Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "To Own My Truth"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by discussion with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "coming out" square on my 12-30-14 card for the Rites of Passage Bingo fest and the "nightmares" square on my 11-25-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by EdorFaus. This poem belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem deals with some intense topics. Some of the more detailed warnings are spoilers; highlight to read. This is where Mallory discovers that Damask is a multiple system, and most of Damask are completely freaking out over that. There are nightmares, panic, dissociation, blaming, headmates sitting on each other, hostile language, identity issues, coming out, and other challenging stuff. They also talk about some of the rough stuff that has happened to both of them in the past. It has a happy ending, though. Consider your headspace regarding whether this is something you want to read right now.

"To Own My Truth"


Sleep comes with teeth and claws,
full of nightmares after the recent brush
with Mindflare reminding us all
how we came to be.

There is nothing like the sense
of one mind slicing through another,
but for me the pain is power,
shining bright as fire between my fingers

and I scream to set it free
so that the rest of myselves
don't have to deal with it.

That's what I'm here for.


Keane's woken me up with his yowling,
and usually I just try to get back to sleep but --

the bedroom door is rattling.

I yank Keane back inside and take his place
just as the door bursts open.

Mallory lunges into the room,
one hand curled and ready to curse,
the other angled like a shield.

"Where is he?" she demands,
scanning the corners with savage speed.

"Where's who?" I ask.

"Whoever attacked you," she says.
"Was it Mindflare again? I'll fucking gut him."

"Nobody ..." I begin, but that's not quite true,
because Mindflare did, just not tonight.
"There's no one in the room except us."

"I heard you screaming," says Mallory.

I look away from her.
Keane is always causing problems.
"Nightmare," I mutter.

"It's more than that, it has to be,
I felt someone else in here,"
Mallory insists. She tilts her head,
looking under the bed,

and fuck it, I am out of here,
I'm no good at faking Maisie.


I dart forward as Ham bails out of front
like his seat caught on fire,
leaving me to stare at Mallory
and try to straighten this out.

"There it is again," she says.
"Your power is hiccupping like crazy tonight.
I thought it was just a thing, you know,
like flickering, because you're new to it.
But it's not, is it? I can still feel someone
else in here, like -- like different powers
bouncing off each other and making echoes.
Are you a telepath or something?"

"I'm not," I say, and it's true,
Clarity is the one with mind powers.

"Then what?" Mallory says,
leaning against the doorframe.
"If it's some guy I can punch or hex
or shove out the window, I can deal,
but this -- it's getting scary, Maisie."

I wrap my arms around myself,
shivering in the cool night air
as goosebumps race across my skin.

A blanket drapes over my shoulders
as Mallory sits beside me, the bed
creaking under her weight.

"Thanks," I say, wanting nothing more
than to snuggle into bed and try
to fall asleep, but I'm too wired now
and there's no chance that Mallory
will just give up and leave me alone.

"Maisie, whatever it is, I swear
I'll keep your secret," says Mallory,
her hand surprisingly gentle as it
covers mine. "We may have started out
on the wrong side of the cape, but
I'd like to think we're friends now."

"You already know I have superpowers,"
I hedge, hoping it will throw her off.

"Yeah, that's just it," says Mallory.
"You can heal. You can disappear.
You've got some kind of tweak thing going,
I've seen how you punch and block and move stuff.
That's a lot for any one person, and I don't think
I've even seen everything you can do ..."

I'm shaking now, not just shivering,
as panic claws its way up to close my throat.

Even I can't fake my way through this
if she realizes what we are.


Maze is curled in a ball,
not even responding when I
lift her out of front.

Take her, I tell Ham,
and he does so.

I slip into front, because
somebody has to do it, and I'm
the one who knows Mallory the best.

Maybe I can convince her to leave us alone,
and in the morning it will all seem like
part of the nightmare.

"What is that?" she murmurs,
sliding her power along mine until it
slips into the crack between me and Maze,
a sudden startling intimacy.

Mallory yanks her hand away.

"Sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to --
I was just trying -- oh God,
I suck at this so bad," she babbles.
"Really I just came in here because I
thought someone was trying to hurt you
and now I'm worried about you
but I don't know what to do!"

Around me the body is wild with alarm,
adrenaline and cortisol sloshing everywhere
and I can't get it to calm down enough
to take charge of the situation.

I am so, so tired
of trying to keep secrets.

I rub my gritty eyes,
clogged with sleep and dreams.
"I don't know what to say," I admit.

"I mean, how bad can it be, really?"
Mallory asks. "We've smacked each other
around for months, you've heard me
gasping for breath and seen me
throwing up in the middle of the night,
and I know I kind of tried to
cut your arm off that one time, but
if this is about your powers then
you really need to tell somebody.
If not me, someone you actually trust."

I think about the other people
who've gotten glimpses --

Cindy at the Student Health Center
who spooked our powers into flickering on
before we had any idea what had really
happened to us or what it meant,

Dan the ice cream man
with our changing choice of flavors,

even Dr. Infanta helping us
to save Pax after the fight at SPOON
and getting a good feel of us in the process.

Yet Mallory's the one who has
spent the most time around us
when we're actually using our powers --
whether fighting or cooperating --
and thus started to get some sense of
who we are underneath the masks.

All I want to do is curl up
against her and let go of everything.

Her hand comes up to stroke my hair.
"Your body language changes too," she says.
"You go soft like this when you're healing me.
When you're mad, you wind up like a spring."

Mallory can tell the difference between us,
not just sense something shifting but
actually recognize me and Ham.

I want this, I realize with a sudden ferocity,
want to be seen and known for myself
and not keep slouching along in Maisie's place
like I'm borrowing someone else's underwear.

Ham is whole rooms away, laying Maze on the couch.

"My name is Clement," I say quickly,
snatching after the dream before
I can lose my nerve. "I'm a guy.
Mindflare made me out of Maisie."

"You're a healer," Mallory says,
putting the clues together in her head.

Then Ham and Mira are hauling me away.


I slip forward, trying to be
as unobtrusive as possible,
but it's a lost cause.

"Who are you?" Mallory asks.

There is no point in lying, now
that Clement has blown our cover.

"My name is Clarity," I admit.
"I am our organizer. You were right
about the telepathy, by the way.
That's my superpower."

"I'm smooth with it," she says seriously.

I'm surprised, and a little flattered,
by the easy acceptance. So many
people distrust mind powers, even though
telepaths tend to be mentally fastidious;
for some, we're the stuff of nightmares.

"Thank you," I say. "I need to ask you
to keep this in confidence.
If other people knew about us ..."

"Then it could be dangerous, yeah,
I get that," Mallory says. "I meant
what I said earlier about not telling.
Superpowers are hard enough
to deal with already."

"Understood," I say.

"So ... how many of you are there?"
Malloy asks. "I don't think I've met you much.
It's hard to tell, though."

Instead of answering aloud,
I glide away to let Ham through.


"Hiya, buttagots," I drawl.
"Way to fuck up our life, as usual.
Edi-conosc’ ...?"

She laughs at me.
"There's my favorite sparring partner!"

"I what." She thinks
that was sparring?
I shove her away.

I'm still on edge from the nightmare
and I do not need this shit.

"The fighter, then," says Mallory,
rocking lazily with the force of my push.
"You must have the telekinesis too."

I bop her with it, not as hard as I could,
but enough to make her sway again.
I'm tempted to dump her off the bed --
she deserves it for butting in
where she's got no business going.


Ham, cut it out, she's pregnant
and it's not exactly going well,

I warn, pulling him away from front.
Clement will pin your ears back
if your horsing around hurts her

Ham glares at me but gives way.

Aloud I add, "Hi, Mallory."

She hesitates. "Do I know you?
It's almost ... I think maybe
I was mixing you up with Clement."

"We were all pretending to be Maisie,
so it's no wonder," I say. "I'm Keane.
Sometimes when you've been upset,
it was Clement, and other times me."

"Oh," she says. "Thanks, I guess.
So what's your power?"

"I deal with pain, emotional or physical."
I reach out, carefully because of the way
Ham was so rough with her, and lift
the dull ache pooling at the small of her back.

"Wow," she says softly. "And that's not healing?
It feels a lot like some of what Clement does."

"Same effect, different method," I explain.
"He just blocks the pain so you don't feel it.
I can pick it up and do something else
with the energy, like throw it in a fight,
or give to one of my headmates as fuel."

Her hand catches mine as I pull away,
turning it over and then back as if
she could divine my abilities
from the lines in the skin.

The gentle touch is unexpected, disarming.

"You're amazing, all of you," Mallory says.
"Could I meet the others? How many are there?
I mean, if it's okay to ask. I don't want to pry."

I've lived with Danielle. This is not prying.

"There are six of us," I say. "The others ...
I'll ask, but I can't make any promises."

Mira is so shy, and the way Maze
melted down there's no telling when
or if she'll feel like fronting again.


When Keane beckons,
I climb off of Clement and
leave him for Ham to deal with.

I'm still angry with Clement for outing all of us
like he did, without warning and probably
because he knew we'd stop him if he said anything.

What's done is done, though.

I remember Mallory offering
to hex Mindflare for us,
and that's something.

Accepting Keane's invitation,
I sidle forward to greet Mallory.

"I'm Mira," I tell her.
"I do illusions ... and crafts."

She smiles then, bright and quick.
"You're the one who's making
the baby hat. It's really nice of you."

Somehow I wasn't expecting that,
but Mallory is changing.
I suppose we all are, in a way.


I take a turn, because
everyone else has now.

I'm still shaky and exhausted
from the dreams and the stress and
the fact that it's in the middle of the night.

I know Mallory pretty well,
because I front so often, but
I'm uncertain what to say.

"Uh, hi," I flounder.

"... Maisie?" she ask.

Quickly I shake my head.
"No, I'm Maze. I can fake
being Maisie but I'm not her,"
I explain. I take a deep breath
and continue, "She's dead.
Mindflare cut her up and made us."

"That's horrifying," says Mallory.
"So what's your gig now?"

I shrug and say, "I'm just me.
I don't have any special powers.
For the school and social stuff,
we don't need them, I can handle it."

"You do a lot of the everyday things,
and then trade off with the others
when there's a fight or something?"
Mallory guesses.

"Or whatever," I say. "Each of us
is good at different things. Clement
doesn't have just the healing, he also
got Maisie's first aid training. Ham
has the martial arts. Whenever
something happens that doesn't
suit the one in front, we switch
to someone else who's better at it.
That took us a while to learn, though."

"That's why I met Ham and Clement so much,"
says Mallory. "Fighting and healing. Then later,
when I moved in here, you're the one I see
around the house most of the time."

"Yes," I agree. I rub my hand over
the soft blanket. "I'm glad you're here."

Her teeth flash a smile in the dim light.
"Me too. It's why I came when I heard screams,"
she says. "You're my friend -- or friends, I guess."

It's good to know,
a little less nerve-wracking,
but I'm still tired and so when
Ham and Mira finally let Clement up,
I'm happy to switch back.


"Hey there," I say softly,
leaning into Mallory.

"Clement," she says,
and it feels so good just to be
seen and known, to own my truth
instead of lying and hiding.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

"You okay?" she asks.
"Ham seemed kind of peeved at me,
so I thought you might've gotten in trouble too."

"Yeah, a little, but it was worth it," I say.

She laughs. "Sometimes it is.
What happened?"

"Ham and Mira pulled me back inside,
away from the world, and sat on me for a while,"
I explain. "It's like ... we have a house in here
that we can move through and part of it is where
we can go to look outside. That's front."

"It sounds complicated," Mallory says.

"Imagine trying to figure it out
with no instructions at first," I say.
"For weeks we didn't know what had
happened, and then we discovered
that multiples are ... pretty much
all considered crazy. So there isn't
a lot of information about our condition,
and most of what there is tends to suck."

"That's awful," says Mallory.
"Then Mindflare came back and
tried to get after you again."

I shiver, pulling the blanket tighter.
"Yeah. That was scary."

"Me and my big mouth," Mallory mutters.
"Hey, you want me to stay here with you?
I could camp out on the floor or something,
wouldn't be my first time going without a bed.
Maybe I can keep the nightmares away,
or at least wake you up if it happens again."

"That sounds great," I say.

Leaving the bedroom, Mallory touches
the doorknob and says, "Sorry about this.
I think I broke your lock. I had to hex it open."

I wince a little, because Dad hates it
when the house gets damaged.

"Forgiven," I say anyway.
"Hopefully it can be fixed,"

Together we haul the mattress
off the futon on the landing, and
I grab the whiteboard on the door
to scribble a note: Maisie & Mallory,
nightmare slumber party

We make a pallet on the floor where
Mallory snuggles up under her comforter.
"Good night, all," she says.

"Sleep well, Mallory," I reply.

Climbing into bed, I root among
the pile of pillows, shoving aside the ones
that belong to my headmates --

Keane tends to starfish over the whole bed,
and Clarity sleeps face-up all in a line,
so they've got thinner pillows than
the big firm one Ham prefers for
curling on his side to face the door.

My favorite pillow is soft and squashy,
even flatter than Keane's, and I
tuck it under myself as I
flop down on the bed and
roll onto my stomach.

Drowsy silence fills the room,
washing us slowly toward sleep.

I let one hand trail down the side of the bed.

In the darkness, her fingers find mine,
unspoken ward against the dreams that wait.

* * *


"I didn't realize how many people actually knew, and I was afraid someone would tell or leak something out about me. I want to own my truth ... no one else should tell my story but me."
-- Michael Sam

Nightmares often happen due to stress. Know how to stop having nightmares, recognize if someone else is having a nightmare, and comfort someone after a nightmare.

Scapegoating is a dysfunctional family pattern in which one person is blamed for all the problems. In a multiple system, one member may become the system scapegoat -- and it's usually whomever has to deal with the stuff that other members don't want to handle, in this case pain. While Damask are mostly functional, one of the very real problems they're having is disrespecting Keane like this. There are steps to break free of the scapegoat role.

"Tweak" is slang for telekinesis, or a person who has it.

There are pros and cons to lying, keeping secrets, and self-concealment. Hiding information can make you sick, but revealing it can be very risky. Revealing it can be dangerous too. No easy solution to this dilemma, alas. Damask are having a reeeaaally hard time with it, and not just this once, but in general.

Coming out is often a challenge, so consider the advantages and disadvantages. Tips have been written for coming out as gay or lesbian, which can be extrapolated to superpowers, multiplicity, and other contexts. Of course, Ham is also gay, Mira is a lesbian, and so forth; but they aren't having issues with that stuff.

When you are worried about a friend, there are lots of things you can do to help. It is important to know the difference between safe and unsafe secrets, as well as how to keep a secret. Given her supervillain background, Mallory's parameters for what secrets should be kept are a bit different than the typical, but in this context it's working fine.

Panic and dissociation can result when stressors overwhelm coping ability. Multiples may dissociate and switch when the headmate up Front feels unable to deal with the situation. By now, Damask are pretty good at controlling the switches in a healthy way, most of the time. This is not really one of those times, and you can see the bad habit of dissociative switching showing through when they just don't want to deal with something.

Multiple courtesy is a bit more complex than singleton courtesy. It involves naming names, telling the differences, and getting to know different headmates. If you're not sure, ask. In this case, Clement feels the most strain from hiding; it hurts and he's bad at it. Mira excels at hiding and Ham is cautious about security, hence the tension.

buttagots/butta’ gazz’ – annoying idiot (buttana u’ cazzo) [boo-taa-GAATS]
-- Italian-American slang

edi-conosc’? – do you know me?/do you know who I am? (e mi conosci?) [EE-dee-GAA-noesh]
-- Italian-American slang

Roughhousing is an important part of play and certain types of relationships. Understand how to do it right.

This is the whiteboard on the door to Damask's bedroom in the house shared with other college students. Whiteboard etiquette is one aspect of good communication between roommates.

Sleeping positions reveal things about personality. So for instance, Ham's side-sleeping correlates with suspicion and stubbornness, Clarity's soldier-sleeping indicates quiet reservation, Clement's stomach-sleeping tips him as outgoing and anxious, while Keane's starfishing hints at good listening skills and helpfulness. These aren't absolutes but are patterns.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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