Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Shadow the Length of a Lifetime"

This poem came out of the July 2016 Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] chanter_greenie. It also fills the "lost childhood" square in my 7-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored out of the general fund, based on an audience poll. Happy birthday to [personal profile] librarygeek from [personal profile] technoshaman and [personal profile] mama_kestrel, who noted that in their donations. This poem belongs to the Dr. Infanta thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem features content which many readers are likely to find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, which include both spoilers and probable triggers. It contains references to past child abuse, graphic sexual abuse, main character harm, violent use of superpowers, emotional angst, and other mayhem. I am counting Dr. Infanta as a child victim based on her mental age rather than her chronological age, but a similar freeze pattern actually happens with many adult survivors too. Her thought patterns are distorted in some ways common among survivors of child abuse. Readers are encouraged to take extra caution with this piece because it's more explicit than canon-typical, and also, this is the kind of reason why Dr. Infanta scares the crap out of some people while making others feel very protective of her. Please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you wish to read. It's not directly connected to ongoing plotlines so it shouldn't cause problems if you skip it.

"A Shadow the Length of a Lifetime"

It has been centuries
since the abuse started, and
Alicia is strong enough now
that people can't hurt her
so easily anymore, but

it's rarely a decade when
she doesn't let it happen again.

She's in the park with Nanette
when they hear the bright bells
of the hot dog truck approaching,
and Alicia wants one but doesn't
want to run to catch it because
she's tired from walking.

So she promises to stay
on the bench and be good,
and Nanette goes to the truck.

That's when the man sits down
beside her, and then Alicia feels
the old creepy feeling come over her,
like a shadow the length of a lifetime.

"Hey, little girl," he says, flicking open
his red-checked coat. "You look like
someone who could use a taste of
something sweet. Touch Mr. Happy
and I'll buy you any dessert you want."

"I don't want to," Alicia says,
sidling away from him. "You won't
like what happens if I do that."

"You've seen it, now you
have to touch it," he says.

So Alicia reaches out to touch
the ugly wrinkled thing peeking
through the man's open fly.

As her fingers meet his skin,
she begins pulling the years
out of him, hand over hand
just like milking a goat.

The man screams, and screams,
as the flesh withers under her touch.

He falls to the ground, moaning.

Then Nanette is there, long hands
patting urgently over Alicia. "What
happened? How badly hurt are you?"

"I'm not hurt," Alicia tells her.

A park policeman is there too.
"What happened?" he says.

"He told me to touch Mr. Happy
and I told him that he wouldn't like
what happened if I did but he said that
I had to so I did and he didn't," Alicia says.

"Oh, not again," Nanette groans.
"Sweetie, you do not have to do
anything like that! It's very wrong
of anyone to ask for such things."

"You should probably call
an ambulance," Alicia says.

"You said you weren't hurt,"
the policeman says. "Why
do you need an ambulance?"

"I don't. He does." She
points toward the pervert
curled on the ground.

"I thought you just kneed him or
something," the policeman says, but
he stoops to check on the man and sees
the ruin of his crotch. "Jesus Christ!"

The policeman looks up, and Alicia
sees the moment when he recognizes her,
and then she wonders if she's going
to have to kill him to get away.

But then his face changes,
and he kneels down to her level.

"Your nanny is right," he says firmly.
"You don't ever have to let anyone
touch you in a bad way, or make you
touch them if it feels creepy."

Alicia sighs. She's heard it all before,
and some people have just ...
led very sheltered lives.

After all, it's not fair to torture someone
unless she's certain that he's evil,
and how can she be that certain
without seeing it for herself?

At least this one won't be bothering
any other little girls, ever again.

Alicia watches as the sad-faced policeman
handcuffs the pervert and calls an ambulance,
then turns back to Nanette. "I don't suppose
there's any chance of you two coming down
to the station to make a statement?" he says.

"I'm afraid not," Nanette says.

On cue, Alicia tugs her skirt and says,
"I don't feel good. Can we go home now?"

The policeman doesn't argue like
they usually do. He just says,
"Yes, you may," to Alicia and then,
"Take care of her," to Nanette.

"I'll do my best," Nanette says,
and her face is sad too, and Alicia
feels bad for disappointing everyone
but deep inside she still knows that
some things never, ever change.

Lorry appears between one blink
and the next, takes in the curled form
of the whimpering pervert, and flexes
the muscles under his suitcoat.

Alicia shakes her head a tiny bit.

Lorry sighs, but he lets the man live.
"Shall we go home, miss?" he asks.

"Yeah," says Alicia, holding out
her arms in a silent plea.

Lorry picks her up and settles
her on one solid hip, then takes
Nanette in his other hand.

Alicia buries her face against
his broad shoulder so they can
teleport back home, wishing that
she knew how not to hurt people, but
hurting people is what she does best.

It doesn't matter how much
the grownups talk about
right and wrong, ethics and
justifications and shades of gray.

Alicia knows that sometimes, evil is obvious.

* * *


See the pervert on the park bench.

"Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime."
-- Quotes on Abuse

Child abuse, especially sexual abuse, raises the risk of revictimization permanently. It has many other negative impacts. The healing process is long, but there are tips for parents and guardians on how to help.

Teaching children about consent and healthy boundaries reduces the risk of abuse. This site lists resources for My Body Belongs to Me, Good Touch/Bad Touch, and other programs.

Good and evil may be viewed as absolutes or points on a spectrum, which is particularly relevant in discussing child abuse. Babies are born with a basic sense of justice, and children's sense of good and evil evolves over time. However, plenty of people retain a simplistic approach even as adults. Dr. Infanta's perspective is as unique as her experiences.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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