Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Leaving and Not Knowing"

This poem is spillover from the July 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "rites of passage / coming of age" square in my 7-1-16 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains a lot of intense feelings. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv is moving out of his old cell in the private wing. It seems like a simple, low-action scene from the outside but it's not to Shiv; for him it feels overwhelming. Also the inside of Shiv's head is still a dicey place. There is anxiety over change, uncertainty about the future, a fatalistic approach to doing what he frankly doesn't want to do, difficulty perceiving benefits, ambivalence, discussions of discipline, erratic personal boundaries, difficulty tolerating touch, reluctance, confusion, and other challenges. It's a necessary and positive change, but that still doesn't make it feel good. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.

"Leaving and Not Knowing"

Shiv wanted the transfer to go smoothly,
so he made sure that he had everything
packed by the time Mr. Vanburen arrived.

The guard made a quick, cursory check of
Shiv's baggage except for the container
of therapy materials. "Would you like for
Ambrose to check this, or someone else?"

"Rosie's fine," Shiv said with a nod.

"Are you looking forward to the upgrade?"
Mr. Vanburen said as he glanced around.

"No," Shiv admitted. "Has to be done,
is all." His chest felt strange and tight
as he looked from the bed to the desk,
the walls that had defined his world,
the privacy screen folded up and
leaned over the toilet.

Mr. Vanburen sighed. "We're trying
to make this transition as comfortable
as possible for you, Shiv," he said.

"It is what it is," Shiv said.
"Nice of you to try, though."

He slipped a chunk of brass out
of his pocket and began bending it
into different shapes. Polly-something,
Mr. Howard had called them, although
who Polly was and why they should be
named after her, Shiv had no idea.

The guard finished his final inspection of
the room. Then he gave Shiv a thoughtful look.
"Is there anything else you'd like to tell me about,
that might be a bit out of place?" he asked.

"Will it get me in trouble?" Shiv hedged.

"Hmm ... Mr. Lincoln's a fair man, and he's
given me plenty of leeway," said Mr. Vanburen.
"So I'm going to say no, not if you tell me now.
But if we find out about it later, then you'd be
on the hook for it, whatever it might be."

Shiv sighed, and reached down to touch
the bed frame. The metal pipe opened
at the caress of his superpower, spilling
out a pile of bright silver shavings.

"Jesus Christ!" said Mr. Vanburen.
"What did you do to that poor bed?"

"I uh ... really needed something
to fiddle with," Shiv said, looking away.

"Well, better a bed than a person,"
said Mr. Vanburen. He shook his head.
"There is no way that's safe to use now.
We'll have to replace it. I will just
put it down as metal fatigue."

Shiv snickered. "Yeah, because
that bed is so tired of me!"

"Good one," Mr. Vanburen said,
chuckling along with him. "Can
you tolerate a pat-down today?"

"I don't know," Shiv said.

"Would you prefer a scanner?"
Mr. Vanburen offered.

"No," Shiv said at once.
He hated those things, they
made his skin crawl, and
they tended to break even if
he didn't do it on purpose.

"Okay," said Mr. Vanburen.
"We'll try it by hand, and if
that doesn't work, we can
switch to something else."

Shiv leaned against the wall
and tried to stand still, because
Mr. Vanburen was being so careful
with him, but as the hands got lower,
the flinches kept getting bigger.

"This can't be safe for either of us,"
the guard muttered, pulling away.
"You feel like a horse about to kick."

Shiv hunched his head into his shoulders.

"Turn around, I've got another idea
we can try," Mr. Vanburen said.

"Okay?" Shiv said dubiously.

"Are you carrying anything that you
shouldn't be?" Mr. Vanburen asked.
"Give it up now and you'll lose any
contraband, but it won't cost you
extra penalties. Hold out on me,
and you'll be in more trouble
if you get caught with it."

"No, it's all legit," Shiv said.
He hadn't had either the time or
the energy to go looking for trouble.

"Empty your pockets, please,"
Mr. Vanburen said.

Shiv took out the two lumps of
play-putty, one brass and one
soft steel. He hesitated over
the sucker, because it was
the last of the prickly pear.
"Dr. Bloch gave me this."

"I know, and I'm not going
to steal your stuff, Shiv,"
said the guard. "I just need
to know what you're carrying
on your person, and that it's
all permissible material."

Shiv kicked off his shoes,
although there was nothing
in them except for his feet.
"What else?" he asked.

"Pull your clothes snug against
your body," Mr. Vanburen said
as he watched Shiv tighten first
his shirt and then his trousers.
"You're not one for packing
big trouble, and you've been
doing a lot better. This'll do."

Shiv let go with a sigh of relief.
Everything felt itchy and twitchy
today, no matter what he did.

"Congratulations, we're good
to go," Mr. Vanburen declared.
He unlocked the door and
then waved Shiv toward it.

Shiv trailed his hand over the bed.
"I don't want to leave," he said.

"Yeah, I know," said Mr. Vanburen.
"I felt the same way about my cabin,
every year at summer camp."

"What did you do?" Shiv asked.

Mr. Vanburen flicked something at him,
and Shiv caught it on pure reflex.
Looking down, he saw a candy bar.

"Drowned my sorrows in chocolate,
of course," the guard said. "Come on."

He put a hand on Shiv's shoulder,
not pushing or pulling, just ...
warm, and steady, through
the thin zebra cloth of the shirt.

Somehow that loosened
the clench of Shiv's chest
enough for him to speak up.

"It's not just the leaving that's hard,"
Shiv said. "It's the leaving ... and
not knowing what to expect."

"I expect," Mr. Vanburen said firmly
as he guided Shiv to the door,
"that you will do just fine."

For once, Shiv really wanted to believe him.

* * *


"So many people prefer to live in drama because it's comfortable. It's like someone staying in a bad marriage or relationship -- it's actually easier to stay because they know what to expect every day, versus leaving and not knowing what to expect."
-- Ellen DeGeneres

Change is an integral part of life. People often fear change because they have experienced changes for the worse. This is particularly true of abuse survivors, who need extra support through transitions. This is particularly true of Shiv, who's had far more negative experiences than positive ones. Change can also be good, but even good changes can make people feel bad. So people often resist transitions, which increases the friction, the discomfort, and the chance of things going wrong. Support at all levels can influence the amount of gain realized by making changes. Adjusting to change is a basic life skill. Ideally, people learn this as children, but not everyone enjoys that opportunity. Those who don't are more prone to maladaptive responses. Learn how to go with the flow and adapt to changes. You can help other people cope with change, especially if they have mental issues or other challenges that make it harder on them.

Polyhedra are solid geometric shapes. Here are some examples in brass. Manipulatives help students learn math concepts, such as these activities for exploring polyhedra. Mr. Howard has showed Shiv some of these for superpower exercises, but the explanation has gone over Shiv's head. Here are some math manipulatives you can buy.

Positive discipline uses various strategies to teach and support good behavior. This requires good verbal communication. It also requires adults to know and teach nonverbal communication. Notice how carefully Travis walks Shiv through everything, and stops the pat-down upon realizing that it's so stressful Shiv is about to lose his grip. Another principle, borrowed from animal training, is "Make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing."

Expectations can exert powerful influence over behavior. In order to bring out the best in people, you need to set and communicate good, clear expectations. Then hold people accountable for the results. In this regard it is crucial to set goals which are challenging but achievable. You must also balance responsibility and authority: never require someone to do anything without the resources and leverage to do it right, nor allow them to do things without accountability. Factor in these aspects when setting expectations and analyzing results. In this case, Shiv is only held responsible for things he could influence -- and Travis is taking care not to push beyond Shiv's very limited ability to behave. Shiv has had way too much experience with how unreasonable expectations make everyone miserable.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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