Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Attribute of the Strong"

This poem came out of the February 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] lynnoconnacht. It also fills the "abandonment issues" square in my 11-25-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest, and the "you are a blessing in disguise" square in my 1-31-15 card for the Valentine's Day Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] fyreharper. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem is flangst. The more detailed warnings contain spoilers; highlight to read. Sloane jumps on Lawrence without warning, and he dumps her on the floor by sheer reflex. And then he freaks out. Stuart follows Lawrence and very carefully talks him down. Lawrence goes back to talk with Sloane, who is also upset and wondering if she's just lost a good friend. Among other things, they discuss gender identity and roughhousing rules, and eventually they make up. There is a lot of stuff that hints or references neglect, abuse, bullying, and other stressful background. The current environment is supportive and the poem ends on a positive note. If these are sensitive topics for you, consider your current mood before reading onward.

"The Attribute of the Strong"

Stan and Lawrence were talking
as they walked, laughing a bit
at each other's jokes.

No sooner had they opened the door
than someone jumped Lawrence from behind.

Instantly he ducked forward and heaved,
letting the momentum carry his attacker
over his shoulders and onto the floor,
mind already skittering ahead to
sort bullies from supervillains --

only to find that it was Sloane instead.

She sat up to stare at him
with more outrage than hurt,
her red hair all in a rumple
and coming loose from its ribbon.

Lawrence darted through the house,
dodging Stan's open hand and
Stuart's startled query, then
out through the back door
into the safety of the yard.

He sagged against the wall
of the house, pressing his back
against it for support as he
took great gulps of air
in a futile effort to calm down.

His heart still knocked against his ribs.

Slow footsteps sounded from
the dining nook, then the creak
of the door opening just a crack.

"Lawrence?" asked Stuart,
his voice low. "How are you?"

"I -- I'm fine," Lawrence lied.
"Is Sloane okay?"

"Nothing bruised but her pride,"
Stuart said, leaning on the doorframe.
"It's thoughtful of you to ask, considering."

"I didn't mean to dump her on the floor like that,"
Lawrence said miserably. "I wouldn't have --
I didn't even know it was her."

"Ah," Stuart said. "I thought that might be it.
Would it be all right for me to come out?"

Lawrence just stared at him.
It was Stuart's yard, after all.

The older man simply waited,
hovering in the door with
the same easy patience
that Stan had.

"Fine," Lawrence said,
just to get it over with.

Stuart stepped into the yard
and shut the door firmly behind him,
but didn't come much closer.

Lawrence couldn't blame him.

"It was an accident," he said,
which was half true in that
he wouldn't have hurt Sloane
if he'd known who it was,
but half false in that
he'd certainly intended to
toss someone over his head.

"Okay, so you didn't do it on purpose,"
Stuart said, taking a step
nearer. "I get that."

"Sometimes people ... get after me,"
Lawrence said in a small voice.
"I have to move fast, before
I can even think really ..."

"Yes, of course," Stuart said
as if it were perfectly reasonable.
"You reacted on instinct."

Lawrence nodded, letting his hair
fall forward to hide his face
behind a pale curtain.

"I'll understand if ..." He swallowed hard.
"... if you don't want me around
your family anymore."

"Lawrence, would you come here, please?"
Stuart asked, beckoning with an open hand.

Well, it wasn't as if Lawrence didn't deserve
a smack or two for what he'd done.

He slunk forward, fully intending
to stand up for it, but as soon
as Stuart's hand ghosted along
his elbow, Lawrence flinched.

Stuart didn't hit him, though,
or even grab him, just repeated
the same soft touch.

Strong fingers feathered up his arm,
around the angle of his shoulder,
and Lawrence edged forward
away from the pressure --

which put him right against Stuart's chest,
cheek turning to feel the warm wool
of the green-and-gray argyle vest.

"Shh, now," Stuart murmured.
"You're not going anywhere
unless you want to. Nobody
is going to leave you or
make you leave."

That was insane.
Didn't Stuart understand
how dangerous Lawrence could be?

Well, no, obviously not,
and Lawrence didn't dare explain
the whole sordid story about superpowers,
but the fight in the foyer ought to have
given him some kind of hint.

The hell of it was that Lawrence
didn't want to leave. He wanted
to burrow into the undeserved shelter
of Stuart's arms and just stay there.

"Why ..." Lawrence managed,
before his voice gave out on him again.

Soft rumble under his ear,
not quite a chuckle.

"I didn't disown Stan after he
let Stephanie ride on the handlebars
of his new bike, and she broke her arm,"
Stuart said. "I didn't disown Sloane
after she set fire to the living room rug
when she was four. So I'm not going
to disown you either just because you
got spooked enough to chuck her."

"But someone could have gotten hurt,"
Lawrence whispered, "really hurt."
He was shaking. He could feel it.

Stuart's hand stroked down his back,
loose and open still, easy to escape from
if Lawrence had felt like going anywhere at all.

"But nobody did," Stuart said.
"This time we got lucky, so now we know
that this is an issue, and we can
take steps so it doesn't happen again.
Can you think of anything that might help?"

"I owe Sloane an apology," said Lawrence.
"Do you think she'll forgive me?"

She may have been a hassle at times,
but she was a blessing in disguise too,
helping him get a better handle on himself.

"She's a strong girl, and forgiveness is
an attribute of the strong, so yes," Stuart said.
"I'm sure she has something to say to you too.
I meant ideas for preventing a repetition, though."

Lawrence couldn't think of anything
other than staying out of her reach,
and he didn't have the heart
to suggest that a second time.
"I dunno," he said.

"It seems to me that you and Sloane
could use some rules about roughhousing,"
Stuart said. "Are you ready to go
back inside and talk about it?"

It took a minute for Lawrence
to gather himself enough to say,
"Yeah, I guess."

Stuart patted him on the back
one last time, and then stepped aside
so that Lawrence could reach the door.

Past the corner in the great room,
Sloane was wrapped around Stan
with her face buried in his belly,
garbling something incomprehensible
into his soft watercolor sweater.

At the sound of their entrance,
Stan lifted his head with a worried look.
"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," Lawrence said,
which wasn't as much of a lie
as it had been earlier.

Sloane peeled herself off Stan
and said, "I'm really really sorry.
Please don't be mad at me."

"I'm not mad at you," Lawrence said.
"I was afraid I might have hurt you."

"Nah, I bounce good," Sloane said.

"Well, don't bounce yourself off Lawrence,"
Stuart advised. "That didn't go well."

"Why not?" Sloane asked Lawrence.
"I thought you liked roughhousing."

Lawrence sighed, quickly sorting through
the mess of reasons in search of one
that would be safe to share.

"Sometimes people are mean to me
because they think I'm a girl," he said,
combing his fingers through his long hair.
"They push me around or try to trip me.
I have to act fast to get away from them."

"That's dumb," said Sloane. "You have
face fuzz like Daddy gets when he hasn't shaved."

Lawrence rubbed a hand over the faint
but precious scruff of beard. "Yeah."

"But it's true; I've seen people
make that mistake," Stan said,
mercifully without adding details
like that incident at the fountain.

"So it's like when people say I'm not a real girl
because I like wrestling and frogs and climbing trees
instead of playing with dolls like my sisters?" Sloane said.

Lawrence pushed down a temptation
to look up the bullies in her class
and strand them atop a tree.

"Something like that," he said.
Then he dropped to one knee
so he could look her in the eye.
"They're ninnies, though. None of
that stuff has anything to do with
what makes boys boys or girls girls.
It's something that comes from inside.
You can't even tell by looking at the wrapper."

Sloane giggled. "Well, good! Because
I think that if I like frogs, it just
means some girls like frogs!"

"You're right," Lawrence said,
"just like some boys wear their hair long."

"Will you forgive me for pouncing on you?"
Sloane asked, momentarily turning serious.

"I forgive you," Lawrence said.
"Will you forgive me for bucking you off?"

"Sure," said Sloane. "Can we do it again?"

Stuart cleared his throat. "Set some rules,"
he advised, "or I will set them for you."

"I need to know it's you, and not
somebody who means to pick on me,"
Lawrence said to Sloane, his brain having
finally caught up to the context. "So no more
coming at me from behind or by surprise.
You tell me when you want to roughhouse,
and if I'm in the mood for it, then we can."

"And ask nicely," Stan prompted.
"People like to be asked, not pestered."

"Make sure you're in a safe place,"
Stuart said. "The great room is big enough
if you're careful, or you can go outside."

"Agreed," Lawrence said.
Surely he could manage that much.

"Okay," Sloane said.

"Then it's settled," Stuart declared.
"Now you two hooligans hug or
shake hands and make up."

Lawrence held out his hand,
half expecting Sloane
to pounce on him anyway.

Instead she responded with
a surprisingly competent handshake,
firm but not rough, and then let go.

"Sloane, your mother and sisters are upstairs.
Go let them know it's time to start supper,"
Stuart said, nudging her toward the stairs.
"Boys, I'll be in the office if you need anything."

"Thanks," Lawrence said. He couldn't
quite put a finger on it, but there was
something about Stuart that seemed
familiar, and yet not. It had undoubtedly
helped him to settle down, though.

"You're welcome," Stuart replied,
and headed for the office.

Stan sidled close to Lawrence
but didn't reach for him,
just letting their sleeves brush.
"I am so glad that you and Sloane
are putting up with each other."

"She's ..." Lawrence began,
considering and discarding
first a handful and then
kind of like me.

"... worth it," he concluded.

* * *


"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

Bullying can cause PDSD, hypervigilance, and other problems. For Lawrence, this stuff is not currently at life-wrecking levels, but it is complicating his life -- and it definitely contributed to his earlier maladaptive decision to become a supervillain. Understand how to deal with bullying.

There are several ways to defend against an attack from behind, one of which is to throw the attacker over your body.

Teenagers have volatile emotions because their brains and bodies are changing rapidly. There are tips for teens to cope with their own emotions. Adults should understand how to help teens manage their emotions and how to comfort an upset teen.

Stuart's argyle vest looks similar to this, though much larger. See the child-size pattern.

Abandonment comes in many forms, and can cause serious issues. Having survived abuse and neglect, Lawrence is sensitive to being rejected or discarded, but he doesn't feel like he deserves friends and family who take good care of him. This is a problem, and it is not going to go away quickly just because he's in a better situation now, because the present grates against the past. Understand how to overcome the fear of abandonment.

Roughhousing is an essential part of childhood that teaches physical and social skills. Know how to keep it safe and fun. Ideally, adults should give children a chance to set good rules first, and then fill in the gaps if necessary. Young people learn more and follow the rules better if they participate in making them -- and more crucially, different people may need different rules to accommodate their particular quirks.

Guilt is a natural reaction to hurting someone you care about or making some other awful mistake. In this case, Sloane and Lawrence hurt each other, which made both of them feel awful and worried other people too. Understand how to approach someone after hurting them and how to deal with your own feelings about it.

Self-blame is a form of internalized emotional abuse, common among survivors of abuse or other trauma. Lawrence's lousy home life has left him with a tendency to take on more than his fair share of blame, and worse, made him feel that he deserves to be hit or yelled at when he makes a mistake. Follow the steps to let go of self-blame.

Forgiveness is a virtue that is distinct from other related concepts. It is impossible to avoid all mishaps, so what matters is how you handle it when things go wrong. Know how to forgive someone for hurting you and how to forgive yourself for making mistakes.

See Stan's watercolor sweater and the pattern.

Gender identity is a complex concept which does not always follow stereotypes of masculine or feminine behavior. This can be confusing. Lawrence is quite firmly parked; he knows himself as a gay man, but he's unwilling to give up the feminine parts of himself even though it gets him a lot of grief. Sloane hasn't done anywhere near that much self-exploration yet, but so far seems very comfortable with "tomboy" as an identity. Genderqueer youth may need extra help in exploring their sex/gender identity and orientation. There are materials for exploring sex/gender identity and for assisting young people with this process. The most important thing? Validation. People are what they are, and it's better for everyone if the folks around them acknowledge that instead of arguing about it.

Apologies provide a means of relieving guilt and repairing relationships. In this instance, it's a party foul so Sloane and Lawrence need to apologize to each other for their individual mistakes. Handshakes and hugs are among the traditional signals that a conflict has been resolved. Notice that Stuart waits until after the apologies have been exchanged and accepted before prompting that little ritual of conclusion. Know how to resolve a fallout with a friend and how to rebuild trust in a relationship.

Acceptance is the ability to take yourself and others as-is. For Lawrence, it's easier to accept others than to accept himself, but practicing the one helps him learn the other too.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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