A grown ass woman

Monday 8 September, 2014:

I remember how Kepaoa used to say, “If anything happens, just text me – I’m only a suburb away.”

Words. Because on Saturday, I was facing things alone. My phone losing charge in the bedroom; it might as well have been a suburb away too. And even if I’d had it right in my hand, there was no Kepaoa to call in the middle of the night. So I stood my ground – I didn’t once let myself become afraid. It’s only now I feel kind of scared, kind of sick about it all.

I’ve just about decided to take the day off when I get a text from the agency. So I accept the job, and get out of bed.


Afterwards, I reflect that it’s lucky I didn’t know I’d be teaching drama all day; that’s some pretty out-of-it relief: warm up games, impromptu performances, and all the rest of it. But I don’t really mind. All care and no responsibility – and sometimes it’s ‘no care and no responsibility’.

The daily contradictions don’t stay on my mind for long, with substitute teaching. It doesn’t really matter whether things go good, bad, or indifferent. It wasn’t like that when I had a permanent teaching job. The dissonance rubbed away at me all the time. Of course the feeling’s still there… it just has less of an impact, I guess.


This evening I get a text from Rose: Leroi is still here, sorry about all the trouble I know how you are feeling.

I’m glad he’s still with his Nan. I remember one time La-Verne said (rather glibly and irritating me) that the family was a ‘package deal’. But that’s just the point – they aren’t a package deal. I’ll do whatever I can reasonably do. But I know I can’t do for everyone what I’ll do for Tau.

And as well, nothing’s been cleared from the weekend. I’m still kind of upset with Leroi – but it’s Sheree I’m really angry with. I’m sick of the way she wants to be babied when something goes wrong, like she’s still a little kid, when she’s a grown ass woman.


Tuesday 9 September:

I get a text from Leroi tonight, which means I have to make a decision:

Hi mis me Leroi I feel so terrible for what ive done im so sry for my behaviour mis iknow that waz totally unexceptable towards you and  urv done so much for us more then anyone and idont want ruin the progress me and tau have made at course or let anyone down. please cud i come bak?  ican understand if u don’t want me there. but i promiss u miss that will never happen again, and ipromiss there will be no more drinking ever miss hope u cn forgive me.

I think it over for a while.  I know Leroi’s young, and I tell myself he’s allowed to make mistakes. Still, the way he turned on Tau really shook me. Well, where’s the loyalty now? I ask myself.

It takes me ages to reply and poor Leroi must be worried, he sends a few of those ‘Miss?’ texts as he waits. Eventually, I decide: I tell him he can come back


Wednesday 10 September:

Everything goes ok, but at the same time I can see that the boys are slightly anxious and on their best behavior – especially Leroi. You know, just being that extra bit more polite. They’ve had a good day at course and want to shout dinner, which is nice. Even so, we’re aware of recent events, so it feels a little awkward. Leroi asks if he can take a drink out of the fridge; that kind of thing. It’s all kind of tiring. Not in a bad way, just… in a way.


Thursday 11 September

I miss a call from the agency and debate with myself over whether to ring them back or not.  I eventually decide I’d rather crawl over broken glass than go do a day’s substitute teaching today. I don’t know why, because it isn’t that bad. But really? – I ask myself. Did I quit teaching at MC just so I can keep doing the same old thing somewhere different?

Bang goes another 230 bucks (that’s about what it is after tax), but I just can’t do it today. And I even packed up my lunch, too. Oh well.


Friday 12 September

Pretty crap weather out – and I’m supposed to be teaching PE all day. But I see a narrow window of opportunity to be seized, as the relief coordinator at Carthill High comes out with the timetables. “Which one do you want?” she asks the assembled group of substitute teachers, vaguely proffering a couple of sheets towards two of us. One of these looks to be Junior PE from start to finish; the other has a mix of PE and other subjects. I see Samoan 301 in period 1, English 101 in period 2… “I’ll take this one,” I tell her.

The other reliever, who has waited too long and now hovers just behind me, says uncertainly, “I was told I was having English…”

The relief coordinator looks a touch exasperated at this, saying, “We’ve asked for eight relievers and we’ve only got six. I’ve got all this internal cover to do as well…”

So off I go to 13 Samoan.


Saturday 13 September

I get up to make a cuppa tea and some toast, thinking how this time last week, Sheree was here and clinging like a leech to the boys. And this time Sunday, I was still outside with Leroi as the sun came up.

It doesn’t sound nice to write that Sheree’s clinging like a leech. But ‘nice’ is not where I need to be at present.


Friday 19 September:

My evening doesn’t work out quite as planned. Because after school, where am I? At the doctor – waiting two whole hours to get Tau’s  forms filled. And where’s Tau? Out at Clancy with the boys, who’ve come to pick him and Leroi up. And why do I do it? Because I can’t not try. Sometimes I wonder at myself, though. I question my sanity, sitting there in the waiting room, having already been told by one of the receptionists that the doctor (not being Tau’s regular GP) might not be able to sign the forms without his actual presence. She shrugs, not unsympathetically, saying, “Try if you want. But I can’t guarantee it.”


Admittedly Tau had tried too, earlier on in the day (they told him to come back later; there was only one doctor on). So I wait patiently, talking with a man called Wiremu – who turns out to have Alzheimer’s – about his army days. His wife (Joy is her name), comes out from her consultation and sees us, flurries straight over to ask if he’s been bothering me.

They affect me greatly, Joy and Wiremu. His voice has the unmistakable tone and oratorical style of a native speaker of Te Reo. She’s Pakeha. He remembers the old days, she tells me; his army days. All the people, all the places – he served in Malaya and Singapore. He forgets the things that happened a few minutes ago. They married in 1960 and have been living in Municipal for 48 years.

He doesn’t drink beer anymore, doesn’t go out in the evening nowadays. And every afternoon, he says to her, “Mum, can I have an ice cream,” and she makes him a big one. He eats it in the room, and five minutes later, he asks, “Mum, can I have an ice cream.”

“You’ve already had one,” she tells him.

“When did I have one?” he asks. “I didn’t have an ice cream.” He insists, and gets bad tempered, argumentative. “He takes it out on me,” Belle tells me.

“It must be very hard on you,” I say.

“It is,” she replied. “Sometimes it’s like that all day long.”

She doesn’t have a single complaint to make about her situation – she’s just tired, and acknowledges it. I’ve already heard her coughing in the doctor’s room. She has high blood pressure, and edema in her legs (cellulitis, she says, showing me the purple swelling).


At 5:45 I come away with Tau’s signed paperwork. The boys are still up at Clancy, of course. I have a feeling they’re going to ask me if they can have a few cans here again, sometime soon. I don’t know how I’ll play it when they do. It’s not a ‘never again.’ (despite Leroi’s text hyperbole). It’s just… I do need to set boundaries.




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.




Tuesday 22 July, 2014:

Funny, but it’s not so bad being back at work this week. For some reason I’m quite uninclined to create unnecessary dramas; in fact I’m on a kind of ‘days gone by’ buzz which is not unpleasant. Anyway, I’m grateful to whatever impetus is allowing me to distance myself from things a little more.

A lot of times today, I miss Kepaoa and feel alright at the same time. Just as I said, I’m uninclined to cause dramas, even in my own mind.


Thursday 24 July:

9 Social – I get all the bro hugs – and some girl hugs too.

Obey begins multi-tasking with peaceful joy: completing his ten ‘confidence questions’, and drawing with one of the graff books propped up in front of him.

But it makes me want to cry, a little bit, to see him so content. “Why are you leaving?” he keeps asking me quietly. “I don’t want you to go.”

At the end of class, he just comes up and says, “Miss? Can I get a hug?”

“Course you can,” I tell him, and we put our arms around one another. It isn’t really a bro hug this time, it’s kind of a goodbye.


I remember one of the other teachers saying to me one time, “I get on ok with Obey. But it’s his foul mouth that gets me so riled.”

“Obey?” I said, wonderingly. “Are you sure you mean Obey?”

“Oh yes,” she replied. “He can’t even go for a whole sentence without swearing. I’ve already made a pastoral note about it.”

And I’ve never heard Obey swear. Not even once.


Friday 25 July:

Tau and Leroi are truly pleased about the fact that I’ve booked them to look around another course on Tuesday morning – this one’s called ‘Aspire Institute’.

“I’m keen to go,” says Tau. “We need something positive.”

“Actually, this one sounds alright,” I tell them. “The lady on the phone said to tell you not to be nervous if you haven’t been studying for a while, there are heaps of other people there in the same boat.”


“It does sound alright,” reflects Leroi.

“Well, I hope so,” I say. “But no pressure, we’re just there to take a look.


Wednesday 23 July:

Very weird how this week’s panning out at school. I can see the distinction between aspects of the job which I like and am good at, and other things I simply can’t accept or do. For the first time ever really, this contrast is standing out as if illuminated by some exact, momentary ray of sunlight.

But writing frustrates me. So, so much to say, and right now that just seems way beyond my capabilities. Just writing these few lines is like composing some orchestral score: letters advance and retreat; are typed and deleted, placed back and forward in versions on a theme. Thirty minutes on – and I’ve barely said a thing.

It’s not exactly that I ‘don’t want to’ write, I just think, well, I can’t – obviously. I can’t tell it, I don’t know how. I started it off and I don’t know how to keep going without telling secrets; messing with things that I don’t have the skill to reveal.

I’ve said it probably a hundred times already: That thing. That two-part, indefinable thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it. But I’m wrapped into it like a hand in a glove. And yet sometimes I just want to give up.

For practical purposes

Wednesday 7 May, 2014:

The first week of Term 2, and my intentions already seem so unsupportable, compared to a few days ago. I struggle to hold these two contradictory ideas:

1) Financial independence – I have to support both myself and that flexibly constituted entity: the ‘household’.

2) The teacher persona – I can’t outwit it, I can’t hide from it, I can’t redeem it… I don’t know what to do with it except to feel so endlessly, helplessly, tired of struggling with it.


This morning we have a ‘Learning Team’ meeting. Chloe starts off with a few of the dreaded games, and then we have a discussion about learning goals and learning celebrations for the year 9’s. The entire time, I miserably accept the role I have to perform. I shrink from it, at the same time as I force myself to behave exactly as expected. Taking part, contributing to the conversation, making suggestions -and also in some way despising myself for all of this.

My mind gets so tired, twisting and turning, and finally capitulating to the task. I take little, shallow breaths, in and out… just getting through it.

But I keep telling myself: people go through way worse. And I will I will I will I will I will be ok. So fuck it.

I’m still lingering in my tribulations though, most of the day. But I’m another person the minute I get in my car and drive away. Not a teacher anymore. And when I get home and see the boys, I think, oh thank goodness! Because someone knows me;  knows I’m not that dumb after all.


Thursday 8 May:

9 Social. I hate the fact that they expect a ‘teacher’. I dislike a few of them very much. The one I can’t stand is Jacobina. The thing I resent the most about Jacobina is that she’s not even the power broker in that class. She’s got a smart mouth, but she only jumps on the bandwagon when Audrey and Chenille start trying to wield their own (13 year old, very constrained) authority over the others. And honestly, the ridiculousness of having to deal with it, today.

I try to settle my breath a little bit, but it won’t settle. It’s still shallow and kind of painful. This is what ‘stress’ feels like, right?  I think about how Tau must feel more stressed than this, all the time – no wonder he’s on the K2. Which is, of course, now illegal (as of 12:01 this morning, but that’s a whole nother story).

The one tiny fact about school that gives me consolation, albeit of a very partial and limited kind, is that there’s not even one person there anymore whose opinion I actually give a damn about. And furthermore, if I’m stressing, at least there’s no-one there who it might matter to, or who I need to compose myself for.

But it hurts to hold my breath in. So I think, for practical purposes, there’s only one thing truly to be done today, and that’s breathe. Breathe and then breathe some more. See if I can iron that out.


After school, the K2 thing. Tau and Leroi have smoked up pretty much all their seshes by 5 o’clock – there’s one left. They’re stoned as all fuck, and Tau keeps chuckling at my expression, which is slightly perturbed (not at them being stoned, but at the lack of any surplus for days of possible need).

I make dinner, but the boys are way too stoned to do anything except sit on the couch in the sleepout, with the radio providing a soundtrack to the game start menu: just rolling its intro over and over while they sit and watch.

Eventually Tau comes inside and gets a drink… and I sense some kind of look in his eyes, but I don’t know exactly what this signifies. So I just say, “Hey, Tau,” while he busies himself at the sink.

And then, “It just… feels like you were gonna ask me something,” I surmise, and he laughs, saying, “Oh!”

I push on a little further: “I don’t know why, Tau, but I thought you might be wanting a lift somewhere.”

“Oh Miss,” Tau says, coming to sit down by me. “I was gonna ask for a lift… and a loan. For a box,” he explains, with a little sorrow.

“Huh?” I say, but gently. “Are you sure you guys wanna start up on a box, after smoking up all that K2?”

“We can’t get to sleep,” Tau tells me, sighing. “I’ve had like six sleeping pills, and we’ve smoked all our K2, and I’ve been stressing about tomorrow.

Quite apart from the contraindications of mixing sleeping pills and alcohol, this is what I’ve been worried about: the replacing of K2 with other substances. So Tau and I just sit and talk, to try get it a little bit sorted – no preconceived outcomes in our minds. We both approach the situation very calmly, willing to listen to one another’s perspective.


Tau tells me he’s been worrying about the K2 situation all day, so has Leroi. This, he thinks, is actually why they’ve consumed their stash in one long burst. They just want to take their minds off what’s going to happen next.

“And have you got no money left?” I ask him.

“No – we spent as much as we could on K2,” he replies. We bought fifteen bags.

“Oh my gosh,” is all I say, thinking about it. And then, “But Tau.. this is just day one. I know you need to get through the day and all. But have you thought what could happen, if you feel like this tomorrow… and the next day.” I add, “I’m not being judgmental – I know you have to find a way to cope. But it’s just that I care about you; both of you. I don’t want to see you start up on the alkies again.”

“I don’t want to either,” Tau says. “I remember how it felt – I hated wanting it every day.”

“I know,” I tell him.

“But it would be the last time, Miss,” he tries. “The only time.”

“I’m not asking you to say that, Tau,” I reply. “I’m not expecting that from anyone. It’s just that I don’t want it to be a strategy you use every day. For one thing, we can’t afford it, and for another thing…” I look at him with a lot of love in my heart, as I continue, “I just want to see you guys happy, and looking forward to things again, you know? Having goals, and figuring out what you want to do, and enjoying your days.”

“I want that too,” Tau says, quietly. “Max talked to me about that as well.”

“And I know you’re trying your best, Tau,” I tell him. “I’m not knocking you for any of it. I’m just… not sure what I should do, that’s all. Just let me think about it for a minute.”

“Algood, Miss,” Tau says. He sits with me very patiently – not even trying to flee. I can see he feels a kind of safety, which makes me glad.


After a while, I decide what to do. I don’t know if it’s what anyone else would do, or even approve of. But that doesn’t really matter. I tell Tau I’ll go get him a box, just a 12 pack for him and Leroi. I say I won’t be getting any more than that, if they run out. It’s just to see them through, and they have to pace themselves.

“Sweet as,” Tau says. “I understand everything you’re saying, Miss.”

Then, “Do you know, you guys have been here for a whole month?” I say, in slight surprise.

“Have we?”

“Yup – and it’s been pretty good,” I go on, contemplating this fact. “I mean, you’ve both been calm, and not stressing too much till now.”

“We’ve been algood,” Tau agrees.

“And we want it to stay that way, right? So if I’m worried that you’re drinking every day, I’ll be on the phone to Vailea real quick – and Max.”

Tau chuckles at me, saying, “But that won’t happen, Miss.”

“Just saying,” I tell him. “Just letting you know the deal, from my end.”

Then off we go to the liquor store, and Tau goes in and gets the box. I see him go in, and I think, love ya Tau. And I hope I’m doing the right thing.

My ship

Saturday 3 May, 2014:

Early morning and the fridge is bare, apart from margarine and one almost empty bottle of tomato sauce. I go grocery shopping and spend $122. This is more than I’ve spent in so long that I can’t remember!

Around 11 I take Tau (accompanied by Leroi once again) to counselling. Just as an aside, it amuses me how gangsta Leroi looks nowadays. He’s got this ‘particular’ beanie, which when he wears it, seems to transform him into the biggest hoodlum on the block. And I’m talking Municipal – so I can only imagine how he appears to the citizens of Remuera (where Maxwell has his practice).

I glance at him in the rear view mirror, and can’t help laughing as Leroi smiles at me and says, “I’m gonna read some more of those stories in the waiting room today.”


On the way back, Tau’s just tumbling out with all the things he’s learnt. He produces a little card that Maxwell’s written on the back of. It says:

I feel..


I would prefer..

“It’s this way I’m learning to stop myself getting angry so fast,” Tau tells me. “Max just started showing me how to do it today, and he said that’s enough for now, he’s gonna let me think about it some more, and then next time he’ll tell me more.”


And he explains how it works. When you feel yourself getting angry with someone, instead of pointing the finger at them, you stop and tell them: I feel… (however it is you’re feeling) when… (whatever’s happened to make you feel that way). And then you say: I would prefer… (letting them know what you want to happen instead).

There’s a way you remember it, too. Tau shows me, saying, “Look Miss, when you point at someone…” He points towards the windscreen, demonstrating: “See how you point one finger at someone, and three fingers are pointed back at you?”

“Yup,” I say, waiting for the next bit.

“Well those three fingers are ‘I feel, when, I would prefer.’ That’s how you remember it. And then you try saying it.” He adds, “It took me a while to get what he meant, and then I was like – oh, fuck, I could do that.”

“Whoa – that’s so awesome, Tau,” I tell him. “Max is really onto it, aye.”

“Haard,” Tau says. “I wish my whole family could go see him. Especially my mum – I reckon it would really help her to do some of this stuff.”

“Maybe she could come along one time,” I suggest. “She might be a bit shy to meet Maxwell at first, but she’d probably be alright going with you.”

“That’s what I think, too,” says Tau. “If she saw me talking and stuff, she’d start to feel alright about talking to him as well.”

“Imagine if your whole family started using that ‘I feel… when… I would prefer’ thing,” I muse.

“Maan, that’d be buzzy,” Tau says. “Instead of just shouting and yelling and going off at one another.”

“Oh, and you could try using it on that guy at High Times,” I say, making them snort with laughter. Because Tau got ripped off to the tune of ten bucks, last week. He bought a twenty bag and the guy gave him a ten bag. They’ve already had an altercation over it, the next time he went back in store.


We’re driving along and Tau says, in what is a very relaxed and contented way, “Miss – do you think we could stop at Seventh Heaven on the way home?”

“Course we can,” I tell him fondly. I know he didn’t have a sesh before going to Max’s; the three of us had talked about it, and I’d reminded him not to go stoned. I add, “It’s right next to the café – I can get my coffee at the same time!” and they both grin at me.

And that’s what we do. I get my coffee, Tau gets the K2, and Leroi sits in the car with his beanie on, looking like he’s eyeing up the world, but actually just having a little rest.

And I think, kind of idly, that all this stuff is just one example of how not everything I do can be framed by a job or an institution. ‘That thing’; it’s not a career move. It’s at the heart of who I am.


So it’s a little depressing to remind myself school starts again on Monday. I’m trying to be patient – but I want things fast, too. I know it’s almost time for me to part ways with MC.     There’s no reason to stay there. No allies left – they already shipped out. So what have I been sticking around for? Perhaps it was to find something of that same impetus in myself. And I think, maybe I found it… or nearly.

Because in the last two weeks I’ve realized all these things:

  • Personal power comes from self-reliance and boundaries
  • There’s also a mental and moral courage that comes from being kind
  • For me, the collective is the way the music gets made
  • All the same, either my needs are important or no-one’s needs are important
  • It’s alright to make sense of two contradictory ideas
  • One part always embraces the other part.

So subsuming myself to that simple teacher persona just doesn’t make sense to me anymore. I don’t bring ‘nothing’ to the equation – I bring my own thing. And that’s my ship, I guess. The one that’s going to get me from A to B.

Contradictory things

“Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside your heart and head at all times. If it doesn’t drive you crazy, it will make you strong.” (Bruce Springsteen)


Saturday 12 April, 2014:

On my way out, I tell Tau that if any of the boys turn up, he can just use me as an excuse to get rid of them.

“Just say – Miss is being a bitch,” I tell him, frankly. “I know you don’t really think I’m a bitch, but it’s algood to say that, if it helps.”

“Yup,” he replies, grinning.


When I get back I’m tired. Partly it’s the events of the last few days, and partly just the long term at school… and then the two glasses of wine I have at Mia’s. I lay on the couch and fall asleep. The cushion under my head is too hard, and I wake up with a dull headache.


Monday 14 April:

School… it’s just your average Monday (apart from being extra tired). 9 Social are alright, I guess, apart from a scrap between Obey and Aidan in the library; I break it up, getting a bruise on my wrist in the process. A year 13 student who I don’t even know assists me in this intervention – he’s a nice guy to jump in like that.

Honestly though, ‘learning’ just doesn’t cut it, today. Like I could care less about the cultural mindmaps; alas for 9 Social. Cultural schmultural. Domestication and bullshit, that’s what it is. Consequently my teaching lacks all conviction, today.

I just know I’m going to feel exactly the same way about the ‘Ancient World’ assessments tomorrow (for 10 Social).


I get back home and the boys are out, and there’s nothing much left in the fridge. This only serves to make my brain micro-manage like crazy. Which is not a good thing!

 When they get back, Tau comes in and we talk. He tells me they’ve just been walking around all afternoon, trying to get by without a sesh. I’m almost going to ask if they need to go get one. But I know they’re trying to cut back – and that is a good thing. And to be honest, he looks ok – so I decide to just leave it, rather than interfere.


Tau also tells me Sheree had her meeting with the housing people at Winz this morning, it didn’t go too well. They told her they’ll put her name on the waiting list… for all that’s worth (not much). And her beni’s been cut by half.

Sheree started crying; just sobbed right at the desk. Then the case worker said (to Tau), “It’s alright, I’m just trying to help your mum.”

“Pffft,” I comment, with some scorn for Winz’s customer relations.

“Hard,” Tau agrees.

“Didn’t she take Vailea?”


“Ohh, why didn’t she?” I lament, and then, “I wish I’d known about her appointment – I would have gone with her.”

“Haaard,” Tau says again, with feeling. “That’s what I was thinking too, Miss. But my mum didn’t even tell me what day her appointment was – I didn’t know until this morning.”


Tuesday 15 April:

This time it’s Leroi who coughs all night. He says he didn’t sleep because he couldn’t breathe. He doesn’t really smoke ciggies – so it’s probably the K2 stuffing his lungs up. Stress has something to do with it as well, I guess.

Both boys come and talk to me this morning while I’m getting ready for school. Tau suggests I could text Vailea about Sheree again. And it pleases me to think he’s strategizing… because Tau’s in kind of a good space at the moment. Ok it’s not unproblematic, either – but what I mean is that he knows he’s safe, and he’s getting some support from a few people, and he’s getting paid. So it could be worse, it really could. And he’s not unaware of that fact.


Wednesday 16 April:

Tau and Leroi both get paid today!

“We’re gonna budget the money.” (this is Tau, very seriously)

“We’re even gonna save some,” they tell me.

“And we’re not getting a sesh till tonight – we’ll just go for a walk to Municipal, get a lazy breakfast.”

I know, it’s not like everything’s suddenly sorted out. But to hear them talk like this again is pretty damn amazing.

They also insist on giving me eighty dollars. They want to be responsible for as much as they can do right now – I can see it in their faces, which are looking happier by the day.


Thursday 16 April:

Somehow I make it to the gym – I don’t even want to go, and before I head off there, I have a bit of a cry, just sitting unhappily on my bed. Everything just seems so hard, today.

I stop to say hi to the boys before attempting the gym (this is attempt #1). But it turns out not to be a good idea, right then. First of all, they’re stoned, and so I can’t be sure of the vibe, which is very low key. I feel like I want to say shit about my shitty day, but at the same time I don’t want to burden these two, who have enough of their own shit to deal with.

And then Tau tells me Vailea has been over, and asked Tau for some kind of paperwork (a Winz letter I guess) – to check up his beni; something about job search. I don’t think Tau’s all that sure about the ins and outs of it. But my mind immediately jumps to conclusions, like: does Vailea think I’m all shit?

I don’t know, but I feel even shittier. I get in the car to go to the gym, and then I just start to sniff and sob. I sit there for a couple of minutes, not wanting to get out in case Tau and Leroi see me crying. Then I dry my eyes and go inside.


Soon as I sit down on my bed, I started to cry again. I just whimper a little bit, to think of everything about the whole dumb day. Having to function in my despised role at work, and now… does Vailea Poe think I don’t know shit about shit?

Oh maaan, I’m tired of being all alone with this stuff. I think of Kepaoa – just a little – as I cry. And then I have to switch that thought off, because I know sometimes people say they got you, when really they don’t.

So I harden up, dry my eyes one more time, and text Vailea, to let him know Tau has a med cert, and there’s no need for job search; everything is sorted and approved already.

Then I go to the frickin gym after all (attempt #2), and do a workout. It kind of helps, I guess. It’s better than not going.


There are three texts when I take my phone out of the locker:


Then: I was just checking with Winz to see how Max invoices for the psych appointments.’

‘Saves me paying’  was the last; this even makes me laugh a little bit.

‘Ok cool.’ I write. Tau wasnt sure but he thought you needed to check something out with winz so I just wanted you to know that side of things was all sweet

He replies again:  Thanks for all you are doing with the boys

So, it’s obviously nothing like what I first thought. But all the same, I just sigh to myself. Because really, I think  to myself, I don’t do shit that anyone actually wants. Sometimes I do what people need, which isn’t the same thing. And right now I wonder about this all so much – is it all I’m good for?


I go on home and make noodles. I feel guilty – can you believe it – for not cooking tea, even though it’s already late, and Tau and Leroi have been paid and all.

Tau comes in and out to get a drink, and I sit there feeling stressed and guilty. Like I ‘should’ get dinner sorted every single night, so that they don’t have to be shy. Though I know it isn’t me who’s making them shy – they’re just shy, fullstop. I also know, when I stop and think about it, that if they’re shy here, they’d be even shyer somewhere else.

Eventually I give up on the contradictions and try counting my blessings that they’re here at all. I mean, even that they feel just safe ‘enough’, you know? 


Thursday 17 April:

13 History first up, today. I’ve got nothing really planned for the last day of term. They can jam the chrome books… or go to the library and just keep going with what they’re working on.

“A history quiz!” Mandy suggests, brightly:

“Nah, nah,” I tell her. “Anyway, they’ve all done different topics this term.”

“What about a debate?” she says, in all seriousness. “On a current issue.”

“Geez, Mandy,” I say. “It’s the last day today. That’s way too much effort for me. I just want to mark the assessments.”

That’s the difference between ‘me’ and ‘teachers’. I tell ya.


After school, there’s drinks in the staffroom for the end of term. I go for a while, with Ross and Mandy. It’s kind of fun… and a little bit not, that’s how these things go. Still, it’s good to get a free drink off school, at the very least. I have a Carlsberg, and nibble on a mini potato-top pie, and we talk out on the balcony.

Around 5 I get a call from Leroi, wanting to know if I can come home. Something about Tau… I can’t hear properly over the chatter in the staffroom.

“Oh yup, does Tau need to go somewhere?” I ask

“To the boxing…” is what I hear.

“Huh?” I say. “Where?”

“He can’t breathe, Miss. He needs to go to the doctor.


I rush back to find poor Tau is standing mournfully in the carport, all ready to get in the car. “Could you say I need the nebuliser, Miss?” he asks me, as he very tiredly sits down in the passenger seat.

“Yes, of course Tau…” I murmur, worried about him. He can hardly talk.

We get to the medical centre just before it closes; their signs are already in. But they’re so nice to Tau, just whisk him off to the doctor – the same one as last time; the one the boys liked. He has his nebuliser, and comes out, looking tired, and none too happy with the world, but at least able to breathe.


“Is that it?” I check.

“Think so…”

“You didn’t get any medicine?”

“No,” they both tell me.

I accompany them out to the car, then think about it some more and conclude aloud, “Well – that can’t be right.”

They shrug, having no idea what should or shouldn’t be the outcome of this visit.

I go back up to the counter, and lo and behold – there is a prescription, for antibiotics and more prednisone. I get it filled at the pharmacy counter, pay the bill (the whole thing only costs me twenty, including the meds), and take it out to Tau. Pick up chicken and chips on the way home, and they settle back in the sleepout.


Then I go to the supermarket. It takes ages, everywhere’s busy and the roads are jammed; all the shops are closed tomorrow for Good Friday. I spend nearly a hundred dollars on food today (the takeout included), having done the budget first. Got heaps of stuff, the pantry’s full, and the freezer too. Full isn’t like at bursting point – but it’s still a big improvement on that feeling of scarcity and the totting up that goes on in my head.

And work bothers me, it troubles me unduly… but when it comes down to money, oh I’m grateful to be earning it.

So there’s another two contradictory things, right there.


Put on earth

Monday 31 March, 2014:

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

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


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

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

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


Tuesday 1 April:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

“Thanks, Miss,” he says.

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


Wednesday 2 April:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Thursday 3 April:

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

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

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


Saturday 5 April:

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday 6 April:

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

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

Hi miss its tau did yu get my txt?

Ok I’ll come over with it soon.


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes please, Miss,” he says at once.


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

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

Are you sure…” Tau murmurs, in relief.

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

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