Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "To Acknowledge Our Interdependence"

This poem is spillover from the May 3, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] ellenmillion. It also fills the "abuse (physical or emotional)" square in my 4-19-16 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem centers on a violation of body autonomy which was nonsexual but very disturbing, so it's pretty deep hurt/comfort. If that's sensitive stuff for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"To Acknowledge Our Interdependence"

Ansel came home grouchy
and frustrated, slamming
the car door as he got out.

Turq startled and stuck his head
out of the gazebo. "What's wrong?"
he asked. "You sound ... upset."

"Some guy came up to me and
ran his hands through my hair --
while I was in full uniform, even!"
he grumbled. "I wrote him a ticket,
but that didn't make me feel any better."

"Oh, you got groped," Turq said, nodding.
"It happens. That always sucks."

"What is it with everyone wanting
to touch my hair?" Ansel wondered.
"It's not -- I mean, it's just hair."

"It's not just hair," Turq said.
"It's a really eye-catching color,
and it's so shiny, that attracts
attention. As for why they touch
instead of just admiring it, well,
some people are jerks."

Ansel rubbed his hands over
his arms, the fabric of his coat
slick under his fingers, and then
raked his fingers through his hair.

None of it helped. He still felt
frazzled and sort of ... crawly.

"Are you cold?" Turq asked.

"No, just -- I don't know, it's like
I can still feel his hands on me,
but that's stupid," Ansel said.

"Not really," Turq said. "Hair
is sensitive, and for some soups --
especially the crayon soups --
it can be even more so."

"Terrific," Ansel said,
scratching over one ear.
"This is driving me nuts."

"Okay ... what have you tried
to make it stop?" Turq asked.

"Smoothing it down, and
having Janie do it," Ansel said.

"Did any of that help?" Turq said.

"Not really," Ansel said,
shaking his head. "It was
nice of Janie to try, but I think
it bothered her that she couldn't
just make the problem go away."

"Have you tried brushing it?"
Turq asked next.

"Only with my fingers,"
Ansel said, combing them
through his hair again.

"Go upstairs and use your hairbrush,"
Turq suggested. "Make sure you
get the bristles all the way down to
the scalp, and do your whole head."

"I guess it's worth a try," Ansel said.

For all that he loved it, he was
still new to the whole soup thing,
and learning over time that it had
changed his body in more than
just the visible coloration.

He didn't always know how
to handle those differences.

Turq might be a mess in
a lot of ways, but he had
more experience as a soup.

Ansel thought about that
as he climbed up the steps
to the living floor of his house.

He let himself in and went
straight to the bathroom,
where he grabbed the brush
and dragged it briskly through
his ruff of bright pink hair.

He felt a little less ruffled,
but he still couldn't relax.

With a sigh, Ansel put away
his hairbrush and went back
down the stairs and joined
Turq in the gazebo.

"Did brushing help?"
Turq asked hopefully.

"A little bit," Ansel said.
"I'm still -- " His shoulders
gave an irritable twitch.
"I don't know what's wrong
with me, or how to fix it."

Which was starting to get
scary, as well as annoying.

"Well, you could wash it --"
Turq began.

"God no, I'd look like
an electrocuted poodle!"
Ansel said, waving his hands.
"I can barely manage washing it
once a day, it's so fluffy now."

"So that's out," Turq said
instead of pushing him.

"Any other ideas?" Ansel said
as he sat down on a bench.

He could call his soup mentor,
of course, but Skippy didn't
have the same kind of hair
that Ansel did -- in this regard,
Turq was a closer match.

It felt a little odd to think of Turq
in any kind of advisory position,
but he was actually doing
a pretty good job of it.

Well, if Ansel could look up to
Skippy, he could do it with Turq too.

"I um ..." Turq said, nibbling his lip.
"Sometimes petting can help."

"I already tried that with Janie,"
Ansel pointed out.

"Did it work?" Turq asked.

Ansel shrugged. "It didn't
feel bad, but it didn't make
the creepy feeling go away."

"She uh ... isn't like us?"
Turq said on a rising note.

"Janie's not a soup,"
Ansel confirmed.

"Sometimes that can make
a difference," Turq said. "Soups
have more energy, and it's all through
us, not just when we let our powers out.
I can feel it more when someone
touches my hair now, especially
when another soup does it."

"So it works like a brush, only
better, because our energy
interacts somehow?" Ansel said.

"I think so," Turq said. "I'm not
an expert. But it would also explain
why getting groped feels so awful --
it's somebody else's gross energy
getting stuck all up in yours."

Ansel shuddered. "I could have
done without that image."

"Not if you have to deal with
this again," Turq said quietly.
"Not if someone else comes
to you with the same problem,
and you need to understand
how bad it can really feel."

"And how to fix it," Ansel said.

"Yeah," Turq said. "So if you,
um, want some help, I could ..."
He spread his hands.

"You could pet me?" Ansel said.
He thought about how relaxed that
made Turq, when Ansel stroked
his fur. "Okay, let's try it."

Turq reached out and tentatively
touched the fringe of pink hair.

Ansel flinched.

"Sorry," Turq said, pulling away.
"Maybe it wasn't a great idea."

"No, try again," Ansel said.
"I don't mind you touching me.
It's just ... strange, new, and
I'm still twitchy from earlier."

"Okay," Turq said. He
reached out again, first
smoothing a hand over
Ansel's hair and then
digging his fingers in.

It felt a little like having
someone else comb his hair,
only a lot more intimate.

Ansel could swear that he
felt Turq's energy moving
through his own, somehow.

He shivered under the touch.

Turq stopped moving.
"Is this okay?" he asked.

"Yes, it's fine," Ansel said.
"It's just ... more than I'm used to."

"Yeah," Turq said softly.
"It is for me too, but
I think I like it."

Ansel wasn't entirely sure
whether Turq was talking about
petting him, right now; or else
about when Ansel petted him.
Possibly even both of those.

"That's good," Ansel said.

"It's not sexual, at least,
not for me, but it's ... deep,"
Turq said. "I'm not saying
this quite right, maybe."

"I'm reading you loud
and clear," Ansel said.

No matter how clumsy
Turq's words might be,
the tender touch of his hands
spoke clearly of his caring.

The feeling was unfamiliar and
intimate, but it wasn't unpleasant --
quite the contrary, Ansel found
himself enjoying the contact.

Maybe this was what Turq felt
when Ansel stroked him. No wonder
he kept coming back for more.

"Thanks," said Ansel. "I think
this is helping. At least now
I can't feel his hands on me."

"That's an improvement," Turq said.

"I don't know why this one got to me
so much," Ansel said. "I've had
people grab my hair before."

"Even if it wasn't a sex thing,
it still sucked and it was wrong.
So maybe this guy just had
extra creepy energy," Turq said.
"Some people do."

"He did, at that," Ansel said.
The man made his cop instincts
sit up and take notice -- the kind of
fellow to watch in a crowd, because
if trouble started, it was likely
to be in his vicinity.

"How do you feel now?"
Turq asked, digging
his fingers deeper
into Ansel's hair.

"Better," Ansel said.
Then he sighed.
"But I still can't relax."

"Maybe it would help to go
the other way," Turq said,
and shifted his shape.

The caney stropped himself
against Ansel's side, rubbing
blue fur all over him, fragrant
with some faint floral scent.

Ansel hesitated for a moment,
the memory of violation fresh in mind --
but Turq was inviting the touch,
and that made it okay.

He smoothed his hands over
the silky coat and then pushed
his fingers into the soft fluff.

It felt so good to do that.

As Ansel petted the caney,
he felt the knots of tension
unravel inside himself at last.

"Oh yeah, that's definitely working,"
Ansel said, and the caney's tail
swished through the air.

What he had with Turq was ...
difficult to define, like trying
to catch smoke in his hands,
but it was something he valued.

If he could make a connection
with Turq, then maybe he could
make it possible for Turq to quit
the supervillain thing, and then
they wouldn't have that undertone
of potential conflict between them.

Ansel wasn't Turq's soup mentor,
but he had done his best to provide
a good example and gentle guidance.

He wasn't used to thinking of Turq
as a mentor, either, but the boy was
clear-headed and compassionate
in human form, and when furry
he was just ... so soothing.

Ansel felt like he was going
to melt onto the gazebo bench.

As much as the groping had sucked,
it was nice to get comfort afterwards.

This might actually have been
the healthiest thing that Ansel
had seen Turq doing so far --
showing concern for someone else
and taking steps to help.

Ansel thought about what
mentoring meant to him, how it
bound people together across
age and class and race and
even superpower status.

It let them take part in something
larger than themselves alone, together,
reinventing community and affirming that
it offered everyone an important role.

"I've been thinking," Ansel said,
his words rising slowly like
bubbles in blueberry syrup,
"maybe what we need to get
past the groping is this."
He patted Turq's side.

The caney made a listening sound.

"I think what we need is not just
touching ourselves, or shaking off
the cobwebs of negative energy,"
Ansel said with another stroke, "but
to acknowledge our interdependence."

Turq nodded, and burrowed
a little closer under Ansel's arm.

The contact felt safe, or no,
it made Ansel feel safe, for
the first time since the incident.

If this was what he gave Turq
when they touched, then Ansel
was profoundly grateful that
it could go both ways.

He leaned back and just basked in it.

* * *

Notes: Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson) -- He has ruddy skin and hazel eyes. His hair starts out light brown but he has it changed to pink by Paintrix, after which it also tends to stand straight up. He discovers that the pink color just feels right for him, and decides to keep it. Ansel is tall and athletic, with a rectangular face, wide shoulders, and trim hips. He is heterosexual and has a girlfriend. He sleeps so deeply that he's easy to sneak up on after he's asleep.
Ansel works on the Bluehill police force. He often volunteers for youth outreach and other public speaking. His pink hair helps other soups identify him, breaks the ice at presentations, and encourages people to ask him for help. On the downside, it also makes forks and other bigots hate him. Origin: Upset by the increase in bullying, Ansel starts doing presentations at schools in Bluehill. The kids give him the idea of coloring his hair pink so he can see firsthand how people treat someone who is visibly different.
Uniform: On duty, Ansel wears the Bluehill police uniform. Off duty, he likes casual, sporty clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Compassion, Expert (+4) Citizen, Expert (+4) Cop, Expert (+4) People Skills, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Jigsaw Puzzles, Good (+2) Kindness, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Problem-Solving Skills
Poor (-2) Deep Sleeper
Powers: Average (0) Wild Pink Hair
Motivation: To make the world a kinder place.

Turq (Drustan Moreau) -- He has pale skin and hazel eyes with hints of blue, green, and gray. His hair was originally brown, but is turning turquoise from the top down. His eyebrows, beard, and mustache are still brown. His ears are pierced. He is slim and muscular with a heart-shaped face. He is left-handed. Drustan is Scorpio with Pisces as a moon sign. His heritage includes Welsh, French, and German. Following incidents of child abuse and neglect, he grew up in the foster care system, so he has no real family support. The results of that have not been very good.
Sold by his foster parents, Drustan fell prey to a mad scientist whose disturbing experiments gave him superpowers. The body horror from his ordeal has left him full of dread and melancholy, making it difficult for him to connect with people. He also gets anxious about being tied up, locked in, or confined in any other way. That has given him a nasty set of striationary marks, more than once.
Turq works as a supervillain; he is a capable thief and a useful distraction, but iffy in a real fight. Most often he uses the shapeshifting, although his neural blast allows him to disorient people or shock them unconscious depending how much force he puts into it. He does his best to conceal the drawbacks of his superpowers, because he doesn't want anyone to take advantage of him. He is fatalistic about injuries and resistant to help. His cape name is a double tap. It's short for turquoise, in reference to his hair. It also touches on the Turk chess machine, which in Terramagne was not a hoax but an early gizmo.
Origin: Mad science torture. The supervillain Carl Bernhardt locked Drustan in a strange metal chamber and bombarded him with mysterious energies that caused his body to warp. He escaped when he finally manifested teleportation. Now he works as a henchman for hire.
Uniform: Street clothes. He prefers clothes with stripes, spots, or other patterns because they hide bloodstains better. Usually he wears dark or neutral colors.
Qualities: Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Chess Player, Good (+2) Comforting When Fuzzy, Good (+2) Fast, Good (+2) Supervillain Henchman Poor (-2) Body Horror
Powers: Average (0) Teleporting, Average (0) Neural Blast, Average (0) Regeneration, Average (0) Shapeshifting His alternate forms include caney, deer, and ferret. In caney form he has a violet gland with a pronounced floral scent, which is less intense but still present in his other shapes.
Vulnerability: Turq has difficulty controlling his superpowers. Shapeshifting screws up his body in ways that leave him coughing and vomiting blood afterwards. However, he can heal the damage -- anything that doesn't kill him instantly probably can't kill him at all. Teleporting can leave him disoriented and twitching from misconnected nerves, or scrambled inside, or all of the above. He actually travels by disintegrating and then reintegrating somewhere else, rather than by blinking from one place to another the way most teleporters do.
Motivation: Get through the day without screaming too much.

* * *

"Mentoring brings us together - across generation, class, and often race - in a manner that forces us to acknowledge our interdependence, to appreciate, in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words, that 'we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.' In this way, mentoring enables us to participate in the essential but unfinished drama of reinventing community, while reaffirming that there is an important role for each of us in it."
-- Marc Freedman

This is the home of Officer Pink (Ansel Nicholson) which used to be part of a resort alongside a lake. When the resort closed, the rental cabins were parceled into individual lots and sold, while some of the resort's main facilities -- such as the lodge and the main boating dock -- were set aside as neighborhood resources. See the exterior of the cabin, the lower floor plan, and the living floor plan. Here is the bathroom.

Ansel's version of this gazebo has built-in storage benches where the seats lift or doors open to access the cabinets underneath. The two end benches have end doors that open at the entrance of the gazebo. The two middle benches have seats that lift up. The center back bench has front doors.

Emotional first aid is a basic life skill that is rarely taught in L-America, but in T-America is taught alongside physical first aid. It soothes discomfort, promotes healing, and when shared between people it can also strengthen relationships. Turq's reaction -- "You don't look okay; how can I help?" -- is typical of a healthy EFA-trained response when someone is upset. Know how to comfort an upset friend or a stranger.

Hair is political, especially black women's hair. The effect for crayon soups is nearly identical for similar reasons: the hair stands out, soups are often seen as needing to be controlled, and more privileged people feel free to violate the boundaries of less privileged people. Hair is a basic part of body autonomy and how people express themselves.

Hair is intimate, and touching it is often taboo. This is particularly true for black women's hair, and parallels crayon soups for similar reasons. Touching the hair or head is either a demonstration of close connection (as between lovers) or of dominance (between acquaintainces or strangers). So if a black person or a crayon soup invites you to touch their hair, it customarily means that they consider you part of their intimate circle.

Hair is sensitive, because the follicle at the base of each hair connects to special nerves. Thus petting fur or brushing hair can feel incredibly good, or a bad touch can feel awful and intrusive. Sometimes after hairs have been stimulated by a light or wrong touch, the unpleasant impression lingers until vigorously overridden -- hence the instinctive urge to rub or scratch after knocking away a bug. Certain hairs such as whiskers are even more sensitive, with extra nerves to turn them into advanced sensory organs. Many soups are sensitive to people's energy, especially from other soups, and crayon soups are particularly prone to using their hair as a sensory organ.

It is crucial to get people's consent before touching them, even in a nonsexual context. Part of this has to do with body autonomy, but part also concerns contraindications such as allergies or PTSD which the person does not have to disclose. My personal stance is that asking first is important, but it can be done verbally or nonverbally, so long as people are alert to the conversation. I also feel that in established relationships, parameters of consent should be negotiated, because constantly asking prevents intimacy by emphasizing boundaries between people -- in an intimate relationship, you're inside most of each other's boundaries much of the time. Healthy relationships require awareness of all these factors plus individual nuances. Turq and Ansel are being extra careful with each other because their relationship is still new, still evolving, and also they each have their own issues not all of which have come out yet.

Sexual harassment covers all kinds of unwelcome touch or talk that is erotic/romantic in nature. Understand how to help a friend after sexual harassment, how to reclaim your body if it happens to you, and how to release sexual trauma. Many of the same techniques generalize well to recovering from other violations of body autonomy which are not sexual.

The aura is a personal field of electromagnetic energy, which can be measured by science but is more often explored in metaphysics. While some people are much more sensitive to this energy, in theory anyone can learn to perceive it. This is one area of great potential for supernaries, who can use diligent practice to develop skills which allow them to compete on a super level. Individuals may give off "bad vibes" or steal energy from other people. Getting slimed with someone else's negative energy feels really gross. There are ways to protect yourself from negative energy and get rid of it if it's on you.

Static electricity comes from energy moving due to the attraction of opposites. The magnetic and electrical energy of the aura can travel through the hair, especially through motion or friction, which is why touching a pet's fur can zap you. Spiritual power can also fill the hair. Soups and other mystical people often have a stronger energy field, and may be able to sense other people's energy. Some crayon soups have very fine, flyaway hair that is difficult to control. Put these factors together and they can make sparks! Here are some tips for minimizing static electricity in hair.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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