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?

 

A routine urban way

Monday 16 June, 2014:

This afternoon in 9 Social: “We’ll sit by you,” announces Obey.

“We’ll sit by you, the whole time,” Aidan echoes him.

They join me at my table; Kuli comes past and laughs at the sight. “Little puppies,” he says, with a grin. “That’s what they’re like with you.”

 

I’m going to bring Obey a graff book on Thursday (there’s some at home). In a time and place, just a few years ago, he would have been one of the boys, I don’t doubt it. His serious, concentrating squint and blink remind me so much of Inia. I lend him my own earphones, out of my bag – and I never do this kind of thing for anyone, these days. Obey plugs himself in and freestyles along to 2Pac on the chrome book, making the class giggle.

I’m going to miss them – but I can’t get a hold of it anymore: school. I can care for others, and I do. Even so, I can only hate the hypocrisy of myself teaching.

 

I get a call back from the City Mission today, about the vacancy for an ‘assessment professional.’ They want me to come in for an interview on Wednesday evening. Of course, I have no social work experience. But still, I say to myself: Why not?

 

Wednesday 18 June:

As I drive into the city, I think how I might even like this job. I’ve done my homework on the organization – I’m not even particularly nervous. Rush hour is beginning, but I still arrive in advance of my appointment time – only to find that the manager has ‘gone home’.

I’m so surprised that I don’t really know what to say. No-one else seems to be expecting me, and to be honest, no-one is particularly interested in what I might be doing there either. The place is ‘busy’ I guess – though not crowded. There are four people in the office, all of whom tactically ignore me. I suggest someone could ring the manager; this suggestion doesn’t even rate a response. One guy eventually goes to ‘look upstairs’ for him.

While I wait, I speak briefly with a woman working at an office computer. She looks at me with a disparaging eye, before saying, in my opinion somewhat patronizingly, that it would be “pretty full on” working here.” I immediately feel myself go on the defense. But then I decide if she wants a pissing contest – I’m out. So I say not another word.

The guy returns – the manager has definitely left for home. He asks me to write a note, which he’ll leave on the appropriate desk. I scribble a few lines and give it to him.

And that’s it – I have to go home too. It’s busy on the motorway now, and I’m not back in Municipal until after 7.

 

Tau and Leroi, who texted me earlier to wish me luck, listen to my tale of woe. “Ditched by the guy at the Mission, aye Miss,” Leroi says, sorrowfully.

“Yup,” I sigh. “And I didn’t get a good vibe from the place – I’m sure those other people in the office thought I was all shit.”

“Fuck ’em,” Tau growls. He adds, “You should have told them – I’ll just go back to the hood then.”

This makes me laugh and after all the bullshit, restores my equilibrium a little.

 

Later though, I think again about the unspoken message I got from the staff there: Who are you? What do you know?

Well I know a lot of things. And I don’t have to explain them to some bitches in the office.

Perhaps it’s a lucky escape, I tell myself. I don’t even want to give generic help to an interchangeable case load in a setting of institutional care. I’m not a social worker – probably every bit as much as I’m not a teacher. And I wonder, not for the first time, what I have to offer when school’s particular set of constraints no longer apply.

 

Thursday 19 June

I wake up with that ‘normal’ tired, anxious, achy feeling. Brain switches straight on, reminding me that I’m finishing up at work in six weeks, and what am I going to do then? I get a big wave of panic as I think about it. What if I don’t find a job? What if I wind up stony broke? What if I fail – and everyone sees it, and secretly pities me for such a poor attempt to break free?

That’s just stone cold fear talking though. The timing’s right, and every single cell in my body knew it weeks ago; months, probably.

 

Friday 20 June:

They’ve been drinking, and Tau wants to come home tonight, but Sheree’s crying and begging him to stay. Tau texts me from his uncle’s and tells me so. He says he’s stressing out a bit, trying to look after her. And he needs time out from Leroi, too – but it’s hard to tell Leroi that.

It hurts to see Tau stumble, when he tries so hard to be strong.

 

Saturday 21 June:

This evening, Tau arrives back on his own. I’m glad he’s finally getting some time out from his family. He just lies on the couch in the sleepout looking rested; kind of neat and nipped clean. It makes me happy to see him that way – I feel like a mama cat purring over its kitten. I go cook us a feed: crumbed chicken drumsticks, with mashed potatoes and vegies, and bread & butter on the side. Tau walks down to the shop to get the bread, and some drinks and Zig Zag papers.

 

Monday 23 June:

I like ‘work’. Not school, or teaching – but the workday routine. I like packing lunch at night, and getting up to the alarm, and all that shit. I like eating breakfast and jamming the lappy while watching the morning news on TV. And I like heading out on a routine city day, to earn my money in a routine urban way.

But I can’t even drive past a school nowadays without getting a physical sensation of resistance and loathing.

 

I feel guilty after 10 Social today. They’re the sweetest kids you could ever meet. And I still hope there’s some chance of them getting what they want out of school, the way Slade did.

I don’t value anything I have to teach. But I do value them, and I wish there was more I could do about it. I just can’t pretend to be a teacher – and that’s all I can say.

 

Thursday 25 June:

This morning I teach (and I use the word extremely advisedly) 11 Social. After about 15 minutes of faking it, I feel this big refusal in my heart kick in – and I just give out some paperwork and let them do it. I try quell my loathing for school just a little bit longer; a couple days more till the weekend.

Then 9 Social  greet me with hugs – can you believe it – and sit around me like chickens.

The boys say, “Everyone likes this class.”

And they tell me, “When we ask what’ve we got next, and someone says ‘Social’, we’re all like: ‘Yussssss!”

 

Friday 27 June:

It’s the day of the 10 Social assessment – somehow they manage to pull this off with aplomb. Good old year 10’s. I’m kind of astonished by the fact that they have evidently been revising for this event. I feel bad, too – I could have taught them way more than this. Or nah, maybe not. I did the best I could with it. I really like them, and all year I’ve tried to give them something.  Not the stuff I didn’t have and couldn’t manufacture (‘teacherly’ stuff, I mean). But something of me.

 

In 12 History, Aurelius tells me he wants to be a cop one day.

“Well, you’re just what the police force needs,” I say, and the conjunction is easy to imagine. “Even though I don’t really like cops, as a rule,” I add truthfully. “I’ve never had good experiences with the police.”

“Me too, Miss,” Aurelius says at once. “My whole family don’t get along with cops.”

We can’t help snorting at one another.