Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Confused, Screwed Up, But Here"

This poem is spillover from the November 6, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] siliconshaman. It also fills the "conflict resolution style" square in my 11-5-18 card for the Family Ties Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] fuzzyred. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It follows the story "Tangle" by [personal profile] siliconshaman so read that first or this won't make much sense.

WARNING: This poem contains material likely to disturb many readers. Highlight to read the warnings, which include spoilers and possible triggers. It features sexual harassment and sexual assault of a rape survivor. Basically, Chyou wants to fuck Shiv, who is not at all interested; due to Shiv's damaged past and present context, he freezes and has difficulty articulating his refusal well enough to drive her away. So he resorts to saying no at knifepoint, which does work. While no clothing comes off and no genitals get involved, there is a graphic violation of boundaries. The poem also includes uneasiness over family dynamics, annoyance over blabbing secrets, holiday-related stress due to past bad experiences, intimidation, fear, conspicuous consumption, problem drinking, alcohol-inspired sexual misbehavior, not taking no for an answer, subtle superpowered vandalism of extremely expensive shoes, panic attack, freaking out after sexual assault, hypervigilance, drawing a knife at the approach of someone who turns out to be an ally, attempted comfort, another family interruption, further efforts at support from another source, asking for help and getting it, fleeing the scene, and other mayhem. Survivors of sexual or other abuse may find this poem very rough reading. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. Skipping it would leave a big gap, though, as this is the crux of an ongoing storyline.

"Confused, Screwed Up, But Here"

[Evening of December 22, 2014]

Shiv leaned against the wall just across from
the central bar, in the semi-private hallway
that led to the dottie and the kitchen.

Luci had asked Shiv to guard
the door for her, and so he would.

Usually it just meant keeping an eye out
for rowdy fans, but with Luci's family here,
Shiv didn't know what might happen next.

Most of them made him vaguely uneasy,
although Jian -- the brother Shiv had
mistaken for a bodyguard -- seemed like
someone he might have hung out with if
they'd met under different circumstances.

Shiv was still miffed at Luci for dropping
all this on him, and for introducing him by
the name he hardly ever used, but the trip
hadn't really been her fault and she was
actually trying to hide his real name.

So that could've sucked worse.

The holidays made everything crazy
anyway. Sooner or later things would
settle down a bit. Then he and Luci
could sit down and not-talk about this,
get themselves back to normal.

That was when Shiv saw the Asian lady
stalking toward him like a tiger. Oh, she
might look fully human, but every step
just screamed predator on the prowl.

She wore a black suit-dress with a skirt
so short that it was practically a belt,
decorated with big soft buttons that
Shiv realized were real gold alloyed
with just enough silver and copper
to keep them from bending.

Her high-heeled shoes came
to sharp points at the toes, and Shiv
noticed that the sparkles on the bands were
actual diamonds. She was walking around
with a building's worth of wealth on her feet.

The outfit was even more ridiculous
than the other one's gold-thread jacket.

She had pale golden skin and long chestnut hair.
One dainty hand held a drink, and Shiv could hear
the ice cubes tinkling even over the cool jazz
that the speakers played between live sets.

That and the pink flush on her cheeks told Shiv
that she was probably at least two drinks
gone already, not a promising sign.

With a sigh, he pushed himself away
from the wall and crossed his arms.
"Sorry, ma'am, this dottie is occupied,"
Shiv said. "You'll have to use the one
on the other side of the stage."

"Oh, I'm not looking for a bathroom,
I'm looking for my sister," she purred.

Goosebumps crawled over his skin.

So this was the infamous Chyou,
who had helped Luci pay for college
and teased her about dancing and
generally been a real mixed bag.

"She's at work," Shiv said,
still blocking the hallway.

"Then maybe you and I could
chat instead," Chyou tried.

"I'm at work too," Shiv said.

"Come on, nobody has to know,"
Chyou said, pouting at him.

"I'll know," Shiv said. "Besides,
this area is restricted to staff and
guests who need to use the dottie.
Go on back to your table now."

"Aww ... why would I do that, when
we could have so much fun together?"
Chyou said, slinking even closer.

Shiv felt pretty sure that his idea of fun
and hers were nothing like. Then again ...

His gaze flicked to her feet. She
didn't have any shoelaces for
him to cut, but she did have
a hundred tiny diamonds held on
with even tinier metal prongs.

Hiding his smirk, Shiv swept
his superpower over her shoes
and began to loosen the settings.

After all, nobody would have to know.

Chyou took another step, wobbling
just a little on her spike heels. "We could
go back to my hotel room," she said. "I
can do things that will blow your mind."

Shiv froze, his tongue sticking to the roof
of his mouth. His heart hammered in
his ears, and his chest hurt so much
that he could hardly breathe.

"All of the men who make time
with me find it a very ... memorable ...
experience," Chyou said with a smile.

"No, that's uh, not really my thing,"
Shiv stammered, starting to panic.
"Stop bothering me and go away."

"You're a guy, you can't say no to a girl
like me," Chyou replied, licking her chops.

He'd said no, and she hadn't given
a flying fuck, and Shiv was running out
of the lines that Boss White had made him
memorize for dealing with pesky customers.

He began backing away toward the kitchen and
the formidable backup of Cook and his cleaver.

Chyou reached out and grabbed his forearm.
"Don't go now," she whispered, tugging
at him. "The fun's just getting started."

Shiv whipped out his butterfly knife, then
remembered that this was Luci's sister,
and stabbing Chyou would make
Luci cry, which Shiv didn't want.

So instead he just he tapped her
meaningfully on the wrist. "Let. Go."

Chyou let go. "Oh, you want me
to chase you?" she said. "Sure,
I like a man who plays hard to get."

That's exactly what Shiv was afraid of.

He dropped into a fighting crouch
and flicked his knife into a slashing grip.
One good swipe across the tendons
and she wouldn't be chasing anyone.

"What, so now you're going to be weird
about it?" Chyou said. "Fine. I'll go find
somebody who knows how to have fun."

She stalked back toward the dance floor.

Shiv gasped for breath, sweat dripping
into his eyes from his damp fringe.

As soon as another gang member
walked by, Shiv pushed Janeel against
the bathroom door and said, "Guard."

Then Shiv fled downstairs.

He leaned against the wall
outside the patch room
and just shook.

He was panting
and trying not to cry.

Shiv didn't know why he was
so upset. She'd barely touched him,
and he had gotten the drop on her easily.

He had survived a lot worse than this,
and he'd simply walked away from it.

Things just bothered him more now.

Well, he could rag Dr. G for that later.
Right now, Shiv needed to concentrate
on pulling himself back together before
Cook got pissed with him for being late.

Shiv put his knife away, folded his hands
together, and tried to focus on one of
the exercises for calm breathing.

Then he heard footsteps on the stairs
and had his knife in hand before he
even realized he was moving.

"Shiv-ya? It's me, Luci."
She froze, staring at him,
her eyes huge and worried.

Well, fuck. So much for acting casual.

Shiv put his knife away again and
then pushed away from the wall.

"What do you want?" he said.
"I needed a breather, so I
put Janeel on the door."

"I know, he told me,"
Luci said. "I came down
here to see whether you
were okay or ... not."

Obviously not.
Shiv needed to fix it.

"I'm fi--ine." His voice
cracked in the middle.

"Aiya! That doesn't sound
fine to me," she said, frowning.
"Can you tell me what happened?"

Your sister's a bitch.

"No," Shiv said shortly.
"Doesn't matter anyway."

"It matters to me," Luci said,
and the hell of it was,
Shiv believed her.

He stared at the ceiling.
"I met your sister, the old one."

Luci's breath hissed between
her teeth. "Did she ... bother you?"

Shiv snorted. "You could say that.
She reminded me of a lot of people
I used to know. Glad I don't have
to deal with them anymore."

Luci bowed, folding herself
almost in half. "I am so sorry
that Chyou upset you."

"Not your fault," Shiv said.
He knew what it was like
to have shitty siblings,
or complicated ones.

"Chyou is ... difficult in
some ways, but she tries
to be a good sister to us,"
Luci said. "It can be hard
to get along, though."

"Yeah, no wonder you
moved to Nebraska,"
Shiv said dryly.

"I'm so glad that you
got away from your past,
too, Shiv-ya," said Luci.

"I survived. I'm here.
Confused, screwed up,
but here," he said with
a shrug. "So, what now?
Is there a chainsaw of the soul,
a knife I can take to my memories?"

"I don't think it works that way,"
Luci whispered. Tears shimmered
at the corners of her dark almond eyes.
"But I'll stay with you anyhow."

"You're crazy, you know that?"
Shiv said. "Most people got
enough sense to run from a guy
who pulls a knife on them."

"I'm your sister," she said simply.

Luci didn't crowd him, or try
to touch him. She just leaned
against the wall nearby.

Shiv listened to the sound of
her breathing and tried to relax.

Luci told him funny stories
about her family, and yeah,
that Jian didn't suck much at all.

Maybe Shiv could settle down
enough to go back upstairs
and get to work in the kitchen.

Then someone yelled down
the stairwell, "Hey, Luci-ya!
Are you down there?"

Shiv's whole body
coiled like a spring.

Luci just rolled her eyes.
"I'm busy!" she hollered back.

"Well, get un-busy!" came the reply.
"Come stop your sister from trying
to persuade the band into playing
'Total Eclipse of the Heart,'
so she can do karaoke."

"Go deal with your family,"
Shiv said, shooing her away
with a flap of his hands.

The last thing they needed was
for anyone to come down here.

Luci caught onto that after a moment
and then bounded up the stairs.

Shiv heaved a long, shuddering sigh
and listened to her fading footsteps.

He wanted her and her whole damn family
well out of the way before he tried
to make a quick getaway.

It didn't work out like that.

Boss White came out of
his office and found Shiv
propping up the wall.

"Sorry, Boss, I'll get
back to work --" Shiv said.

"No," Boss White said quietly.
"You won't. You're in no shape
for it, and I am not putting you in
the kitchen with your hands shaking."

Startled, Shiv looked down.
Sure enough, they were.

"Shit," he said heavily.

"I could sense you getting
all wound up, and then as soon
as you started to calm yourself,
something wound you up again,"
Boss White said. "Care to say what?"

"I -- I met Luci's sister Chyou,"
Shiv stammered. "She wanted me --
I told her I didn't -- I don't want
talk about this. Really."

"And there's a mess that
needs cleaned up somehow,"
Boss White said, frowning.
"That's not on you, though."

Shiv's throat ached with
all the things he couldn't say,
and the thought of trying
to sort through everything
with Luci's family made
him feel sick inside.

"Can't you just, I don't
know, handle it?" Shiv said.
"I mean, you're the Boss."

"You're asking me to solve
this for you, rather than involving
you in the solution," Boss White said.

"Yes. Please." Shiv nodded so hard
that his fringe swayed, dripping sweat.

"All right, I will," Boss White said.
"You're off duty until further notice.
Get on out of here, find some place you
feel better. We can talk tomorrow
about fixing up your schedule."

"Thanks, Boss," said Shiv,
his body slumping in relief.

"Welcome," said Boss White.
"Now I'm going up there to ask
what the hell is going on."

Again, Shiv waited for
the footsteps to fade, then
darted up the steps and out
the back of the building.

It was dark out, and he
could hear the cars going by,
their headlights making shadows
on the walls and trees overhead.

That was all right, though.
Shiv could find his way to
Clinton-Jefferson Playground
even in the dark. He had before.

Taking a deep breath, he trotted away.

* * *


Janeel Nunes -- He has sorrel skin, brown eyes, and black hair in dreadlocks that fall to his shoulders. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He is 22 years old. Janeel belongs to the Ebonies & Ivories, where he works as an enforcer. Sometimes he also works in Blues Moon as a bouncer or busboy. Strong and loyal, he makes a good follower. For fun, he enjoys outdoor sports.
Qualities: Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Enforcer, Good (+2) Followship, Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence, Good (+2) Loyal
Poor (-2) Dyslexic

* * *

"I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?"

This shows the outside of Blues Moon with the main floor and two layers of apartments. The two flanking buildings also belong to the Ebonies & Ivories. The taller building on the left is an apartment building. The smaller building on the right is used as storage space for artwork and furnishings which can be used in any of the apartments above the jazz joint.

The basement contains the working part of the lair. The largest office below the lunch room belongs to Boss White. The one across from it is the guest room. The accounts/manager and board room offices are shared space. The big corner office in the upper right is the patch room. They actually don't have an exercise room in their own lair; instead they have a group membership at a nearby gym.

Here is the layout of the main floor showing the jazz club and restaurant.

(These links are ugly.)
Survivors of foster care often have severe attachment disruption due to their experiences with dysfunctional family dynamics. It ruins their physical and mental health. This can make it difficult or impossible for them to form healthy bonds as adults, and it makes the whole topic of "family" very fraught.

Among the many subgenres of jazz is cool jazz, which has a soft slow sound. In local-America, it didn't last very long. In Terramagne, it has remained a very popular type of background music, often played in jazz joints when they don't have a live band onstage, because it doesn't drown out conversation. Listen to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis for an example.

Gold comes in different grades of purity and is customarily alloyed with silver, copper, and/or zinc to make it sturdy enough to use in adornments.

Alcohol consumption goes through stages from euphoria and excitement to confusion and stupor. In high doses it can cause coma or death. Remember that if you like to poison yourself for fun, or know other people who do. Know how to handle drunk customers or take care of a drunk person.

Jewelry settings come in various types. Durable stones such as diamonds often appear in prong settings for maximum sparkle. It doesn't take much bending for a setting to lose its grip on the stone.

(These links are distressing.)
I borrowed some of Chyou's lines from documented things that sexual assailants have said:
"Come on, nobody has to know."
"You're a guy, you can't say no to a girl like me."
"What, so now you're going to be weird about it?"

(These links are controversial.)
It is possible for sexual assault to happen by accident.  This can occur due to miscommunication or other mistakes among reasonably decent people, often due to a party foul.  It's a big risk for people who try working a no into a yes.  Unfortunately, some people refuse to acknowledge this, which makes the problem much harder to solve.  It's also possible for sexual assault to happen without being recognized as such, because a lot of things count, and some of them are subtle.  Also, sometimes people say yes when they mean no.  Since most people are not mindreaders, it is unreasonable to hold them to a standard beyond expressed consent.  That means sometimes people make very bad sexual mistakes, and there's a spectrum of offense from the merely clueless (who are appalled when they realize what happened) through the overly assertive (who are difficult to tone down) to the deliberate predators (who enjoy hurting people, and are difficult or impossible to dissuade).  The solutions are more complex than most people -- or laws -- acknowledge.

(So are these.)
Male survivors of sexual assault have to contend with a lot of misbeliefs like "all men want sex all the time" and "women can't rape men." That makes it hard for them to tell their stories and get support. When I studied sexual assault in college, the numbers were 1 in 9 for men; the current estimate is 1 in 6. Sexual assault of boys and men is a serious issue, but it doesn't get much attention.

(These links are upsetting too.)
Sexual harassment at work takes many forms. This includes customers harassing employees, a serious problem in some fields such as bars and restaurants. It's fine to make a pass at someone, but if the recipient says no and the pursuer keeps pestering, then it's sexual harassment. Sexual assault also varies in definition. Here are the relevant laws in local-Nebraska. According to T-American law, once someone has said no to a sexual advance, any physical contact aimed at procuring their attention constitutes sexual assault; the degree depends on whether there is any injury and other factors. Here are some communication signals and things that mean no.

(These are infuriating.)
People complain about "turning a no into a yes" in sex, but it's not just a sexual problem. It's a routine business practice. It's a routine medical practice. L-America pervasively trains people that "no" simply isn't a word they have to care about, and that any means are justified in obtaining a "yes." Technically, consent only counts if freely given; but if that were actually enforced, society would come apart at the seams. Too much of it relies on coercing people to do things they don't want to do. And then everyone wonders why they have a rampant problem with child molestation, sexual harassment, and rape.

(Some of these links are sad.)
Personal boundaries come in different types. Ideally, people understand how to set and maintain boundaries which are flexible and semi-permeable. Child abuse damages boundaries, causing many problems such as boundary issues that can linger into adulthood. Survivors often struggle with setting appropriate boundaries. Shiv's awareness and handling of his boundaries is erratic at best, because people have violated his so often that he barely knows where they should go. Here's a more detailed exploration of boundaries and psychology.

(Some of these links are intense.)
Difficulty speaking can come from physical or psychological reasons. In trauma survivors, the psychological can become the physical. Introverts and men often struggle to express themselves. People with autism or other neurovariants may think in very different ways, rather than primarily with words. Similarly, visual or kinesthetic thinkers have to "translate" from their natural mode of thought to vocalize ideas, so they may have a harder time with reading, writing, and/or speaking. Child abuse contributes to speech disorders and other learning disabilities. Even though therapists encourage people to talk about their problems, some folks find that it just makes matters worse. So you can see why Shiv tends to flounder here. There are tips for talking about difficult topics, including in therapy. Know how to help other people talk about their problems.

(So are these.)
Flashbacks are a prevailing symptom of Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder. Know how to get through a flashback or support someone else in the midst of one.

(And these.)
A panic attack can be triggered by a threat or a worry, or it may happen seemingly at random. Survivors of child abuse and/or sexual assault often have panic attacks, and panic can cause freezing during assault, so victim support services offer materials on coping with these symptoms. There are mental and physical skills for getting through a panic attack. Understand how to help someone through a panic attack and stop panic attacks.

Calming techniques often focus on breathing. There are exercises especially for panic attacks, and for general calm.

(Some of these links are touchy.)
I had a hard time finding good resources for bosses who want to stop sexual harassment at work. Some advocate mandatory sexual education at work that forces people into sexualized conversations, which is itself harassment and can be triggering for survivors. This one is less detailed but more sensible. Here are some ways that bosses can support survivors. Coworkers can help a friend who has been harassed.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing

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