EDIT 9-25-15: See also the demifiction "In the Soup" by LJ user Ng_moonmoth. It relates to the end of this poem.
Warning: The following poem contains references to past maltreatment and resultant eating disorders. Subsequent environment is safe and supportive.
"A River So Long"
Rhoda grew up in a stifling household
where the only thing she could control
was her own body, so she learned
to go hungry, to let the physical
echo the emotional, and that
made her feel a bit better.
When Rhoda turned sixteen,
she hitched a ride out of Kansas
and never looked back.
She didn't tell her family
where she was going,
only that she was gone.
(And not to look for her.)
Rhoda took whatever odd jobs
she could find, and managed to get
first a high school diploma and then
a community college degree in small business.
She still didn't eat much, her skin
clinging tightly over her big bones.
Then she met Natalie, and fell ...
not quite in love, because Natalie was
straight, but there was definitely an element
of romance in their special friendship.
Natalie worked at the Unicorn's Forest,
and swore she could get a job for Rhoda too
if Rhoda didn't mind working for a superhera.
Rhoda quite liked the idea of working
for a superhera, because it would
have pissed off her parents.
After work, they walked together
by the long river and laughed about
everything and nothing.
In the evening, Natalie would ask,
"Are you hungry?"
Sometimes Rhoda said yes,
and sometimes she said no.
Natalie just nodded,
and made enough food
for both of them just in case
(she always said) Rhoda
might get hungry later.
She made salads of mixed greens,
tempting and crisp.
She made fruit salads too,
juicy and sweet.
On rainy days she made
soup or stew or chili
to warm them up,
served with baskets
full of fresh-baked bread.
It made Rhoda feel loved,
and that made her feel like
eating more often than she had.
Aubrey the Alabaster was wonderful
to work for and her store attracted
other soups because they couldn't
always count on getting a fair deal
at stores run by ordinary people.
Sometimes Rhoda threw in
an extra bookmark or another treat
just because she thought bigotry was stupid.
(Even if she'd been raised that way.)
Rhoda and Natalie still enjoyed
going outside whenever they could.
They met Brian while walking by the river,
as he was building friendship benches
for the park along the banks.
He asked them for ideas
about how to paint the benches,
and Rhoda suggested flowers
while Natalie asked for herbs.
Brian covered the slats
in leafy messages of
hope and welcome.
Before long, Natalie and Brian
were falling in love, and Rhoda
expected them to shoo her away,
but they never did.
"Don't be silly," they said. "We love you."
So two become three,
if not quite in the usual way.
The river was still the river,
and supper was still supper,
they just added little wooden ships
and some heartier recipes to their repertoire.
Sometimes they tripped over each other,
literally or figuratively, but Natalie insisted
there had to be a solution to everything.
Rhoda starting talking more about
what she had and what she wanted,
which she'd never really done before,
because growing up she had
hardly gotten any of it.
Natalie and Brian were
unfailingly gentle with
her choices, but also
utterly stubborn about
coaxing her out of her shell.
Rhoda learned that she could
control a lot more than her body,
and that was amazing, so then
she felt less like starving herself
and more like eating something
that would last through a brisk hike.
And then Rhoda, who had never
really expected to fall for anyone,
fell quite suddenly for Gina.
There had been a musical in the park
and Gina had been a dancing fairy and
Rhoda's heart had gone romping over to her
like a puppy that had slipped its leash.
So then there were four,
except that Brian and Natalie
had a surprise, whom they
decided to name Elise.
Gina's parents Doris and Franklin
came over and played with the baby
and babysat her for hours on end
and fed washed diapered
did pretty much else for her
and somehow never went home.
By then they realized that they should probably
formalize the family, which made their poor lawyer
groan over the challenge of cobbling up something
more-or-less equitable in a country that had not yet
gotten around to legalizing polyamorous marriage,
except for that loophole in Utah that didn't suit them.
There were, however, all kinds of other things
they could put together, up to and including
the vested interest forms that Gina's parents
and Aubrey (when did she get pulled into this?)
chose to sign in support of little Elise. They even
chose a family name to share, Parquetry.
They needed a bigger house, so they bought one,
and then they had some extra rooms
and it turned out that Aubrey knew
someone who worked in soup rescue,
which led to the family adopting
first Nestor from Cuba and then
Samirah from Palestine.
Neither of the orphans had
any superpowers, but their parents
used to, and their enemies had considered
that reason enough to hound them.
No one was particularly surprised
when the children turned into avid readers,
with a house more-or-less lined in books
and two grandparents telling them
stories all day long.
When Gina decided that she wanted
to get pregnant (a happy task for which
Rhoda was sadly unsuited) they all
went down to the sperm bank and
pored over the options until finally
they agreed on some Swedish artist
who was so pale he looked like a ghost
but made really fabulous paintings.
Their son Ian spent the second half
of his first year fingerpainting with food
instead of eating it, which worried Rhoda,
but Natalie assured her that babies put
everything into their mouths and as long as
the "paint" consisted of pureed fruits and
vegetables, everything would be fine.
(And it was.)
On weekends the whole family
went down to the river, and now
they needed two rowboats because
the children weren't really ready
for long hikes yet.
They floated downstream,
and to Rhoda, it seemed as if
the kinship which surrounded her
was a river so long they could
never reach the end of it.
They packed massive picnic baskets
full of food and Franklin fired up a grill
with hot dogs and hamburgers and
skewers of fragrant peppers.
Rhoda realized that she was
starting to get a bit thick in the middle,
and for the first time in her life she didn't care.
It made a good mattress for the little ones.
The Unicorn's Forest thrived, and
whenever Aubrey had to dash away
to do her superhera thing, there was
always someone else available
to take over the shop.
Sometimes things got tense,
and of course they worried about her,
but Aubrey the Alabaster was a powerful sorceress
who could do darn near anything she could imagine,
so it wasn't like the supervillains had much
of a chance standing against her.
The forks now, those bothered everyone,
because bigots could make no end of trouble.
Then one day Rhoda saw her brother Zeke
on television in a ridiculous aluminum helmet
that covered almost his whole head, but
she knew him from his body and,
of course, his shrill squalling voice.
He'd gone and gotten himself arrested,
though, and that was a surprise:
he'd always been the favored son.
"Do you know him?" Natalie asked
because Rhoda was staring.
"No," Rhoda said as she
shook her head at the scene.
"I thought I did, but I don't."
(Which was almost entirely true.)
* * *
Rhoda Parquetry -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and straight black hair cut to chin length. She is short and large-boned. After years of struggling with an eating disorder, her body is finally filling out. Rhoda is the sister of the Preacherman (Ezekiel "Zeke" Harmon). She is currently 32. She is in the far left of the picture in a blue blouse. Her birth family was rife with psychological and religious abuse, and it has taken a lot of work to overcome that. Rhoda works at the Unicorn's Forest bookstore for Aubrey the Alabaster. She belongs to the Parquetry polyfamily with her lover Gina, the other couple being Natalie and Brian. Their children are Elise, Nestor, Samirah, and Ian.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Determination, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Bookseller, Good (+2) Planning Ahead
Poor (-2) Oppressive Past
Natalie Parquetry -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and straight brown hair to her shoulders. She enjoys being tall, but she often bumps into things overhead, and it's hard to find clothes or furniture to fit. She is second from the left in the picture, wearing a melon blouse. Natalie works at the Unicorn's Forest bookstore for Aubrey the Alabaster. She belongs to the Parquetry polyfamily with her lover Brian, with whom she made Elise; the other couple is Rhoda and Gina. Their other children are Nestor, Samirah, and Ian.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Cheerful, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Comfort Food, Good (+2) Mediation
Poor (-2) Tall Girl Problems
Powers: Average (0) Super-Intellect
Samirah Parquetry -- She has light brown skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair. She came from Palestine, where her family was wiped out because her brother had Super-Senses. She speaks some Arabic, and less English. This contributes to her shyness, but she notices everything around her. Samirah is four years old and has been adopted into the Parquetry polyfamily. She is third from the left in the upper row of the picture, wearing a pink blouse.
Qualities: Good (+2) Observant, Good (+2) Survivor
Poor (-2) English
Franklin Keach -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and short curly light brown hair. He is average height. He is the husband of Doris Keach and the father of Gina Parquetry. Franklin helps take care of the whole Parquetry polyfamily, especially looking after their yard. He is in the upper middle of the picture, wearing a light blue shirt.
Qualities: Master (+6) Grandfather, Expert (+4) Patience, Good (+2) City Park Ranger, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence
Poor (-2) Using Technology
Brian Parquetry -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short curly black hair. He is a bit taller than Natalie. He works as a carpenter. Brian belongs to the Parquetry polyfamily with his lover Natalie, with whom he made Elise; the other couple is Rhoda and Gina. Their other children are Nestor, Samirah, and Ian. Brian loves his family, but he's a light sleeper and a busy family makes it challenging for him to get a good night's rest. He is second from the right in the upper row of the picture, wearing a red shirt.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Carpentry, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Communication, Good (+2) Honest
Poor (-2) Light Sleeper
Doris Keach -- She has pale skin, blue eyes, and short white hair that used to be blonde. She is average height. Doris is the wife of Franklin Keach and the mother of Gina Parquetry. She helps take care of the whole Parquetry polyfamily, especially household organization. She is on the far right of the picture in a purple blouse.
Qualities: Master (+6) Grandmother, Expert (+4) Lovingkindness, Good (+2) Administrative Assistant, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Tabletop Games
Poor (-2) Vision
Nestor Parquetry -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He came from Cuba. The rest of his family was murdered because his father had Toughness, so Nestor was adopted by the Parquetry polyfamily. He is five years old. Nestor is on the far left of the lower row of the picture in a multicolor shirt. He does not know much about animals and often gets into trouble with wasp nests or cranky pets as a result. He keeps his personal place meticulously clean, though.
Qualities: Good (+2) Heat Tolerance, Good (+2) Tidy
Poor (-2) Understanding Animals
Gina Parquetry -- She has fair skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair. She is average height. She is the daughter of Franklin and Doris Keach. Gina belongs to the Parquetry polyfamily with her lover Rhoda, and she gave birth to Ian; the other couple is Brian and Natalie. Their other children are Elise, Nestor, and Samirah. Gina is in the lower middle of the picture, wearing an orange blouse. She enjoys performing in musicals, but hates working alone.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Cooperation, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Musicals, Good (+2) Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Working Alone
Ian Parquetry -- He has alabaster skin, silver eyes, and white-blonde hair. He is the son of Gina Parquetry and a sperm donor; he belongs to the Parquetry polyfamily. Ian is three years old. He is second from the right in the lower row of the picture, wearing a white shirt. He already shows an interest in illustration with whatever media come to hand, and he's often more interested in playing with his food than in eating it.
Qualities: Good (+2) Artistic, Good (+2) Cute
Poor (-2) Appetite
Elise Parquetry -- She has fair skin, hazel eyes, and long straight light brown hair. She is the daughter of Brian and Natalie Parquetry. Elise is six years old. She is on the far right of the lower row of the picture in a pink dress. Elise loves computers and relishes programmable toys. Her grandmother Doris shamelessly indulges this hobby. Elise has adequate manual dexerity, but is notably clumsy on a larger scale.
Qualities: Good (+2) Logical-Mathmatical Intelligence, Good (+2) Making Friends, Good (+2) Swimming
Poor (-2) Large Motor Skills
Aubrey the Alabaster (Aubrey Vieuxpont) -- She has fair skin, hazel eyes, and long wavy black hair. She runs a used-book store, The Unicorn's Forest. She is connected with the Parquetry polyfamily, some of whom work in the bookstore.
Origin: While hiding in the library to escape the popular girls at junior high, Aubrey discovered a strange and ancient book. Reading it gave her the power of sorcery.
Uniform: Variable, but always extravagant gowns in shades of off-white, made from dexflan and capery. She typically crowns herself with leaves, flowers, feathers, or jewels.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Intuition, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Friends on the Fringe, Good (+2) Used-Book Seller
Poor (-2) Flaky as a Pastry
Powers: Master (+6) Sorcery
Motivation: Some things must be believed to be seen.
* * *
Title and some inspiration come from "The River" by Steve Savitzky / mdlbear.
Toxic families rarely improve, and it is usually necessary to leave them. Various forms of abuse inspire many teenagers to run away. Know when and how to escape an abusive home. Rhoda's decision was apt.
Child abuse and neglect tend to have lasting effects. Some survivors become runaways, where they experience even more hazards. There are ways to overcome a painful past and to help adult survivors of abuse.
Family of choice appears as an entertainment trope and in real life. Think about forming a family of choice as a support network.
Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and several others. Although people focus on the eating part, these disorders are not entirely about food. Eating disorders often emerge when the person's life is so stifled that she feels like the only thing she can control is her own body. There are various ways of treating such disorders. Because they are maladaptive coping methods, however, among the most effective solutions is simply to get out of the unbearable circumstance. Without the need to cope with intolerable stress, the drive vanishes and all that remains is a persistent bad habit, which can be repaired by exploring a healthier relationship with food and positive interactions with other people. Natalie's casual approach helped Rhoda adapt from her past to her present.
Enjoy some recipes for mixed green salads and fruit salads. Light foods may be more appealing than heavy ones for a stressed eater. Comfort food such as soups and stews is ideal for chilly days, and the smell of baking bread not only creates feelings of security but also stimulates appetite.
Food means love, and weaves itself throughout family life. Cooking and eating together has many benefits. Learn how to practice family meals and intuitive eating.
A few parks in our world have invited artists to paint park benches; in Terramagne it's much more common. There are basic and advanced instructions for bench painting.
Main dishes make good comfort food.
It's important to know yourself and what you want. Here are some ideas for self-awareness and setting goals.
Polyamory and multigenerational families make for big households. It requires expert social skills to manage that many people happily. They don't have a sex fetish; they have a communication fetish. Notice how the different characters here have various skills in this field.
Messy play helps babies and toddlers to learn and grow. Foods such as pudding or pureed fruit make ideal "baby paint."
The tinfoil hat is a classic marker for someone who is a total flake. However, it should be noted that aluminum actually makes a great shield against radio frequencies and electricity. Different materials are good at blocking different things. In Terramagne, superpowers also have different "frequencies" of energy, and aluminum interferes with telepathy. For this reason, helmets and containers of aluminum are sometimes used in handling rogue telepaths. Usually cutting off contact like that counts as sensory deprivation, which is torture and therefore illegal; but not all telepaths are the same, and Zeke keeps insisting that he's not a soup so it's legitimate on him. (Another reason for caution is because sealing a telepath can be like putting a closed pot on a hot stove.) More often it's the guards who wear protective helmets. It's not perfect, but this toolkit works pretty well without actually harming anyone.
Every family has some embarrassing relatives. Know how to deal with them.