Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Gravity of Loss"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, as a sequel to "Keeping Warm."  It was inspired by a prompt from DW user Dialecticdreamer.  It also fills the "new disability" square in my 12-20-14 card for the Rites of Passage Bingo Fest, the "fear / terror" square in my 12-17-14 card for the Genprompt Bingo Fest, and the "hospital stay" square in my 11-25-14 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo Fest.  It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them.  The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: DW user Dialecticdreamer, lilfluff, the_vulture, technoshaman

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WARNING: This poem deals with some intense personal issues for Cold Cash, resulting from the events of "Keeping Warm."  These include facing physical and metaphysical disabilities, psychological challenges, and a health care system that is sometimes erratic in the quality of its support.  Personnel onstage in this poem are supportive, though.  If these are sensitive issues for you, consider your headspace before reading further.

The Gravity of Loss

Cash lay in bed, having second and third thoughts.

He was sure about refusing the cardiac surgery;
he wanted Dr. Thuy nowhere near him. If she said
"It gets better!" one more time, he'd ice her shoes.
She was no Foreseer to predict the future, and he knew
from painful experience that things might get worse,
or stay the same, instead of getting better.

He was less sure about talking with a shrink, but
the long hospital stay was eating at him, the staff
growing edgy about superpowers for a lot of reasons
that he couldn't exactly blame them for, and he was
getting desperate enough to try almost anything,
including a chat with some guy supposedly good
at counseling soups or their families.

Cash rubbed his right hand over the mess of scars
that was the best modern medicine could make
of his left wrist. It did nothing for the cold ache
in his power or the ever-present fear. What if
it never healed, what if he couldn't work like this ...

"Morning, Charles," said the nurse as he came into the room.
"Your counselor's waiting in an office at the end of the hall.
Would you rather walk or ride there today?"

"I'll walk," Cash said, hauling himself upright. Dylan was
a good spotter, his hands hovering a few inches away;
he never grabbed hold unless Cash slipped and needed it.
Besides, Cash was desperate to get his strength back.

This time Cash made it all the way to the office, grimly proud
of the accomplishment even though it left him panting
by the time he let Dylan settle him into a chair. The counselor
turned out to be a short man with floppy blond hair wearing
a gorgeous cream cardigan with a patch of geometric designs
on the right breast and a matching band around the left arm,
something almost ordinary but not quite.

"Thanks," Cash said, waving Dylan away.

"Staff here treating you all right?" the counselor asked.

Cash snorted. "Most of them, though I wish that
they'd call me by my real name."

"I'm Dr. Graham Finn. You can call me Graham
or Dr. Finn, whichever you prefer," the counselor said.
"How would you like to be addressed?"

"Cash, please," he said. "It's short for Cold Cash."
It had been too long, and the wrong name itched
in ways he couldn't describe.

"Pleased to meet you, Cash," said Graham, his smile and
handshake both warm. "That's a great pun on your power."

"Yeah, they said you came highly recommended
for soup problems," Cash said. The tension
began to ease, soothed by the casual acceptance.

"The hospital forwarded me your file," Graham said.
"I've also read about the original incident -- you showed
some impressive finesse with your Ice Control. I was
sorry to hear that you're having trouble with your
powers now. Would you like to tell me about that?"

Cash folded his right hand over the damaged left.
"The gizmo fucked up my wrist, and now it hurts
when I try to use my superpowers," he said.
"I can still freeze things, but it takes longer,
and phasing is even harder. My aim's shot to hell.
Before it was like ... imagine that you could fire
a cyclone gun and control most of the projectiles.
Now, I'm not sure even a healer could fix this."

"Have you worked with one before?" Graham asked.

"Yeah," Cash said, waggling his ankle. "Vehicle accident
crushed this on tour, then I got a dispensation for my military
college grant to go to a healer instead. Took months to fix,
but it's fully functional. I think it was a good deal even now.”

"Then no wonder the injury to your wrist reminded you
of that, since it helped before," Graham said.

"There's more," Cash said. "I am -- was -- ambidextrous.
It's not like my hands are interchangeable, though.
Some things I only do with my right hand or my left."
He showed Graham the limited range of motion
that remained on the left. "Doing left-handed things
with my right is barely better than with my shaky left."

"You feel frustrated trying to do things with
impaired dexterity," Graham said.
"What else have you been experiencing?"

Cash tightened his grip on his forearm. "This and that."

Graham brought out a slim metal briefcase with a latch
on one side of the handle and several buttons on the other,
trailing a cord that plugged into the wall. "Portable privacy field,"
he explained. "Turn it on and we're fairly secure here."

At once Cash pushed the green button, and the field
kicked on with a faint, cushiony hum. "Thanks," he said.
Then he had to push down the clawing fear that he'd never
get his gifts back in working order, or never heal enough
to leave the damn hospital and care for himself.

"It's hard because ... I have to concentrate more, and it hurts
to use my powers, but I keep forgetting," Cash admitted.
"I'm so used to phasing through doors to lock or unlock them,
I've locked myself on the wrong side a bunch of times. I can't
even remember to finish a soda before it warms up, or ice cream
before it melts." His throat closed over the words, choking them off.

"Losing part of your powers hurts as much as the damage
to your arm, or your eyes," Graham said gently. "I get that.
When I was younger and wilder, I fell off a cliff -- my brother
and I had been trading dares -- and broke both of my legs.
The details may differ, but I know what it's like being in pain,
feeling helpless and humiliated and frustrated."

Cash looked up. The guy was leaning forward,
face rumpled like he actually cared about Cash.
Maybe he did get it, after all. Before Cash knew it,
he was spilling the beans about how his powers
developed, the way he used them for everyday things
and for heists, even the disastrous clash in the mall.

The gravity of loss felt crushing.

Graham's hand settled over Cash's right forearm
with a warm, grounding presence. "You've made it
through quite a lot of obstacles," the counselor said,
making it sound like some kind of an accomplishment
instead of the mad scramble it had mostly been.

"Yeah, I got plenty of those," Cash said wearily. "Not sure
how this is supposed to help, but ..." He shrugged.

"An important thing to accomplish in today's session
is for you to choose at least one goal," Graham said.
"I can listen to anything you want to share, but I get
the impression you're not a guy who likes talking
about his feelings. You seem more interested
in problem-solving. I can work with that, but you
need to decide what you want to get out of this."

"I don't even know where to start," Cash admitted.
This was exactly why he had avoided therapy so far.

"Hmm ... you listed lockpicking as one of your skills,"
Graham said. "If you needed to pick a lock,
what would you do first?"

Cash just stared  at him. Graham was an ordinary guy,
didn't seem to have any criminal background at all,
and yet he talked about lockpicking as if it were
a perfectly normal thing to do.

It took a minute for Cash to fumble a response.
"Figure out what kind of lock it is," he said.
"When I was younger, I needed picks
to poke around inside with, but now I can --
could --" He grimaced at the sense of loss
slicing through him. "-- phase through the lock
and feel for the tumblers with my fingers."

"Okay then," Graham said with a smile.
"Imagine your situation like that. You have
some limitations like locks on a door. So first,
you need to understand what those are --
what you can't do now, or can't do like you used to --
and then we'll poke around to find how to get past them."

That actually made sense in a way Cash hadn't expected.
He turned the idea over in his mind, trying to think of
his new disabilities as locks, picking at them carefully.
"Handling doors and containers," he said. "Thinking about
temperatures. The shakes." He held up a wavering hand.

"Let's write those down," Graham suggested. "Would you
like to take notes yourself, or shall I do it?"

"You do it. I'd never get anywhere," Cash said.
His handwriting and typing had sucked before the injury.
He appreciated having the choice, though, rather
than being pushed around or talked over.

Graham's fingers danced over his laptop. "Three problems,
that's a good start. What goals would you like to set, Cash?"

Just the sound of his name cheered him up ridiculously.
"I need to remember that I can't just use my powers
the same as I used to," Cash said.  "Then figure out
different ways to get all that stuff done."

"I'm going to pose one idea for every goal," Graham said.
"Before our next meeting, you think of another for each."

"Guess I can do that," Cash said.  He'd manage somehow.

"There's actually a mindfulness exercise for doors,"
Graham said.  "Before you go through one, stop and breathe.
That should help you pay attention to how you lock them."

"Case you hadn't noticed, I'm not too mobile now," Cash said.

"Doors on television, then," Graham said smoothly, and
Cash nodded.  "For temperatures, try setting a timer."

"Might work, but I don't have one," Cash said.

"I happen to know some gizmologists; it's no trouble
to get you a good timer," Graham said. "For the tremors ...
has anyone suggested massage or occupational therapy?"

"Yeah, but the occupational therapist is a flake, she doesn't
get why I'm having a hard time," Cash complained.
"Massage, I dunno, it just seems weird."

"Try the massage," Graham coaxed. "It can soothe nerves,
and most people enjoy it. If you don't, you can always stop.
Given how much you talk about touch, I think it would help."

Cash startled a little. Most people didn't realize
how much of a difference it made for him, with
both of his superpowers having physical effects.
Even as a nary, well, a thief relied on his hands.

"I don't mean to babble," he said. "I just ... miss it so ..."

"Of course you do," Graham said. "Right now you've lost
some things that matter very much to you. Even if you
recover them later, you'll still need to process this.
Grief, fear, anger, those are all natural reactions.
Give yourself time to feel and to mourn those losses --
and if you need cover, you can always turn on a sad movie."

"That's a good idea," Cash said. Nobody blamed anybody
for crying over Bambi, and the hospital TV had movies.

Graham's vidwatch chimed softly. "That's our five-minute
reminder, and it'll ping your nurse to come pick you up,"
he said. "I feel that we've made a good start. You have
a few goals, and things you can do to pursue them. I'll send
the notes to -- do you have a smartphone or anything?"

"No, but my hospital room has a tablet computer," Cash said.
"If you access the server here, you can send to the room number."
The notes gave him a sense of progress, lifting some weight
so that his losses seemed less crushing. Graham had good ideas.

"Okay. I enjoyed meeting you today," Graham said sincerely.
He shook on it, then brought his free hand up to cover
their joined hands, the contact bringing a little extra comfort.
"I look forward to seeing you again on Friday."

"Yeah, I'll be here," Cash promised. "I feel -- my brain is full,
but I think this helped some. So thanks, Graham."
He moved to the door where Dylan was waiting.

Cash paused, took a breath, and then stepped through.

* * *


"Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have -- life itself."
-- Walter Anderson

It Gets Better is a project aimed at encouraging young people about the future.  In our world it focuses on queer youth; in Terramagne it broadens to people with superpowers or other challenges.  It has its ups and downs, and some people aren't fond of it, because as Cash points out the present can really suck and you can't predict the future.  Having someone nag you about a sunny future can really grate on your nerves.  There are scholarly critiques too.  Instead of just promising a bright future which may or may not manifest, take steps to make it better now.  Listen to people's concerns and think how those could be addressed.

Touch-dominant people rely on physical contact and motion to process experiences.  This applies to learning, communication, and a lot of other activities.  A good counselor can identify and match their client's sensory mode to make it easier to understand complex explanations.

Graham's cardigan has asymmetric patterns that create a pleasing balance.

The portable privacy field generator resembles a briefcase.

Lockpicking is a useful skill with both professional and hobby applications.  Learn how to pick a lock.

Try the Mindfulness of Doors exercise.

Timers can help boost productivity and sanity.  You can use a cooking timer or a timing app online.

Massage can help with nerve damage and skin hunger.  It also aids relaxation in general.

Loss can make people sad for a long time, not just death but also grieving an acquired disability.  A particular challenge for Cash is the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how much of this damage could heal naturally, how much requires expert care, and how much is permanent. Similar to brain injuries, damage to superpowers can be difficult to gauge.  There are tips on supporting a bereaved person, coping with grief and loss, and a self-help guide to resolution.

Adjusting to disability has social and physical aspects.  There are tips for the newly disabled.  A good occupational therapist can help you figure out what you can do now, what you would like to do, and how to get from here to there.  Counseling needs to focus on seeing potential, not disability.

Handicap etiquette includes ways of enhancing daily life for people with disabilities.

The first session of counseling typically includes introductions, assessment, building rapport, and discussing goals.  It is crucial to know how couseling works and how to choose the right counselor for your needs.

Handshakes can reveal a lot about the personality.  In this case, Graham opens with a standard handshake but closes with a two-handed "mini-hug" which expresses their growing affinity and caters to Cash's need for healthy touch.  They're not in hugging territory yet, so this is a good alternative.

Cognitive load can lead to mental overload.  Cash feels like his brain is full because he's under a lot of stress and is trying to take on a great deal of new information.  Know how to deal with information overload.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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