WARNING: Although the overall tone is compassionate, this is pretty intense hurt/comfort with plenty of angst. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. Ansel keeps trying to help Turq, who is being a real pain in the tail. Turq has a lot of past damage, so he is not yet ready to accept the amount of help that he really needs. The result is a whole lot of come-here-go-away during which Turq runs around being miserable and skittish, while Ansel grits his teeth and tries to restrain himself to actions that would actually help. There are graphic descriptions of homelessness, poverty, neglect, negative coping skills, theft and other petty crimes, reference to gang activity, PDSD symptoms, awkward bargaining, cowering, emotional whump, and further challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"No Matter How Annoying"
Ansel went back to work, but
found that Turq kept popping up
here and there when least expected.
At first it was nothing more than
the occasional glimpse of a turquoise deer
between the trees of a park.
Other times Ansel would see a tuft of
blue hair disappearing into a crowd.
The canid was a bit bolder, and
that's where the trouble started,
a flash of azure and then jaws
closing over Ansel's lunch.
Or his thermos.
Or his jacket that he'd
taken off as the day warmed.
Or anything else remotely useful
that he set down for a few seconds.
As Ansel watched his newspaper vanish
around a corner, its pages flapping
like captive wings in Turq's mouth,
he reminded himself firmly, My job
is to protect and serve the citizens,
no matter how annoying.
Back at the police station, Ansel
spoke with Chief Edwin De Soto.
"That boy is driving me up a wall,"
he grumbled. "I've tried asking him
not to steal things, but it's like
he's laughing at me."
"Perhaps he is," Chief De Soto said.
"He keeps taking my stuff.
He's always just out of arm's reach,"
Ansel said, waving his hands.
Chief De Soto listened politely
to Ansel's complaints, then patted him
on the shoulder and said, "I trust
you to find a good solution."
Ansel put some thought into it,
using what he had learned
in his recent classes about
coping with supervillains.
He knew that yelling at or chasing
Turq would be worse than useless.
Ansel hated the idea of drawing
a hard line because he understood
how awful Turq's past had been,
and clearly the present had
not improved very much.
Sometimes he saw Turq
begging on street corners
or huddled into a doorway,
cup in hand, rattling with coins.
As soon as Ansel approached,
though, Turq scurried away.
The one time Ansel almost caught
Turq stealing from someone else, it
ended abruptly when Turq spooked
away from the hot dog cart without
actually touching a thing.
It was three days before Ansel
saw him again, and even that
was just the canid whizzing on
the left front wheel of his car.
Several more days passed
before Turq reappeared in
human form with his cup out.
I worry about him, despite how
aggravating that boy can get,
Ansel mused, watching from afar.
The time Ansel saw him
shivering in the rain,
t-shirt stuck to his skin
so that his ribs showed,
it was simple enough
to leave the umbrella
leaning against the car,
but Turq never took it.
The obvious signs of neglect
bothered Ansel, because he was
pretty sure that Turq had taken up with
some of the other crooks in the area, and
they weren't looking after each other
any too good, if that's an example.
Ansel wondered how much Turq
was collecting when he put out his cup --
probably not a lot, because more skillful beggars
tended to sing or dance or recite poetry, anything
to attract attention and separate their audience
from a few extra coins or dollar bills.
By contrast, Turq tended to hide,
only calling out when people came
very close, and he was so thin
that he was easy to overlook.
He wasn't a very good panhandler.
It made Ansel all the more determined
to track down and haul in whatever sorry excuse
for a gang was trying to form up in Bluehill,
because apparently they were a bunch of
selfish incompetent cowards who couldn't
even manage to keep each other fed.
They're lying low, though, and that makes it
difficult to get any leads, Ansel thought.
Finally it occurred to him that Turq wasn't
all that old and neither of them had a clear idea
of how long he'd spent in a mad science dungeon.
So maybe Turq hadn't ever gotten a chance
to take summer jobs and build skills and
discover how to support himself.
He could be scraping by on theft and
begging for lack of any other options.
The next time Ansel stopped for lunch
at Smokey's Treehouse, he added
a special request after his own order.
"Can I get a separate bowl of trimmings?
As much fat as you can find, and bits of meat?"
he asked as he pulled out his wallet.
"Sure, no problem," said the chef.
"Trying to tame a stray?"
"Something like that," Ansel said.
A few minutes later, he had his sandwich and
the biggest paper bowl that Smokey's carried
full of shredded beef and barbecue sauce.
Ansel found himself a picnic table,
even though the weather was
a bit brisk for it today, and
opened the cartons so that
the breeze could carry
the scent of the food.
He kept an arm around it, though.
I know you're out there,
Ansel thought. Come and get it.
Before long, a wisp of blue
appeared behind the bushes.
Turq started to make his customary dash --
and then skidded to a stop when he realized
that the food was not in easy reach.
"You can have this," Ansel said,
"but you have to come take it nicely,
with permission, instead of stealing it."
Turq whined, and crouched, and
crept in a circle around the picnic table.
It took a whole ten minutes for him
to slink close enough to sit at Ansel's feet
and cast a pleading look at the bowl.
"Good job," Ansel said. "Do you
want this on the table or on the ground?"
Turq's ears, pressed nearly flat against
his head, perked at the latter phrase.
Ansel set the bowl down.
Instead of eating, Turq grabbed the rim
of it in his jaws and dashed away.
Oh well, at least he's fed, and NOT
from a theft for once, Ansel thought.
After that, Turq was skittish for days --
well, more skittish than usual --
staying well out of reach.
"I bet you're mad at me," Ansel said to
the canid hiding between two garbage cans.
"You've been taking what you needed, and
I mostly let you, but then I asked you to do
something different. Or maybe it scared you
because you didn't know what I'd ask next."
A cranky noise echoed from
the cans, more whine than growl.
"Well, I'm not going to ask you to do
anything awful, I just wanted to point out
that you've got other options besides
stealing now," said Ansel. "What you
do with that information is up to you."
What Turq did at first was keep on hiding,
but he showed himself more often
and drifted gradually closer.
An early cold snap rolled in, and
Ansel left the station to find that
the morning's drizzle had turned
into a light frosting of snow.
He thumped on the hood of his car
to shoo away the squirrels that liked
to play under there -- and the canid
bolted away in a streak of blue.
It was half-soaked, with clots
of ice clinging to the long azure coat.
The paws skidded over icy pavement,
not making much progress even
with the claws extended.
"Hey Turq, wait a minute!"
Ansel called, keeping his voice low
to avoid attracting attention, instead
relying on Turq's keen hearing
to pick up the sound.
The canid stopped, sniffing
the air in search of food.
"Sorry, I don't have anything to eat
right now," Ansel said. "Let me get
a blanket to dry you off. That wet coat
can't be very comfortable for you."
He opened the trunk, carefully
keeping his back turned while
he lifted out a gray wool blanket
striped with red and stamped
with a crisp white cross.
When Ansel turned around,
he found Turq huddled at his feet,
hunched so tightly that ears and tail
disappeared into the thick fur.
The canid's breath steamed
in quick, shallow pants.
He's terrified, Ansel realized,
heartsick at the posture. He thinks
I'm going to kick him, or worse --
and he's probably heard things
like 'I'm not going to hurt you'
in all the wrong contexts.
"Do you want me to help
dry you, or would you rather
do it yourself?" Ansel asked
as he unrolled the blanket.
Turq straightened up
ever so slightly, and his ears
tilted more back than down now.
"Is that a maybe?" Ansel said.
Turq glanced up at Ansel, then
quickly looked away again,
his tongue licking out.
"How about I hold the blanket
for you to rub against?" Ansel said.
Turq's tail relaxed enough
to wag just the tip of it.
He may not actually trust me,
but at least he's willing
to tolerate me a little,
Ansel said to himself.
He reached out with the blanket,
letting Turq wallow against it.
After a few moments, Turq
lifted one leg to paw at it.
"Could I help you get some
of this ice off?" Ansel asked.
Turq leaned against him,
separated only by the blanket.
Careful to maintain that barrier,
Ansel rubbed gently, trying to remove
as much of the ice and slush as possible.
This close, he could feel the wracking shivers
and how painfully thin Turq was under
the fluffy blue coat of fur.
While Ansel was drying the far side --
which would make it harder for Turq
to squirm away quickly -- Ansel said,
"I hate to bust up this party, but we are
still in the parking lot of the police station.
Might could be we'd want to move this
somewhere a little more private."
Turq whimpered, trembling
against Ansel's shins.
"I know, you can't stand walls.
I have a gazebo," Ansel said.
"I could roll down the car windows
and give you a ride to my place.
It wouldn't be so bad."
Moving slowly, Ansel reached out
and popped the back door open.
"It's your choice," he said.
Turq sniffed at the door,
lifted a paw, and then pulled back.
He looked over his shoulder
at Ansel, licking his nose.
It's like he can't believe
I really mean it, Ansel realized.
I am SO not happy with his boss.
And I hope this doesn't get me bit.
Gently Ansel scooped up Turq
and set him on the back seat.
The canid weighed almost nothing.
"Want your blanket?" Ansel asked
after Turq huddled on the seat
instead of diving back out.
Turq reached out and grabbed
the nearest corner in his teeth.
When Ansel let go, Turq tugged
the blanket inside, wrapping it
around himself so completely
that only his nose showed.
There's no way to fasten him in,
even if he'd tolerate a safety belt,
Ansel thought. It's a risk, but it's
better than leaving him here.
"The back windows only roll down
halfway," he said aloud. "Please, please
do not jump out of this car while it's moving.
If you need to get out, bark or something.
I'm closing the door now, okay?"
Ansel closed the door, and Turq
didn't freak, so apparently it was okay.
The ride home was nerve-wracking anyway.
Ansel kept waiting for Turq to sit up and
poke his head out the window, the way
dogs loved to do, but he never budged.
Breaks my heart to see him
all balled up like that, Ansel thought.
As soon as the car stopped,
Turq scrambled over the front seat
and out the open window.
Ansel didn't push him, just started
walking toward the gazebo which
stood beside his log-cabin house.
He'd bought the place cheap when
a retreat center had closed down
and sold off all its cabins and such;
the house had the gazebo as picnic space,
complete with removable table inside it.
The open structure used the same log style
as the house, with built-in bench cabinets that
could be accessed through seats or doors.
Ansel opened the cabinet doors
to show the cozy space inside, then left
the blanket on a dry patch of floor.
Snow had blown in a few places,
but the roof and low walls would provide
some shelter even if Turq could not
tolerate curling up under a bench.
"Here you go," Ansel said.
"You can stay here if you want
to get out of the wind and wet a little."
There was no sign of Turq.
Ansel sighed. "Okay, I'm going indoors.
I'll come back later with supper."
Upstairs, he threw together
a pot of weeknight chili with
ground beef, black beans,
kidney beans, and tomatoes.
Half an hour later, Ansel went
back outside with a bowl of chili,
uncertain whether he'd find the canid
or a man or an empty gazebo.
At first he thought it was abandoned.
Well, I tried, Ansel said to himself.
Then he spied a corner of gray wool
sticking out from the cabinet door,
and the tip of Turq's muzzle atop it.
"I'm just going to set this on the floor,
and you can move it where you want it,"
Ansel said as he put down the bowl.
The muzzle retreated into the cabinet,
but Ansel could see it twitching.
"I hope you like chili," he said.
Ansel hated going back to
his warm, dry, safe house and
leaving Turq outside with just
the cold, damp, wide-open gazebo.
Ansel understood, though, that he and Turq
didn't have quite the same idea of "safe."
At least this was an improvement over the street.
* * *
"When we're dealing with the people in our family -- no matter how annoying or gross they may be, no matter how self-inflicted their suffering may appear, no matter how afflicted they are with ignorance, prejudice or nose hairs -- we give from the deepest parts of ourselves."
-- Anne Lamott
The traits of annoying people and abuse survivors overlap a lot. Turq isn't irritating on purpose, just using inconvenient methods to meet his needs. Know how to deal with annoying people and be patient with them.
Homeless youth often come from a troubled background and tend to fall through the cracks. They struggle to meet basic survival needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. There are social, community, and individual practices that can reduce homelessness.
Hunger is a particular problem for homeless youth. This is all the worse for people with superpowers, who often have higher need for calories and sometimes for specific nutrients.
Panhandling and related activities are common among homeless people. Local-America has been increasing pressure on homeless populations, but some places have established the right to beg. Terramagne-America has a pretty robust precedent that you can't criminalize an activity when no legal alternative is accessible. There are tips on how to help panhandlers and how to panhandle.
The general strain of surviving on the street often drives people to criminal activity such as theft. The most effective ways to prevent or stop this involve reconnecting homeless youth with society and legal resources for survival. Fortunately Ansel is more concerned about connecting with Turq as a long-term solution, than about fussing over petty crimes which are aggravating rather than dangerous.
Relationships are crucial to helping homeless youth because so many of them have difficulty connecting with other people. Absence of a loving family drives many adolescents into gangs in search of belonging. While some gangs are constructive, many resemble dysfunctional families. There are ways to connect with vulnerable youth.
Attachment influences how people interact. Turq shows a mix of traits that would be considered avoidant or ambivalent in children, dismissive or preoccupied in adults. He feels anxious most of the time, needs people but is afraid to approach them, and often gets confused by emotions and interactions. However, he lacks the outright indifference or hostility of the more entrenched attachment disorders. If you look closely you can just see hints of secure attachment, because Turq has also enjoyed some healthy family relationships in the past. It's just buried under layers of abuse, and taking time to surface. Understand how to help someone with attachment issues or change your attachment style.
Abused dogs show similar symptoms of fear and depression compared to human survivors. It takes extra work to care for shy, skittish dogs who have a difficult past. Some socialization techniques can help, such as building positive associations with people, especially before making any demands.
T-America often distributes emergency blankets which are mass-produced with either a red cross or a red band with a white cross. Ansel likes the wool ones because they stay warm even if wet.
Canine body language has complex indicators for stress/anxiety and for active submission. Dogs and wolves share most of the same signals, while foxes are a little different.
Turq is "mouthy" in the dog or horse sense, meaning he licks and chews things a lot. This is also a symbol of submission. Here's an example in horsemanship.
Asking for help can be difficult, especially if past experiences with it have proven negative. Know how to comfort and assist a friend in crisis, even if they can't ask for exactly what they need.
Ansel lives in a concise one-bedroom log cabin house that was originally built as a resort cabin. See the exterior, garage floor, living floor, and loft.
Ansel's version resembles this gazebo, but it has built-in storage benches where the seats lift or doors open to access the cabinets underneath.
Comfort food provides warmth, nostalgia, and nutrition. This can be healthy instead of junk, and in fact, the use of excellent ingredients can result in a tastier experience. Here is a quick, easy recipe for Weeknight Chili.
Helpiness is the kind of action that purports to help but actually makes matters worse. This drives people away from seeking help. Real help means listening to people and doing what they really need, not just what you want to do. Sometimes it even requires holding back and only giving the amount and kind of help that someone can accept, because they're not ready for more even if their needs exceed their tolerance, but this is a crucial part of helping someone who avoids help. You can see Ansel not only feeling out boundaries for what Turq can and can't tolerate right now, but also struggling to control his own instincts so that he doesn't apply too much pressure.</user>