Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "When Circumstances Are at Their Worst"

This poem is spillover from the November 6, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "grief / grieving" square in my 11-5-19 card for the Family Ties Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: The poem itself is fluff, but the hurt/comfort background implies child and/or maternal death. If this is touchy territory for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"When Circumstances Are at Their Worst"

[Monday, April 20, 2015]

Shiv arrived at the Finn house
eagerly anticipating a trip to
the street fair they'd promised.

He bounded into the living room
only to find Mrs. Dr. Finn wilted on
the couch and Dr. G hovering
over her looking worried.

Shiv skidded to a stop.
"What's wrong?" he said.

She looked up, her face
wet and her eyes red.

"Bad day at work," she said.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, I just
don't feel up to going out
right now. Maybe later?"

Shiv put together
"doctor" with "bad day"
and realized it probably meant
dead baby or dead mommy or both.

"Okay," he said, and walked away.

Dr. G hurried after him, but Shiv
had a head start and was already
in the kitchen opening cabinets
before the old guy caught up.

"I'm terribly sorry about the delay,
but we'll make it up to -- what
are you doing?" Dr. G said.

"Baking cookies," Shiv said.
"It's what people do when
someone's upset, yeah?
Or at least it's what Gray
does, and Heron's done it,
so I thought it was normal."

"It is normal," Dr. G said.

"Then where the fuck is
anything in here?" Shiv said.

"What are you looking for?"
Dr. G said, scanning the kitchen.

"Half a cup of whole wheat flour,
cup of white flour, salt, baking soda ..."
Shiv recited. "Found the granola,
'cause we made that last week."
He shook the jar. Half full.
He only needed a cup.

Dr. G followed him around
the kitchen as Shiv spoke,
pulling the necessary items
out of cabinets and off shelves.

"See, Gray noticed that some of us
are moody bastards," Shiv said as he
lined up bowls and spoons and other tools
that he'd need. "So he tracked down
a recipe for cheer-up cookies."

"That sounds like a great idea,"
Dr. G said. "It's very kind of you
to volunteer to bake some today."

Shiv glared at the near-empty bag
of milk chocolate chips he had found.
"Is this all you have? Seriously?"

"No, that's not where that belongs,"
Dr. G said, opening another cabinet
to reveal a whole shelf full of chips
in all kinds of flavors and colors.
"What were you looking for?"

"The good stuff," Shiv said.
"Clinical-grade if you have it."

Dr. G put the milk chocolate chips
in the cabinet and closed it. Then
he opened up a drawer and took out
a wooden box with a knotwork tree on it.

A few swipes of his fingers pushed
the sides and front around until
the lid popped open to reveal
several bars of chocolate.

"Here, just run this through
the food processor to chunk it,"
Dr. G. said, passing him one.

"Oh hell no," Shiv hissed.
"That racket's irritating enough
on a good day. On a bad day,
it'll scrape someone's nerves raw."

He grabbed the chocolate bar
and used his bare hands to snap it
into pieces as small as he could.

"Got a rolling pin?" Shiv said.
"It's easier starting with little bits."

"We use the marble one for crushing
ingredients," Dr. G said, bringing it
down from on top of the refrigerator.

The heavy stone worked beautifully
to reduce the chocolate to chip size.

Shiv flicked the oven on and
started adding things to a bowl.
Then he noticed a problem.

"Damn, I don't -- do you got
an old spoon I can turn into
a different tool?" Shiv asked.

"Sure," said Dr. G. "Steel or silver?"

Because of course they had
silver spoons just lying around
alongside the stainless steel crap.

"Steel," said Shiv, holding out a hand.

"Here you go," Dr. G said, and
passed him a battered old spoon.

"I hate mixers 'cause I can't feel
what I'm doing as well," Shiv said
as he bent the spoon into a circle
and then split it to make another,
crossing them at an angle so they
made sort of an open ball thingie.
"So I learned to use this instead."

He dropped the ball into the bowl
and used his superpower to spin it
around, creaming the brown sugar
and butter until they turned fluffy.

"Oh, it works like a magnetic stirrer
in a lab," Dr. G said. "That's clever."

"Uh huh," Shiv said absently as he
slit open the eggs and added them.

"Wait, how did you just --"

"Supervillain," Shiv said,
and winked at him.

The flours and leavening
went in next, slowly so they
didn't powder-bomb the kitchen.

One round of cleaning up that mess
had been more than enough for him.

Shiv mixed in the chocolate and granola
just enough to get them wet and
spread around in the dough.

Then he blobbed it onto
the cookie sheets and
popped them in the oven.

It only took a few minutes
for Shiv to clean up, and
the cookies weren't done.

Fingers drumming on thighs,
he looked around for inspiration.

When he spotted the fruit bowl,
he grabbed a white plate and a knife.

Swiftly Shiv sliced a banana and a kiwi,
shaping them into a pair of palm trees
with cherry twins in place of coconuts.

He peeled and sectioned a tangerine
for sand dunes, and carved a slice
of pineapple to make a sun.

Dr. G was staring at him.

"What?" Shiv said.
"I get any on my shirt?"

"No, I'm just wondering where
you learned to do that," Dr. G said.

"I like V'you," said Shiv. "They
got a whole channel called
What Normal Looks Like.
I found this series on stuff
you can do with fruit, and
Jaxon loves it." He looked
at the platter. "Too much?"

"No, Shiv, it's beautiful,"
Dr. G said, smiling at him.

A strange feeling twisted
through him, and Shiv
pushed it out of his mind.

He didn't want to deal with that
any more than he wanted to think
about why Mrs. Dr. Finn was
crying on the couch.

The oven timer dinged.

"Cookies!" Shiv exclaimed,
and hurried to pull them out.

They were big and golden-brown,
crispy around the edges but with
a soft, chewy center. Perfect.

Shiv plated up a dozen cookies
and set that next to the fruit plate.
Then he poured a glass of milk.

And then he panicked.

"Shit, you don't got serving trays
and I don't got three hands and
this is so fucked up I --" he said.

"Relax, Shiv, I will help you
carry things," Dr. G said as he
picked up the milk glass.
"Just lead the way."

Shiv felt like they were
giving him enough rope
to hang himself, but he
was committed now.

He slipped back into
the living room, where
he set both plates on
top of the coffee table.

"In case you get hungry,"
Shiv said, then plopped
himself in a chair.

He had forgotten
to bring any cookies
for himself, but oh well.

"You made cookies?"
Mrs. Dr. Finn said softly.
"And a fruit plate?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiv said.
"I hope you like them."

She picked up a piece of kiwi
and a cookie. "Delicious."

Then she handed a couple
of the cookies to Dr. G, who
passed one on to Shiv.

What the hell?

They were on her plate.
Who gave away cookies?

Didn't stop him from eating it,
though. Those were good cookies.

"How are you feeling?" Dr. G said.

"Still grieving, but I'm over the hump,"
said Mrs. Dr. Finn. "Food helps."

"So does family," Dr. G said,
rubbing a hand over her back.

But he was looking at Shiv.

She followed her husband's gaze
and smiled like the sun coming out
from behind a bank of clouds.

"When we face the worst that can
happen in any situation, we grow,"
she said. "When circumstances are
at their worst, we can find our best."

That feeling was back in Shiv's chest
again, twisting and turning inside him
like his metal mixer ball in a bowl.

But maybe something good
would come out of it, after all.

* * *


"When we face the worst that can happen in any situation, we grow. When circumstances are at their worst, we can find our best."
-- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Grief is a natural part of human life. Doctors in particular must learn to cope with difficult decisions and patient loss. Understand how to deal with loss and help a grieving friend. Shiv may be mimicking people in the formulaic manner that preschoolers often use, but he has chosen good role models and seems to apply the lessons aptly.

Compartmentalization and integration are two ends of a spectrum in mental health. Both are necessary for function, but too much compartmentalization can disconnect people from each other. Some child abuse survivors have this problem, and that's one reason for Shiv's erratic behavior -- the response you get depends on his headspace at the moment. Conversely, compartmentalization is essential for people who work in risky fields. Learn how to do it effectively.

Mood boosting foods include eggs, dairy, molasses, apricots, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, oats, and whole-grain flour. Enjoy a recipe for Granola Chocolate Chip Cookies, which include such mood-boosting ingredients. If possible, use clinical-grade chocolate.

See Dr. G's Celtic Tree of Life puzzle box.

Mixer beaters often have a crisscross pattern. Magnetic stirrers for lab equipment sometimes have a cross pattern too.

Here is the fruit plate with palm trees. I made a transcript of the first episode of What Normal Looks Like.

V'you is a video service similar to YouTube, owned by Kraken through many subsidiaries. Among its most popular channels is one called What Normal Looks Like, aimed at survivors of dysfunctional families. It features home movies and tutorials that help people learn what a healthy life is like and how to do stuff that most children learn growing up.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, food, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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