Wednesday 16 May, 2012:
I see Tau, after school. He’s my beautiful and dear Tau, just like always. But I’m also very worried about him – and I have to be calm and practical. It’s the only thing I can think of that actually helps.
Today we arrange we’ll go for a drive, and get paint. And out he comes, down the steps and the long driveway, 750ml bottle of Mojito RTD (five bucks; 15 percent proof) in his right hand.
He gets in the car – I see that the bottle hasn’t been opened yet and I tap it, saying, “You go course today Tau?”
“For how long?” I interrogate.
“Not that long,” he admits, and then, “But… I didn’t want to do the assessment.”
I sigh, looking at Tau’s trusting face, as he goes on: “We had to read our research (he pronounces this word with care and some alarm) in front of everyone – the whole class. And I knew I’d make heaps of mistakes, and I thought all those boys would laugh at me.”
I nod in understanding.
“So I gapped,” he concludes.
“And what time was that?”
“Only about 10:30.” Tau hangs his head. “But I haven’t had a drink yet,” he tells me, more brightly.
He nods, with a rueful laugh.
“It’s ok, Tau – it’s ok,” I assure him. “We’ll see what we can do about the assessment. I really want you to do it.”
“I want to do it too,” he said. “But, you know me, reading in front of everyone… and I got a short temper, if they laugh at me.”
I feel the usual swell of tenderness for Tau, who sits patient and unashamed beside me.
“Shall I ring Wayne, tomorrow? I could suggest that maybe you could just read it in front of a couple of people. Him, and maybe just one of the other boys. Like how we did at school sometimes – would that be ok?”
“Yup,” says Tau at once. “That would be ok.”
“Ok, well I’ll do it tomorrow – promise.”
Tau relaxes back in his seat. He looks so large and patient and pliant – and he opens the cap of the Mojito bottle and has a sip. I can see he wants to talk – I saw it the minute he trudged down the drive and got in. He has an expression of relief, like an exhausted traveller who’s just boarded the plane.
Tau’s so dear to me, Reason upon reason. All this; everything I’ve said before. But it takes my heart and squeezes it, to see him drinking this way.
Within two minutes, he’s spilling the beans and I just listen: drinking; parties; fights; more drinking; selling. And in between – a couple days at the TI. And Shay – they’re back in touch. She’s been over; he’s seen her. But she wants to see her family, wants Tau to cut back on his drinking, wants him to pay for the window he smashed.
“And will you?” I ask.
“Fu-uck, I don’t want to… fuck that,” growls Tau.
“But you will?”
And he nods, uncertainly.
Shay’s family don’t know she’s seeing him either – and obviously they don’t want her to. But that’s not my concern, I guess. Tau’s my concern. And he’s doing some pretty dumb things at the moment. Honestly, my mind whirls a bit: Where to even start?
Ok – there’s course. Arriving late and leaving any time it gets too tough – although Noa’s class is working with Tau’s class this week.
“Oh, well that’s good,” I say, emphasizing the positive.
“Nah, I don’t really kick it with Noa at course, he’s being a good boy,” Tau says, half-grumbling and half-impressed. “Gets there early, stays all day…”
“But that’s good, Tau,” I shift the emphasis this time. “You should try it.”
“Naah,” he sighs, in a weary way. He shakes his head a little bit, at Noa being so ‘good’.
“You should,” I persist. “If Noa can – you can too!” I try my best to make this sound quite easy, even though of course I’m not really kidding myself.
Tau just chuckles, knowing this too.
And I say, in complete honesty, “Yeah, I know – it’s not easy to do, right now. But you’re a good boy too, Tau. You are.”
I mean it, as much as I mean anything in this world. And Tau just relaxes a tiny bit more. I feel his warm, tired elbow slip and rest against mine. And he keeps talking.
Then the drinking. Tau’s been drinking for three weeks straight. “But I’m trying to cut back now,” he tells me.
“What do you mean, ‘trying to’?” I ask, suspiciously. “Do you mean like… one day a week when you’re not drinking?”
“Um, one or two… and then some drinking days if someone comes over.”
“Well that’s not cutting back,” I say, just matter of factly.
“I’m trying, though,” Tau reiterates.
“Well,” I say. “That is good, that you’re trying. But I’m still worried, Tau… you can do some dumb things sometimes, when you’re drinking this much.”
“Yeah,” he freely admits. And he continues: “I beat up Mischa, gave him a hiding – his face was all covered in blood and he was crying and everything.”
“You beat up Mischa?” I echo, in utter amazement. “What the fuck? Why?”
“Cos – we were drinking,” Tau tells me.
“Yeah, well obviously.”
“And Mischa tried to step to me… so I bate him up.”
“But… why? When was this?”
“In the weekend,” Tau says. “We were drinking, and I said something about his girl cousin.
“Well – I said something to her, and Mischa told me to shut the fuck up, stepped me out, and so I…”
I interrupt, “What did you say to her? Can you remember?”
“Yeah,” Tau tells me, candid as ever. I said… you’re just a slut ea… you get with anyone. Cos fuck, Mischa’s cousin’s been with practically all the CP boys. Everyone.”
“Yeah, but you don’t wanna be talking to her like that – that’s what I mean about alcohol, Tau. When you guys are drinking – you just blurt anything out.”
“Yeah, I know… and I bate up Vargo… I didn’t give a fuck,” Tau kind of spits, both understanding the emotion and being sorry for it now.
“But… you and Mischa?” I lament, still quite amazed. “You’ve always got one another’s backs, you two. You look out for one another; what’s going on?”
“Dunno, Miss…” Tau sighs. “We just… got angry.”
“Well, you guys need to fix that up,” I say. “I reckon you need to sort out your shit, you and Mischa.”
‘Yeah,” Tau agrees. “But later on his dad came up my street in his car, and tooted his horn for ages outside, about three o’clock in the morning… drove up and down doing burnouts outside our house until my dad came out and shouted at him to fuck off. And then my mum got up and started yelling at him to fuck off too…”
I can’t help but laugh.
“He’s tried to apologize – sent some texts and that.”
“And have you replied?”
“Well you should, Tau. Come on, you two are pretty loyal to one another.”
“We were. Loyal,” Tau says.
“Well, you can get this sorted out,” I mutter. “See what I mean – alcohol. I’d rather you were stoned.”
“I am stoned,” Tau says.
“Well – that goes without saying!” I snort. “I don’t mean ‘now’; I mean… in general. You’re more mellow when you’re stoned – alcohol just makes you get all angry.”
“Yeah,” Tau readily agrees. “I’ve been in heaps of fights lately – and Leroi – he’s been getting into trouble as well. Scraps and that; he beat up Teki. And I’ve had fights with heaps of boys.
“Ah… fuck,” I sigh, again.
And even though, as he says, he’s been ‘trying’ to cut back – he also admits that lately he’s needed to be drunk just to go to sleep at night. My heart kind of skips a beat, as I say, just lightly, “Yeah, but Tau, you know that’s not a good habit to get into.”
“I know, but it’s… it’s been hard…” His voice tails off. “You know, with Shay gone and that.” He sighs deeply, and says, “That’s the reason it all got like this.”
“I know, Tau – I know it’s been hard, and I know you’ve been trying to cope as best you can.”
He nods, listening.
“But drinking everyday like this – it’s not gonna work.” I take a deep breath, and say the word I fear: “Tau – I’m worried you might become an alcoholic, if you keep this up.”
“Me too, Miss,” Tau says. “It’s in the blood.” He says this very simply, and with a slight fatalism that breaks my heart.
‘In the blood…” I murmur. “Yes it is – but that doesn’t mean you have to let it happen.”
“I’m trying, Miss,” he says. “It’s just real hard.”
“I know, and I’m not judging you Tau – you know I won’t do that. I just really, really care about you.”
He nods, and I look at him, settled in the seat there, bottle resting against his leg, his belly rising and falling quietly. I look at his dear and very open face, which is a few days unshaven; little hairs have sprung up on his chin. I regard all of this, everything about him – with tenderness and pain, because I get it, and I still don’t know if I can help, and none of it makes any difference to how I feel.
“Shay wants me to cut back on my drinking too,” he tells me. “That’s what she said – same as you.”
“And you’ll try, cos you want her back, aye.”
“Hard,” he says.
But I don’t know what’s gonna happen if he tries, and still can’t do it. Rage; smashed windows; the usual story. Oh, he’s not exactly ready to give up subordinating Shay, either. He tells me he spent all her savings on 11 ounces when she left. All the untouchable money at the safe house – all of it gone. And, “I don’t give a fuck,” he tells me. “All her money, she only got it cos of me anyway.”
And Scott’s letting him sell from Fitzroy St. “Far, be careful,” I say. “Cos your dad’s still being watched, hey.”
“Yup,” he replies. “The cops always look down the drive, when they come down our street.
So there’s all this – and then we talk about drink driving.
“I’m all good driving when I’m drunk – I don’t amo it,” says Tau.
“Yeah, that’s what you think,” I retort.
“Nah, cos I’m really careful, like I really try to drive good – and all the boys say I am, when I ask them.”
“Yeah – they’re drunk too!” I say.
“Nah, honest – I can drive carefully, when I’m drinking.”
“Yeah, yeah… you say that now, but when you end up in a wheelchair, who do you think’s gonna look after you?” I ask with a rhetorical flourish, adding: “Not Shay!” Which makes us both laugh for some reason – probably just tired and giving up on being serious for a bit.
But really, I’m worried as fuck.
We get back to Kaiser St via the liquor store, where they willingly sell another bottle of Mojito to Tau. “I think I’m the only person who buys this,” he cheerfully announces.
“Geez…” I mutter, taking a sniff of the concoction. “How can you handle it?”
“Just used to it,” Tau says.
And if I didn’t take him there, I know Sheree would, or he’d roll there under his own steam. It’s the last thing I actually want to do, but when he asks me, there’s no point in grand standing. Cos I know it’s an empty stance, to say I won’t. And I’d rather Tau was safely there and safely back. Not prancing around, stepping to gangstas.
I drop him off with paint and a canvas, and bottle #2.