Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "How We Correct Them"

This poem is spillover from the December 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] wyld_dandelyon, [personal profile] curiosity, and rix_scaedu. It also fills the "allergic reaction" square in my 6-23-19 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] mashfanficchick, [personal profile] erulisse, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] eseme, EdorFaus, and [personal profile] torc87. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It is the second in a triptych between "Cut With Our Own Dust" and "The Courage to Admit Them."

Warning: This poem contains some touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features Shiv's panicky in media res phone call style, analysis of what went wrong, minor medical details, minor panic-driven difficulty speaking and breathing, distortion of facts, humiliation, vivid out-of-character guilt, emotional dysphoria, minor inadvertent self-harm, messy social dynamics, mystical body horror, intense disappointment, difficulty dealing with mistakes, smoking, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"How We Correct Them"

[Saturday, March 21, 2015]

"I fucked up, Rosie,
I really really fucked up
this time," Shiv said, clutching
his phone in a sweaty hand.
"I don't know what to do."

"You called me, and I'll help,"
Rosie said, calm as ever. "First,
take some nice deep breaths."

Shiv breathed in and breathed out,
trying to remember the warm press
of Rosie's back against his own.

"That's better," Rosie said.
"First, are you somewhere safe?"

"Close enough for now,"
Shiv said. He was actually in
a dead-end alley between buildings,
where the brick walls held enough heat
that the weeds and walnut trees filling
the back end were already green.

"Okay, that's a good start,"
Rosie said. "Are you injured?"

"No, I'm fine," Shiv said.
Well, probably. Hopefully.
Lawrence had thought as much.

"Is anyone else injured?" Rosie said.
"Think about who might be hurt."

"It's just a scratch, I swear!"
Shiv said, pacing back and forth.

"Well, describe it to me --
how big is it?" Rosie said.
"Can you tell if it's deep?"

"Two-three inches, less than
a millimeter deep," Shiv said.
"It just looks like a cat scratch."

"That's good," Rosie said.
"It doesn't sound serious.
How do you know the depth?"

"I uh ... modified one edge
of my butterfly knife like one of
those safety cutters," Shiv said.
"It can't cut any deeper."

"All right, that's good too,"
Rosie said. "Are you still
with the injured person?"

"Fuck no, I split as soon as
I could stand up!" Shiv said.

"That sounds like you were
on the ground," Rosie said.
"How did that happen?"

"Uhh ..." Shiv's voice
trailed away as he tried
and failed to push out
the words. It was just
too damn embarrassing.

"Breathe, Shiv, in and out."
Rosie's voice was warm and
soothing in his ear. "You're in
a safe place. You're telling me
what's going on. You can do this."

"Can't," Shiv squeaked.

"You're already doing it,"
Rosie said. "Breathe. Listen
to my voice. Why don't you
back up and tell me how
the situation started?"

"I was in the Mall, actually
it's more of a park," Shiv said.

"You were in a park," Rosie said.
"What happened while you were there?"

"I was, uh, hanging around some folks,"
Shiv said. No way would he admit
to picking pockets. "Some guys
I know, they don't like me much,
and they started hassling me."

"That doesn't sound very nice
of them," Rosie replied.

"Stan's a dick," Shiv muttered.

Rosie's sympathy was scalding
when he didn't know what Shiv
had really been doing there.

"Mmm," Rosie said. "What
was this Stan doing?"

"Trying to grab me,"
Shiv said. "So I was
dodging as best I could."

"You dodged, and then
what?" Rosie asked.

Shiv hunched into himself.
"Sliced him with my knife."

"So Stan wound up with
a scratch," Rosie said.
"How big did you say?"

"Couple inches, maybe,"
Shiv said. "Real shallow."

"Easy enough to treat with
a basic first aid kit," Rosie said.
"Knife fighting isn't a safe hobby,
but that could have gone worse.
What did you do after that?"

Humiliated, Shiv muttered a reply.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you,"
Rosie said. "Please repeat that."

"I um, I ... lickedtheknife,"
Shiv blurted all at once.

"That can be risky,"
Rosie said, worried.

"I know that now!" Shiv said,
bouncing against the brick wall.
"I fuckin' fainted or something."

"That's not good," Rosie said.
"Have you been to a clinic,
or talked to Dr. Bloch?"

"Fuck no," Shiv said. "That's
not even the real problem."

"All right, then tell me
the real problem,"
Rosie coaxed.

"Something's wrong,"
Shiv said. "It feels
wrong, inside me."

"Stomach ache?"
Rosie asked.

"No, not my body --
well, that too, but like
butterflies in my stomach
aren't real ones," Shiv said.

"That sounds like an emotion
echoing down to your body,"
Rosie said. "Can you identify it?"

"No, and that scares me," Shiv said.

Fuck. He hadn't meant to say
that. How humiliating.

"It's okay to be scared when
weird things happen," Rosie said.
"We'll figure it out. Can you
describe the sensations?"

"Cold, shaky," Shiv said.
"Kinda queasy, like -- like
going down in an elevator."

"Ah," Rosie said, brightening.
"That sounds like guilt, Shiv."

"The fuck?" Shiv said. "Why
would I feel guilty? That's
not me, I never feel that way!"

"Maybe you didn't in the past,
but it sure sounds like you do now,"
Rosie said. "You've been changing
a lot of things in your life, Shiv, and
they're good changes. It makes sense
that you're growing a conscience, too.
Normally that happens in early childhood,
but sometimes it's a little late to the party."

"I can't, it's not -- I can't have a conscience,"
Shiv said. He was really starting to panic.
"I'm a supervillain! I got to work, I got
to fuckin' eat. I can't afford this shit."

"What you do is still up to you, Shiv,"
said Rosie. "Your conscience is just there
to remind you not to do rotten things."

"But that's who I am," Shiv wailed.

"Maybe it's who you were," Rosie said.
"I don't think it's who you are becoming,
and that's a very encouraging sign."

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Shiv said,
thumping his back against the wall.

"Softly, please," Rosie said. "I'd
rather not send you home with bruises.
Try to be gentle with yourself, Shiv."

"Why do I feel so fuckin' awful?"
Shiv said. He pushed off the wall
and went back to pacing instead.

"Let's figure it out," Rosie said.
"Think about things you did that
might upset you or other people. You
mentioned fighting, and that's not nice."

"But I really like fighting," Shiv said.

"Hmm, that's true," Rosie said.
"Think about what else you
were doing. Did you break
any of your own rules?"

"No," Shiv said.

"What about laws or
other social expectations?"
Rosie asked. "Most people
feel bad if they break those."

He'd been stealing, of course,
but he did that all the time,
and it never bothered him.

"For fuck's sake, Rosie,
that's my life," Shiv said.
"Why would I suddenly be
freakin' out about it now?"

"That's a very good point,"
Rosie said. "All right, if
this really doesn't feel like
your conscience, could it
come from an outside source?
Was someone guilt-tripping you?"

Shiv remembered slicing over
Stan's forearm, and licking the knife,
and then nothing but a world of pain.

Icy fear trickled down his spine.

"Ohhh, fuck," he whispered.
"I think I might ... maybe ...
I have an idea how I could've
gotten someone's conscience
on me. In me. Fuck fuck fuck!"

"Is there something this person
would have disapproved of?"
Rosie said. "That could be it."

"Uh yeah, me," Shiv said tightly.

"Something you did, not you
as a person," Rosie corrected.

"Yeah, but I been lookin' forward
to this for months," Shiv whined.
"It's all I could think about in prison,
and he just ruined everything!"

"Ahh," Rosie said. "I think I see
the problem. You set a goal and
focused on it so tightly that you
didn't realize how much you were
changing. It doesn't fit you now
the way it would have earlier."

Shiv thought about that, and
realized Rosie maybe had a point.

"Ssssss ... son of a bitch," he said,
deflating like a balloon. "I am so screwed."

"We'll get through this," Rosie promised.

"I don't know what to do. What the fuck
am I supposed to do now?" Shiv said.

"First, let's go back to that person
you might have upset," Rosie said.
"If they're influencing you somehow,
then you might be able to break it by
following their expectations, completing
the routine. Then just avoid them after
that so you don't get sucked in again."

"Okay, that's ... I might could
do that," Shiv said, nibbling his lip.

"What is that person like? How
would they handle a situation where
they made a mistake?" Rosie said.
"Then put yourself in their shoes."

Trying to imagine himself as Stan
made Shiv feel like he was trapped in
one of those dumb alternate reality games.

They were nothing alike -- and maybe
that's what had gone so horribly wrong.
He'd gone and gotten Stan's goodie-gumdrop
energy all mixed up with his own, and that
was like pouring sugar in a gas tank.

"He's not like me," Shiv said slowly.
"He's a superhero, and he acts like
he has to do everything perfect."

"So if he made a mistake, he'd
probably apologize," Rosie said.

"Yeah," Shiv said shortly,
trying to forget all about
the humiliating exchange
between them after his arrest.

Stan even got Lawrence
to take him back, somehow.
Shiv really didn't want to think
about that either. Lawrence
deserved better than that rat.

"Then you could try apologizing
to him and see whether that relieves
the guilt you're feeling," Rosie said.
"If it's truly not yours, then it shouldn't
have much attachment to you -- there's
a good chance it will come right off."

"Are you sure this'll work when I
don't think it's a mistake?" Shiv said.

"It's worth a try," Rosie said. "Besides,
things didn't turn out the way you hoped,
so there must be a mistake somewhere."

"Yeah," Shiv said glumly. "I guess
I fuck up everything, even when I'm
just trying to have a good time."

"It’s not how we make mistakes,
but how we correct them, that
defines us," Rosie said.

"But I suck at apologies,"
Shiv said, kicking a beer can.

"No matter how many mistakes
you make or how slow your progress,
you’re still way ahead of everyone
who isn’t trying," Rosie declared.

"Guess I can't argue with that,"
Shiv said, not at all sure this was
anywhere he wanted to be going.

The alternative, however, was
continuing to stew in this shitstorm,
which Shiv wanted even less.

"It's okay, Shiv, I'll talk you
through it," Rosie offered.

"Yeah, yeah, let's get it
over with," Shiv said.

"An apology doesn't have
to be fancy," Rosie explained.
"Say what you did. Say it was
wrong. Say you're sorry."

"Does it count even if
I'm not sorry?" Shiv said.

"Well, no," Rosie said.
"In that case, you could
say 'I apologize' instead.
The word is the action."

"I'll have to remember
that one," Shiv said.

"Then again, are you
happy with how things
turned out?" Rosie said.

"Fuck no," Shiv said. "It's why
I called you in the first place!"

"Then you regret something,
so you could be sorry about
that, even if you're not sorry for
the exact thing you did wrong,"
Rosie said. "It's a starting point."

"Apology, got it," Shiv said,
making a note. "Are you sure
this'll fix what's wrong with me?"

"I believe it will help," Rosie said.
"Make your apology, then give it
a day or two to settle. If you still
feel awful, call me back. We'll
think of something else to try."

"Okay. Okay. I can do that,"
Shiv said, scuffing his feet.

"That brings us to another thing
I'd like to cover," Rosie said. "You
mentioned cutting someone and
then licking the knife. That's not
safe, and I think you know that."

"Yeah, maybe," Shiv grumbled.
"Lawrence said it could have
been some super thing."

"I want you to discuss that
with Dr. Bloch, or Dr. G, or
some other doctor you trust,"
Rosie said. "It's important."

"I don't trust people, Rosie!"
Shiv snapped. "That's not me."

"Nevertheless, I'm asking you
to confide in someone," Rosie said.
"Think of it as a favor, if you like."

Because Shiv had bugged Rosie,
which meant owing him a favor,
and Shiv didn't like owing shit.

"I'll think about it," he said.

"Thank you," Rosie said.
"I'm glad that you turned to me
when you needed some help."

"Yeah well ... I panicked and
had the phone on before I realized
what I was doing," Shiv admitted.

"Then you have wise fingers," Rosie said
with a warm chuckle. "It's been a hard day,
Shiv, and you still have hard things to do
later. For now, go reward yourself."

Shiv's stomach rumbled a reminder
that he had missed lunch in
all the ruckus at the Mall.

"Good idea, Rosie ...
and thanks," Shiv said.

Ending the call, he stuffed
his phone in his pocket and
lit a cigarette. A few puffs
started to soothe his nerves.

Then he headed out to the street.

There was that restaurant
in the Old Market that he'd
been wanting to try out,
Plank Seafood Provisions,
for the mahi mahi tacos
and white peach lemonade.

It was pricier than his usual range --
about twice what he would pay for
a lunch platter at Taco Shell --
which made Shiv a bit twitchy,
but ... mahi mahi tacos.

Besides, you got two of them,
topped with pineapple stuff, and
a whole mess of chili lime fries.

Pain's Gray had already tried it
and talked it up, so Shiv had been
meaning to drop by there himself.

Hs mouth watered just thinking
about it, and he headed briskly
toward the restaurant.

Maybe Rosie was right
about doing hard things.

He deserved a reward for it.

* * *

Notes:

Stalwart Stan -- Stanley Wood is a high school student with a gallant personality, although some people think he's too good to be true. He has a sculptured body with light brown hair and hazel eyes. His naturally tan skin darkens further under the sun. Stan is the son of Stuart and Sharon Wood. He is the older brother of Stephanie, Sloane, and Susie. He is the nephew of Gabriel and Jenna Kay and older cousin of Huckleberry and Mackenzie; and related to Mason and Miranda Kay, who are about a year older than him. Stan is bisexual, with a previous girlfriend Angelica Young and current boyfriend Antimatter (Lawrence Cunningham). His scouting friends include Tycho "Tyke" Norris and Maurice Stevenson.
Stan and his family live in Omaha, Nebraska. He has played several different sports at school, most recently inside linebacker and captain of the football team, but is increasingly drawn to chess instead. Math is challenging, but Lawrence helps him with it. Stan goes from one part-time job to another, because he wants to be industrious but he keeps losing his current job for hero-related reasons. He spends a lot of time patrolling Omaha to deal with supervillains and smaller problems, particularly in the Gene Leahy Mall and other downtown areas.
Origin: His scouting troop got lost in the woods during terrible weather, everyone afraid they might die. Stan found a weird fetish that gave him superpowers, enabling him to call for help and save the day. He earned the Honor Medal for saving lives at considerable risk to himself.
Uniform: Tan shirt and trousers reminiscent of a boy scout uniform but without insignia, plus a matching safari hat with a clingy mask obscuring the top half of his face.
Qualities: Master (+6) Such a Boy Scout, Good (+2) Athletic, Good (+2) Citizen, Good (+2) Handsome, Good (+2) Strategic Thinking
Poor (-2) Math Is Hard
Powers: Average (0) Moral Compass
Fetish: Good (+2) Invulnerability, Average (0) Communicator, Average (0) Super-Strength
Limitation: All fetish powers require the fetish to use; Stanley wears it around his neck.
Motivation: Be prepared to help those in need.

The Sicun is an immaterial God whose substance is never visible. It is the potency of mankind and the emitted potency of the Gods. Considered relative to mankind It is many, but apart from mankind It is one. Skan imparts a sicun to each of mankind at birth. It remains with the person until death, when it returns whence it came. Its functions are to enable its possessor to do those things which the beasts cannot do and to give courage and fortitude. It may be pleased or displeased with its possessor and may be operative or inoperative according to its pleasure. It may be invoked by ceremony or prayer, but it cannot be imparted to any other person or thing. Most of the Gods can emit their potencies and when so emitted their potencies become sicunpi. Such a sicun can be imparted to material things by a proper ceremony correctly performed by a Shaman.
A sicun so imparted must be clothed by proper wrappings about the material It pervades. The wrappings may be in the form of a pouch, bag, bundle, or any receptacle that will cover and hide the material. The wrapping, the material, and the sicun, all together make a wasicun. A sicun is operative only when It is a part of a wasicun. The Oglala concept of a wasicun is most nearly expressed in English by the word Fetish, and this word will be so used hereinafter. 

* * *

"It’s not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them that defines us."
-- Rachel Wolchin

This is the dead-end alley.

Plank Seafood Provisions has both outdoor and indoor dining.

Blackened Mahi Mahi Tacos $12.00
Slaw, pineapple pico de gallo, charred jalapeño crema, chili lime fries
-- Lunch Menu

Juicy Lemonades
Pink guava nectar, pomegranate juice, blackberry nectar, white peach nectar
-- Lunch Menu

A safety paper cutter has a tiny blade mounted inside a handle. The small size of the blade and the wider shoulders of the handle prevent it from cutting deeply.

Shame and guilt tend to center around the gut. Learn how to deal with guilt.

Moral development comes in stages, and most people develop a conscience during middle childhood. It's a good thing. Shiv doesn't see this as a benefit, though. He sees it as a threat to his survival, because it stands in the way of doing things that he needs to accomplish. During his childhood, that was quite accurate, but it no longer applies the same way now. There are tips on setting your moral compass and teaching moral virtues to others.

A meaningful apology consists of several parts. Understand how to apologize. Teaching kids to apologize is a part of parenting, but not everyone learns it. Forcing people to apologize just teaches lying and manipulation; instead, encourage them to express their feelings and offer practical recompense. A reduced penalty is another incentive for sincere apology.

"No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow your progress, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying."
-- Tony Robbins

Taco Shell is a T-American restaurant chain featuring cheap Mexican food. They have a few restaurants, mostly in food courts, along with food trucks and carts. You can get a taco for a dollar, or a lunch platter for $5-6. Most of the food is junk, but one of their notable dishes is refried beans with Mexican rice, available in several sizes and advertised as a healthier choice.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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