Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Power of a Touch"

This poem is spillover from the February 2, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] shiori_makiba, [personal profile] janetmiles, LJ user Paantha, and Anthony Barrette. It also fills the "platonic" square in my 1-23-16 card for the Valentine's Day Bingo fest, the "injury" square in my 1-1-16 card for the Spies, Secret Agents, and Noir fest, and the "nonsexual intimacy" square in my Wordsmith Bingo card. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem includes some intense topics.  Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers.  There are trust issues, emotional angst, physical abuse, other hints of past trauma, delicate interpersonal negotiations, messy medical details, ambivalent feelings about touch, and other challenges.  If these are sensitive matters for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The Power of a Touch"

Turq didn't know, at first,
what made him want
to follow Ansel around.

It was just an urge
that seeped into him
like rain soaking into earth,
and then before you knew it,
you were stuck in the mud.

There was the food, of course,
and the standing offer of shelter;
Turq still couldn't tolerate going
indoors very well, but the gazebo
was relatively comfortable.

More than the material needs,
though, were the moments of contact
when Turq let his guard down.

Just being handled without
being hurt had become unfamiliar
to him, until Ansel revived memories
which prickled and stung like the feeling
of blood returning to a foot that had
fallen asleep underneath him.

The touches were small,
fleeting, and often indirect,
such as touching the blanket
wrapped around him rather
than him personally.

Yet there had been -- twice now --
the terrifying intimacy of Ansel's hands
tenderly picking him up and putting him down.

Turq felt confused. While part of him
screamed not to trust anyone, another part
craved this little comfort, this moment of
far too much to give it up.

So when he came in empty-handed
because it was getting harder for him
to steal things, and Mr. Dipper belted him
into next week and bellowed that if he couldn't
bring in a wooden nickel then he wasn't worth
his food or his flop, it was only natural for
Turq to let his deer-self run for safety, and
that's how he wound up at Ansel's place.

Then Turq had to shift back to human,
because the deer was fast and alert
but so fearful of people that it
was difficult to stand still.

His face hurt -- his whole head hurt --
and after two quick transformations
with not enough focus he was wheezing
around some sort of damage in his chest
because his body fucking hated him.

Ansel was out raking leaves and
spotted him instantly, setting the rake
against the side of the house.

Hastily Turq swallowed the blood
and managed a hoarse, "Hi."

Emotions flickered over Ansel's face,
and Turq was out of practice reading
more than the fact that he was discarding
the first half-dozen things he thought of saying.

"I'm glad to see you again, but I could wish
for better circumstances," Ansel said.
"You look pretty rough today."

Turq curled into himself, desperate
to hide the weakness. "I'm fine," he said.
"I just could use a place to crash tonight."

"Door's always open," Ansel said,
waving a hand at the gazebo,
"but we've got a little something
to take care of first."

"What's that?" Turq asked.

"Your face," Ansel said.
"I saw you shift, I can hear you
wheezing, and if your face looks
this bad after at least one change
then I shudder to think how it started.
I know a healer I could call and --"

"No no no," Turq said, backing away.
It was all he could do to tolerate Ansel;
someone he didn't even know would be
a hundred times worse than this.
"I'll heal. I always do."

"Okay," Ansel said. "In that case, I'll
just point out that we have a house rule
about taking care of injuries. If you won't
let me call a healer, then it's down to one of us.
I've got first aid training, and a kit in the garage."

Turq weighed the risks of letting Ansel
manipulate him against the utter misery
of sleeping rough while injured. "Fine,"
he said, scrunching his shoulders.

"Thank you," Ansel said, and went
to fetch the first aid kit from the garage.

Turq watched him disappear into
the lower level of the little log cabin house,
then retreated to the safety of the gazebo.

A minute later, Ansel reappeared carrying
a big red tool box stamped with the words
First Responder -- First Aid Kit.

"Do you want to do this yourself,
or may I take care of it for you?"
he asked, sitting down on the bench.

Turq hunched even smaller.

His own lessons in first aid were
buried under years of assorted torture,
but neither did he want Ansel fussing over him.

After waiting a minute with no response,
Ansel said, "Let me give this a try, and
if you really can't stand it, well --
like you said, you'll heal."

Turq perked up at the offer
of an exit strategy.
"Okay," he said.

Ansel's hands were gentle
as he cleaned the scrapes with
something that didn't sting.

Turq closed his eyes, and
the tactile pattern woke memories
long dormant, of his foster father Dao
taking care of him after the time he'd
borrowed Benedict's bike without
asking and fallen off and scraped
his face on the pavement.

It was a silent communication,
a way of saying I care about you,
without saying anything aloud.

Strange that a touch so tender
could make Turq want to cry.

Ansel blotted over the bruises
with some bitter-smelling stuff
that made Turq's nose wrinkle.

"Yeah, I know, it stinks but
it works," Ansel said. "Do you
have any other injuries that
I need to know about?"

Turq shook his head.
"Just my face," he said.
Mr. Dipper sure liked
to admire his work.

"We're almost done, then,"
Ansel said. "I'll put the kit up
and get you a couple of packs."

Turq puzzled over that cryptic remark until
Ansel came back with two flannel bean bags,
one of purple flowers and the other covered
in pine trees. "What are those?" he asked.

"The lavender one just came out of
the freezer. Put that on your face
to soothe the swelling," Ansel said.
"The rosemary one I ran through
the microwave, to keep you warm."

Turq pressed the purple bag against
his cheek and tucked the pine one
under his ragged sweatshirt. "Thanks."

Suddenly he felt so exhausted
that he could hardly stay upright.
He found himself listing against
Ansel's sturdy shoulder.

It was easier to touch than
to be touched, and Turq was
tempted to stay there, but
he just didn't dare.

Reluctantly he pulled away.

"You don't have to go,"
Ansel said softly. "I don't
mind you leaning on me if
it makes you feel better."

Turq let himself drift back
to where they were just touching,
but it was so hard to hold himself up.

Before long, he found himself
drooping into Ansel's lap.

"I wonder if your hair is as
sensitive as mine is now,"
Ansel murmured. "The day we
met, it seemed to help you when I
did this." Gentle fingers combed
through Turq's hair. "You can
push me off if you don't like it."

The contact shivered along
Turq's nerves as Ansel's energy
brushed through his own, raising
the funny growl-trill-purr that the caney
made over mixed feelings.

"Is that a good noise or
a bad noise?" Ansel said,
his hand pausing.

Turq rolled his head, trying
to make up his mind, and
the motion bumped against
Ansel's hand, who decided
that was close enough to
an answer and resumed
petting Turq again.

He trembled, torn between
fear and sheer animal pleasure.

"It's getting chilly out here,"
Ansel said. "Let's find your blanket."
He managed to reach the bench door
from where he was sitting and tease out
the blanket to drape over Turq.

The cloth smelled strongly of
the caney's musk-and-violet fragrance,
more weakly of Ansel's strawberry shampoo,
and under that the warm wool itself.

Home-safe-familiar, it said
to his nose, and Turq thought
more with his nose now than he
had before his manifestation.

Ansel tucked the thick heavy wool
a little closer around Turq and then
scratched very softly behind his ears.

It was so easy to underestimate
the power of a touch, a warm shoulder,
a smile, and a sympathetic ear.

These things held Turq far more
than a sandwich or a place to sleep.
He could remember, dimly, a time
when they had been normal, but
that was before ... well, before.

Turq moved drowsily against Ansel,
making a more comfortable pillow
out of the older man's lap.

It seemed strange that so simple
an act of caring could turn him
upside down so completely,
and yet it was happening.

Turq didn't understand why
his nemesis would be so soft
on him, when he was a supervillain
and a thief and so much worse.

But Ansel's hands were warm and gentle,
carding through his hair like a comb,
and Turq didn't have the energy
to worry about it any more.

Sleep tiptoed around him,
circling closer and closer the way
it almost never did now, and Turq

let himself dream this was something he could have.

* * *


Mr. Dipper -- He has fair skin and gray eyes. His short dark hair is rapidly going gray from the chin back; his beard is almost white, the crown of his head gray, and the nape still dark. Also his hairline is receding, so he is almost half bald on top. He is a small man, and not very strong on a physical level. Mr. Dipper lives in a small house in Bluehill. The landscaping looks like it's meant to support wildlife, but it's more designed for visual cover.
Mr. Dipper excels at spotting and exploiting vulnerable people. He runs a gang of disaffected youth, sending them out to steal things for him, but he does not take good care of them in return. He is a lousy provider and an abusive bastard. Always punctual himself, Mr. Dipper does not tolerate lateness from others. This is the gang Turq belongs to, hence why he's leaning more toward Officer Pink now that he has better options.
Origin: His superpower grew in slowly as he spent years learning how to make people do what he wanted.
Uniform: Men's street clothes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Exploiting Vulnerabilities, Good (+2) Punctual, Good (+2) Strategic Thinking, Good (+2) Thief, Good (+2) Tougher Than He Looks,
Poor (-2) Fagin
Powers: Average (0) Persuasion
Motivation: Self-aggrandizement. He is greedy, selfish, and demanding of respect that he does not really deserve.

* * *

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
-- Leo Buscaglia

Trust sustains damage from abuse and other betrayals, which often leave survivors with long-term trust issues. The body language of comfort includes various touch-seeking behaviors, which signal willingness to interact. You can see Turq very slowly readjusting to what it's like to be in a healthy relationship, hence why Ansel's gentle outreach reminds Turq more and more of previous family ties. There are steps for trusting yourself and trusting others after abuse, and ways of building trust between people.

Household rules help keep interactions healthy. Ansel is super serious about "the rules are the rules for everyone," not privileging some people over others. There are tips on creating household rules for children and adults. Browse some lists of general and safety rules. Ansel's house has posters of two popular lists; see his "We Do" and "If It ..." posters.

Ansel has a toolbox-style first aid kit with trays to organize a large number of supplies, because it's fully stocked to first responder standards. T-American first aid kits often have a title stamped on them like that to let people know what kind of supplies are in the kit and that the owner knows first aid at the stated level.

Caring touch is necessary for people's health and has many benefits. Here are some wordless ways to communicate affection.

Therapy pads use various fillers and scents to soothe minor complaints. You can buy them; this style has long sections. You can make your own; here are instructions for pads with short sections or one whole bag. Larger pads are usually divided to distribute the filling. Here is a neck wrap in flowered cloth that is scented with lavender. Here is an aromatherapy wrap in forested cloth that is scented with rosemary.

Touch deprivation hurts people. They crave touch, especially when injured or upset. Turq actually has a help-seeking function, it's just buried under years of abuse. Understand how to comfort an upset friend.

Touching someone's hair is among the most intimate acts and can give great pleasure. Learn how to give a great scalp massage.

The violet gland appears on many canids about a third of the way down the tail. Turq has a well-developed one in caney form, and the scent carries over somewhat into other forms. His scent is more floral and less stinky than most canids, with notes of violet, lilac, and lavender. In aromatherapy, violet is soothing, analgesic, uplifting, and head-clearing. Lilac is relaxing to the point of sedative. Lavender is calming, reviving, and analgesic; it also aids skin care by healing minor complaints and repelling pests. Lavender underlies the fougere category of fragrances and has strong masculine connotations despite its conspicuous floral top notes. Put all that together and Turq has a notable scent which is flowery, woodsy, and ideal for buffering emotions toward a healthy neutral range.

Scent and memory are closely linked. Certain scents make people feel happy and relaxed, but any scent associated with positive experiences tends to wind up in that category on a more individual basis, like Turq responding to Ansel's personal scent and the wool. Psychological safety is a crucial factor in healing from abuse, and familiar scents can help a lot with that process.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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