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?



The first birds singing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“No, I won’t” I reply, equably.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

“What?” he groans.

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

“Nah, I’m algood,” he says.

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

“Then go get a blanket.”

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

“How come?” asks Leroi.

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

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

“A minute’s long enough,” I agree.


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

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

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

“Hello,” says a voice.

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

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

“Ok I will,” I breathe, gratefully.


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

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

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

“I care about you too,” I tell him.

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Where from?” quavers Leroi.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The things that need to be said

Sunday 20 January, 2013:

I find it harder and harder to just ignore the things that need to be said. There’s something on my mind, which has been sitting there for a few days…


On Thursday night, when Tau’s still drinking at Clancy with the boys – this is after the funeral – I notice the light is on in the sleepout, so I figure I’ll turn it off as I go by. But my key won’t fit into the padlock on the shed door, and when I feel around in the dark, I can tell it’s a different lock on there

The next day I mention it. I say to Tau, “So – you got a spare key for that lock?”

“Um… yeah, somewhere,” he replies.

“Oh, k…” I begin, feeling a little bit uncomfortable at the look in Tau’s eye, which says:  ‘And what?’ I continue, “It’d be a good idea if we put the spare key somewhere, so you don’t get locked out.”

“Nah all good, I’ll find it later,” Tau says. I can see he is not particularly wanting to discuss this. But I just say “Ok, but don’t forget though, Tau. Cos you’ve locked yourself out before, a few times – and we’ve had that spare key.”

“I can get in if I need to, I got ways,” says Tau, with a shrug.

“Yeah? What ways are those?” I ask.

“Um… once I was locked out and I pushed on the front door until I made a little gap, and then I got little Michael to squeeze through it.”

“Oh,” is all I say. “Well, even if you could do that, you’d still have to get the lock cut off – if you didn’t find the key again.”

“Yup,” Tau says, but very shortly.

Perhaps unwisely, I persist with one more point, saying, “And it’s good to have a spare key, in an emergency.”

“What kind of emergency?” says Tau, scoffing slightly.

“Like that time your shed got broken into,” I tell him. “Or just… any kind of emergency. You need to be able to get in.”

Tau doesn’t reply, he just gets off the sofa and goes quietly back out to the shed. He looks impassive, rather than upset. The discussion is definitely over though, for the time being.


But I keep thinking about it, off and on. Am I pushing Tau? Am I wrong, to ask him about the spare key? And I don’t think so. I ask myself: If it was someone else in the shed, would I want a spare key? If it was Kepaoa, for example. And yes I would, of course I would. Everything I’ve said is true. You do need spare keys – people do lock themselves out. Tau’s done it before, and so have I. It just makes sense.

So it troubles me, and every time I think of it, I know I’m going to have to mention it again.


Then yesterday morning, it’s on my mind from pretty much the second I wake up. Tau comes in and out all morning, we just chat and stuff. He seems ok, it’s me who’s kind of quiet. At one point I just lay on my bed and feel little tears start up in my eyes. I think – maan, I have to go talk to him, I need to get this out in the open.

Because I’m starting to realize that being afraid of the possibilities is no way to live.

I get up and right then Tau comes indoors, saying, “Miss – I’m just going down to the shop to get a lighter,”

“Yup,” I say, kind of absently, but at the same time, I just walk outside with him, saying, “Tau? Can I talk to you for a sec? There’s just…”

“What is it, Miss?” he asks, looking immediately wary. I think he just reads the tone in my voice, and goes on alert.

“Um…” I begin. “It’s about the shed. I don’t feel comfortable with not having a spare key.”


Tau kind of shies away, like a horse refusing a jump – I can see he’s angry (the emotion that takes instant hold when he’s feeling thwarted or challenged). He puts his head down, so that he isn’t looking at me. But he stands still, and kind of holds, for a moment.

So I say, “We need to have a spare key and put it somewhere safe. You know I won’t go into your sleepout unless I need to, Tau. I’d never go through your stuff. I never have, and I never will. You can trust me. And I trust you, Tau – that’s why you’ve got the key to the house, too.

Tau doesn’t reply. He just marches off down the driveway, and straight out the gate – silently at first – but when he gets out onto the street, I hear him shout, “Fuuuck!” And then he’s gone.

I feel myself kind of tremble, but it isn’t really fear anymore. I just think: ok, I’m glad it’s done. I’ve tried to say the right thing, and say it respectfully. Then I just sit on the deck, in the sun, and I felt a kind of peace steal into my heart. Because I know, at that moment, that I’m no longer willing to be afraid.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t know when, or even if Tau will come back. I’m not sure that he’ll be able to give up the slightest particle of his autonomy. And I think, well, it’s ok, if that happens. I don’t want it to happen, and I love Tau, and I want him to have a place to go, and to be safe. But I can’t be afraid anymore.


Tau is probably halfway to Fitzroy St by now, I figure. So I’m very surprised, when about ten minutes later I see him come back and go straight into the shed. I hear the door being firmly closed and bolted, and the next minute music starts up real loud. And I’m sure there’s a biiig blaze going on in that bucky.

I don’t even attempt to go out there. I just do my thing, and a little bit later, Raphael arrives. He waves at me. He’s carrying a paper parcel and says, “I’ve just come to bring Tau a feed,” and I say, “All good.” Tau must have texted him, I think. And the door opens and closes… and then opens again. It must be pretty hot in there, and I reckon now that Tau has a ‘support person’ he wants to leave the door open again.


Hours pass. It’s about 3 or 4, I think. I see Tau coming past the window, and he comes up the steps and then inside. He walks past me and into the kitchen, then turns round and comes straight back out again, hovering beside me and clearing his throat before saying, “I’m sorry about before, Miss, and… here,” and he puts a small key down on the table next to me. He looks relieved that he’s said it, and then alarmed at himself for talking about it at all.

I just say “Thanks for that, Tau.”

“It’s ok, Miss,” he tells me.

I don’t press him to say anything more. He goes back out to the shed, but a little while later he comes in for a drink, and hovers beside me again.

“Hey Tau,” I say.

“Hey Miss.”

I put my hand gently on his large arm. Tau waits, and he has a calm look in his eyes, so I say, “I just want you to know that you can trust me.”

He nods.

“And you know I trust you too, Tau.”

“Yes,” Tau replies, just real simple and quiet.

“I really care about you,” I tell him. “And I’m sorry the situation upset you. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s alright, Miss,” he said. “I’m sorry too.”


After that, there’s a kind of healing atmosphere in the air. I don’t know how else to describe it. We just hang out together all night, until almost midnight. Sit around and talk about all sorts of shit – just any old thing. Nothing which has to be ‘important’, or put into words. And I can see in Tau’s eyes that he feels safe.

And me too. Things aren’t perfect, and that’s for sure. There are so many things I want to do better; so many things I just want to do. But even while I say that, I also know something’s shifted inside me, and I’m not scared in the same way as I was before. I feel a certain quietude, and I just think: oh well. Here we go, let’s see what we can do.


So close you don’t see it

Friday 17 September, 2010:

When Noa and I count the cans this morning, there’s one missing. That’s when people start saying: “Cluzo,” (sagely) – and I defend him.

It crosses my mind that Tau really does have a can – but I can’t see how.


After lunch, Layton comes over quietly and tells me, “It was Cluzo who took a can yesterday.”

“How do you know it was Tau?” I ask. “It could have just got lost in the truck – remember there was a box that had got wet and had started to come open?”

“No, it was Taurangi,” insists Layton. “One of the kids saw him giving a can to his cousin yesterday, after school. He put it in his bag,” he adds. “Honest – someone saw them.”

Leroi’s not here today either… so it all starts to fit together. I feel, I dunno, not surprised exactly – but still kind of sick.

And Layton says, in what is actually a very sympathetic voice, “Miss, the thing is… you’re so close to him that you don’t see it.”


I just nod. There’s no point in denying either that Tau has the can or that Layton is correct in his analysis of the situation.

Dimario arrives, and it’s obvious he knows too. But they’re not interested in teasing me or giving me a hard time, now that the facts have been established. Instead, they let me off easy. I sense their support, and their concern.

I feel subdued though, and I stay quiet. Cos like I said last night – I know Tau’s not thinking ahead at all. He just wanted the can, and he couldn’t wait for it. Last year, I think Tau would have waited. Maybe even a few months ago, he might have waited. But not now.

Later I find, amongst all the drawings from yesterday, one of Tau’s. CLUZO – and written in the ‘O’ is: ‘RUNS THIS CITY’.


The second day of project gets underway. Kost takes some of the boys out to start masking up the walls. A few other boys come with me to get the boxes of cans, and we lock them in the bathroom on the ground floor of the block. I’ve already sent an ‘All Staff’ email, explaining that this one bathroom will be inaccessible for the morning, to maintain security over our cans. Karys mails me back to thank me for my ‘meticulous organisation’ and to say she is looking forward to seeing the artwork.

As we start, there’s music coming from the speakers, and a big buzz in the atmosphere, and I wish so much that Tau was here too. But I can’t think about it for too long – because everything cranks up fast. A few kids stray past to see what’s happening, and I move them along, though some get back in through the top doors and try to come down the stairs again.

Kost’s running one wall, and I’m so happy to see Inia taking charge of the other side. He’s up a ladder; then stands on a chair: outlining, filling in, fixing up for other people. I look up to where he’s standing, directing the proceedings from atop his chair. I feel my heart fill right up again because of Inia.

At interval, more kids flood in – and I get stressed out  about cans and security. Everyone’s pressing around the painters, and a few of them are eyeing up the Ironlaks. I keep the cans on lock: nothing new can come out until the bell goes. Kost tells me – that was a good call.

I’ve also started to notice who’s really stepping up. Inia: without the shadow of a doubt. Noa: but then he always has. And (despite Dimario’s gloomy predictions): Simeon. It’s not that Simeon can really paint – but he’s been incredibly helpful and reliable, and is everyone’s right hand man for bringing over equipment.


Interval’s gone, and Dimario still hasn’t picked up a can.

“Come on Dimario,” I encourage. “Don’t wait too long.”

His eyes are still happy, but they’re getting that ironic look as well. He says, “Some of those kids are just toys,” and shakes his head and smiles at me, saying, “You can see it too -”

We look across at the walls.

“You can, aye Miss,” persists Dimario, with a tender regret.

“Yeah, but Dimario,“ I say, sensing that he’s on the verge of withdrawing: not his support; not his interest – but his contribution. “You could take control, you could troubleshoot.”

He seems… almost like he’s gonna make a move. That good old wolf-like grin flashes across his face, and he looks alert, keen – and then he sits back and watches.

I say again, “Don’t wait too long.” But I don’t push him – not Dimario. And after a while I see him go and watch from the stairs, with Layton.


The walls look cleaner as Kost and Inia take control of the finishing touches, and bring everything together. By 1:45 we’re almost done. Lunchtime hasn’t been as much of a problem as interval; we’re only using two colours by then. And all the kids stand around with their phones, taking photos. As Inia puts the finishing finishing touch to the last wall (a red and gold hibiscus), Kost murmurs to me, “He’s good…”


I call the class in, and I make a bit of a speech. Everyone listens – I can see they’re happy and proud . There’s an air of relaxed, exultant triumph.

Then I go get the shared lunch (fried chicken and chips from down the road at Municipal). Inia, Teki and Simeon come with me, and while we’re gone, the others are directed to tidy up. I caution them very slightly, saying I’m sure they don’t need a babysitter and I’m leaving Kost in charge.”

When we get to the car, we crack up laughing to see a small sticker on my back window: