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 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?

 

I approve

Wednesday 27 August, 2014

I teach year 7 today – Carthill has a senior and a junior campus  – just for an hour. And, just for an hour, it’s cool. The most fun part is reading through their stories (‘narratives’, as they refer to them), aloud, on a corner couch to which they all flock with me. I put on my best storytelling voice (channeling Kuli here) with great effect. Slightly deadpan delivery, emphasis on certain off-beat syllables, especially when coming to the names they’ve given their characters: Keneti, Highfive, Myshon… I take a punt and pronounce this as ‘Mah’Shaun’, causing great hilarity amongst the audience.

“It’s not ‘Mah’Shaun’, it’s ‘Mission’, Miss,” they giggle, collapsing around me on the sofa.

“Well, I say it Mah’Shaun,” I tell them, straight-faced.

Mission,” they snort.

“Sad, Miss – that’s my name!” one boy says.

“Are you Mission?” I ask him.

“Yes.”

“Oops,” I say, making them all crack up again.

It’s fun – and at the same time I can only get away with being there for an hour. I know I couldn’t handle narratives, and learning intentions, and success criteria all day long. I kind of wish I could, but I’d only end up a grumpy bitch, perplexing these eleven and twelve year olds.

 

When I get home, Tau tells me that a new intake of students had their orientation today. When they visited his class, the teacher showed them Tau’s book as an exemplar.

“Oh my gosh Tau,” I say. “I bet yours was the best book there, and that’s why he picked it.”

An expression of soft and happy pride comes into Tau’s eyes as he reflects, “I don’t think anything like that’s ever happened to me before…”

“I’m so proud of you,” I tell him, just stroking his arm for a second.

 

Wednesday 3 September:

There’s a text from the agency this morning: Do you want a challenge in the PE area at Bream for the day?

First I dick around with trying to say ‘no’ politely by text, then I think better of it and reply with a yes. 230 bucks is 230 bucks, and really I can’t afford to mind what subject I teach, or what year level. My pay is, unsurprisingly, 800 dollars down from the norm, after working seven out of ten days in the last fortnight – and with only five of the days processed yet.

Seeing as there’s no non-contacts for relievers, I just take downtime wherever I can find it. I even fall asleep in the car during lunch break today (fifty minutes at Bream – so long it might as well be a holiday, compared to Municipal’s twenty five).

 

Thursday 28 August

Back to Carthill again today. Honest, I don’t want to go teach, not even a little bit. I just keep telling myself: 230 dollars. And the kids are nice – it’s not that. I just feel like I left MC for what? And I don’t know at all.

Speaking of money, it’s been on my mind lately that Tau borrows twenty bucks here and there, but sometimes forgets to pay it back. Normally I wouldn’t particularly care, but I’m starting to question myself on it. First of all, my boundaries with Tau are obviously (even to me), somewhat flexible, so I can’t blame him for testing them, even though I’m sure it’s not deliberate. But secondly, my pay could be down by nearly half this time – even if I do get work tomorrow.

I’m so used to looking after Tau’s tender feelings, but right now I’m more worried about the bills. I can’t seem to counter a certain resentfulness inside me. I keep thinking: Really? They get (between them) over 400 dollars a week. No rent to pay, no bills. And Tau can’t pay me back a twenty dollar loan?

 

Then I just sigh, and try to unravel my own tangled up feelings a little more. First off, I tell myself, I know the boys do have things to do with their money. Each of them saves fifty dollars a week towards a bond (for when Sheree gets a house); their Nan holds it so that they don’t touch it. They help Sheree out with other stuff, too. And every Wednesday, they bring home groceries from the supermarket, looking proud of themselves as they unpack bags to stock my fridge.

Of course there’s also weed (being totally realistic, this must cost them twenty a day at least), and smokes (another forty dollars a week). Essentials, for now, anyway. And it’s a kit better than being on the synthetics.

Plus they’re trying so hard with course.  I remember something else Tau said the other day. He was telling me how it had started to feel good having a daily routine; working hard. “I like that feeling,” he said. “It’s better than any drug.”

And to hear him say that –  well, it made me want to jump for joy.

 

Then I think how Tau can relax here; he’s told me so himself. Sometimes I think he even feels happy and safe, at least for a little while. And I guess I realize right then – it’s probably been the only time in Tau’s life he’s ever been able to relax a little bit about either food or money. And maybe that’s why he hasn’t remembered about borrowing twenty from me here or there.

I wish I could see myself the way I see Tau. I always see him through loving eyes: I wish I could do that with myself too. And sometimes I think, Well, couldn’t I?

 

Friday 29 August

Lying in bed this evening, I yawn, having a singular moment where I think, “I approve.” Not of substitute teaching per se, but of whatever it is I’m trying to do. And you know, I really don’t mind substitute teaching. Temperamentally, I like the ebb and flow. Sometimes I miss having regular classes and knowing the kids, but I can assure you I don’t miss having to talk shit on my own behalf. It makes it easier, somehow, to know that I’m supposed to be fronting.

Though of course, it’s tiring to never know if I have a job lined up ahead of time. It makes my brain tick and tock over money.

I fall asleep listening to rap battles outside my window. Leroi’s staccato laugh and Tau’s softer one.

 

 

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.

Personal

Wednesday 16 July, 2014:

Well, I’m employed (pending the standard reference checks). The interview at the agency goes fine – the manager makes me a cup of tea and we just chat.

And the idea of relief teaching, or for a while anyway, doesn’t irk me the way a permanent position would. I’m selling my skills only – like a mercenary – and not my values.

 

This evening Tau and Leroi are drinking. Admittedly it’s just an eight pack of Cody’s, and Tau wants to discuss it with me first – which I appreciate. But still, the potential for disturbance exists; no point in denying it. I guess I’m trying to ‘minimize harm’, as Vailea Poe once put it, by agreeing they can have a drink in the sleepout. Because the alternative (which is also discussed, and rejected) is to drink round at their uncle’s, with Sheree. Tau and Leroi don’t like that idea any more than I do.

But when Tau says they ‘promise’ to be good, I just sigh to myself.

“You can’t really promise that, Tau.” I say. “No-one can. Oh, I know you mean it, and I’m happy we’re even talking about it at all. But…” and then, I actually do sigh, and so does Tau. “It’s just that with alcohol there aren’t any guarantees,” I finish.

The agreement is that it’s just the two of them – definitely not Sheree, and no-one else either.  That’s the least-risk scenario I can think of. I just hope they don’t finish up their four cans and want more. Oh, that’s a possibility, I know it. They can promise whatever they want, but they can’t control it past a certain point.

I’m trying pretty damn hard here, and sometimes I think I’m doing shit all wrong – but at the same time it’s not simple. It never seems to get any simpler; maybe it never will.

 

Tau and Leroi do keep to their word, tonight. They have their four cans each (it takes them a whole three hours), and then want to go get DVD’s. On the way to Video Ezy, Tau tells me that they’ve already turned down an invite to drink round at Clancy.

“We just told the boys we wanted to stay here tonight,” Tau informs me, without dismay.

“But was it hard to say no?” I ask.

“Not really,” Tau says. “I just tell myself, parties and shit’ll still be there. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Wow,” I say. “Tau – listen to you.”

“Hah, I know,” he admits. “It actually feels pretty good to think like this. I’ve never done it before, ever.” He mulls it over some more and concludes, “Yeah, I like having strategies, nowadays.”

 

Tau also tells me he’s been having ‘good dreams’ about his dad, “Where we’re all running around and happy and stuff,” he says. Not like the nightmares he used to have a few months back.

“I’m sure your dad’s watching over you,” I say, and Tau smiles. “Bet he’s sorted his shit out, up there.”

“Hard,” says Tau, in a contemplative way.

 

Something occurs to me, and “Tau?” I say, merely touching on the idea. “Have you ever talked to Maxwell about… have you ever told him about Robbie?”

“Nope,” Tau replies with a little sigh. “I never have. But I think about him a lot, think about that cunt at least once every day. And every time I do, wherever I am… I just do a quick Cipher tag, just with my finger.”

“True,” I say, quietly affirming him. “But you know, Tau, it might be a good idea to mention it to Max one day – it just might help to talk about all that stuff, sometime.”

“Haard,” says Tau again, and I can tell he isn’t ruling out the idea.

 

Friday 18 July

There’s a barbecue at Aunty Yvette’s, and I’ve just dropped the boys off there (straight from counselling – which bodes well, I’m hoping).

But of course they’re going to be drinking again. Even though Tau assures me it won’t be a late night.

“Just pace yourselves,” I tell them, as they hop out of the car, each with their box.

“We will,” says Tau, very sincerely.

 

I go home and sit, just think-think-thinking. I look at some job ads, and think some more, and get that shackled feeling I always get on reading them – even those that sound as if they should be right on target. Like the one that just came through my inbox, for a ‘Personal Advisor’ at a not-for-profit youth organization:

Based in our Waitakere office, your key competencies will include:

  • experience in working with young people
  • A sound knowledge of community resources and how to access information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services
  • Experience working with a range of cultures
  • Experience developing and facilitating the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs
  • Previous high level conflict resolution experience
  • Ability to critically analyse and problem solve
  • Ability to build strong relationships with peers and stakeholders
  • Hold a full and clean drivers licence

Apart from the fact that it’s way out west – it should be the perfect job for me. I mean, I have every single one of those key competencies, don’t I?

 

Well yes, but here’s the problem:

First, I’m not comfortable making an explicit or even tacit commitment to institutional values. Even when they come cloaked in words like Aroha and Whanaungatanga – the education system being a case in point.

Second, I’m not very good at working with people generically (a ‘caseload’ – or even a tutor group, for that matter), or categorically (‘youth who are at risk of poor outcomes’).

Third, I’m trying to decrease the amount of formal and predefined structure in my day, not increase it. I want structure, for sure. But I want the pattern to come from me: I want to be autonomous.

It interests me, this realization gradually dawning in my mind – that I don’t even want any of the jobs I’ve been applying for. And I keep coming back to the same question: Why do I apply for them at all? Is it because I think I’m not entitled to have the relationships I want? Should I accept a substitute version, filtered through some institution?

 

I consider what I did “today.” Though it could be any day, really.

Today, I did a whole lot of things that could be translated into those key competencies. I ‘worked with young people’ and ‘accessed information and resources relating to education, employment, housing and health services.’ I ‘worked with a a range of cultures’ and ‘developed and facilitated the achievement of goals for young people with complex behavioral and support needs.’ I showed ‘the ability to critically analyse and problem solve.’  I ‘built strong relationships with peers and stakeholders’.  I even held my ‘full and clean drivers licence’.

But none of it was a key competency at all. None of it was as part of a contract to any institution whatsoever. All of it was personal; the only thing that mattered was that it was a sincere and personal commitment to a few people I love and care for.

 

Saturday 19 July:

Tau rings. They’re still at Aunty Yvette’s, and he sounds alright; it seems like they’re ok. But I can’t help but wonder if there’s an additional day of celebrating going on for Scott’s birthday. Well, nothing I can do about it if there is.

Around 8:30pm, a car pulls up, and the boys get out and wave a bleary goodbye to someone. Turns out I was right – they’ve been drinking all day. I feel… uncomfortable, I guess. Things seem more like the way they used to be, which is something I never, ever want to see repeated.

Leroi comes straight in and says that Tau is going to throw up; he needs a bowl.  In Leroi’s opinion it isn’t so much from the drinking as from the big sesh they had on top of it.

I look around and find a suitable bowl. “I’ll wash it after,” Leroi tells me, which kind of makes me laugh – but only kind of. Because I don’t really feel like talking. Leroi’s still a bit drunk; he asks how my day’s been going at least three times. I reply politely and automatically. Meanwhile my mind’s going down an old track of stressing about money, while feeling resentful that they can drink for two days straight like it’s no big deal.

 

All night I watch dumb stuff on TV (truly, stuff I never watch; mostly interchangeable crime dramas), and just try to tune out. I doze awkwardly on the couch until I get cold. Then I just get up and go to bed – which is at least more comfortable.

But comfortable is not the right word to describe this feeling in my heart. It’s like how I ‘always’ feel anyway, but writ large. Scale factor 2 (at least).

Tick and frickin tock. Money, school, trying to write, trying to support the boys, not having a blueprint for how to do things without getting hustled. Oh, I wish I knew how to get calm and stay calm about it.

Really, it’s my mind which is difficult to harness. ‘Those of us with minds that are strong and wild’… where did I read that, long ago? I remember thinking of Tau – and then of myself too.

It’s not a bad thing, to have a mind that’s like that. But sometimes it’s like trying to catch a runaway horse.

 

Sunday 20 July

Pump class calms me down a bit – and I chuck extra weights on the bar for squats and biceps. Actually I work really hard for the whole entire time.

Afterwards I go take some cash out and get a pie at Municipal. There’s a guy sitting on the footpath asking for spare change, and I say to him, “Sorry, not today,” as I go past.

“Have a nice day anyway,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply.

Then, “Have you been doing some fitness this morning?” he enquires, conversationally.

“Yup,” I say, pausing for a moment.

“Thought so, I can tell you been doing fitness.” He adds, “You look healthy.”

For some reason it touches my heart a little bit, and on the way back from the bakery I give him five bucks out of my wallet. Hey, I think – I can still do what I want with my money. The thought gives me a quick moment of something like joy

Right then I see a little kid tug on her mum’s arm and point to the same guy. The mum pulls her daughter away into a shop, saying as she does so, “He looks like a strong young man, he could be out working…”

Whatever, I guess so. And yet it’s hardly ever that simple either.

This time round

Friday 11 April, 2014:

This morning I get a headache thinking about everything: money on my mind, and Tau’s documents to drop off at Winz before I hit school for the day… and I heard him wheezing and spitting his way through the night again. The residue of those cigs and buckies must be accumulating in his lungs, he admits he coughs up all this green shit.

I also have to keep spelling out the rules concerning visitors while I’m at work. By visitors, I mean that loose grouping of hangers-on who follow wherever they sense opportunities to be had. Stolen goods and crack pipes in the shed, and cars turning up all hours – I can’t just take a laissez-faire approach anymore. There’s a small list of people who are allowed on the premises: Raphael, Inia and Noa, Kost and Zion – and that’s all, apart from family members. I said this to the boys already, day they arrived here. But I’ll have to say it again.

Oh, I don’t want to get that certain look in my eye or be hounded by my own fearful thoughts. Nope, I need to make my decisions and handle my business. Because I know I’m doing the right thing. I just need to do it better, this time round – for myself as much as anyone else.

 

Later, I sit at my desk while 11 Social work on the research for their assessments. It’s completely quiet in here. But I’m really, really tired and I know I’m stressing out. Things just seem so complicated.

The most pressing issue is money. I figure if I’m not going to touch my (still paltry) savings, then I have to find a way to make the money come out right. Of course everything’s been more expensive lately. The doctors, and the prescriptions, and extra gas… and just food and stuff.

 

After work I persuade Tau to get his cough checked out. Sometimes it totally amazes me, the way he suddenly, quietly, acquiesces to things he’s previously insisted he could never do.

We’re at the medical centre for nearly two hours. They don’t even charge us, this time. Afterwards, Leroi says, “That doctor really cares. I can tell.”

But the whole place is like that too. The receptionist, who is just a a young woman, speaks to me with a frank and gentle curiosity that touches my heart. She says she can see that the boys trust me; she asks if I’m family.

I tell her no, but, “I may as well be, I guess,” I say, thinking about it.

“I understand,” she replies at once. “I grew up like that, we always had kids staying with us.”

 

It’s after 6 by the time we finish up, so I pick up Maccas for the boys while we wait at the pharmacy. Tau needs four different things: sleeping pills, and a couple of tablets for his chest (prednisone and antibiotics, I think), and something else, too. I assure him he’ll feel better once his meds kicks in.

I don’t want to waste money on getting takeout for myself tonight. But the boys need something, honest to who. They’re tired, hungry, patient… and broke. Tau’s money all budgeted for K2 and cigs; Leroi not paid yet (and not until next week at the earliest)

On the way home, they talk a bit about their dad, and how he hated going to the doctors too – and we start to laugh, thinking about it. It’s nice how they mention him in that reminiscing way now, sometimes.

 

Then I go to the gym, God knows how I find enough energy for it tonight. I do though, and come back and fix some leftover sausages, make a cuppa tea.

Tau and Leroi come in and out to get drinks, and I think how they feel safe here. It’s going to blow hot and cold, I know – and I still have to patrol the boundaries. But underlying that, I just see this tired, relieved look in their eyes. No reason to smash up the place, no scary vibes, none of those bad memories. Just a bit of space and a bit of rest, which is I guess the thing they need most, in some ways.

Tomorrow I’ll buy a couple things and make chicken curry the way Kuli makes it – with garlic and ginger, carrots and potatoes. Maybe some coriander too.

 

Saturday 12 April:

I don’t get coriander, I just make the chicken curry with carrots and potatoes, plus a lot of onion, ginger and garlic. And tomatoes – I remember that you can add crushed tomatoes.

Anyway, it turns out real good, just like Kuli’s, and the boys like it too – which makes me happy.

But there’s still a moment when I get a bit freaked out, over the money situation. Because Tau asks me if Leroi can borrow forty dollars until he gets paid.

Now Leroi’s pretty useless with money, let’s be honest. And so it throws me. Not least because I’d be touching my savings, to give it to him. So I hesitate, then I tell him, “Um… the thing is, Tau – I get paid fortnightly, and I’d be taking it out of my savings.”

“Algood if not, Miss,” Tau says, in a gently resigned way.

But I get a pit of anxiety in my chest, in that same old place.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” I go on. “But I have a budget for everyday stuff, too – I got the money there, but it’s in my savings. And I try not to take it out, even for myself.” Then I added, “Not unless it’s really important, I mean. And… well, Leroi’s spent a bit of money on stupid shit, before.”

“Yeah, he has,” agrees Tau. “But this is for K2. We’re out – and I’ve run out of money. It was me who said Leroi should get it sometimes, so I can save some of my money.”

“Yeah, I get you,” I say, and I feel better for knowing Tau is being honest with me. “I know you guys need it and all, it’s just that… it’s a pretty expensive habit.”

“Hard,” Tau says, and I can tell he’s alright with me talking about it this way. So I continue, “Tau, if you don’t mind me asking. How much do you reckon it costs you, per day? I’m not trying be judgmental or anything – I just don’t have a clue.”

“About sixty bucks a day,” he tells me.

“Sixty!” I can’t help saying. “Fuuck, Tau – that’s a lot of money.”

“I know,” he nods.

“Is it really sixty?”  I murmur, rhetorically. And then, “It’s ok Tau, I know you guys need it and all. I’ll give you the money, it’s alright.”

“Thanks, Miss,” he says.

 

So I go take out the money, and off we go to the shop to get the K2. On the way back, I just say, “Tau, you know I really care about you, right. But… this is something that I wouldn’t do for most people. I just want you to know that.”

He nods, and I think he understands the way I mean it.

“It’s alright, and I’m not judging,” I say. “When Leroi starts getting paid though, just make sure he saves some for the other stuff you two need, make sure you both do, huh.”

“I want to cut back on our K2,” Tau says, quietly. “I just… it’s hard, that’s all.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “It’s not easy, and like I said – I’m not judging. I know you’re doing what you got to do, right now.”

It’s true – and then, it’s also true that 400-plus a week is a lot of money to be spending on synthetic cannabis. But I guess some contradictions you just have to live with.

 

Put on earth

Monday 31 March, 2014:

Uppermost thought: sometimes I think I identify with Tau too much for my own quietude. I can’t help but resonate with whatever it is he’s resonating with, like a silver fork hitting a crystal glass in that exact spot that makes the air chime and echo.

But what’s peace of mind – compared to stuff you gotta do, huh?  I think of a time, a place, and sometimes I honestly do think there’s things I’ve been put on earth for, so I must do them faithfully.

 

Another busy day, in the sequence of busy days. It’s like I’m still rushing, rushing… and everything starts to feel like a long story, which is just jigging around in my head, ready for the telling.

We spend a great amount of time sitting at Winz: hot, tired, and very patient. After close to an hour, Tau’s picked up by a case worker, who eventually issues him with a payment card for shopping, to tide things over before Thursday.

I have non-contacts tomorrow morning, for which plans have already been formulated. A little excursion to the doctor’s, for more sleeping pills, an amended med certificate (at the case worker’s suggestion, re back pay), and another form, which then has to be signed by Max Rosdolsky – and hopefully all this will be procured in time for the next Winz appointment on Thursday.

 

Tuesday 1 April:

I’m really proud of Tau, who after just one visit is taking Leroi under his wing at the doctors. And I see how it soothes Leroi – to see that Tau is calm. They both get the desired medical certificates, and forms signed… and there’s a prescription for sleeping pills as well.

“I remembered everything,” Tau says, with just a touch of softness in his voice. “I explained all of it.”

“Oh Tau, you’re getting so good at this sort of thing,” I exult. “Remember when you used to say you didn’t know how to say stuff.”

“Yeah, I know,” he agrees. “And look at me now!”

We grin at one another, and, “It’s helping Leroi too, to see the way you’re handling this,” I continue.

“It is,” Leroi says, freely. “It makes me feel better, going with him.”

“Good,” I reply, feeling very close to them.

 

I pay for their doctor’s bill, and the prescription as well. I don’t mind, there’s no other way it’s going to get paid up. And Tau doesn’t even look shy about it, this time. He just gives me a sudden big hug.

On the way home, he says to me, very thoughtfully, “Miss…”

“Mm?”

“If I just try to keep on doing good things, then maybe… one day everything might work out alright.” He pauses. “I want that to happen, I’m trying real hard,” he finishes quietly.

“Oh my gosh Tau, I know you are,” I tell him. “I see it all the time – and I’m really, really proud of you.”

“Thanks, Miss,” he says.

“And you just keep going, everything’s gonna turn out alright,” I murmur.

 

Wednesday 2 April:

Tau’s still doing ok. Went to counselling today, stoned. Got told off by Maxwell, not for being stoned… but for coming along stoned. Which is a good distinction, I think.

It all started because Tau had to get a ride with this other guy today. Vailea (who’s out of town) texted him and said that a friend of his would pick him up instead. But Tau wasn’t keen on that idea. So he told Vailea he was going to give counselling a miss this time… but Vailea said no, he’d already paid for it (which turned out to be a lie; this strategic move made Tau laugh afterwards).

And that’s why Tau got stoned, to ease the awkwardness of having to meet someone new and drive to counselling with him. When I realize this without him needing to spell it out, he chuckles, seeing light dawn on my face.

“But it’s good Tau,” I hasten to add. “At least you went. The old Tau would have just taken off.”

“Yup,” he agrees, at the same time as I mutter, “For parts unknown…” which makes us both crack up laughing.

The other guy turned out to be alright (of course). Afterwards, he took Tau to look at some motorbike places and then to Macca’s. So it ended up to be quite a happy day, after all.

 

Later I think about Kepaoa. Couple things just flick up in my facebook news feed. And I’m like: uh huh, to myself.

It would be out of the blue now, if Kepaoa got in touch. To be honest, I’m not expecting to hear from him anymore. And do I care? Yes… and no.

I’ve gotten over it, I had to. But do I care, I mean care about Kepaoa? Of course I do. It was alright, hanging out with that hustler. I think I understood, maybe better than he realized, what to expect – and what not to expect.

But it also touched my heart very much that Kepaoa regarded my life as… as ‘normal’, I guess. He genuinely liked being here – even disregarding the obvious perks of rides, food, Sky, and a cozy place to sleep. Suddenly, and almost bringing tears to my eyes for an instant, I remember what it felt like when Kepaoa used to come over; how I never had to act like ‘anyone’, around him.

And I also remember that he didn’t leave me, those times I cried. He stayed – and maybe you can’t ask for much more than that: for someone to stay with you, in a time and place.

 

Thursday 3 April:

Tau’s next Winz appointment goes well. He’s getting $300 back pay (tomorrow), then he gets paid on the regular from next week.

“Ohh, Miss, cracked it!” Tau says with relief, as the case worker goes off to photocopy some documents. His eyes start to get that soothed look, which makes me so glad. “I could even start saving, haven’t done that for a long time,” he surmises.

Leroi’s appointment is next week, we booked it today. I’ll have to sort out cover, but I’ll think of something.

 

Saturday 5 April:

I wake up pretty early this morning. So I just stay in bed for a while, feeling that contented feeling kick in… Saturday morning, and all day to do whatever the hell I want.

Tau calls me around lunchtime, asking if he can borrow 30 bucks, and I say sure, no worries.

I take it round there, and we go up to Municipal to get a sesh from another store called Seventh Heaven (currently undercutting High Times’ prices). It’s no use me saying I don’t like that synthetic shit; Tau needs it at the moment, and that’s the way it is for now. Least it’s legal, I guess.

The whole time, I don’t ask – but of course I want to ask: what happened to that back pay from yesterday?  I don’t want Tau to think I’m being judgmental about the money – and anyway that isn’t really it; more that I’m worried about him.

I guess, and hope, that he’s been paying off loans, or the rent; helping Sheree out. But I don’t know for sure, and he doesn’t tell me. He’s tired, and quiet – so I just leave it for now. I only try not to fret.

 

Sunday 6 April:

Hi miss u wouldnt have a 60 dollar loan till tomorro on u miss?

 I’m just wondering how to reply when a few minutes later, there comes another text.

Hi miss its tau did yu get my txt?

Ok I’ll come over with it soon.

 

Stop at the ATM on my way to Rutherford, and Tau hops in the car. We’re ‘obviously’ going back Municipal ways – I don’t even have to ask.

On the way, we talk – and this time, I say gently, “Tau, I know you haven’t been paid for ages. I mean, it’s good you got back pay Friday and all… but I guess you’ve had a lot of things to sort out, huh.”

“Yes, Miss,” Tau replies, sighing. “It was mum, mostly… she kept moaning about shit, and hustling me for money, and it got used up almost straight away.”

“Algood,” I say, and then, “Don’t even worry about it, I know – you have to do what you have to do.”

“Fuuck…” sighs Tau again. “My head’s real sore, Miss. I’ve got a big headache – and I haven’t had anything to eat today, either.” He’s hardly complaining, to be honest. Just stating facts.

“You want to stop in at mine and get some Panadol on the way back?” I ask him. “I got some.”

“Yes please, Miss,” he says at once.

 

On the way back to Rutherford Ave, I remember I have twenty dollars in my wallet. I was going to use it for groceries, but Tau’s need is more immediate, and: I can find that money again, I decide.

So as we drive along, I take out the two ten dollar bills, and just put them into Tau’s (remarkably unprotesting) hand, saying, “Hey Tau, take this and get some food, k?”

Are you sure…” Tau murmurs, in relief.

“Yes,” I assure him. “You gotta eat… but just don’t buy cigs,” I add, as a caution, and he starts to laugh.

And all the way home, I just think how much I want to see him happy and safe – and how every day I think about it with hope.