Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. There are difficult conversations, feelings of anxiety and abandonment, other emotional angst, delicate issues of etiquette and privacy and boundaries, more ugly details about Turq's past imprisonment and torture, triggers, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and other stressful stuff. But the ending is hopeful, and overall, this scene shows good progress for Turq. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Different in the Way We Perceive the World"
Ansel stepped outside,
the bright sunlight of
the autumn morning
stabbing into eyes that
felt lined with sandpaper.
He'd only gotten a few hours
of sleep before an emergency
had dragged him in to work in
the middle of the night, and all
he wanted now was to go home
and crash like his boss had said.
The cat purring limply over his arm
made Ansel feel even sleepier.
But he had something else to do first.
Looking through the playground
across from the police station, Ansel
found nothing, but that didn't mean
that there was nothing to find.
"Turq? I know you're there,"
Ansel said softly. "Come on out,
please. We need to talk."
A low whine sounded from under
a nearby bush, and the caney
crawled out into the sunlight.
"Good morning," said Ansel.
"How about you switch,
so we can both talk."
The caney looked away,
whining, but inched closer.
"Not yet, huh?" Ansel guessed.
With a sigh, he sat down on
one of the short, thick posts
used for jumping games.
Hurrr, Boots rumbled.
The tortoiseshell cat flowed
out of Ansel's grasp and thumped
onto the ground, leash trailing behind
as he approached the caney.
Turq squeaked in surprise and
flinched back, but did not flee.
Boots paced toward him with
stately grace, his stubby ears
flicking a little in concern.
He really was a very good therapy cat.
Turq flattened himself on the ground,
but he was watching Ansel more than Boots.
"It's okay, Boots is safe," said Ansel.
"You can shoo him away if you
don't want to make a new friend."
Boots arched his whiskers and
sniffed delicately at Turq's nose.
Boots flopped onto his side
next to the caney and began to purr.
"Told you he's friendly," Ansel said.
He lowered himself onto the ground
and stretched out his legs, which
put him within reach of the caney.
Turq crept forward until he was
stretched out alongside Ansel,
then put his chin on Ansel's knee
and gave a blustery sigh. Boots
followed along and curled up
beside the two of them.
"Sounds like you missed me
or something," said Ansel.
Turq lifted his head enough
to give a distinct nod.
"Lonely?" Ansel wondered
as he moved a hand to scratch
the soft blue fur behind Turq's ears.
"Scared?" Ansel said,
lowering his voice further.
Turq nodded again.
"Okay," Ansel said. "I'm here
now, and everyone is safe."
Turq rolled away for just long enough
to shift into human form, then lay down
in exactly the same position. "The car
woke me up," he said. "I waited for you
to come back, but you didn't, so I ...
got kind of worried. I knew you'd
probably be here and I went looking."
"I got called in to work," Ansel said.
"Emergencies worth waking me up
in the middle of the night usually
take a while to deal with."
"I guess," Turq said, snuggling
even closer to Ansel's leg.
Boots yawned, stretched, and
burrowed into the caney's side.
"You and me both, brother,"
Ansel said, yawning too.
"Are you okay?" Turq asked.
Ansel waffled a hand in the air.
"Close enough," he said. "I'm tired,
and my boss let me off for the day
so I can catch up on lost sleep.
But I didn't want to let this wait."
"I'm sorry I bothered you,"
Turq whispered, scrunching
his shoulders as if to hide.
"I'm not upset," Ansel said.
"We do need to talk, though.
How much did you overhear?"
"Somebody got kidnapped, and
the bad guys are after soups,"
Turq said. "I don't ... it's easy
to hear, but harder to understand
or remember things when I'm not
in human form. I just think
differently then than now."
"Okay," said Ansel. "How do
you feel about what you did?"
"More scared," Turq said,
trembling against Ansel.
"Those guys ... do you think
that they're the same ones
who took me before?"
"Probably not, but it's hard
to know for sure," Ansel said.
"Do you remember anything
about when you were taken?"
"Not much," Turq said. "It
was late at night, and I had
these awful foster parents who
liked to wake me up just to see
if I was still in my room. One time
they brought in these other guys --
I think they must have drugged me
or something. I don't remember
being moved, just waking up in
a locked cell somewhere else."
"That's a pretty rough story," Ansel said,
running his fingers through Turq's soft blue hair.
"How would you feel if somebody overheard it?"
"I'd rather not," Turq said. "It's hard enough
just talking about it with you, and you
already know a lot of this stuff."
"Then you can understand why it might
upset someone if you eavesdropped on
the kind of conversations that sometimes
happen here," Ansel said gently. "Do you
remember me telling you that we use
this park to talk with crime victims?"
"Yeah," Turq said in a low voice.
"I didn't mean to be bad, it's just ..."
"You were scared," Ansel said.
"That's okay. It happens. I don't
even mind you tracking me down --"
"I didn't mean it like that," Turq said.
"I'm not a perv or a stalker!"
"I know you're not," Ansel said.
"You followed me because you got
worried. This is actually a good place
for you to wait for me, if you need to.
All I ask is that if you see the police
come out here for work, not play,
then you back off out of earshot
to respect people's privacy."
"I can try," Turq said.
He was still shaking.
Boots chose that moment
to roll onto his back, showing
the ragged white streak down
his black-and-orange belly and
waving his white paws in the air.
Turq reached for him, then hesitated,
one hand hovering over the cat.
"Can I pet him?" Turq said.
"Go ahead," Ansel said.
"Boots is a therapy cat.
He loves affection."
Tentatively Turq stroked
the furry belly, and then when
Boots butted his hand, switched
to petting the cat's head.
"Oh! He does have ears,"
Turq said in surprise.
"You found them," Ansel said,
grinning. "They're scrunched down
like that because he's part Scottish Fold.
They make excellent therapy cats."
"He makes me feel quieter inside,"
Turq said, "but like it's easier to talk
about the hard things with him here."
"That's his job," Ansel agreed.
"Do you think ..." Turq's voice
trailed off, and he dug his fingers
into the cat's coat. "... that they
might come after us?"
"It's possible," Ansel said solemnly.
"You take extra care, especially if
you're sleeping rough. Tell me
if you see any skeevy people
around, or you think someone
might be following you."
"Okay," Turq said. "I'll be careful."
Ansel gave a jaw-cracking yawn.
"That's the short list, then,"
he said. "Let's go home."
A twitch of the leash brought
Boots to his feet, ambling
alongside the two of them
as the headed to the car.
"How did you get a cat
to walk on a leash like that?"
Turq wondered, staring.
"Put it on him and let him
drag it around for a while,
then picked up the end,"
Ansel said. "I share Boots
with his other handlers, but
I helped to train him."
"Smooth," said Turq.
When they got to the car,
Ansel opened the door and said,
"Boots, hop in your carrier."
The tortoiseshell cat jumped into
the sturdy canvas-and-mesh carrier
that was buckled into the front seat.
Ansel climbed into the driver's seat
as Turq got in behind him. "Turq,
fasten your seatbelt, please."
Turq was out of the car and across
the parking lot before Ansel even
finished saying the word "seatbelt."
With a sigh, Ansel zipped Boots
into the carrier and went to find Turq.
The young man was braced against
a tree trunk, shaking so hard that
he could scarcely stand up.
When he heard Ansel approaching,
Turq jerked his head up and said,
"I can't. I just -- the last time that
somebody strapped me down,
this happened." He pushed up
his sleeve to show long, thin lines
of scar tissue running up his arm.
"Striationary marks," Ansel murmured.
"I thought I saw those on you before."
"Yeah," Turq said. "So no straps, because
I get hurt, and -- sometimes other people, too."
"Okay," Ansel said, spreading his hands.
"I'm sorry for upsetting you like that."
Turq shrugged. "Sorry I'm so fucked up.
You shouldn't have to deal with it.
You're busy with important stuff."
Every snap of twig and flutter of leaf
made Turq flinch, his senses so high-strung
that he could not distinguish danger
from ordinary sights and sounds.
"Turq, you're important too," Ansel said.
"It is not your fault that you're shaken up
after all the stuff that has happened to you.
So I need to remember that you and I are
different in the way we perceive the world,
and use that understanding as a guide
for our communication, to avoid
misunderstandings like this."
Turq pulled his sleeve back down.
"It's fine," he said, looking away.
"I can walk back. Or wherever."
Ansel winced. He hadn't meant
to make Turq feel so unwelcome,
let alone unsafe. The boy had been
doing so well, it hurt to see how fast
and how far he could backslide.
It was difficult to imagine a future
when Turq was so mired in the past,
but it was Ansel's job to help him.
"Can you shift now?" Ansel asked.
"It would be safer for you to ride
curled up on the floor than
sitting loose in a seat."
"Roll down the windows?"
Turq bargained, looking aside.
"I'll roll down the windows,"
Ansel said. He held out a hand.
Turq sidled past him without
touching, but returned to the car.
When Ansel opened the door,
Turq shifted into caney form
and climbed into the back.
Then he turned around once
and lay down on the floor.
Ansel rolled down the windows
as promised, even though it was
chilly since he didn't have fur
like his two passengers.
If that's what it took to make Turq
feel safe again, Ansel could
deal with a little cold air.
* * *
"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others."
-- Tony Robbins
The playground across from the police station has a climbing frame, tree fort, and nature play area. Although it includes fun places to hide, the area is quite well lit and the lighting is controlled from the police station. Usually the nighttime lighting is moderate, but it can be turned up brighter for play or security. There are fountains with colorful lights alongside the parking lot.
A white pine hedge separates the playground from the plaza. Many of the other hedges in this development are also white pine, trimmed to various heights, and there are some larger evergreens as well. Solar-powered "mushroom" lights along the hedges provide security lighting.
The parklet contains several bushes, some of which have hidey holes underneath them to attract children and wildlife. The larger dens like this one have a single "mushroom" light inside, each in a different color.
The area marked "play" has a wooden climbing frame similar to this one, with a slide and several swings. However, the base is covered in wood chips rather than grass. There are lights under each of the towers.
The cluster of trees in the playground hides a tree fort. A ground-level playhouse lies under the first flight of stairs. The deck above the playhouse leads to more stairs and a board bridge to the tree fort and its deck. From that level, a ladder goes up to the crow's nest. There are lights in the playhouse, under and inside the tree fort, and under the crow's nest.
Alongside the tree fort is the nature play area. It includes stationary fixtures such as a large hollow log, stumps, and a log table with chair. Beside the hollow log you can see several of the low, wide stepping stumps. There are also plenty of small logs and log slices that children can move around to build temporary structures.
These are some of the taller, narrower stepping stumps intended for older children. Behind them you can also see a narrow balancing log.
A variety of log benches provide seating around the playground.
Low wooden bridges connect the different sectors of the playground.
Difficult conversations require competent communication skills. Here are some tips for handling them well. Notice that Ansel tries to draw out Turq's thoughts and feelings instead of just scolding him, as a more effective way of convincing him that there are valid concerns to consider.
Tortoiseshell cats are almost always female, but in rare cases can be male like Boots.
The Scottish Fold is a distinctive breed of cat whose calm, sweet personality and high intelligence make them excellent therapy cats. Boots came from Jung Kitties, a cattery that is using parents from several different breeds in hopes of creating a new breed better suited as assistance animals. The goal is to produce cats that are consistently smart, affectionate, and unflappable.
Talking about feelings is an important life skill. People may find it difficult for many reasons. Men and boys often consider it a waste of time. Ansel actually doesn't have that problem, and it's not innate for Turq either although he's picked up some nasty baggage that interferes with pretty much all of his people skills. So if you watch how gently Ansel handles the topic of emotions, you can see why he's good at doing it himself and teaching other people.
Overhearing and eavesdropping happen when someone observes another person's conversation, accidentally or on purpose. This can have positive or negative results. In this case, Turq didn't intend to listen in, he only meant to wait for Ansel; but now that he's been warned, doing it again would be rude. Teaching children about this involves helping them understand that privacy is a good thing and an important part of healthy relationships. Turq's awareness of boundaries got seriously mangled by some of his experiences in foster care and then the torture. But with a little coaching, he is able to make the connection between not wanting the whole world to know what happened to him and other people feeling the same about their own sensitive issues.
Cats can learn to walk on a leash. Boots uses this style of nylon ribbon harness. I used this style of figure-8 round cord, which loops through a simple buckle on the back, and is also marketed for ferrets, bunnies, lizards, and other small pets.
Boots uses a zipper bag similar to this, which works as a booster, car seat, and carrier.
Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder can result from lengthy imprisonment or other torture. It is similar to PTSD caused by a single incident, but can prove more difficult to heal due to past experiences feeling safe only to wind up in danger again. There are ways to help someone with PTSD.
Triggers are objects or events which raise stressful memories. Turq has a lot of triggers relating to kidnapping and mad science torture, not to mention some others from abuse and neglect. Know how to cope with triggers. Flashbacks are unpleasant memories that recur after trauma. Understand how to get through a flashback of your own or help a friend through a flashback.
Striationary marks are characteristic injuries left when a speedster, or certain types of teleporter, pulls away from restraint. It leaves long wounds, ranging from scrapes to deep lacerations, sometimes with joint injury such as sprains or dislocations, and some people have managed to tear off a limb that way. Medics and police staff have learned to look for them as signs that someone was forcibly (and not very competently) restrained. That fact that traumatized people in general, and some types of soups in particular, tend to panic under constraint is one reason why Terramagne authorities prefer to minimize the use of restraints or other confinement; it's too hard to do without causing additional damage in some cases. There have also been examples of striationary marks on an officer who made the mistake of handcuffing himself to a captive. So that technique is outright banned, except in cases where both parties are willing; it's a safety technique that emergency workers use occasionally, but that's with a soft medical type of hand-harness which is much safer for everyone.
Hypervigilance is another symptom of post-traumatic stress, in which the senses and alertness stay on high alert most or all of the time. It's also common in abused or neglected children. This is exhausting and miserable. There are ways to cope with hypervigilance, and in time it can be adapted into a healthier type of situational awareness. Turq is at the stage where he's often anxious, and triggers catapult him into hypervigilance, but he actually can relax under limited circumstances.
Being safe and feeling safe are not exactly the same things. I made a safety tracker for people whose experiences have impaired their ability to gauge this easily. There are ways to help someone feel safe. Ansel has put an enormous amount of work into helping Turq be and feel safer, and it's working, it just takes time because the damage is so deep. This workbook on overcoming trauma has a whole chapter on safety.