Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The So-Called Truths"

This poem is spillover from the September 4, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] mashfanficchick, and discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "scared" square in my 7-31-18 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest, and the "abuse" square in my 6-4-18 Mixed card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. This is the third in the triptych, after "The Scars on the Mind" and "The Worst Word in the Dictionary." Read those two first or this one won't make much sense.

Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. After the initial damper wears off, Shiv freaks out over his new improved brain. This includes extreme anxiety, disorientation, one's of Shiv's in media res phone calls to Dr. G, panic, trying not to cry, calling off work, minor medical details, Dr. G really wishes that Shiv would tell him more things but is determined to go at Shiv's speed, self-blame and self-hate, difficulty asking for help, past abuse, offset physical reflexes, second-guessing, shaken self-image, fear, freaking out, feeling lost, musical difficulties, references to past injuries, trust issues, derealization, past therapeutic abuse, notably increased skin hunger, resentment, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"The So-Called Truths"

[Sunday, April 5, 2015]

"How do I turn my brain off?"
Shiv wailed into the phone.

"You don't," Dr. G said gently.
"Even if you could, that wouldn't
be a good idea. So how about
just turning it down instead?"

"I dunno how to do that
either, doc!" Shiv said.

"That's okay, you called me
and I'll help," said Dr. G. "Can
you tell me how your brain is
bothering you right now?"

"Everything is too clear and
too bright and too sharp,"
Shiv said. "My hands move
too fast and I keep knocking
things over. I don't feel like
me anymore, and I don't
know how to make it stop."

"That sounds very upsetting,"
Dr. G said. "May I come over?
I can be there in just a few minutes.
That will make this easier to fix."

"Okay," Shiv said, gulping
back sobs. "Maybe hurry?"

"Quick as I can get a teleporter,
I promise," Dr. G said. "Stay on
the phone with me until I get there."

Shiv was already clutching the thing
like a life preserver. "Uh huh," he said.

"Where are you?" Dr. G asked.

"I'm at home," Shiv said.
"Blues Moon, my apartment."

"All right, Junket's here,"
Dr. G said. "We're going
to land on your living room rug,
so make sure you're not on it."

Shiv had been pacing all over,
and turned a corner. "Okay,
I'm in the kitchen now."

"We're here," Dr. G said.
"You can come out."

Shiv stuffed the phone in
a pocket and ran to meet him.

"May I check your --" Dr. G began.

Without slowing down at all, Shiv
wrapped himself around Dr. G and
buried his face in the fuzzy sweater.
"Make it stop," he whimpered.

"All right, I've got you ," Dr. G said.
"I'll do everything I can to help."

"Shiv, I'm going to go downstairs
and tell Lieutenant Brown that
you're not coming to work
today," Junket said.

"Don't tell him that I'm
melting down," Shiv sniffled.

"I won't," Junket said. "All
he needs to know is that
someone else should cover
your slot for now. Doc, ping me
when you need a ride home."

"Thank you, Junket," said Dr. G.
He steered Shiv to the futon.
"Shiv, let's sit down and focus
on our breathing for a while."

That was familiar. Shiv
clung to the familiarity as much
as to Dr. G's sweater. It was
embarrassing, but right now
he desperately needed it.

"Breathe in, down to your belly,
hold for a moment, and then
breathe out," Dr. G coached.

Shiv followed along as best
he could, still hiccupping with
suppressed sobs now and then.

"That's it, you're doing better,"
Dr. G said, rubbing Shiv's back.
"When you slow your breathing,
that helps your body calm down."

Shiv sniffled. "Rosie said that too."

"Well, Ambrose is a very wise man,"
Dr. G said. "I'm glad he helped you
learn some effective coping skills."

Most of which Shiv still couldn't work
by himself, but it was better than nothing.

When Shiv finally got his breathing
under control, he let go his death grip
on Dr. G's sweater. "This is new,"
he said, trying to smooth it out.

It wasn't an abstract design like
most of his sweaters, though. This
was a cityscape done in shades of gray
and cream with green accents.

"Do you like it?" Dr. G asked.
"My friend Leo gave me this one."

"It's nice," Shiv said, tracing
the skyline. "Peaceful."

"Then I'm glad you like it,"
Dr. G said. "Peace is good.
May I run that health check now?"

"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said.
"I'm kind of a mess today."

"That's what I'm working
to figure out, so we can fix it,"
Dr. G said. "Lend me your wrist
for a minute? I'll give it right back."

Shiv giggled, then had to gasp
for air again, but he dropped
his hand in Dr. G's lap.

The health check didn't
take long and wasn't awful,
Shiv just felt unsettled already.

"No physical signs of anything
other than stress," Dr. G declared.
"Do you have any idea what
might have caused this?"

Shiv gabbled out the whole story
of yesterday's trade, healing for
blademaking, and wished that
the floor would swallow him up.

Dr. G sighed. "I wish you'd --
no, nevermind that. Here we are,
and we'll deal with what we've got."

Shiv cringed. Yesterday Lorry had
brought him home and then talked to
Boss White so that Shiv wouldn't get
in trouble for getting back so late.

That hadn't covered this, though.
Shiv would just have to get
his own ass out this mess.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I know
that I'm supposed to tell you stuff."

"You tell me things when you're ready,
Shiv," said Dr. G. "It's not something
that should be forced, including by you.
This morning you felt ready, so we're
working on this problem now."

"Okay," Shiv said in a small voice,
desperately wishing that it was.

"It sounds like you got a bunch of
things fixed at the same time, and
now that's making you uncomfortable,"
Dr. G said. "Did I get that right?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I'm fixed,
but I want to go back to being
broken, how sick is that?"

"You weren't broken, Shiv,
just dinged a bit," said Dr. G.
"When you change a lot of things
at once, that can be unsettling,
even if they're good changes."

"I know it was stupid," Shiv said.

"It's not stupid, it just has drawbacks,"
Dr. G said. "Now you know what that
feels like, so in the future you can
make a more informed decision on
whether the pros outweigh the cons."

"I was there, I had the chance,
I took it," Shiv said. "That's all."

"Okay," Dr. G said. "I think you're
just overwhelmed by the new input and
your feelings. Yesterday your healer
toned that down for you, and that
seemed to work. How about we
call and ask thon to do it again?"

"No no no," Shiv said frantically.
"Those people are important,
you can't bother them over me!"

Dr. G frowned. "Did they
actually say that to you?"

"Uh, no, but it's how I feel,"
Shiv said, squirming in place.

"It's your choice," Dr. G said,
but he didn't sound happy. "Shall
we call Boss White or Heron to see
if one of them can do the same?"

"Not Boss White," Shiv said instantly.
"He's got some serious meetings today."

"What about Heron?" Dr. G asked.
"You know he'll come if we ask."

"Do we have to?" Shiv said, wincing.
It was humiliating enough with two people
having seen him such a wreck, without
adding yet another witness to the list.

"No we do not," Dr. G said. "This is
your home, and you decide who to invite.
It's your mind and body, so you decide
who to ask for help. But I can't just
reach in and fix things by hand,
the way some other people can."

"I know," Shiv said. "Maybe ...
try some other things first?"

"We can do that," Dr. G said.
"Let's break this down into
smaller parts that will be
easier to handle. What's
one thing that bothers you?"

"My eyes," Shiv said. "It's like --
like looking through binoculars,
how everything seems to jump
at you? The edges are too sharp."

"That sounds familiar," Dr. G said.
"Shiv, have you ever worn glasses?"

"No," Shiv said, shaking his head.
"Well, nothing other than sunglasses."

"Those might help," Dr. G said.
"What I was thinking, though, is that
everyone takes a day or few to adapt
to a new pair of glasses. Until then,
it can feel very disorienting, like
everything is just a little off."

"Yeah, that's it!" Shiv said.

"Get your sunglasses," Dr. G said.
"Wearing those may take the edge off
and give you time to adjust to the changes."

Shiv went and got his sunglasses from
the mail sorter by the door, but he hesitated
to put them on. "You're sure that it's
okay to wear these indoors?"

He'd gotten slapped for it before.
Teachers hated it, and so did
most foster parents. So Shiv just
learned to deal with bright lights,
mostly by staring at the floor a lot.

"If you need sunglasses, then wear
them, and don't worry about etiquette,"
Dr. G said firmly. "People with migraines
wear theirs indoors, and so do blind people.
I know others who have special tinted glasses
that they wear all the time to protect their eyes."

Shiv put his on, and sighed in relief as
the soft blue-gray tint toned down the world
enough that it wasn't so distracting anymore.
"Yeah, this helps," he said. "Thanks, doc."

"You're welcome, and I'm glad that it helps,"
Dr. G said. "What's another part of the problem?"

"Everything's too fast," Shiv said. "It's like
my brain's going a mile a minute and I keep
bumping into things, knocking stuff over."

"Will you show me?" Dr. G said. "I know
that it's embarrassing to mess up, but
I promise not to laugh if you do." He
picked up a soft ball that had fallen into
the futon. "Can you take this from me?"

Shiv reached out, and bumped it so it rolled,
but he managed to catch it before it fell.

"That's good," Dr. G said. "Hand it back.
Can you catch it if I throw it to you?"
He tossed the ball in an easy arc.

Shiv missed it anyway.

"See?" he said, fighting not
to cry. "Something's wrong!"

"Something might be wrong,
and I would love to check with
your healer about that," Dr. G said.

Shiv shook his head so fiercely
that his bangs flopped. "No."

"Okay," Dr. G said. "I don't
think anything is actually wrong.
I think that your reflexes have sped up,
but the part of your mind that plans how
to do things hasn't realized that yet. It's
no big deal. It happens to most people
as children or teens in a big growth spurt."

"Never happened to me," Shiv protested.

"Well, you're small enough that you
might not have outgrown yourself
like that before," Dr. G said. "That's
normal too, by the way. It's okay."

"I can't work like this," Shiv said,
wrapping his arms around himself.
"The fuck use am I now."

"There are plenty of things
you can do, and I'm sure that
the rest will come back pretty soon,"
Dr. G said. "I can show you some
of the exercises for adapting to
changes like this, if you want."

"Like what?" Shiv said.

"Throwing and catching games,
like we just did. I think you'd enjoy
those," said Dr. G. "Body stretches,
to help you get back in your own skin."

"I stretch out when I visit the gym,
before I do anything else," Shiv said.

He stood up, thought better of it,
and sat down to do his floor routine.
It felt different, but not awful.

"That's a good idea," said Dr. G,
watching him work out. "I think that
you just need to relearn your body and
how it responds to your brain now."

"I fuckin' hope so, because this
really sucks," Shiv grumbled.

"It definitely sucks, but we're
making plans to cope with that,"
Dr. G said. "We'll get through it
together. I'll help you as much
as you need, and I'll try not
to smother you, all right?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. He felt
pathetically grateful that he
didn't have to deal with it alone.

"Do you want to tell me another thing
that bothers you?" Dr. G invited.

This was getting into the hard shit.

Just thinking about it made Shiv
start to shake again as he finished
the last set of his stretches.

He wound up with his back
pressed against the base
of the futon for support.

"I don't feel like myself,"
Shiv whispered. "Something
changed in me, and I don't
know what. I can feel it, but
I can't find it. Creeps me out."

"Of course it does," Dr. G said.
"Nobody likes feeling as if they
don't know themselves. The effect
is surprisingly common, though.
Did you know that it can happen
to people after a bad haircut?"

"Really?" Shiv leaned back,
lolling his head on the futon
to look up at Dr. G. "Weird."

"Really," Dr. G said. "Sometimes
they hate it so much, they go back
to the old style. More often, they
get used to the new one instead.
Your self-image is adaptable."

"Huh," Shiv said. "Go figure."

"Have you ever had a haircut that
felt wrong, made you uncomfortable
in your body? Lots of people have,"
Dr. G said. "I know that you have
a hard time remembering your past,
but search your memory for that one."

Shiv closed his eyes and wandered
through the house in his mind, poking
at various piles of stuff that he just
hadn't found time to organize yet.

And there it was, the flash of scissors
so vivid that he flinched away from it,
recalling how the hairdresser had
snapped at him to sit still while
his social worker pinned him down.

"I looked like a fuckin' haystack,"
he said. "I hated that haircut.
I felt like I'd been scalped."

"Well done," Dr. G said.
"Now compare that feeling
to how you feel today."

"Nah, it's not that bad,"
Shiv said at once. "This time
I had a choice, more or less."

"More or less?" Dr. G said sharply.

"Yeah, I mean, it wasn't my idea
to start with, but ... the offers just got
too good to turn down," Shiv explained.

"All right then," Dr. G said. "Consent
makes a big difference in experiences.
I'm hearing that you're still upset about
this one, but you don't feel violated."

"They fed me fudge and sandwiches
with jam, and nobody tried to get me
outta my clothes," Shiv said, smirking.
"So no, doc, I ain't been violated."

"That's good," Dr. G said. "Let's dig
a little deeper. What about this
has you feeling at odds with
yourself? What's different?"

"Can't pin it down, and it ain't
for lack of tryin' either!" Shiv said.
"It's like ... something sits different
in me, but I don't know what. I think
I notice people more, and I keep
second-guessing myself."

"What things are you having
second thoughts about?" Dr. G said.

"Like whether I should do something,"
Shiv said. "That ain't me, you know it!"

"It doesn't sound like the you I've come
to know and ... like," Dr. G said. "I can see
why that upsets you so much. However,
part of the personality comes from the spirit
and part comes from the brain. That's why
brain injuries can cause personality changes.
Heal the damage, and it just might reverse
those changes, put you back like you were."

"But I've never been like this!" Shiv protested.

"That you remember," Dr. G said gently.
"You've told me that you don't recall much
of your childhood, so there's not a lot for
comparison. Also, I know the physical abuse
started early. You might simply have been
too young to know yourself, or remember."

Shiv panted for breath, shaken to the core
by the suggestion that he might not really be
the person that he thought he was -- that
all of it could just be brain damage.

"Easy now, don't hyperventilate,"
Dr. G said, rubbing a hand over
the back of Shiv's neck. "Sit up
a bit and give your lungs room.
Slow your breathing back down."

Shiv sat up, leaning into the touch.
He dragged the air in and out,
listening to Dr. G breathe and
trying to follow the pattern.

"That's better," Dr. G said.
"Shall we check a few things
to see if those parts of you are
still in working order? I know
that you find it difficult to answer
questions, so I'll try to keep this short."

Shiv opened his mouth to say 'Hit me'
but stopped short because he knew
that Dr. G didn't like that phrase.

"There it is again!" he snapped.
"I can't think straight like this."

"What just happened?" Dr. G said.
"Tell me as much as you can,
and then we'll figure it out."

"I was gonna said 'hit me'
because that's a thing I say,
but I stopped because you
don't like it," Shiv said.
"And that ain't me!"

"It's unfamiliar,"
Dr. G said.

"It's fuckin' scary!"

"Okay, you feel afraid,"
Dr. G said. "I'm right here.
I'll keep you safe. Remember
when you got upset about
growing a conscience?"

He'd freaked the fuck out,
is what, and thrown a fit
at Rosie over the phone.

"Yeah, I remember," Shiv said.

"Well, this could be related to that,"
Dr. G said. "Most people's conscience
grows in during childhood. They naturally
start thinking about other people's feelings."

"I don't," Shiv said, shaking his head.
"That's just not how I'm wired, doc, you
know that I'm a real jackass. Thinking
about other people isn't something I do."

"You missed that step, because bad people
messed up your life," Dr. G said. "So of course
it felt weird when it happened recently. Now
you've rebooted your brain a bit, so some things
that should have happened earlier might be
starting now -- a second chance."

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck." Shiv
rocked back and forth, bumping
into the futon until suddenly he
landed on a pillow instead.

He looked up at Dr. G.

"Rocking is fine as
a self-soothing method,
but I don't want to risk you
getting bruises," Dr. G said.

So Shiv rocked against
the pillow instead, and it
didn't give quite as much
feedback, but not having
bruises would be nice.

"I feel so lost," he said
as he finally slowed down.

"Feeling lost is no fun,"
Dr. G said. "Do you want
to try mapping out some parts
of your personality? I bet that
a lot of it has stayed the same."

"Okay," Shiv said. "I'll try."

"May I borrow some of
your things?" Dr. G asked,
waving at a basket of fidgets
and a pile of craft supplies.

He almost always asked
before touching Shiv's stuff.
It was weird, but Shiv liked it.

"Sure, go ahead," he said.

Dr. G held out three sticks
from the spiffy new box of
multicultural creme pastels
that Shiv was trying out.
"Can you name these?"

"Sepia, burnt sienna,
and Naples yellow,"
Shiv said instantly. "I
love the way this set
goes from dark to light."

"Do any three of the exercises
on this page," Dr. G suggested,
offering one of the worksheets
that Shiv was using for practice.

Shiv grabbed it and his clipboard,
then filled in the tints, shades, and
value scales he'd been playing with.

"Flip it over and draw a simple sphere
complete with shading," Dr. G said.

Shiv obeyed, but he couldn't resist
trying to copy the stone sphere that he'd
seen in a museum with Tolli and Simon.
It had been shades of reddish-brown
streaked with yellow and chocolate.

Copying that with three pastels while
making it look like an actual ball
was hard, but Shiv managed.

"Well done," Dr. G said. "I think
we can safely say that your art talent
is intact. Label this page 'Art' and
we'll move along to the next."

Shiv labeled it, and then Dr. G
borrowed some of his tacky glue
to stick it on the wall beside
Shiv's vocabulary words.

"Do you have your saxophone?"
Dr. G asked, and when Shiv nodded,
he said, "Go get that, please."

Shiv walked -- carefully, because
he didn't want to trip again -- into
the bedroom for his saxophone.

"I, um, I haven't tried to play it
since yesterday," he said.

"Try it now," Dr. G said.

Shiv had no trouble blowing
a note, but when he actually tried
to play anything, the meter fell apart.

"My fuckin' fingers," he snarled.

"Your rather faster fingers, I think,"
Dr. G said with tender smile. "Try
holding a drone note instead."

That worked just fine, and
to Shiv's amazement he could
hear things in the music that
he had never heard before.

"What the hell is that?"
he wondered, staring
at his saxophone.

"Describe it, please,"
Dr. G coaxed him.

"It's, um, it's like ...
more?" Shiv fumbled.
"It sounds the same,
only not. Richer, maybe?
Or it makes more sense."

"You've had a good ear for
music all along," Dr. G said.
"You're just learning to play it,
so now you're appreciating
more nuances than you did."

"You don't think it's ... because
of the healing, then?" Shiv said.

"That probably made it more noticeable
to you," Dr. G said. "If there had been
some minor damage to the hearing or
the pattern-sensing parts of your brain,
you might be picking up more sounds.
Or you could simply be experiencing
a general boost in mental speed."

"Huh," Shiv said. "But my fingers ..."

"It seems that your body and mind
are a little out-of-touch at the moment,"
Dr. G said. "Practicing scales would be
a good way to get them back in tune.
Trying playing a little bit slower."

Shiv concentrated on moving
one finger at a time, very carefully.

It worked better than he expected.

"Yeah, okay," Shiv said. "I maybe
need more practice, but I ain't lost
everything. I can get it back. This isn't
that much worse than when I smacked
my hand with the meat tenderizer mallet."

"Ouch," said Dr. G. "That's no fun.
What happened when you did that?"

"Swelled up for a few days, turned blue,
and I couldn't hardly play," Shiv said.
"But I could feel that it wasn't broken,
so I just waited it out and then went
back to practicing later on."

"That's not a bad plan, although
now you have more health care options
than you used to have," Dr. G said.
"Sketch out your horn and label
that one 'Music,' please."

Shiv used the back of
another worksheet for that,
and then passed it to Dr. G,
who added it to the wall.

"Let's move on to sharp things,"
Dr. G said. "We'll be very careful
to make sure you don't get hurt.
Do you have your play-putty?"

"Yeah," Shiv said, and pulled it
out of his pocket. "I've been afraid
to do anything with it, though."

"Sensible when you didn't
have a spotter here, but now
you do," Dr. G said. "Put it on
your clipboard and stretch it
into a pointy oval shape."

Well, that was dead easy.
Shiv barely needed to touch it
with his superpower for that.

"So now we know you can still
manipulate metal and make points,"
Dr. G said. "Ready to try your knife?"

"Ohhh, no," Shiv said, shaking his head.
"I'm not risking another set of stitches!
We do this, it's with the trainer."

He stomped into his bedroom
and came back with the dull blade.

"That's very prudent of you, Shiv,"
said Dr. G. "Show me a few moves,
starting simple and working up?"

"Okay," Shiv said. He flicked
the trainer open and then closed.

He didn't hit himself with it, but
it felt just that little bit off.

"It ain't right," Shiv said,
shaking his head. "My timing
is bitched to hell. I couldn't
do this with a real knife."

"That's why you brought
the trainer," Dr. G said.
"Try something else?"

"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said.
He made it through a basic swirl,
more or less, but it was sloppy as hell.

"Could you toss it and catch it?"
Dr. G asked. "Give that a try."

Shiv used his most basic aerial,
but fumbled the catch anyway.

"I would've cut myself,"
he muttered, looking away.
"This fuckin' sucks."

"Now I'm sure," Dr. G said.
"You really are moving a bit
faster. I saw your hand get to
the trainer before the handles
were quite in the right position."

"So either move my hand slower,
or toss the knife higher," Shiv said.
"Okay then, let me see if I can ..."

Trying to move his hand slower
was a total failure, though.

The trainer clinked on the floor.

He threw it higher, reached
a bit fast anyway, but at least
this time he got it in hand.

"Gonna need a lot more practice
on this," he said. "Fuck my life."

"But you'll come out of that
faster than before," Dr. G said.
"For now, can you still do it
with your superpower?"

"Well, duh." Without thinking,
Shiv threw the trainer in the air and
twirled it through a favorite routine.

Dr. G clapped softly. "Beautiful,"
he said. "So you still love sharp things
and you can manipulate them, you just
need to rework your precision."

"Sounds about right," Shiv said.

"Illustrate that for us, please,"
Dr. G said, waving at the pastels.

Shiv sketched out his butterfly knife
with a few strokes of blue and silver.

Dr. G tacked it up next to the others.

"So that's art, music, and knives --
three important parts of you," Dr. G said,
tapping each page as he named them.
"Shall we move on to less concrete things?"

"I can live with it," Shiv said, although
he wasn't thrilled with any of this.

"Would you snitch on anyone?"
Dr. G challenged him.

"Of course not!" Shiv said.

"Then that's another piece of
you firmly in place," Dr. G said.

"It had better be," Shiv said.
"I feel like I'm falling apart at
the seams. The last thing
I need to lose is that."

"You asked me for help
when you couldn't handle
what's happening to you, and
that was exactly the right thing
to do," Dr. G said. "It will be
all right eventually, Shiv."

"Wait," Shiv said, holding up
a hand as he got that queasy
sense of something shifting.

The more he tried to find it,
though, the more it slipped
through his mental fingers.

"Fuck, I lost it again," he muttered.

"Lost what?" Dr. G asked. "If you
can describe it, maybe I can
help you figure it out."

There it was again, and
this time Shiv nailed it.

"I think it's you," he said,
shivering. "I feel different
about you. Somehow. Only
it's not stable, it wiggles."

"Ah," Dr. G said happily.
"I have a hypothesis for that."

Shows how far Shiv had come
that he actually knew that word.
"Okay, let me hear it," he said.

"We've spent months working
to establish a secure base,"
said Dr. G. "Or at least I have,
and you've been humoring me
more often than not. I think that's
starting to pay off. You're feeling
more flexible about trusting me."

"I don't --" Shiv began, then stopped.
"Is that what this is? It feels so weird."

"Can you compare it to anything else?"
Dr. G said. "Sometimes that helps."

"Like when you jump off a swing
and your tummy doesn't come down
until a moment later?" Shiv said. "Or
it's kinda like what I feel with Gray, only
so not. That didn't make any sense."

"It did to me," Dr. G said, grinning.
"That sounds like trust, Shiv. You're
getting different kinds of it, I think, and
it's unfamiliar so it bothers you a bit."

"More than a bit," Shiv grumbled.
"It's uncomfortable -- wobbly -- I hate it
when things move underneath me."

"Does it hurt when you lean into it?"
Dr. G said. "If it does, then we need
to slow down before that gets worse."

Shiv poked at it warily, then pressed
himself against Dr. G's warm body.

"Doesn't hurt, but the farther I push,
the weirder it feels," Shiv said.
"Like I'm gonna fall or something."

"When you lean past your center of
balance, you get that falling sensation,"
Dr. G explained. "It's the same with trust.
You want to keep your feet underneath you.
So right now, you're ready to go a little farther,
but not much. You've got that wiggle room.
That's a huge improvement. Congratulations."

Shiv didn't feel like he'd done anything.
"I haven't --" he began, and then stopped.
"Dammit, there it is again! I feel like I'm
running into the end of a leash here."

Dr. G was grinning so hard, he'd
wear his smile out if he kept it up.

"You're doing great," he said.
"Thinking before you speak
gives you choices that you don't
have with knee-jerk reactions."

"But it's driving me nuts,"
Shiv complained. "I hate this."

"I know that it feels strange, but
you will get used to it," Dr. G said.

"Yeah, right," Shiv muttered.

"Think your way through it,"
Dr. G said. "You've seen Edison
dithering over whether something is
rude or not, and you've seen Halley
crash into a wall that thon didn't
even realize should be there."

"No shit. How do you put up
with all that?" Shiv said.

"Because I love them,"
Dr. G said simply, and
the certainty in that took
Shiv's breath away.

"Yeah, that's ... whatever,"
Shiv said, looking down again.

"These things take practice, Shiv,"
said Dr. G. "That's why humans take
so long to grow up, why we have parents --
literally, why evolution invented grandparents,
but that explanation is another long story."

Shiv heaved a sigh and scrunched
himself into a ball, tucking his chin
in the notch between his knees.

"I dunno if I can do this,"
he whispered, scared again.
"All's I ever had growing up
was people picking on me.
Feeling so little is ... awful."

"I'm sorry to hear that,"
Dr. G said. "I'm here now."

"Nobody used to do this,"
Shiv whispered. "I'd get upset
and they'd say I was defiant, or lazy
and stupid, instead of helping me fix
whatever it was. I knew what I was,
or at least I thought I did, and now
I feel like I don't know anything."

"Abuse does a lot of damage, and not
all of it is easy to see," said Dr. G. "As
you recover, you will discover that many of
the so-called truths you were raised with and
forced to believe are not truths at all."

"Then how do I even know what's real?"
Shiv moaned. "This shit is crazy!"

"You test it and find out what
happens," Dr. G said. "Things
that aren't real have flaws that
can make you suspicious. Things
that are real will stand up when
you give them a good poke."

Shiv huffed. "That sounds
a lot more complicated than
what I'm was used to."

"Probably so," Dr. G said.
"I doubt that people tried
to teach you much about
critical thinking before. You
will get the hang of it soon."

"I hope so, because right now
this is awful," Shiv said. "I need
to figure out some kind of plan, but
I don't even know where to start."

Dr. G tapped his fingers thoughtfully on
his knee. "We've been working together
a while now, since spring of last year."

"We have?" Shiv said, startled.
He counted on his fingers. "Holy shit,
I didn't realize it had been that long."

"In that time, we've gained a lot of ground.
I haven't pushed you to do anything particular,
other than fixing emergencies, because
starting therapy wasn't your idea
in the first place," Dr. G said.

"It turned out to be a good idea,
though," Shiv admitted.

"In that case, would you like
to work up a treatment plan now?"
Dr. G said. "Tell me what you want,
and I'll help you frame that into
steps toward specific goals."

Shiv flinched out of sheer habit.
None of his experiences with
treatment plans had been good.

"I don't like when people tell me
what to do, try to make me different,"
he said. "I hate that shrink shit!"

"I'm not going to tell you to do anything,"
Dr. G said. "You would be telling me
what you want. Just think of me as
an expert resource, like when you ask
a clerk at the art store which product
would suit the project you have in mind."

Shiv nibbled his lip. "I dunno. This
stuff always ends badly for me."

"And yet here we are, getting along
just fine," Dr. G said. "Why don't we
start small, and see how that works?
Tell me one thing you'd like to have
working better than it is now."

"My life," Shiv said grudgingly.

"Okay, that's a start," Dr. G said.
"It's a really big topic, though. Can
you narrow that down some? What's
one aspect of your life that you wish
felt different than it is currently?"

"I don't know who I am anymore, and
it's been getting worse for a while, I think,
just this made it pop out more," Shiv said.
"It's confusing. I want my comfort zone back."

"You used to know yourself. Now you feel
like you don't, and that bothers you. So
you want to get to know yourself again,"
Dr. G said. "Did I get that right?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I don't know
if this is who I want to be. What if
it's not? What if I really broke myself?"

"You're worried that you might have
crossed a line you didn't want to cross,"
Dr. G said. "You want to think about
whether you're the person you want to be."

"Uh huh," Shiv said. "I don't want
to turn into a pansy. I can't afford it."

"So that tells us something that
you don't want. It's good," Dr. G said.

"Can you really make a treatment plan
out of all my rambling?" Shiv said.

"Let's find out," Dr. G said, winking at him.
"First, you describe who you were before.
Cover different stages in your life if possible.
Next, you describe who you are now. Compare
those to figure out what has changed. List ideals
that you value, and see how you measure up. Then
decide which if any changes you like and want to keep,
and which if any you want to switch back. Finally,
pick one change and do something to activate it."

"Wow," Shiv mused. "You said that way better
than I did. It makes a lot more sense now."

"I'm glad I could help," Dr. G said. "Remember
that I went to school for a lot of extra years
to learn how to do this. Life is complicated,
and breaking it down into actionable steps
takes a lot of practice. Shall we write it down?"

"Yeah, before we forget it," Shiv said, and
passed Dr. G a piece of paper and the clipboard.

Dr. G wrote down the list of goals, then under it,
the dates for their next several therapy sessions.
"Each time we meet, we will work on just one
of these steps," he said. "Then we'll think
of things for you to do toward that goal
until we get to the next session."

"I can ... maybe manage that,"
Shiv said. "If they're little steps."

"Little, tiny steps," Dr. G assured him,
pinching a sliver of air with his fingers.
"Thinking about yourself is hard work.
Sometimes it will feel very uncomfortable.
You need to go slowly and carefully. I'll
make sure to schedule fun stuff, too."

Shiv loved that about Dr. G. He always
found a way to make up for the suck parts.

"So, do we have a plan?" Dr. G asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Shiv said as
he peered at the lines of ink.

"Then sign and date it," Dr. G said.
"As we complete each step, we'll
date that and initial it, so we can
both track your progress that way."

Shiv scribbled his name and the date,
then he pushed the paper away.

His heart was pounding for some reason.

"I just -- I can't -- this is so --"
he stammered, unable to find
all the words he needed.

His nose was running, too, but
he wasn't crying. He was not.

Dr. G patted him on the back.

Part of Shiv wanted to crawl
into his lap, and that part seemed
a lot louder now than it used to be.

Shiv sniffled, and Dr. G handed him
a tissue. "Here, blow your nose."

Shiv blew his nose, then tossed
the tissue at the trash can.
It went in -- barely.

"See, you're making
progress already,"
Dr. G encouraged.

"I don't know if I can
work like this," Shiv said.
"How long do you think
it will take to settle down?"

"Well, when children or teens
have a growth spurt, the adaptation
can take weeks or months," Dr. G said.

"Months?" Shiv squeaked, horrified.

"That's for someone whose body and
mind are both changing rapidly," said Dr. G.
"I think it'll go faster for you because only
your mind is changing its behavior, not
the length of your arms and legs."

"Guess that makes sense,"
Shiv said, rubbing his hands
along his pants. "It still sucks."

"It sure does," Dr. G said.
"Now that we know more,
do you want to reconsider
asking Boss White or Heron
to help you get a handle on this?"

"Not Boss White," Shiv said again.
"He really is busy. Heron, though ..."

"... would be delighted to help, and
can keep his mouth shut," Dr. G said.

Shiv waited, but Dr. G didn't do
anything more than that.

"I hate it when you make me
say it out loud," Shiv grumbled.

"You'd hate it even more if I
took over and did whatever
I wanted," Dr. G said. "You've
had way too much of that already."

Shiv nibbled his lip. "Okay. Call him in."

"Thank you," Dr. G breathed, and
then pulled out his smartphone.

It didn't take long for him to explain
the situation to Heron, but that was
more than enough time for Shiv to have
second, third, and fourth thoughts about it.

Only Dr. G's arm around his shoulders
kept him from bolting out of the room.

"May Junket use your living room rug
as a landing zone again?" Dr. G said.
"It's a safe and well-defined space."

"Yeah," Shiv said, clinging to Dr. G.

Junket and Heron landed,
perfectly centered on the rug.

Shiv finally remembered that
if he was going to cadge favors
from a teleporter, he had better
make it worth the man's bother.

"I uh, managed to get a batch of
those fruity chocolate eggs to come out
right," he said. "Grab you some from
the kitchen if you want to try them."

Junket went into the kitchen,
then came out with both hands
and his mouth full. "You have got
to try these," he said, waving
some at Heron and Dr. G.

Pretty soon everyone was
making amazed noises.

Shiv wasn't sure why.

The recipe was really simple --
you just microwaved white chocolate
in several small bowls, then stirred
a different kind of fruit powder into
each. The tricky part was getting
the colors to stick together in the molds.

"Is this ... mango and raspberry?"
Heron asked, looking at half an egg.

"Um, yeah," said Shiv. "The orange
is mango. The pink is raspberry."

"These are wonderful," Heron said.
He was very nearly smiling.

"You are turning into
a terrific cook," Junket said.
"You can tip me in food any time."
Then he teleported away.

Heron licked his fingers,
then turned to Shiv.

"So, Da says your brain
is running away with you,"
Heron said, wiggling his fingers.
"Would you mind if I take a look?"

"Go ahead," Shiv said, trying
not to cringe too obviously.

Heron made a show of tugging
the rings off his fingers and
putting them in a pocket.

"Do you want a spotter today,
or not?" Heron asked, tilting
his head toward Dr. G.

"Yeah," Shiv said. He didn't
really want to be alone in this.

Heron sat down on the futon and
turned one hand up. "When you're
ready, give me your hand," he said.

Shiv put his hand in Heron's.

"Whoa, no wonder you're frantic!"
Heron said at once. "Nothing is wrong,
but it's all stirred up and busy. Your brain
is trying to figure out what to do with itself
now that it's not trying to work around
all those spots of scar tissue."

"You knew?" Shiv said,
scrunching into himself.

"Some," Heron said. "I have
tried not to peek at things you
weren't showing me on purpose.
It's hard to ignore all of it, though."

Shiv sighed. "Yeah, I'm a mess."

"Much less of a mess now than you
were before," Heron said. "Someone did
lovely work. So, you want me to tone it down
a bit and give you more time to adapt?"

"Please," Shiv said, trying not to beg.
"This is driving me up the wall."

"Okay," Heron said. "I'll turn down
one part at a time, a little less than
your healer did so you'll be ramping up
gradually. We'll start with your vision.
Take off your sunglasses so that
you can see what you're getting."

Shiv stuffed his shades in his pocket.
"I want it kind of like that," he said.
"Not dark, just fogged enough that
everything isn't so distracting."

Something ghosted across
Shiv's face, like an invisible hand.

He blinked, and the world
was right back to normal.

Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.

"Better?" Dr. G asked,
looking over at Shiv.

"Yeah, everything looks like
it used to," Shiv said. "I don't
know why it hit me so hard
this time, the night vision didn't.
I just thought it was a superpower,
it didn't make my brain explode."

"I'll turn down reaction speed
next," Heron said. "That should
give you more time to think about
your actions so you don't overreach
because you're moving too fast."

Shiv twitched, then rubbed his skin
with his free hand. "That feels so weird,
like slowing down in a bus, only no bus."

"But it doesn't hurt?" Heron said,
giving Shiv a worried look.

"Nah, just shifting gears a bit,"
Shiv said. "It's better than it was."

"That's good," Heron said, and
let go of him. "This is almost
literally 'shifting gears' inside
your head. It should last you
about twelve hours now."

"You can't make it longer?"
Shiv said. "I don't want
to make you run back
and forth coddling me."

"I can't make it longer
without making you
more uncomfortable,"
Heron said. "Renewing
the effect is no trouble at all.
I'll just ask someone if I can
crash here until you adapt."

Shiv blinked. "But you're in college."

"And when my baby brother got
beaten up, I dropped everything
and ran home," Heron said.

That memory made Shiv
shy away from it. Drew was
still skittish if anyone came up
behind him without warning.

"Uh yeah, we got a flop room
and a guest apartment," Shiv said.

"Then I'll stick around for a day
or two," Heron said. "I doubt it will
take longer than that for you to learn
how to handle your new improved brain.
I can feel the changes you already made."

Shiv licked his lips. "Thanks," he said.
"Sorry I'm too stupid to get it in one go."

A tiny wrinkle appeared right between
Heron's eyebrows. "You are not stupid."

Dr. G clucked his tongue gently and
said, "So-called truths, Shiv."

His world slid a little sideways
again, and Shiv scrambled
for some kind of distraction.

Shiv didn't give a flip about
Easter itself, but he loved
the brightly colored foods
that always came with it, so
this year he'd done his own.

"I, I made rainbow deviled eggs,"
he said. "You guys want some?"

Dr. G and Heron looked at
each other. "Since you're
offering, yes, and thank you
for your generosity, Shiv."

He scampered into the kitchen
and grabbed the big platter of
eggs that he'd made intending
to have it for lunch and supper.

Dr. G and Heron exclaimed over
the different colored fillings, and Shiv
explained what all the flavors were.

Then the conversation died out
in favor of stuffing their faces.

Okay, so that worked.

* * *


This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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