The first birds singing

It’s very cold outside. After a while I start to shiver.  Even Leroi complains from time to time that he’s getting cold – though of course he’s partly stoked by the fuel of anger and alcohol.

Every once in a while, I try to get him to come inside. There’s an additional reason for this: I’ve left my phone in the bedroom. I don’t know who, exactly, I should be calling – it just seems like a thing I might need to do.

But Leroi’s already threatening to break down the door of the shed (déjà vu, or kind of.) I say, sounding calmer than I feel inside, “You’ll have to push me out of the way to do it – would you do that Leroi?”

He just looks at me angrily, but then turns away again.

“I don’t think so,” I say. And I cross my fingers that I’m right.

A few times, at hearing this kind of interchange, Tau howls out in frustration from the shed, “Just call the fuckin cops on the lil cunt, Miss, call the pigs on the fuckin fag.”

I don’t want to do that – and in any case I can’t, without my phone. But I have visions of the cops turning up anyway, if one of our neighbours gets pissed off at being disturbed for hours on end.

Now and then, Leroi’s rage dissipates for a moment, and “Sorry, Miss,” he half-cries. “I’m sorry.” Then it’s back to the same pattern: Leroi dreaming up a stream of insults to call Tau out of the shed; Tau enraging him with growled retorts, or scornful laughter, or maddening him even further with periods of complete silence. And me the only thing standing between them – except for the flimsy bolt on the inside of the door, which could be broken with one kick.


After a while, Leroi starts asking for the buds: “The buds I paid for!” he cries in outrage. “He’s a cunning cunt, Miss – he’s a tricky fulla. He knows I need my sesh, and he won’t give it to me.” He puts his head right up to the window and yells, “Where’s the fuckin buds, cunt? Give me my fuckin buds!” Then he begins to punch his own head, in utter frustration.

“I’ll go in,” I tell him. “Just give me a minute, Leroi – I’ll try and sort it out.”

Tau lets me in again, and once more I lock the door, in some possibly futile attempt at protection – of whom I don’t quite know.

“Have you got those buds?” I ask. “Maybe if he has a sesh he’ll go to sleep.”

“I don’t know where they are, Miss,” Tau replies, sounding upset as much as angry. “I’d fuckin give them to the cunt, too – I don’t give a fuck about the buds. I just don’t know where they are.” His voice keens with frustration and a kind of grief at the night’s events.

I go back out, repeating the same instruction: “Lock the door behind me, Tau.”


“He doesn’t know where they are,” I tell Leroi.

“He’s all shit,” scoffs Leroi. “Fuckin cunning nigga.”  Then, “I know where they are, let me go in and get them,” he demands.

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

Leroi rounds on me, puffs himself up, and clearing his throat, spits a few times on the ground. “Fuck you then,” he mutters, but uneasily. I can see he doesn’t feel comfortable talking to me that way, but, “Get fucked then,” he tries again. “I’ll smash the fuckin door down and get my buds.”

I just stand there, not budging an inch, though I know it’s quite possibly futile. The thought has crossed my mind several times that Leroi might actually push me out of the way. Almost idly, I wonder at myself, that I’ll run that risk to keep them apart. And strange as it may seem, I don’t feel scared, I don’t know why. But it strikes me, once again, that protection is going to find us.


After that thought, words come easier to me.  “Don’t speak to me like that please, Leroi,” I say.

“I’m sorry Miss,” he says. He adds, “But you’re not listening.”

“I’m listening,” I tell him. “I hear what you’re saying. But I can’t let you go in there.”

“At least he could give me a fuckin smoke,” Leroi says, with a touch more resignation in his voice. “Need something to calm me down,” he adds, almost with equanimity.

I have an emergency cig in the car, for the first time in ages. I’d asked Tau to roll it for me on the way to Clancy – almost as if I’d known I might need it. So I light up, take two puffs (which hardly kick in at all), and give the rest to Leroi.


I don’t want to remember just yet, some of the things he says to Tau. It just about breaks my heart to little bits and pieces, hearing Leroi taunt him through the wall. “No nuts, aye,” he jeers. “Go on, cunt… just stay there and sack it like a little bitch.”

Later, “You’re all shit at course,” he calls, cupping his hand into a trumpet at the window. “Dumb cunt. Fuckin dumb cunt, that’s what you are, bitch. You dumb fag.”

Again, I hear muffled growls from inside: Tau is restraining himself with very great difficulty. But he keeps his promise, and doesn’t come out.


At some point, I realize the night is going to end and the sun come up. I think it’s when I hear the first birds singing. It’s still very dark, but I feel a surge of relief.

“Leroi?” I say. His torrent of venom having ceased for a bit, he’s sitting on the ground next to the car, his head in his hands.

“What?” he groans.

“It’s kind of cold,” I tell him. “Can we go inside and get a blanket. I’ll get one for you too.”

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “I’m getting pretty cold.”

“Then go get a blanket.”

“I don’t want to go in without you,” I reply.

“How come?” asks Leroi.

“Cos I don’t want to leave you two alone.”

“Oh!” says Leroi, as if this has just dawned on him. “Then I’ll come inside – but I’ll only stay for a minute.”

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.


We go in, after more than three hours. I nip into the bedroom and grab rugs, and my phone. It’s almost out of charge, but, “I’m going to ring your Nan,” I tell Leroi, seizing the moment.

“Ok,” he says, mildly. I can hardly believe it.

As we walk back outside, I swipe the contact, and the call sign flashes up.

“Hello,” says a voice.

“Hi Pam,” I begin. “Um.. sorry to ring you so early. But I just thought I should let you know, Tau and Leroi have had a fight. I’ve been outside with Leroi all night, just trying to keep them apart, and…”

“I’m coming right now,” she breaks in. “Tell them – Nana Pammie’s coming over right now.”

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.


Leroi and I sit on the step of the deck. He’s started to shiver now, and I put one of the rugs round both our shoulders. Leroi sniffs and cries a little. Tells me he’s been depressed every day, never saying anything to anyone about it. Trying to be strong, “For Tau”, is how he puts it. Stay on a positive buzz. There’s a little pause. “I just want to have a house… and a normal family,” Leroi says.

“I know,” I say, rubbing his shoulders.

“No-one cares about me,” he goes on, miserably. “No-one gives a fuck about me. Sheree’s a fuckin lost bitch. And you just care about Tau.”

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

“No you don’t. I always feel left out, everywhere I go. It’s been that way since I was a little kid.”

“I do care about you Leroi,” I say. “Why do you think I stayed outside with you all night instead of calling the cops?”

“I don’t know,” he says, but he nods just a little bit.


The cavalry arrives, thank goodness for Nana Pammie. Together we have far more chance of diverting the situation. I’m dispatched to the shed to talk to Tau, and make an attempt to locate the missing buds. Meanwhile, Pam keeps her eye on Leroi.

Tau just repeats that he doesn’t know where the buds are. When I come out and tell Leroi there’s no chance of a sesh, he becomes agitated again, and starts to pace.

“Don’t worry honey, Nana’s gonna go get you a sesh,” says Pam.

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

“I know where to get it from,” she tells him, muttering to me, “I don’t, but I’ll find some…”

Off she goes, and Leroi sits with relative calm, waiting for her return – which is a while delayed. By now the sun truly has come up, and there are trains and planes and cars going past. I feel so tired.


Pam bears a glad-wrapped portion of a foil, when she reappears. “I had to get someone to give me a bit of theirs,” she told me. “But it’s better than nothing.”

“I need the cap for the bucky,” Leroi announces. “If Tau hasn’t got the buds, he don’t need the cap for the bucky either. I’ll come with you if I can take the cap, Nan.”

“Fair enough,” Pam says. She turns to me: “Would you go in and get it, please? I’ll stay with Leroi.”

So I go in again. Tau hands over the cap without a protest; he just sighs a little. And I told him, “I’ll get you another one, soon as the shops open.”

“I need to go in and get my shirt,” Leroi says, when I give him the cap.

“No you don’t,” Pam and I say in unison.

“You can borrow one from your Nan,” I add, and for a second he almost smiles at me, before getting into the car.

Before they drive off, she quickly pushes something through the window into my hand. “Give this to Tau,” she whispers. It’s a second foil.


By now it’s almost eight. I knock on the sleepout door once more, saying, “Sorry, Tau,” as he trudges very wearily to unlock. “They’ve gone,” I add.

“Algood Miss,” he says, returning to bed and making a half-hearted attempt to pull a rumpled blanket around him. “Fuck, felt like smashing him all night long.”

“Well, you didn’t,” I say, coming over to him. “I’m really proud of you for keeping your promise.”

“It was hard,” Tau says. “I didn’t like the way he was talking to you – I hated it. I nearly came out to smash him.”

“I hated the way he was talking to you too,” I say. I sit wearily on the bed beside him, and he leans against me the way a cat does; a trusting press.

I keep hearing Leroi’s voice in my mind, saying those hurtful things to Tau. I lean against him too, wishing I could protect him from all pain.  I’ve always known I can’t do that – and yet I love him like I raised him. And so I try.



Tuesday 1 July, 2014:

I leave fifty dollars on the table when I go to work, with a note, so Tau knows to get a taxi to the doctor’s, and to use the rest to pay for the bill and the meds. It’s cold and pouring with rain, but I’m still hoping he’ll go get checked out.

Later he texts me to say he went. It turns out he hasn’t broken his wrist. But it’s badly sprained, and he needs antibiotics for the gouges on his legs.


“Told the doctor I fell down the stairs,” Tau says, implacably.

“Did he believe you?”

“Don’t think so…” and we start to laugh.


Thursday 3 July:

This morning Tau finds his beni has been chopped by half. And I say, just to myself: Oh, what the fuck do I know about anything? What am I going to do about anything?

I ring Sarsha at Work and Income. Her calm voice just scratches at my thin veneer of equilibrium even more, and I feel myself start to sniff, and my eyes drip with tears which I brush away. There seems so little point in trying to explain. Our call finishes on a semi-positive note; she suggests I bring Tau into the office this afternoon – I say I’ll try, after counselling.

I go out to convey the news to Tau. “Yup, algood,” he says in a resigned and weary tone.

But algood it is not. I feel so tired, and so little regarded in any of the morning’s events, that a big wave of unfairness starts to topple down upon me. My eyes swim again, and I mutter to the boys, “Ok then.”

There’s silence. And so I start over again, as a few tears splash down. “I’m trying really hard here,” I say. Then I swallow, and add, “I know it’s hard for you, I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s not easy for me either. I’m doing what I can to help – and I think you should appreciate it a little more.”  Then I shut the door and leave.


Inside, I expect that soon I’ll hear footsteps on the drive: Tau and Leroi taking off. Either that, or the sleepout being firmly bolted from the inside.

But the boys astound me by neither fleeing nor battening down the hatches. Instead, they materialize at the French doors, looking at me with concern and sympathy.

“We’re really sorry, Miss,” Tau begins.

“We didn’t mean to stress you out,” says Leroi.

“We appreciate everything you do to help us,” Tau goes on. He looks not the least bit likely to run away, and his eyes convey patience and truthfulness. Leroi nods, saying, “You’re the only person who does help, straight up Miss.”

“You’ve done more than our own family,” Tau says.

“And it means a lot to us,” adds Leroi. “This is the place where we feel most relaxed, and safe.”

“Hard, it’s the only place we feel relaxed,” Tau tells me. He adds simply, “It’s the only place we got.”

It makes me sniff back tears all over again.


Later on, Tau and I sit in the car and share a ciggie (my two puffs) after his counselling session. We’re waiting for Leroi – it’s his very first time seeing Maxwell today.

“Sometimes I just want to give up, Miss,” Tau murmurs. “It’s so hard… sometimes it feels like it’s too hard. Max acts like it’s easy or something.”

I put my arm around him, and we just sit a while. “Don’t give up, Tau,” I tell him. “It’s going to work out, it is.”


Friday 11 July:

Sarsha has given Tau some paperwork to complete, in order to get his benefit reinstated. There’s one document Max needs to sign as well – it’s for the disability allowance. I phone him, and he says he’s between clients from 1:30 till 2; he’ll see me then.

When I get there, we sit down at a table in his waiting room, and to my surprise the first thing he wants to talk about is his meeting with Leroi yesterday. He explains that while he can’t breach confidentiality – Leroi has given him permission to disclose certain things to me.

Turns out Leroi is very depressed. “He broke down and cried,” Max says. “He told me that all he’s ever wanted is a normal family who do normal things, like… just come home and watch TV together.”

It affects me so much, to think of how modest Leroi’s wishes are, and how little they’ve been fulfilled over the years.


I tell Max what I know of the boys’ family life, round at Fitzroy. “Leroi got a lot of hidings,” I say. “Tau used to come to school and tell me about it. Oh, he got hidings too, but he’d take off and run away. Leroi wouldn’t, or couldn’t.”

“So Leroi just stayed and took the bash?”

“Yes, Tau was better at removing himself from the situation, though of course that caused other problems for him…”  I thought of the fourteen  year old Tau, sleeping in the park with P addicts, and the seventeen year old Tau, starving and robbing strangers on the street, his appendix already painful and festering.  And I didn’t say any of this stuff, and I thought – I want to tell it, sometime. I just don’t know how yet.


Then Max asks how Tau and Leroi are coping at my place. I tell him they’re doing ok – though I hardly know what else to say about it. I don’t know how to explain things, without sounding like I’m some professional support person. So I go on: “I’m sure it’s hard for them, doing things differently from the way they’ve always known. But it’s quite amazing that they’re willing to stay somewhere else at all, to give it a try. I think it’s surprised everyone in their family.”

“You’re an amazing woman,” says Max, and I let these words touch my heart a little bit, and then at the same time I think – well obviously I’m not. But that feels ok too, I don’t think badly of myself for it. Because it isn’t easy to do any of this stuff, and I know I try.


Later, it all keeps going round and round in my head. From time to time I think of Kepaoa, too. Huh? I think. You forgot about me? It seems almost incomprehensible, for a moment. And then I just shrug and accept it one more time.

A routine urban way

Monday 16 June, 2014:

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

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

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


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

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


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


Wednesday 18 June:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Thursday 19 June

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

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


Friday 20 June:

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

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


Saturday 21 June:

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


Monday 23 June:

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

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


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

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


Thursday 25 June:

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

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

The boys say, “Everyone likes this class.”

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


Friday 27 June:

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


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

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

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

We can’t help snorting at one another.


In captivity, in the shed, Pierre had learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, his life, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of natural human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity; but now, in these last three weeks of the march, he had learned a new and more comforting truth – he had learned that there is nothing frightening in the world. He had learned that, as there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree. He had learned that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that those limits are very close; that the man who suffers because one leaf is askew in his bed of roses, suffers as much as he now suffered falling asleep on the bare, damp ground, one side getting cold as the other warmed up; that when he used to put on his tight ballroom shoes, he suffered just as much as now, when he walked quite barefoot (his shoes had long since worn out) and his feet were covered with sores. (Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace)

Saturday 14 June, 2014:

I wake up and feel tentatively ok, and then that big scared ache in my chest just expands all over again. I don’t know how to describe it, really. It just sits there, like a patch of cold air caught in some hollow where there’s no sunlight.

And all day I have moments of relative calm, long stretches of just feeling out of sync, and then every now and then I get this raging fury – over the smallest things. The stupid music at the gym. A waste of time visit to the shops on the way home. A twig tweaking at my hair (yes, that alone produces outrage in my heart). And then the dishwasher (which we never ever use, the detergent being way too expensive) switches itself on and won’t switch off, even if I leave the drawers open. I want to smash the fucking dishwasher with an axe. I try ringing the property manager; of course there’s no answer on a Saturday. So I just have to leave it.

I control myself by going as flat as flat can be. I can feel the soles of my feet, flat on the earth. My eyes narrow. I want to be empty of visible emotion. I don’t want anyone to read me. I just think: Fuck you, and it pretty much applies to everybody. Fuck you, and fuck this.


Kuli phones, he’s offended on my behalf that I wasn’t invited to the family group conference. In particular, he’s annoyed with Vailea. “Write a letter!” Kuli scoffs. “What does he think you are – his bloody secretary?” I just bite the bullet and listen to him. He isn’t happy with Tau and Leroi either. “Look,” he insists. “Those two should have stood up and said you need to be at the meeting. You’re the one who looks after them every day, not the social worker and the counsellor.”

And Kuli’s right. He’s right, and it’s hard to listen to, especially when he’s so blunt.

“I feel like I’m just a roof,” I say to him at one point.

“You are,” he tells me.

In a funny way, it’s better for him to be blunt like this. It’s out in the open, and my mind’s no longer wheeling over it, like a hawk focused on a scurrying mouse.


As he talks, I think about last night again, and my heart still aches so helplessly, to be unremarkable. Neither fish nor fowl: not a proper support where it counts, and not a part of the family either. I do the mundane things on a daily basis, and no-one ever mentions it. I make rent and bills, and get the shopping, and fix dinner. I drop the boys off, and pick them up, and keep all that routine everyday stuff going, in the hope that they’ll feel secure enough to try out some of the new things they’re learning.

Just a roof. I don’t have Max’s big important stuff to do. And I can’t afford to deliver any extra little luxuries either – though if Vailea so much as shouts the boys a munch, or gets a top up for Tau’s phone, he’s lauded and praised all over again. As for the counselling, which is ‘costing him a fortune’. Well, he’s paid that money I suppose. Nice of him. Though I wonder, in passing, if Maxwell might have a sliding scale of fees. Does Vailea even pay $150 a time for Tau? I don’t know for sure – and actually I don’t really care.

The point is, I guess, that I could put them all straight about how I’m feeling. But no – that’s not the whole story either. I don’t even know what the whole story is. What I do know is that I made a promise to Tau, long ago – and my promises I’ll keep. You can bet your last dollar on that one, serious. It makes me feel a tiny, tiny bit better to write it down and to know I mean it. I always meant it. Cast iron guaranteed for a kazillion years – more, if that’s what it takes.


And I realize, despite all received wisdom, that sometimes someone else’s needs can be more important than your own. Not because they ‘are’ more important, but because there’s more to a situation than can be easily seen or apprehended. And even though I don’t fully understand it: I have to play my part. It’s not a glamorous one either. I just pick my way along miles of stones, one foot in front of the other. Down to the river, down to the valley – and back up again. Carrying whatever it is we need. Back and forth, back and forth. Loading up and loading off.

Sometimes it feels like I’m just a pack pony; a pit pony. But in the odd moment of insight, I know I’m also a carrier and a keeper. I keep the route open, and carry the supplies, and many stories besides. At times I even revel in it.

Today though, I’m tired. I don’t want to keep things so long they disintegrate – ‘Open my safe and find only ashes’. I wonder if maybe I could somehow make things safe to tell. I wish I could find a way of grounding those big energies that doesn’t only involve letting them run through me like a current. I need to find another conduit; a way to communicate some of this. Because I guess this is my story too, just as much as anyone else’s.


It’s kind of a mystery to me, why it’s like this. But perhaps there’s no point in analysis. Sometimes things just are mysterious, having almost a secret component to them. I really believe that’s true.

I find this so interesting at one level, and at the same time, I don’t have equanimity about it yet. But I accept it. And that gives me a certain kind of freedom, which I’m only just beginning to understand.


Thursday 13 February, 2014:

I come home to find the front door and shed door both open. First thought, as I pull up in the driveway: Tau’s here.

I tap on the shed door, then look in, but it’s dark in there. So I go into the house, and right away, I see the alarm has been pulled out of the wall, and one of its wires is snapped right off.

And even then, it takes me a few more seconds to work it out – that Tau isn’t here at all, instead there has been a break in.

I walk kind of patiently into the bedroom, to find (just as I expect) drawers open and rummaged through; things pulled from the wardrobe, turned out on the floor and left on the bed. The entry point is one of the windows, the one half-concealed by some overgrown shrubs. They’ve jimmied open the window using the point of a small knife (which has broken off and is still in the latch).

I sit down on the bed, just thinking for a moment. It seems a tiny bit surreal, but nothing more than that. I wonder – what to do?


I go back out to the shed, this time I have a proper look around. The light isn’t even working, it’s been pulled out of the fitting and is hanging down from the ceiling. And all Tau’s stuff has been gone through too, the same way as in my room.

After this, I come back inside and do a reconnaissance of the house. Not much is actually missing. Some jewelry… but most of my clothes are there. It makes me laugh though, all the snack food has gone out of the cupboards and fridge: chips, noodles, muesli bars, yoghurts, drinks… a can of spaghetti, some chocolate. And they’ve even taken a bag to carry it all away in.

I feel a surprising (I guess) gratitude to the unknown burglars for leaving things relatively tidy. Nothing is actually broken, except for the window latch and the alarm – and the light fitting in the shed. And those items have been broken rather discreetly, not smashed to smithereens. That time the police came with their search warrant, it was way worse: doors ripped off hinges, and broken glass everywhere, and things ransacked.


Anyway this seems like kids – teenagers. The missing food is one of those hallmark signs, it’s exactly the kind of thing I can imagine Elroy purloining from someone’s house.

There’s nothing big missing – I’ve got no big ticket items, anyway. No plasma TV, or PS3. I’m glad it’s not the weekend though, otherwise the laptop would have been picked up for sure. It occurs to me that I’d better start stashing it, the way I used to.

I make a coffee, and tidy up a little bit, just this and that. I notice a couple other things, like shampoo and conditioner missing out of the bathroom – I can’t help laughing at this. Means it had to be boys. Girls would have taken the more expensive stuff, like the beauty products (which are all still there, and so is my perfume).

I tidy up in Tau’s shed too. Just pick a few things off the floor.


And then I go to the gym – as you do. Because I feel ok. Quiet… but I’m fine. I think on the way, how I don’t really ‘mind’ or anything. It’s kind of a pain, to have to get the window and the light fixed – but it isn’t the end of the world.

On the way back home, I stop off and buy a new padlock, then I lock the shed up. I’ll email the property manager about the house but I don’t need them checking out Tau’s stuff, I’ll get that taken care of myself.


Friday 14 February:

Today I lose my non-contacts because of sports day. And I could really use the time too. I actually resent being the only person still in the office at 5 pm. Emails have been sent out about staff drinks – but, fuck off, I think to myself. I’m determined to get my work done, there’s no way I’m taking it home.

And sports day makes me think of Kepaoa. He loved athletics – he would have run every single event ten times over. It’s for Kepaoa, somehow, that I don’t really even protest at having to compete in the staff rounds. What’s more, the other teachers in my group are all men. I just bite the bullet, thinking of Kepaoa and how he would have wanted me to go hard. But afterwards I miss him so much.

When the relays are on (at the end, and all the kids are gathered on the bank), Lauren and Hazel come and sit down beside me. Lauren is running the relay for the year 10’s. She’s very nervous, and suddenly thrusts her phone into my hand, saying, “Miss – hold it for me?” Then she goes out to the track, trying to be brave. And I feel… not blank, for a little while. I think, someone knows me.


Later on, Mia and I go out for drinks. By then I’ve had a shower and changed my clothes, and I felt my mind lighten, as the school day starts to recede. We drink sparkling wine and eat prawn tacos, which are fresh, aromatic and delicious.

But afterwards, I think about Kepaoa again, and how it still kind of hurts, that feeling of wanting to be special. That phrase: On a hiding to nothing, keeps running through my mind. But there’s a part of me that also simply remembers how it feels when someone else sees you as ‘real’, I guess. Like  a real person with flesh and blood, and breath and warmth.

So I miss Kepaoa, and  then at the same time, I think how it was all just crumbs from the table.


I’m too tired to really cry. I’m tired and sunburned and a little bit cold (the temperature being cooler at night), and so I just feel a couple of tears for being forgotten splash out of my eyes – and then I fall asleep.


Monday 27 May, 2013:

Staff briefing first up. Karys shows another ‘inspirational’ montage of Home Partnership photos (the DP’s must have whisked around taking pics last week), set to ‘inspirational’ music. I feel duty bound to enact some displacement behaviour: checking my eyes in my compact; putting moisturizer on my hands. I just feel so flat-out estranged from it all, in that room full of self-congratulatory head-nodders.

Then Marjorie makes a banal little speech about some meeting that she went to, and mentions (amidst our ‘great’ NCEA results) the 24 percent of Maori learners who the stats say are still not achieving at Municipal College. Cranks on about how we have to ‘individualise our efforts’ to reach each and every one of them, to enable them to succeed at school. I think of Zion and feel sick. Honestly, I feel sick. The times I’ve mailed Marjorie about Zion. He was effectively squeezed out of school, only 4 literacy credits short of achieving Level 1. And no-one’s done a thing to bring him back, despite my request to consider it. He might as well not exist for them anymore. It brings enraged and frustrated tears to my eyes, not because he’s better off at school, but because school’s so truly false as an institution. It says one thing, does precisely another, and then covers it all up with a thick layer of cotton-wool jargon, like a bandage that just rubs the wound sore.

After that bleak start to the day, I put my best foot forward for 9 Social, letting Jackson ‘water my patience’ (a little story Kuli once told me about a cracked pot). Monday classes aren’t so bad, so after a while I’m alright.


But Slade’s still not back.

13 History come in after lunch break, to the end of the track I’m playing.

“Whose music is that, Miss?” Elijah asks.

“Slade’s,” I said. “And mine…” I think, but don’t say.

Long ago I stopped even wondering why I like this kind of music. Something about it matches the exact feeling in my heart about things, some days.


 Wednesday 29 May:

Tau comes over after school. He tells me his parents have got six weeks to find a new place: the house at Fitzroy is being sold. Scott wants to talk to me about what to do.

I ask Tau about his knee, too. I don’t know why I even think of it… I just do.

“It’s got worse,” Tau tells me, with an honest look in his eyes. “And now there’s all these other sores around it too… but I’ll be algood,” he finishes, without much expectation that I’ll buy that.

Then we go to WINZ, to get his bennie reinstated (successfully, of course!) The case worker there (Sarsha, who we’ve seen several times now) this time asks what my relationship to Tau is. Asked me (quite nicely) if I’m one of the ‘support workers’ – whatever that means. I just say no, I’m a friend of the family. I hate the way institutions always assume there is some institutional reason for me being there.

I’m not good with institutions, I don’t work well in them, or within their frameworks. I’m not sure there is a ‘job’ for me out there. I may have to create my own, God alone knows what that would entail.


And school makes me twist helplessly back and forth like a fish on a hook. I already know I don’t sit right with it, that’s a given. And I know I don’t represent ‘teachers’. But that isn’t really the point, with a day job anyway. You just turn up and work. So that’s what I’m going to try and do. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: My time, between 8 and 4:30.

It’s the only thing I really haven’t tried yet, in terms of strategies: to treat teaching as a day job. It’s a hard concept, I haven’t got my head around it yet. But maybe it’s my only way out. To totally lose the fear of being exposed. To start actually desiring to be exposed. To simply rule out the aspects of ‘the job’ I can never acquiesce to, and thus to stop playing a role. To refuse misrepresentation. And to be patient but active.

I’m reminded of something that Terry Eagleton (whose writing I admire) wrote – about the way that post-colonialist academics  somehow come to think of the western subject as represented in ‘the wretched of the earth.’ His tone was amused, slightly censorious.

And I don’t exactly disagree. But what I’m saying is, that isn’t me. That isn’t it. I don’t know why I can’t stand apart. I just can’t. That’s all, and that’s all. I don’t care how much anyone might want to tell me otherwise. And if anyone says that I’ve got to be one way and not another, then I beg to differ.

And so, I think I can switch off to all the chitter-chatter, if I just try.


Thursday 30 May:

After school I take Kepaoa for his MRI appointment. It’s one of those bright, cold, blue sky afternoons that is perfect for cruising in the warm car. City (for the MRI), back to Municipal to get takeout from Maccas, then I drop him off at training.

In the city, Kepaoa can’t help making a few comments about ‘white people’ and their ways. Joggers running right up the main street in broad daylight, for one thing. He shakes his head, at the thought that some people have no shame. Then, “Man… Elroy would love this,” he reflects, as we drive back through the leafy outer suburbs, past big houses behind their high walls. “Burgs alday, aye Miss.”

From time to time, we just turn to one another and kind of sigh, contentedly. “It’s a good day for going for a drive.” Kepaoa says. “I just like driving around with you like this.”

“Yeah, me too,” I tell him.

“I missed it heaps, when I was in Oz.”

“Same here.”


Court tomorrow – but the lawyer says it’s just to set a date. Gives them time to meet, prepare and that. And Kepaoa’s calm. He’s in a good place with it. Later I get a text, and this is what it says:

Thankyou ms for everything! 🙂 man im the luckiest owt!! No sht ms


Friday 31 May

This evening Kepaoa comes over. He’s ok, trying to stay calm, I can see that. But he’s had a stressy day; spent all morning at court, met his new lawyer, stood in the dock before the judge, been remanded until the 20th. This lawyer appears to be questioning why the previous lawyer had requested a jury trial. She wants more time to talk to Kepaoa about it (which has been granted). Says if he pleads guilty before a judge, it could be home detention and supervision. But if it goes to jury, pleads not guilty but is then found guilty, the penalties could be harsher.

Neither of us totally understand the various scenarios. And he doesn’t know what’s up with Teri, either. Not sure if she’s coming, not coming. She’s being a drama queen, lately. But it’s not my problem.

I can hear Kepaoa saying, “Baaabe…” in that ‘nice voice’ guys get, on the phone. Whatever whatever. Last night he was telling me how she this, she that… and yeah, I know I only get one side of the story, but honestly, Teri’s starting to piss me off.

My mind’s definitely made up about the ‘not staying here’ thing.

Regular things

Monday 13 May, 2013:

Slade’s not back yet. Which makes school even more tiring, today.  I go to the gym anyway (trying to make it a no-brainer), and I feel better after, but still tired.

It’s partly because I’ve been up with Kepaoa half the night. He’s angry with the KB’s, seeing the chipped tooth which Elroy tried to hide from us. We talk about that, and about Teri, and then suddenly, in the middle of saying something else he tells me, with a yawn and a big sigh, “But Miss… I love fighting so much. I can’t help it.”

“I know,” I say. “And that’s not a bad thing, Kepaoa. It’s part of who you are.”

He nods, looking at me.

“You gotta use it,” I say. “But use it for all the right reasons.”

A minute later, he falls to sleep so peacefully. Honestly, sometimes I just wanna rub his head for a second as he lays there snoozing; sometimes I do that, and he opens one eye and smiles at me.


Tuesday 14 May:

Sitting here at my desk, at the end of my stupid short break, as Precious, Lauren and Michaela from 9 Social bump at my window. I can hear them talking:


“Miss, you’re pretty,” says one of them.

“Eww!” says someone else.

“Miss, you’re a loner,” says Precious.

Damn right, I think.


Wednesday 15 May:

After school, I patiently and tiredly get my stuff ready for tomorrow, and then I take Kepaoa and Paki to training, and get myself to the gym.

Kepaoa hasn’t been at course today. I’ve already growled at him, which makes Paki laugh. In reply, Kepaoa wrinkles his nose and starts singing along in a squeaky voice to the song that’s playing in the car.

“Oh my gosh,” I sigh. “Here we go…”

“Hah!” Kepaoa says, adjusting his singing voice fractionally towards normal. “Do a U turn here, Miss,” he adds as an aside (we’re approaching a long queue at the railway tracks).

“Ok.” I turn the car round, saying conversationally to Paki “Let’s get this problem child to training.”

Paki snorts from the back, and Kepaoa grins and stretches out. “Not a problem child – a problem solver,” he announces, making us laugh even more.

When I drop them off, “Any of that cake left at yours?” Kepaoa asks, hopefully.

“Yup, heaps,” I tell him.


Somewhere along the route home, I receive a text from Kepaoa, which said: Ms it algudz if I eat that cake? Or nah??”

 I actually laugh out loud, this tickles me so much. ‘Algd, want me to drop it off later?’

 Yehp nly if thats algudz wichu ms? Hah

 Haha ur penalty is u have to go course tomoro

 Yeahp cwt hah algdz

 And I can see how hard he’s trying to keep himself positive, and just do regular things; look after himself. Especially now Elroy’s banged up in juvey again – this time they’ve put him somewhere up north. Poor Elroy, who hates to be restrained: under lock and key once more.


Friday 17 May:

9 Social: Deshaun and Jackson start getting stroppy over a thrown pencil (which I blame the wrong person for).“Teachers always…” protests Jackson. “Teachers never…” adds Deshaun. I just about lose it. Biff Jackson out into the block, where I must say he waits patiently. Growl at Deshaun, and then at everyone else too. Precious (who turns out to be the actual pencil thrower) waits until the very end of class to a) tell me and b) apologize for her crime – because of my wrath.

Yup. The ‘real’ problem isn’t the pencil at all. It’s the utter rebellion I feel in my mind at having to somehow be that teacher-person. You know, I just can’t do it. Can’t. Do. It.

Luckily Jackson and I have always gotten along well in the past, so we resolve the situation quite fast; same with Deshaun who comes up at the end and says, “Miss, I’m sorry for being a dick.”


Kepaoa texts me later. I go pick him up from the bus stop at the mall. He tells me he’s been to watch his mate’s netball game. His ‘mate’ turns out to be a 26 year old chick called Mele, who’s got a crush on him (she’s told him so).

“Teri’s gonna kill me if she knows,” he says, as we near Carthill.

“Hmm…” I say, considering this possibility. “Well, if the boot was on the other foot, if Teri was hanging out with some guy who had a crush on her – you’d be mad, too.”

A little moment of silence, then “Ah, yeeeeh,” Kepaoa admits.

“So just be careful?” I suggested. “Cos maybe you’re just playing with fire, here.”

“But I don’t feel like that about her,” Kepaoa says. “She’s just a mate, to me.”

“Yeah, but it might not feel like that to her,” I point out. “If she really has got a crush on you.”

“I met her at the gym,” Kepaoa tells me. “I saw her looking at me a few times, and then one day she came over and said hi.”

“Ohyup,” I say, non-comittally.

“And now she always says, ‘Hi cutie,’ and stuff, when she sees me.”

I snort.

“What, Miss?” Kepaoa says, kind of grinning at me.

“Bit of a hoe…” I mutter, and then, “Just sayin.”

“Yeeh, I know watchu mean, Miss,” he sighs. “But honestly – I don’t feel anything for her.”

“When you’re sober…” I mutter again.

This cracks us both up, but Kepaoa still insists, “You got a point, Miss. But I don’t, honest truth. I’m not like that. I’m not a player, straight up.”


I look at him, knowing that he means this. Something in my heart softens, and I stop in my tracks and admit, “Yeah, I know,” and then, “You just like your compliments, aye.”

“Yeah Miss,” he said. “I do. I like it when girls wanna talk to me, and when they look at me and stuff. But it’s just… nothing, really. I’m committed, when I’m with someone. I’ve always been like that.”

“Yeah, I see it,” I tell him, and he nods.

“Maan, Kepaoa, some girl’s gonna be lucky with you one day – whether it’s Teri or whether it’s someone else,” I say, with sincerity and a touch of something like wistfulness. “Gonna get themselves a good man.”

Thanks, Miss,” he says.


We’re parked out front of Montgomery Rd now, and Kepaoa suddenly says, “Miss – can I stay over at your place tonight?”

“You wanna talk to Teri now?” I say, gently.

“Not that,” he tells me. “I just feel like… hanging out with a friend.”

It touches my heart so much, the way he says it.

“Is it ok, Miss?”

“Yeah, course it is.”

So we go all the way back to Municipal.


“I’m just gonna crash when I crash,” Kepaoa remarks, stretching out on the couch and making himself at home. “You know what I’m like, Miss.”

“Sure do,” I agree, laughing. “All good though,” I tell him. “I’ll just chuck the blanket on you and leave the heater on.”

“Yeeeh,” Kepaoa says contentedly. “I love waking up nice and warm here.” He grins at me, and yawns.


We talk until 1am, then just as usual, Kepaoa falls asleep in the middle of saying something. His head shifts a bit; eyelids slide shut. One arm gently extends against the back of the sofa, as his breathing gets slow and regular. And  I lay the blanket gently over him, turn off the lights, and go to bed.