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Poem: "The Most Terrible Poverty" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "The Most Terrible Poverty"
This poem is spillover from the September 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] pantha and [personal profile] lone_cat. It also fills the "terrible choices" square in my 12-3-17 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest and the "odd couple" square in my 1-31-18 Romantic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Calliope thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense material. Highlight to read the warnings, some which are spoilers. A bondbreaker has found Calliope, and now she wants to sever the bond with Vagary. Calliope is thrilled; Vagary is heartbroken. The poem contains rejection, emotional misery, communication difficulties, emotional numbness, dissociation, Vagary crying his heart out, loneliness, feeling unloved, anticipatory grief, disenfranchised grief, mourning skills, Vagary comparing himself to other people, and other angst. This poem may be especially hard on people who are or have been in difficult relationships. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Most Terrible Poverty"

[March 16, 2015]


Vagary had come to love
the Tranquility Counseling Center.

As soon as he stepped into the lobby
with its soft mauve walls and potted plants,
he could feel himself beginning to relax.

He noted the familiar posters, and
realized that he'd actually accomplished
almost all the "10 Healthy Habits
for Mental Fitness" by now.

He could hear the soft burble
of the tropical aquarium as he
walked past the quiet room.

Vagary stopped at the base of
the stairs, where a bulletin board
and a wooden rack on a table held
information about upcoming activities.

The smell of incense told him that
the meditation group was going on
upstairs in the large meeting room
where he attended yoga sessions.

He hadn't tried a plain meditation class
yet, although he'd gone through a lot of
different yoga styles, including Dhyana
for meditation. Maybe he should try this.

Humming, he took a brochure for
the class and several others on
different techniques of meditation.

Vagary trailed a hand along the wall
as he walked back to the office
reserved for couples counseling.

Coming here was one of
the best ideas he'd ever had.

He was so glad that he managed
to talk Calliope into trying this.
That had taken some effort.

The room was familiar, too, with
its dark wooden bookcases and
an easy chair facing the loveseat.

"So, how has your week gone?"
Mr. Gallagar asked them as
Vagary sat beside Calliope.

"Pretty well," Vagary said.
"I did some fun assignments
at work, sorry I can't share details.
My yoga classes are going great.
I just found the meditation brochures
on the table. I think I may try that."

"Excellent," said Mr. Gallagar.
"Calliope? You look happy."

She really did. She was wriggling
so much that Vagary could feel it
vibrating through the cushions, and
her thoughts were going so fast that
all he could hear was a bright chatter.

"A bondworker found me!" Calliope exclaimed.
"After some recent events -- that fiasco in
Rabid City and a teamwork activity -- word
got around that I didn't want this bond.
I want to try it. I'm so excited!"

The words hit Vagary like
a punch in the stomach.

All the air whooshed out of him,
and he had to struggle to breathe.

"Thank you for telling me,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "Have you
thought about the implications?"

"Yes," Calliope said. "I checked, and
he has high success and safety rates.
I know Vagary had concerns about that.
I wouldn't take unreasonable risks."

"Vagary?" asked Mr. Gallagar.
"What's your idea of unreasonable?"

"Death or crippling injury," Vagary said.
"The stories I've heard are... pretty bad."

"Do you feel that Calliope has done
a capable job of research, or do you want
to do more yourself?" Mr. Gallagar asked.

"She trusted me earlier when I said it was
too dangerous. She didn't go running out
to look on her own," Vagary said. "I'll
extend her the same courtesy now."

"Thank you," said Calliope. "Does
that mean you're willing to consider it?"

Vagary was still trying to figure out
how to breathe around the pain --
which felt like he had inhaled
broken glass -- and now they
wanted him to talk about it.

"Just do it," he gritted.
"Get it over with."

After all, you couldn't
heal a stab wound until
after you pulled out the knife.

"Really?" Calliope said. "I
expected a lot more argument."

"So did I," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Vagary, I know you've been
more attached to the bond than
Calliope has. I'm surprised that
you are willing to give it up.
Is this a free choice?"

Vagary looked away. It took
him a minute to clamp down on
his feelings so he could speak.

"I don't want to be with someone
who doesn't want me," he whispered.

"Well, it's not that I don't --" Calliope began.

Vagary stood up abruptly, unable
to bear the heat of her body anymore.

"Can I have that extra chair now,"
Vagary said to Mr. Gallagar.

"Yes, of course," he replied.
"I'll be right back, I promise."

Mr. Gallagar left the room,
and Vagary paced by the door,
unwilling to sit back down
until he had his own seat.

When the chair came,
Vagary flopped into it,
facing Mr. Gallagar
instead of Calliope.

"It's not that I don't
respect you, or that I
never want to see you
again," Calliope said.
"I've gotten to know you
better, and my abilities
are stronger with you."

"You just don't want me
attached to that boost,"
Vagary said bitterly.

"I don't want this bond,"
Calliope said. "I didn't
choose it, and I want
out if that's possible."

"I already said yes,"
he snapped. "You
don't have to nag!"

"I'm not trying to nag
just explain," she said.

"I know I fucked up
everything," Vagary said.
"Stop rubbing it in."

"Gently, please,"
said Mr. Gallagar.
"This is a difficult time,
so please try to be gentle
with yourselves and each other."

Vagary shoved his feelings
down even farther. Fuck it,
he could deal with them later.

He did his best to shut off
the bond, too. He would
have to get used to doing
without it. Somehow.

Then he tuned out
the conversation between
Calliope and Mr. Gallagar.
He wasn't supposed to do that,
but he just didn't care anymore.

Time crawled past like a slug on his arm.

Vagary tried to ignore the sensation.
It would be over when it was over.

A touch on his knee startled him.

"Sorry," Mr. Gallagar said,
looking worried. "You weren't
responding to my voice alone.
Are you back with us now?"

"Yeah," Vagary said. "I
should've paid attention."

"We were just wrapping up,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "I would
very much like to continue
seeing both of you, together or
separately, however this situation
works out for you in the end."

"Yeah," Vagary said.
"I know I'll need it."

"That's good to hear,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "Calliope?"

"Fine," she said. "I want
different sessions, though.
We'll both need some time
to get used to the change."

Vagary knew that she didn't
want to see him, but it still hurt.

"I don't want -- I've got some --
this town is important to me,"
he stammered. "I would hate
to lose it too. I like taking yoga here,
and helping with the health nexus."

"As long as you stay out of my hair,
I can live with it," Calliope said,
although she didn't sound happy.
"We'll still have to figure out
professional stuff anyway."

"Yeah. Whatever," Vagary said.

"Great, then we've got a plan,"
Calliope said with a smile.

When the session ended,
Vagary was desperately grateful.

"Scuse me," he said, bolting for
the door. "I need some air."

Vagary darted out the side door and
ran around back to the healing garden
shared among several buildings.

The garden was beautiful in mid-March.
Pink redbuds and white dogwoods filled
the understory. In sunny beds, French tulips
bloomed in swaths of pink and peach and white.
Columbines and bleeding hearts hugged
the shade under the taller trees.

A stream trickled through the center
of the garden, sparkling in the sun.
Usually he loved the sound of it.

Today, it just sounded like tears.

Groping for a seat, Vagary collapsed
onto one of the benches and cried.

He sat there for a long time, trying
to let the garden ease some of
his pain. It helped, but only a little.

Footsteps scuffed on pavement,
making Vagary look up at last.

"I thought you might still be here,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "My two o'clock
ended early, so I came out to see
if you were here and wanted to talk."

"Please," Vagary said. He shuffled
to one end of the wooden bench.

Mr. Gallagar sat down. "I'm sorry
about what happened in there today,"
he said. "I know that you've really
poured your heart into this relationship."

"Yeah well, it wasn't meant to last,"
Vagary said, trying not to cry again.

"On the contrary, I thought you two had
a very good chance," Mr. Gallagar said.
"I regret that it's not working out for you."

Vagary burst into tears. "I worked so hard,"
he said. "I thought if I just did enough, then
maybe she would accept me after a while."

"Sometimes things just don't pan out,
Vagary, no matter how hard you work,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "It's not necessarily
anyone's fault. You both did your best.
You simply want different things."

"Different people," Vagary said,
swiping a hand over his face. "I really
don't want to give up this town, though.
I've made some good friends here.
I like the parks and restaurants."

"You don't have to give up any of that,"
Mr. Gallagar said firmly. "Even if you and
Calliope were married, and got divorced,
she wouldn't have a right to run you
out of town. That's not okay."

"Tell that to her," Vagary said.

"I will," Mr. Gallagar said. "That's
why I want to keep seeing both
of you, so that I can help make
the separation more bearable."

"The most terrible poverty
is loneliness and the feeling
of being unloved," Vagary said.

"Mother Theresa," said Mr. Gallagar.
"She was a very wise woman."

"Right now I just feel gutted,"
Vagary said. "Calliope hasn't
even cut me off yet, and there's --"
He waved a hand at his middle.
"-- there's this gaping hole inside."

"Anticipatory grief," Mr. Gallagar said.
"That happens when a loss is expected,
but hasn't arrived yet. It's natural."

"Doesn't make it hurt any less,"
Vagary grumbled. "It's not like I can
talk about this with most people. They just ...
wouldn't understand. Bonds are rare,
nobody knows what they're like."

"That's disenfranchised grief,
and it's something I can help with,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "It's absolutely real,
and it hurts, and you have a right to cry
about it. You're tied to Calliope in a way
that most people don't recognize, and now
you're going to lose it. Of course you feel
sad. Don't let anyone tell you different."

That made Vagary start crying again.

"Lean on me if you like," Mr. Gallagar said.
"I don't mind, and I certainly won't melt."

So Vagary leaned on him, and cried,
and it wasn't any better but at least
someone took him seriously.

"Thanks," he said when
the tears finally wound down.

"You're welcome," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Breaking up is always hard, and while I
don't know exactly what you're going through,
I imagine it's much worse than average. Do
you want to talk about mourning skills?"

"She's not dead!" Vagary exclaimed.
His heart squeezed in his chest, and
he remembered the fight in Rabid City.

"She's not dead, but people mourn
all kinds of things besides death -- divorce,
job loss, moving when they didn't want to,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "I'd like to check your skills
because I think that there's a real risk of
complicated grief, but you can say no."

Vagary sighed and sat up. "It's fine.
Ask whatever questions you want."

"Do you know how to identify, name, and
express emotions?" Mr. Gallagar asked.

"Yeah," Vagary said. "Right now I'm
fucking heartbroken, how's that?"

"Very honest of you," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Now I know from working with you that
you've got the next one, but I would like
to hear your thoughts on it. How are
you at talking about your feelings?"

Vagary gave a watery chuckle.
"I'm good," he said. "That was
the first one I learned, back with
my first therapist. He told me about
level-grinding social skills and stuff.
That took me about a month, and it felt
weird for a while, but now I'm used to it."

"Congratulations," Mr. Gallagar said.
"Did you learn how to sit with a feeling, too?"

"Yeah," Vagary said. "That one took me
a lot longer to learn, and I still can't
last very long. I know how it's
supposed to work, though."

"Vagary, if all you manage is
five minutes, you're still doing well,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "Sitting with
your feelings is hard work."

"No shit," Vagary said,
hiccupping a sob.

"Do you have some way
of recording your memories of
the relationship?" Mr. Gallagar said.

"I don't know," Vagary said. "Like what?"

"Grief journaling, scrapbooking pictures of
your life together, a memorial timeline, or
storytelling can all help create context and
anchor a loss in your personal narrative so
it doesn't rattle around loose and cause
more problems," Mr. Gallagar said.

"Storytelling, I guess," Vagary said. "I like
to talk about my travels. She would listen,
sometimes, that was nice. I could tell
other people about her, but ... it'd have
to be you, or else someone new. Most of
my friends are already pissed with her
because of how she treats me. Hers
probably feel the same about me."

"It's been a rough ride, hasn't it?"
Mr. Gallagar said. "You've both made
mistakes and made progress. Framing
that as a story is part of mourning."

"I suppose that makes sense,"
Vagary said. "I'll give it a try."

"That's all I ask," Mr. Gallagar said.
"What about letting go, then?"

"Story of my life," Vagary said
with a shrug. "I'm not very good
at it, but people keep leaving me,
so I ... muddle through as best I can."

"Coping skills?" Mr. Gallagar said. "Can you
name at least two you practice, preferably
one physical skill and one mental skill?"

"Yoga," Vagary said at once. "I'm not
all that flexible, but I still enjoy it. I like
walking in the parks around here. I've
always loved traveling and discovering
new places. I read books about them."

"From what I've seen, you're quite flexible,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "So don't feel bad
because you're not quite as limber
as a professional yoga teacher!"

"Fair point," Vagary said
with a nod. "I just tend
to compare myself to
the people around me."

"Most of us do, but it can
become a bad habit,"
Mr. Gallagar said.

"I get that," Vagary said.
"So how did I score?"

"Quite well, actually,"
said Mr. Gallagar. "I'm
less worried about you now."

"That makes one of us,"
Vagary muttered.

Mr. Gallagar patted
him on the shoulder.
"I know it's awful now,
but you'll get through it."

"I know," Vagary said.
"It just hurts like hell."

"I can help with that, if you
want me to," Mr. Gallagar said.
"We could do a grief module, or
just pick and choose what seems
useful in the moment. You really do
have the categories covered."

"Pick and choose, maybe,"
Vagary said. "I'm not sure that
I'll have the energy to stick with
a whole program right now. I will
keep the module in mind, though."

"We might explore new ways
of recording your memories, then,"
Mr. Gallagar said. "Given your past
in this relationship, I think a timeline
might help you put things in perspective."

"That would be a relief," Vagary said.
"Sure, I can give it a try sometime."

"Excellent," Mr. Gallagar said.
"You can talk to the receptionist
tomorrow for an extra appointment.
I need to get back inside soon, but
may I walk you to the bus stop?"

"Yes, please," Vagary said.
"I don't really want to be alone
today. I think I'll call a friend, maybe
see if I can find myself a cuddle pile."

"That's a good idea," Mr. Gallagar said.
He stood up and held out his hand.

Vagary took it and followed him
out of the healing garden.

He wasn't healed, yet --
far from it -- but he felt
a little less battered inside.

* * *

Notes:

"The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved."
-- Mother Theresa

The Tranquility Counseling Center offers a variety of mental health services. The reception area is open and airy. It has posters for mental fitness, living well, talking about mental illness, and helping friends. The secure hallway separates the reception area from the offices, although it's usually left open. Here is the client bathroom, and the space beside it is the nap room. The tenant bathroom has been remodeled to include a shower. The little square beside the stairs is the quiet room. It has a basket of stress relief supplies. Learn how to make your own sensory kit or emotional first aid kit. Posters of coping skills and stress relief activities bracket the door. The break room includes a kitchen and dining area with couches and a bookcase along the back wall. This is the couples counseling room (office #1). It has posters of the control wheel (left of door), relationship health check (on door), and equality wheel (right of door). Here is the family counseling room (office #2). It has a Be Kind to Your Mind balloon poster and Calm Down Yoga for Kids poster to the left of the play corner, and family relationship tips on the door. This is the individual counseling room (office #3). It has posters of virtues (left of door) and self-talk (right of door). Here is the small meeting room (office #4). This is the self-advocacy poster for an ongoing support group for people with developmental disabilities, mental problems, neurovariance, or other reasons they need to stick up for themselves; there are topical and general sessions. This is the self-care poster for a one-month treatment plan about personal wellbeing. A new session starts each month, beginning with several days of introduction and trustbuilding, and ending with a brief wrapup. The small-group format helps people make new friends and engage social support for self-care. The quiet corner fills the niche in the small meeting room. Upstairs lies the large meeting room (multipurpose room on the floor plan). It has posters of group rules, Be Kind to Your Mind with sayings, yoga principles, and yoga poses.

Behind the Tranquility Counseling Center lies a healing garden in the center of the block they share with several other buildings. It features small patches of lawn broken up by flowerbeds and a rocky stream. Walking paths provide access to several sitting areas. Read about design principles and make your own healing garden.

Meditation can offer many benefits for people in counseling. In T-America, most counseling centers offer one or more types of meditation, on the premise that mindfulness and relaxation support mental health. It's among the most popular services; free or cheap sessions are widely available. It's also taught to counseling students as part of their training. Mindfulness and psychotherapy work well together. A counselor may use meditation techniques during a session to help clients work through issues. Here are some guidelines for introducing meditation in therapy and ways to use mindfulness in sessions.

The Tranquility Counseling Center offers a variety of materials on meditation and many auxiliary services like the yoga classes that Vagary takes. See the cover and inside of a meditation brochure. There are flyers for integrative meditation, meditation methods, and meditation exercises. Just having these resources readily available helps people gain coping skills. Even if someone never makes an appointment, walking through a counseling center and picking up self-help materials may improve their situation.

Oklahoma trees include Oklahoma redbud and dogwood.

Spring flowers in Oklahoma include French tulips, columbine, and bleeding hearts.

Breaking up is hard to do in general, and in extreme cases, it can lead to complicated grief. Mr. Gallagar knows what to watch for, hence his worry over Vagary. Junior high and high school classes on personal health in T-America customarily teach students how to break up respectfully. The premise is that adolescence is a time for exploration and it is natural for people to form temporary relationships then, which means that everyone needs to know how to conclude gracefully. Understand how to get through a breakup and help someone else through one.

Anticipatory grief causes a number of unpleasant symptoms. It happens during the time when bad news arrives and the dreaded outcome actually occurs. Know how to cope with anticipatory grief or help a friend with it.

Disenfranchised grief comes in many flavors, but they're all variations on society denying the importance of a relationship and the magnitude of loss. You should know how to recognize and deal with disenfranchised grief. The best way to handle it is plain old validation. Learn how to validate someone's feelings.

Everyone needs mourning skills. L-America barely teaches these, but T-America does much better. You need them to deal with death, breakups, and other losses. Healthy grieving resources teach people ways to grieve constructively. Here is a manual for grief counseling and some techniques to assist the bereaved.

The first mourning skills teach people to identify, name, and express emotions. It's hard to work on an issue when you don't even know what it is, and while grief is universal its manifestations are quite diverse. A person struggling with anger needs different solutions than one struck numb.

Talk about feelings often helps people deal with them. Here are some useful phrases.

Learn how to sit with a feeling instead of avoiding it. This reduces the risk of problems like dissociation and substance abuse. Really, if you can do it for five minutes, you're doing great. Such introspection rarely goes beyond ten or fifteen minutes. Pay attention to your feeling and then turn to something else.

Recording memories helps to contextualize them and maintain them over time. Grief journaling, scrapbooks, timelines, and storytelling can all work for this.

Letting go is another vital skill. Here are some key subskills and 40 ways to let go.

Coping skills help people face difficulties. They can be positive or negative. Explore a list of healthy coping skills.

T-America offers much better support and education regarding grief compared to L-America. Most counselors offer a grief module ranging from several weeks to several months, depending on the version selected. It's one of the most popular free services through community clinics, and private ones do it too. I found a web course that's pretty much exactly the topics that Vagary and Mr. Gallagar would cover in an 8-week treatment plan. This kind of grief module helps people work through their feelings to avoid getting "stuck" in complicated grief, and teaches them how to support other bereaved people.

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