Safe right now

Monday 8 December

Out of bed at the usual time, making a cup of tea and some weetbix. Normal, routine, everyday things keeping me from manning the panic stations. But only just.

I check my mail, hear back on a couple of teaching applications: “We regret to inform…” etc. I’m sure it’s because I don’t trouble to hide the fact that my interests and experiences barely place me in the path of mainstream education anymore – and I guess it’s just as well, because I don’t want to go back there either.

But how long can I keep this up? A few months ago, I had a 4K cushion put away; now there’s twenty dollars in my savings account, and just one day’s pay coming in next Wednesday. Oh, my systems are still in place, enough for a couple more weeks, almost. But if I don’t have something lined up by next Friday, no, Thursday – then what?


There’s an email from one of the general temp agencies too. It’s only a form letter, but I read it closely anyway:

Thank you for your online Registration of Interest in Employment with Lumsden Recruitment.  We are constantly looking for people with skills, diligence and a great attitude to join our Lumsden Team!  We would like to meet you and learn more about yourself, please come into one of our Branches with the following items;

Photo ID

  • Born Overseas– Passport and Visa
  • Born in NZ– Passport Or  NZ Driver License and Birth Certificate Or Statutory Declaration (signed within last 2 weeks)

IRD Number

Bank Account Number

Current CV with minimum of 2 work-related references

PLUS;  Any licenses (Counterbalance, Reach, Stock Picker etc), Certificates or Endorsements that you currently have.

Our Branches are open from 7am – 6pm Monday to Friday.  If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact the Office on our Freephone number.

We look forward to meeting you.


I could go this morning, nothing to stop me except gas money. And I have to put gas in the car sometime – so why not? Guess so, but the idea still gives me an uncomfortable feeling. It’s like I’m 17 all over again; no skills, no experience… just hustling for vacation work. Minimum wage: is that all I can ask for or expect?

What’s the alternative, though? Is there one? Maybe in some parallel universe. Here and now, the choice seems to be between the economic doom of a temping job, or the steadier income founded on talking smack in a classroom to perpetuity. Should I just give up and become a ‘good teacher’. You know, a sentimental idiot who cares about about “those kids”. Because don’t we we live in two worlds? Ha whatever. And what am I going to do? Oh what am I going to do?


The boys come in and are in good spirits, seeing as Sheree’s still hanging on in there at rehab. I engage politely with the conversation, but that’s as much as I can manage. This whole thing with Sheree (not to mention Leroi) lately has the least straight-up vibe I can think of. And the feeling of not knowing where I am with people, added to the money situation, is messing with my head.

It feels like I’m swimming through glue, or golden syrup. Sheree, the boys, work, money… everything sticks for a moment, lets go, then sticks again. It almost makes me wish I’d never left MC. Almost… but not quite. I just keep thinking to myself how I didn’t come all this way to lose. But something needs to be shifted, and fast. So what do you do with constraints? I guess you find the workaround.


Thursday 11 December

I wake up, reality kicks straight in, and with it another wave of panic. But I get up and enact the routine obediently; take a shower and wash my hair. Turn on Firstline, make myself a cup of tea. Slice up some kiwifruit in a bowl, add a scoop of muesli on top and snow-cap it with a spoonful of coconut yoghurt.

Then I check the bank accounts. My payments have gone through like usual. But my mind races ahead to the next set of bills, just over a week away. I try to apply reassuring directives to myself: Look at the whole picture. Don’t use those all-or-nothing lines, like as far as I can go’, or ‘a failed experiment’.

Because it’s neither. I’m learning the game; sometimes I struggle to understand things I didn’t understand before. But there’s a part of me that feels like taking the next steps.

With that in mind, I mail the bank to make an appointment with a financial adviser. You never know your luck, I think. And even though I’m still feeling somewhat resistant to the idea, I’m going to schedule a trip to Lumsden Recruitment. You could, I think, argue that I don’t have many other cards to play.


Friday 12 December

My email to the bank has been followed up by a call, then a meeting, the result of which is a signed loan agreement. As of this morning, therefore, there’s five thousand dollars in my account; this takes the immediate pressure off making payroll – to the point where I feel soporific with relief for a little while. But that feeling has quickly been replaced with a kind of urgency to get started out earning money.

And then I go sign up with Lumsden. The process is going to take a week at least: the standard reference and police checks, and all the rest of it. And then they’re closed for Christmas – but they say I’ll be on their books by January.


Monday 15 December:

I’m hanging out for a coffee this morning, but payday’s payday, whether it’s the Ministry of Education, or my own savings, or the bank loan paying me. Tuesday night, fortnightly.

For dinner (*pre-payday*) I clean out the fridge and make stir fry noodles with pork mince and all the vegies: ginger and garlic and onion, red and yellow capsicums, cabbage and carrots and broccoli. And steamed rice. And buttered bread on the side. It’s good, and gets eaten up fast.

Again, that feeling of gratitude that the boys are here, and – for what it’s worth – safe right now.


Friday 19 December

Tonight I go pick up Tau and Leroi from Clancy. They’re pretty drunk (no surprises there) and Leroi dozes in the car all the way home. Alcohol really unsettles me these days – the idea of not being in control. Driving back, I feel very grateful that I’m in charge of my own faculties. There’s something I can’t ‘like’ anymore about even that feeling of relaxation produced by a glass of wine.

Tau chats to me in a ‘drunk person’ way – fulsomely and about nothing in particular. He’s on a mellow buzz, but I’m no less anxious for that. I just keep on thinking how I don’t want any trouble; I’m  too tired to deal with trouble.

A couple of times I even check: “You guys are  ok with one another though.”

“We are,” Tau says, and laughs – to reassure me I think, but it just makes me feel more uncertain.


They tip themselves into the shed with their drive through Macca’s. Tau hugs me, then Leroi hugs Tau. Again, this doesn’t actually guarantee the peace. Things are very difficult to predict when alcohol has figured in the evening.

“Don’t stay up all night – try get some sleep,” I suggest, thinking if Leroi (at least) went back to sleep this would also fulfill a peace-keeping function.

“Don’t worry Miss, we will,” they say.

But I’m still worried, and lie in bed trying not to startle at every slight noise. The door opens and closes a couple of times; there’s voices every now and then. My heart is beating over the sound. I have that familiar dampening ache in my solar plexus and I can’t sleep for a long while.


Saturday 20 December:

I have a couple puffs of Tau’s cig, and we talk a bit in the sleepout while Leroi goes to make noodles. Tau’s not much of a talker I know, but all the same, I’m kind of clasping at comfort; wanting to feel safe with someone I know and trust. Ohhh Tau, sorry – you’re the only safety valve I’ve got right now, I think. It makes me want to laugh and cry, thinking how I’m expecting the least likely person to conversate. But I’m very grateful, because he does his best.

Maybe he senses how my heart’s kind of breaking over things, for no particular reason at all. Regrets pour in and out, through holes in my flimsy boundaries. I feel them in my solar plexus, and at my throat. And why didn’t I stay at MC and agree to be a teacher. Isn’t that better than nothing. And is this nothing?

At first, the question really bothers me. Then I think how I’ve never been ashamed to create something out of nothing much; this tenacity having saved me many times. I’m like the weed in our driveway that springs up almost flat to the earth, busily working out how to hold its ground. It’s unobtrusive, and then, when you look – even pretty, with its dappled, almost khaki colored leaves and tiny pink flowers. I pull it out every now and then, but only when it’s forgotten its economical ways – and it just pops up somewhere else, pragmatically.

For some reason this reminds me of the Manning Marable book I’ve been reading, about Malcolm X. Whether any of the supposed ‘reinventions’ can be verified is neither here nor there, far as I’m concerned. Everyone has inconsistencies, failures and secrets. It doesn’t matter so much what they are – they exist. And so we either default and capitulate to our weakest moments, or we amass the patience and diligence to make a set of ethics we can live with.


Everything big and small

Monday 8 February, 2010: 

My car’s broken down – it’s the radiator. Luckily, Kuli comes to pick me up.


At school things ain’t the same anymore. Alexander (just) out of Juvey – but Karys won’t let him back. Argos in Samoa. Nio back, but for how long?  And Tau – Leroi tells me Tau’s not coming back to school. “He can’t, Miss…” he says. “But he’ll come and see you, today after school. He wants to see you.”

I want to see him, too. But then Kuli has to leave, so we go straight after school.  I feel tears stinging my eyes over and over, and I have to blink them back. When I get home, the tears fall stupidly. Everything that’s happened – everything big and small – please don’t let it be wasted.


Tuesday 9 February:

Today it’s very hot, and I’m tired and I’m worried about Tau.

I’m just about to leave (Kuli’s already gone to wait in the car), when Tau loops in quietly, doing his usual circuit of my room and finally coming to rest next to the fan. He speaks in a tired voice, and tells me without embellishment that he got kicked out of home again. He’s been sleeping in Wairere Park; he wants to come to school, but he’s gonna get jumped. Those same boys have been waiting for him.

Then he walks me over to the carpark. On the way, I tell him, “We can try and sort this out – just come back, and we’ll talk about it.”

He nods. “Tomorrow?” he asks.

Yeah, tomorrow. I have to get a ride with Mister, but I can stay for a little while. And we’ll think about what to do.

“Yup…” he says, bravely, but I feel like I’m letting him down, seeing his tired, pacing figure walk away.

And I can’t really stay around for long tomorrow – because it’s not up to me, it’s up to Kuli. This is so hard and I hate all of it – to think of Tau being afraid; Tau sleeping in the park; Tau without food or money. I don’t know what to do.


Earlier on, Dimario asks me,  “How’s your friend, Miss?”

“Which friend is that, Dimario?” I say.

“Taurangi, the little faggot. Is he coming back to school?”

I look at Dimario, wondering just what he knows. “Why? What have you heard?”

“Nothing,” replies Dimario, unconvincingly. And he just laughs.


Year 9 Social.  We do intros and a timeline; it’s very much a gentle start to things. The Learning Support teacher arrives near the end of class – she’s scheduling year 9 observations for this week, looking for literacy issues. I don’t mind her being there, but when she gives me her feedback, I see she’s starred Andre’s name. I ask her why, and she replies, in a whisper of alarm, “I think he might be a tagger.” Her ‘evidence’: the title of his timeline is done in a particular style.

I feel outraged at the implications, but just say calmly, “But he asked me, and I told him he could do it that way,” (which is the truth).

“Oh…” she says, in slight surprise.

Fuck it’s so stupid, to have him pegged as a bad boy after four days at school. Andre – who hasn’t done a single tag all day; and sure he’s into that scene, but he’s also into school, and doing his work, and he’s a nice kid, not some evil-intended menace to the place. I feel protective of him, with the LS woman watching on as he letters his title with patience (reminding me of Dimario and Alexander), and asks for help ruling up his dates.


As for Tau; “I feel like bombing the school,” he muses, head in the fan, his voice amplified but low.

“Nah – don’t do that Tau,”

He sighs. “Miss, you should go round and look at all my tagging… all round Carthill. It’s all been crossed.”

“By those boys?”

He nods, hunched over the whirring blades, cooling his face.


Wednesday 10 February:

Again, I have to let Tau walk away. I’m getting into the car when I see him heading towards the front gate; he’s too shy to come over when I’m with Kuli. I walk over to him, and we talk for a little while, but his eyes hold no hope, and I’m struck to the heart by his disconnected, restless look.

There’s nowhere for Tau to go. He tells me he can’t go home, he’s going to try get down the line to stay with his Nan. I don’t know if he’ll get there… I don’t think he knows.

I have nothing to give him; nowhere for him to rest. I have to go with Kuli. It’s heart-wrenching; I feel sick all the way home. I’m tired and pierced to the heart by Tau’s listless eyes, heavy gait, weary legs… and I can’t do anything. Oh why did my car have to break down? And why can’t things be alright?


At home I check my phone, and breaking my heart even more: a text. It must have been sent earlier on. It reads: hay mis its taurangi r u goin to be at skool when skool finishez

I reply and tell him that I’ve only just got his message, but I’ll see him tomorrow if he can get there after school. I say I’ll wait and won’t go with Mister.

And he replies, saying he’ll come. Would you believe he wants to know how I’ll get a ride home, and I tell him not to worry, someone will come pick me up. (actually, I don’t know how I’m gonna get home either).

So a tiny thread of hope – and he didn’t lose my number. I’m glad… but I really need to think what to do.


The order of things

Wednesday 18 November, 2009:

No Tau – but I didn’t think he’d be here today. I sit and talk to Inia, who seems to trust my intentions now.

“Did Tau go and see his dad today?”

“Yup, he did,” Inia says.

“Oh – I thought he would.”


At break, I see Saale at the top of the stairs. He’s doing a couple of dance steps, and waves.

Mandy, who’s walking along with me, says, “Look at that boy! Do you know him?”

“Saale,” I tell her.

“You’re good!” she says to him, and he grins, but just hangs back and shakes his head when she asks him to do the moves again.

“Nah,” he says, and then to me, “Can I come with you?” and Mandy looks at us and laughs – it’s just something about the way he asks me.


“Mmm… what’ve you got next, Saale?” I ask

“I’ve got English but I’d rather go where you’re going.”

“Well I know – come and help me carry my speakers, and we’ll talk about it on the way over.”

“Ok Miss,” he says, happily. And we go to the office and get my speakers to take over to F block.

I remember my promise, weeks ago, so: “I’ll tell you what – you can come if you want, I’ll ask your teacher.

“Yes!” he says.


He comes in quietly, and sets up my speakers without being asked; helps me with cords and plugs in the laptop, switches on the data projector… my class come in and I settle them down. Saale says, “I like it here – this class is much better behaved than my class.” He looks around contentedly, then sorts out a few chairs for people before pulling up a seat at the console.

I say, “Thanks, Saale. You’re so helpful,” and he looks delighted and tells me, “I am helpful… but not with those angry teachers.”

His report describes him as completely ‘non-engaged’ and, ‘I believe he should repeat year 9’ writes his Social teacher.


At the end of class, we pack up and carry everything back to the office. On the way we pass Derek, one of the caretakers, on the bridge. He’s painting out Tau’s latest tag (from yesterday), and as we go past, he says, “SSC – that’s Taurangi.”

“Taurangi and a few others,” I clarify.

“Yeah,” he sighs. “Quite a few of them!”

“So, it could have been someone else,” I suggest (untruthfully)

“It could,” he admits, adding “We’re putting up more cameras over the holidays.”

“Oh,” I say, and we have a little chat – I like Derek, despite being firmly on the side of the outlaws myself.


Saale and I go on our way, and he says quietly to me, “Tau did do that one, I can tell.”

“I know, you’re right. But don’t say anything, Saale.”

Saale grins, “Course I won’t, I’m not a snitch.”

I’m not sure how I have any connection with Saale – I’ve never taught him, never even seen him before he just slipped into my tutor group one day, months ago.  And I didn’t even know Tau then either – not really. Though he was always the mystery boy.

I don’t know what connects one person to another. But little Saale, just reaching out towards me for some reason only known to himself… it touches me very much.


I feel like I’m marked out by some complete inability to appreciate the way things are meant to work. And if other people also have that inability to understand and accept the order of things; perhaps they pick up on it.

And I believe we know we can survive, when we’ve given up on feeling whole that way. Tau can tag SSC right in front of me, and I just go get him a drink.  Cos we know it ain’t right, the way that things try run us, so we do our part.

I expect nothing from school – and it feels as if the only thing to do is to claim these stupid, stupid, hopeless circumstances as somehow ‘mine’ to use.