau’s got enough issues around food without me adding to them.

It actually makes me happy, in a way. Happy and scared. Money’s tight – but I’m glad they’re here. So glad that sometimes I can’t even explain it. I have to learn how to work through everything, accept the contradictions and not be afraid

 

I spend eighty dollars replenishing the stock of groceries. Previously, I would have considered this a feat of great economy – now it’s just everyday life. And I’ve got no real action plan as yet. But the need for one is dawning on me.

So I write down all the key dates for the next few months and do a first attempt at adding things up. Straight away, I can see that at certain points along this timeline I’ll need to have my own payroll in place to cover a variety of income permutations – because nothing’s going to be set in stone. And there’s a whole four weeks in January where I need to generate a livable income without school.  It’s like playing the wild card. And yet, somehow I have to do it.

Objectively (if there’s any such thing), finance poses the biggest obstacle right now. But somehow I don’t see it that way. Instead, I feel like I got out of MC just in time.

Besides, I’m convinced it’s not another ‘career path’ I need. I didn’t quit teaching to work on someone else’s institutional goals, and I’m tired of pretending (not always in so many words) otherwise. I just have this feeling that if I can harness the slightly wobbly energies that are around me right now, I could catch a ride to something different.

 

Wednesday 5 November:

I fall asleep to the sound of fireworks outside, like intermittent popcorn at first. After a while it becomes a steady artillery barrage which is actually quite calming to the senses; any rises and falls in tone and volume being constant enough to soothe, rather than irritate my mind.

I drift off to sleep, trying to think of things I’m grateful for, and, “I’m not grateful for anything…” I murmur, at first. Then, “Ok, I’m grateful the boys have a place to go,” I remind myself, quietly and very sincerely.

 

Monday 10 November

The big problem has suddenly hit me out of ‘nowhere’ (I know, right?) The money’s going to run out in, ooooh about three weeks. When that fact dawns on me, I feel my heart kind of flip. For two reasons.

The first is straight panic stations. I can almost hear my own thoughts rushing and gabbling at me: ‘Maan-you’re-such-an-idiot-why-did-you-leave-MC-how-could-anyone-be-so-out-of-touch-with-reality-did-you-really-think-you-could-just-snap-your-fingers-to-get-a-job-and-why-haven’t-you-been-trying-harder-you-are-really-a-dumb-bitch…’ and so on.

The second is a moment of sparkling curiosity which kicks in right when I need it: ‘Oh, I made it this far! I’m here, at the crossroads!’

And both of these feelings flick-flack me up and down like a fish caught and swiveling.

 

Tuesday 11 November:

I stroll past all the cafes at the mall, thinking how good it would be if I could get a coffee just for no reason. There’s two dollars in my account – so when I get home I make one instead.

Trying to stay in the present: There’s food in the fridge, and gas in the car. Right in this moment, I’m not dependent on anyone.

I do need a job though. I need to tie these two; no, three things together: happiness and work and financial security. It’s weird how I’ve always had them two at a time, never all together. The notion of work at all – well, it needs to mean something quite different from the way I’ve always interpreted it. Which until now, has been like this:

Happiness + work ≠ financial security

Work + financial security ≠ happiness

But happiness + financial security has, up to now, seemed an impossible conjunction. It’s just figuring out how to get all three things stacked up. What’s the equation?

 

Processing the story

Friday 15 August, 2014:

On the positive side, I left MC with some grace, which was probably more than I’d expected of myself. But that was three weeks ago, and – to put it in a nutshell – I can see substitute teaching is definitely not ‘it’.  Not only that, but the agency has been pretty hit and miss with offers of work so far, and just how I’m planning to make rent and bills is, at present, something of a mystery to me.

As well as that, not being able to write for three weeks (no longer having the school laptop) has been a special torture all of its own. At times I felt like I didn’t know who I was, having no way of processing the story, so to speak.

Today though, I bought my new laptop, installed Chrome, and Dropbox, and opened up a new document – and so here I am once more.

 

Saturday 16 August:

The boys have been drunk as lords all day – up at Clancy, with Kost and Zion. Admittedly, Tau’s been trying to avoid the whole ‘drinking with the boys’ buzz lately. But when Kost turns up (unannounced) to collect them, they feel duty bound to go.

Then they feel duty bound to stay – it’s all a bit of a predicament – and by the time I arrive to collect them, Leroi’s vomiting against the wall.

“Don’t throw up in my car, Leroi,” I tell him as he gets in. “If you feel sick let me know and I’ll stop, ok?”

“Ok Miss,” says Leroi. He looks alright now, though.

 

All the way home, Tau talks to me with a tender note in his voice that indicates both happiness and a little ambivalence about the day’s events. Being Tau and intoxicated, all sorts of things tumble out: a few worries that have been on his mind, and a few triumphs as well. He tells me all about their new course; he says he likes the work, and he gets it, and he passed the first assessment last week. The light in his eyes makes me want to cry a little bit. Many times I’ve been scared for Tau, so to see and hear him feeling happy and successful packs an emotional punch. But at the same time, I’m aware that the situation – especially in light of today’s drinking – just isn’t stable yet.

The boys settle in to watch DVD’s and I go and crash on Kepaoa’s couch (well, it used to be), where I pay some intermittent attention to the 20th anniversary screening of Once Were Warriors, before falling asleep with a kind of equilibrium in my heart.

 

Monday 18 August:

Objectively (or at least according to all sensible opinion) I should be trying to get as much relief work as possible. And yet I didn’t answer my phone when it rang just now. It looked like one of the agency numbers (landline, 3-something), and I let it ring. For what? For the chance to work for free. That is to say, I’m going to Winz with the boys, to help them sort out their course fees.

Actually, I know I’m going to do more work today than if I was at school, not less. Last Thursday at Carthill High I was bored for most of the day; really it was just babysitting. And yet I’ll get the $230 or whatever it is… so that’s ‘real’ work, right?

Everything feels so precarious that it freaks me out. I tell myself things are ok for the next two weeks, and if I get just three days a week relief work I can pretty much break even.

I haven’t said anything of this to Tau and Leroi, I don’t want them to worry about money on top of all their other worries. At least, that’s part of it – but just as much, I want to believe that I can do this, that I got the timing right – that I made my ship strong enough. Still, my mind flutters and panics. Sometimes I feel that panic migrating all the way down to sit dankly in my chest for a while, and then I doubt myself; I doubt myself so much.

 

Tuesday 19 August:

I get up at 6 o’clock, get ready for work and eat breakfast. Wait for the phone call or text that never eventuates. Time ticks by, and I take the lunch out of my bag and put it back on the counter.

Tau and Leroi wave goodbye as they leave for their course. Good for them – and here I sit. Half of me wishes I was back at MC, Tuesday wasn’t a bad day there: 12 History, 10 Social.

But I also remember how much I resisted it, with every cell in my body. Having to stand there and talk smack about smack. Not wanting that authority, resenting it so bad. And wondering where a different authority might come from. Remembering when I felt strong and brave with my campaninos – with Slade, last man out. A time a place.

 

I just sit there for a while, thinking about other times and places, and wondering what any of it really means. Memories get all jumbled up in my mind: us as kids, and my mum and dad. They tried so hard, I think to myself. They really tried. And does any of it last? I don’t know the answer to that one. Then I think of myself, and how I’ve tried to make something out of a time and place. But time can’t be clutched at; can’t be made to stay in one place forever. It just can’t do that. That isn’t the way it works. Even though people try and try.

I know there’s a trick to all of this. I call it a ‘trick’ but it’s more like a pattern to rearrange; an orbit to jump. Because times and places shift, and you have to jump, so as not to get left behind when it happens. That’s what I know, and maybe it’s going to be alright after all. All of it, I mean. Maybe somewhere, my mum’s alright now. Maybe it didn’t ‘end’ badly; maybe it didn’t end at all. And maybe Scott’s going to be alright too, huh. One day.

But right now, I have this time and place, and I want to call the moon down to lie in my arms.

 

Wednesday 20 August:

My pay came in last night. It’s only a few hundred dollars, instead of the familiar fortnightly salary. Those two days at Carthill haven’t even been processed yet. And what am I going to do?

In a way, I could care less what school it is right now; I just want to be earning. But this morning I hit rush hour traffic all the way to the city, do my stint at some private language college, then come straight back out to Municipal (again with cars queued up along the motorway). It’s getting dark, and it’s cold, and I’m planning to chuck dinner on straight away. But I hear footsteps outside, and then Sheree’s voice – and my heart sinks.

I drift around a while, wondering what to do. I’m hungry, and the boys will be too, but I don’t want to make dinner now, not when Sheree’s here. I think of Kepaoa – and just the way I always felt so dang normal when he was around. I wish he was here right now, so that those stray sounds contained some comforting inner pattern of homeliness and affection, instead of just being voices from someone else’s camp.

 

At 9 o’clock I go knock on the sleepout door, and find Sheree still lying there on the couch like the whole place is under the rule of Tau. I can’t help but be irked by the fact that she doesn’t even acknowledge me unless I go out there myself. But I don’t say anything; I tell myself this is because I don’t want to make the boys feel bad.

After a few moments of polite conversation, Tau and Leroi (wisely) ask if I could give Sheree a lift back to their uncle’s. Indeed I could, and do. But I also sense that I’ve cringed away from clearing my boundaries.

It’s 10 when I get back – and so I never make dinner, just fix a sandwich for myself and pack up another ‘for work tomorrow’ – I think, crossing my fingers.

Chapter and verse

Monday 21 April, 2014:

Still wondering what I’m going to say next time it happens.

Part of me wants to just gloss over things, wipe them away with ‘compassion’. Well, I do have compassion, I say to myself. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have any boundaries.

It’s not so much that I want Sheree and me to be friends, or anything like that. It’s just that… if we aren’t, and if she’s going to come sit in my shed for hours with the boys and not say a word to me, and expect me to be alright with it – well, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m sure my discomfort is partly for reasons which are just as much to do with my old patterns as hers. But that doesn’t mean I have to be “nice” or let everything slide, so that I don’t have boundaries, and she doesn’t have to try to find another way to be with her family (like getting a house, and paying the dang rent this time).

I know it’s hard for them. But I’m doing my best with Tau and Leroi, at some cost to myself, too – which I accept. However, I don’t accept every cost it’s assumed I’ll bear. I can’t do that, unless I also accept being resentful and unhappy. So I’ll have to clarify my boundaries: first to myself, and then to everyone else as well.

I need to keep my equilibrium though, and rely on my own set of ethics. There’s neither happiness nor morality in being unkind. I need to get some things clear in my mind before I speak to anyone about this. And that’s where I’m at with it, for the moment.

But I can still see that it’s going to lead to one of those ‘uncomfortable conversations’, some time down the track. The very idea of Tau thinking, after such a conversation, that he has nowhere to go is hard for me to sit with. But if I’m honest, it wouldn’t actually be the correct conclusion that Tau has ‘nowhere to go’ – it would be maybe that he chooses not to stay, after I make some boundaries clear.

 

Kuli and I go for a walk in the light rain.  It’s around 4.30 when I get home, bearing some Easter eggs (a present from Kuli).

Tau and Leroi (who are both totally zonked on K2) gratefully accept the big chocolate bunny which I give them. And I go make dinner: chicken nibbles and kebabs, stir-fry vegies with lemon and chilli, and mashed potatoes – and bring some out to them.

It makes me feel that same kind of aching tenderness to see them eat without any hesitation. Tau’s fork is pitching into the vegies before I’ve even taken a step out again. I can see they’re hungry, and tired, and just relieved to get a proper feed.

They come in to do the dishes and finish up the last pieces of chicken at the same time. Tau’s so tired he’s almost dropping the dishes, but he is determined to do them anyway.

 

Wednesday 23 April:

This morning Leroi tells me his money didn’t come in – so we contact Winz. The issue turns out to be his medical certificate, which hasn’t been ticked off by Salesi, even though we took the paperwork in ages ago. We can’t help laughing, thinking of the new caseworker and his amo ways.

Thank goodness it’s sorted, though. Because if Leroi doesn’t get paid, then Tau has to cover him… and I have to cover Tau… and I actually can’t loan any more money this week; I need it for groceries and gas and stuff.

Emergencies are: medical, food, transportation. That’s it, pretty much. K2 is not an emergency, and they’re going to have to budget their money. Tau will have to learn to cope, and I will have to learn to be strong.

Bottom line is: I love them, and I’ll help them any way I can – but I’m not touching my savings for drugs money.

 

All afternoon, Sheree’s here, and at first I think I can’t handle it. Yet something’s telling me I have to, this time round. Handle it different, that is.

Writing helps me make some sense of the way I feel, which is to wonder why I’m putting up with assumptions, and encroachments, and people taking advantage, even if they don’t really mean to. And it seems taken for granted that I won’t mind, that I’m a person who’s willing to be blank and absorbent. Not like them, with all their big feelings.

People to love and to be with, people to create things with. Sometimes I think I’m the biggest idiot on the planet, to think anyone might actually see me as anything more than a prop, to be taken out of and put back into their real and passionate lives.

And the whole thing gives me flashbacks to other times when I felt this way… it isn’t just Sheree herself, you know. She’s pushing buttons that she doesn’t even know she’s pushing.

Oh well, I guess you can’t have it all. Sure can’t have every damn thing, right when you want it. So I take the washing off the line, and tidy up around the house a bit, and just sit down.

 

When the sun starts to go down, I know I have to talk to Tau. I wait until he comes in, then I tell him Sheree has to go home later on. “I’m sorry Tau,” I say. “I don’t want to bum you out. But I only feel comfortable with you and Leroi staying, no-one else.” I feel horrifically apologetic, as if I have no right to my feelings on the subject.

But Tau just says, “For sure Miss, yeah hard,” and he seems ok with it.

Afterwards, the jumpy feeling is gone, for a while. That sparky, nervy feeling that I’ve had most of the day – it all flattens out. Sheree goes home, and Tau and Leroi come in and watch TV for a while, and Tau makes a feed; wonders will never cease, huh.

It’s getting cold at night; autumn’s kicked in. Bigger power bills, especially with that game freak Leroi – the PS3’s on night and day out there. But I’m glad to see them eat. I bought Nutella yesterday, and it’s half gone already. If I get juice, it’s like a three litre down the hatch, overnight. I don’t care though, I don’t want to see them stressing about food.

When the boys come in tonight, I feel normal again. I’m not wary of them, the way I am of Sheree. I feel more understood, I guess. Like they see me stressing, and still think kindly of me.

Tomorrow can’t be suckier than today’s tale of woe; chapter and verse as it went.

Crying for the moon

Thursday 26 April, 2013:

Kepaoa and I make plans to go the mall. I pick him up, and the minute he gets in the car, I say oh-oh, to myself. He’s outfitted to the maximum. Everything about him says he’s looking for trouble.

Kepaoa grins at my expression. “What?” he says, flashing his teeth.

“Oh… it’s like that is it,” I say, raising my eyebrows.

“Like what?”

“Got something planned?”

“No… um, what you mean, Ms?”

“Like stepping to gangstas, for example.”

“Nah, nah, nothing like that,” Kepaoa assures me.

“Oh whatever,” I grumble. “Just be good, if that’s possible… looking like that.”

In reply, he just grins again, settling back with a happy and insouciant little roll of his eye. I can’t help but be amused.

 

“Miss,” Kepaoa says, with a yawn. “I still can’t get to sleep. I’m tired as.”

“Ay, can’t you?” I say. Because it’s been like that for days now.

“Nah, I tried… I just can’t sleep. I had a little bit of sleep this morning, around 6:30.”

“Aww, man,” I say. “And when was the last time you had something to eat?”

“Yesterday,” he admits.

“Kepaoa – you gotta eat!” I scold him. “No wonder you can’t frickin sleep.”

“I know… I know,” he agrees. “Fuck, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, sometimes.”

“Idiot,” I say, but extremely tenderly.

 

At the mall, Kepaoa might as well have a sign round his neck saying ‘Scraps up.’ He’s like a magnet for every gangsta in the place. They eye him up; he just pulls gang signs and laughs. “Little bitches,” he comments (to me, but in audible tones), before saying, more directly, “What you lookin at?” Twice he almost has a fight: once outside Paper Plus (when I go in to get a Vodafone top up), and then again at the entrance to Stirling Sports. Eventually I manage to get him out to the car, and he allows himself to be kind of bundled in, still hyped and bouncy.

“Gaawsh!” I say, sarcastically. “That was a fun shopping trip.”

“It was all good,” says Kepaoa.

“For you, maybe – not for me,” I tell him.

“Sorry Miss,” he says, with a little shrug. I just hate the way peoples always look at me, you know?”

“Yeah well, they will, when you’re prancing round like that,”

“Yeeeeeh, I know, but…”

We sigh. Go home and make noodles.

 

Saturday 28 April:

Sometimes I’m very aware how it must look to “everybody else”, that I open up my house like this; let Tau and Kepaoa stay with me like they’re family. But I can’t be any other way, even when it’s difficult, which of course it usually is. The logistics for a start: food, transport – just the cost of ordinary, everyday things. Not to mention the additional difficulties: drugs, alcohol, and emotions that veer up and down (mine included). And I have work to contend with, at the same time. Got to make the rent.

Last night, La-Verne invites me for dinner and I stay over. She lives in another world. A world full of ‘Stuff White People Like’. And at her place, I feel it. I sense a big difference between how we interact with one another there, compared to when we’re in neutral territory (such as school, or sitting at a cafe). Our conversation falls flat. We should be pouring another glass of wine, talking about all the things we talk about when we’re not at La-Verne’s place. But instead, we just watch a DVD, and then La-Verne says we should get some sleep (it’s 10pm). Everything is very like the world I used to know, and ought to have belonged to, I guess. But even when I was a little girl, I knew I never really did. And ain’t that the truth.

Early this morning I lay awake for a while, I put some music on but I can’t sleep. I kept thinking about what to do, and how to do it. You know… a place a time. That’s how it is.

Then I get a kind of ‘aha’ thought, round 5, 6am. Thinking how I need to kind of… address the bigger world, I guess you could say. Rather than teachers. I need to think about how to communicate something to others.

I don’t know, but I feel my blood beat hard. The idea resonates. And I just lie there and think, Oh, it isn’t a bad time to come into my own ways. I just wish… I just wish I knew all these things already. Wish I knew how to proceed. Wish I was already confident. Wish I had more to throw at this. But I’ll take what I’ve got and use it, all the same.

 

Thursday 2 May:

I take Tau to PD this morning. He tells me he was drinking until 5am with the CP boys, round at Clancy; they’re supposed to be doing the same thing tonight. I just say, “Oh…” because what else can you really say?

But honestly, Tau looks ok. He drinks far too much, but at the same time, he seems to have got something back: a calmer and more hopeful look in his eye. And that pleases me in a sense, for it’s a long time since I’ve seen Tau looking that way.

 

Saturday 4 May:

Marking the year 12 assessments. Done half (ish). Going to get them finished today, seeing as it’s nearly the end of the vacation.

Honest truth, it’s really just money and Slade that’ll get me back there Monday. And I’m not even sure Slade’s coming back – I’m never sure. He goes down the line and goes off the radar, every holidays. Two weeks of drugs and getting on it, I’m sure.

I’ve heard from him a couple times, on chat. Even he wasn’t sure if he was heading back up these ways or not. His head’s not in the same space, down there (he’s told me this before, many times).

 

But I don’t know how I’d stand all the faking, without Slade. I find it harder and harder to function at school, because I literally don’t care about hardly any of it. I only care about it in as much as I can help anyone else to get through. I used to think I was like a thief in the temple; a spy in the camp. But now I’m just… I’m just barely flying under the radar the whole time. I’m not a very good spy anymore. I can hardly pretend to be part of it. And I don’t see any point in being there alone. So I hope Slade comes back, but if he doesn’t?

Of course I don’t actually tell him that he’s at least half of the reason why I still stay. But it was that night… the night he told me about cooking crack, and cried, and said the only reason he came to school was to kick it with me. I knew I couldn’t ditch him, after that. Because you need somebody, huh? At school, which is a place that manages to be both sentimental and without pity.

That night was not without its other repercussions though. Lois, for one thing. Even though that’s pretty much sorted now. And I think Slade still freaks out a bit that he’s disclosed all this stuff to someone. He’s been cranky as fuck since then, no lies. But he’s a good boy, and I care about him, and I’ll stay for as long as it helps to make things bearable for him. And everyone needs someone to… just stay. God knows I do.

 

But the fact remains that I have to pretend so much about all the other stuff that it drives me bananas. House this and Learning Team that. Professional Development. Meetings and Goal Setting. It just makes me so tired to pretend and pretend, all the damn time. And even when I’m standing there and my classes are coming in, I just feel like… oh man, can I just quit pretending that any of this is actually about ‘learning’.

There’s some good reasons to be at school, of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t care so much about Slade holding on there. But they have hardly anything to do with learning. For me, they’re about taking your chances, subverting intentions and instructions, and getting through all the gaps you can possibly find. Using all the tiny little things and moments that are either allocated or unpoliced, to make something completely different. And I can’t ever ignore that now. I can’t ignore it when I teach, or when I’m at meetings, or when I have to act and function as the mouthpiece of a system that grinds people into the dirt.

There’s only one way to go with this, obviously. And that’s to be more open about it,  not less. Yup, it’s about time I threw something else into the mix. And I guess that something is “honesty”. To some degree, at least.

 

It strikes me as funny I should write that down, when you’d think teaching might be all about communicating honestly. But to me it’s not, really it’s not. It’s quite the opposite, when I look at it that way. It seems to be all about concealing things. Whereas I want to say things, and mean them. Not just sub rosa, or in some undercover operation. But all the time, so that these things make sense to me. So that everything I do proceeds from the same place. And so that I can be of more use to the people I care about.

In my heart, it’s like ‘Have you tried?’  I mean, tried to be that way, tried to be that person. Tried to open it up, tried to jump the orbit all over again, up to the next level. And no, I haven’t. Not yet. But I’m going to have to. It’s like I said once before… I just want to keep crying for the moon, until that moon comes right down and lies in my arms. Shhh, shhh, and I rock the moon, and the moon rocks me.

I want to try. I can’t not try. It’s a mystery to me why that’s so, but… there it is.

Habitus

Wednesday 16 February,  2011:

I keep telling myself I’ve had worse days… but today’s pretty hard all the same.  I don’t feel backed up by some of the people I thought I could count on – like Aperamo and Levi.

Here I am with 27 taggers (if you want to see it that way) in one room. Most I don’t know; some are quite well-disposed towards me, and others are more suspicious. I look to the old guard to help me establish credibility. But Levi and Aperamo arrive late. And when they do come in, they are (quietly) distracted by iPods and their own conversation. I feel a bit let down – I wish Inia and Noa were here.

It goes… ok. There are a few random kids who’ve picked it accidentally, somehow survived Morris’s cull, and who don’t even know why they’re there. Then there are others who are just desperate to be in it; stand at my door and beg to be admitted. And I can’t let them in – I want to. I tell them to come see me later, I’ll try to sort out some swap-overs. Luca (Skat) and Jared (Sane) are the two who plead the most. And to be quite honest, I like their manner.

And oh… it isn’t a bad afternoon. But I miss Inia (he’s been put into more catch ups), and I miss Dimario, and then kind of inevitably I miiisss Tau. And then I just feel sad.

 

Later I hear a rumour that Aperamo’s about to be excluded from school. He came back on some kind of contract, and has already breached it twice (getting into fights). Is it true? I remember the conversation we had about Argos – when he got excluded. And I remember the day in my room, with Taurangi and Aperamo sitting there like a couple of cats – the day I knew Tau and me were really gonna back one another.

How do things happen… and what’s going to happen next? Oh, what’s going to happen now?

But I remember like it was yesterday: Tau always backed me, right when it counted. And today, Aperamo didn’t back me.

I won’t ditch Tau. Won’t, can’t, never will. Honestly, the stars could fall out of the sky and I’d still hold on. I promised a long time ago… I’ll never forget.

 

Thursday 17 February:

Today goes remarkably well, considering that I get up early to drop off boxes, do a full day’s teaching, stay at school till 5, go home via the new house to pick up empty boxes… and the last time I ate was at 10:30am.

Finances are really tight right now. School couldn’t advance me the money (something about a general Ministry directive), but Kuli’s loaned me $650, and I’ll pay him back as soon as I get the bond refund. Even so, I’m behind on bills, and I’ve got no cash to speak of – but I don’t really care. C I’ve paid the rent, and there should be just about enough money left to pay the removal costs… and then everything else can wait; or be budgeted for eventually.

 

Noa’s first day back today. He joins the ‘Mona Lisas’ in 12 History – but he’s been off school so long he really has no idea what we’re doing. All the same, it truly is good to see him.

There’s also a new boy in tutor, and within two minutes he’s sitting by Inia. Mystified (especially as it’s the usually inscrutable Inia), I ask, “Do you two know each other?”

“Yeah,” says Inia in a cheerful and frankly explanatory way. “He always used to come and buy tinnies off us.” This makes me laugh out loud, I can’t help it – Inia’s tone has all the subtlety of a railway station announcement.  I say, “Oh geez, just tell everyone why don’t you.”

The boy takes all this in, and grins.

“I suppose you’re gonna tell me I should put him in project as well -” I begin, and Inia agrees with great alacrity and no guile: “Yup – he’s a tagger.”

 

Friday 18 February

The day sort of kicks in; it takes an overall shape. I get back to my room after being on duty at interval, and there, waiting outside for me, are Zion and Libya. Shades of 2009, when all the renegades first started congregating around my door. To be honest, I don’t really ‘want’ them there, well – it’s a dangerous manoeuvre to play, these days. Ever since the ‘Chris Hapuru incident’, I cover myself a lot more.

Zion and Libya eventually admit that they haven’t been kicked out of class (at first they say they have). It’s just that Zion’s been demoted back to year 10 for some of his classes, and is quietly refusing to go. Libya, I think, is mostly keeping him company (though he says he doesn’t like his own classes either!)

It does seem crazy that Zion has to do year 10 again. He looks at me mournfully (and semi-vacantly, which is his default ‘look’ when cornered). So I bring them inside and we have a little talk. Then I write a note, to temporarily absolve them from class, and say I’ll go talk to someone and try to sort it out.

“And even if you don’t like those classes much, there must be other teachers and classes you do like, so it’s not all bad…” I begin and the two of them nod emphatically, saying, “You.”

Just you,” says Zion, and they nod again.

“Not just me,” I say, very gently to him – for I’m touched by this. “There are lots of nice teachers here, that you would get along with.”

Eventually I escort Libya to his class – he comes along quite unprotestingly. But I don’t have the heart to make Zion go back to the year 10 class. There’s something a bit ‘empty’ about his expression (at least partly deliberate, I’m sure) that really makes me take it easy with that one. I let him stay – he has his covering note – and I go to ask one of the DP’s what’s up. But there’s a meeting, and no-one’s available to see me.

 

Saturday 19 February:

The movers are coming at 3, and really there’s only the furniture left, plus a few essential items that I can pack in the car tomorrow.

But this is my last night here, and then I’m going to be living out there. And it feels… well, there’s a kind of ‘rightness’ to it that I haven’t been able to fully explain yet. It’s something about those sheltering hills. The first time I ever walked into school and saw the hills in the distance, the sight just pulled me up and made me want to ‘pray’, almost. I kept imagining what it would be like if I didn’t have to leave and go away.

And then things were so hard, and for a while I forgot – or at least pushed it to the back of my mind. But not completely. That feeling of being sheltered, I still get it, when I look at the hills. Sometimes even down at Municipal – at the mall, of all places! And I don’t know how things just… stabilize, and then kind of swing and slightly skew your world open – and then prise it ajar.

Every night, for maybe a month – I don’t sleep with the curtains quite closed. I leave just a gap, and there’s something… some reason for it, ever since that night when I felt like I was sending a locator beacon into the night sky. I still feel like that; like there’s a path lit up in the sky between two points on earth.

 

Sunday 20 February:

Ok – now I live here.

I can’t sleep. I’m hot, my nose is running, there’s a mosquito in the room. I get up three or four times, drink water, trip over things in the dark. The light switches are all at a different height from what I’m used to… Habitus.