Safe right now

Monday 8 December

Out of bed at the usual time, making a cup of tea and some weetbix. Normal, routine, everyday things keeping me from manning the panic stations. But only just.

I check my mail, hear back on a couple of teaching applications: “We regret to inform…” etc. I’m sure it’s because I don’t trouble to hide the fact that my interests and experiences barely place me in the path of mainstream education anymore – and I guess it’s just as well, because I don’t want to go back there either.

But how long can I keep this up? A few months ago, I had a 4K cushion put away; now there’s twenty dollars in my savings account, and just one day’s pay coming in next Wednesday. Oh, my systems are still in place, enough for a couple more weeks, almost. But if I don’t have something lined up by next Friday, no, Thursday – then what?


There’s an email from one of the general temp agencies too. It’s only a form letter, but I read it closely anyway:

Thank you for your online Registration of Interest in Employment with Lumsden Recruitment.  We are constantly looking for people with skills, diligence and a great attitude to join our Lumsden Team!  We would like to meet you and learn more about yourself, please come into one of our Branches with the following items;

Photo ID

  • Born Overseas– Passport and Visa
  • Born in NZ– Passport Or  NZ Driver License and Birth Certificate Or Statutory Declaration (signed within last 2 weeks)

IRD Number

Bank Account Number

Current CV with minimum of 2 work-related references

PLUS;  Any licenses (Counterbalance, Reach, Stock Picker etc), Certificates or Endorsements that you currently have.

Our Branches are open from 7am – 6pm Monday to Friday.  If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact the Office on our Freephone number.

We look forward to meeting you.


I could go this morning, nothing to stop me except gas money. And I have to put gas in the car sometime – so why not? Guess so, but the idea still gives me an uncomfortable feeling. It’s like I’m 17 all over again; no skills, no experience… just hustling for vacation work. Minimum wage: is that all I can ask for or expect?

What’s the alternative, though? Is there one? Maybe in some parallel universe. Here and now, the choice seems to be between the economic doom of a temping job, or the steadier income founded on talking smack in a classroom to perpetuity. Should I just give up and become a ‘good teacher’. You know, a sentimental idiot who cares about about “those kids”. Because don’t we we live in two worlds? Ha whatever. And what am I going to do? Oh what am I going to do?


The boys come in and are in good spirits, seeing as Sheree’s still hanging on in there at rehab. I engage politely with the conversation, but that’s as much as I can manage. This whole thing with Sheree (not to mention Leroi) lately has the least straight-up vibe I can think of. And the feeling of not knowing where I am with people, added to the money situation, is messing with my head.

It feels like I’m swimming through glue, or golden syrup. Sheree, the boys, work, money… everything sticks for a moment, lets go, then sticks again. It almost makes me wish I’d never left MC. Almost… but not quite. I just keep thinking to myself how I didn’t come all this way to lose. But something needs to be shifted, and fast. So what do you do with constraints? I guess you find the workaround.


Thursday 11 December

I wake up, reality kicks straight in, and with it another wave of panic. But I get up and enact the routine obediently; take a shower and wash my hair. Turn on Firstline, make myself a cup of tea. Slice up some kiwifruit in a bowl, add a scoop of muesli on top and snow-cap it with a spoonful of coconut yoghurt.

Then I check the bank accounts. My payments have gone through like usual. But my mind races ahead to the next set of bills, just over a week away. I try to apply reassuring directives to myself: Look at the whole picture. Don’t use those all-or-nothing lines, like as far as I can go’, or ‘a failed experiment’.

Because it’s neither. I’m learning the game; sometimes I struggle to understand things I didn’t understand before. But there’s a part of me that feels like taking the next steps.

With that in mind, I mail the bank to make an appointment with a financial adviser. You never know your luck, I think. And even though I’m still feeling somewhat resistant to the idea, I’m going to schedule a trip to Lumsden Recruitment. You could, I think, argue that I don’t have many other cards to play.


Friday 12 December

My email to the bank has been followed up by a call, then a meeting, the result of which is a signed loan agreement. As of this morning, therefore, there’s five thousand dollars in my account; this takes the immediate pressure off making payroll – to the point where I feel soporific with relief for a little while. But that feeling has quickly been replaced with a kind of urgency to get started out earning money.

And then I go sign up with Lumsden. The process is going to take a week at least: the standard reference and police checks, and all the rest of it. And then they’re closed for Christmas – but they say I’ll be on their books by January.


Monday 15 December:

I’m hanging out for a coffee this morning, but payday’s payday, whether it’s the Ministry of Education, or my own savings, or the bank loan paying me. Tuesday night, fortnightly.

For dinner (*pre-payday*) I clean out the fridge and make stir fry noodles with pork mince and all the vegies: ginger and garlic and onion, red and yellow capsicums, cabbage and carrots and broccoli. And steamed rice. And buttered bread on the side. It’s good, and gets eaten up fast.

Again, that feeling of gratitude that the boys are here, and – for what it’s worth – safe right now.


Friday 19 December

Tonight I go pick up Tau and Leroi from Clancy. They’re pretty drunk (no surprises there) and Leroi dozes in the car all the way home. Alcohol really unsettles me these days – the idea of not being in control. Driving back, I feel very grateful that I’m in charge of my own faculties. There’s something I can’t ‘like’ anymore about even that feeling of relaxation produced by a glass of wine.

Tau chats to me in a ‘drunk person’ way – fulsomely and about nothing in particular. He’s on a mellow buzz, but I’m no less anxious for that. I just keep on thinking how I don’t want any trouble; I’m  too tired to deal with trouble.

A couple of times I even check: “You guys are  ok with one another though.”

“We are,” Tau says, and laughs – to reassure me I think, but it just makes me feel more uncertain.


They tip themselves into the shed with their drive through Macca’s. Tau hugs me, then Leroi hugs Tau. Again, this doesn’t actually guarantee the peace. Things are very difficult to predict when alcohol has figured in the evening.

“Don’t stay up all night – try get some sleep,” I suggest, thinking if Leroi (at least) went back to sleep this would also fulfill a peace-keeping function.

“Don’t worry Miss, we will,” they say.

But I’m still worried, and lie in bed trying not to startle at every slight noise. The door opens and closes a couple of times; there’s voices every now and then. My heart is beating over the sound. I have that familiar dampening ache in my solar plexus and I can’t sleep for a long while.


Saturday 20 December:

I have a couple puffs of Tau’s cig, and we talk a bit in the sleepout while Leroi goes to make noodles. Tau’s not much of a talker I know, but all the same, I’m kind of clasping at comfort; wanting to feel safe with someone I know and trust. Ohhh Tau, sorry – you’re the only safety valve I’ve got right now, I think. It makes me want to laugh and cry, thinking how I’m expecting the least likely person to conversate. But I’m very grateful, because he does his best.

Maybe he senses how my heart’s kind of breaking over things, for no particular reason at all. Regrets pour in and out, through holes in my flimsy boundaries. I feel them in my solar plexus, and at my throat. And why didn’t I stay at MC and agree to be a teacher. Isn’t that better than nothing. And is this nothing?

At first, the question really bothers me. Then I think how I’ve never been ashamed to create something out of nothing much; this tenacity having saved me many times. I’m like the weed in our driveway that springs up almost flat to the earth, busily working out how to hold its ground. It’s unobtrusive, and then, when you look – even pretty, with its dappled, almost khaki colored leaves and tiny pink flowers. I pull it out every now and then, but only when it’s forgotten its economical ways – and it just pops up somewhere else, pragmatically.

For some reason this reminds me of the Manning Marable book I’ve been reading, about Malcolm X. Whether any of the supposed ‘reinventions’ can be verified is neither here nor there, far as I’m concerned. Everyone has inconsistencies, failures and secrets. It doesn’t matter so much what they are – they exist. And so we either default and capitulate to our weakest moments, or we amass the patience and diligence to make a set of ethics we can live with.


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.


“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.



Feeling alright

Thursday 27 February, 2014:

Lorna rings – all she wants to do is talk, really. Not even about Tau, just about “everything”. It’s been hard for her, and I think she just needs to let it out to someone who’s not as mired in the whole business.

Ohh it’s been so hard for them all, and tonight I get to hear about it, till it almost breaks my heart. Afterwards I take a shower; make a cuppa tea. Routine things. And I put the Food Channel on again, which is the most calming background I can think of. No dramas, no life stories, just how to prepare lobster with avocado.


Much later, I sit on the bed in my pj’s, window open, laptop open beside me. But then I think, I don’t want to write… I don’t want to let worry and fear wash over me. It isn’t going to help Tau or anyone else if I freak out.

Because part of my heart’s kind of wrapped around Tau, somewhere out in the ether. And that ‘way’ or path is never going to close up again, even if a trillion billion years pass. And that’s just how it is, honest truth.


Friday 28 February:

I’m starting… just starting to wind down, after a whole day at school followed by two hours of the most boring marking on the planet (the year 9 ‘Exploring Municipal College’ assessment). The last half hour is the hardest; all I want to do is go home. Opening up those folded, glued-in maps seems like eternal torture. But I keep plodding through the books one at a time: the map, the report, the paragraph – and then the infernal marking schedule, with space for “feedback and feedforward”. Talk about overkill. Grade on the page; tick on the mark sheet; grade on the mark sheet; comment on the strengths; comment on the ‘next steps’.


The minute I get home I throw a pack of sausages in the oven, chuck in some potatoes too, and make a salad out of the bits and piece in the fridge. As soon as those potatoes are baked, I’m eating dinner, trying not to burn my mouth.

And all day I know I’ve been trying to put off writing about last night, and the things Lorna said. Not that she said anything unexpected. But my mind’s been twisting around all day, putting it off and putting it off some more. Because I don’t want to take anyone’s pain into my heart, and I’ve been scared that’s what might happen.


Sooooo… our conversation began with Lorna thanking me for coming to the funeral, and for the ‘kind words’ I wrote on the little card (they’d left cards on a table at the front, to write down our memories of Scott).

I remember well what I wrote. I wrote that the thing I would always remember was how much he loved his kids. Despite everything.

Anyway, Lorna told me she appreciated it a lot. Thank you for saying he loved his kids, she said – because he did. Even though a lot of people think he didn’t care about his family, to do this to them.


But not many people knew how bad things had gotten, in the last two weeks before Scott died. She didn’t even see it herself. She’d only been over once in that time, and he’d called her ‘Mummy’, when she came round. According to Lorna, he did that when he wanted something. So he said to her, “Hello Mummy,” and Sheree said, “Oh, now you’re talking.”

Later it turned out he hadn’t been talking to anyone. Just crying all the time, wandering off, crying and gibbering, then coming back and terrorizing the kids. He hit Tau and Leroi and smashed up the place. Sheree had her dramas too, drinking and screaming at everyone, and chucking all their stuff out in the rubbish. And she locked Scott out of the house, when no-one could handle him.

Lorna didn’t find any of this out until after the night it happened. “They all blame themselves,” she told me. “He kept muttering about killing himself, and they blame themselves for not believing him – because he was making their lives hell at the same time.”

“I know,” I said. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just… the way it was.”

“The way it’s always been,” Lorna agreed. “With those two – Scott and Sheree – it’s the way it had always been. And I couldn’t part them. I tried, so many times.”

“I know,” I said again. “Sheree told me so.”


When Scott lay there on life support, he seemed at peace. “Like his cares were gone,” Lorna said. “All the lines – gone. It was the way he used to be, a long time ago.”

“Just like the photo,” I said, referring to the one on the cover of the funeral programme. It was such a lovely photo of him.”

“He was 20,” she told me. “That picture was taken when Scott was 20.”

“Tau’s age, almost.”

“Yes, around the age Tau is now. And that’s when Scott and Sheree met, too – when he was 20.”


Then, “I wanted his body to be brought back here,” Lorna said. “This was always his home.”

“I’m glad he was with you,” I said. “I’m glad they were all there.”

“Tau took it harder than I thought,” she went on. “He just sat by his dad all day, sometimes with his head down, sometimes having a little cry.”

“Of course…” I murmured.

“Leroi couldn’t go in at first. He just hung around the doorway to the lounge, where Scott was. But on the last day he I saw him go in and see him.” She paused. “And Sheree – well, the last thing she said to him was, “Fuck you Scott, I hope you rot in hell.”


“Poor Sheree,” I said. “She didn’t mean it.”

“That’s what I think, too,” Lorna said. “It’s just how he left her to cope with everything. Dropped her right in it.”

“She looked so empty,” I remembered, thinking of the day of the funeral. “I’ve never seen her like that before. She’s always been such a strong person, no matter what’s happened. But this…”

“True,” Lorna said. “It’s knocked all the stuffing out of her. And now Winz has been on her case too, the heartless bastards.”

“Oh, fuck, have they?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.

“Yes, they’ve already done home visits and poked and pried around, told Sheree that they’re cutting her money, seeing as the boys are both living there, and on benefits themselves.

To be honest it didn’t surprise me, Winz and their stupid pursuit of Sheree.

“Oh, I swore at them,” Lorna went on. “I told them straight – you’re a pack of heartless fuckin pricks, talking about this family as if they’ve got no feelings, and aren’t grieving enough as it is.”

“Ohh, good on you!” I said, with great admiration.


The night of the funeral, Tau freaked out. Pounding up and down the street, smashing things up and screaming. He was drinking and on the synnies. “In the end, I just got him some weed,” Lorna told me, matter of factly. “I didn’t know where to get it, I sent someone out to buy it. Gave it to him and said, ‘Here you go – and make it last, Tau.”

“Man, good on you,” I said again. “That’s probably the only thing that would have calmed him down.”

“Oh, and don’t I know it!” she replied. “I’d rather he was on the natural stuff, any day.”

“Me too,” I said. “I never had a problem with him smoking weed. I hate that synthetic shit.”

“So do I,” she agreed. “I’ve told him and Leroi – stay off that crap.”


For now, everyone’s gone down the line. They wanted to get away from Rutherford Ave, where everything reminded them of the last days with Scott.

But Lorna’s taken all his things back home with her. All his clothes, his trophies and photos. And his ashes. She told me, “There’s no bad vibes at our place, never has been.” And then she said again, “This was always his home.”


It’s funny, now that I’ve written some of this stuff down, I’m alright with it. I don’t feel anymore like I’m going to cry, or take on someone else’s pain. I only hope that the very little I’ve ever done has meant something, mattered.

I think of how people are so strong, and I can be strong too. The day’s tiredness has lifted and I can say to myself: feeling alright.



Monday 16 December, 2013:

Last night I quickly finish up the post, and go to bed. I haven’t been in the zone with it the last couple times. It’s like my words won’t come out right, and the story’s getting told so slowly. However, I stick to the schedule like glue. I have this drive to do it, which is coming to the fore, regardless of anything else.

So I feel almost casually heedless of my usual internal censor, which gasps, ‘Oh! What do you think you’re doing?’

‘Writing the post,’ I say carelessly back at it.

I can’t stop trying to communicate  now – it’s like something’s been unleashed and I have to run with it. The blog… and heck, I may as well get those papers submitted as well, why not? I don’t think they’re great – but then I don’t think the blog’s so great either, and I’m just putting it out there anyway. I feel like I need to do this stuff more now, not less.

In my heart, something tells me to just keep right on going (the way I used to tell Alexander and Dimario to keep right on going).


Tuesday 17 December:

Tau texts me off an unknown number before the Winz meeting, to say he lost his IRD number. Lucky I wrote it down a long time ago, and I manage to find it – so all is well on that front.

But when I pick him up, he doesn’t have his bank statement either, or the Winz forms (which he filled out so laboriously last visit). Sheree has thrown them all out, he tells me.

“What – lost them?” I ask. “Or do you mean actually chucked them out?”

“Nah, chucked them out, she’s been chucking out heaps of stuff,” Tau replies, with a little sigh. “Been having big domestics at my place. Everyone’s been arguing. And we only got one phone left.”

“Oh,” I say. “Have all the other phones got lost?”

“Got smashed…” is what he replies. And then, “Fuck, my mum’s being a bitch, and so now I don’t have the papers, Miss – what should we do?”

I think about this. “Um… we’ll just go anyway. We have time to get another bank statement. And as for the Winz forms – we’ll just do them again!”

Tau sighs again, but in a resigned and almost relieved way.

“Won’t take long,” I add, somewhat untruthfully, and he snorts, then grins at me.


We get the bank statement, then arrive at Winz at precisely the appointed time, even getting a carpark right outside (much to my surprise). Hop in the queue, but when we get up to the front desk, the lady tells Tau he doesn’t have an appointment. Apparently it’s not displaying on her on-screen list.

Of course the appointment paper has also been thrown out in Sheree’s general round-up. But I sighted it with my own eyes, last week – so I have to persevere. I take a little breath and try the ‘softly softly’ approach with the receptionist (the front desk often proving the unbreachable pass at Winz).

“Sarsha made the appointment for Tau last week,” I tell her. “She printed it out and gave it to him, but his mum’s…. mislaid it.”

Tau gives me a little look, as if to say – ‘You go, Miss.’

“So maybe you could check with Sarsha, if you wouldn’t mind?” I enquire, in a tone that attempts to combine deference with hope. “Cos it was definitely for 10:30, wasn’t it, Tau.”

“Yup,” Tau replies at once. I pick up that his vibe is quite settled, despite the hold ups.

Off she goes to run this by Sarsha. Tau and I stand by one another at the counter, and Tau says encouragingly, “Thanks, Miss.”

“S’okay,” I tell him. “This kind of shit always happens at Winz.”

“Hard,” he comments, and we can’t help laughing at the predictability of the hassles.


The woman comes back and busies herself at the computer, with a couple of ‘hmm’s’

“So… it’s all good?” I venture.

“Have you got your forms filled out?” she asks Tau, and he gives a rueful shrug, turning his head to me.

“You’ve done them though, aye Tau,” I say reassuringly, and he nods. I add, to the receptionist, “But his mum’s put all his papers somewhere.”

“Oh!” she says. “Well, we can’t do anything without them – you’ll have to complete them again and make a time to come back in.”

“It’s ok, Tau can quickly do them again right now,” I say. “He’s pretty fast with the paperwork.” Tau’s eyes shine with amusement, as I keep the patter coming: “We’ll just get it done while we’re waiting, we don’t mind.” I see her wipe a couple of strands of hair away from her eyes, and I go on, “It’s such a hot day outside… at least it’s nice and cool in here, thank goodness.”

To be honest, I’m expecting to be turned down (my planned next manoeuvre is to be an appeal directly to Sarsha), but the woman goes and gets us the forms. She hands them to me, saying, “There you are.” I think she can see that I’m going to be one of those ‘persistent’ customers.


So we go and sit on the seats, and fill out the paperwork all over again. Tau actually is quite quick, this time. He’s done these forms many times before.

As he writes, Tau tells me a bit more about things at home. It doesn’t sound too great. Domestics, money worries – and just before Christmas, too.

“Then it’s gonna be good, getting your beni sorted today, huh?”


“Good for you, Tau,” I murmur, wanting to just… praise him.


Right then, Sarsha appears in front of us. She’s come over to let us know that she’s been pulled off the floor to do processing today – otherwise she’d be able to see Tau herself. She’s going to write some notes on his file though, for whichever case worker picks him up.

After that, everything gets sorted fast. The caseworker checks the paperwork, and does a couple calculations, and tells Tau that he’ll be getting paid just as soon as his application is processed: 48 hours max.

And then we part company for the day. Later, Tau texts me to thank me again for helping him out. Anytime, I tell him.


Tuesday 24 December:

I post my next installment (number 19) on the blog, right on cue. It isn’t easy today though, sticking to the schedule. I frustrate myself with how limited my story-telling powers are, and how I struggle to make this whole tale (which is true), cohere as something which can be only communicated through revision (of a kind).

It fascinates me how the concrete and very specific written record of events needs this kind of revision – not to falsify things, but to emphasize and illuminate particular conjunctions of them. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. I didn’t know that until I started trying to write things down. I mean, I’ve always noticed patterns. But I didn’t realize – and this is hard for me to explain – that you need to actually create the shape or form in which they can emerge. I’ve never really understood that until now.

Point and counterpoint

Wednesday 10 July, 2013:

Tau and I ring Sarsha, at WINZ. I come home at break specially, because I know Tau won’t take this step on his own. And while Sarsha is sympathetic, it’s only to a degree. She trots out the standard line about how Tau ought to have let them know his change of address, to which I reply that Tau couldn’t possibly have let WINZ know anything about an address, as he has been effectively homeless for a week. I can see Tau smirking at me from the couch as I talk it up. I’m getting more and more ticked off (again), but manage to remain both polite and firm. Sarsha says she’ll take advice from one of the supervisors and call me back.

I’m teaching the rest of the day. When my phone rings, I slip out of class for a moment and take the call in the ground floor bathroom. It’s good news though. Sarsha says they will waive the 13 week stand-down and start the application process. Tau needs to come in at 8:30am Friday. Which means I’ll have to miss most of my first class – but somehow I’ll sort it.

It’s all pretty stressy, and at the same time I get this kind of blasé feeling, and my classes go fine. I get into that override mode sometimes, which actually gives me some headspace. It seems like school and all its constraints just fade into a kind of backing track, and I can manoeuvre right over the top of it – almost as if it provides the necessary counterpoint to my actions.

Point and counterpoint. Fugue and counterfugue. I don’t know. It isn’t easy, but sometimes there’s a kind of pattern in it, which calms me a bit.


Thursday 11 July:

Today contains ‘Professional Development’ and ‘Celebration Assembly’ – both of which must be endured.

But little things make me tired. Like, it’s cold today. And I have to suffer through the whole assembly, listening to the Deans prattling on about ‘character’.

And the 9 Social girls who think they’re big ladies (the boys are alright). And I have to growl, and it makes me even tireder, because I don’t really care that much about it, I just don’t need the attitude. I wish I could tell them to just fuck off, and go home.

Then when I do get home, the wheelie bin hasn’t been collected (who knows why?) and the whole thing’s still filled up with Cody’s cans. So I put some of them into a rubbish bag, to make more room in the bin (seeing as it’s going to be a whole week till next rubbish day). And I find all this other shit in there: bits of food and meat bones that have gone all furry. I just feel weary of sorting everything out, all the dang time. And I know, it was never going to be easy. But sometimes it feels so hard.


Tau’s been painting one of the boards, and tagged all the drops with CLUZO. There’s bits and pieces everywhere, but at the same time it’s tidy enough, you know. It’s just… what I said before, no-one really gives a fuck about what I think or don’t think. Honest truth.

And is anyone else going to help? I don’t expect so. I have to be strong, and I’ve kind of run out of that, right now.

I won’t let Tau down, but all this is real hard to work out, and I’m short of money, and Tau’s bennie’s been stopped, for this week, anyhow, and Leroi’s not eligible for one, and they’ve got nowhere else to go, and I have to stay strong even though I don’t feel strong. Got to be strong enough to look after my own interests, too. Not get hustled by hangers-on, or by anyone.


Sheree rings and leaves a message on my cell, and I call her back. Sit in the gym changing room and talk to her, not really caring if people can hear me. She says she wants Scott to be released, so he can ‘be with the boys’. My heart sinks a little, at that. I ask her if Scott has anywhere to stay yet, she says no – and then my heart just drops even more. I try to explain to her, gently, that it might take a while for Scott to be with the boys, while he looks for a place.

But inwardly, I think: maan, I’m not dealing with Scott’s shit on a daily basis. Oh, it’s not that Sheree expects me to, exactly – but at the same time, she isn’t considering how it might go. She just wants them to ‘be together’, and I guess I understand that, too. But this is the first time I’ve ever felt pissed off with her. Because yup, she’s stressed… but so am I, and she and Scott got them into this mess in the first place, and if she’s worried about the boys, then she should have thought of that before now.

I’m not unsympathetic to Sheree’s situation. But I sit there at the gym, talking to her and think: oh well. I actually don’t have much feeling for her tears. I just say, “Yup, it’s gonna be alright,” and, “Don’t worry, it’ll get sorted, and everyone’s gonna be fine.” Kind of trying to soothe her, but in a perfunctory way I guess.


After I hang up, insouciance just kicks in. I put my middle finger up to everything that’s been bothering me all day, chuck extra weights on the bar, and feel my mind settle and hold. Afterwards I even go to Countdown to pick up the most urgent supplies: toilet paper, milk… a few things. Then I get pizza at Domino’s.

I come home and distribute the pizzas to Tau, Leroi and Raphael. I wish things were simple, but they aren’t simple, I know that. But I can’t turn away, I just can’t. Sometimes I wish I could. But it’s just the way it is. I can’t stand apart. I can’t say ‘them’. It’s us, and I truly mean that. And maybe if I come running up against fear long enough, I’ll vanquish it once and for all.


Friday 12 July

Kind of stressing, because the timeframes are tight this morning. Gotta go to work, set up my laptop for Chloe (she’s covering 9 Social for me). Come back, take Tau to WINZ (they say 45 minutes, but realistically it could be a lot longer) and then get back to school.

And Tau and Leroi have been in and out all night, not meaning to wake me up – but I didn’t get a good sleep. In the morning, I can still hear music pumping out there.


We get to WINZ alright, but Tau’s really tired. Been up all night, just as I thought. His eyes can hardly stay open in the car, then he nearly falls asleep during his seminar, when the presenter is talking. I know he’s pretty stressed right now, and I’m so gentle with Tau – I gotta be. It kind of makes me cry, just writing this all down. Because I’m stressed too. I don’t feel very strong, but I know I have to be strong, and try to let them know it’s not too hard.

Mia and I have plans for tonight. Honestly though, I feel kind of ‘buzzy’ (and not in a good way). But I keep telling myself that I have to just stay strong, do things ‘normal’ – even though things are not really lending themselves to that automatically right now. And you know how there are people who are ‘stress eaters’? Well, I’m kind of a ‘stress non-eater’. So I need to do ordinary things, like cook, and eat, and go to the gym, and see friends, and write. Just keep all the routine stuff going.

So that when something comes up, or alters the dynamic (which is happening all the time, right now), I’ve got enough energy to respond, keep my mind calm, tilt the balance in my favour – in our favour, I guess.

And with that in mind, I have a good night. Mia and I end up not even going out, we just drink wine and order takeout. It’s enjoyably low key, and I feel a little bit restored afterwards. And I only spend ten dollars, which makes it even better.


I get home round 11:30. The boys aren’t here, but after a few minutes someone knocks on the door, this turns out to be Michael, he’s biked over to see them. I tell him I don’t know where they are, and he sits on the couch for a while, just talking to me. He shows no inclination to leave anytime soon, and I’m tired. Once I would probably have offered to take him home, but I figure he’ll be alright on his bike. So eventually I just say, “Michael, sorry but I need to go to sleep now, so I’m gonna send you on your way.”

He sighs, but not unhappily, and goes home.

Then I go to bed.


Saturday 13 July:

First day of the holidays. I’m sitting in bed, with a feeling of semi-relief that I made it through the entire term without throwing in the towel. Only ‘semi’ because there’s so much stuff going on.

It’s kind of wearying to keep having to go over the same old shit, and to have no backup. The cavalry’s not gonna arrive. Kepaoa’s ditched me and I’m doing this tough. But I will do it, all the same.

I have to get used to being in control. I have to find it actually comfortable.


This evening some boys (Raphael and a few others) come over, but Tau assures me that no-one’s going to be drinking. I check from time to time, and they’re fine.

All the same, I don’t really have a good night. I get this big ache of loneliness in my chest, because I’m wondering if there are people who would understand any of this stuff. Who would come over and hang out with me, just with the situation exactly as it is. Who would regard it as a normal thing, not some kind of ‘worthy’ cause – as if I’m some nice lady or mother hen. And who wouldn’t be intimidated, either.

Eventually I conclude it’s in my favour – that most people don’t care. It means I can do what I want to. Guess I’ll just keep going my own ways, until either I fall down or learn how to get through. The only things that hold me back are tiredness and fear. Tiredness I can handle, because you get over it. Fear’s the hardest. But maybe I’m starting to get control of it. And that’s what I want. I want to overcome fear.