Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "In Their Own Time and in Their Own Way"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, based on discussions with [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "unwanted opinion" square in my 2-28-19 card for the Meet Ugly Bingo fest.  It belongs to the Mallory thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.  Read the sequel "Heron the Defender" by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, which actually happens in the middle of this.

WARNING: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes the aftermath of rape, sexual aversion, hostility to asexuality, pressure to have sex, the wrath of Heron, which is scary for Mallory and Paige, job termination for cause, inexperience with apologies, profoundly awkward personal discussions, self-loathing, ignoring uncomfortable ideas, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"In Their Own Time and in Their Own Way"

[Tuesday, April 15, 2014]

Mallory grumbled her way through
tidying the downstairs part of the house.

Fortunately it didn't take much work,
because her housemates weren't
slobs like Heron's housemates were.

It just meant picking up the odd sock
or book or whatever had gone astray,
and then sorting things into the baskets
of the cube storage in the dining room.

That had started out with a basket for
each of the housemates -- Josephine,
Danielle, Paige, Walden, and Maisie --
with one lost-and-found and two that
could be assigned to anyone.

Mallory was startled to see that
someone had put her name on
one and Heron's on another.

She was rubbing a gray silk glove
between her fingers when Heron
appeared and plucked it from
her grasp. "Thank you. I was
wondering where that had gone."

"It was inside the couch. I think
someone must have sat on it,"
Mallory said. "I barely saw it."

"I'm glad you rescued it," Heron said.
"Are you okay? You seem ... tense."

"I don't want to have sex!" she barked.

"Okay," Heron said. "I don't either."
Then his eyes narrowed. "Mallory,
has someone been pressuring you?"

"Stupid meeting today," she muttered.
"Blah blah deserve pleasure too,
blah blah essential for healing."

Heron's jaw clenched. "Was this
at the Sanger Center? Did someone
say, or even imply, that any kind of
sexual activity is a requirement?"

"Yeah, you know Consuela,"
said Mallory. "She got on a spiel
about reclaiming our bodies and
how repression wasn't healthy
so we'd never heal if we didn't --"

Something snapped.

Heron looked down at
the cracked plastic cup in
his hand, then carefully
set it on the table.

The look in his eyes
was dark and terrible.

This wasn't annoyance, or
even anger -- this was wrath.

Mallory was so used to
Heron being unflappable
that it didn't seem like him.

She took a step back.

"Heron, you're scaring
Mallory," said Paige.

Heron startled.
"I'm sorry," he said,
looking at the floor.
"I should have kept
my temper sheathed
until after I reached
an appropriate place."

"Uh ... yeah," Paige said.

"Please excuse me,"
Heron said quietly.
"I need to go have
someone fired."

The door closed
behind him without
making a sound.

"Are you okay?"
Paige asked.

"Not really, no,"
Mallory said. "Heron
is scary when he's mad.
I've seen him upset before,
but not like that -- never like that."

"Yeah, no wonder he prefers
to keep a lid on it if he's got
a temper like that," Paige said.

That was true. Part of Mallory
wanted to squirm away from it.

But another part of her felt
secretly, guiltily relieved by it --
a little less like she was dirtying
something pure and precious by
leaning on Heron the way she did.

"I think it takes a lot to make him
angry, or sad, or happy, enough
to spill over so much," Mallory said.
"Heron is very even-tempered. If I got
that angry, I'd probably blow shit up."

She'd done it before. Last fall when
someone had groped her at a frat party,
she'd dropped a cherry bomb down
the only toilet on the main floor.

The explosion of boyturds and
porcelain had been spectacular.

"Tell you what, let's just
dispose of the evidence --"
Paige grabbed the ruined cup
and threw it in the garbage.
"-- and go watch cartoons."

"Louie the Lump?" Mallory said.
"He always makes me laugh."

"Coming right up," Paige said.
"Pull up some couch."

So they stretched out
and watched cartoons.

It was fun to lie there
and laugh at Louie's antics.

Paige made good company, too,
giggling along but not expecting
too much from Mallory.

A couple hours later, Heron
came back, slinking into the foyer
with a cloud of luscious aromas.

"I come bearing concrete apologies,"
Heron said, lifting the buckets.
"There's Spaghetti Primavera,
Fettuccine ai Frutti di Mare, and
breadsticks with cheese or garlic.
Oh, and the cooler has gelato --
cannella or fragola, cinnamon
or strawberry, take your pick."

"I am appeased," Paige said.
"It smells delicious. Where did
you get it? I don't see a label."

"It's, um, not from a restaurant,"
Heron said, ears pinking.
"I called in a favor."

"You didn't make it?"
Paige said. "But
you love cooking."

"I couldn't stand
the idea of dealing
with my housemates
today," Heron said. "Plus
it took me over an hour
at the Sanger Center."

"I'm not complaining,"
Paige said, "just concerned."

"My housemate mess is not
your problem," Heron said gently.
"Mallory, this part is just for you.
This is the last of my stash of
clinical-grade milk chocolate,
since you don't like the dark."

"Sunshine Daydream," she read
from the label, then sniffed it.
"Wow, that smells fantastic."

Everything smelled fantastic.

"I'll start setting up supper,"
Paige said, taking the rest
of the food from Heron.
"You two need to talk."

"Thank you, Paige,"
Heron said as she left.

"You don't have to make
such a fuss," Mallory said.
She had calmed down
a lot while he was gone.

"Yes, I do," Heron said.
"I'm sorry that I scared you.
It was thoughtless and hurtful.
I will try to be more careful in
the future. Please forgive me."

"Well, um ... " Mallory didn't
know what to say. People
didn't apologize to her.

"This is the hard part,"
Heron said. "Do you --
should I --" He sounded
like he was trying not to cry,
his voice choking off.

Finally he just grabbed
his smartphone and typed
something, then pushed it at her.

Mallory looked down at the screen.
Do you want me to leave and not come back?

"What? No!" she yelped, clinging to him.
"Why would I want that, Heron, that's nuts!"

"I scared you," he said softly. "Some folks
might not want a reminder of that. I didn't
even realize how it might look to you."

He wasn't hugging her back, either.

Mallory wormed her way under his arm.
"So you scared me, so what?" she said.
"A lot of -- I get -- oh, nevermind."

"I don't think this is 'nevermind' territory,
Mallory," said Heron. "A lot of ...?"

She sighed. "A lot of things,
or people, bother me that
didn't before," said Mallory.
"I'm jumpier than I used to be."

"I never want to scare you,"
Heron said. "If I ever do
anything that frightens you,
or makes you uncomfortable,
please tell me. I will stop."

"I'll try," Mallory said, trying
to wrap his arm around her.
"Please don't go? I know
I'm a fucked-up, knocked-up
mess but you make it suck less."

Heron's hand ghosted along
her back. "Okay. I'll stay.
I was so worried that you
wouldn't want me around."

"Don't be ridiculous," she said.
"Heron, I don't -- people aren't --"

I don't want to lose you
got lost somewhere between
the thought and the speech.

Heron understood anyway.
"Okay, we're smooth now,"
he said, hugging her closer.
"Thank you for forgiving me."

Is that what she'd done?
Mallory didn't really have
experience with that, either.

"Do you want to talk about
what happened to you earlier,
or let it drop?" Heron said.

Mallory pulled away and
flopped back on the couch.
"It was stupid," she said.

"I agree," Heron said.

"Consuela claimed that
sexuality was an essential part
of life and we shouldn't let anyone
take that away from us," Mallory said.
"But that's not how I feel about it!"

"How do you feel?" Heron said,
sitting down on the far side from her.

"I don't want to fuck anymore,"
Mallory said. "There's no pull to it."

"Plenty of people feel that way,"
Heron said. "It's okay if you do."

"That's what I told them," Mallory said.
"It's not like poor Marcie and her husband.
She got raped on her honeymoon -- that's
not a secret, they're telling everyone so
people know why they're miserable.
Marcie wants to, but she can't do it."

"If you don't want to have sex,
you don't have to," Heron said.
"There is absolutely nothing
wrong with that, or with you
for feeling the way you do."

"I'm not the only one in
the group who feels like this
about it, either," Mallory said.

"That's a common reaction, which
can be temporary or permanent,"
Heron said. "It was very wrong
of Consuela to say that healing
requires sex. That is the opposite
of helpful. Survivors need choices,
not a load of unwanted opinions."

"Thanks," Mallory said softly.
"It helps a little to hear that."

"I brought something else
that might help," Heron said.
He pulled out a length of silk.

As Mallory took the scarf,
it spooled out into streaks of
black, gray, white, and violet.

"This is pretty," she said.

"It's an asexual pride flag,"
Heron explained. "Wear it,
and people will know that
you're not interested."

"But ... I don't know if
I'm really ace," she said.

Heron shrugged. "What does
'really' mean?" he said. "This is
how you feel right now. It's fine.
If you feel differently in a month
or a year, that will be fine too.
It's all healthy, Mallory, unless
your feelings make you unhappy."

"I'm not unhappy," she said.
"Well, not because of that.
My head is still a mess."

"You've had to face a lot
of hard things," Heron said.
Everyone heals in their own time
and in their own way. The path
isn't always a straight line, and
you don't need to go it alone."

"Thanks," Mallory whispered.
She scooted closer, then recalled
that Heron didn't like being crowded
and stopped short. "Is this okay?"

"Yes, cuddles are okay," he said,
lifting an arm so she could snuggle up.

Mallory curled against his his side.
For someone so tall and skinny,
Heron made a great couch.

His hand drifted up to comb
through her hair, reminding her
of the times he had brushed it
or washed it when she was
too tired to move. Or as
a reward. Or just because.

She was maybe getting
used to having him around
more than she'd realized.

Heron was just so good at
doing so many difficult things.

"Did you really get Consuela fired?"
Mallory asked, looking up at him.

"Consuela got herself fired,"
Heron said firmly. "She has been
warned, more than once, not to push
her opinions on survivors. This time,
she went too far and paid the price."

"But she's really fired? I won't
have to see her again?" Mallory said.

"No, you won't," Heron said. "She
is so fired that the frat boys could roast
marshmallows over the coals of her career."

Mallory giggled. "I'm glad," she said.

"Hey, are you having problems with
the activities at Sanger?" said Heron.
"If they're not helping, you don't have
to go there. We could ask Da to help us
find some other support for you instead."

"Some of it's okay," Mallory said. "I'm
just not used to it, and Consuela ...
sometimes she confused me,
instead of making me angry."

"That's not good," Heron said.
"Your caregivers should help
you gain clarity, not lose it."

"Let me try it a while without
Consuela and see if that helps,"
Mallory said. "Maybe whoever they
get to replace her will be better."

"That bar is lying in a ditch,"
Heron muttered. A line appeared
and disappeared between his eyebrows.

"That's more like you," Mallory said happily.
"What really scared me wasn't just that you
got angry enough to do real harm, it's that
you didn't seem like yourself then."

"Oh," Heron said. "I'm sorry
for that too. I try not to lose
my temper, but Mallory, that's
just as much a part of me as
my healing -- only a smaller part."

"I know," she said. "I figured it out
while I was waiting for you to come home.
I like that you're gentle most of the time ...
but, um, I also like feeling like I'm not
wiping my feet on the nice carpet."

"You have never treated me like
a doormat," Heron said. "I know,
because some other people do.
When you snap at me, it's because
I touched the wrong nerve or you
just have a snarky nature, not
because you think I'm unworthy
of the most basic courtesies."

"I better not see anyone
treating you like that,"
Mallory said darkly.
"Hexes would fly."

"Then stay away
from my housemates,"
Heron said in a dry tone.

"Gladly," Mallory said.
She was still pissed with
the way they treated him.

Heron deserved better.

Honestly, he deserved
better than her, too, but
she didn't want to examine
that thought too closely.

She was coming to rely on
Heron as one of the few things
that made her life bearable.

She didn't want to examine
that one too closely, either.

Maybe it was just that Heron
let her heal in her own time
and in her own way, without
pushing her to do anything.

That helped her, too.

Mallory snuggled
a little deeper into
Heron's embrace and
let go of her concerns.

After they had been quiet
for a few minutes, Paige
tapped on the door frame.

"Are you two done?" she said.
"Supper's on the table, and
everyone else should be
arriving any minute now."

"We're smooth," Heron said
as he stood up. He turned
to offer Mallory a hand.

She took it, because
it was getting harder
to hoist herself up.

That realization made
her uncomfortable, too,
so she pushed it aside
in favor of pursuing supper.

Other people were already
pouring into the dining room
and exclaiming over the food.

Mallory took a small spoonful
of the vegetarian pasta and
half a breadstick, and prayed
that they would stay put.

"Don't worry about the food,"
Heron murmured. "Just take
small bites and eat what you can."

"Easy for you to say," Mallory replied.

"Here, let me show you something,"
Heron said. He piled dried herbs
on a saucer and then covered them
with olive oil. "These help digestion,
and they taste great with bread."

He tore off a piece of breadstick
and swirled it through the mixture,
then popped it into his mouth.

Mallory followed suit, and
found it surprisingly good.

The vegetarian pasta was
a jumble of bright garden flavors,
too. Something curious about it
made her poke at it with her fork.

"What's with this spaghetti?"
she wondered, frowning.

"That's whole wheat pasta with
zucchini noodles," Heron said.

"I'm loving this combination,"
Josephine said. "I would
love to get the recipe."

"I'll see what I can do,"
Heron said. "I like it too."

"It's good," Mallory said.
"It's just ... different."

The food and conversation
helped her relax and unwind,
brushing away the last strands
of an unwanted opinion.

Her situation still sucked,
but it helped a lot to have
friends who would let her heal
in her own time and her own way.

* * *


“Everyone heals in their own time and in their own way. The path isn't always a straight line, and you don't need to go it alone.”
Zeke Thomas

This is the dining room at Maisie's house. It includes a set of storage cubes for sorting items left around the house.

(These links are intense.)
The aftermath of rape is fraught. There are self-care tips and ways to support a survivor. What rape survivors need most is respect for their choices to restore control.

(These links are controversial.)
Sexual aversion is generally considered a disorder. This is often an exaggeration. If someone is comfortable with their lack of desire, or feels that the amount of work required to retrieve their arousal exceeds the benefits of doing so, then it's not a problem. Sexual aversion is a common, though not universal, response to sexual assault. I could not find any support for this; all the references focused on a supposed need for having sex: "But eventually, many survivors realize they deserve pleasure, too, and that seeking it out is essential for healing." So let me just say that's bullshit. Do whatever makes you feel good, and don't do things that make you feel bad. Nobody has to have sex if they don't want it. There is nothing wrong with you. Going through a phase is okay; permanently not wanting it is okay; it's all up to you. If you later decide you want to have sex and there are barriers, you can find resources to work through those and reach your goal. But you don't have to.

This is Mallory's asexual scarf from Heron. Most people in Terramagne won't make a pass at someone flagging asexual colors. It just makes life easier for everyone.

A cherry bomb, along with many other small firecrackers, is quite capable of destroying a toilet. The amount of damage depends on whether the wick is waterproof, how far down the pipe the firecracker gets, and the shape of the pipe. Most fireworks are somewhat waterproof to avoid failures from humidity. If it detonates on the surface, less damage is likely; once it goes down the pipe, damage is typically greater if the pipe kinks in such a way as to prevent rapid expansion of the contents. Sometimes it will just blow a hole in the tube, other times explode more dramatically. A large firecracker may completely destroy the bowl.

Louie the Lump is a T-American cartoon that uses a lot of situational and slapstick humor. The lead character Louie is an animated lump of clay, so he can take any shape (although his color doesn't change) and squeeze through incredibly small holes. He's always getting into tight situations that he has to escape by impersonating objects or oozing through tiny gaps. The tone is deliberately lighthearted and silly.

Spaghetti Primavera is a spring vegetable pasta. Fettucine ai Frutti di Mare is often made with wine, but doesn't have to be, so it's left out of what Heron brought. The cheese breadsticks use real cheddar. The garlic breadsticks are vegan. Gelato comes in many flavors: fragola is strawberry and cannella is cinnamon.

Sunshine Daydream $8.00
Our "Bean To Bar" milk chocolate. A unique and wonderful milk chocolate. Traditionally milk chocolate is made with non fat powdered milk, but to us this seemed wrong. So we hunted and searched for a true milk fat powder and found powdered cultured buttermilk. This bar is so rich, so fantastic, that it defies conventional wisdom.

Marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme are some of the best digestive herbs.

Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage appear throughout much of Italian cuisine.

Olive oil is a healthy fat. It has many benefits, especially for the digestive system and pregnant people. There are many dipping sauces based on olive oil. Two of the simplest and best are: olive oil + powdered parmesan + black pepper and olive oil + Italian herbs.
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