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.

Keeping

Saturday 17 May, 2014:

At 3 o’clock, Tau and Leroi are still slumbering with the door barely ajar, no sound or light coming from the sleepout. They were going to the beach later, but who knows?

To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a little break tonight, just to kick back with the leftover chicken curry.

Because here’s the thing: I cook dinner every night – or if I don’t, I pick us up takeout. I’m taking on all the responsibility for them being ‘too shy’ to come in and make a feed, so no wonder they’re not doing it. And I ask myself why I keep on acting as if their every need is more important than my own. Especially when the food is there, and they know it’s there, and they’re perfectly capable of slinging something in the frying pan.

Then I just feel mean and slightly ashamed even for thinking that way.  I’m so attuned to someone else’s feelings that I regard my own as selfish.

 

At 4:30 they wake up and ask if I can take them round to where Sheree’s staying; they’re going to the beach after all.

For some reason, it makes me think of childhood adventures, and how my sister and I would roam over the big hills behind our house. It felt like going way away into a whole other place, far from home, yet mysteriously accessible through some little rip in the fabric of the landscape. I remember a huge bare tree that we climbed and swung down from, our toes curling away from the bobbly sheep droppings in the grass as we landed.

Sometimes we would lose our bearings completely, and look at one another with a little bit of fear, suppressing the urge to panic and scamper. Instead, we would scan the horizon like prophets waiting for a sign.

But it was all a long time ago.

One day, this is going to be a long time ago too… and I don’t want to say I just ran back to safety. I never want to be one of those people who thinks they got something to lose; nothing to gain from heading out.

 

Monday 19 May:

Wake up with my eye watering again. Yesterday I went to the gym and it dripped all the way through pump class. Man, I’m tired of struggling with the same old things, over and over again it feels like.

I get up and set cover for today’s classes in ten minutes, then look at job apps online. The whole time, I’m in that default state of anxiety which I’ve grown used to. I’m scared of being someone who doesn’t love many and isn’t loved by any. And that feeling takes me back to ‘a long time ago’ too.

 

My mum was the child of an alcoholic father and a huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ sort of mother, Anna: the least maternal type imaginable, especially back in the day. Her whole life was a study in independence. I once heard her described as a ‘man’s woman’ – not in a glamorous femme fatale way, but as someone who could hold her own with any man. I can picture her now, riding through the plains of the central North Island, ciggie in her mouth and one hand on the reins.

As a child, my mother took care of her younger siblings with a grim passion that I still saw in her face, even after many years of relative comfort. She cooked, cleaned, washed and sewed for them (though she was barely older than they were), at the same time as she tried to protect her own mother from the effects of her father’s alcoholism.

 

My dad’s mother (her name was Mary) died suddenly when he was eight years old. He still doesn’t know how it happened; maybe a heart attack. He was by far the youngest child, and she would have been in her forties.

His father and older brothers were nonplussed at the idea of raising the young boy themselves, so they sent him almost five hundred miles up country to live with his mum’s sister, Vera, and her family. He left on the train, the day after the funeral.

They were stony broke. Dad remembers a collection going round at church, for a ‘poor family’ which turned out to be his aunt’s.

His oldest brother was killed in accident a few years later. Dad only found this out by seeing the story in the newspaper and commenting to Aunt Vera, “Oh, here’s someone with the same name as us.”

Vera took a closer look and exclaimed, “That’s your brother!”

“He looked like a nice guy…” Dad mused one time, showing me a photo. “I think he was a nice guy.”

That was all he ever said on the matter – my father always kept his emotions in check.

 

They worked hard. Always two jobs – mum only gave up work briefly when we were born. Dad was an entrepreneur by temperament, and a skinflint. Mum was naturally inclined to lavish spending (much to my father’s frustration), but this was tempered by her sacrificial devotion to hearth and family: working a day job, coming home to fling food in the oven – she was not a graceful cook – then staying up all night to knit, sew, and remonstrate with God, no doubt.

They saved the deposit for their first house; this beginning an upwardly mobile path through the suburbs, leading eventually to a ‘lifestyle property’ which straddled the divide between town and country. That was the house my mother loved the most, I sometimes think. But then again, I never truly knew her opinions on anything.

 

I haven’t mentioned her fits of rage. She would “go and go and go” (as she put it), giving her last scrap of time and energy in willing bondage; sometimes not getting to sleep until two or three o’clock (I could hear the frenzied sound of the sewing machine far into the night), then getting up at five or six to make breakfast. But every few months, she would snap.

The build up always started with panic over some real or imagined deadline (and our laziness in assisting her to meet it), then escalated to shrieking and full-blown rage, finally descending into a paroxysm of wild crying which dwindled to crumpled despair and horror at herself. Her swollen eyes implored my sister and I to draw close to her and be rocked as she sobbed, comforting her more than ourselves in the process.

 

Perhaps I learnt service at my mother’s knee, but where emotion was concerned, I remained in my father’s camp. Other people might display their big feelings – I would keep mine on the low. I barely ever cried a tear.

Funneling it all down some safety chute, where does it go? I think I turn it into something else, and burn it up as fuel, I don’t know. I only know that I couldn’t have done the things I’ve done without transmuting my own feelings, somehow. Turning them into grist for the mill.

But the payoff is that I’ve been able to go out with the troops. I’ve cloaked myself to be the unseen one, the cover on the flank, sheltering the company. The carrier, the keeper. Ensuring the route stays open is my game. I honestly don’t know how that works, I just know it’s part of the way I live and breathe.

And yet there are days when I long for someone else to carry things for a whileInstead of always staying on course, never giving up control. Keeping perpetual watch over a little spark that must neither go out nor be allowed to ignite.

 

Like my mum, Sheree gets to have her feelings. She gets to cry all night, and ‘go funny’. She can shout and throw stuff around, and yell at everyone. She’s cared for, and indulged, and covered for the whole time. And no matter how tough her life is (and I’m not saying it isn’t), at least she gets her big feelings validated.

And my feelings?  It would probably surprise the hell out of Sheree to learn that I have them one way or another.

Deep holes

Friday 18 April, 2014:

First day of the holidays – I can hear Tau coughing outside, but he doesn’t sound too bad compared to yesterday. He and Leroi are just standing around laughing while he coughs, which is a good sign. Yesterday he couldn’t even raise a smile. He was real stoical about it, but I know it must have been pretty bad for them to call me at school.

Tau comes in to get another drink (he’s not actually too shy about filling up a cup of juice), and there I am, eating a yoghurt. Once again I feel guilty for eating. But there’s yoghurts in the fridge, there’s bacon and eggs, and sausages; muesli bars and chips and noodles in the pantry… and I wish they’d just come in and make some lunch, I wouldn’t care if they took it straight out to the sleepout again.

I’m just trying to let it go, that the boys are shy to do that. I can’t force them, and I don’t want to try. But at the same time, it bothers me, just because… I wish I knew how to do this stuff better.

Oh well, I’m not going to just go out so they can cook. At one time I used to do exactly that, with Tau. Not all the time – sometimes though, that’s what I’d do. Go out, hoping he’d come in and eat. But I can’t spend my days second-guessing the way people might be; the things they might want or be able to do.

And if I fixed lunch for everyone, I’d only be trying to ‘cater’ to them. And I’d know it, and they’d sense it – and it would feel like an imposition on both counts.

 

In the evening though, I make butter chicken and rice – and I take two plates out to the sleepout. This is accepted without the least resistance, and Tau in particular looks kind of relieved to be eating something sustaining. I see empty chip packets out there, which no doubt have contained their entire day’s nutrition, apart from the juice.

At least dinner they can handle, for some reason. Maybe because I’m just pragmatic about it, and it’s more of a daily routine (when I’m usually at work during the day and home for dinner).

I know they’re trying with all this, as much as I am. They’re here, and they’re reasonably safe, and they’re reasonably settled (so far), and Tau’s been to the doctors three times lately (totally amazing his family, I might add). And yeah, I still wish they’d eat, but sometimes they didn’t even eat at their place, Tau’s told me that often enough. So it is what it is. And I love them, for all their ways – not just the ways that I’d find easier – but all their ways.

Sometimes I say to myself: maybe one day things will be righted, huh? Everything good and right, for each of us, just like it’s meant to be.

 

Sunday 20 April:

I feel so bummed out by the fact that Sheree’s in the sleepout with Tau and Leroi. After an hour she still hasn’t so much as said hello, so I go out there – and it’s awkward. Once again, it feels like a demarcation, and also a kind of imprisonment for me. It’s a cold day, and there’s nowhere I need to be. And it’s not my fault that Sheree got evicted from Rutherford Ave, I tell myself. If they want to be together, well maybe she should have thought of that ages ago, when she maybe did get a 90 day eviction notice in the mail (that’s what Vailea thinks – that Sheree never read the mail, and there was a stack of letters and bills, and all the rest of it).

I want to burst into tears and then shout at her, “God, are you dumb or what? Go away, isn’t it enough that I’ve got the boys here Sheree? Don’t you think I care, don’t you think I got feelings? And yes, I’m on my own. And so what? Do you think I never had anything? Do you think I never had anyone? Do you think I’m not worth anything? Just fuck off and leave me alone, and go get yourself a damn house, and stop perching here like I don’t exist, and like all I am is a goddam place to be together when you need one.”

I bet Vailea Poe and Maxwell Rosdolsky never get themselves into this predicament. I bet they have a whole heap of people who love them for real, and they never get their priorities all mixed up; never get their boundaries blurred. Meanwhile I sit here like a creeping, shame-filled guest in my own home, while the three of them play at being happy families in the sleepout (which is a freakin mess, today, it honestly is – but that’s another story)

I’m very unhappy, and I don’t know what to do. So just for today, I’m going to act like I’m alright. So that Tau’s alright – I’ll do it, it’s enough of a reason. But there’s a big ache in my heart that won’t go away. It just says: You’re nothing, you got no-one.

It helps a little, tiny, teeny bit to write that down. I write to get myself out of so many deep holes, you know.

 

It starts to get dark; I go out again and Sheree’s asleep on the bed out there. And the only reason I’m putting up with it, is so I don’t hurt Tau, or make him feel shamed and worried about being here.

It would be different, maybe, if I wasn’t so hyper-aware of the bare facts. The fact that we aren’t actually ‘friends’, and I know it, of course I do. Sheree wouldn’t be here if she had a house. And yet, “Love you…” she says, and oh, maybe it’s true in one sense – but it hurts to think of that too, because it’s not ‘me’ that’s loved. It’s the fact that she’s grateful I’m such a freakin push over and have no boundaries in place for this kind of shit, and have obviously no life that anyone else gives a fuck about. That’s the only thing she ‘loves’ about me – that I’m a weak bitch who won’t act like I’m worthy of anything except being walked on.

The thing is, I don’t know how to get boundaries, with a family who pretty much don’t have boundaries.

 

I wrap myself in a rug, and sit out on the steps for a little while, thinking what to do… what to do.

It’s raining, and I realize that it isn’t a good idea for Sheree to walk home in the rain. So I think – okay, I know what to do. I’ll go ask if she wants a ride.

I kind of rehearse what to say. Then I go out to the sleepout and knock on the door, push it open… and there are Tau and Leroi, both sound asleep. Leroi’s on the bed, Tau’s on the couch. Sheree is nowhere to be seen.

I kneel down beside Tau, and just quietly say his name a couple times – and he opens his eyes.

“Where’s your mum?” I ask.

“She’s gone,” he says, his eyes flickering and drowsing.

“Oh, okay…” I murmur. “I didn’t want her to walk in the rain… I came to see if she wanted a lift.”

“Thanks, Miss… my uncle picked her up already,”

“Ohh…” I say.

His eyes slide shut again. I can see he’s stoned and tired, but quite calm. I’m doing okay, I think to myself. Not acting stressed, and not stressing him out.

Oh thank God she’s gone, is my next thought. And then I my body kind of slumps, as I finally allow myself to feel the energy drain of the past few hours.

Kind of explicable

Friday 1 February, 2013:

Karys has told Chloe she wants all the canvases down from the walls of my classroom. This is almost (or maybe is?) a deal breaker, in terms of my relationship with Karys, and by default: Municipal College. However, Chloe is supportive of my position, and has offered to liaise with Karys on my behalf. So I’ll wait to see what eventuates.

This unpleasantness is mitigated in part by having the kids back today. All that ‘connecting’ stuff we have to do on the first day isn’t exactly my thing. But it’s good to see them – Andre especially. Actually, Andre is pretty damn wonderful. He volunteers his assistance time and time again: shepherding the year 9’s round the school on a guided tour, running games on the field for the juniors, and just being my go-to person all day long. He’s ten minutes late back after lunch (after going to the shop – for a coffee, of all things!), and a couple of times he gets frustrated with the juniors and says things like, “Fags, line up!” to them, but it just makes them dissolve with laughter.

“Andre, watch your language!” I call to him, tsking slightly, but more as a precaution than anything else – you never know who else is in earshot.

“Sorry Miss, I didn’t mean to – it just pops out,” he calls back, making me laugh too.

At the end of the day, as we walk down to the field for Karys’s ‘principal’s assembly’, Andre unobtrusively slips away, and goes home half an hour early – a reward he richly deserves.

Round 5, Mandy and I go for cocktails. I have the ‘El Presidente’, which consists of five nips with no mix: two kinds of rum (dark and white), Vermouth, Cointreau, and Grenadine – plus cherries soaked in liqueur. It’s surprisingly mellow, yet kicks in after the first few sips, effecting a feeling of relief in my tired brain. “Five drinks for the price of two…” I sigh, gratefully. Mandy (who is drinking a ‘Galvanised Rusty Nail’) grins, at that.

Later on we get pizza (switching down to Chianti at the same time), and then Mandy and I share a serve of tiramisu.

 

Saturday 2 February:

What happens tonight is both unexpected and (on reflection) kind of explicable. Well, I think so… and maybe I’ll know; maybe I’ll never know.

It’s kind of a quiet day, to start with. Tau comes over, and later Leroi as well. Nothing unusual in that. Leroi says that Tau has told him the ‘rules’, i.e. the more formalized (post-cops) behaviour protocols at mine. This makes me laugh, and I pat Tau’s arm proudly – he looks pleased.

I go round to Mia’s for a while. As I leave, Tau asks how Kepaoa is; tells me I should bring him over soon. Says he wants to get to know him.

Round 10, when I’m almost ready to come home, there’s a text from Kepaoa, asking if he can stay round at mine tonight. So, no problem – I go pick him up from Montgomery Rd.

 

When we get home, the TV’s on, and there’s a nice smell of food being prepared in the kitchen.

“We’re just making some noodles and stuff,” Tau tells me.

“All good,” I say, with what is only the most passing interest. Kepaoa and I have both eaten earlier, and I’m happy that Tau and Leroi are not drunk, and are actually making a feed for themselves.

Kepaoa and Tau greet one another in a friendly way, and shake hands. Tau goes and attends to his noodles; Kepaoa and I turn our attention to Facebook. He hasn’t contacted Teri since Wednesday, mainly through having no internet access – and she’s posting comments like ‘Running out of patience’.

“If she wants to give me attitude, then I don’t even care today – I’m too tired,” Kepaoa tells me. He hops on the laptop anyway, but with a sigh.

 

Meanwhile, things have gone quiet in the kitchen, and, “Where are they?” enquires Kepaoa, but again, with only a minor interest.

“Umm… outside, I think,” I tell him. The back door is open, it’s a hot night. I guess they’re eating out on the steps, and this doesn’t surprise or bother me – knowing their ways. I guess they’re a little bit shy, to eat with Kepaoa there.

A few minutes later, I see Tau’s back reappear in the kitchen, he’s filling up the sink to do the dishes.

“Hey Tau,” I say, thinking of some piece of mail that’s recently arrived. “Do you want to do that WINZ form later?”

“I don’t give a fuck,” replies Tau, in a distressed voice that I’m not expecting.

“Aye?” I say, in surprise, and then continuing, kind of hopefully: “But don’t you want to get it sorted out?”

“I–don’t–give–a–fuck,” repeats Tau in a more staccato and definitely hyped up tone.

I ignore the warning signals, and slip out to the kitchen, where he turns his stiff back to me and busies himself with the dishes. His hands thrust pots and plates into the sink, to drown them with a splash.

“Are you ok… Tau?” I ask, not understanding what is going on.

“I’m all good!” Tau says, through clenched teeth. He doesn’t look at me.

“Has something happened?”

“No. I’m all good.” Tau grabs a cloth and begins to swing it around the bench, wiping and thumping crumbs away. He exerts himself in short breaths, and keeps his head down.

Then he flings the cloth down to one side, and strides out the door.

 

Leroi comes in and hovers next to me. “What happened?” I mouth, with hardly a sound.

“I don’t know,” Leroi mouths back.

I feel my eyes get kind of big and apprehensive, as we hear a couple of things smash outside.

Kepaoa comes into the kitchen and flanks me, protectively. “What’s up with Tau?” he asks.

“We don’t know,” I murmur, and Leroi, I think, is too nervous to even answer him.

“Is it me?” Kepaoa says, but wonderingly.

“I don’t think so,” I tell him, and Leroi shakes his head.

“What’s he smashing?”

“Something in the shed, I guess – he does that sometimes,” I say, and I see Kepaoa’s eyes register the fact that I’ve been through this process before. “I’ll go out to him,” I add, and flit off, before anyone can stop me.

 

“Tau?” I say, coming up to the shed door, and knocking, lightly. I can see him pacing about in there, and, “Do you want me to take Kepaoa home?” I ask him, not knowing if this will help or not.
“No, I don’t care. I’m all good. I don’t want to talk about it,” Tau cries in agitation, and so I withdraw.

Kepaoa, who has followed me out and is waiting just a metre behind me, draws in close and shepherds me away. “Miss!” he says. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know…” I say, feeling almost distracted by some kind of calmness inside of me.

“If he does anything to you, Miss, I’ll have to jump in. Sorry Miss, I know you care about him, but I’ll never let him hurt you.”

“I don’t think he will,” I reply.

Kepaoa just looked at me, trying to appraise where this situation is headed. “Should I try talking to him?” he asks, next.

“Yes,” I say, thinking it can’t hurt.

So Kepaoa goes into the shed, and I come back inside, to where Leroi is standing in the exact same spot in the kitchen, looking upset and afraid.

“Did he say anything to you?” I ask.

“No, and I didn’t ask him,” Leroi replies. “I could see he was angry, and I didn’t know why. But I was scared to ask, cos I thought he might fuck me over.”

“Do you have any idea what happened?” I try.

“No,” and he shakes his head, miserably.

 

Kepaoa comes back in, and with a little shrug, informs us: “He wouldn’t tell me what was happening – but he said he was algood with me.”

“What did you say to him?” I ask, looking at Kepaoa’s calm eyes and slanted cheekbones. Even while I feel embarrassed, I know there is an amount of control which Kepaoa’s presence brings to the whole situation. There’s no question about it – I’m very glad he’s here.

He tells me, “I just went into the shed and asked him, What’s up, ge? He was just walking back and forth, back and forth, you know. He said he was awgud, and then I asked him, Is it me, bro? and he said – nah, I’m awgud with you locc. Then I asked him: So, do you wanna talk about it? He just looked at me, and for a second I thought he was gonna tell me. But then he just said – nah, nah awgud ge, and we shook hands. And I said: Alright, but just let me know later if you wanna talk about, that’s awgud ge, and he said – awgud bro. And that was it.”

Leroi, who’s been listening to all this, says, “Thanks for trying ge,”

“Algood.”

 

It’s quiet out there, and for some reason I go back. I don’t know what I’m thinking I could say, but I begin, “Tau?“

He’s fumbling around with a key, kicking at the mat, which is getting stuck under the door, and there are two padlocks discarded on the ground already. “Fuck, I don’t want to fuckin talk about it, Miss,” he tells me, in that same highly stressed and frantic voice.

“Ok,” I say. What else is there to say.

And Tau just gives up on the door, and heads off out the gate and into the night. As he leaves, he yelled, “FTP!” and then, “CP Gang!” Leroi flurries out behind him, stopping to say to me, “I’ll go after him, Miss.”

 

Then Kepaoa and I go back inside. I dry the dishes, kind of mechanically. Rinse out the sink,  pushing bits of egg and noodles down the plughole. Pick up the sodden cloth from where Tau has left it, and wipe down the stove.

“Miss?” Kepaoa calls, from the lounge. “You algood?”

“Yeah, I’m algood,” I tell him.

“Come and sit down, Miss.”

“I will – I’m just doing this first. Aren’t you supposed to be skyping Teri?”

“Yeah, but I’m worried about you. Miss, come and try to relax now,” he entreats. “Just chill out and watch TV for a while, jump on facebook.”

“K, I will… I will,” I tell him. And I do come and sit down, but my eyes still feel big and hounded, and I can’t settle to anything. I get up and sit back down again, a couple of times – then go to my room and change into my pyjamas.

 

When I come back in, I’m glad to see Kepaoa lying on the couch, talking to Teri now.

He sees me, and takes his attention away from his iPhone, saying, “Miss? Are you alright?” and then, “You’re not, are you,” he adds.

“Nah, I’m ok – honest,” I tell him. “But… I’ll take you home, huh?” Cos I suddenly feel real awkward, looking at poor Kepaoa. Coming round here after his hard day, to relax; call his girlfriend. And instead he’s kind of babysitting me. I feel aghast at myself, for not offering earlier. And so I say again, “After you’ve talked to Teri, I’ll take you home.”

“Nah, Miss – I don’t want to go home,” replies Kepaoa. “I’m algood here. I want to stay here with you.”

I can see how compassionate his eyes are, and I feel awkward again. “Aw man,” I say. “I know you’re being kind, and I really appreciate it. But you don’t need to worry, I’ll be fine.”

“I know, Miss – but I don’t want to go home,” he insists.

“Well, if you change your mind, just say,” I told him. “I’ll take you anytime – whenever you’re ready.”

“Yup, but I’ll just stay, if that’s algood,” Kepaoa replies.

 

By midnight, I can see there’s no chance I’ll be getting to sleep for a while. As I wander around, making a coffee; doing whatever I can to settle myself, I tell Kepaoa again, “Honestly, I think you’d be better off to go home. You’re the one who’s had a hard day, not me. And maybe you need to be with your family, huh?”

But he repeats, quietly, “I don’t want to, Miss.”

“Please Kepaoa, I want you to,” I almost beg.

“No, Miss. You’ve done so much for me. It’s my turn now.” He adds, “A favour for a favour, k Miss?”

“Tau won’t come back tonight,” I say. “He’ll be shamed to. You don’t have to worry, honest.”

“It isn’t that, Miss,” he says. “Well, it is that too – but that’s not the main reason. It’s cos I want to look after you. Is that ok?”

“It’s ok… but I feel bad about it,” I say. “You don’t need to look after me – in fact, I think someone should be looking after you – can’t I just take you home. Please?”

Kepaoa just looks at me real steady, and says, “Do I have to go home?”

“No – I’m just saying I’d feel better about it if you did.”

I wouldn’t,” he tells me. “Please Miss, let me stay.”

 

So I get him his pillow and blanket, and he just settles down on the couch. I try to sleep after that. But for ages I just lay on my bed, with the light on, and little tears falling out of my eyes, piteously. I keep seeing Tau’s face, when he first used to come to my room at MC, way back in 2009. And I think: oh, Tau – it’s not too hard, it’s not too hard for me. And I just cry a bit, remembering it all.

It’s real hot, and once or twice I get up and have a drink of water. As I walk through the lounge, I see Kepaoa look up at me. At first I feel so embarrassed – knowing my eyes are wet with tears, and there are tears on my cheeks. And then I just sigh, and cut my losses. I think – well, Kepaoa’s seen all this, what can I do? – I can’t do anything. And sometime round 3, I finally turn off the light and fall asleep.

 

A dream of peace and plenty

Saturday 8 May, 2010: 

I’ve realised that I’m kind of ok about cooking again, but there’s honestly not a lot of satisfaction to be taken in it. It’s more like I have a bit of ‘quietude’ about it, nowadays. My opinion is that I’ve only a certain amount of energy to devote to all my pursuits. So I don’t want to waste too much of it on cooking.

There’s a logical sequence to my thoughts on the matter, which goes something like this.

1) Cooking has always been (for me) tied to a feeling of using whatever’s available; making something nice because of necessity and love, out of very limited resources. Often, I’ve felt like I’ve worked a trick – pulled something from where it was unavailable and made it come into existence. I’ve never been the least attracted to exclusivity or epicurianism – food doesn’t have those categories for me; I can use anything in pretty much the same way.

2) Cooking then is not so much a good in itself as much as it’s part of a strategy, you could say – but one which is also a necessity under certain conditions. It’s also been a way of controlling or training my bricoleur’s impulses and – however modest – talents. But of course, the danger also lies in sublimating them.

3) So I also want to know that I can thrive in any circumstances. I don’t want to be attached to a pleasing, or even a ‘nutritional’ food intake. I want to know for sure that I can survive in times of shortage; times of war. I feel uneasy about the idea of being dependent on a full store-cupboard, nor am I comforted by consistency, which I know is an unstable notion.

4) At the same time I’m under no illusion at all that anyone can function for too long without vitamins, minerals, fresh food. But I see no virtue in a routine which dispenses these things in some expertly agreed upon, socially acceptable, form. I don’t believe it’s more than ideology; to require a certain type of diet; to see it as a desirable good, to be modeled by those who have it, and acquired by those who do not

5) I write this out of experience, and this experience is my only claim of any significance. I can’t believe in the virtue of a sensible, or even a healthy diet, when all around me, I see it’s a luxurious fallacy. A dream of peace and plenty – which doesn’t exist anywhere but in the minds of the sentimental. My world has been turned upside down and shaken by the experience of solidarity with people who don’t have the luxury of sentimentality for one second. Hustlers who arrive at school each day without food or money, and who are patient, diligent, intelligent, opportunists. They know what they need to survive and they’re gonna get it; if not today, then tomorrow. Having developed a ruthless insouciance, and a crucial sense of timing, they’re not without shame at their own lack. But they can override it at the flick of a switch, and chase down any hint of a deal closing. I’m emotional but not sentimental about this: I’ve seen it, and I respect it, and I understand the special ‘coldness’ it sometimes confers on people. I don’t have a liberal bone left in my body – I feel like every last impulse towards that has, first, been completely unraveled – because of my own experience of lack, and then been entirely transformed – because just when I thought there was nowhere else to go, suddenly a gap opened and I found myself over the line and calmly welcomed by these renegades. If I thought I was a bricoleur, I got nothing on these seasoned campaigners.

And that’s why all I want to do is learn: how not to be afraid, how not to wear the shame you sometimes feel, how not to turn down an offer. How to maximize your opportunities; how to expand little crumbs of time and space, so that right under people’s noses, you can create something else out of what you find; what you’re given; what you take or hustle or stockpile.

And it’s also why I don’t care anymore about expending a lot of time or energy on what I think of now as practice for the very skills I’d need in these times. My funny training ground – and I didn’t even know it. For I always used to wonder: Why do some people have to struggle while others don’t? Why can’t I do this, no matter how hard I try?

And there were no rewards for being ‘good’: no end in sight, no lesson to learn; just all the way down… and then just before you crash, suddenly it all changes, and you’re somewhere else entirely. And there’s no way you can see it coming; you just have to take that split-second opportunity when it approaches, and it might be one thing or it might be another. It might be as calm and quiet a moment as any; so that it seems like just a little step, or it might be a pulling and a stretching like nothing you’ve ever imagined… but either way, you’re gone.

I weep to have what I fear to lose

Monday 26 April, 2010:

Stressy afternoon. My laptop freezes, then crashes, and no amount of trying can reboot it. And on the way home my car overheats, and I coax it to the end of the motorway, where it recovers – but I’m worried all the same.

I also know I’m not eating properly, and while part of me actually doesn’t care, I’ve started to feel kind of aghast – in a strangely residual way – remembering a time when I would have been alarmed about it. Today, this is what I eat (shades of La-Verne and her horror at the kids’ diets):

Breakfast: toast with Nutella

Interval: Banana cake, coffee

Lunch: Sausage roll

Dinner: Grilled cheese sandwich, cup of tea, cherry tomatoes (small concession to vitamins here)

 

Tuesday 27 April:

12 History today, and Dimario wants to see my draft list for the graff wall. His eyes shine with happiness as he comments on every single one of the names: who’s in what crew; and who’s good; and who’s just a toy.

Shanice beckons me over, saying, “Miss?”

“Yeah?”

“Go on…” she nudges Dimario and he smirks and smiles. “Go on,” she says again.

“What?” I ask.

“Dimario wants to say…” She looks at him and he clears his throat.

“Say what?”

“He wants to say thank you,” explains Shanice.

“Thank you, Miss -” says Dimario, and grins at me, kind of like: there!

“Thank you? – For what?” I say, laughing.

Shanice says, “Just – thank you,” and Dimario bends his head, looking happy and slightly shy.

And I say, “Ohh… thanks, Dimario.”

 

Shanice strokes my arm, and then my earring.

“You’re a very touchy-feely sort of girl,” I say, looking at her tenderly.

She nods. “I am, Miss.”

 

Wednesday 28 April

I get through the day, but on the way home I feel hot tears fall silently down my cheeks and shine like sequins at my throat. I try so hard; what do I ever really do? Some days it feels like nothing at all.

Because what do I bring? At the end of project today the kids put their work into their folders as if they think it matters – and it does matter, to me. Yet I know so little really, when all’s said and done. Cold fear strikes me, that maybe I can’t do it, and everyone’s gonna see – I’m sure it won’t be enough. And so, ‘I weep to have what I fear to lose’.

 

Dimario’s eyes dance about, as he says, “Miss – look, what’s that little word on your bombing that Taurangi did? Oh look, what does it say… I think it says amo.

I look across to where it’s pinned on the wall, and yes, someone’s added a very small annotation; doubtlessly Dimario himself.

“Dimario!” I scold, and he laughs and laughs, as I immediately employ the cleaning spray.

He feigns a gasp: “Look! She’s got a little cloth out already! That’s how much she loves that picture!”

I clean it, delicately.

It’s all just the usual game, and the others look interestedly on. And what on earth do I offer the ironic, impeccable Dimario?

 

He says, “Miss – all the boys are talking about the names.”

“What names?” I say.

“The names for the wall – on your list.”

“Why would all the boys be talking about the list… how would they know?” I ask, perplexed.

“Cos – I copied down all the names,” he informs me.

“Oh, did you?” I say, truly surprised.

“Yes,” he tells me.  “And there’s some toys on your list; that’s what people say.”

“Well – it ain’t the final list, so you’ll have to wait and see.”

And he grins.

 

Thursday 29 April:

Aperamo looks mournful as he enters my room for his Social class with Vikshal (Calvin’s replacement). I’m just packing up to leave, and he comes over to me quietly.

“Miss?” he says, “Can’t you stay? This teacher’s not very good/”

“Aperamo – give the new teacher a chance this time, huh.”

But Vikshal says to me at lunchtime, “Was that your Social class yesterday?” (I’d seen him go past and look in the window when I was teaching)

I nod.

“Do they just… listen?” he asks, almost wistfully. “I saw them all working.”

“Well, I guess they do,” I told him.  “But I’ve had them all year – they’re used to me.”

I feel sorry. I know what it’s like to start in the middle of the year, with kids who don’t want a new teacher. And he doesn’t get an easy time.

 

So after that, I go see Aperamo and his mates, and hassle them about it:

“Anyway,” I say, (we’re in the cafeteria), “I don’t know why you guys can’t try a little bit harder.”

“It’s just cos of the teacher,” Aperamo says, helpless to the last.

“Nah, that’s not it – it’s your own decision,” I say. “And do you know what? I stand up for you guys all the time, in front of all the teachers – whenever anyone mentions anything.” I look at them in frustration. “I do,” I say. “Honestly, I never hesitate to speak up for you, and I just think you should realise that someone does – and then you might want to try a little bit harder.”

They look at me, half subdued and half wishing I’d shut up and let them eat lunch.

“Alright, I’m going now,” I say, and leave them to their own silly devices.

I feel like I carry my feelings so visibly all day. And I don’t know how to do any other. If I’m ashamed, then I’m ashamed. If I’m brave, then I’m brave. If I’m happy – even for a moment – then it’s there for all the world to see. No wonder I got on so well with George.