Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Escape from the Loneliness"

This poem is spillover from the March 6, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] pantha. It also fills the "holding someone's hand" square in my 2-28-18 card for the Slice-of-Life Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Soupshue. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Escape from the Loneliness"


Shiv liked spending time with Gray.

He could hang out with any number
of guys in the gang, of course,
but Gray was different.

Shiv never had to worry
about Gray razzing him for
not chasing pussy as much
as most other guys liked to do,
or about Gray putting his hands
anywhere that he shouldn't.

No matter how outrageous were
some of the things they did in bed,
there was something clean about them
that made Shiv feel differently than he
felt about the occasional fucking around
which he had attempted in the past.

They could sprawl on the couch together,
too, or hold hands in a crowd, which gave
Shiv an escape from the loneliness
that sometimes snuck up on him.

It was a good relationship,
in ways that things were
rarely good for Shiv.

The problem was, he
didn't know what to do
with a relationship.

All he had was a head full
of sleazy romance movies
and the social baggage that
Boss White called stereotypes
and Dr. G called bad tape.

Shiv tried talking to Dr. G about
that during one of their sessions.
"It's not a courtship, you know?"
he said. "Except it kind of is."

"Well, it's good that you want
to work on healthy relationships,"
said Dr. G. "You may have to put
the bottom rungs on the ladder first.
You need a foundation in self-love
in order to care about others."

No wonder Shiv's life was
so fucked up, then.

"I'm not exactly
the 'lovable' type,"
Shiv pointed out.

"I disagree, but I can
see why you would feel
that way after your childhood,"
Dr. G said. "That kind of belief can
get in the way of good friendships.
I could give you some exercises
that some people find helpful."

All that did was bring up
a ton of crappy memories
about past therapy that
just made Shiv cringe.

"I don't think I can do that,
doc, I suck at therapy," he said.

"It sounds like this isn't working
for you," Dr. G said, patting the air
with his hands. "That's all right.
Let's try another approach."

"Yeah, but what?" Shiv said.

"Why don't you try asking Heron
about friendly relationships?"
said Dr. G. "He has plenty of
experience, because all of his
relationships are platonic."

Shiv sat back in his seat.
"Huh. That's a good idea."

So they talked about other things
for the rest of that session, and
the next day, Shiv asked Heron.

"I got a good thing with Gray,
and I don't want to mess it up,
but my head's a mess and I'm
scared spitless that I will,"
Shiv said all in a rush.

"It's okay, Shiv, most people
find relationships a little daunting,
especially serious ones," said Heron.
"Have you tried talking with Da?"

"Yeah, but my head went funny
and he told me to talk to you since
you do this all the time," Shiv said,
hoping that Heron wouldn't just
fob him off on someone else.

"Okay, something less formal
than therapy, then," said Heron.
"It can help just to focus on what
works for you and try to build up
positive things. That wears down
bad memories and bad tape, slowly,
rather than trying to change them
with a more direct approach."

"Yeah? Does it work?" Shiv said.

"It worked for me," Heron said. "I had
a couple of bad experiences in high school,
and talking about it didn't help as much as
I hoped it would. So I spent time with
friends, just trying to get comfortable
in my skin again, and that did help."

Shiv instantly wondered who
those bad experiences were
and whether he could ventilate
their tires a little. Or a lot.

"What did you do?" he said.

"Different things, depending on
the friends," Heron said. "I swapped
foot rubs, went for long walks, and
cuddled while watching movies.
Cooking, of course, that one
always brings people closer."

"Gray cooks," Shiv blurted.
"Only he makes fancy-dancy stuff
like the chefs on television do, and
I can barely make eggs without
carbonizing my skillet. I don't
know as I'd be much use to him."

"Why don't you ask?" Heron said gently.
"Most recipes have at least some easy steps.
As soon as I was ready to learn more than
making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,
my parents taught me things like measuring
and stirring so I could help in the kitchen. I bet
Gray would enjoy you giving him a hand, and
you could teach him something in return."

"Yeah, he doesn't suck with a knife now,"
Shiv said. "I've been showing him stuff."

"Have you showed him your butterflies?"
Heron said. "You're amazing with those."

"Yeah, but Gray's scared to try them,"
said Shiv. "I may ask again, now that
he's a little more confident with the others."

"Try reminding him that it's the safest kind
of folding knife to use, and you don't have to
flip it open the fancy way," Heron suggested.

"Thanks for the tips," Shiv said, and then
let Heron ramble about his latest project
for a while before they wrapped up.

Then Shiv went downstairs to find Gray.
He spotted the older man lounging
on a couch in the library room.

"So hey," Shiv said, sitting down.
"There's a farmer's market over at
the Charles Drew Health Center.
They got all the health food there,
and fancy organic or gourmet shit.
You wanna come along with me?"

"Sure," Gray said with a smile.
"Any particular reason why?"

"I thought we could, uh, maybe
make something together in
the kitchen," Shiv replied.

"That sounds wonderful,"
Gray said. "Let's go shopping."

So Shiv grabbed his grocery bags
and they caught a bus over there.

Unlike the sprawl of the Old Market,
this one only had three rows of booths,
all food and no crafts or other stuff.

It was worth it, though, just to see Gray
cooing over the clinical-grade chocolate
and filling paper bags with organic almonds.

Shiv picked up a package of sunchokes,
which were like tiny potatoes only with
a nutty, earthy flavor that he loved
to drop in a crockpot with stew meat.

"Oh, My Diet has a booth!" Gray said,
and dove into the piles of boxes.

Shiv had been tempted by that,
but the ones he liked started
around $30, which was more
than he felt comfortable spending.

Gray didn't hesitate to grab
an Organic / Non-GMO Box,
though, and Shiv might get
a nibble out of that one.

"So what do you want
to make?" Shiv asked on
the ride home. "I haven't
set my kitchen on fire in
a while, but I'm no expert."

"Don't worry, I can show you
what to do, and you're good with
your hands," Gray said. "If you'll
let me have some of Heron's honey,
we can make honey cream puffs
with white chocolate and almonds."

"That sounds great," Shiv said.
"One jar of honey, coming up!"

When they got home, Shiv
brought out the honey and
let Gray take over his kitchen.

"You can help me set up and
measure things," Gray said.
"Then when I'm working, it helps
to have an extra pair of hands."

As promised, Gray showed
Shiv what to do, and actually
it wasn't all that hard -- Gray did
the tricky bits himself, and let Shiv
do easy things like measuring.

It was amazing to watch Gray
make first the almond crumble,
then the cream puffs, and
the fluffy white filling.

He coaxed Shiv into making
the decorations, though, toasting
almond bits to sprinkle on top of
melted white chocolate, then using
a cookie cutter to make shapes.

They ate the scraps of chocolate,
and that was fantastic stuff, flecked
with bits of real vanilla bean.

Gray cut the cream puffs in half,
squirted in the filling, added a dab
on top and stuck a little round
of white chocolate on edge.

"They look like tiny sculptures,"
Shiv said. "Almost too pretty to eat."

"Aaah, no, don't say that!"
Gray exclaimed. "These
are meant to be eaten."

He demonstrated by
shoving half of one
into his mouth.

Shiv wasn't sure that
he'd like anything so fancy,
but Gray was a good cook,
so Shiv tried a cream puff.

It was light as air, like
biting into a cloud, and it
tasted like cocoa butter and
vanilla and wildflowers.

Shiv whimpered in bliss
and reached for another one.

"See now, that's the kind
of response I'm looking for!"
Gray said, patting his back.

"You should hang out
with Heron Finn," said Shiv.
"He says feeding people
is part of his religion."

"Oh, a Pastafarian,
they're nice," Gray said.
"I've met a few, and caught
some of their spaghetti dinners."

Leave it to Gray to know
the religion that was all food.

Gray even helped to clean up,
even though Shiv wouldn't have
complained if Gray had left
Shiv to do all the dishes.

The cream puffs were that good.

Afterwards, Shiv asked Gray,
"You want another knife lesson?"

"Tempting, but I think I've about
reached my limits," Gray said.

"Nah, you got plenty of room
to grow yet," Shiv assured him.
"I was talking with some friends
and it gave me a new idea to try."

He brought out a blunt trainer and
his single-edged butterfly knife.

"There is no way I could handle that
without cutting myself," Gray said.

"Sure you can," Shiv said. "You can
just open it like a jackknife, slowly with
both hands, instead of flipping it. Once
you grab both handles, it's the safest
of the folding knives, because then
it can't close over your fingers."

He showed Gray with the real one,
then passed the trainer to him.

It took a few fumbles, but then
Gray got the hang of handling
the trainer, drawing on his skill
with the spring-assisted stiletto
that he normally carried.

"Okay, that's not so bad,"
Gray admitted at last.

"Great," said Shiv. "Now
hang onto the safe handle. I'll
show you how to flip it open."

"I can't do that, I'm not you,"
Gray said, waving his hands.

"Just hold onto the handle,
and I'll do all the work,"
Shiv said. "It'll be cool."

Gray fingered the blunt edge
of the trainer, then said, "Okay."

As Gray held the safe handle, Shiv
reached out his superpower and
carefully moved the bite handle
and the rounded blade through
the motions of a flip opening.

"Wow," Gray said, watching
the jointed metal swing around.

"When I do it like that, then
it's easier to see how it goes,"
Shiv said. "Want to see it again?"

"Yes, please," Gray said,
captivated by the show.

Shiv demonstrated again,
then showed him another way
that twirled the knife open smoothly.

"Try the simple one yourself,"
Shiv coaxed. "The trainer won't
cut you, and if you goof, I can
nudge the pieces along."

"Okay, here goes nothing,"
Gray said. He moved
the trainer slowly through
the steps, and Shiv had
to help it along a little.

"Pick up the speed and
let the knife do the work,"
Shiv coached, waving
his hands at Gray.

The older man tried
to follow along, and then
he got the hang of it.

"I guess I'm not half bad
with you helping," Gray said.

"Nope, the last three were
all you," Shiv said with a smirk.

"Really?" Gray said, staring
down at the trainer he held.

"Really," Shiv said. He tucked
his hands behind his back,
not that it would matter.
"Go on, try it again."

Gray flicked the trainer
open and then closed.
"Wow, it actually worked."

"You worked hard on that,"
Shiv said. "It takes practice."

"That and a good teacher,"
Gray said. "Thank you."

Shiv gave him a jaunty bow.
"You're welcome. It's fun,"
he said. "Besides, you taught
me some new kitchen skills, like
leveling the flour with a knife."

"No trouble at all," Gray said.

By the time they put away the knives,
and made sandwiches for actual supper,
it was time to watch Foibles and Fortes.

They flopped on Shiv's futon together,
their fingers weaving in and out, and it
wasn't kinky but was cuddly, and Shiv
actually found himself enjoying it.

Startled, he realized that half a day
had slipped by in pleasant company,
and he hadn't thought of loneliness once.

Maybe he could ditch the bad tape, after all.

* * *

Notes:

"Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives."
Bertrand Russell

Loneliness comes in various flavors, and it can kill people. Introverts usually enjoy being alone, and when they do feel lonely, it's different -- a desire to connect with one or two other people, not immerse themselves in a crowd of strangers. Most of the time, Shiv prefers to be by himself, and he's just starting to realize what it feels like to want someone else's company. There are ways to cope with loneliness. Know how to help a lonely friend.

Changing beliefs about relationships can be challenging. You need to understand the nature of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Think about dysfunctional beliefs which may limit you. Changing your relationships may require giving up some of those beliefs. This is especially true for trauma survivors, who often have bad examples of family dynamics to overcome.

Low self-esteem can have many causes, chief among them child abuse and neglect. Shiv grew up with everyone saying hateful things to him all the time, hence his poor opinion of himself. There are ways you can deal with low self-esteem or help a friend with it.

Self-love is an important part of a healthy life. Some people believe that you must first love yourself before you can love anyone else; while not strictly true, it is certainly much easier that way. Learn how to love yourself and practice self-love.

Therapeutic abuse or forced therapy can greatly impair anyone's willingness and ability to benefit from better therapy later. Subsequent therapists need to take special care when treating survivors of therapeutic abuse. Shiv's past experiences make it hard for him to relate to Dr. G even though Shiv recognizes that Dr. G is much better than all his previous therapists.

Friend dates are as important as romantic dates. Explore some fun things to do with friends.

Omaha actually offers a handful of farmer's markets., and Terramagne-Omaha has a longer open season than local-Omaha does. Shiv prefers the Old Market because it's the biggest. The Charles Drew Health Center is actually closer, but it doesn't have as many booths. It does have a stronger emphasis on healthy foods. Shoppers can choose from lots of produce. See a map of the CDHC farmer's market.

CDHC also participates in My Diet, a T-American program that buys food wholesale and then resells it at bargain prices. People can buy a generic box, but the real attraction is all the specialty boxes designed for health and religious themes.

A popular choice is the Organic / Non-GMO Box. It features thin-skinned fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, dried beans and peas, whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa; healthy flours like whole wheat or almond; seeds for sprouting, nut butters, sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup, grass-fed milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt; free-range chicken eggs, free-range poultry such as chicken, turkey, or duck; grass-fed beef; pastured pork; game meat such as venison or bison, wild-caught fish or seafood; hot and cold cereals made from whole grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds; healthy fats like olive oil or coconut oil, whole-grain bread, muffins, or pasta; healthy snacks like mixed whole nuts, superfood seeds, dried fruit, baked vegetable chips, protein bars, or granola; cacao nibs, cocoa powder, or chocolate; tea, coffee, or superfood powders for smoothies; condiments like dijon mustard or tamari sauce; and probiotics such as sauerkraut, brined olives, or cider vinegar. This box draws from organic and clean eating lists.

My Diet also offers diabetic, low-fat/low-cholesterol, low-carbohydrate, low-protein, low-salt, hypoallergenic/additive-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, easily digestible, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, pregnant/nursing, children, kosher, halal, and other specialties.

Sunchokes make a nice stew.

White Chocolate, Honey and Almond Cream Puffs use organic white chocolate chips and almonds.

Butterfly knives have a split handle hinged around a blade. A trainer has the same design but with a blunt blade. Learn how to use a trainer properly before trying a sharp knife. There are text and video instructions for doing tricks with a butterfly knife. In T-America, butterflies are generally legal. Despite a reputation for danger -- which comes from people doing tricks with them -- this is actually the safest type of folding knife to use, because once you close your hand around the handles, the blade cannot collapse to cut you. Assaulting someone with (any type of) knives is still illegal, but police would rather hoodlums fight with knives than with guns, so the knives are basically considered a loss leader and penalties are not too steep when compared to guns.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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