Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Meaning Only in Relationship"

This poem is spillover from the July 19, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from LJ user Paantha. It also fills the "forced to rely on enemy / rival" square in my 7-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the spoilery warnings. It covers the aftermath of interpersonal violence, where Calliope and Vagary are trying to figure out what is going wrong with their interactions and how to change that to match their personal and surrounding cultural standards. This includes advance planning for couples therapy, with some very detailed examination of their own and each other's issues. At this point their feelings and responses are muddled, so beware of questionable reliability in the narrative and advisability of character actions. If these are sensitive spots for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Meaning Only in Relationship"


To Calliope's considerable surprise,
Vagary did all the work required for them
to start couples counseling. He identified
the community clinics and private offices,
browsed websites, checked references,
and ultimately presented her with a list
of the top three possibilities.

"These are in my order of preference,"
Vagary said. "If you hate them all,
try to tell me why and I'll redo it."

He'd found good ones, though,
so Calliope could simply approve
the top name on the list. "That one."

Vagary marked it, sorted pages carefully,
and filled out a few more boxes. Then
he opened a folder and handed her
a paperclipped sheaf of forms
and worksheets to fill out.

"This is the preview stuff for
the intake meeting," Vagary said.
"We each fill out the individual ones
and then we do the couples one together."

Calliope looked at the individual problems page
and checked off anxiety, not being able to relax,
avoiding thoughts, feeling guilty, detachment,
feeling hopeless about the future, resentment,
and aggression as emotional concerns.

There were a lot of intimate concerns from
not feeling close, not trusting, lack of respect,
trouble communicating, frequent arguments,
and trouble resolving conflicts to feeling
uncommitted and wanting to separate.

She drew a huge X through the sex stuff.
That was satisfying. For childhood she just
checked unhappy, not wanting to go into
the whole gender dysphoria thing.

Under recent stresses, she checked
natural disaster, although it had been
gaining superpowers that caused
the most upheaval in her life.

They'd have to tell the counselor that,
because it was the heart of everything
that was wrong between them; but
Calliope didn't want to do that
any sooner than necessary.

She left the goals blank, though.
This was all Vagary's idea, let him
figure out what to do with it.

Vagary handed her an envelope.
"Put yours in here, and after we
finish the couples page, seal it.
That way I can drop it off with
the rest and you won't have
to worry about me seeing it."

Calliope was startled all over again.
Usually he sucked at boundaries.
"Okay," she said, and slid her page
inside the waiting envelope.

"Here," said Vagary, handing her
the couples form. "I already filled in
my answers, so it's your turn next."

Under favorite parts of the relationship,
Vagary had cited her emotions when
he wasn't around. That was weird.
Calliope wrote that he saw her for who
she really was, which was not something
that she could get from everyone.

Under desired changes, he'd written
fighting; under how often, every time
they met; under topics, their connection.
For the last argument, he'd put down
that he provoked her and she hit him.

Those were all true, so Calliope
just echoed them in her own words.

It felt weird to agree with Vagary.

She had to admit, too, that he was
the first to try making up after a fight.
He'd left that part blank for some reason.

Calliope sealed the couples form
in the envelope and handed it to him.
"Thank you for making arrangements,"
she said. "You did a thorough job."

"Welcome," Vagary said, giving her
a sidelong look. The corner of his mouth
moved, where his tongue pushed against
the stitches from the inside. It was
turning into a nervous habit.

Looking at his reaction, Calliope
got the sinking sensation that she
had done a lot more damage than
just a row of stitches down his lip.

She hated being forced to rely on
her own nemesis like this, and she
hated the bond that tied them together,
but that didn't make it okay for her
to treat Vagary so roughly that he
watched her every move out of
fear instead of fascination.

Action did not exist in isolation, but
found meaning only in relationship;
and without understanding that
relationship, any action chosen
could only lead to conflict.

"Listen, I don't mean to be horrible,"
she said. "It's just that the bond is
more than I can deal with, and I'm
not handling it very well."

"Yeah, me neither," Vagary said.
"That's what counseling is for."

Yet another thing they agreed on.

* * *

Notes:

Calliope (Calvin Sanna) -- Calliope comes from Oklahoma; the father's family is Greek-American, while the mother's family is American. She lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Calliope has light olive skin with gray eyes and short hair in shades of lighter and darker blond. Cal is demiromantic demisexual. She speaks English, Greek, and Esperanto.
Origin: Sucked into a tornado.
Uniform: Feminine-styled costume of dexflan and capery in dusty shades of pink, blue, lavender, and cream.
Qualities: Good (+2) Consideration, Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Handiwork, Good (+2) Listener, Good (+2) Word Puzzles
Poor (-2) Distractible
Powers: Expert (+4) Air Powers (meta-power including Flight, Phasing, Sonic Blast, Tornado Straws, Whirlwind, Windtalking), Average (0) Empathy, Average (0) Shapeshifting
Vulnerability: Air Powers are opposed by Earth Powers. Some Air abilities do not work on an Earth-powered opponent, and vice versa, typically those meant to affect a person directly. Others gain an upshift on damage, typically attacks.
Limitation: So far the Shapeshifting only works to switch between Calvin and Calliope. As the power improves, additional shapes may be gained.
Motivation: Self-discovery.

Vagary (Abelardo Bennett) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and dark hair with a short beard and moustache. His very mixed heritage includes Jewish, Spanish, German, and Italian. He enjoys taking tours at museums, art galleries, caves, parks, monuments, anywhere he can be part of a group without people expecting him to be charming. He also loves strategy games, with a particular taste for area-control ones.
Vagary currently works for the supervillain organization Kraken. He is a competent spy, adept at both planting and stealing small items as well as eavesdropping. He specializes in fishing for information by hanging around places of power in semi-public or taking tours, and skimming for valuable thoughts. Kraken has considered him for officer training, held back primarily by his shyness and poor social skills; so far he has only taken the lead in a few small teams.
Origin: Abelardo was kicked out of his rather conservative home for "sexual confusion." A Kraken officer recruited him by providing acceptance of whatever he turned out to be. Abelardo never has really nailed down his sexual orientation or identity, but unlike his family, Kraken doesn't care. The organization offered him the gamble of taking a potent metagen; he accepted, and developed superpowers.
Uniform: Kraken uniform of dexflan and capery; the jumpsuits is sensibly designed with sleek fit, plenty of pockets and fasteners for equipment. It provides Expert (+4) Camouflage to a designated user, but if worn by anyone else, turns garish neon colors. The utility belt contains a multitude of small gizmos and other tools, along with a holster for the Confusticator zap gun which causes disorientation and short-term memory loss. Off-duty, Abelardo favors business casual, most often trousers and a polo shirt.
Qualities: Good (+2) Flexible, Good (+2) Gamer, Good (+2) Patience, Good (+2) Spy, Good (+2) Touring
Poor (-2) Social Skills
Powers: Average (0) Phase, Average (0) Telepathy
Limitation: His Telepathy is usually restricted to skimming strong signals from the ambient pitch pool, rather than reading another person directly. If he phases through someone, it functions at Good level and he can read them directly, but he feels very uncomfortable doing that.
Motivation: To explore while unobserved.

* * *

“Action has meaning only in relationship, and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Relationship counseling spans a wide range from family therapy to marriage counseling, and couples therapy can apply to any two people having problems. The vast majority is aimed at married people, but if you look closely at counselor services, you'll see providers who list other specialities such as dating violence or sibling rivalry. Understand the purpose and process of couples therapy. While many people argue that counseling for abuse does not work, this is a little off-base. What doesn't work is forcing therapy on unwilling parties. Someone with crappy relationship habits and/or a hot temper who agrees it is a problem and chooses to work on it has a similar chance of improvement as anyone else going into therapy in hopes of fixing their shit. Know the warning signs of a troubled relationship that indicate you might benefit from couples therapy. Consider different types of therapy, how to find a therapist, and what to look for in a therapist. Despite Calliope and Vagary having individual issues, and worse ones together, they both agree that the situation is undesirable and are willing to do a share of the work to address that. This is more hopeful than situations where one or both parties are ignoring trouble.

Emotionally Focused Therapy deals in feelings and relationships, originally developed for adult romantic relationships but now extending into family therapy and other areas of interpersonal dynamics. Forms and questionnaires can help individuals and couples identify at least some of their issues before beginning therapy. Consider this individual problems checklist and this couples questionnaire.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, romance, safety, weblit, writing
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