Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Good-for-Nothing Thoughts"

This poem came out of the June 2016 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] technoshaman and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "self-sabotage" square in my 11-3-15 card for the Disaster Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman and ng_moonmoth. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: The inside of Shiv's head is a horrible place. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv has been told he's a fuckup and everything is his fault so often that it twists his thinking. He feels like he can never get ahead and everyone is out to get him. The poem features distorted thought patterns, self-blame, self-hate, self-sabotage, terrible self-talk, misinterpretation of other people's actions, flashbacks, a noisy argument that scares the crap out of Shiv, a trek to the Safety Office that he really doesn't want to deal with, fatalism, Emotionally Complex Response, and other mayhem. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Good-for-Nothing Thoughts"

The memories of yesterday
weighed on Shiv as he sat on
his bed, thinking about how
the warden had hassled him
again, and it didn't matter
how good Shiv was trying
to be, it never fucking worked.

He was used to getting pushed around,
even handcuffed, but the thought of
experimental manacles still made
goosebumps race over his skin.

He'd heard stories. Everyone had.
Thank god the stupid things hadn't
actually worked like they were meant to.

Dr. G had assured Shiv that this
wasn't something that could get
swept under the rug, that the people
responsible would have to answer for it.

Dr. Bloch had emailed Shiv
after the manacles got picked up --
by freaking SPAZMAT! -- and urged
him to report any unusual reactions.

Shiv stared at the spoon from his breakfast tray,
which he had sharpened into a bit of a blade
on one side, but it was the dull edge that he
kept running over his wrist, because he knew
that if he cut now, he'd get caught for sure.

He got so absorbed in it that he lost track
of time and hadn't quit when Mr. Vanburen
came back to pick up the breakfast tray.

"Put that back the way you found it, please,
it's time to return your tray. I won't complain
about you finding something to fool around with
after Saunders hid your approved materials,
as long as you haven't hurt anyone with it,"
the guard said, holding out a hand.

Trusting that Shiv would give him
a dull spoon, instead of a sharp one.

That was never going to stop being weird.

Shiv stroked the spoon with his superpower,
putting it back as close as he could to how
it was supposed to be, then handed it over.

"Is something bothering you today?"
Mr. Vanburen asked as he set
the restored spoon on the tray.

"I'm fine," Shiv said quickly.

The guard's gaze dropped to
his wrists. "You sure about that?"

Shiv turned his hands over and
back, displaying skin unbroken except
for yesterday's scratches still covered by
the weird green of the liquid bandage.

"Yeah well, you know me," Shiv said.
"I'm all into self-sabotage. I wreck
my relationships, my official records,
my body ... pretty much everything.
Shrinks say it's fear of success. I say
it's useless, good-for-nothing ..."

"Thoughts," Travis finished firmly.
"Useless, good-for-nothing thoughts,
and not you, yourself. You may not
be able to change who you are, but
you can change how you think."

"Now you sound like Rosie," Shiv said.

"I'll take that as a compliment, since
Ambrose has helped me straighten out
my head plenty of times," said Mr. Vanburen.
"Did you hear about what happened to Jimar?
Do you want to go to the mass after breakfast?
There is a discount on the point cost for it."

"I heard, but I hate church," Shiv said,
shaking his head vehemently.

"Okay, you don't have to go,"
said Mr. Vanburen. "I mostly go on
Christmas and Easter myself, so I
can't say as I blame you."

"It's boring, and all they do is
talk about how bad people are,"
Shiv said. "I already know that."

Mr. Vanburen gave him a long look,
but said only, "All right, then, since you
missed the shakedown in the cafeteria,
we can do yours now. There's amnesty
on contraband substances, so if you've
got scoots or anything else, now is
the time to hand them over."

Shiv shook his head again. "I haven't
even finished this," he said, showing
the tail end of nicotine sucker that he
still had in its reusable wrapper.

In fact, he hadn't bothered with scoots
in a while, because Dr. Bloch was
a more reliable source now. Ragno
hadn't been able to score any worth
trading since the ones he'd slipped to
Shiv shortly after the chayne incident.

Besides, the last scoot he'd gotten
had tasted terrible. It hadn't made him
sick, but that might have been because
Shiv had taken one puff and then
flushed the rest down the can.

"Put up any of your therapy stuff,
so I can run a search and rack up
your points if your cell is clean,"
said Mr. Vanburen.

Shiv shut his notebook.
"Okay," he said.

It didn't take long to search
the tiny cell, and then the guard said,
"Can you handle a pat-down, after yesterday?"

Shiv had to think about that. He was
used to it, even though he hated people
touching him. Today, he was twitchy.

But there were a few folks whose hands
just felt different -- Mr. Vanburen, Wacker,
and Dr. Bloch for starters, and he thought
that Dr. G might be another one.

"If it's you," Shiv said, leaning
against the wall. Better to keep it
easy than pick a fight and make it worse.

The guard was brisk and gentle about it,
which was good, because Shiv still felt
edgy even though he was pretty sure
that he could keep a lid on it.

Mr. Vanburen logged the points
and then showed Shiv the tally,
saying, "Well done."

"A hundred and twenty?"
Shiv said, frowning, because
it was supposed to be fifty each
for a clean cell and a clean body.

"Bonuses for good manners and
actually thinking about what shape
your tolerance is in," Mr. Vanburen said.

Well, huh. That was new, or maybe
this was just the first time Shiv had
been good enough to get it.

"Smooth," said Shiv.

"Safety Office wants to see you
and make sure you're still okay after
yesterday," said Mr. Vanburen.

"I'm fine," Shiv groaned.

"Listen, if you come now,
most folks will be in the chapel
praying that Jimar makes it back
from the hospital," said Mr. Vanburen.
"If this turns into an argument and I
have to lock you in here for an hour,
you'll have a much bigger audience
walking through the halls."

"All right, all right, I'm coming,"
Shiv grumbled as he stood up.

As promised, the prison seemed
almost empty as they both walked
through the halls and up the stairs.

When they approached
the administrative area, though,
Shiv began dragging his feet.

"Problem?" Mr. Vanburen said.

The problem was that Shiv
didn't want to be here and it was
unpleasantly reminding him of
yesterday and every other time
he'd gotten called on the carpet.

"I just ..." he hedged. "Dr. G
said that I wouldn't have to see
the warden again, and his office
is right around here."

"I understand," said Mr. Vanburen.
"Come on, the sooner we do this,
the sooner we can get out of here."

By then they could hear voices
coming through the closed door of
the warden's office, his own whine
cut off by cold, clear phrases.

"... you fucking irresponsible fool ...
could have died this time ...
absolute last straw!"

Shiv slowed even further,
panting and looking around
for a good place to hide.

"... NOT waiting until
you actually kill someone,
I'm reporting this now!"

Mr. Vanburen reached out and
put a hand on Shiv's shoulder.

The door slammed open.

Shiv grabbed the hand and
pulled them both into an alcove,
pressing flat against the wall
between the tall floor plants
and staring down at his shoes.

Dr. G and Dr. Bloch strode out
of the warden's office, talking about
places they planned to call.

"Hate Crimes knows me, and
they're still in town after yesterday,"
said Dr. G. "I'll start there."

"Health Board, since I went
to undergrad with one of
the supervisors," said Dr. Bloch.

"Prison Board. I'm an outsider,
and they're going to recognize
my hometown," Dr. G said
with a downright nasty grin.

"News agencies?" asked Dr. Bloch
as they drew even with the alcove.

"Twenty-four hours..." said Dr. G.
"At least I haven't had to make calls
back to the people who brought
Ragno and Shiv to my attention,
but that's... not quite nuclear."

Shiv leaned against the wall for support,
trying hard not to shake or faint or do
anything else that might attract attention.

Dr. Bloch rolled his eyes. "At this point,
I think the warden has earned that twice over."

They were mad at the warden?
Not Shiv or some other inmate?

"True," Dr. G said with a nod.
"I've got at least another tier of favors
I can call in among colleagues. You?"

"About the same," said Dr. Bloch.
"Want to see which of us gets
more responses in an hour?"

"Sure. Loser brings in pizza?"
said Dr. G, and they shook on it.

The doors closed behind them.

Shiv gulped in great lungfuls
of air, resisting the urge to slide
down the wall. Then he looked at
Mr. Vanburen. "How much trouble
am I in for grabbing you?"

"You wanted to get both of us
away from the yelling people,
right?" said the guard.

"Yeah," Shiv said faintly. "If you
get out of the way fast enough,
sometimes they don't hit."

The guard shook his head and said,
"Shiv, I am not going to write you up for
pulling me out of the way of something
you saw as an active hazard, any more
than I would if you yanked me away
from a car that was about to hit me."

"Okay," Shiv said, glad for the out
even if it wasn't what he was used to.

"Though from the sound of them,
I think Warden Daley just shot himself
in the foot," Mr. Vanburen said.

"Yeah, that was ..." Shiv trailed off,
not wanting to say how shaken he was.
He tried to slow his breathing like Rosie did.
"I wouldn't want to fight either of them."

"You do realize they wouldn't actually
have hurt us, don't you?" said Mr. Vanburen.
"Now that you've had a minute to think?"

"I guess ... they weren't after us,"
Shiv said. "So maybe not."

Mr. Vanburen had that worried look again.
"Dr. G and Dr. Bloch are both good men,"
he said. "It takes a lot to make them lose
their temper, even just to the point of yelling.
They are not going to hit you."

Shiv had heard that before.

"Can we just ... get this
over with?" he asked.

"All right, the Safety Office is
a few doors down," the guard said,
and led the way there.

It was quiet inside the office,
which had a door that closed
just in case the warden decided
to come boiling out of his own.

The stocky man behind the desk
had a book in one hand and a pen
in the other, taking notes in a notebook.

He gave them a dry look at they entered.

"Sorry we're a little late, sir, we ran into
some traffic in the hall," said Mr. Vanburen.

"Yes, I overheard that commotion,"
said the safety officer. "It's unfortunate,
but hardly a surprise after the incident
down in the lunch room today."

Mr. Vanburen sighed. "Does that
count against the safety record for
the hub, since it was drug abuse
instead of an actual accident?"

"I'm afraid it does, since Jimar went down
in the cafeteria," the man replied.

"It's not his fault, and everyone knows it,"
Shiv said. "Jimar doesn't just have
a monkey on his back, he has
the whole damn Bandar-log."

That startled the safety officer into
a laugh. "So he does. Have a seat,
Mr. Harrison, and we'll get started."

"My name is Shiv."

"All right, Shiv it is then. I'm
Oscar Augustine," the man said.
"I called you up here today because
what happened to you yesterday was
more than just a minor abuse of power.
I want to make sure that you're okay, and
see how you feel about our response."

"I guess," Shiv said with a shrug.

"May I see your wrists?"
asked Mr. Augustine. "The report
from the infirmary cited minor injuries."

Shiv froze, body and mind too jarred by
recent events to let a stranger handle him.

Mr. Vanburen slid his hands
over Shiv's shoulders and
pulled up his shirtsleeves
just enough to show off
the leathery green spots.

Then he let go.

"They're only fingernail scratches,"
Shiv managed to say. "Got 'em
before they put the funny cuffs on."

"Understood," said Mr. Augustine.
He opened a file folder, revealing
the complicated forms for injury reports,
employee incident reports, and satisfaction.

Shiv tried not to slide down in the chair
like he used to do in school. It never
worked, and just made people mad.

To his surprise, Mr. Augustine
slid him a much shorter stack
of worksheets -- there were
two blank-face pages, one with
emotion words and one without;
a pair of hands, a short survey,
and some smiley face gauges.

"That's it?" Shiv said.

"I've heard from several of
your support people that you
do better filling out paperwork
with illustrations instead of text,"
said Mr. Augustine. He added
a carton of colored pencils.

"You don't ... care?" Shiv said,
holding himself back even though
his fingers itched for those pencils.

"You know what I care about?"
the man said, leaning forward.
"I care about keeping people in
one piece. Second to that, I care
about them telling me the truth in
reports, so I can fix what needs fixing.
The form itself?" He shrugged. "It's
just paper, kid. I'll use whatever works."

"Okay, um," Shiv said, poking through
the worksheets. "So how does this work?"

"You tell me what happened and how
people dealt with it," said Mr. Augustine.
"I'll make sure the forms are filled out,
and I might ask a few more questions.
You can fill out your worksheets
as we go along, if you like."

"Yeah," Shiv said, grabbing
a face worksheet. He wasn't
about to admit how angry he
had been, or how scared, so he
put frustrated, which was also true.

"I was afraid of that," Mr. Vanburen said.
"You get pulled out of line for no reason,
and it messes up your sense of how
things are supposed to go."

"Story of my life," Shiv said, rolling his eyes.

Mr. Augustine listened, though, as Shiv
described the whole mess from yesterday.

The survey was a generic one that
Mr. Augustine suggested he fill out for
each of the people who had helped him
after the incident, and the face gauges
were meant to show how happy or
mad he was with their actions.

"Do one for the whole situation,
too," the safety officer said.
"It's good to get a big picture."

Shiv thought about that, and
remembered Dr. Bloch explaining
how to take a jumble of feelings and
turn them into just one mark.

He set the gauge at barely smiling,
because he wasn't ever going
to be happy with this shit, but
he'd seen so much worse.

Mr. Augustine read aloud the forms
that were already filled out, and also
jotted down new things that Shiv said.
His pen tapped against the infirmary page
over the people-pictures for showing injuries.

Shiv picked up the page with the hands,
which were a lot bigger, and began to
draw in the scratches with red and green.

Then he hesitated.

He hated giving up information,
but he really liked the picture forms.

Maybe if he gave Mr. Augustine
something good in exchange, then
the easy worksheets would keep coming
and Shiv wouldn't have to struggle with
the hard wordy kind so often.

"Something else you'd like to add?"
Mr. Augustine asked. "You can
flip one over and draw on the back,
if you need more space."

"I'm thinking," Shiv said, and was
trying to figure out how best to show it.

In the end he decided to draw
the manacles with black and yellow
on the page with the two hands,
only doing the outlines so that they
wouldn't cover up the scratches.

"That seems quite accurate
to be drawn from memory,"
said Mr. Augustine.

"Huh," Shiv said. It didn't
seem like such a big deal
to him. He'd gotten plenty of
time to study the thick hinges and
stubby locks. He wasn't going
to forget them any time soon.

Then he used the blue to show
where he'd taken off the slivers.

"Dumb things don't work," he said,
looking up through his eyelashes at
Mr. Augustine. "The warden made
a big deal about --" How helpless he
was supposed to be, but Shiv didn't
want to admit that part. "-- how they
were supposed to control my superpower,
but by then I'd already nicked a couple pieces,
just to have something to do with my hands."

"Well, at least they don't seem
to do any obvious harm, unlike
that ghastly mess in Mercedes,"
said Mr. Augustine. "Thank you
for sharing this information,
it will be very helpful."

Shiv wasn't much for please-and-thankyou,
having gotten whacked over it once too often,
but he did say, "The pencils are nice."

"You're welcome," said Mr. Augustine.
"I'm glad that you liked those."

They weren't as fancy as the pastel pencils,
just something picked up from a grocery store,
but Shiv didn't care -- he was used to cheap stuff.
What mattered to him was that anyone bothered
to offer them so he could do the paperwork
without feeling like a useless idiot.

The whole thing had been ...
less bad than usual, even if Shiv
was still freaked out about it.

Part of him wondered if the warden ever had
the same useless, good-for-nothing thoughts,
and if that was what made him so mean.

Part of him wanted to pin the warden
to the fucking wall with whatever sharp things
were handy, for being such a pain.

Part of him hoped that Dr. G
was right and Shiv would never have
to see the sonofabitch again.

Dr. G and Dr. Bloch had helped a lot,
though those two were scary when
they got pissed, and Shiv really
did not want them pissed at him.

"You seem reasonably content
with the responses of Dr. G and
Dr. Bloch," said Mr. Augustine.
"You're unhappy with the warden,
which is as it should be, and with
Mr. Blake, although you are
ambivalent about Mr. Wu ..."

"The warden's got it in for me,
just because I'm a supervillain,
doesn't matter what I do," Shiv said.
"Blake's a crony, he knows it's against
the rules but he goes along with it
anyhow. Wu's just a woofer."

"Woofer?" said Mr. Augustine.

"You know, when there's a fight
and the kids stand around yelling
'Woof woof!' because it's exciting?"
Shiv said. "Half of 'em wouldn't
start trouble, but they won't stop it
neither. Wu hadn't got the rank to go
against the warden, but soon's Dr. G
stepped in, then Wu helped us."

"Understood," said Mr. Augustine.
"Was there anyone else from
this incident you'd like to discuss?"

"Saunders," said Shiv as he grabbed
a new gauge and marked the growly face.
"Blake and Wu both said he took my stuff
from the craft room, so that it wasn't there
when Dr. G wanted to use it for therapy."

Mr. Augustine sighed and took out
another form. "I'll need to record the theft.
Were the items removed entirely, or
just taken without permission?"

"Yeah well, when I borrow stuff
without asking, people call it stealing,"
Shiv said, narrowing his eyes. "They
don't give a flip about whether I meant
to put it back or not, so why bother."

"If it was Mr. Saunders' idea, then
he's on his own," Mr. Vanburen said.
"But if the warden put him up to it ...
well, that's more complicated."

"Quite," said Mr. Augustine.
"I don't outrank the warden, so
I can't write him up, but I will make
a note to investigate how it started.
Do you know where your box is now?"

"Yeah, we found it, because Dr. G got
a signal from the lock," Shiv said, "but
it's all wrapped in layers and layers of
tape, so trying to open it might wreck
my stuff -- not the bars, but there's
fine wire and metal leaf in there too."

"You mean tape covers the box completely,
not just a security band?" said Mr. Augustine.

"Whole box," Shiv said. "I might could
get it off with my superpower and
a sturdy blade, but it's still a pain."

Mr. Augustine scowled. "That is not
an authorized method for storing
inmate property," he said. "This is
why we have rules for doing that."

"For all the good it does," Shiv muttered.

"Welcome to my world," the safety officer said dryly.
"Sometimes I feel like a plumber's helper,
for all the crud I have to deal with."

Shiv giggled. He tried to muffle it,
because it annoyed people, but
some squeaked out anyhow.
"Sucks to be you."

"Some days it does," Mr. Augustine said.
"Estimated value of the goods?"

"Uh ... I dunno," Shiv said, fidgeting.
"Ask Mr. Finn? He brought it. The metal,
I mean, and the glass. The Legos are
from Dr. G. But if it's me, people always
just say it's a felony. They pad it up."

"The original value is in the paperwork
for bringing items into the prison,"
said Mr. Vanburen. Then he looked
at Shiv. "Did your box hold anything
that you've changed, though?"

"Yeah, where else would I keep it?"
Shiv said. "Some stuff's play-putty
and some is for making things.
I've messed with most of it."

"Then Shiv's right, it's probably a felony,"
said Mr. Vanburen. "Anything soup-made
costs more, sometimes a lot more.
You should ask Tolliver Finn; he
might know how much it's worth."

"I'll do that," said Mr. Augustine.

"Is that it, then?" Shiv asked,
hoping he could escape soon.

"Yes, thank you," said Mr. Augustine.
"Please understand that it may take
some time to work through all of
the disciplinary processes, but we
take these violations very seriously.
We'll keep you posted on results."

Then he walked them to the door.

The hallway made Shiv catch his breath,
especially looking at the warden's office
and the alcove where they had hidden
from the two pissed-off doctors.

"Shiv? Are you all right?"
Mr. Vanburen's hand was warm
against the chilled skin of Shiv's wrist.

"Yeah, I just ... keep thinking, and
my head's going in circles," Shiv said.

"Useless, good-for-nothing thoughts
again?" Mr. Vanburen asked.

"I guess," Shiv said.

He didn't know why he was
so shaken up when nothing
really bad had happened this time.
He'd been through a lot worse before.

"If you pick up your feet, I think we
can make it back to the private wing
before mass lets out," said Mr. Vanburen.

Shiv hurried, then, and he was
relieved when got to his cell without
seeing anyone else in the halls.

"Take some time to relax, if you're
still feeling rattled," Mr. Vanburen said
as he unlocked the cell door. "You've got
coping skills that you can do right here."

"Yeah," Shiv said, although what
he really wanted was a smoke.

What he had was a nicotine sucker,
and as soon as the door closed,
he popped that in his mouth.

Then he crawled into bed
and curled up with his blanket,
his tongue working slowly against
the bittersweet knob of medicated candy.

He didn't know why, but
sometimes it helped if he could
just have something in his mouth.

Safe in his cell, Shiv finally began to relax.

* * *


Oscar Augustine -- He has ruddy skin, brown eyes, and dark hair starting to go gray and thinner on top. He is stocky and plain. He wears reading glasses for close-up tasks. Oscar works as a safety officer at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, keeping an eye on workplace precautions for the guards and humane handling for the inmates. His thought pattern naturally inclines toward finding multiple ways to accomplish things, so if one falls through, another will catch it -- what his family calls a "belt and suspenders man." Even wary people tend to trust him, which helps keep the prison safe and build relationships. Oscar also enjoys building tiny ships and other models that require patience and finesse to complete.
Qualities: Master (+6) Thorough, Expert (+4) Building Trust, Expert (+4) Safety Officer, Good (+2) Belt and Suspenders Man, Good (+2) Fit for His Age, Good (+2) Model Building
Poor (-2) Letting Things Go

* * *

"I have a tendency to sabotage relationships; I have a tendency to sabotage everything. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of being afraid. Useless, good-for-nothing thoughts."
-- Michael Buble

Foster care always causes some trauma from disrupted attachments, and often causes catastrophic damage. It can compound the abuse or neglect that put children in care to begin with.  In Shiv's case, the human bonds simply never formed right in the first place.

Self-hate, self-sabotage, and self-blame can all lead to negative self-talk. Shiv got this from people criticizing him all the time. Learn how to overcome those problems.

Overhearing frequent arguments can reshape children's brains, making them more susceptible to stress. For abuse survivors, arguing and raised voices often turn into triggers that can cause flashbacks. Shiv obviously isn't thinking in the now, but feeling from the past. Fortunately this time he's with someone who recognizes that pattern of behavior instead of blaming him for misbehaving. Trauma-informed care for foster children includes avoiding the use of physical punishment and lowering your voice instead of raising it.

The Bandar-log are the monkey people in The Jungle Book. The phrase "monkey on his back" refers to addiction.

Feeling worksheets may come with words or without them. This worksheet shows the hands and forearms. Colored pencils help Shiv to organize and express his thoughts in a manner natural to him. This often helps with any visually oriented person, along with people who don't write well.

Here's an example of an individual service form. A smiley face gauge facilitates responses from less-literate people.

An employee incident form describes things that go wrong at work. An injury report should be filled out if anyone gets hurt. Shiv's physical injuries may have been trivial, but they were inexcusable, and this is something much easier to document than the more severe psychological impact.

This is a simple survey for health care satisfaction. See Page 1 and Page 2 of a business survey.

The bullying circle illustrates different roles in social abuse.

An employee theft form records pilfering at work or stealing from other people. The felony theft threshold in Nebraska is $1,500.

This is a set of five one-ounce bars that Tolliver brought for Shiv to practice with: copper, iron, zinc, aluminum, and brass.

Attachment disorders often occur after disruption or other trauma. Oral fixation can occur due to very early trauma which damages healthy development. Notice that Shiv has a bunch of habits that typically appear in younger children; the mouthiness is only one of them. Healing that kind of attachment damage is a lengthy process. Oral needs may be accommodated in various ways. Switching from cigarettes to nicotine suckers is a definite improvement.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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