"Whatever Falls on Them"
After Buttons had left with Jaxon,
it took a while for Shiv to settle down
and soothe his shattered nerves.
He hugged his pillow and paced
around his apartment and stepped on
a Lego and yelped because he had
forgotten to put the damn things away.
"Vanburen was right," Shiv muttered
as he limped around hastily collecting
the tiny blocks. "Fucking caltrops."
His hands shook so much that he
couldn't zip the baggies he used
for storing his stuff, and wound up
closing them with twisty-ties.
He thought about sucking on
a nicotine lolly, but somehow it
just didn't seem like enough, so
he treated himself to a cigarette
instead. A whole one.
That helped somewhat.
When the shaking let up enough
that he could hold onto his phone
without dropping it, Shiv called Dr. G.
"Kid's gone, still freaking out," he said.
"Thank you for telling me," said Dr. G.
"Did you and Jaxon get through the day
without a major crisis, and this is just fallout?"
"Yeah," Shiv said. "Buttons picked him up,
and Boss White made her quit bugging me
after a while, but ... I'm still all shook up.
I petted my pillow, walked around, and
had a smoke, but I can't calm down."
"All right, let's work on that together,"
said Dr. G. "Start with a few deep breaths."
Shiv obeyed, trying to get enough air
into his lungs for once. "Okay," he said.
"Anxiety can make you disconnected in ways
that undermine your ability to calm down,"
said Dr. G. "So pay attention to yourself.
What are you feeling inside your body now?
Start by checking in with your feet."
Shiv looked down. "They're tapping,"
he said. "Hands too, I've been shaky."
"You're feeling jittery," Dr. G echoed.
"Okay, how about your middle?"
"Stomach's doing flip-flops," Shiv said.
"How long has it been since you've
eaten anything?" Dr. G asked him.
"I dunno, a few hours?" Shiv said.
"We had fruit and sandwiches for
lunch, but it's not supper time yet."
"You're feeling queasy," Dr. G said.
"It might help to have a snack, if
you think you can keep it down.
Tea is another option."
"I thought about making a cup of
catnip, but it makes me dozy," Shiv said.
"If I fall asleep in the middle of the day,
then I won't sleep through the night."
"That's a valid concern," Dr. G said.
"What other kinds of tea do you have?
Many of them have soothing qualities;
I can talk you through it if you don't
know which of them to pick."
Shiv had to walk into his kitchen,
because he couldn't remember them.
Dr. Bloch had turned him on to
some good stuff, so he had
several in the cabinet.
"Uh, chamomile, catnip,
ginger, mint, rosehip --"
Shiv read along the row.
"Try a cup of mint tea,"
said Dr. G. "You might add
a pinch or two of catnip, and
be generous with the honey.
If your blood sugar is low,
the honey will help that."
So Shiv boiled some water,
measured out a tablespoon of
dried mint and a couple pinches
of catnip into a tea ball, and then
filled up a favorite mug that read,
Here's a cup of calm the fuck down.
"Got it going," Shiv reported
as he set the timer and waited
impatiently for the tea to steep.
"Good, then let's go back to
your body inventory," Dr. G said.
"How do your neck and head feel?"
"Tight," Shiv said. "Like when
you're putting a screw in something,
a quarter turn before it strips?"
"You're feeling tense," Dr. G said.
"Look down, then up. Tilt your head
left and right. Now shrug your shoulders
a few times. Roll them in circles."
"Okay, I'm --" Shiv began as he
followed directions, only to be
interrupted by the timer's ping.
"-- wait, I need to deal with my tea."
"I'll wait," Dr. G assured him.
Shiv swished the tea ball around
inside the mug, then fished it out
and dropped it into the sink.
He added a spoon of honey,
hesitated, then dumped in another.
"Got it," Shiv said finally.
"Go sit down somewhere comfortable,"
Dr. G said, and Shiv moved to the futon.
"Next, hold the cup in your hands for
a moment. Smell the steam. Watch
your breath stir the curls of it coming
off the hot tea. Think about a time
when it made you feel safe and calm."
Shiv never felt all the way safe, but
he remembered sitting in the infirmary
with Dr. Bloch and tasting that first cup
of catnip. It was a good memory, and
he didn't have too many of those.
"Yeah," he sighed, and the word
swirled through the rising steam.
"Now take a sip," Dr. G said,
"and feel how the tea moves
down your throat, into your belly,
warming you from the inside out."
Shiv swallowed a mouthful of tea
and traced it as far as he could
through his body until the heat
faded away. He sipped again.
"It's good," he told Dr. G.
"I'm happy to hear that," said Dr. G.
"How does your body feel now?"
"Not as awful," Shiv said.
"Not really good, either, but
maybe ... a little less like I'm
coming apart at the seams?"
"That's an improvement," Dr. G said.
"Let's move on to your emotions."
"I'm a mess," Shiv confessed. "This all --
it just -- I don't know how to cope with it."
He could feel something ugly pushing at
the thick black wall in the back of his mind,
and that was never a good thing. "Kids
are so fragile, and they just have to take
whatever falls on them. It sucks."
"That sounds like you're having a hard time,"
Dr. G said. "Let's look at it another way ...
perhaps children are like wet cement, and
whatever falls on them makes an impression,
but doesn't crush them like it would dry cement."
"I felt pretty crushed, a lot of times," Shiv said.
"Everybody had all these expectations of me,
and I never could make any of them happy.
Sometimes I still feel that way, like now."
"Would you like to talk about what
rattled you so much today, or is it
too soon to deal with?" Dr. G asked.
"I don't think this is something
I can ignore," Shiv said unhappily.
His fingernails clinked against
the side of his cup. "I was so
out of my depth, and Buttons
wants me to do it again, and I --
I can't, doc, I just seriously can't."
His breath hitched, and
Shiv forced it back down. He
was not about to cry. He was not.
"Then we'll make sure you don't,"
Dr. G said. "Buttons is the mother;
Jaxon is her responsibility, not yours."
That felt so good to hear. "Yeah,"
Shiv said. "I'd really like that."
"I knew you weren't happy about
babysitting, but I didn't know it was
this bad," Dr. G said. "If I had,
then I would have intervened."
"Whoa, no, I do not want you
making trouble with my boss!"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
"It's not trouble, just support,"
Dr. G said. "Boss White is
a reasonable man; he doesn't
want you or Jaxon getting hurt.
He simply didn't understand
how serious this issue was."
"He reads me pretty well," Shiv said.
"Even when you're trying to hide
something?" Dr. G said gently.
"Not so much then," Shiv admitted,
taking another drink of his herbal tea.
"He doesn't pry, he just skims."
"Then he probably can't get much
from you when you're not broadcasting,"
Dr. G said. "This means we need to use
verbal communication instead, so that
your boss doesn't ask more of you than
you can safely give. I will take care of
that, if you don't want to do it yourself."
"I don't want Boss White to know
how screwed up I am," Shiv said.
"He already knows that," Dr. G said,
"and he chooses to keep you anyway.
We're just going to add some details
to prevent future misfortunes. Unless
you want to try babysitting again?"
"Fuck no," Shiv said. Then he sighed.
"But what if it's an emergency, a real one?"
"That's up to you, Shiv," said Dr. G.
"You should come up with some plans,
whether you want to manage things yourself
or hand them off to someone better suited."
"I don't know anything about kids,"
Shiv said for about the millionth time.
"I don't know what to do for them."
"How would you like to handle that?"
Dr. G asked. "There are multiple options."
"I dunno," Shiv said. His brain was fried.
"You might consider a babysitting class,"
Dr. G said. "I know you don't want to do this
again, and you're not a fan of classes. However,
feeling helpless and confused is a known risk factor
for developing traumatic stress. Just knowing what's
happening and what you can do about it helps
people to cope better with challenges."
"I thought about it, a little, like how the prison
had that stuff in the Life Skills track," he admitted.
One finger traced the rim of his cup. "But I really,
truly suck at school, and this ... it's just too big."
"Okay, that's a good point," Dr. G said.
"What if we broke it down? I could teach you
one little thing at a time, like a new game or
how to change a toddler's clothes after a spill.
There are also plenty of free videos online that
demonstrate parenting skills one at a time."
"That ... might help," Shiv said, fumbling
the idea around inside his head. "At least then
I'd know what stuff was supposed to look like."
"That sounds like a plan," Dr. G said.
"For now, take some time to yourself.
You need to relax after a rough day, so
it doesn't get worse. Go do something
you find soothing or fun. I'll talk with
Boss White and make sure that he
knows not to pressure you on this."
It was so tempting. Shiv knew
that only a fucking coward would
agree to that, but he just did not have
the energy to be a badass right now.
"Yeah, okay," he said. Then he took
a long pull of his tea. "I was wondering ...
why Jaxon would latch onto me like that,
when Buttons says he doesn't like people
very much. I dunno, it seems weird."
"It may be that you let him do things
that most babysitters wouldn't," Dr. G said.
"Maybe," Shiv said, and then lowered
his voice. "What if he's ... like me, always
grabbing things to look at and play with,
and then nobody likes that about him?
I don't want him to wind up like I have."
"It's possible that Jaxon saw something
in you which he hasn't seen in other people,
and that common ground made you seem
appealing to him," Dr. G said. "I can talk
with his mother about it, if you wish."
"Yeah, 'cause now Buttons wants me
to do it again, but I'm not a babysitter
and I don't know what I did," Shiv said.
"That's okay," Dr. G said. "I know most
of the things you did, so that gives me ideas
to try out with Jaxon. If he's a tactile learner
like you, then accounting for that now will
make his life a lot easier. It will be fine."
"I can't stop thinking about it," Shiv said.
"I try, I can push it away for a minute, but
then I'm back to worrying about Jaxon or
remembering awful shit when I was his age."
"How do you deal with delegating tasks
at work?" Dr. G asked. "You seem
a lot more comfortable with that."
"I don't," Shiv said. "I'm not a boss,
I don't tell people what to do, I'm the one
who does whatever they tell me needs doing."
"What if a problem is above your pay grade?"
Dr. G asked. "How do you handle that?"
"That's boss work," Shiv said. "All's I have
to do is let Lieutenant Brown and Boss White
know what's up, and then they'll take care of it."
"Exactly," said Dr. G. "Can you imagine that
I'm a 'boss' when it comes to personal things
like this? Try that on inside your head."
Shiv tried it. "Huh ... maybe?" he said.
"Then you don't need to worry about this
any more," Dr. G said firmly. "Let it go.
You've told me, so your job is done,
and it's my responsibility now."
Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.
"Yeah, that does help," he said.
He had practice at letting go.
He tipped the cup and was surprised
to find it empty. The tea had slowed
his body enough that he no longer
felt like it was about to fall off.
"Then I'll let you go for now,
but don't hesitate to call me back
if you want more support. I'll be there
for you, any time you need me," Dr. G said.
"I hope that the rest of your day goes
better than the beginning did."
"Thanks," Shiv said softly, and
ended the call. For a long moment,
he sat on his futon and just stared
blankly at the living room wall.
Then he heaved himself to his feet
and put the cup in the kitchen sink.
Wiping his hands on his pants,
Shiv realized that they were sticky,
and in fact he had similar blotches
of it all over himself where Jaxon had
smudged him with some toddler gunk.
Shiv needed a bath so bad right now.
He double-checked the lock on his door,
then went into the bathroom and turned
the water on. He threw his dirty clothes in
the hamper, hoping they were salvageable.
Then he reached into a jar and tossed in
a handful of oatmeal and lavender bath mix.
He'd learned that trick years ago, the time
he got eaten alive by mosquitoes, and
his foster mom had washed him in it.
Now the familiar scent helped him unwind
as he climbed into the tub and leaned back
against the rim, looking up at the silhouette
of Elsa faithfully standing guard over him.
"Let it go ... let it go," he sang softly, and tried to.
* * *
"Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression."
-- Dr. Haim Ginott
Emotional shock can result from any distressing event, and may leave a lasting imprint in the form of complex trauma. This is just one of many long-term effects from child neglect and abuse. It's especially bad with sexual abuse, which produces some different challenges for boys than for girls. Past shocks to the psyche can cause flashbacks, which in turn evoke fresh feelings of emotional shock. Understand how to cope with emotional shock, or help someone else through it depending on how long ago the trauma occurred.
The invisible suitcase is a metaphor for the lasting impact of adverse childhood events. Shiv has a whole baggage rack.
Many types of herbal tea have soothing effects. Mint and catnip are favorites, often blended with chamomile. Shiv is building up what amounts to a small medicine chest in his tea cabinet.
This is Shiv's calm coffee cup.
A body inventory helps you understand what's going on inside you. Feeling your body also works to counteract flashbacks.
Oatmeal and lavender soothe the skin and the spirit. Here's a simple recipe for a bath soak with oatmeal and lavender.