Warning: This poem is all about a very uncomfortable conversation. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes anxiety, smoking, reference to recent sexual assault, relationship challenges, difficulty talking, anger and love muddled together, violent language, asking if someone was sexually abused, reference to past child molestation, minor loss of superpower control, family issues, and other angst. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"The Deepest Heartache"
[Wednesday, December 24, 2014]
Shiv went out for a smoke because
his nerves were shot to hell (still)
and Tolli had brought half a pack
of cigs along with the clothes
because Tolli was awesome.
The smoking shed in
the back yard was
It had a roof and
partial walls around
three sides, along with
a wrap-around bench.
Shiv could hang out inside it
and smoke without freezing
or standing in mud, because it
had a concrete slab underneath.
Footsteps crinkled across the grass.
The snow from this morning had
mostly melted already, but it left behind
little bits of ice that tinkled underfoot
and caught the pale winter sun like
so many scattered diamonds.
Shiv winced away from that image,
trying not to remember Chyou
and her ridiculous shoes.
That had probably rained
a zillion bucks of diamonds
all over Omaha by now. Heh.
"Shiv-ya? Are you out here?"
Luci's voice floated over the yard.
"Yeah, I'm here," Shiv said.
He flicked the butt into the snow,
and then had to go pick it up.
He kept forgetting that
the smoking shed had
its own ashcan. Tolli and
Simon didn't like him dropping
cigarette butts on the ground.
"It's getting colder," Luci said,
coming around the corner.
"I wanted to check on you ...
is that okay, or should I
just leave you alone?"
Shiv sighed. "Stay. I need
to talk with you anyway."
Then he winced. Nothing
good ever came after
anyone saying that.
"Okay, I'm listening,"
Luci said as she sat down.
"I don't know where to start,"
Shiv muttered. His fingers
drummed against the wall.
"I don't talk about shit."
"That's okay too," Luci said.
"We can just sit together."
"Yeah, but ... what happened,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
"I know Chyou hurt you,"
Luci said. "It may not look
like much, but it is. I feel awful.
She's my sister but I'm so mad
at her. So don't think that you have
to tone it down for my sake. Talk,
or don't. I want to be here for you."
"That's ... not quite what I ..."
Shiv's voice trailed away.
"It's okay, Shiv-ya," said Luci.
"You'll get there when you're ready."
"I am so not good at this," he said.
"I thought that you didn't want
to talk about it," Luci said.
"I don't," Shiv said, "but I
do want to know if I need
to go cut her face off."
"What?" Luci said. "That's,
um, that's pretty extreme. You
sound really upset about this."
Shiv bit his lip, looking up and down
and everywhere else but at Luci.
"Did she -- were you -- was it --"
"What, Shiv?" Luci asked,
her hand hovering over his knee.
He took a deep, shuddering breath
and then forced the words out.
"Did Chyou ever ... hurt you?"
he said. "Touch you like that?"
"What? No!" Luci exclaimed.
She looked horrified, one hand
over her mouth. Then her voice
softened. "No, Shiv. My sister
never molested me. I'm sorry
that you had to ask me that.
I know she hurt you badly."
"I'm glad she didn't," he said.
"They're like that, a lot of the time."
He'd known more than one.
That kind of person could go
through a whole house. Had.
"Who are?" Luci asked.
"People who take what
they want," Shiv said.
"They don't care about
what anyone else wants.
Some of them like a fight,
but some like ... easy meat."
His fingers curled. He would
never be easy meat again.
Then he realized that
his superpower had pried
one of the nails out of the wall.
Flushing with embarrassment,
Shiv pushed it back into place.
He hadn't meant to do that.
"You think Chyou might have
hurt someone else?" Luci said.
"I'd bet on it," Shiv said. "From
what I've seen, it's hardly ever
just one victim. They got a habit."
Luci winced. "I hate thinking of her
like that, but ... you're probably right,"
she said. "Chyou has a reputation
for driving really hard bargains."
"If you can call them that,"
Shiv said, kicking the wall.
"Yeah," Luci said softly.
Shiv watched her face crumple
and felt like an absolute shit.
"I didn't mean to bring you down,"
he said. "It's enough that one of us
is fucked up. I just ... I needed
to know if you were okay."
"My sister assaulted you,"
Luci said. "So no, I am not okay.
She didn't come after me the same way,
but hurting you hurts me too, Shiv-ya.
I'll find a way to deal with it, though."
"That's family for you," he said bitterly.
"What?" Luci said, frowning at him.
"That's not what family means at all."
"Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before,"
Shiv said, his mouth twisting. "They say
family is supposed to be our safe haven.
Mostly it's not. It’s the place where
we find the deepest heartache."
His chest hurt just thinking about
Chyou and what she had done, and
she wasn't even his sister. No wonder
Luci was so upset about all this shit.
"I know we're a bit of an odd couple,
you with your rough past and mine
so comfortable," Luci said. "I think
that it could be an advantage, though.
Maybe I can show you how family can
be a good thing ... and you can help me
understand how it can be so dangerous."
Shiv hadn't thought about that before.
His life was all fucked up. The idea
that it could be useful that way
was hard for him to get a grip on.
If it meant that Luci could learn
about the messy parts of life from him
instead of experiencing them herself,
however then he would do his best.
The winter wind quickened,
curling around the partial wall
to scrape over his bare cheeks.
Shiv looked up to see the windows
shining warm and golden with firelight.
He hadn't even realized that the sun
was starting to go down, shadows
creeping across the lawn.
"Come on, let's go in,"
he said, pushing away from
the wall. "I'm freezing my ass off."
"That's a good idea," Luci said,
and held out her hand to him.
Shiv hesitated, then reached out
to take it, her fingers curling around his.
Maybe they'd both be okay after all.
* * *
“Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache.”
-- Healthy Place
Any variation of "we need to talk" can be daunting for anyone, but especially for people who already have anxiety issues. Shiv finds it utterly nerve-racking even when he's the one initiating it. Here are some tips for handling difficult conversations in the family.
Child maltreatment can cause poor communication skills. Adolescents often refuse to talk, and you can't force people to talk. Children and men may also balk. They may simply see it as pointless. Learn how to help people talk about their problems and improve your conversation skills.
Sexual assault of men and boys affects about 1 in 6. Unwanted sexual experiences can have negative effects on relationships and other aspects of life. The holidays are especially fraught. Male survivors may be denied services although they need support too. There are way to heal after sexual trauma and help someone else recover from it. Here are more resources for male survivors.
I found very little information on talking about incest, despite the fact that discovery of incest should immediately raise those questions throughout the family and neighborhood. Apparently my emotionally crippled supervillain is more able to do this than average people here. :/ I did find articles on helping parents of abused children and supporting a friend after incest. What we really need is material on how to broach the topic of incest with your siblings or other relatives.
Sex offenders often rack up numerous victims. Shiv is right to worry.
Habit is slang for drug addition.
The meaning of family can vary widely. Growing up in a dysfunctional family can warp people's ideas of what family even is. Child abuse especially tends to wreck relationships. The foster care system also does tremendous harm, such as emotional coldness. Here are some exercises to heal from a dysfunctional childhood and love yourself. Parents and other mentors of abuse survivors need to serve as an emotional tutor. It doesn't show in this poem, but Shiv is just starting to learn that certain people can help him calm down and stop feeling like crap when he gets upset. It's something he rarely if ever got growing up, and it's an urgent human need for children.