Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Safe Refuge from the World"

This poem came out of the May 2016 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by the "refuge" square in my 5-1-16 card for the Solo Celebration Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, immediately following "Through Weakness and Vulnerability."

Warning: This poem deals with the morning after an intense upheaval, so there is some angst. It's mostly comfort, though.

"A Safe Refuge from the World"

Turq woke in his den beneath
the gazebo bench, feeling better
than the day before but still
not completely recovered.

He had blurry memories of Ansel
half-carrying him there after he had
gotten too twitchy about being indoors,
despite his body being so exhausted
that he'd almost fallen asleep on
the couch, anxiety notwithstanding.

Turq crawled out of the warm dark refuge,
relieved himself at the edge of the lawn,
then shifted into human form and
returned to the gazebo.

The air was cold but clear,
only a few clouds scudding by.

Ravenous, Turq munched his way
through several hoarded energy bars
and debated whether begging, stealing,
or hunting would feed him the fastest.

Even his human ears could hear
the faint crinkle of footsteps approaching
across the heavily frosted grass.

"Turq! I'm so glad to see you here,"
said Ansel, his voice warm and bright
with surprise. "How are you today?"

"Tired, a little sore, but mostly okay,"
Turq said, rolling his shoulders.

His stomach growled, and he
wondered how long it would take
for him to shake Ansel so that
he could go find some food.

"Would you like to join me for
breakfast?" Ansel invited.
"Oatmeal's almost done."

Turq's mouth watered.
"Yes, please," he said,
too hungry for pride.

"What kinds of things do you
like in yours?" Ansel asked.

"I eat whatever's on the table,"
Turq said with a shrug. "Sugar's nice,
when I can get it, or fruit."

"I have brown sugar, white sugar,
maple syrup --" Ansel said.

"Ooo!" Turq said. He hadn't
had maple syrup in so long ...

"I'll bring it down as soon as
the timer beeps," Ansel said,
waving the vidwatch on his wrist.
"Meanwhile, start on this." He
handed Turq a Tanka Bar.

"Thanks," Turq said, and ate it
as fast as he could without choking.

"Listen, about yesterday ..."
Ansel began hesitantly.

So they were talking about that.
"Uh huh," Turq said noncommittally.

"We should probably talk over
a few things," Ansel said,
an odd note in his tone.

Turq didn't like the idea, but
he couldn't argue with the need.
"Guess we'd better," he said.

The alarm beeped, then, and
Ansel went back to the house.

When he returned, he carried
not one but two big bowls of oatmeal
on a tray with maple syrup, cream,
butter, nuts and cranberries plus
a couple glasses of something
that looked like milkshakes.

Turq stared.

"Why are you bringing all that
down here?" he wondered.

"No point leaving you to eat
alone," Ansel said as he set
the tray down on a bench.

Turq hung onto his manners
by his fingernails to resist
snatching the food.

As soon as Ansel handed it
to him, Turq dug into it,
and oh, it was delicious.

The oatmeal was hot and creamy,
even better when Turq remembered
to stop and dress it with maple syrup,
butter, nuts, and dried cranberries.

The breakfast beverage turned out
to be some coconut-cream concoction
that tasted like summer vacation and
finally started filling the bottomless pit.

"Thanks," Turq said, "for everything."

"You're welcome," Ansel said.
"How do you feel about yesterday?"

Turq's feelings turned into a jumble
as mixed-up as his bowl of oatmeal.
Poking through them, he counted off,
"Confused. A little scared, still.
Relieved it didn't go worse."

"You're not angry with me?"
Ansel asked, tilting his head.

Turq frowned. "Why would I be angry?"

"Because I made some choices for you,"
Ansel said. He looked down, then back up.
"They might not be ones that you like."

"You did what you had to," Turq said,
taking another bite of breakfast.

Ansel flinched.

Turq suddenly realized that Ansel
was afraid of something, but
Turq had no idea what.

Mentally backtracking, he
thought about Ansel's response
to finding him this morning, and
now the reference to anger.

"It's like you said, if I come here when
I'm hurt, then it's like asking for your help
even if I don't say it out loud," Turq explained.

"I'm glad you agree with that," Ansel said.

"Yeah, yesterday was scary and awful, and
some of it hurt, but not because of anything you
did wrong," Turq said. "You didn't do anything
mean or harmful to me. You made it suck less,
as much as anyone could have. From what
Ethan said, you probably saved my mind then,
if not my life. So I'm really glad you were here."

"Oh, thank god," Ansel said,
his whole body going limp with relief.
"I was so worried that I had made
the wrong calls, that you'd leave --
you can, you know, if I cross lines
and you -- can't forgive me."

The halting progress of Ansel's voice
finally gave Turq the clue he needed.

"Did someone else do that?" Turq asked.
"Bail on you because they didn't like
something that you did?"

Ansel nodded, his whole face curving
downward, eyebrows and eyes
and the corners of his mouth.

"I've lost more than a few friends
that way," he said. "Started in high school,
then my roommate and some other folks
in college. It kind of adds up."

"I didn't know you went to college,"
Turq said. His spoon clinked against
the bottom of the bowl. "I thought there
was a police school or something."

"Police academy," Ansel said, tracing
patterns in his oatmeal. "I really wanted
more academic background. Bouchet College
doesn't have anything like a pre-police track, but
when I told them what I wanted, they helped me
make a customized major to support it. So
I took self-defense classes, a little law,
a lot of psychology, mediation,
and all kinds of other stuff."

"It sounds good," Turq said.
He hadn't even gotten a chance
to finish high school.

"I also served as a party monitor,
which was great for my experience
but not for my social life," Ansel said.
"So I got used to people blaming me
for enforcing the campus rules."

Turq pushed down a sudden urge
to look up some of Ansel's 'friends' and
assist their wallets into the nearest dumpster.

"Is that why you've been so careful
with me?" Turq asked, chasing down
the last few cranberries with his spoon.

"Careful how?" Ansel said.

"Not like burying me in a list of rules, but
when one comes up, you make sure that
I know what the rule is ... so if I don't like it,
then I'd know to leave, or whatever?" Turq said.

"Yes," Ansel said. "People should know
what they're getting into. It's easier now,
because everyone knows I'm a cop, and
if they're not okay with it they just avoid me.
Besides, nobody can follow rules if they
don't know what they're supposed to do."

Turq was painfully reminded of the time
he'd broken up with Jay-Dean for blabbing
secrets all over the grade school. They
had been best friends before that.

Dao had hauled Turq across the street
and made them talk it out, which hadn't
fixed the friendship but at least made
a much cleaner break of it than
the mess the boys had left.

"I wouldn't," Turq began, then
had to regroup. "I'm not in a place
where I can really make promises
right now. I can't -- I don't want
to leave, it's not right just dumping
someone like that. If I had to, I'd
tell you, or try to send a note, or
something. Not just -- disappear."

"That's very thoughtful of you,"
Ansel said, his voice rough. "Also
more than I've typically gotten from
people before. Janie and Jasper
get it, but not very many others."

It felt strange to realize that
all this worry must have been
under the surface yesterday, and
Ansel had just done what needed doing
anyhow, without counting the cost.

It was only today that the cost had
caught up to him and worn through
the warm layer of confidence that
Ansel usually wore like a coat.

Turq realized that he wanted it back.

"You had jerk friends," Turq said,
putting a hand on Ansel's knee.
"You need better ones. I may be
a supervillain, but even I know better
than to ditch a friend that way."

Ansel smiled a little. "I do have
some better friends now," he said,
covering Turq's hand with his own.

"So, yesterday," Turq said.
"I don't know what you want
to talk about, other than me
not being mad at you."

"Remember when we discussed
whether or not ordinary medics
could help, and you said not?"
Ansel recounted. "I thought of
something that probably would,
if it's not another trigger for you."

"Yeah, what?" Turq asked
as he licked his bowl clean,
or as much as he could with
his clumsy human tongue.

He finally felt full, thank god, and
it might even last an hour or two.

"Supplemental oxygen,"
Ansel said. "It's non-invasive,
doesn't hurt, and it helps keep
your body going if your breathing
is compromised somehow."

"Huh," Turq said. "I never
thought of that one."

"Now that you have, what
do you think?" Ansel asked.

Turq rolled the idea in his mind.
He could only recall one or two times
of someone pressing a mask over his face,
and those just didn't stand out from
the general torment the way
that some other things did.

Then he thought about how it felt
when his lungs shredded themselves,
how desperate he got for just
one more sip of air.

"Worth a try," he decided.
"Even if it bugs me, by the time
I need it, I'll be too trashed
to fight you anyway."

Ansel's answering smile was
sunshine cutting through clouds.
"I have first aid training, and there are
workarounds if the mask is alarming."

"Okay," Turq said. He still wasn't
used to Ansel's knack of finding
ways around the triggers.

"Great," Ansel said. "I can get
a small bottle to put with the kit
in the garage, and if you run into
trouble elsewhere, just remember
that ambulances have oxygen."

"Ambulances, dentist or doctor offices,
community clinics, schools or businesses
that are big enough, senior centers, and
first aid stations at events," Turq recited.

Dao's mom had been sick enough that
she needed it occasionally -- not so often
that she carried it everywhere -- and they'd
all memorized the list of places to try if she
felt faint when they were out in town.

Ansel was giving Turq a funny look again.
"Would you feel able to go there,
if you needed to?" he asked.

"I don't know, maybe," Turq said.
He looked down at himself, remembering
some of the less pleasant encounters
that he'd had over the last year or so.
"I'd probably just scare them."

People didn't like it when he was all bloody.

"It's like modesty, Turq, if you
can't breathe then everything else
goes out the window," Ansel said.

That was certainly true.
"I could try?" Turq said.

It made him uneasy, but it was
better than possibly smothering
just because his stupid body
couldn't remember how
lungs went together.

Besides, maybe it would
help him think more clearly.

"That's good," Ansel said.

Turq picked up the empty bowls and
glasses, stacked them neatly on the tray,
then looked at the handful of nuts
and cranberries remaining.

"Finish those if you want
them," Ansel suggested.

Turq poured them all into
one bowl, shook it to mix up
the contents, then divided that
between him and Ansel.

"Thanks," Turq said. "I liked
this stuff in the oatmeal."

He inched closer.
The autumn wind was
cold, and Ansel was warm.

Ansel lifted an arm and
let Turq snuggle against him,
then lowered his hand carefully
across Turq's shoulders.

The gesture brought up
more mixed feelings, a swirl
of recent anxiety twined with
happier memories of his family.

"I thought of something else too,"
Ansel said, his voice a warm rumble
against Turq's ear. "This is one that
you can do by yourself or with help.
Do as much or as little as you feel
comfortable with, and then decide
how much of it you choose to share
with me or with Ethan later."

"What's that?" Turq wondered.

"A WRAP workbook," Ansel said.
"It's basically a bunch of worksheets
that talk about what goes wrong in
your life and how you want it fixed."

"Is there one for my superpower
randomly drops parts of my body
into a blender?" Turq said bitterly.

"No, but the materials work for
managing pretty much everything
that can go wrong with minds or bodies,
so I figure it should cover superpowers
just fine too," Ansel assured him. "If you
want a special page for power issues,
I'm sure we can draft one."

"I could look at it," Turq said.
"I don't know if I can do it."

"Here, you can peek at the pages
on my phone," Ansel said as he
pulled it from his pocket. "Then if
you want to print out the workbook or
borrow my tablet computer, you can."

Turq grumbled at the abrupt shift
of position, but as soon as Ansel
tucked the phone into Turq's hands,
they settled back into a comfortable pose.

"This looks ... almost familiar?" Turq said
as he paged through the files. "I think I've
seen something similar, only more colorful."
Also a lot easier to read; parts of this one
seemed much more complicated.

"May I have that back for a minute?"
Ansel asked, holding out a hand.

"It's your phone," Turq said
as he handed it back to Ansel.

"Yes, but I loaned it to you," Ansel said.
He tapped on the screen, then returned
the phone to Turq. "Is this more familiar?"

Turq looked at the display. "Oh! Yeah,
that's it, we called it the Kite Book."

"Because of the cover," Ansel guessed,
pointing to the kite with its ribbon tail.

"Right," Turq said. "I know that it
works, but ... I don't know if I can
get through it. I'm kind of a mess."

"If you just crawled out of a wrecked car,
you'd be a mess too," Ansel said. "Don't
worry about that. Just look and see if
there is anything that looks helpful,
then try to do one thing at a time.
You can mix and match pages
from the teen and adult files."

"I think I might get farther if I start
with the easy ones," Turq said,
his finger following the kite's tail.

Some of the pages in the grown-up book
made his stomach clench just looking at them.
Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea.

"Then go with that," Ansel said. "You
can keep finished pages in your bench --
even get a lockbox if you like -- or I can
put them in my office if you want for me
to have copies. I have locking drawers."

Ansel's judgment was definitely in
better shape, so if he thought it was
a good idea, then Turq could try again.

"Hmm, let's see ..." Turq said
as he looked through the workbook.

There were lists of coping skills,
one page of bubbles all about
what wellness tools you used, then
a panicky gingerbread man who
showed symptoms of upset and
a blank one to fill in your own.

Turq thought that he could probably
think of a few things to write that made him
feel a little safer (blankets! petting!), and
certainly the worst of the symptoms.
Those were obvious, but maybe it
would help to have them written down.

The trigger page made him anxious,
and he wasn't sure about nonverbal signs
since he changed his shape so often.

When he hesitated over boundaries and
trust, Ansel said, "If those are confusing, then
consider the always-sometimes-never list
of actions or objects rated by how often
they feel safe or welcome for you."

Turq looked at the little colored bullseye
and imagined redoing it like that. "Yeah,
that might work," he said. "I can't think of
anything that's always safe, though."

"That's okay," Ansel said. He reached over
and paged to a worksheet divided into
three columns. "Whatever you'd like
to share would be helpful -- including
what you want people not to do."

Turq felt a curious little twist of emotion
as he realized that his reluctance was more
because the topic itself freaked him out than
thinking Ansel would use it against him.

As awful as it was when his body
twisted into itself and hurt him,
the times he'd come to Ansel
for help had been ... not quite
as catastrophic as usual.

"Yeah, that's true, if I can
do the worksheets," Turq said.

"Maybe start with just one
simple thing," Ansel said, and
pulled out a red-and-white card.
"I printed this in case you felt like
carrying your emergency contacts
instead of just listing us in the book.
I'm willing to be one, if you want me."

Turq stared at it, the image
blurring through sudden tears.

The last one he had was for
Dao and Mingxia. He had kept it
even after he had to leave -- because
running his fingers over it reminded him
that someone had wanted him -- until
he'd been sold and lost everything.

Turq sniffled, trying not to cry.

"What's wrong?" Ansel asked.

"I just -- really miss my parents,"
Turq said, trying to swallow
the lump in his throat.

"Turq, have you thought about
getting back in touch with them?"
Ansel asked gently. "From what you've
said, they sound like wonderful people."

The lump turned into a vicious fist,
and for a moment Turq couldn't
even breathe past the pain.

He wished desperately that he
could have it all back, but he knew
that was impossible, and trying
would just hurt them.

He didn't need to drag the people
he loved into his wreck of a life.
He'd done enough damage already.

"If you like, I could help you
find your parents," Ansel went on.
"I've got the training to --"

Frantically Turq shook his head.
"No," he said, coughing into his hand.
"I can't. I don't deserve -- they shouldn't --
it's just a bad idea. Really bad."

"You don't think they'd want
to know what happened to you?"
Ansel said. "Or are you worried
they wouldn't take you back?"

Turq remembered getting lost and
the utter relief when they'd found him,
how carefully they had impressed on him
that he could always call them from anywhere
and they'd come pick up him, no questions.

Tears spilled down his cheeks despite
his efforts to keep them in check.

"I don't want to hurt anyone,"
he said. "I can't deal with --
I'm not ready -- please."

"Okay, I'll let it go for now,"
Ansel said. "I'd like to talk
about this again later, though,
if that's all right with you."

"Sure," Turq agreed. Anything
to get Ansel off of that trail.
"So you and Ethan for
emergency contacts?"

He could still feel the catch in
his voice, however he tried to hide it.

"Hey, if you don't want --
you can pick someone else --"
Ansel began, leaning away.

Turq snatched the card before
Ansel could take it back. "I want."
Then he realized something else.
"I, uh, don't know your numbers."

"Here," Ansel said, taking out
his own wallet to show Turq his card.
"Home and cell phones. Vdress. Dispatch
at work -- they can route your call to me,
I'll put you on my list of people who they
should always forward. I'll ask Ethan if
he's willing to give you his contact info."

Carefully Turq copied down
the information and then tucked
the card into his battered wallet.

"Thanks," he said. "I'll try not to need it."

"If you need it, use it," Ansel said.
"There's no point having it if you hesitate."

That was so close to what Dao had said
that it tightened Turq's throat again,
so that he could only nod in reply.

Ansel was warm and solid beside him,
and that made Turq wonder who would
prop up Ansel when he needed it.

"What about you?" Turq asked when
his throat loosened enough to speak.
"Who's your backup? What's the stuff
not to do, other than don't dump you
just for being yourself?"

"Janie and Justin are my local contacts,
and Ethan was the last person I added
for long distance," Ansel said with a smile.
"Stuff not to do ... well, if you ever need to
wake me, then shake my shoulders instead
of throwing water on me. Or boots."

"Shake, don't throw," Turq echoed.

He wondered who had thrown things
at Ansel, and whether he could get away
with putting mice in their boots.
Or possibly even half-mice.

"Thanks," Ansel said. He put away
his wallet, then settled his arm
carefully back around Turq.

What Turq liked about sitting
side-by-side like this was that it
let him snuggle without feeling
restrained the way full hugs
so often did. He could still
wriggle loose if he needed it.

"I like this," he said, leaning
into the embrace. "You're comfy,
like a couch or a big easy chair,
a safe refuge from the world."

"That's good," Ansel said, and
gave him a gentle squeeze that
somehow made Turq's broken pieces
stick together. "That's what I'm here for."

* * *


"A true friend encourages us, comforts us, supports us like a big easy chair, offering us a safe refuge from the world."
-- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Backloading means gorging on calories after the exertion of superpowers to make up for the expended energy. Some abilities, especially Super-Strength and Super-Speed, run primarily on calories; some run on other types of energy; but even abilities that run on other things may raise the caloric requirements somewhat. A soup may be able to do frontloading, backloading, both, or neither.

Enjoy a recipe for Almond, Pumpkinseed, and Cranberry Oatmeal.

Gainer shakes can hold up to 4,000 calories. There are powder supplements to support healthy weight gain. Nutritional drinks are often aimed for the low-calorie range, but there are medium and high versions too. Things like this help support the higher metabolic demand that some superpowers have.

Turq and Ansel are both showing body language of discomfort, defense, anxiety and sadness.

Emergency oxygen can help with a lot of problems. It's something that large facilities and first responders sometimes stock, and worth considering for anyone whose breathing is unreliable. There are wall and backpack models too. Basic instructions are available online but this is an area where training is advised. T-American cops get good first aid training, so this is something Ansel already knows.

Side hugs offer an alternative to frontal hugs for many contexts. They are popular for platonic contact, but also appear in The Cuddle Sutra as "The Yawn Maneuver" on page 93. Understand how to give good hugs.

A WRAP Workbook is a customizable tool for organizing how to handle physical or mental conditions. You can include anything in it you need, using the basic pages for inspiration. It tells your caregivers what you do and don't want done to address whatever goes wrong. Here is a slideshow explaining the concept and how it works for younger users. In T-America these things are widely available and promoted through schools, community centers, and other venues. It's easy for people to find a workshop for making a WRAP and/or a peer support groups for users.

Regrettably, I could not find a version free online for children or adolescents. So I made one using the adult version as a model. The cover has a kite on it, representing freedom with an anchor. My Life Wheel is displayed at most T-American social services and appears in many handouts. Positive affirmations can counteract bad tape. A coping toolbox and other coping skills buffer stress. Write or draw wellness tools you use to stay healthy. List your favorite things for staying happy. Make a daily routine of things to do. Understand who you are when you're well. Know what pushes your buttons so you can deal with your triggers. Use an "Always, Sometimes, Never" chart to define what feels safe to you. This picture shows the early warning signs of trouble, and here is a blank body to label with the ones that bother you most often. There are emotional worksheets with faces or scales to show how you feel about things. This one talks about what people don't understand. Learn how to handle big emotions. An empathy map can show sensations and thoughts. This body map covers nonverbal communication. Healthy boundaries are important for maintaining relationships. A trust worksheet can help people give and receive trust. It helps to build a support network consisting of multiple elements. This flow chart explains whether you need help. Here are instructions on asking for help and ways to ask for help. These worksheets distinguish between wants and needs or likes and dislikes. A self-care plan ties it all together. This is the kind of worksheet used for solving problems that Turq and Ansel come up with for describing superpower problems.

There are long and short cards for emergency contacts. You can print your own, or sometimes find them at safety events. In T-America, most community centers and emergency services have these; so do many organizations such as schools or large businesses.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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