DISCLAIMER: If you haven’t seen Waru then I suggest you don’t read any further, because this does contain spoilers!
In part one, I am Mihi, I refer to myself as broken and fractured.
This piece of writing is about how those fractures started and took root.
I want to dedicate this to those of us who witnessed things our young minds should never have witnessed, heard things our young ears should never have heard and experienced things our young bodies should never have experienced.
I see you.
I am Waru. I am the abused.
I could easily have been Waru.
I was a pleasant kid in class. I didn’t have any Māori teachers but I’m sure they would’ve grieved nonetheless like Anahera did if I had died. I had many Nanny Charms who would ruffle my thick curly black hair. And many Aunty Bashs who would try to help me do my homework or compliment my puzzle solving ability. You know, that maternal stuff.
I’ve written before about my upbringing and I purposely glossed over the harshness of it all. I coloured it with rosy epithets and mihi to my mum, doctors, role models and teachers. I focused on the good that occurred and I told that story.
The story I have been reluctant to tell is of beatings and intimidation. The stories from when I first started to fracture, when I first started to break.
I remember being about 8 years old, sitting in a V8 Ford Falcon. A thing of beauty. Racing stripe down the middle. I have always wanted to own one just like her. We were told we were going to a bbq. Instead what I ended up doing was watching someone getting their head kicked in. Repeatedly. Coz he was a nark. And that’s what narks get. I’ll never forget the sound that a head makes when it gets kicked in by someone’s boot. It wasn’t until I got to adulthood that I realised that the sound of boot-kicking-head shouldn’t be something children should be carrying around in their memories.
I would often get beaten and spoken down to. I got beaten that much I would piss my pants on the way home out of fear. Filled with so much worry, hoping that this was the one rare day I didn’t get a hiding for some really shallow reason. Or even getting a hiding coz I smelled like piss coz I was scared of getting a hiding. How’s that for ironic?! When confronted about it I didn’t have the words to explain why, I made up stories like not taking the time out at lunch to go to the toilet. Coz I didn’t wanna blame him. That’s a one way ticket to Hidings-ville.
After school I would creep into the house. Quiet. Real quiet. I would strain my ears listening. Trying to work out what room he was in. And I’d hug the opposite wall of the hallway, move along it silently, then try to inconspicuously dash across his doorway. All the time thinking, ‘please don’t say my name. Stay small, stay quiet. Don’t draw attention.’
It hardly ever worked.
When I felt the electricity in the air that a hiding was coming, I would hope he’d just smack me around with his hands, coz that was preferable to the fire iron or the baseball bat. There was this iron bar he used to keep under the house and he’d make a spectacle of making me go get it. That was part of the punishment too. That immense feeling of dread as I went under the house to pull out this iron bar.
I didn’t even get it the worst. I’m not going to go into the individual stories of my brothers, coz those aren’t my stories to tell, but just know that in the grand scheme of things, I got off lightly. Some of us got more fractured than others. Some of us bear hideous scars on our souls and our spirits that antidepressants, beach walks, prayers and affirmations just can’t close. Believe me, we’ve tried.
Some of those fractures came from each other. Not out of choice, but out of conditioning.
My brothers and I grew up fighting. Fighting the old man and fighting each other. We settled things with our fists. That was how it was done. We were quick to anger, never really talked things out, in fact, we were encouraged to do the opposite. Get out of the house and scrap it out. We fought so often and for so long that we created rules to be able to have toilet breaks and go get drinks of water. I’m not even joking. Can you imagine how long you need to be fighting to require toilet and water breaks? A long as time.
Violence was my normal. Over reactions to minor things were ingrained in us. To different levels in each of us. Some more savage than others. The over reactions manifested themselves in how we interacted with each other, in how we interacted with the world. Someone looked at our sister? Death threats. Someone made a joke? Time to fight.
I remember telling my brother to be quiet when we were playing cards. He was making sighing noises and smacking his lips. That was all. Not even anything major. He kept sighing, so I stood up, smacked him in the nose, sat down and went back to playing cards like everything was normal. Coz that was normal in my house. His nose started to bleed and the old man reckons ‘Well he told you to shut up.’ End of story.
I remember bursting into my other brother’s room, while he was asleep, ranting about some bullshit that he wasn’t even responsible for. He reckons ‘I didn’t even fucken do that.’ and smacked me straight in the eye. Instant black eye. He lay back down and went back to sleep. End of story. To be clear, I was in the wrong. And now I had a black eye. What a winner. Fuck, I still feel like I deserved that black eye tho. haha. Even though the whole point of writing this is to be about change and nonviolence, that violence thread in me still has to run deep for me to even think that a kid deserves a black eye for a misunderstanding.
I have a litany of these kinds of stories in my DNA, in my whakapapa. That was my normal.
Because I got off lighter than my brothers, I used to try to redirect the blame to myself sometimes. Not all the time, just sometimes when things were going good for my bros and me.
I remember one time we were washing the dishes, my brothers and I weren’t fighting, we were getting along, laughing. They were making a competition out of who could dry the dishes the fastest. I threw a butter knife on the bench and in their haste to grab it the knife clattered on the ground. An avalanche of noisy male testosterone entered the kitchen yelling ‘WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED??!!’ Quickly, I told him that I had thrown the knife on the bench too hard and it slid off the bench and hit the ground. A couple slaps around the the head and a ‘Be fucking careful next time.’ and it was over. End of story.
That was how we were raised. To be males. To be humans. People.
Watching the aftermath of Waru’s death made me think that story could’ve been me. Or one of my brothers. One misplaced hit at eight years old and I could’ve been Waru. Lying on the māhau at Pārihimānihi marae. The wailing of our kuia and the chirping of our manu filling the Waihīrere air. My nanny Jane next to me, hugging my mum, both of them sobbing their eyes out. My koro Bob on the paetapu, outwardly stoic, inwardly broken. All my nanny Charms in the kitchen. My aunty Bashs out the back, hanging out tea towels, smokes in their mouths.
Another news item that would never recognise or even begin to consider that this young boy could’ve become a District Councillor, a teacher, a social worker, a Father of Dragons and a plethora of yet-to-be-determined things. Coz let’s be honest, those futures don’t belong to Waru right? Families that raise Waru don’t deserve futures like that. Well, that’s what mainstream media likes to have us believe.
But those futures DO belong to Waru. Those futures belong to me. They belong to us.
I want to finish speaking to two specific groups of people; those who didn’t grow up like me and those who did.
1) For those who didn’t grow up like me.
Recognise and accept that there are lots of us Waru out there, tens of thousands of us who grew up like this. We are the District Councillors, the dance tutors, the primary school teachers, the social workers, the truck drivers. You see us everyday. But you don’t see US. Some of us will do well, some of us won’t do so well. But we are in the same category of people. Do not separate us.
I often have people say to me ‘well, you made a choice.’ or ‘There is something in you that is different, Josh.’ Yeah, there is something in all of us that makes us different, but there’s way more in me that makes me the same as the other Waru. Despite being a functioning contributing member of society I will always carry major fractures. It’s no different. E rua, e rua. Same, same. When you see or hear stories like above, make sure you remember that I am them, and they are me.
We need to destigmatise in ourselves how the Waru of this world are seen. How the fractured are seen. When you do that, you open yourself to connecting to the fractured and potentially saving the next Waru.
2) For those who grew up like me, we weren’t responsible for a lot of how we were raised. That shit is not on us. I have babies now. I am responsible for the ones I am raising. You are responsible too. I have to be the change I want to see, and if I can’t be the change then I need to empower my babies to be that change. My people, let’s not pass on our fractures.
I share all of this because I want to be visible to you. I want you to look at me, and not see a suit, but see yourself or remnants of yourself, in me. I want you to see Waru. Because if you can see me, then it means I can see you.
I am Waru. And I see you.