Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "A Choice We Make"

This poem is spillover from the July 7, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron. It fills the "Aggressively Festive Holiday Sweater" square in my 7-1-20 card for the Winterfest in July Bingo fest. It also fits:

Five Moments of Intimacy
Physical: Clothing/grooming
Secret Sharing: Abuse, trauma, or trigger
Experiential: Protect the vulnerable
Emotional: Shared fear or anxieties
Vulnerability: Reveal artistic endeavor

This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] technoshaman, and [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"A Choice We Make"

[Monday, December 21, 2015]

"Hey, Dr. G, do you have a moment?"
Travis trotted up behind him.

"Sure, what can I do for you?"
Dr. G said as he slowed down.

"Does this make any sense to you?"
Travis said, holding out a bundle
of green cloth. "Shiv sent me it."

Dr. G unfolded it to reveal a T-shirt
that showed a unicorn farting a rainbow.

He frowned for a moment, puzzling
it out, then began to chuckle. "This
is Shiv's idea of a compliment,"
Dr. G explained. "In his mind,
an honest man is like a unicorn."

"Oh. I guess that makes ...
Shiv sense," Travis said,
carefully refolding his T-shirt.

Then he handed Dr. G
another package, this one
wrapped in holiday paper.

"Some of us have been, uh,
going through the donations
to pull out things that remind
us of you," Travis said.

Dr. G unwrapped it to find
a sweater striped in ivory,
blue, black, and gray.
"Thank you, it's lovely."

"I know it's not as loud as
you usually like, but the texture
seemed right," Travis said.

The sweater was ribbed,
and in the ivory part, dark lines
showed in the valleys. Touching it,
Dr. G found that it was faintly fuzzy,
made of some chenille yarn.

"Oh yes," he said. "My kids
and clients will love this."

He had found that wearing
textured sweaters helped
people with tactile needs,
as well as the colors giving
a way to break the ice with
jokes about how he looked.

As they walked past a bank of
windows, the weather broke,
throwing a sudden squall
of snow against the glass.

"Fudge," muttered Travis.
"I do not look forward
to going out in that."

"Look on the bright side,"
said Dr. G. "We don't have
to go out in it right now. I
have a new sweater, and
you have a new T-shirt that
you can layer under yours.
Besides, I don't get to see
snow very often at home."

"How can you be so cheerful
all the time?" Travis said. "You've
got a job even harder than mine."

"It's something I learned in college,"
said Dr. G. "I had been working on
some major personal stuff for my degree,
which overloaded me for a while, and that
made it hard to bounce back. At that time,
a snow day was more than I could handle.
My advisor gave me some good advice
that's stuck with me ever since."

"What's that?" Travis wondered.

"Happiness is a choice we make,"
said Dr. G. "You can wake up and say,
'Oh, I can't believe it's so cold,' or you can
say, 'Oh, wow, this is a great opportunity
for me to try out my new sweater.' No one
can be consistently positive, but why not
make the choice that makes you feel better
rather than the one that drags you down?"

"Huh," Travis said. "I hadn't thought
of it like that before. Does it work?"

"It does for most people," said Dr. G.
"Some people have biochemical issues
or other conditions that limit or prevent
happiness, but usually it's something
we can influence through wise actions.
Happiness skills are like fitness skills,
using them moves you toward a goal."

Travis shook his head. "I dunno,
doc, I took a job with lots of walking
in it, but I still got a beer belly."

"The question isn't whether you
are perfectly thin and fit, Travis, but
whether you are thinner and fitter now
than before this job," said Dr. G.

"Well, yeah," said Travis. "I've
walked off some pounds here."

"Then you're making progress
and should feel proud of yourself,"
said Dr. G. "Happiness is like that --
a journey, not a destination."

They made their way to
the social room, where Travis
let Dr. G in to mix with the inmates.

The room was crowded today, but
it was designed with little clusters of
furniture so the guys could chat
without tripping over each other.

Dr. G drifted through the room,
smiling and shaking hands. He'd
been coming here long enough
that most of the inmates knew him,
even if they didn't come to therapy.

Alejándro sidled up to him, offering
a package covered in curly ribbons.

Dr. G opened it and shook out
a sweater that was primarily pink
and purple but accented with bits of
blue, orange, and ivory. The design
included zig-zags, southwest medallions,
and something that might have been
either stars or snowflakes.

"That's nice and memorable,"
said Dr. G. "It'll sure stand out on
a cloudy day." Then he pretended
to frown. "I don't know, though --
it might match blue jeans."

Alejándro laughed. "You
could always wear it with
brown pants instead."

"That I could," said Dr. G.
He noticed the subtle tension
around the other man's mouth.
"Is something bothering you?"

"I heard that you helped bust up
the shorteyes at St. Maria's,"
Alejándro said, looking away.

"That's true," said Dr. G, watching
him carefully. Alejándro had tattoos
from the Ñeta gang and shared
their general loathing of abusers.
"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Maybe ... later," Alejándro said.

"Whenever you're ready,"
said Dr. G. "You know,
whether something bad
happened to you or someone
you care about, you are not alone."

"Yeah, but even one is too many,"
Alejándro said, nibbling his lip.

"Yes, of course," said Dr. G.
"I can promise you, however,
that those particular shorteyes
won't be doing any more of that."

"Thanks, doc," Alejándro said as
he glided away. "That helps a little."

Tremon took Alejándro's place.
"Thought you might like this,"
he said, holding out a box.

This one wasn't wrapped,
so Dr. G simply lifted the lid off.

The sweater inside was an odd shade
of blue-gray that immediately made him
wonder if Halley would like it. The design
was worked in a vivid shade of melon
mostly outlined in black, all swirls
and dots and ragged stars.

"How energetic!" Dr. G said,
smiling as he opened it up.
"Thank you very much, Tremon."

The other inmates laughed.
"It suits you!" someone hollered.

"It just looked trippy, you know?"
said Tremon. "It reminded me
of how you can take a mess of
ideas and sort them out into
something that makes sense."

"Ah. That is rather my job,
isn't it?" Dr. G replied.

Tremon gave him
a sidelong glance.
"Yeah, well ... I thought
you might like to know that
you kind of inspired me."

"That's always good to hear,"
Dr. G said. "Do you have
a goal or an accomplishment
that you'd like to share?"

"I uh, got my Narcan cert,"
said Tremon. "I'm working on
Advanced First Aid now, but
I think that I better pick up
Emotional First Aid before I
try the EMT Basic class."

"That's an excellent plan,"
said Dr. G. "You must have
worked hard for that. I'm
happy that I could help."

"You and Dr. Bloch put
the idea in my head,"
said Tremon. "I wanted
a backup plan, a way
to protect the vulnerable
if things go wrong, but then
it just kind of ... grew on me."

"That can happen," said Dr. G.
"I didn't start out with a goal
of soup care, after all."

"Yeah, but you didn't
start out a crook, either,"
Tremon muttered.

"I've had challenges, but
blessings too," said Dr. G.
"We play the cards we're dealt."

"Guess I just wanted to say ...
thanks for playing with me,"
Tremon replied. "Most people
don't want anything to do with us."

"Most people see mistakes,
not opportunities," said Dr. G.
"I try to keep an open mind."

Because if he didn't, then
he'd miss the best things in
life just because they came
in a scruffy box instead of
fancy wrapping paper.

Then Wade waved him over.

This package was wrapped
as neatly as if it had come
from a gift counter at a store,
complete with bow of gold string.

Inside, the sweater was argyle,
black with a pattern of gray and ivory
accented with pink and purple diamonds.

"The colors caught my eye," Wade said,
"but it's more your size than mine.
I hope that you like it. At least
I know you're bookish too."

"I am that," said Dr. G.
"It's quite charming, and I'll
be happy to wear it while
I'm reading by the fire."

"I miss that," Wade said.
"Reading by the fire, and ...
other things. Sometimes I
wonder if I will ever get
my life back. It's hard."

"Everyone feels anxious
sometimes," said Dr. G. "I've
felt that way with every new baby."

Wade pulled back, glaring at him.
"That's not the same!" he said.

"Of course not," said Dr. G.
"The type of disruption in life is
totally different. But the feeling
is the same, the sense of being
overwhelmed, of wanting to get
your life back. Children make
a madhouse out of everything,
no matter how much I love them."

"Even the latecomer?" Wade said,
giving him a canny look. He'd been
familiar with Shiv in prison, even
though Shiv laid no claim to friends.

"Especially the latecomer," said Dr. G.
"But I wouldn't trade him for the world."

"Dunno if I'll ever have kids,"
Wade said softly. "I'm pansexual,
not gay, but Miquon is another guy."

"That's up to you," said Dr. G.
"For a while, I wasn't sure whether
my wife and I could have children,
so we did some research. There are
many options beyond the most common.
If you want resources, just ask me."

"Maybe someday," Wade said.
"I'd probably just make a mess of it."

"I doubt that," said Dr. G. "If you're
feeling insecure, though, you can take
concrete steps to address that. Why
don't you talk to Ambrose? He has
modules on everything from confidence
to relationships to parenting skills."

"I hadn't thought of asking him,
'cause he's, you know, not into that,"
Wade said. "Didn't want to be a bother."

"You are not a bother, and Ambrose
enjoys helping people," said Dr. G. "I'm
sure he'll refer you to someone else
if a topic makes him uncomfortable or
he doesn't feel qualified. I could cover
this myself, but he's here every day."

"I'll ask him," Wade decided. "Time
to put some bottom rungs on the ladder."

"That's the spirit," said Dr. G. "Whatever
you decide about parenting or life choices,
those skills will come in handy somewhere."

"Thanks, doc," said Wade. "By the way,
swing past the infirmary while you're here.
I think Dr. Bloch has something for you."

"I'll do that," Dr. G promised.

He finished his round of
the social room, collecting
holiday wishes and sharing
news from the outside.

After that, he went to see
Dr. Bloch in the infirmary.

It wasn't too busy, so
Dr. G only had to wait
a few minutes before
the other man was free.

"What brings you down here?"
Dr. Bloch said. "Everything okay?"

"It's fine," said Dr. G. "I just heard
that you might like to see me."

"Ah, yes," said Dr. Bloch.
"Some of the boys who are
training to become nurses
found something that they're
a little too shy to give in person,
so they left it to me -- consider
this from all of us in here."

This gift, too, was wrapped
neatly in striped paper.

Dr. G opened it, then laughed.
The red-and-green sweater
showed one snowman robbing
another using two blow dryers.

"I can see why they might be
uncertain whether the humor is
appropriate, but I love it," Dr. G said.

"They're starting to gain confidence
now that Warden Delay is out of
the way," said Dr. G. "It takes
time, though. I'll let them know
that you found it funny."

"It's silly and it doesn't
hurt anyone," said Dr. G.
"I'm glad that Warden Lincoln
is having positive effects here.
I sure find him easier to deal with."

"Warden Lincoln genuinely wants
to help, like us," said Dr. Bloch. "He's
been encouraging Everett to expand
the educational offerings, and he hopes
to find someone to do more art therapy."

Dr. G shook his head. "Don't look at me.
I have had one conference on art therapy and
a week-long training in expressive therapies.
I am in no way an expert on this topic."

"We don't need an expert, we need
someone who can reach people,"
Dr. Bloch said. "You got through
to Shiv. If you can connect with
him, you can connect with anyone."

"No money in the budget to hire
anyone new?" Dr. G asked.

"It's not that," Dr. Bloch said.
"We have a hard time finding
people who want to work in
this kind of environment."

"Ah," said Dr. G. "I can see
how that would limit your options.
Are you doing all right here?"

"Yes, I like the challenge,"
said Dr. Bloch. "I've been
refining ideas for the diet,
which is more popular than
I ever expected it to be."

"Shiv still uses it as inspiration,"
said Dr. G. "It seems to work."

"Eh, it's as much art as science,"
Dr. Bloch said. "Sometimes I have
an inkling of what might fix problems,
but no clear idea of what caused them.
That's not fit for a professional writeup."

"Write the program first, and worry
about documentation afterwards,"
Dr. G advised. "Just take notes as
you go along so you don't forget
what you're doing. Some patterns
take a lot of data to pin down."

"That's true," said Dr. Bloch.
"Say hi to Shiv for me? I don't
dare say it in so many words,
but I kind of miss the little cuss."

"He misses you too," Dr. G confided.
"He won't come out and say it either,
but the sentiment is pretty clear."

"That's good to hear," said Dr. Bloch.

"Well, have you heard anything about
Shiv's latest art project?" said Dr. G.

"Can't say I have," Dr. Bloch said.
"I try not to stalk guys after they leave."

"It seems Shiv figured out that billboards
are something you can rent," said Dr. G.
"He started doing that and then, ah, modifying
the leftover ads on them. Then Halley put him up
to renting all of the ones that Duke University
usually rents, and changing their old copy
to promote various colleges across Italy.
Shiv calls his movement Slash That Shit."

Dr. Bloch burst out laughing. "That kid!
He's all piss and vinegar, but he
sure does have an eye for art."

"Here, I have pictures," Dr. G said,
taking out his phone. "Halley
sent copies to everyone --
including the Italian colleges."

"That must have caused quite
a stir," Dr. Bloch said as he
browsed through the images.
They were quite well done.

"Duke is still screaming about it, but
they can't do anything more," said Dr. G.
"Shiv takes particular pleasure in making
police officers defend him from citizens
who want to stop him, since he is paying
for the use of the billboard space."

"That's nicely ironic," Dr. Bloch said.
"Shiv used to be so shy about art."

"He's still a bit twitchy at times,
but this is helping a lot," said Dr. G.
"It's like I told Travis earlier --
happiness is a choice we make,
and our boy is finally starting
to make some good choices."

"Well then," said Dr. Bloch,
"that's what this is all about."

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear separately.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, holiday, poem, poetry, reading, writing
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