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WARNING: This poem contains intense topics that may bother some readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features infertility, adoption and race issues, reference to unwanted superkids, awkward interpersonal issues, bond shear, Vagary freaking out when he finally realizes that he made Calliope feel unsafe, pursuit-withdrawal cycle, uncomfortable sexuality stuff, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
Calliope and Vagary arrived early
for their counseling appointment,
so they waited in the lobby.
Calliope sat down beside
a Hispanic man. "Hi, Alberto,"
she said. "I wasn't expecting to see
you here. I hope everything is okay."
Alberto shook his head. "I'm waiting for
my wife. It didn't go well again this month,
and Dolorita is taking it pretty hard."
"I'm so sorry to hear that," Calliope said,
reaching over to put a hand on his knee.
"We're talking about adoption again,"
Alberto said. "Haven't decided, though."
"I hear that Family Services has a hard time
finding parents of color, and given a choice,
they'd rather match ethnicity," said Calliope.
"If you decide on adoption, you could
really do some good there."
"Not just ethnicity," Vagary said quietly.
"There's other kids who can't find a family,
too. Nobody wants the kelly-green kid or
the one with goat horns on his head."
Alberto tilted his head. "I hadn't heard that."
"Well, you're hearing it now," Vagary said.
"A lot of superkids get abandoned, and
most of them stay in foster care. There's
never enough parents willing to adopt them,
or even take care of them temporarily."
"Madre de Dios," Alberto muttered.
"People are such fools! Anyone who
decides to make a baby should take
what they get and be grateful for it."
"If only," Vagary said. "Some
of my friends would have had
a lot happier lives that way.
"I will talk about this with Dolorita,"
said Alberto. "Perhaps there is
something that we could do --
a charity or volunteer group."
"That's kind of you," Calliope said.
Then she winked at him. "Maybe
they could use a new paint job."
"Paint job?" Vagary echoed,
looking over at Alberto.
"I paint houses, rooms, whatever,"
said Alberto. "I'm the Ombré Hombre.
You may have seen my ads around town,
and you're looking at some of my work."
He waved a hand at the waiting room,
its walls mottled in soothing shades
of peach and coral and mauve.
"How'd you get into that?"
"In college, I wanted to be an artist --
the usual portraits and landscapes -- but I
sucked at it," Hombre said. "I had this teacher
who always talked about focusing on our strengths,
and she praised my gradient skills. When I said that
I couldn't make a living out of just one technique,
she started giving me assignments based on it."
"That's really smart of her," Vagary said.
"Yeah, she turned me on to stencils too,"
said Hombre. "Those rely on blending
instead of precision with a tiny brush."
"He's done ombré walls in many of
the clinics and other businesses, and
stencils in a lot of homes," Calliope said.
"His teacher, Mrs. Metcalf, used to own
my house, and that's actually how we met."
"Oh!" Vagary said to Alberto. "Is that
your work on the living room ceiling?"
"Yeah, it is," Alberto said with
a bashful smile. "That was for
my final exam in Domestic Art 440,
right before graduation. Mrs. Metcalf
took me home instead of to a studio.
I dropped my brain. She made me
pick it up again and get to work."
"Tough lady," Vagary said.
"I think that I would like her."
Just then an intern came out
with a tired-looking Hispanic lady,
and said to Calliope and Vagary,
"Mr. Gallagar will see you now."
"Coming," Calliope said, although
she paused to say, "Dolorita, I hope
that things get better for you soon."
The intern led them down the hall
to Mr. Gallagar's office, and they
settled into the loveseat with
a minimum of jostling.
"It's good to see you two again,"
their counselor said. "How have
things been going for you lately?"
That launched Vagary into
an enthusiastic description of
everything they had been doing --
the practical exercises in the park,
the workbooks he was mowing through,
and some kind of strategy game that
he was playtesting where a group
of people had to form into pairs
while the game was in progress.
Calliope sighed and shifted away,
leaning on her arm of the loveseat.
Vagary's happy chatter petered out.
"So, um, I guess that's it for me."
"Calliope, how about you?"
Mr. Gallagar inquired.
"Vagary hasn't broken into
my house since we talked about
boundaries and meeting in public.
The exercises are helping some, but
I'm still --" She stopped and rubbed
her arms, trying to dispel the sense of
insects crawling on her. "It's hard."
"That does sound difficult,"
said Mr. Gallagar. "What parts
do you find so challenging?"
"It's the difference between
being safe and feeling safe,"
Calliope said. "I know that Vagary
doesn't come into my house anymore,
but it's just logic. I don't feel much safer."
Vagary gave her a look of dawning horror.
"I made you feel unsafe?" he said.
"I-I didn't know that. I'm so sorry!"
"How could you not know that?"
Calliope said. "You kept coming into
my house, and that time I hit you, I
told you that I thought someone
was trying to rape or murder me."
"I didn't realize it was ... like that,"
Vagary said miserably, scrunching
into his corner of the loveseat. "It's
so different for me. I feel comfortable
at your place because, well, it's yours.
I'm used to living with other people."
"I'm not," Calliope said. "Even when
I was growing up, I had my own room."
Besides, it was risky letting anyone get
too close due to the gender dysphoria.
"Nobody should ever have to feel
unsafe at home," Vagary said. "I
really am sorry. How can I fix it?"
"Just leave me alone," she muttered.
Vagary cringed. "I can try," he said.
"It's just hard when the bond pulls."
"That's what brought you here in
the first place," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Previously we have talked about
the pursuer-withdrawal cycle.
Shall we explore that today?"
"Sure, whatever," Calliope said,
and Vagary nodded agreement.
"What I see is that Vagary tends
to pursue while Calliope tends
to withdraw," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Sometimes it helps to examine
the underlying reasons why you
show this pattern. For example,
this often develops between
an introvert and an extrovert."
"Maybe, but ... I'm not really either,"
Vagary said. "I love people, I love
belonging to a group and going
to events. I just get overwhelmed
if it's too busy. So back home, I
usually volunteer for a station where
I can hand out stuff. If I have a job,
then I get to interact with people
but I don't feel so overloaded."
Calliope nodded. "With me, it's
the timing," she said. "Introverts go
to a party, have a little fun, and burn out
after twenty minutes or so. Extroverts can
last all day or all night. Me, I'm good for two
or three hours, maybe four if it's a great party."
"Have either of you tried introvert parties?"
Mr. Gallagar asked, steepling his hands.
"Oh yeah, I can go all day at those, but
they're not as much fun," Vagary said.
"People don't like to talk a lot there."
"They're okay, but they don't really
feel like parties to me," Calliope said.
"It's no big deal, though. I'm comfortable
alone -- I have to be -- and in a group.
When I get tired of one mode, I switch."
"It sounds like the introvert / extrovert model
doesn't quite fit you, then," said Mr. Gallagar.
"That's all right; plenty of people are ambiverts.
What about sexual orientation? Romance?"
"I am not talking about my love life!"
Calliope snapped, glaring at him.
"It's okay, you don't have to,"
Vagary said at once. It was weird
how he always had her back on that,
but he knew about her gendershifting
and never failed to support it. "As for me,
I dunno, I don't really have an orientation.
My folks were conservative and they
kicked me out for sexual confusion."
"Would you like to talk about that?"
Mr. Gallagar asked Vagary.
"Not really. It's kind of a sore topic,"
Vagary said. "I haven't really
gotten any less confused."
"How about friendships?"
the counselor asked.
"Fair game," Calliope said,
relieved at the change of topic,
and Vagary added, "Sure,
I have plenty of those."
"Calliope?" asked Mr. Gallagar.
"Plenty of friends, or just a few?"
"Just a few," she said. Getting close
to people was risky and stressful, but
she had a handful of intimate friends.
"You may have heard of Jackie Frost.
I went to her baby shower."
"Yes, I have looked into soup culture
now that I have you two for clients,"
said Mr. Gallagar. "I've heard of her."
"She's that skater with Ice Powers,
right?" said Vagary. "I heard that
Jacks is a real t--uh, tough cookie."
Calliope wondered what he had been
about to say before he cut himself off,
then decided that it was probably
better if she didn't know.
"I know that neither of you are
keen on discussing sexual issues,
but I'd like to observe that what you're
saying makes me wonder if you might
be demisexual or demiromantic,"
Mr. Gallagar mentioned.
"Huh?" said Vagary.
"It means someone who doesn't
feel attracted to strangers, only
to someone they know and like,"
Calliope explained. "I've heard of it,
but never thought much about it."
"I think we've already established
my sexuality is a mess," Vagary said.
"This can relate to friendships too,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "In that case,
it's called demisensual. It means
someone who takes a while before
they really warm up to a new person.
They don't feel comfortable getting
too close, too soon. So that can
complicate their relationships."
"Yeah," Calliope said slowly.
"That sounds familiar to me."
She had to be careful about
who she let into her life, only
with Vagary, she couldn't.
"Think about that over time,"
Mr. Gallagar suggested. "It might
shed some light on the situation."
"Yeah, I'll look it up," Vagary said.
"Let's dig a little deeper," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Vagary, what kind of things -- other than
the bond itself -- make you feel a need
to draw closer to Calliope?"
"I like being with people," Vagary said.
"I need a place to belong. I hate feeling
alone, pushed away, left behind. It just
makes me crazy. That's why I'm so clingy.
I know it's bad, I just can't quit doing it."
"That sounds like a need for belonging and
a fear of abandonment," said Mr. Gallagar.
"You're not crazy, Vagary. Those are
natural human feelings. Everyone
feels that way sometimes."
"But not all the time," Calliope said.
"Nobody feels them all the time either,"
the counselor agreed. "Feelings vary.
What are some of yours when you
pull away from Vagary?"
"I feel like he's too close, like
I'm being smothered," she said. "I
don't like people butting into my life.
I am always afraid that they will
discover things they don't like."
"You don't like people?"
Mr. Gallagar said.
"It's not exactly that," she said.
"I need people, at least some people --
I want them to see me for who I really am
and to accept me, not try to change me."
"I see you," Vagary whispered. "I can't not.
The bond makes you a part of me, even if
you don't feel the same way that I do."
He had unfolded out of the corner
and inched back toward the center
of the loveseat, enough to touch.
Calliope gave him a hasty pat
on the shoulder and then withdrew.
"Okay," said Mr. Gallagar. "What I hear
is fear of discovery and need for validation."
"We know our needs don't match,"
Calliope said. "It was in a worksheet
that you had us fill out earlier."
"I'm glad you remember that,"
the counselor said. "When you
recognize your own needs, and
each other's, then you can work on
meeting those without tangling up
like you're trying to fight your way
out of a Chinese finger trap."
Vagary snickered. "One that's
got glue in it, that's a good prank."
"Not so funny when the joke's
on us," Calliope said sourly.
"Yeah, but he said he could help,"
Vagary pointed out. Then he turned
to Mr. Gallagar. "What should I do?"
"Slow down," the counselor advised him,
"and everything that you are chasing
will come around and catch you."
Vagary looked at Calliope, then looked away.
"I'd like that," he said, "but I don't think
she would, and that makes all the difference."
Calliope realized that she would have
to pick up her own end of this in order
for it to have any chance of working.
"Okay, you gave him his assignment;
what's mine?" she asked Mr. Gallagar.
"You said that you switch back and forth
between introvert and extrovert mode,"
the counselor said. "So first, concentrate on
mindfulness. When you're alone, be alone;
and when you're together, be together."
"I guess I can work on it," she said.
"What other things can I do?"
"Give Vagary some reassurance,"
said Mr. Gallagar. "I know that you don't
feel the same about the relationship as
he does, but it would help if you could
set some expectations and meet them.
It would give him something solid
to lean on. Knowing you'll be there
as planned will reduce the clinging."
Calliope had always prided herself
on being timely and organized. She
could make a schedule and stick to it.
"Okay, we can try that," she said.
"We've been doing an exercise after
most of our sessions here. We could
make that a regular thing, not a guess."
"What if there's an emergency, or we
feel awful afterwards?" Vagary said.
"Emergencies trump schedules,"
Calliope said. "If we're just tired or
cranky, we can do something that
doesn't take much energy, like
sitting in a park or a quiet room."
"You might consider going out
to eat," Mr. Gallagar said. "People
get grouchy if they haven't eaten recently,
especially after difficult mental work."
"I could eat," Vagary said. "Where's
good to go around here, though?
I still don't know the area much."
A sudden craving hit Calliope.
"Let's go to the Blue Spruce,"
she said. "It's an ice cream parlor
that sells gelato and hot drinks.
I love their honey-rosebud gelato."
"Do they have green tea ice cream?"
Vagary said, leaning in. "I like that."
"I don't know, but they make
a great Earl Grey Tea gelato,"
Calliope said. "You could try it. They
even have t-shirts. I remember you
mentioned collecting souvenirs."
"Sold," Vagary said happily.
"Theoretically, you still have
five minutes left," said Mr. Gallagar.
"In practice, I advise you to get
while the getting's good."
They took his advice.
* * *
The Ombré Hombre (Alberto Rojas) -- He has tan skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He speaks English and Spanish with native fluency, and a modest amount of French learned in school. Alberto works as a domestic artist in Stillwater, Oklahoma, doing ombré effects on building exteriors and interiors, along with stencil designs. He is a friend of Calliope's.
Alberto and his wife Dolorita have been trying to start a family for several years, so far with no luck, despite all kinds of fertility treatments. It is a source of pervasive grief for them. They've talked about adoption off and on, but haven't decided yet. After Calliope and Vagary alerted him to adoption issues with children of color and superkids, Alberto started doing nursery designs.
Origin: He was born with his abilities, but he's a Kauai -- he doesn't realize that his exceptional color vision is a superpower.
Uniform: On duty he wears comfortable work clothes, usually a t-shirt and pants during warm weather, or coveralls during colder weather. Off duty, he favors casual men's wear. He likes light colors that contrast well with his skin, or supersaturated Mexican colors.
Qualities: Good (+2) Artistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Domestic Painter, Good (+2) Husband, Good (+2) Skateboarding
Poor (-2) Infertility
Powers: Good (+2) Tetrachromat
Motivation: To make the world more beautiful.
Dolorita Rojas -- She has tinted skin, brown eyes, and straight dark brown hair past her shoulders. She has seven sisters and one brother, along with many nieces and nephews, whom she adores. Dolorita is the wife of Alberto, the Ombré Hombre. She works at the MultiArts Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She enjoys growing Mexican plants in a greenhouse such as gardenia and bougainvillea. Dolorita is a friend of Calliope.
Dolorita and her husband Alberto have been trying to start a family for several years, so far with no luck, despite all kinds of fertility treatments. It is a source of pervasive grief for them. They've talked about adoption off and on, but haven't decided yet.
Qualities: Good (+2) Art Gallery Worker, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Greenhouse Gardener, Good (+2) Pretty, Good (+2) Visual-Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Infertility
* * *
"Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you."
-- John De Paola
The waiting room of the Tranquility Center has walls mottled in soft shades of peach and mauve, along with a masking tape mural in brighter abstract shapes.
Ombré painting makes stencils look better, such as these birds. It requires a fine eye for gradients rather than dexterity with a tiny paintbrush.
Geometric painting with masking tape is another technique that makes use of large color blocks. Here's a video of the technique.
Transracial adoptions are controversial, but acceptance is growing. Transracial adoptees are speaking about their experiences, which are mostly positive. Targeted recruitment helps to attract foster or adoptive parents of color. Superkids are abused, abandoned, and/or taken from their homes at a much higher rate than ordinary kids. Finding foster or adoptive parents for them is even harder than for children of color, but many of the issues are similar.
This is Calliope's living room. The walls in the living room are painted "desert peach." The chandelier has a medallion stencil.
Previously Calliope and Vagary filled out a worksheet about the Pursuer Withdrawer Cycle. This toxic pattern occurs when partners have different needs for intimacy and space. It is fundamentally a failure of connection. There are ways to work through this.
Transgender identity can cause isolation. Closeted transfolk may find it difficult or impossible to form relationships, and the effects may linger even after coming out. This reclusive behavior is not without reason: transfolk have a much higher risk of being beaten, raped, or murdered. What they need most is people who see them as they really are.
Psychological safety is different from physical safety. I made a Safety Tracker for people who have difficulty distinguishing their current level of safety. Here are some practical ways to enhance your sense of security.
Some people make friends easily, while others don't. The number of friends people could have is limited, somewhere between 100 and 250. There are pros and cons to having many friends or just a few.
Demisexual people only feel sexual attraction after an emotional bond has formed. Demisensual people may feel the same way about nonsexual contact or friendships; they take longer to warm up to relationships in general. Check out this demisensual pride flag, which is white with a black triangle and a peach stripe across the middle.
The Blue Spruce is an ice cream parlor in Stillwater, Oklahoma. They sell souvenir t-shirts. See their Earl Grey Tea Gelato, and enjoy a similar recipe. They also have Honey Rosebud Ice Cream, but alas, I couldn't find a recipe for anything like that.