Loving eyes

Wednesday 19 November

When I wake up it’s 5:15 am, and I don’t feel too bad. I get up at 6 and look at myself in the bathroom mirror. I even try to smile at my reflection, before I hop in the shower.

Normal morning routines, huh. Routines are my saving grace right now. I turn on Firstline, make a cuppa tea and some weetbix. Actually, I want toast, but the bread is still out in the sleepout. I say to myself firmly, “And I’m grateful for that weetbix!”

This makes me think of a ‘Kepaoa’ story – one time his mum took his ATM card, then withdrew all his pay, leaving him just eighty dollars. “And I said to myself… I’m grateful for that eighty dollars,” he hastened to add, cracking us both up.

I feel like that about a lot of things. I’m grateful for the dang weetbix. I’m grateful for the milk. I’m grateful for the hundred and ten dollars in my current account; I can pay the phone bill and still get twenty bucks gas and a coffee from Z.

I’m grateful for Kepaoa, and everything he taught me. How to sit loose to things: how to be a hustler and not a hustlee. Ohh, I miss that egg right now, or maybe I just miss the way I felt when he was there… and then I stop and think: Couldn’t I feel like that, all by myself?

Well, couldn’t I? Maybe it’s possible.

 

Friday 21 November

I get little moments of happiness at the weirdest times. Parked at Municipal, between the council buildings and the train station. Despite the money worries, I feel so glad to be exactly here. “Oh, this place!” I say to myself.

A lot of people are walking up from the train, one woman’s knee-high black boots giving me another little surge of happiness. Something about them reminds me unexpectedly of childhood days – I always wanted to whirl up the stairs, amidst a flock of a hundred people: Pursuit of Happyness. That’s right, I think. That’s the feeling.

All the same, I lose it over the dumbest things.

 

Like the boys misplacing their keys again – and the padlock to the sleepout, this time. They can’t even lock up this morning. I badly want to growl at them for being disorganized, and for (it seems) not giving a fuck about the hassle for me of having to replace everything for the umpteenth time… or about the money either.

Instead, I just try to squash my feelings down. But I must seem irritable all the same, and then I just feel more pissed off at the closed off looks on the boys’ faces, as they try to minimize ‘conflict’. I know that any disagreement, no matter how minor, feels like conflict to them; it brings up all sorts of things… but at the same time, what about me? Don’t my feelings matter at all? And if they don’t, then why don’t they?

So everyone is stressing now. The boys offer not to go to course today (thinking, no doubt, that I’m worried at the idea of leaving the place unlocked). Then I feel guilty for upsetting them. I persuade them that course is a good idea, and I even drop them off.

 

When I come home, I don’t know what to do – so I wash the car. I swish the hose about and wonder what’s going to happen. I’m tired, and I’m almost broke, and I’m still trying to look after these two like it’s no big deal. And yet I’m basically running myself out of options, if a job doesn’t turn up soon. While I house, feed and protect them, provide them with every necessity of life, right down to rides and broadband (not to mention loans and petty cash).

Do I look after myself? Well, yes and no. I don’t know. I don’t have a frickin clue. Maybe I should just tell it like it is. Maybe I should tell Tau and Leroi how I’m right on the line with money now. And would they even really understand? Or would I just be one more person to let Tau down?

And I can’t let him down. I can’t let him down. It’s no good asking why, because in truth I don’t know. But I’ve never once lost that feeling, even through so many twists and turns of circumstance. And I won’t leave him stranded. In my heart, I wonder if Tau knows this. I think he probably does, somewhere.

 

Monday 24 November

Tau asks if I can come to the doctors with him to get the Winz forms signed; this takes us a while. Then we go to Winz itself, then the tinnie house, and lastly the bakery (for pies).

The two of us actually have a good talk at the doctors – it’s funny how sometimes things get ‘said’ in neutral places. The conversation is mostly about alcohol and drugs: “I still remember how I hated coming home from school everyday,” he tells me. “You know, waiting to find out if mum and dad were drinking…” He laughs quietly. “And then after a while I thought, well I can’t beat ‘em, guess I might as well join ‘em.”

 

Wednesday 26 November

I go do ‘stuff’. All the usual Wednesday stuff: gas, groceries, get coffee if there’s a few dollars left over. I practically give myself palpitations tracking every cent at the supermarket, but it’s worth it. I even manage to get grain waves and juice for the boys, yoghurt for me, and a little tub of nuts and raisins (which feels like the luxury of luxuries right now; I’ll save it for tomorrow).

Inwardly though, I’m pretty scared. It’s my last self-funded “payday”. I’ve gone nearly as far as I can with the measures that I put in place months ago. It’s almost time for my next move. But today… well, today is just a day to be steady.

I try telling myself: the drought’s breaking, it’s going to be ok. I want to believe it. I get caught up in the ‘hows’, and the crazy feeling of things going right down to the wire – a team that scores in the last few seconds of play. That’s how it feels. Mixed metaphors, but you get the picture.

 

The agency texts me, there’s a day’s work going at Carthill tomorrow. It’s a good sign, but at the same time, I’m jangling with electricity and nerves. It’s not surprising I feel this way, but I just want to be nice to myself, the same way I’m nice to Tau. I can’t imagine saying to Tau the things I say to myself sometimes: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be like everyone else?” Or, “You’re so selfish!” Or, “No-one cares about you.”  Or, “Look at you, you look like shit today.”

Far too often I tell myself these exact things. Things I never think for one second where Tau’s concerned. Even if he hasn’t been able to, or hasn’t wanted to care for himself, I’ve never stopped being proud of him. I yearn to do that for myself. Not in some kind of narcissistic way… but to look at myself with loving eyes.

 

Thursday 27 November

After work, I try to think of things I’m grateful for, and get stuck almost straight away. The day’s pay, of course. And I’m grateful for, um… the yoghurt, I say to myself. And the extra click on my coffee card yesterday. Seriously clutching at straws here, I add, to no-one in particular.

Then – what else am I grateful for? I wonder. I’m grateful for a whole four months of making rent and bills, since leaving MC. And I am grateful for that – don’t think I’m not – but what the fuck’s going to happen now?

I lay on my bed, it’s so warm and quiet and I can hear voices in the sleepout, Tau and Leroi back from course. They don’t know, and I don’t want them to know, that I’m scared. They think everything’s ok – perhaps it is. Perhaps it is.

So I start making dinner – a big stir fry with pork and vegies and noodles. As I slice up cabbage and broccoli, I feel a tiny bit of calm return. I just fix the dinner, and go tell the boys it’s ready, and they come in.

The real story

Wednesday 9 April, 2014:

I have a alright sleep, I guess… under the circs.

But I wake up with that old feeling of shame twisting up in my chest, just like it’s always done at certain times in my life. It’s exactly the same feeling I remember from childhood. That feeling of thinking people won’t love me anymore if I do even one thing wrong.

The only thing that helps a little is to look at it like this: Well, obviously it’s impossible to do everything right. So if no-one’s going to love me, then I’ve got nothing to lose. I can be exactly the way I am, ha.

Exactly the way I am. And right now, no-one really knows me like that. Except, I think, maybe Tau.

 

I do the long day at school and make it back home, kind of licking my wounds. Sometimes it feels like the only arsenal at my disposal is that teacher talk – and man, do I hate talking that talk. It’s just false deployment, coming from my mouth; as I speak, the words are already floating away. I think the “ringleaders” sense that, and it irks them.

In any case, when I do get home, here’s the real story of the day. Tau and Leroi arrive, having just walked over from Bream, with their possessions (the game, a sesh, and a couple other bits and pieces) in two plastic bags. Tau tries to give me that sixty dollars back too, but I can’t take it. I tell him to save it for the time being, in case he needs to help Sheree out.

 

The fact that I’m here when they arrive is a piece of synchronicity, thanks to my utter horror of this afternoon’s Staff Professional Development. I’ve found (just in the nick of time, too) that today’s activity is a video skit competition, in preassigned groups, on the theme of ‘Home-School Partnership’.

What makes it worse is that my group is led by Chloe, the veritable queen of all things competitive. And I like Chloe – but I also know that literally nothing could induce me to take part in this particular activity. And yet to refuse is going to bring me exactly the kind of attention I don’t want or need, on this day.

So I compose a polite email to Marjorie, saying that I have just received some urgent communication, and need to go off site for a pastoral matter involving MC families. I apologize for the short notice, and add that I would not miss PD unless it was an emergency (which in my opinion, it most certainly is).

 

Then I calmly go home, where as luck would have it, my story is immediately transformed into reality. Not two minutes after I arrive, I hear voices outside, and there, coming up the drive, are Tau and Leroi.

We all just start to laugh. I’m not expecting them to turn up right then, and they’re not expecting me to be home yet either. Next minute we’re unlocking the shed, and they’re setting up the game on the TV, and kind of exclaiming over being back.

I know it isn’t easy for any of us – but they look so relieved to be here. That look in their eyes: it squeezes my heart so bad, and I think, there’s no way I’m letting you two down.

Leroi tells me it was ‘awkward’ at their uncle’s last night. And Tau says he kept the whole house awake, coughing and getting up and down.

“Now you can just keep one another awake,” I tell them nonchalantly, and they grin at me.

 

Vailea Poe rings me later on, and we discuss what to do next. He’s somewhat surprised to learn that the boys are with me – I’m sure he vaguely imagined I would pass the buck. Probably it’s just never occurred to him before that I’m involved (up to my ears, hah). We get on ok. I give him my address and tell him he’s welcome to come around and see Tau and Leroi if he needs to.

He says he’s going to talk to someone about social housing. He thinks he can maybe get Sheree onto the priority list, despite her previous track record with Housing NZ.

 

Thursday 10 April:

I don’t get much sleep last night. Tau coughs outside for a while, then Leroi tries to get in the front door (which is still jammed) using the wrong key, and I have to get up and let him in. This is around 2, maybe 3 am, I guess.

After that I just doze. In between times, I feel a lot of unforgiving rage towards school in general. Then I think about Kepaoa. I just lay there and wonder why people ditch people. I feel tears spring to my eyes, for a few seconds. And then I say – ok whatever, fuck you too, Kepaoa. And I try to go back to sleep.

But I can’t switch off. This morning we’re off to Winz again – and I’m pretty sure I’ll be way late for work. Ross is covering for me, but he can’t cover for ever, and who knows… who the fuck knows? I just hate school right now, and I wish I had a different job – any job would do, as long as it paid the bills, that’s what I think sometimes. It hurts my soul to pretend so futilely. It scrapes me raw. I’d rather have the kids actually hate me for not ‘caring’ the way a teacher should, than have them think I’m a teacher at all.

And once again, there’s so much to try to ‘grab’ and write about… I hardly know where to begin. So again, I’ll start with the simple stuff.

 

Leroi sees a caseworker called Salesi, today. He dots all the i’s and crosses every t on the paperwork, to such an extent that at first I think he’s suspicious of us. But it turns out that he’s ‘just fresh’ (as Tau puts it, making me laugh). Salesi is still in training, and has to check everything with his supervisor before committing himself. A couple times I try to put him straight about the various forms, some of which he is insisting Leroi fills in unnecessarily.

“He doesn’t have to do that one…” I comment, as the ‘Disability Allowance’ is pushed forth.

“I think the doctor needs to fill this page in,” is the reply.

“No, that one’s only if you’re claiming for additional costs, like counselling, or health care,” I inform him confidently.

“Um… I’ll check with my trainer… not sure, one moment please…” and he sets off to another work station.

“Faar, Miss – you know more than he does,” Tau says.

“Hard,” agrees Leroi.

“Should work here,” Tau goes on, smirking at me.

“I reckon,” I say. “But he’s not too bad – just a bit lost.”

 

At the end of the interview, Salesi thanks us for our patience, which is nice of him. He says he has to do a final check with his supervisor, and he’ll ring Leroi when payments are confirmed.

He does – later – but: “I didn’t understand what he was saying, Miss,” Leroi tells me me.

I phone Sarsha, and the matter is resolved. Leroi needs a two-year ID, and (as we know already) an extended medical certificate, covering the next four weeks.

Anyway, all this is progress. We’re at Winz until after 10 though, and I feel sorry for Ross, who texts me to see when I’m coming back. I tell him to ditch the class and I’ll take the rap – this makes Tau grin with amusement.

But he can’t – he has his laptop hooked up to the data projector, to show them a movie. It was his idea to use his own laptop too, poor guy. And I had hoped (in vain) that Leroi’s appointment wouldn’t take as long as I suspected it might.

Much aroha

Monday 21 October, 2013:

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

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

But I tell him to leave it.

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

 

Tuesday 22 October:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Wednesday 23 October:

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

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

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

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

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

“I know!” he says in elation.

 

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

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

“Bakery,” I tell him.

“Solid…”

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

But after class, he doesn’t wait back.

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

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

 

Thursday 24 October:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

In the car, he settles just a little bit.

“You ok… Tau?” I say again.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he goes in, with his cans.

 

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

And then I just make a cup of tea.

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

 

All my people want us to be free

Monday 10 June, 2013:

Yes, I’m licking my wounds, definitely. But at least I make it to school today. And I even write the new History assessment during my non-contacts. It’ll do… it’ll do. As long as it gets them credits. Which it will, because I’m actually pretty good at that stuff (writing assessments isn’t hard)

Classes go alright: 9 Social, 11 History. But even that causes me sorrow, in a way. Neon tells me (completely out of the blue, and in front of everyone) that I’m a ‘real’ teacher and that the other teachers are all shit. I feel very unworthy of such a compliment, particularly considering the situation with Kepaoa and Tau right now.

 

La-Verne and I go for coffee after work. Her cosmopolitan air is exactly what I need. She has the wait staff eating out of her hands: we get, first, a table (instantly, in a very crowded afternoon shift), then the private wifi password (so she can check her messages), then a round of free coffees (as apologies for what was really a not very long delay in receiving our orders). I feel myself relax into an enjoyable feeling of not having to take care of a single thing. Her firm grip on the situation allows me to relinquish all desire for control, which is (I know) only partial and temporary, but at the same time delightful in its immediate effect. I also have a pleasing sensation of playing a role. And so, when I get back home, I’m actually able to continue on in this vein, and start marking the history folders, even if very impressionistically. And the rain’s stopping. I don’t feel good good, but at least I can say I’m feeling alright.

All the same, the house seems so empty. Kepaoa’s blankets still folded up on the couch, just the way he left them. Pillow on top. And I haven’t seen Tau all weekend.

 

Elroy texts. He’s out of Youth Justice again, has six months home supervision (I don’t know exactly what that entails, I’m sure I will find out eventually, probably through him breaching it in some way). He asked me how I was, and if I’ve seen Cluzo. I tell him yes, adding that Tau has taken off back to Fitzroy over cleaning up the shed.

Neither of us mention Kepaoa. I want to… but I just think: Oh well, I’m not going to force things. There’s no point in trying to take shortcuts. When the time’s right, paths converge. I’m on my own path at the moment, and that’s how it should be, I guess. For now, anyway.

I don’t have the heart to do much, honest. I just keep telling myself that it’s better to be on my own than be hustled. But I just miss their ways.

I have to let it go now. I’m real sad, and I tried hard, and I couldn’t be perfect, and yup, I was on a hiding to nothing… and I love them anyway.

 

Tuesday 11 June:

Sometimes I’m nothing if not pragmatic. The whole stupid school day is at least gonna keep my mind off things.

I stand there in year levels assembly, suffering through Marjorie’s address to the year 9 student body. Next to me stands Deshaun. I like Deshaun, even though he can be a dick sometimes (and can’t we all). Marjorie is just saying something about the students being her ‘inspiration’. Which may be true (despite sounding very platitudinal). But it still makes me cringe. I look at Deshaun and he looks at my expression and cracks up laughing.

A little later, Deshaun asks, “Miss – how many cans did Miss Tunbridge say we got?” (for the school can drive, a purportedly ‘character building’ initiative – the cans being donated to the City Mission. To be quite honest it’s more of a house competition than having any other raison d’etre).

“I don’t know,” I say, truthfully. My expression adds – and do I care?

Deshaun tsks at me, and starts laughing again.

And I make it through another day at Municipal College. Quite successfully, I might add. Even if not happily.  But oh well, like I already said – sure can’t have it all.

 

After school Elroy texts, politely: ‘Miss may i pleaze get a ryd to clancy?’

I got nothing much to do for a while, so I go pick him up. He’s waiting at the train tracks, sipping from a can of ‘Fruit Punch’ (eight dollars for a six-pack, Lord knows how he got served at the liquor store).

But it’s good to see Elroy. Out of juvey on Friday, was back in court yesterday. And that didn’t go so well. At 17, he’s about to have his third appearance in adult court, and under the three strikes policy, this could well mean he’s up for a short stint inside. “Real prison, Miss,” he tells me.

Elroy seems fairly undisturbed about this prospect, though of course the can of fruit punch has helped with his mental equilibrium. We drive to Clancy, where he’s going to rendezvous with someone or other. Tells me he’s on curfew, and he’ll get himself back to Carthill later on. Then he asks me to park outside the tinny house, goes in and got two ciggies – one of which he gives to me. I demur, but Elroy presses it upon me, saying, “Keep it Miss. Keep it for when you want a smoke!” So I do

I don’t ask about Kepaoa, and Elroy doesn’t mention him. I don’t think it’s deliberate on his part (it definitely is on mine); I just think he has other things on his mind.

 

Wednesday 12 June

I can’t sleep. Wake up at 4, my heart hurts so bad… stupid tears run down my cheeks, because I remember Kepaoa’s appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon is today. And there’s nothing I can do. If he wants to go, he’ll go. It isn’t my business anymore. It just isn’t.

So I go to school, go gym, get groceries – it’s payday.

 

Thursday 13 June:

Slade’s back! And honestly, of all the people in that entire, huge, institution – he’s the only one I trust.

I end up telling him about what happened with Kepaoa, and Tau. “Neither of them are talking to me anymore,” I finish, with a shrug.

“They’ll talk to you again,” Slade says. His voice is real kind.

“You think?” I said, with a wistfulness I can’t conceal.

He nods. “Course they will,” he assures me.

But I don’t know.

After work I run on the treadmill at the gym, feeling like a bird wanting to take off and flap its wings.

 

When I get home, I miss Kepaoa so much. Can’t even bring myself to take his blankets and pillow off the couch. But oh well, it sucks.

And Tau? Usually, if he’s upset, I extend the olive branch a bit more. Well, yup and I already did that, on Friday. Texting him to let him know we were alright; taking the key over to Sheree. So I’m just going to leave it, if he wants to leave it. And I guess I’ll see what happens.

I love those two, no lies. But I can’t continually submit my energy. I just… can’t. I get so incredibly tired out. Like I don’t have boundaries. Or like my feelings don’t mean shit all, compared to theirs.

I blame myself, in a way. Letting them perceive I might be there for the taking; letting them somehow believe I didn’t need anything in return. Oh, reciprocity, it exists. I know that.  But I guess people start to forget about it, when they know you’ll do anything, forgive anything.

Right now, I just want to retreat a bit. I can’t square myself with martyrdom. I wish I could, almost. Just to feel loved. But I guess I’ve learned something, at long last. And that’s this: Sometimes you’ve got to be willing to give yourself up for those you love, that’s true. But you can’t do it for too long, and still expect to be loved in return.

 

Saturday 15 June:

I look at the rest of the 13 History marking, and those folders seem to contain a million unnecessary squiggles on paper, crowding my eyes and my brain. I don’t care about any of it, or the meaninglessness of why they have to do it, why I have to mark it, why I even think I can try.

It’s pouring with rain, and for some reason that makes my heart ache even more. I feel like I’ve been abandoned – and who did I think was going to come this way with me? Because no-one’s here right now. I need to go on alone for a bit, huh. And that’s where the feeling of fear kicks in so bad. I’m not sure I can do it alone. But I have to try.

For some reason, it helps to think of it that way. Like the part of the story where the company disbands. Events have been unexpected, circumstances have changed. Then each story becomes its own, at least for a while. And the job of an individual is to survive.

For some reason, I can actually bear it, when I put it down like that. I can see a shape to it, and a sense to it. Not ‘abandonment’, exactly. But the part of the story where things change, and you have to ride alone. There’s always that part, whether you expect it or not, whether you want it or not. And I think the key to getting through this dark road is to see that it’s necessary. Because if you’re brave enough, and you can let go of your companions, and you each play your equal part – then things may still be righted and restored one day, the way they ought to be.

Oh Pharaoh, do not think of pursuing me

Oh Pharaoh, all my people want us to be free.

(Ruia – Song of Te Kooti)

 

Not special

Monday 6 May, 2013:

First day of term. Isn’t much to like about it. All by myself (no Slade). Back to back classes; two twenty minute breaks.

 

Tuesday 7 May:

Round midnight I take Elroy home. Tau comes along for the ride, then I drop him back at Fitzroy. Via Macca’s – Tau’s raking in the cash at the moment. Got Eddie selling for him at Carthill High; Skat at MC. He just bought ten tinnies for forty bucks (from one of those older boys: the fruit of standovers at Municipal station). It’s good while it lasts, I guess. Who am I to say it won’t last? I hope it lasts.

Elroy’s clicked up with the KB’s. Out on the earns every day. Hasn’t been home for ages, making money, so he says. Or, if you ask me – heading straight for another string of convictions. But that’s because Elroy doesn’t give a fuck, and I don’t in honest truth know exactly why that is. Could be a hundred reasons, and I don’t know.

I feel sad, because I can only imagine which way all this is gonna go, for Elroy anyway. Tau’s trying to stay out of trouble (which is a semi-realistic goal). Elroy’s not trying at all.

 

He’s wasted as fuck when I drop him home. Drunk, blazed. Texts me from Tau’s (having just turned up there and knocked on the door, not five minutes earlier). Smokes my emergency ciggie on the way through Bream (I have two puffs, which gives me a little jolt of something close to happiness).

Hotty, Miss…” Elroy says, kind of admiringly.

“Why’s that?” I ask.

“I dunno Miss… it just feels like you’re boosty,” he says, making us all laugh.

“Well I’m not,” I tell him. “I’m only doing the speed limit.”

 

We pull up in Montgomery Rd, and Elroy gets out of the car. “Moving as fast as a snail…” I say, and Tau grins at me. We look on as Elroy goes a couple of paces, then sinks to his knees for a second, like the Pope about to kiss home tarmac.

“He alright?” I murmur.

“Yeah, he’s algood, he’s going inside,” Tau says, as Elroy regains his footing and climbs over the fence.

 

Tau wants to get a feed, so we go to Carl’s Jnr (closed), Burger King (just closed), and then McDonald’s (open).

“What are you gonna do now?” I ask him, as we near Fitzroy.

“Have a feed, get blazed… then get some sleep,” he replies.

“Algood then Tau,” I say, meaning it most sincerely.

 

I can’t sleep, to begin with. I put some music on, and make a cuppa tea – then I go back to bed. Where I was when Elroy texted, a couple hours ago.

Tomorrow (today, really). Work, gym, and write stuff down. And write a character reference for Kepaoa – for court.  The lawyer said the more the better. Can’t hurt at all, to have it on the day.

Got Professional Learning in the morning. Supposed to be preparing for ‘Home Partnership’ meetings: perfect time to do my own thing. I don’t need to prepare for Home Partnership meetings, overmuch. No-one really gives a fuck, at the end of the day. The DP’s and Deans say all this shit, but when the kid they’re wringing their hands over leaves school, it all stops… just like that! Honestly, even the ‘caring’ Deans like Chloe. Once Eddie left; once Simeon left… it’s like they were never there in the first place.

And I don’t see it like that – I can’t. Because people don’t just melt into the world and away. They don’t automatically find their place in some magical ‘community’ out there. I think sometimes they need even more than before to know they’re not alone.

So that’s where I stand, and sometimes it feels like stand or fall. But I don’t want to fall. And I don’t wanna see us fall.

At 1:30 I go to bed

 

Wednesday 8 May:

Elroy’s locked up again – the cops took him this morning. And everyone knows this isn’t the least bit surprising, after all those days of breaching curfew.

Kepaoa comes over with Paki, to get the letter for court. Tells me he’s seen his lawyer again today. She says the police won’t reduce the charges. So it’s robbery, definitely. And a jury trial.

I’m a little bit thrown by this unexpected development, but try not to show it. Kepaoa also looks kind of bewildered at how things seem to be panning out.

Paki is going to court with him tomorrow, so that’s good.

Later I get a text: danks foa da letter ms man ima lucky nigga

I did what I could alright. I’m just holding my breath now, kind of. Hoping, hoping…

 

Thursday 9 May:

I feel antsy after hearing nothing from Kepaoa all day at school. Which covers the spectrum of possibilities, really. On the way home, I stop at Municipal for a takeout coffee and  cinnamon brioche. The café’s right next to that High Times store, the one that got robbed the other night. I hate that synthetic cannabis shit. Any time I’ve seen someone on that stuff, they’re either sick or playing up. Even the kids don’t really like it. They just say: “It’s cheap,” and shrug, like that’s enough of a reason to do it.

When I get home, Tau texts, asking if I can pick him up. So I go get him, with a kind of acquiescence in my heart.

He’s sober, and seems quite peaceful and happy. There don’t seem to be any dramas going on at Fitzroy; or no more than usual. He just wants to come use the wifi for a while, I think. Scott hasn’t paid the bill and they got cut off.

“It might be a bit cold, out in the sleepout,” I comment, as we get out of the car.

“Um, I don’t mind the cold,” Tau says. “But I’m gonna come kick it inside though.”

“Oh, algood then,” I say, in mild surprise.

 

It’s companionable, just hanging out with Tau. Both of us jamming facebook, just talking about this and that. I look across at his face, and I think – I love ya, Tau. And I’m alright with that, because I let go ages ago. Let go of wanting to be special, or beloved. After a while I fall asleep on the couch.

Around 10:30, I wake up, and Tau chuckles at me. “Aww.. I better go to bed,” I tell him.

Tau just stays and watches TV for a while, I can hear the sound on, and it soothes me a bit to know someone is there. But I lay in bed and think about Kepaoa, and wonder what happened in court today, and I feel the hot shame of not knowing anything. I think, kind of idly – well, guess I been found out again. I rub my own arms with my fingertips, the way Kepaoa stroked my shoulders the other day. The feeling makes me cry, at last, after the whole day of not crying. To be found out. That’s how I’d describe it. To be found out as someone who’s not special.

I cry, because I haven’t let go. Because I want Kepaoa to think I’m special, when I’m not special at all.

I hear the front door shut gently, sometime in the middle of the night. Tau might have gone out to the sleepout, or he might have walked home. I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter, because I’m alright with Tau. I can sit with that feeling of knowing I’m not special. I love Tau just as much as I ever did, but the pain of wanting to be loved back has gone.

Love and attention

Tuesday 12 March, 2013: 

Slade’s still a bit grumpy with me. He doesn’t say so, but I can tell. That’s alright though – I’m still a bit grumpy with him, too. I don’t say so either. We spend our breaks together, just like always, but there’s a slightly grouchy atmosphere between us. It isn’t until this evening that we sort it out on chat:

keen as as to paint miss, i just told my aunty she said yo allgood haha so ue dont worry later an try make me txt her an shit, but yoza keen as

haha, i will txt her on the day, not gonna even think twice about it! yeah, yeah i know, but only cos i want everyone to be algd with it, so that it’s win-win for all of us.

yehr why tho, i jus asked her she said allgood

because when i talked to her the other day she said that i should make sure that i text her when we are painting. so can you stop hassling me about it?

i allready sussed it out tho

yes i know that.. but that’s exactly what you said last time and then you hadnt even.. or maybe you thought you had but your aunty’s mind was working in mysterious ways. 

haha yo allhood then miss, an stop mentionin my aunty around the bros i get fucked off wanna boost aha

well you’ve only got yourself to blame for that state of affairs. do you think i liked it when i had to cover for you and the shit hit the fan that night? ok though bossy boots, i’l just text her and say nothing in front of the others. it was just the other day i had to, when she sent that text saying she wasn’t algd with me yet. it made things real awkward for me. anyway everyone’s parents/families are different tau’s parents do heaps of crazy shit all the time & i think he wishes they would worry about him more like your aunty. but yeah i get what your saying. Ok, i do. i just hope you can see what i’m saying too

nah ur the bossy one aha im kickback, yip allhoood miss

your the bossiest one of all, tau is the stubbornest, zion is the most humble & kepaoa is the most bugged out, i rekn. oh well you’re all beautiful in your own way. but kickback you say… pfffffffffft!!! and who can blame me for being bossy when i have to put up with all of you doing my head in, oh well, least life’s interesting

haha nah not bossy kickback rumbler ce, haha yo ur right about quest, yo allhood miss, gangsta niggas allways more intersting hahaa

 

Later, Tau texts to see if he can borrow twenty bucks. I go round there, and he’s super-drunk. He’s just stepped out little Michael, over something and nothing. Taken offence at something Michael has said, and whacked him a couple of times in the head. Michael (wisely) has taken off home at that point. And Tau is left bewildered at himself. I turn up right then, and he comes for a little drive with me. Keeps saying, over and over, “I need to… apologise,” stressing this word with tender care, as if he’s sounding it out to himself.

“All good, Tau,” I tell him. “You can do that when he comes back.”

“Yeah, I need to apologise,” he says again, just to make sure.

“Algood, algood – he’ll understand,” I reassure Tau, meaning it.

 

Tau’s scent, which is so familiar and familial to me, is overlain by days of him being hot, not washing, and wearing the same clothes. I don’t care about the acrid overtones, to be honest. It doesn’t make a difference to me. I always look at Tau with loving eyes, that’s just the way it is. In the car, I sit close to him, touch his arm, speak to him in exactly the same way I always do, with love and attention and tenderness. I can’t do it any other way. I can’t feel any different, even if my heart’s squeezed with worry about him.

I can sense that Tau isn’t ashamed to be around me. His shorts are ripped, and he sits tired and calm, letting himself be temporarily soothed by the car ride to the shops, and a little talk. When we get back, I press my fingers against his arm for just a few seconds, then stroke his shoulder, and he leans into me, resting for a moment.

 

Thursday 14 March:

On my way to work, I drop Kepaoa off at court. He’s up on robbery and assault charges. Stand overs: only a phone, but he hooked the guy. The cops traced him through the sim, which he used.

Elroy’s supposed to be meeting him there. Kepaoa talks about how he and Elroy are always there for one another. He’s ok, when I leave him this morning. But by the time I go get him again, he’s stressing out. Elroy hasn’t turned up. He’s been at court by himself all day. The duty solicitor asked him questions in a big loud voice, so that everyone could hear. And his lawyer told him he might go to jail.

We talk about it, all the way to training. Kepaoa’s at the gym from 4 till 8, just sweating things out. Pick him up, and we talk about it some more. He shakes his head, over and over and over. Eats a big plate of spaghetti bolognaise, lays on the couch, shakes his head some more. “Man, I’m dumb!” he says. “I’m fuckin sick of going to court all the time, straight up.”

I see his eyelids flutter, a couple times. Then his round head tilts, and he drops straight to sleep, as unselfconscious and trusting as a kid. Just lying there on the couch, having given up on the day’s problems. I go over and put the blanket on him; tuck the pillow under his head while he snoozes. He grimaces for a half-second and falls back sound asleep. I just stroke his head for a second. It’s late, and I go to bed.

 

Friday 15 March:

Slade lights up a ciggie in the car, as we’re exiting the school driveway. I couldn’t give a fuck, in fact I’m positively insouciant about it – making him grin. Anyway, he asks me first. And, “Why not?” I reply. “We’re off the school grounds now. And it’s not like it’s illegal or anything.”

“Churr Miss,” he says, putting lighter to ciggie and taking a long drag. He settles back and rests his elbow on the car window, blowing casual smoke out into the open air. As we drive past people walking and at bus stops, I’m filled with happiness, honestly.

From Slade’s, I head to Carthill, picking up Kepaoa (and Elroy) for his Winz appointment at the town centre. Kepaoa, who hates Winz, is huffing and harrumphing as soon as we navigate our way inside the front entrance.

“Did you see the way that lady looked at me?” he asks, incredulously, as we leave again. “Like they’ve never seen black people asking them questions before.”

This cracks me up, and I rub his irate shoulder. “Nah, all good,” I tell him. “It’s alright… who cares about her.”

“And fuck, look at that little kid looking at me,” Kepaoa goes on, eyeing up a five year old in a parked car. “Fuckin little shit!”

“Nah, nah… he’s alright,” I shush him. “Probably just playing round, waiting for his mum or something.”

“Playing with his dick,” puts in Elroy, making me snort with laughter.

“Looking at you, faag,” Kepaoa tells his brother.

“Boys, boys…” I pretend to sigh. “Can you please just speak lovingly to one another.”

They look at me, quite content. I feel my heart beat with love for the both of them.

 

 

Plain and simple

Wednesday 2 January, 2013:

Just been talking to Kepaoa, he says he found his passport. And I’m not dumb, so of course I wonder if it was ever really lost, maybe it was just that Teri didn’t want him to come back. Because he tells me, “She wants me to stay here, but Miss – I really need to come home.”

I go online and look for flights while we’re talking. The best deal I can find is on the 10th, and actually it’s almost $200 cheaper than the last one we booked: only $380, which is pretty good for this time of year.

So I book it. I say, “K, I’ll pick you up – will I recognise you? Or will you have a mullet now?

“Nah, no fuckin way!” he snorts, cracking up. “Straight up, the barbers here are shit, fah.. I gotta afro now, pretty much.”

I laugh, at the thought.

He asks me to mail him the details, but can I please say that the flight’s non-refundable? He doesn’t want Teri to stop him from coming. Which makes me wonder about the passport thing even more… but no matter. The original fare was refunded anyway, and this flight’s cheaper – so all good. I just kind of feel sorry for her, pregnant and on her own – even while I’m glad that Kepaoa’s returning.

 

Friday 4 January:

I get home from Dad’s to find two cars in my driveway, and Tau, and five boys just hanging out with him: Leroi, Robbie, Mischa, little Michael, and a guy named Raphael. We greet one another, then Tau and I just quietly split off and have a talk; first sitting on the steps of the deck, and then in the car, on an errand to the store.

And Tau’s definitely been house-sitting. There’s dishes draining on the bench, extra towels in the bathroom, clothes in the washing machine, and the recycling bin is nearly full to overflowing (the results of a clean up in the shed). But I can see that it’s just Tau who’s been in the house; everything else is just as I’ve left it, he obviously hasn’t let his boys tromp through the place. And my room is completely undisturbed – Tau and I are always so respectful to one another like that. Nor is Kepaoa’s stuff (in the spare room) touched. So I’m happy that Tau still has honour, despite all the shit he’s into at present.

Anyway, he tells me home isn’t good right now – Scott’s told him to fuck off. He doesn’t say why exactly. He just sighs and says all he does at home is it in the shed and drink, anyway (this I already know). I just nod, and tell him, “Tau, you just stay any time you need to, any time at all.”

“Thanks, Miss,” says Tau, and he looks settled to hear this.

Then I add, “There’s just one thing I need to say, and I’m going to trust you on this, Tau.” I go on, “I don’t mind those boys being there, but I don’t know all of them, and I don’t want any trouble.”

He nods, saying, “It’s just the boys I always hang with, they’re awgud.”

“Well all the same, I don’t need any more police visits,” I add. And we both can’t help laughing, at that.

Consequently (I guess), I’ve been here all day. Doing not much. But not running away. Don’t know how to explain it really, but there it is.

 

Monday 7 January:

Tau’s been ok over the weekend, and we’ve had some good talks. To see him feel a little bit safer, it’s worth the world to me. I just see him do a few homely things, take care of himself a bit more. And it’s something, it’s more than nothing.

We also ring WINZ today, Tau does all the talking. The prospect alarms him at first, and he practices saying the words, carefully, while he’s on hold. I feel so proud of him.

 

Tuesday 8 January:

Today’s been a bit stressy, when I think about it. It’s just the usual stuff: money (payday tomorrow, thank God) and alkies (Tau) and me not really knowing what’s the best thing to do…

Around 4, Tau turns up with Leroi, Mischa and Robbie. They’ve been to the beach, drinking (Mischa being the sober driver).

‘The Arabs’ (as the others call them) turn up as well – they don’t drink, they like to play Playstation and smoke shisha from a bong. When I go into the sleepout, they’re sitting there as comfortable as anything. Honestly, they look happy as. They’ve got a little gas burner on the ground and are stoking charcoal briquettes on it, and one of the boys is preparing the bong and urges, “You should try it, Miss.” He shows me the packet of what they’re smoking, which is mint flavour – apparently you can get watermelon, bubblegum, whatever else. Inside, there’s a foil wrapper filled with this sticky green stuff which smells sweet and amazing, you’d think you could just lick it (but no, he says – don’t lick it, it isn’t sweet). Then he uses little tongs to picks up one of the briquettes, and sets it up over the bowl of the smoker, which has the stuff in it, covered with tinfoil. “Just your lips,” he says, showing me. “And you don’t need to inhale, you just…” and he puffs away, demonstrating, then smoke billows out of his mouth and the whole place is wreathed in clouds and scent. I have a tentative inhalation, which pleases the boys, then a proper one. It’s really good, and aromatic, and mellow. “Oh!” I say, and Tau grins at me, saying, “Nice, aye Miss.”

“Yeah, it’s really good,” I agree, surprised by the feeling I get, which is kind of ‘kickback exotic’, aided by the slightly surreal vision of six Iraqis in my shed smoking shisha.

 

Tau and I talk outside. He’s been drinking steadily all day, but, “I’m only just getting started,” he informs me. Mostly he’s quite sedate with it too, except for a bit of dreamy chat about shooting people, at one stage. I give his arm a little swipe, growling, “Ahh, you do not want to shoot people, Tau.”

I do it without really thinking, it’s just offhand, the kind of thing I wouldn’t give a second thought about, if he was sober. If he was sober, it would just make him chuckle. But for a second, I see his face get that ‘look’ – like he’s almost going to get angry – then he relaxes again, realising it’s me, and it’s no big deal, and that I’m not trying to disrespect him

 

After a while, the Iraqis go home. Their mums make them dinner, according to Tau. Make them breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever they want. And then Mischa has to go home too, he’s got to make dinner as well. I’m also feeling pretty hungry, but I know Tau won’t be wanting food for a while – nothing that will block the effect of the alcohol. He seems disgruntled at the prospect of everyone going off to have a feed, and makes a face. “I don’t wanna drink by myself, want someone to drink with,” he complains, sounding like he’s about three.

“I’ll come back later ce,” soothes Mischa. “I’ll put a box in the car, we’ll go out again.”

“Oh aye, algood ge,” says Tau, looking hopeful at the thought (but still very weary and tired, if I’m honest).

I go make myself a feed. Put the leftovers in the oven, just like I did last night – for Tau.

 

Tau waits for Mischa to get back. “I’m just getting started,” he tells me, and my heart kind of sinks. I don’t know what the best thing to do is. I honestly do not know one little bit about anything. Idly, I wonder if I’m an idiot, half the time.

Honest to who, I don’t know. According to received wisdom, I’m ‘enabling’ him, I guess. And maybe it’s true, maybe I am. But I don’t know what the alternative is. For fuck’s sake, where’s he supposed to go? The other choices are stark. Fitzroy St, or back on the streets. And for some reason, Tau can cope with being here. There aren’t hardly any places Tau can cope with, and I’m under no illusions about it: he’d sleep rough, rather than go somewhere he didn’t want to be.

And yeah, he’s got some big problems. But he’s not ready to do anything with them right now. I know he’d run away, rather than be forced to acknowledge them. And it’s hard for me to just sit with that, and feel like I’m not helping. Yet, I don’t think it’s exactly ‘tough love’ that Tau needs, I think it’s just ‘love’, plain and simple, whether it’s tough or whether it isn’t – and it’s probably got to be both. And I guess that’s all I got to offer, and I’ll offer it. I’m not a psychologist or a counsellor; I’m not a social worker, I’m not even a teacher, really. I don’t know what I am. Yesterday, on the phone to WINZ, I hear Tau stop the conversation with the case worker and say, “Um… I don’t really understand everything you’ve been saying to me. Would I be able to give the phone to my caregiver, and you could tell her instead?” Then he breathes a great sigh of relief and hands the phone to me very trustingly, as if he fully expects me to be pleased with his efforts (which I am).

Ohhhhhh Tau, I think, taking the phone. ‘Caregiver’ – that’s about the best word for it. There’s nothing so great I can really offer. But I do care, oh I do. And I think Tau sees that, and maybe it’s why he comes back, even though sometimes this stuff is just frickin hard to deal with, all round. Oh well, let it be the way it is then, I guess. Let anyone think what they want to think. Because I’m not ditching Tau.

God? Don’t forget about my Tau, uh-huh? Please. Don’t forget. Not even for one second.