Strategies

Thursday 4 September 2014:

Tau and Leroi have ‘a few’ cans tonight – this turns out to be more like two boxes. I’m alright with it, or kind of. It’s the end of another successful ‘week’ of study (course runs Mon-Thurs and Tues-Fri on alternate weeks). Not just that, but it seems wiser to drink here, rather than round at their uncle’s (the alternative strategy).

It’s just that… 24 cans is a lot, actually. Or maybe it’s only 18, but that’s a lot too. It doesn’t seem like a lot to them – which in some ways is the thing that bothers me.

Still, they do ask me. I give the decision some thought, and it seems like the safest way to play it. I try to be as pragmatic and reasonable as I can, considering that: a) I love them and am proud of them, b) I want to try minimize risk, and c) I know there’s always a risk.

Everything goes ok though. I make dinner and leave it on the counter when I go to bed.

 

Friday 5 September:

When we get home from Municipal (DVDs, fish and chips, and the drugs run), Sheree’s sitting in the sleepout, and looking quite comfortable there too. A couple of things immediately occur to me. First, that she hasn’t even bothered to let me know (she texted me not five minutes earlier to ask where the boys were, but didn’t say she was here.) So the tacit assumption troubles me: that it’s Tau’s place and she can come and go as she likes.

Second, the boys have left the sleepout unlocked again – I’ve mentioned this to them a few times, but it keeps happening. I don’t like leaving the place unsecured, anyone could stroll in. I don’t just mean Sheree – I mean anyone, with who knows what intention.

I tell Sheree I’ll drop her off “soon as she’s ready”, though the temporal implications of this statement don’t sink in as quickly as I hope.

 

Ha, and then all that’s nothing, compared to what comes later.

Round 1 am, I hear someone crying and knocking on the door of the sleepout. First I think it’s Leroi, and that he and Tau must have had an argument. It’s raining and I tuck a rug around my shoulders and go out.

Sheree is in the sleepout, weeping and wailing. She’s huddled on the weights bench, while Tau sits impassive on the bed and Leroi lays on the couch, still snoring. Turns out her family has given her a hiding, and a ‘taxi man’ has seen her wandering in the park and dropped her off here (at her own request).

She crouches and cries, “I miss Scott… I miss him so much!” There’s nothing really to be done, so I just sit next to her while she sobs. Tau looks super-stressed, which is the way I feel inside too. Leroi just slumbers on (or pretends to), either of which is probably a good thing.

Sheree has that drunk, little-girl voice as she asks, “Please Miss… can I stay here for the night, I’ll be gone in the morning?”

“Yup, ok…” I murmur, knowing this is the only kind thing I can say, but feeling a great surge of resentment that Sheree is both dumping her problems on Tau’s already overburdened shoulders, and using my place as a convenient bolt-hole.

I leave the shed and fall asleep quickly, probably out of desperation to have my mind rid of problems for a while.

 

Saturday 6 September

In the morning, Sheree comes in to use the bathroom. She’s limping, can hardly walk – and is obviously embarrassed about last night. In some ways I feel for her. But still using that same girly voice, she calls me Miss again. I feel like saying – fuck, I’m not your Miss, you’re a grown woman. Instead, I just offer to make her a coffee, but she beats a hobbled retreat back to the sleepout.

An hour later, a car arrives, and Sheree emerges again, leaning on Tau’s shoulder and hopping on one leg. She gets in. I hear her call out, “Love you…” to the boys.

 

Tau comes straight in to inform me she’s going down the line. He looks relieved, to be honest.

“That’s a good idea,” I say. “Go down for a few days, sort stuff out.”

“Mum says she wants to stay there,” he tells me. “Get us a house.”

Whatever, I think to myself. She can just keep drinking and see how far she gets.

Actually, it distresses me to feel like this towards Sheree. But I’ve gone far past the point of pretending we can be friends. Too much has happened, and when it comes down to it: family’s family. I’m just her Plan B – and probably Leroi’s too, for that matter, and maybe even Tau’s. And yet I allow it to happen. I hold that line for Tau, if only they knew it. And perhaps they do, who knows?

 

Like me (though of course I don’t say as much), Tau surmises that Sheree will be back at her brother’s before too long. “It’s the only house where she can drink,” he says, counting off reasons. “And down the line she’s got nowhere to score. Plus she said uncle’s is the only place she feels comfortable.”

“Yeah, well she wasn’t very comfortable last night,” I say, trying not to sound too sarcastic.

“Hard,” Tau replies, and then, “But I still reckon she’ll go back there.”

“What about moving down the line?” I ask.

“She says she wants to,” says Tau. “But I don’t think my mum could get a house anywhere. She doesn’t know how to do any of that stuff. So she’ll just go back to Uncle’s.”

“And then the same thing’s going to keep happening, probably,” I say, and Tau nods, without rancour.

“Anyway me and Leroi don’t want to go down the line.” He looks horrified at the thought, adding, “And we’re doing good on our course, we’d hate to give that up.”

 

Sunday 7 September:

I hardly know where to start. The boys head off to Clancy, and things intensify even further once they return home. Of course, alcohol is again the prime mover.

Tau gets back first – this is around 2 am. He arrives without any signs of distress whatsoever. His footfall is light and untroubled, and he lets himself in to make a feed. His state registers as ‘normal’ on my radar; in fact I don’t even get out of bed – there’s no need.  Idly, I wonder if Leroi has stayed over at Clancy. Then I fall back to sleep.

 

An hour or so later, I wake again, hearing Leroi come back and go into the sleepout  And that, I assume, is the end of their night.

A couple of minutes later, I hear voices start up. At first I think it’s another one of their famous rap battles. But then there’s a scuffle and a shouts; a door bangs, and I hear someone crying.

When I go out, I see a figure by the car, and “Who’s outside,” I call.

“Me, Leroi,” comes the reply. “Tau’s locked me out of the shed, I don’t know why he’s angry!” At the end of this sentence Leroi’s voice rises in a wail.

“Okay, okay Leroi,” I tell him. “I’ll go see what’s happening in there.” And I tap on the door, saying, “Tau, it’s me – let me in.”

The door opens and admits me, and I lock it behind me, automatically.

 

Inside the shed a few things have been knocked to the ground (a plate, cups, some DVDs), and Tau stands amongst them, his breath heaving out and his jaw clenched and twitching. “I just wanted to kick back!” he bursts out. “I just wanted to watch a DVD and go to sleep. And then Leroi came back and tried to step me out.”

“What’s it over?” I ask him, and I put one arm across his shoulders. “What happened?”

“I don’t even know,” Tau tells me. He’s struggling to restrain himself, I can see that. “I just wanna hook the cunt…”

“No you don’t; no you don’t,” I say, trying to keep my voice calm.

“I wanna smash that cunt, then gap.”

“Nah Tau, you don’t want to do that,” I say, my hands still firmly against his back. “I’ll take him inside, you guys need some time out.”

“I’m fuckin sick of him,” Tau rails. “Fuckit, I feel like gapping.”

“I know,” I acknowledge. “But if you go out on the road like this, anything could happen.”

Tau nods, and I chance my arm a bit more, using one of La-Verne’s favourite words: “Is that a good strategy, Tau? What do you think will happen if you use that strategy?”

“Smash something up,” mumbles Tau. At least he’s listening to me.

“Yup… and probably get locked up for the weekend,” I sigh. “Come on Tau, you’re too smart for that now.” And I carry on coaxing him, gently: “You’re strong, Tau. I know you can stay calm.”

“Wanna gap…” Tau’s face crumples and he breathes out a few sobs. “Miss, I just wanna smash him and gap, I don’t want to be around him.” I can see what a mighty effort he’s making to do what I’m requesting of him.

“I know,” I try to soothe him. “I’ll keep Leroi away from you, and you can just stay in here, okay? He can sleep on the couch, let you guys get some time out.”

Tau nods, half unwillingly, but nods all the same.

“I’ll go out and talk to him,” I say “But I want you to promise to stay here, ok? Can you do that, Tau?”

He nods again, and I can see the intention is there at least. So I have to risk it. “Good boy,” I tell him. “Thank you Tau, I really appreciate it that you’re listening to what I’m saying.

When I leave, I tell him, “Lock the door behind me,” and he does.

 

Outside, Leroi is pacing and now I see that he’s shirtless, too. He looks all puffed up, and reminds me suddenly of Scott.

“Fuck that faggot,” he says, when he sees Tau close the door. “Fuck him… Fuck that lil cunt.”

“Nah Leroi, come inside,” I say, as a first attempt.

“No Miss, I’ll hook that fuckin cunt, he’s all shit,” Leroi replies. He’s still pretty drunk, and is striding around as he talks.

“You guys need some time out,” I tell him. “Let’s go inside – it’s cold out here.” (which it most certainly is)

But Leroi keeps on walking back and forth, around the car and towards the shed door. “Come out, fag,” he calls. “Fuckin little fag, no nuts, soft nuts.. too chicken to come out.”

“Stop it Leroi,” I say quietly.

“Why won’t he come out then – cos he’s too fuckin scared,” Leroi asks, rhetorically. “This is what he always does when I want to fight at parties: ‘Come on Leroi, let’s go’,” he quotes, in a withering tone. “Drops his fuckin nuts, wants to go home.” He casts a look of scorn towards the windows, adding loudly, “Everyone knows it – your dad, everyone. He used to tell you, ay Tau, ya soft nuts.”

From inside the shed I hear a growl of seething rage, which is also the sound of Tau keeping his promise, and so I place my back to the door, saying firmly, “No, Leroi, leave it. I’ve asked Tau, and that’s why he’s leaving it.”

And thus, to give you the essence of it, begins the pattern of the next few hours.

Conscious and strategic

Saturday 26 October, 2013:

What I’ve been writing lately seems like a kind of temporary measure, some half-attempt at beginning… something else.

There’s a particular energy sometimes, which you need to take hold of as it swings by. I’ve felt this, with the current constellation of circumstances. I get scared, thinking that I might just let it slip past. And I know, you can always start over. It’s true.  But I don’t want to start over. I want to start now.

 

So many of my metaphors are about orbits, or circuits. Well, I have to jump the orbit again, reach the next level. The timing’s right – I can feel it in every cell of my body. The question is: Do I have the courage? Because really, what do I know… and what can I do? And sometimes I think I know nothing. I can’t do anything. But I have to try.

Ok then, strategy. Because the more times you jump, the more you have to stay alert to it. The first time, you ask yourself – Holy shit, what just happened? On 1 July 2009 when I walked across that invisible line, it wasn’t until afterwards that I realized the order of things had shifted, and I was already heading around a different loop.

One day I’ll think about this some more. Try figure out the patterns. But what I think right now is that it’s time to do it again: conscious and strategic.

 

Tuesday 29 October:

I get so bored at school today. I’m over it by 9:05. And this feeling just brings it home to me even more: me and school are nearing a parting of the ways – the ways that have already diverged almost past common ground at all.

I’m not really a teacher, I guess I’ve always known that, but lately I feel it more and more. I do begin to understand what the despised role has taught me, and I’m grateful for that much, anyway. To see, bit by bit, what I’ve been doing here. Oh, it’s a battle zone alright. But it’s not the only one there is. You move forward, you move on. You don’t fight the same battle again and again – not unless you’re a sucker.

 

Slade’s not back yet. This just makes me realize even more, I don’t want to be the one that stays past all point of leaving. Sometimes I try to kid myself, I could hold back… I could. But I know that isn’t really the way it is. There’s a time and a place, and people in it. And the last of the troops are riding out.

I’ve said it before… how could I have predicted all this? And how could I not? Everything that’s happened with us. It’s a mystery to me, and at the same time, it isn’t.

When I try and stand ‘outside’ the events, they give me kind of a shock, you know? Because honestly, how did I know?

I remember the first day I ever met Tau. The day he walked into my room, three weeks late to school, with one book and no bag. He was thirteen. And how did he know, and how did I know, that I was going to become part of it?

I made that choice of my own free will, even before the particulars happened, I guess. Walked into some kind of situation that I’ve feel protected in, despite everything that’s happened. I don’t think that makes anything ‘safe’, exactly. It’s just… safe for me. I’ve never once felt unsafe, but I’ve felt lonely sometimes.

That’s only part of how it is. The other part is reciprocity. And more than that… there’s a lot more to say. I mean, really to say. I need to start forgetting about being ‘normal’, and just be the way I am. Honest to God, the world sings to me, and I just wish I didn’t have any more fear in my heart. I wish I could pull it off. I wish, I wish, I wish… that everything would be alright, and that I needn’t be ashamed anymore, and that I could do it. Bring some life to this whole thing, instead of being afraid.

I don’t know how to do it. But I need to tell the story, you know. I have to start telling our story.

Complicated

Friday 23 August, 2013:

Today Slade’s kind of stressing out. I can see that right away, when he comes in at break. He mutters and grumbles and twiddles with the laptop, eventually telling me about events last night at the crack house.

“I looked after my cousin’s kid all night,” Slade tells me. “She was fried. And what the fuck was she doing, trying to get her fuckin kid frittered?”

“How old’s her kid?” I ask.

“One – less than one,” he says. “I looked after him for hours and hours.” He shrugs, miserably, saying a long: “Ooooohhwell,” and then, “Shit happens.”

“Yeah, it sure does,” I say, gently. “But, Slade?”

“What?”

“That was pretty cool of you,” I tell him, and he bends his head, saying, “I knew no-one else was gonna do it. She’s fucked in the head. She’s a fuckin shit mum, when she’s frizzled.”

 

And then he tells me that he goes round there most days. It’s where he drinks, too. “It’s algood,” he says, but without much conviction.

“Well, maybe it’s algood at the time – I dunno,” I say, still very gently.

“I just wanna drink,” says Slade. “It’s a better buzz than weed for me at the moment. I feel like getting on the horceys all the time.”

“Yup.” I acknowledge this. “But all the same, I want you to look after yourself.”

He just nods.

 

I really feel for Slade, right now. There have been dramas galore, with Lois out of town: no-one there to keep the household under control. Slade’s been drinking every night. But he still had enough care in him to look after the baby.

Amazingly, he also talks about his art board, and what he needs to do to finish it. He shows me a picture he’s just drawn. He’s a little bit proud of himself too, for going right on with school, despite everything.

And we both know that school’s… well school’s school. It’s nothing great, that’s for sure. But you can use it to hold on. He does, I do. And that’s something, for sure. I still want to leave, but it has to be a plan, now. I can be strategic.

 

Monday 26 August:

I multi-task my way through another day, doing like eight things with one hand and four with the other, all while teaching class. It’s not that I ‘like’ school any better than usual, but I do like the feeling of being more sorted with it.

As usual, I spend my breaks with Slade. He comes in at the start of 11 History as well, signed out from somewhere and bearing a laptop. Sits down and waits for a bit, while I explain a couple things more to the class. I’m telling them how Gavrilo Princip wanted to click up with the Black Hand, and I see Slade grin at me.

 

Aurelius in 11 History is a nice kid. Today he says to me, as I go past, “Miss – why can’t all the other teachers be like you?” And later on, when class is over, he says, “Miss, I do my work in history, aye.”

“Yes you do,” I say. “You’re great in history, Aurelius.” I say this with actual gladness of heart, because Aurelius is not renowned for his work-doing, right across the board.

He says, in a very matter of fact way, “Oh, that’s cos of you, Miss.” And then he explains, “That’s the reason why I do it. Because it’s you.”

Because of this little exchange, I feel happy all day long. Because I know that not caring about school doesn’t mean I don’t care about people.

 

After school I drop Slade off and he rolls us a ciggie. I take two puffs and get a big head rush – I haven’t had a smoke for weeks.

I get home to find the place all locked up and the alarm on. But by the time I return from the gym, Tau is there in the sleepout. He tells me the cops picked him up this morning, he’s been in the cells all day. They said he hadn’t completed his PD. He had, and he told them he had – but of course they didn’t believe him, and it took several hours to sort out, he was let out again round 4.

“Did they feed you?” I ask.

“Um,” Tau tells me, patiently. “They gave me a bar… and a little drink.”

I nearly explode with outrage, at this. Bloody cops, keeping Tau in all day for something he hasn’t even done, and then giving him nothing more than a blimmin muesli bar to eat.

I haven’t planned to cook tonight, all I want is eggs on toast. But after hearing all that, I want to make Tau a feed. So I put some chicken and kumara in the oven, and after a bit he comes in to eat, in what is a very relieved way.

 

Tuesday 27 August:

Not a happy bunny right now. Not a bunny, fullstop. I’ve been controlling my territory all frickin afternoon, and I’m tired, and now I feel like I’m barely keeping my tears in check.

I get home to find the boys very ebullient. A bit too ebullient, it seems. Tau and Leroi have the music going full blast, and are shouting to one another, happily, over the top of it. Plus a boy called Sam is there, and is evidently drunk.

Turns out he was drunk when he came over. Only Steinies, but he’s had a few. While I talk to Tau, Sam falls asleep on the couch, sitting up. I can’t figure out what to do about any of this – so I just give up and go to the gym.

 

When I get back, Sam is still there, and seems to be conducting some kind of deal in the driveway, with a boy in BH uniform. I growl at him, telling him this isn’t a base for his buying or selling, and he shouldn’t turn up here drunk, either.

I look in through the door of the sleepout, and Tau’s gone. But Leroi and another boy (they call him Troop) are kicking back with a bottle of something.

Oh man, I’m pissed off. Leroi tries to tell me he’s not drinking, but that’s hardly the point. He might as well have added: ‘yet’. And as for Troop, he comes in for a dose of my ire. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, drinking in my shed?” I interrogate. “Who told you you could come over here and drink?”

He doesn’t reply, and I add, somewhat redundantly, “Because you can’t – got it?”

He looks at me, without a word to say. This incenses me, and I continue, “I don’t even know your name, but you’re treating me and my place like shit. Go away – go drink at your mum and dad’s, if that’s how it is.”

As he gets up, “This isn’t a party house,” I add,  and then (to Leroi), “And you should know better than to tell your boys to come here and drink.”

 

At that, they both take off down the drive at the rate of knots. And I take the bottle (it looks like bourbon) inside, locking the shed and shutting my own front door with a concluding push.

I fix dinner and have a plate. I don’t text Tau about what’s just occurred. I want to, but I can’t see the point, really. If he’s drinking too, it won’t sink in. If he isn’t, it will just upset him, that’s what I figure

So I leave it. And then, about an hour later, I hear a key turn in the door, and Tau comes in. He clears his throat, politely. “Excuse me Miss,” he says. “Um… did you do anything with the bottle that was in the sleepout.”

“Yes I did,” I told him. “I brought it in here, so that no-one could come back and drink in the shed.”

We look at one another, and, “Why? Who wants it?” I ask him.

“Um,“ he begins. “I heard from Leroi…”

“What did he tell you?”

“Just that you and him had a lil argument,” Tau says.

“Yeah, well algood,” I say, feeling suddenly weary of the whole business.

“He said he was angry cos you growled him when it wasn’t even his fault – he said he wasn’t drinking.”

“Tau,” I say. “It doesn’t matter if Leroi was the one drinking or not. He’s a big boy – he knows the deal. That other guy’s not welcome to be drinking round here, and Leroi should tell him. If he can’t do that, then I gotta. But frankly, I think Leroi should harden up a bit.”

“Fair enough, Miss,” Tau kind of gulps.

 

We stand and talk for a while. It’s a ‘simple’ conversation, in that Tau and I hold no grudge against one another at all. There is no undercurrent of tension, and no power games. Tau says to me, at one point, “I know how much you really care about us, Miss. You’re the only one who does. That’s why I always come back. Cos I feel safe – it’s like I can breathe again.” He lets out his breath, then, saying, “I know I’m in a safe place, when I’m here. And Leroi does, too. It’s just that… he doesn’t understand you, like I do. He’s only just started to get to know you. It’s partly my fault – I’ve never explained to him how it is. But I’m trying to, now.”

Afterwards, Tau takes the bottle to meet the others at the park. It almost breaks my heart, to think of them going off and drinking there. I’m glad they’re not drinking here – but I don’t want to see Tau that way, either. I just wish everything was easy. And it’s not easy, and I’m soooo tired. I’m tired of having to control it. And I have to control it, otherwise all those other boys, and Leroi… will think they can do what the fuck they want.

Tau’s right, he’s the only one of them that really knows me, and I miss the days when it was just Tau, here. Just Tau, coming round because he knew he’d be safe here.

 

A few hours later, Leroi returns on his own – I speak to him briefly. He says he doesn’t know where Tau is. They’d argued, when they were drinking, over what had happened. Tau got angry with Leroi and took off.

My heart is squeezing up for Tau real bad. I’m touched that he would defend me over it, and at the same time I’m worried about him walking around out there angry and upset.

I go inside again and try to ring him, but there’s no answer.

 

A while after that, I hear footsteps crunching on the gravel – I get ready to patrol my borders once again. But to my surprise, it’s Tau. The alcohol has worn off and he seems quite steady and calm. We talk again, while Leroi just looks at us from  a distance. It’s the second long talk Tau and I have had today. I tell him to come in when he’s ready; get something to eat. He nods, looking all worn out. Trying to take care of things, I can see that.

“Maaan,” I sigh. “Life’s complicated, huh Tau.”

“Fuuuuck, it sure is,” he agrees.

We put our tired arms around one another and hug for a moment.

Custom and practice

Monday 22 October, 2012:

Trying to feel the vibe of the week ahead. I get this sense of it being a big week for me, and so maybe I’ve got to be more cautious, with everything. Approach on tiptoe. I reckon that if I just trip in, acting like things aren’t any different to usual, I could be miscalculating.  But I don’t want to go in with all guns blazing, either. Even if it’s tempting – not to give a fuck.

I’m talking about the meeting with Karys… and not just that. I mean a lot of things. All over the place, it feels like things are ‘up’. No wonder I feel nervy.

If I push into this feeling a tiny bit more, underneath the nerves is a sense of excitement. Honest truth. So I have to be very smart, not lose it. Think very carefully, rather than let the dominant or most immediate emotions take control of my mind. Feel them… but more strategically. Sounds like a contradiction – but I think I’m onto something there. Ground my energy very, very carefully.

 

Wednesday 24 October:

In the morning I’m wired as anything, but at the same time, tiredness kind of blunts my nerves. When I get to school, I just go about getting things ready for my classes. There’s nothing else to do, unless I want to just sit and think about the meeting – and I figure the time for that has already been.

Just before 9:30, I head over to the boardroom. In the foyer, I wait for the field officer, Arnie. He arrives on time, and we chat, inconsequentially, for a few minutes. Arnie tells me he’s left the paperwork in the office (this does not exactly inspire me with confidence). He asks to share documents, but assures me he’s ‘familiar with the case’. Well, he’s all I’ve got, so I hope for the best. This despite La-Verne kind of damning him with faint praise, last week. She said he was ‘alright’.

Anyway, Karys comes out to get us, and we go in. The guy from the School Trustees Association is there already, and we shake hands. La-Verne has warned me about him already, telling me he’s ‘a prick’. And the meeting begins.

 

Karys speaks first. She seems very offended by what she perceives as my failure to obey  ‘clear directives’. We discuss the situation, and (as in my written response) I offer the perspective that these directives in fact require some interpretation. Karys disagrees. I disagree once more. Arnie makes a few apposite comments, at this point. Karys disagrees with him, too (but in a hmmphing kind of way, knowing he’s technically correct).

The discussion between Karys and myself begins again. ‘Discussion’ isn’t quite the right word. She talks over the top of me; at some points almost shouting me down. Despite tiredness, I feel myself rising to the occasion, and there are times I lapse into meeting her head on. In a couple of instances, we’re overtly hostile. In between, I try to adopt a defensive strategy, relying on the notion of ‘custom and practice’ (this term I picked up from Arnie last week – I hope I’ve remembered it correctly). Arnie kind of ‘flanks’ me on this – I actually start to feel supported by him.

 

After a while of this back and forth with Karys, the talks stall – it’s clear things are going nowhere for the moment. Arnie asks if the two of us can briefly adjourn. This, it seems, is normal procedure, and Karys nods. Gratefully, I pick up my papers and follow Arnie into a small room next door, where there are a table and chairs. I sit, and notice that he is smiling at me across the table, in a kind of amused and tolerant way. “It’s ok,” he says. “You’re talking to someone logical now,” and I can’t help laughing.

Arnie goes over things, quickly and with great efficacy. He points out that Karys, as the Principal, has the right to issue directives, and to have them followed by staff. However, I’m also within my rights to use established ‘custom and practice’ as the basis for interpreting these directives, and this is what Arnie will now be arguing on my behalf. Karys, though, must be able to ‘keep her mana’, he says. This is the thing which will content her from wanting to involve the School Board.

“You’re right,” Arnie tells me. “But do you want results – or do you want to be right?”

“Results,” I concede, at once realising the sense of what he’s saying.

“Because we need to consider what our aim is, in this meeting. It’s to have it finished with, today. We don’t want it to go any further.”

I nod, and Arnie smiles at me again.

 

We go back in, and Arnie re-orients the discussion, with not inconsiderable skill. I see Karys’s ego is placated, just as Arnie thought. She’s determined to have the final say though, and does. I merely nod my head, murmuring a kind of ‘assent’ (as much as I can) to her opinions. The STA chair then gives his summing up, which is, again, something I have to endure. He tells me I should be ‘more passionless’. It almost makes me laugh, but I nod (indicating only that he has every right to hold his own opinion).

Karys agrees (slightly reluctantly) to issue an ‘All Staff’ directive clarifying 1) the use of spray paint, and 2) learners being out of timetabled activities. And then, all at once, the meeting is over. It surprises me, to be honest, that Karys hasn’t mentioned the Board, or disciplinary proceedings. And yet things seem to have reached a conclusion, and Arnie looks to be quite satisfied.

Outside, I ask him, “Do you think… she’ll go further with things?”
Arnie shakes his head. “No,” he says. “She’s signalled that she’s going to leave it. Well done,” he adds.

 

At interval, no painting (now there’s about to be a general ban to all staff). I tell Slade and Zion this, and they’re very equable about the whole thing.

“Ohwell…” says Slade (of course he does. “Painting at your pad then.” He grins at me, and Zion laughs, agreeing: “Awgoodies, Miss.”

“All good with me too, Miss,” Slade goes on. He adds, dreamily, “Have a sesh at yours…” and gives me a hopeful look.

“Nope, you can just get that idea right out of your mind!” I tell him. “I don’t wanna lose my job.”

“But it’s your place, you can do what you want,” he argues.

“Yeah; not with students though,” I say, just matter of factly.

“Miss’s place is all good for painting though ge,” Zion informs him. “It’s cool as.”

“That’s us then,” Slade declares. “Better than school!” He looks around him, scathingly, and snorts. The bell is ringing, and he uplifts a little pile of A4 from its pigeonhole, saying, “Take this to English… that class is caaake, I’ll just draw.”

“Will you now?” I say, unable not to laugh at him. “And would you like the felts as well then, your Majesty?” Cos he just reminds me of Dimario, all of a sudden.

“Yes…” considers Slade. “Might as well.” He plucks them from my desk, looking towards me with a beady eye. I feel indulgent towards him, and snort with laughter.

 

For the rest of the day, I’m pretty tired. We have a house meeting after school (pointlessly), then I pick up a takeout coffee from Maccas on the way home and sit in the car for a bit. I feel like I need to be in that ‘in-between’ space, quiet and warm and floating.

Every minute of the day

Tuesday 2 October, 2012:

I check my emails, and find one from Karys’s PA. Letter from Karys, scheduling a meeting. Other documents attached. First emotion: a bit of panic, my heart beats fast. I’m so tired of fighting Karys, sometimes. It’s just that I’ve got no other option that really makes sense to me. Because I know I can’t stay quiet about things. I can’t ignore what I see around me at school. I can’t – and somewhere, I accept that.

And so, I have my moment of panic, then I try to steady myself and read the correspondence carefully. Karys has called me to a meeting on October 17th. She will have someone from the School Trustees Association present. The letter says I may wish to consult a Union representative (this I will do, of course). Following the meeting, Karys will decide whether to involve the Board… etc, etc.

My first thoughts are that she doesn’t know the half of it. She wants to come down hard on what she sees as clear insubordination; make a point. The thing is, I’ve got my own point to make, too. And Karys doesn’t really know that yet. So there’s going to be a contest, if that’s the way it goes – which means I have to think strategically.

At least I have time to think. But I feel a bit scared all the same – Karys can be very intimidating. Her take on the situation is so different from mine. And she won’t play fair, I know that. I have to predict what she’s going to bring up –  so as not to be overwhelmed and react emotionally on the day. I need to read the swell and take notice of those ‘living signs’, like the navigators of old.

I just lay down and hug my pillow and think about everything, and wonder all over again if I’m just plain wrong after all, and if school’s right. But I don’t think so. Like I’ve said before, I don’t always think I’m right either. But I’m sure I’m not just all wrong.

 

Wednesday 3 October:

Sleep last night is just dozing and waking up again, all night long. My mind won’t stay still. A couple of times I let a few tears just spill out of my eyes; can’t help it. But I felt weak – and I want to stay strong. I think about Tau, and just sigh to myself, because I know I’d do all this stuff over again, I’d just try and do it better. I can’t be sorry about what’s happening with Karys. For a start, I can’t afford to be. And also – I just can’t. I guess at some level, it’s necessary. It means I believe in something. And that I’ll defend my beliefs when I must.

Of course, on further reflection, I realise it would be premature to just accept the meeting straight away – I won’t be doing so until I’ve taken advice from the Union Field Officer. I mail the PA and let her know this.

For, as I explain to the Field Officer in an email – there are several issues which must be clarified in advance of any meeting. In particular, does Karys intend to raise points from past meetings and correspondence? (these, going by previous experience, are likely to be personal, biased, and probably irrelevant to the matter at hand).

The other thing that immediately concerns me is that several points in Karys’s most recent letter were not previously disclosed in her correspondence with me. So I need to reply to these points before the meeting (as I would have done already, had I been fully briefed).

 

Thursday 4 October:

Kepaoa texts me, asking to pick up some shoes he left at my place. I tell him I’ll drop them off. He’s almost finished course for the day, so he suggests we could meet there. I figure he’s  hoping to get a ride home, into the bargain.

Actually, he just wants to talk, more than go home. He hops in the car, saying, “What are you doing this afternoon, Miss?”
“Just going to run some errands,” I tell him. “But I can drop you off home first.”

“Could I just come with you, to wherever you’re going?” he asks. “Is that ok?”

“Yeah, sure,” I say, just laughing a little bit. “But it’s not very exciting, though. Just going to Municipal, that’s all.”

“Nah, awgud, please Miss, if you don’t mind.”

So that’s what we do – and just discuss things a while. Kepaoa wants advice about Tero: he’s still pretty cut up about her going away. I suggest he should plan what to do next, not let himself get hyped up and react impulsively. I point out that that won’t help Teri; only make her worried about her trip. I also instruct him (in no uncertain terms) that he doesn’t need to fuck anyone over at her farewell party (this, of course, is something he admits to being worried about). I add, matter of factly, “Not unless you want her to break up with you before she goes…” and he looks at me and laughs, knowing I have a point.

 

Friday 5 October:

Trying to concentrate on clarifying the ‘rules of engagement’ with Karys; seeking advice; preparing my responses and strategies.

I go up to Municipal to get a pie before I start work. See Simeon up there too; we stop and talk. “What’s Cluzo up to?” he asks, and I just say something non-committal, like “I’m not sure; he’s probably with Leroi.” Cos I don’t know. How would I know?

When I get home, there’s Tau’s status update on Facebook: ‘#HORSY’GANG:P’  (no surprises there).

And I miss Tau – I miss him much. It’s hard to feel brave, even when you know you got to be brave. But I will be, I promise. It’s something I’ll work for, every minute of the day. To be brave, and not be afraid. To fight when I must, and to win if I can.

 

Sunday 7 October:

Kepaoa asks if I can help him write his CV. I pick him up and we’re en route back to Municipal, just talking… when he tells me, “I saw Tau yesterday.”

“Oh… yeah?” I say. Cos I don’t know what else to say about it (kind of like with Simeon yesterday).

“Yeah, I saw him at the station, with his boys… Leroi and them,” Kepaoa tells me. “They were drinking – they’d just got back from the beach.”

“Mm,” I say, and Kepaoa goes on: “Tau was pretty drunk.”

“Did he recognise you?” I ask.

“Yeah… because Leroi saw me, and said, Hey, there’s C’za. And then Tau came over and we shook hands. He said I should come have a drink with them, at his mum and dad’s…”

I just nod.

“But I said, oh, I’m with my missus, ge… and he said awguds then, catch you up.”

“Ohyup,” I murmur.

“Far Miss, Cluzo was pretty drunk,” Kepaoa says again. “It was only around two o’clock. He was stepping to everyone – he could hardly stand up.”

I have this mental picture of Tau stumbling around the town centre in broad daylight, and I go quieter and quieter.

But Kepaoa just keeps on talking. “Yeah, Miss… he’s changed aye?” he says, and then, “Faar…  and you can really tell he’s into the gang stuff now days… can tell alright.” And he goes on to talk about the other boys, they were ones he doesn’t really know. “But yeah you can tell alright, they’re all into the gang stuff,” he repeats.

We’re just coming up towards Municipal Road, and Kepaoa keeps talking about Tau this and Tau that… and it’s too much for me. I say nothing, but my eyes silently overflow with a few big tears that just roll down my face. I don’t sniff, don’t sob – just pretend I’m concentrating on the turnoff, and hope Kepaoa won’t even notice.

 

But his voice tails off, and there’s a couple of seconds of quietness. And I don’t look to see, I just feel Kepaoa’s arm go around me, warm and tight. He strokes my hair, then rubs my shoulder, and he says, “Sorry Miss… sorry for bringing him up.”

“It’s ok…” I manage to say. “It’s ok.” My heart hurts so bad, and tears just keep squeezing up  and rolling right down, and I try to stop them.

“Nauu, shhhh…” Kepaoa croons, like he’s gently comforting a child. “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have brought him up like that, shouldn’t have kept on going like that…”

“It’s ok… I’m sorry,” I kind of breathe and gulp.

“Nauu…” murmurs Kepaoa, just stroking my shoulder. He says, “Do you… miss him?”

I nod, tears keep falling. I miss Tau so much I can hardly bear it, but at least there’s one person in the world who I can tell, don’t feel shamed in front of.

 

We stop out front of the mall, and sit in the car outside the barber’s. Kepaoa just keeps holding onto me, and we talk. I tell him how I feel like I’ve tried so hard, but straight failed.

And Kepaoa says, “You haven’t failed… you done everything a person could do. I know how much you care about him Miss, don’t blame yourself.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell Kepaoa. “I’m sorry for being an idiot.”

“Nauu, Miss… awguds, I gotchu, alday,” Kepaoa tells me. “I gotchu, Miss.”

 

And after a while we get round to the CV, then I drop Kepaoa off in Carthill.

When I get back home, I get a text that says: ‘Algud ms dw I gotchu alday aye, always gotchu, anytym..’

Feeling alright

Tuesday 17 July, 2012:

Here’s how school’s looking:

1) Tutor ‘initiatives’. Everything that used to be cool about tutor is being dismantled, bit by bit. It’s been slowly happening over the last couple of years. We now have a designated way of doing pastoral. Everything has a prescribed format, and its own jargon… it’s all far from real connection between people. Lucky it wasn’t like that when I had Tau and Inia; the ‘special assemblies’ and ‘special guests’… ohh, those days have gone. Now we have to ‘actively’ track attendance, and pay class visits to our tutees (all this logged on the pastoral notes), and have ‘learning conversations’; we have to teach ‘values’ and build ‘significant relationships’. And it all takes up so much time, and feels so false.

2) Tick-tock. Everything is continually squeezed into the day. There are smaller and more exact bits of time apportioned to everything. It makes me feel stressed, having to clock-watch just to get a 20 minute break (which is the most you ever get: it takes 5 to just get outa class, and then the bell goes after 25, so that leaves 20 in between, max).

3) The never-ending cycle of meetings and ‘Professional Development’, where we have to ‘engage’ with stupid crap (today: Y charts to fill out)

Honestly, MC with its tinkering interference, and itemization of time, and its narrow and increasingly structured roles for everyone. And the things we’re supposed to do… or prevent… who knows?

 

Wednesday 18 July:

Sitting by the heater – actually pressed against the heater.

School goes okay, in parts. Urban Art is alright, when I employ the strategy of ‘making the most of what you have’. It’s all I can do, apart from give up, that is. Chloe has given me a lot of kids, most of whom are not really interested in graff, but have picked randomly from the blurbs: each reduced to a sentence of microscopic font on her Excel spreadsheet.

And – let’s be blunt – the only reason I do UA is because of the taggers. My niche market, haha. So we need cans again: Zion’s eyes light up at the thought. Another very keen person is Andre (of course) and a third is the very nice Slade Harete – who is a big help today just for his obvious on-side-ness. And I really appreciate people like that, right now at MC. Because yes, I want to leave, but right now there’s nowhere to go. And until there is, I’m gonna try every trick in the book to keep things moving and not stagnant. I don’t want to be full of hate for it. There are many things about both this school, and the education system, that I reject, and find false and sometimes actually ‘evil’ – it’s not too strong a word (I don’t mean people, but ‘things’… qualities, you know.) But I don’t hate life. I don’t want to be full of poison towards it. I want to make so much more of what I have, and what we have. Like I’ve always said: to create space where there seems to be none. A small goal – but maybe it matters.

 

Thursday 19 July:

Life goes on. And I want life. I want to get that little resilient spark of life glowing… and to steer my mind away from the things that can simply grind out that spark. Trying to keep control of the attempt is kind of tricky; it requires a light touch – and distractions.

Distractions, for what they’re worth. After pissing around for a while (Police Ten 7, facebook), I make coffee and start reading Graffiti Lives. At the same time, I flick channels and end up watching a documentary about Martha Gellhorn – actually it’s really interesting, and weirdly timely, for me. The narrator’s last sentence, something like this: ‘She never stopped writing for the underdog.’

And I think about equality, my guiding principle. And trust, and bravery – the two things I need to find so much more of in my life.

But yeah, I feel better. Distractions/work: no binary simplicity to be found there.

 

Friday 20 July:

After school I park up at the mall, feeling kind of numb, tired, warm, and uncomforted. Distractions aren’t working too well at school today. Things are less distracting, there. I feel like I can’t get that ‘sad’ look out of my eyes. But I make some kind of effort. And get through the whole, livelong day – feeling a bit dissociated from my own voice..

During tutor Kuli comes in to see me, and so I just let the kids talk. Actually, they’re nice and very low key – almost like they can sense not to push the bounds of their freedom. I mean, they don’t wanna do ‘confidence’ worksheets either.

Straight after that, it’s 9 Social. For some reason, this is my favourite class at the moment. Something about them soothes me. And vice versa, I think. I’m not sure why – because it hasn’t always been this way. Funny, how the formerly diabolical (Campbell), and the totally hyped (TJ, Ahmu) have settled right down. TJ and Ahmu (friends) vie to do their work more beautifully and artistically than one another. Campbell does little actual work, but he’s courteous, friendly, and calm – which is a great improvement on his previous ‘incarnation’. He shows me a joke on his phone; talks to me about his day. The entire class cruise peacefully right through till lunch, pack away, and go out, leaving the room spotless.

 

Lunch – I’m on duty. I go get a Turkish bread from the cafe. Put it on my tab (first time I’ve racked up a debt there in months). Walking back, I see Slade – he stops to chat. Asks me if I’ve seen Quest.

“No,” I say, kind of absently.

“Cos… he said he was going to your room.”

“Oh,” I reply, and then, “Ok… I dunno. I haven’t been there, I’ve been at the cafe.”

But I remember, Slade said the same thing to me on Wednesday: “Quest said he was gonna be in your room at break.” And at that time, I thought: No, you must be talking about a long time ago. I don’t stay in my room at break anymore. I didn’t say that. But it’s true – I haven’t been in my room during breaks for the whole of last term; longer than that, even. So I wouldn’t know if Zion comes by or not.

I suddenly feel a flash of something like dismay,  to think of it. Why have I retreated to the office, every day?

And I just keep thinking of Tau there, safely at school. And of Nio, shimmering like the sun. Cluzo and Axis. Rich and Statik. Hazard, and Romer, and Sir C – all of them – and those days.

 

Then, for some reason, after talking to Slade, I just go to my room, and sit there and finish my lunch. I leave my door slightly ajar, for the first time in ages. It’s the end of lunch – I’m not expecting anyone, and yet I still leave it that way. I think to myself: What if Zion’s been coming? I’m never there anyways. I’m always up in the Faculty office. With La-Verne and Mandy. Having our coffee, trying to factor some food into our squitty MC lunch breaks. Talking about… what? Just, you know: ‘school’ stuff. Nothing much.

When all around me, the river’s running, the sun’s up high, there’s a scent on the breeze. Fluidity of movement. The agility of shadows crossing paths, and re-crossing, and what? I’ve stepped away from it, somehow. And for some reason, I just think: ok, I’m available again.

 

Bell goes. I step out of my room. First person I see is Aiga (Elroy’s friend).

“Miss,” he says. “Heard from Elroy lately?”

“No…” I say. “Not lately.”

He smiles at me, and me too – I smile. I don’t even know Aiga really, you know. Kepaoa wanted to smash him, then didn’t, then did again (Kepaoa styles). But that’s not the point, the point is that… I feel different. I feel like my path just crossed with someone’s again, in a way it never does lately.

I’ve been isolating myself from the signals that others send. I’ve honestly been cutting myself off at the switch. I kind of ‘shake’ myself, at this point. Like it might make me remember.  And suddenly I get that feeling of ‘cold spring’. Ice on the ground, but things pushing up from underneath, urgently and vibrantly. Oh God… I dunno. Haven’t got a clue. I just feel half distraught. Because I’m so tired of wishing and missing. And I’m tired, just plain tired, fullstop.

I’m not ready to give up. But times have been tough, lately. And I’ve felt – so unworthy. To earn, or to keep love. I’ve been creeping, and I’ve been imploring, and I’ve been so scared I’ll lose.

And all of a sudden, I think of it this way. Why today? – I don’t know. But I need to get life back, in my eyes, my voice, the way I stand and move. I still have a lot to do. A lot of ground to catch back up, and not fall behind anymore.

 

You know how you get those moments when you understand a little bit more? Well, it’s like that. Like my foggy thoughts just cleared, a little bit. Like the de-mist button working on the windscreen.

It’s not like everything’s suddenly obvious. But it doesn’t seem as confusing. And so, I can say: Feeling alright.

One thing, or another

Friday 22 June, 2012:

TV’s on, and I’m watching a documentary about some kind of long term mentoring project, started ten years ago ago with a group of primary school kids; they’re now in year 13. Worthy: yes, I concede it is, despite the clichés. And the founder – a businessman and philanthropist – is genuine (if a little bit patronizing, with his talk of ‘good’ families, as opposed to ‘disadvantaged’ ones).

But something about it doesn’t sit with me He talks about the ‘soft racism’ of low expectations – he’s got a point. The tacit directing of particular groups of students (particularly in low-decile schools) into taking ‘vocational’, rather than university-approved subjects. But it still doesn’t sit with me. Because no matter how well meaning, it’s predicated on the unchallenged assumption that going to university is a social good; that it levels out the playing field; that university is unproblematic in terms of its value, equity, function; or as a predictor of future success. And any lens that uncritically views failure at school as the central problem (not to mention university entry as the pre-condition for its solution) – just doesn’t search far enough.

I wish I didn’t think this way, sometimes. I wish I could believe. But I can’t, and that’s after years of trying (hah and then at least three years of getting past the point of trying at all!!)

 

Now and then I still think: What’s wrong with me? That I can’t sentimentalize ‘success’ at school, the way teachers, and parents, and… people do. That I can’t ‘celebrate success’. What is it about me? Am I such a killjoy? But you know, I don’t think that’s it. I think I just have some missing piece, somewhere. Some piece that almost everyone else seems to have: sewn in, or implanted, when they get to a certain point in ‘education’. Well – I haven’t got it. I don’t know why.

I’m glad, but at the same time, it rattles me – it means that I’m always and always pretending, to some degree. To kids; to their parents; to teachers; to the management; to my family… to everyone except a few gangstas – and they save my sanity, pretty much. Because it’s only then I know I’m not alone.

I feel alone, sometimes; lots of times. But that’s probably not so bad. I wouldn’t give up my lack of belief for a million bucks, or for peace of mind. It’d be like getting that implant after all.

 

But then I go back to that question: So what do I do instead?  Oh, the contradictions inherent in my position. When all along the way: I don’t wanna see them fall. I want people to hold on, whichever way they want it. It isn’t that I believe school really offers them anything; it’s more that I believe they can go on and take something anyway. I don’t want what I ‘should’ want for them – or for me. Don’t want to change them. Don’t want them to be cowed. Don’t want their heads to bow to the stupid, false, rationality of it all. I don’t… I didn’t think it would be anything other than cruel to try to keep Tau and Nio at school. Despite missing them so much that I cried to myself every day, at first. And if I’m honest, I kind of celebrate that some people can’t bring themselves to be a part of it. Don’t believe in what it promises. Know what they might have to give up, to gain from it. And yet – if they do want it, I’ll be there with them, one hundred percent

Because I’m aware that you can hold on in many different ways. Hold onto courage, and to your soul. Zion: 70 credits at Level 1 now, despite everyone else’s predictions. Thing is – I’ll buy that too. I see the contradiction, but I have no problem with it. In war, pragmatism’s as good a strategy as any, if you want to win. Kick Quest out when he wants to stay? Hell no!

There’s satisfaction in beating the odds, too. There’s satisfaction in one thing, or another. It reminds me of lobbing hand grenades, blowing up one little corner, then setting up for another – and it all adds up. To something – I’m not sure what. But something.

More and more, I realize that I need to say this stuff. I actually do.

 

Sunday 24 June:

Nothing much happening today. Tau, Leroi, and Robbie appear for a short while. The other two are a lot more conversational than Tau, who looks preoccupied, tired, and slightly grim. He goes to get changed; meanwhile Leroi and Robbie chat to me outside. Then they leave in the rain – Tau driving Robbie’s car. My heart sinks just a little bit.

 

Friday 29 June:

Last day of Term Two. It isn’t anything out of the ordinary, really. Slade pops in near the end of lunch break, just to seek some advice, I think. I like Slade, though I hardly know him – just from Urban Art is all. Anyway, he tells me he was questioned by the DP’s today, on suspicion of tagging the toilets in the block. “It wasn’t me,” he said. “I know who did it though – Luxe.”

“Luxe?” I repeat.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know who that is,” I sat.

“Yeah, well I do – and he’s amo,” Slade says. He rolls his eyes and then laughs a bit.

“And you didn’t say anything?” I ask, knowing what the answer would be.
“Nah – I’d never snitch,” Slade assures me.

“What if you found out that he said it was you. Would you name names then?”

“No, I still wouldn’t snitch. I’d just give him a hiding,” is the reply. “But I don’t think he did. I think it’s just cos I tag – it’s all I do in all my classes.”

I laugh, saying, “Oh well – if it wasn’t you, then they’ve got no evidence, have they. So there’s nothing they can do. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”

Slade nods. He said, “I just don’t like the way the DP’s do things.”

“Neither do I,” I reply, honestly.

“Are they allowed to search us?”

“We-ell, technically they are, if you give them permission. They’re allowed to request it. But if you say no…”

“What happens then?” Slade asks, with great interest.

“Then, they can’t do anything unless they want to bring the police in. Or they could call your parents. Or if you consent to a search, you can ask for another adult you trust to be there – you’re allowed to do that. There are rules, you know.”

“I thought there must be,” Slade says. “I wish I knew what they were.”

“Well I know,” I tell him. “I’ve read them, every word.”

So we talk about this for a while, and I explain more about the guidelines for ‘Search and Seizure’. And then, a little later, Slade just casually says, “Luxe is Andre’s brother, Miss – Rawiri.”

“Oh, really?” I’m kind of surprised. “I Didn’t even know he tagged.”

“Yeah – he’s pretty amo.”

I just nod. I see that Slade is giving me a certain amount of trust, and I appreciate it.