Loving eyes

Wednesday 19 November

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday 21 November

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Monday 24 November

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

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

 

Wednesday 26 November

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Thursday 27 November

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

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

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

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

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That world includes me

Thursday 8 August, 2013:

The one saving grace of today is that the year 11’s are practically perfect. They just write their assessment like lambs, and I’m so grateful for that, little do they know.

After school I go to the gym; might as well, I think. Run on the treadmill, do weights, run on the treadmill again, finish off on the rowing machine. Come home, make something to eat, and a car pulls up. Tau: one of the boys drops him off, then leaves again. He’s been drinking, and is on the mellow edge of drunk. I’m kind of alright with that, but only kind of. We don’t mention Sheree, but I feel stung by everything, all the same.

 

When I go to bed, it’s quiet… but around midnight I hear footsteps, and voices, and then music. I try to go back to sleep. I try telling myself it’s algood. But the unfairness of things keeps on piquing me, over and over. People think they’re running it – and meanwhile I lie awake and do fuck all to take my power back.

At 3 am I get sick of it, and go out. I rap on the door – it opens, and there they are. Tau and Leroi, drinking Cody’s.

“I have to go work in the morning,” I begin. “And you guys are making a bit of a noise out here.”

“Sorry, Miss,” they say dutifully.

Then, “We’ve had a hard day,” Leroi whines, annoying me.

“Well, so have I,” I tell him.

“You were angry with my mum, and she took it out on us,” Tau says, but mildly enough.

“That’s not how it was,” I say. “I wasn’t angry, I was upset – and it’s not the end of the world, either. Me and Sheree sorted it out.”

“She was only trying to help… tidying up. And you bummed her out ge, and she took it out on us!” Leroi bursts out.

“It wasn’t tidying up, it was rearranging the furniture – that bummed me out, if you want to know,” I retort.

“She was only trying to help,” Tau repeats Leroi’s words. I can see he’s beginning to get upset. “And then you went off at her about it, and made her feel really bad.”

“I didn’t go off at her,” I say, with some indignation. “I just said it felt funny – and it did.”

And gave us the silent treatment when you came outside…” Tau says, with a self righteous look in his eye. He’s kind of hitting his stride now, waving one arm about, and to be honest it pisses me off to be ganged up on like this by drunk teenagers.

“Silent treatment,” I say, in disbelief. “Well, if you’re talking about silent treatment… that’s what you guys do all the time, isn’t it. So don’t stand there accusing me of that. I felt embarrassed to come out past you, that’s how it was.

“We’re just kids, you’re a adult,” says Tau, and the scorn that I hear in his tone makes me, for the first time ever, feel cool towards him.

“Yeah, well your mum’s an adult too,” I say. “And I got feelings, just the same as her.”

 

And then Leroi starts yelling at me, drunkenly. About what a hard life he’s had… and they’ve had… and how I don’t know how hard it is for them, on and on he goes, and Tau is backing him up, and something just toughens up in my heart all of a sudden, until, “Hey!” I tell them. “Hold it right there. Do you know it’s hard for me too, you’re not the only ones.”

“But we…” they chorus. Then accusingly, “But you…”And so it goes on: We have a hard life. You should let us all stay. You don’t know what we go through. We just wanna be together. You should let her stay here until we get a house. And the whole time they’re yelling at me, accusingly.

I’m cold, and tired, and my heart is aching so bad, and so I just yell right back at them. “Stop blaming me for all your problems. I don’t see anyone else trying to help out, so why the fuck I’m the one getting shouted at I don’t know.”

“You don’t know how haaaaaard it’s been for us,” Leroi wails. “I wanna gap. I got a bad buzz now, ge. I wanna kill myself!” And he flings himself down on a chair and bursts into tears.

That stops me in my tracks. I put my arm round Leroi, and he howls miserably beside me. “It’s ok, Leroi,” I tell him.

“I got nowhere to go-oo,” he cries. “You should just tell us to fuck off then, say you don’t want us here.”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” I tell him, firmly. “I’m just saying don’t yell at me, and don’t blame me for everything that’s gone wrong.”

“Sorry, Miss,” Tau says, visibly pulling himself together. I can see how hard it is for him to do that, and not to just let fly at the unfairness of the whole world. And he walks out for a ciggie.

 

I go out too. Then Tau and I have a talk. It’s not soothing, or even in any way consoling. But I guess it is pragmatic. It’s practical, and reasoned. And that’s something.

By 4am, I’m shaking with cold. And everyone has stopped shouting, but there’s still this big pool of hurt in my heart, and at one point I say the same thing I said to Sheree the day before: “At the end of the day, I’m only a roof.” And no-one vehemently denies it.

Finally, I’m defeated for the time being. I tell them I’m going to bed, I have to go to work in the morning (unlike them, I think, jealously. They can shout the odds all night and then sleep all day). As I go inside, I say, half to myself and almost casually into the night air: “I’ll just go cry my eyes out, and nobody’s gonna give a fuck about that.”

I get into bed and start to shiver and sob. I cry until my pillow is wet, and I don’t even try to stop the tears, or the sound. It’s very cold in my room; later I find that the plug for the heater has come out of the wall.

 

At 6, I get up. My eyes are all swollen, and I let the hot water from the shower hydrate them as long as I can, before I splash toner on my face and stroke moisturizer into my skin. My body quivers with fatigue. I make a cup of tea, and some toast with Nutella. And I ring the boys’ grandma (Scott’s mum, Ella).

Ella is like an avenging angel, on the phone. “Don’t you worry about it, love,” she tells me. “Don’t feel sorry about it for a moment, you had every right to be angry. How dare they talk to you like that… that’s just bloody selfish!”

And by the time I get to school, even though my brain is jamming with that tired, sparky feeling, at least I feel that I’ve gotten a little bit of help.

 

I’m grouchy with 9 Social, which doesn’t faze them, then I just let 12 History work on their assessment. I guess I’m just trying to keep to the routine… to stop that old circuit of shame from kicking in so bad. The same thing with eating: I take a muesli bar to work, and a kiwi fruit, and an egg and cheese muffin I packed up last night. At break times, I eat, kind of automatically. Make me a coffee. At the back of my mind, I just keep telling myself: Oh well, maybe they don’t care about me, but I’m not gonna die of it. I just squirrel up every bit of my emotional reserves, any way I can.

And there’s never been any strings, to Tau being at my place. Never. But I can’t do for his whole family what I’m willing to do for him, no matter how much he, or any of them might want me to, or even think I should.

My heart’s sore though, with  that feeling of being ganged up on. Them against the world… and all of a sudden, that world includes me.

 

In the evening, Ella calls me again. She wants to know if I could bring Sheree’s things over, the others are making their way to her house on foot. She asks me to just drop the bags off, she wants to talk to them on their own about what happened. That’s fine with me – I don’t want to be yelled at by anyone.

I pull up, and Ella’s waiting for me at the gate. Then, “Oh, there they are,” she says, and I turn my head and see a little procession coming up the road, shapes outlined in the dark: Sheree, Leroi, and the bowed, tired silhouette of Tau. It hurts my heart to have to drive away without speaking to anyone. But I do.

 

Necessary minimum actions

Wednesday 25 November, 2009:

I wake up feeling alright – until reality kicks in. Now I have a sick, scared feeling, like all my energy is just leaking out through a big rip which I can’t mend.

I think how I don’t want to go to work today, but it’s actually going to be worse if I stay home. Because although there’s no comfort to be found anywhere – at least at school there’s still necessary minimum actions to perform (even though I don’t want to do any of them right now).

So I enact the normal morning routine: eat breakfast at the kitchen table, wash the dishes –  I don’t feel any better for any of it, but then I just head off to work anyway.

By the time I get there, I’ve almost settled to things not being right; and it’s odd how after that, things kind of right themselves somehow, or at least fall into place a little more.

 

At interval I spend some time talking with Nio, who (incredibly) has showed up for an exam. We have a conversation of great ease and familiarity, and I’m further settled by the thought that this boy perceives me as straightforward and reliable. And funnily enough, I’ve actually started to see Nio that way too.

He tells me, “Miss, I know where Alexander is – he’s hiding out at the CP house.”

“Is that Inia and Noa and them?” I ask, curious.

“Yes Miss, but there’s older ones too, and he’s with them in Carthill.”

Poor Alexander – no exams for him; trouble’s been his thing all month.

 

At the end of break, I’m very, very surprised when I see Tau following me. He loops back and forth, and finally comes up and says, “Miss?”

“Hi Tau,” I say, trying to sound matter of fact.

“Um… what’ve I got next?” he ventures.

I think about it and say, “English.”

“Oh,” and then he asks, almost hesitantly, “Miss? Can I come to your class?”

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” I tell him. “I have year 9’s, it won’t be very interesting for you.”

Very briefly, I see an upset look on Tau’s face, then he’s impassive and turns and walks away purposefully. I can see he’s heading outa school, and I say, “Tau, wait a minute…” but he just walks faster, so I let him go. But inside, I feel very strange. And after that, I know I have to stay calm and retain the little measure of autonomy this day has so oddly bestowed.

 

Marjorie Tunbridge emails me after lunch – she’d had to go out of school for some errand and had seen Tau roaming the streets. He spoke to her very reluctantly, said he felt sick and was going home. She enquires if I’ve seen him today – was he ok this morning?

I reply and say that he did seem a bit sick. I try to sound vague, definitely not wanting to get him in trouble. She mails back; says ok – she won’t follow it up.

And I get through the day. I have this quiet feeling in my heart, and I can do it; at last I feel my energy stabilize. I’m glad, because I can’t go on like this. I can’t, or I’ll be no use to anyone, least of all Tau.

 

At the very end of the day when I walk back to the office, there he is, sitting on a bench waiting for me. He raises his head, then looks down again very mournfully.

I walk up gently, not wanting to make him bolt. “You ok?” I ask.

He shrugs.

“Miss said… Miss Tunbridge said you were feeling sick.”

“I’m alright,” he says, looking weary.

I just sit beside him, and, “Miss?” he says. “I’m sorry, Miss.”

“It’s ok,” I say.

“Miss, where are you going?”

“Mr’s room, I have to wait for him there.” And I point towards Kuli’s open door

“Can I come too?”

“Yes, if you want.”

 

He comes in with me, and before he even sits down, says, “I got kicked out of home again, I’ve been sleeping in the park. My mum got drunk and smashed everything up, she threw a chair through the window, she… I tried to stop her doing stupid stuff, and she kicked me out.”

I just listen, and he continues, “I went back this morning but nobody knows where she is.” He adds, “I almost called the police, only I didn’t know what to say.”

I’m just trying to stay quiet and calm with Tau as he talks. As some kind of ‘prop’ for my energies, I’m proofreading reports at the same time, and he’s looking at graffiti on Youtube.

Kuli comes in and Tau stands up hastily, but Kuli says, “No, no… it’s ok, it’s ok, Tau.” And then to me, “I’ll wait for you. No hurry.”

 

When Kuli leaves, Tau says, “Mr’s alright, aye.”

“Yes,” I reply. “He’s a good man – a very good man.”

Then Tau just says quietly, “How come the school had to use your room for exams, – oh why did they have to take your room away?”

“I don’t know,” I soothe him. “But we’ll get it back soon, I promise.”