Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Bedtime Rituals"

This poem came out of the January 22, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] librarygeek, [personal profile] mama_kestrel, and [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "falling asleep" square in my 2-28-18 card for the Slice-of-Life Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem deals with the aftermath of sexual assault and Shiv's awful past, but it is mostly cottoncandy fluff.


"Bedtime Rituals"

[Night of Monday, December 22, 2014]

Shiv yawned, melting into the couch.
It was just so warm and comfortable.

He forced himself to sit up straighter
and pay attention to the movie.

Then he yawned again.

"Bedtime," Tolli said,
patting him on the shoulder.

"Don'wanna," Shiv mumbled.
The last thing he needed was
to fall asleep, because then
he'd have nightmares,
and that would suck.

"I know, but you're
falling asleep anyway,
and if you sleep like that
you'll wake up with cramps,"
Tolli said. "Would you rather
walk or ride? I can carry you."

Shiv scrambled off the couch.
"I'm fine! I can walk!" he said.

"Of course you can," Tolli said.
"Do you want to use the bathroom
down here, or your own upstairs?"

It was weird to think in term of
his room and his bathroom here,
but Tolli and Simon always said it
that way, and it was growing on Shiv.

"Mine," Shiv said, turning toward
the stairs that led up there. "You
put all my stuff upstairs, right?"

"Yes, and I made sure you have
everything you need," Tolli said.

"Okay," Shiv said, trudging up.

Tolli was right behind him.
"May I come tuck you in?"

Shiv stopped, his brain running
slow as molasses. "What? Why?"

"Because you had a rotten day,
and I'd like to make sure that
you feel safer now," Tolli said.

Shiv's knuckles whitened on
the stair rail. He wished he could
feel safe, somewhere, anywhere.

"Guess you can try," he said,
not holding out much hope.

Coming into his room made him
smile, though, its arched ceiling
lifting his low mood a little bit.

Shiv's bed was a big beautiful thing
with a classy brass frame that he
could control if he needed it, and
above it hung a sunset painting
that he'd done in creme pastels.

The bedsheets were pale blue,
and the little throw pillows were
shades of gray or darker blue,
but the big body pillow was a riot
of watercolor flowers in pink,
purple, yellow, and blue that
linked the bed with the walls
done in a soft sandy yellow.

Now the bed had his blanket and
pillow of blue Microfyne on top,
and down at the foot lay
something folded up.

"What's this?" Shiv said,
poking at the package. It was
pale blue with stars and moons
sprinkled over the fabric.

"Flannel pajamas," Tolli said.
"You're right under the roof,
Shiv, it gets chilly up here."

What he didn't say was that
Shiv didn't have pajamas, because
he never saw a point in buying clothes
just to sleep in. He wore t-shirts or
underwear that didn't cost extra.

Still his fingers strayed to the pile
of thick, soft cloth and he wanted
nothing more than to curl up in it.

"Okay," he said, tracing the pattern
of moons and starts. "They're nice."

"I'm glad you like them," Tolli said.
"Go put them on and brush your teeth."

Shiv snorted. "What am I, five?"

"Bedtime rituals ease the way
to the elsewhere of slumber --
teeth brushing and pajamas,
the voice of someone reading,
the feel of a favorite blanket,
the nightlight glowing in a corner,"
Tolli said. "You could use the help."

"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said with a sigh.
He ran his superpower over the sharp points
of the seashell nightlight. The bathroom
had a matching one. He could always
find them, even if they weren't lit.

"Go ahead and touch things if
you want to," Tolli said. "After all,
they're your things. Touching them
might help you to ground yourself."

Shiv trailed a hand over the bed frame
and then moved to the other furniture.

The nightstand, chest, dresser, and desk
all matched -- white wood with brass knobs --
while the chair had white leather over brass.

The lamps were brass with white shades,
three of them: a tall floor lamp standing
near the stairs, and two short ones
on the nightstand and the desk.

The brass was cool and smooth
under his fingers, the wood warmer
and slick with paint, its grain hidden.

The dressing bench at the foot of the bed
was a ridiculous thing of fluffy white with
brass legs, but it was real sheepskin and
Shiv couldn't keep his hands out of it. Tonight
the shaggy fur soothed his restless hands.

This was nothing like his other rooms,
but Shiv liked it anyway, because
everything was so light and airy.

Tolli and Simon had said he could
do anything he wanted with the room,
short of setting it on fire, and Shiv had
toyed with the idea of painting it black
and spraying it with graffiti just to see
if they would really let him do it.

In the end, though, Shiv couldn't bear
to ruin the beautiful beach-colored room.
Tolli had found the bed first, and then
the rest had just sort of ... happened.

Shiv had added the picture as
an afterthought, just to have
one thing he'd made himself.

He yawned again. The room
was warm and quiet, and it
made him sleepier than ever.

"Go use the bathroom and
brush your teeth," Tolli said,
gently nudging him forward.

Shiv took the pajamas into
the bathroom and obeyed.

He could tell instantly that Tolli
hadn't gone into Shiv's bathroom
back at Blues Moon, because none
of that stuff was here -- instead,
Tolli had bought new stuff.

Toiletries stood neatly inside
an old wooden drawer with
a brass ring handle, sitting
on top of the toilet tank.

Shiv tucked a finger into it,
fully aware that this was
the only time he'd ever
get to grab a brass ring.

When he padded back out,
he saw that Tolli had dragged
the bench beside the bed and
turned down the covers.

Shiv sidled over to the bed,
wondering what Tolli had in mind.

"Climb in," Tolli said, patting
the mattress. "May I sit here
with you until you fall asleep?"

"Uh ... why?" Shiv said.

"It might help you feel better,
or just less lonely," Tolli said.

He didn't really want Tolli to go,
but it was babyish and he knew it.

Shiv sighed. "You don't have
to keep coddling me," he said.
"I'll get over it. I always do."

"Of course you will. You're
very strong," Tolli said. "But it
takes time, Shiv, time to process
what happened to you and put it
in its proper place in your memories
so it doesn't jump out at you."

"I guess so," Shiv said as
he climbed into his bed.

"May I tuck you in?" Tolli said,
lifting a corner of the covers.

Shiv hesitated. Half of him
wanted to tell Tolli to fuck off and
leave him alone. The other half
wanted to burrow into his lap
and never come out again.

"Fine, whatever," Shiv said.

Tolli's big hands lifted
the Microfyne and then
smoothed it over Shiv's body.

Just the feel of the soft fuzz
hugging him made Shiv
heave a sigh of relief.

"There, that feels better,"
Tolli said. "I hope that you
sleep well, but if you don't,
please come and get us.
We'll sit with you so it's
not quite as awful."

Shiv shook his head.
"I don't want to bother you."

"Whoever told you that you were
a bother for needing comfort at night
was an idiot who shouldn't be trusted
to raise bean sprouts," Tolli grumbled.

Shiv burst into giggles. "Yeah,"
he said. "They really were."

"Then don't listen to them,"
Tolli said firmly. "Listen to me
and Simon when we tell you
that we would much rather sit up
with you all night than leave you
up here alone and miserable."

"Yeah, but ..." Shiv protested.

Tolli clucked his tongue. "No buts.
We've done it before, many times,
for family and friends and each other.
We'll do it again. We'd like to do it
for you if you have trouble sleeping."

Shiv thought about the many nights
he had spent huddled into himself
and how much that had sucked.

"I'll think about it," he said,
burrowing under the covers.

He wouldn't do it, because
that was beyond pathetic,
but he could still fantasize.

"Thank you," Tolli said, like
Shiv had done him a favor.
"Would you like for me to read
to you, or sing, or just sit quietly?"

"I don't know," Shiv muttered.

His own experiences of bedtime
mostly sucked. The only good ones
he had were actually Edison's, when
Shiv and Dr. G would read to him.

Other times, Dr. G would sing,
not always in English but Shiv
liked the sound of it anyway --
and it sure put Edison to sleep.

Maybe there was something
to those bedtime rituals after all.

"Well, I've not brought a book up,
so let's try singing," Tolli said.
"You can always push me on
the floor if I croak like a frog."

Shiv snickered. "Mmmkay."

Tolli didn't croak like a frog,
and Shiv didn't know why
he had even said that.

His voice was warm and rich,
and it wrapped around Shiv
like Microfyne, pressing him
down into the soft bed.

Shiv didn't recognize
more than a word or two --
the song was in Irish -- but
he loved the sound of it.

The mattress stirred a little,
and Shiv realized that Tolli
must be swaying as he sang,
bumping the edge of the bed
so that it felt like rocking.

The song spilled over him,
keeping time with the rhythm
of Tolli leaning against the bed.

It washed away the thoughts
that had been plaguing Shiv
all night, leaving his mind blank.

Shiv fell asleep with Tolli's hand on
his shoulder and Tolli's voice in his ears.

* * *

Notes:

"Bedtime rituals for children ease the way to the elsewhere of slumber teeth brushing and pajamas, the voice of a parent reading, the feel and smell of the old blanket or toy, the nightlight glowing in a corner."
-- Siri Hustvedt

This is Simon and Tolliver's house in Raleigh, North Carolina. See the exterior, 1st floor plan, and 2nd floor plan. The kitchen stairs lead down to the basement. The garage stairs lead up to the bonus room, now Shiv's room. The kitchen looks into the family room, which has a cubby wall dividing the two spaces. The powder room is a freestanding cubicle between the kitchen and the living room.

Shiv has the bonus room above the garage, its walls done in sandy yellow and white. Shiv's bed has a beautiful brass frame. The dressing bench stands at the foot of the bed. Shiv's sunrise painting hangs over the bed. His bedroom set includes a chest, dresser, nightstand, and desk painted creamy white with brass knobs. A mirror framed in brass pipe hangs above Shiv's dresser. His desk chair is brass with a white leather seat. Shiv also has a set of three brass lamps with white shades. The tall floor lamp stands near the stairs, away from the ceiling lights. One short lamp goes on the nightstand and the other on the desk. There is one seashell nightlight in the bedroom and another in the bathroom. Shiv finds the sharp points reassuring, and he can always find the nightlights even if they aren't shining.

This is Shiv's bathroom upstairs. Tolli has placed extra toiletries in an old drawer atop the toilet tank. It includes a wash cloth, hand soap, travel sized shampoo and conditioner, room spray, nail files, a small sewing kit, and sundry other things.

A toiletries kit is among the niceties for a welcoming guest bathroom. You can make your own or buy one for general use or just for men. Here those kits are mostly aimed at people who do bed-and-breakfast or other travel services, but in T-America you can find them at most drugstores, supermarkets, and houseware shops. They make great moving-day or housewarming gifts too.

Tolli bought Shiv a set of flannel pajamas, blue with little moons and stars.

Bedtime rituals can improve sleep. Normally parents do this for for children, but most of Shiv's experiences growing up ranged from unsatisfying to abusive. Now Tolli has a chance to make up for that, and he's milking it for all it's worth. Here are some ideas to make your own bedtime ritual.

The difference between being safe and feeling safe can be difficult for trauma survivors. Many survivors do not feel safe regardless of current circumstances -- especially with the repeated violations that cause Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder. You can take steps to make yourself feel safer, such as making a safety plan. There are also ways to help trauma survivors feel safe again, such as this list of tips for parents of abuse survivors. I made a safety tracker for people who have difficulty making objective measurements of safety or danger.

Nightmares often follow an upsetting event, especially sexual assault. They are a common symptom of PTSD and other traumatic stress. Learn how to cope with nightmares and stop having them. Talking with someone often helps. Instructions for comforting children after a nightmare generalize pretty well to adults.

Gaelic lullabyes have some beautiful lyrics.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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