ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the April 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mama_kestrel, [personal profile] gingicat, [personal profile] chanter_greenie, and [personal profile] shiori_makiba. It also fills "The Genius" square in my 4-1-16 card for the Archetypal Characters Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics, and is the backstory for the poem "For the Purpose of Establishing Justice."

WARNING: This poem contains some disturbing material. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is graphic description of therapeutic abuse, discrimination against a neurovariant person, parents and social workers being worse than useless (although a later social worker is helpful), extreme emotional and psychological suffering, a meltdown culminating in reflexive use of telepathy which flattens a bunch of people (all of whom blame the sadistic therapist not the telepathic covictim), lots of repair work, coping skills, unexpected forgiveness, reference to a historic suicide, beginning a new life, and other challenges. The later parts are considerably more positive than the earlier parts, though. Please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read.


"The Things No One Can Imagine"


Augustine Taft knows
that he is different and
is told that this is why
he needs therapy.

He doesn't want to be
different and doesn't like
therapy, but nobody cares.

Just because his mind is wired funny
shouldn't make it okay to pick on him,
but that's exactly what happens, and
that just makes it harder for him
to make sense out of anything.

He never knows how long
a session is going to last.
Sometimes it’s twenty minutes,
other times it’s an hour and a half.

Dr. Norman Stoker is mean and
seems to enjoy it whenever
Augustine starts to cry.

The counselor calls him stupid and
retarded and a lot of other things that
hurt because they aren't things that can
ever be fixed, seeming more interested
in tearing him down than building him up.

Dr. Stoker insists that Augustine
doesn't want to be helped and
will never get better if he doesn't
start doing what the doctor orders.

It is not the first time that something
like this has happened, but it's one of
the worst, and Augustine feels like
his head is going to explode.

His parents don't protect him --
they never do -- no matter how much
he wishes that they would.

Dr. Stoker always acts like
he knows what is best without
asking Augustine about his goals,
mocking his plans to attend college
and even suggesting that he drop out
of high school due to his difficulties in
coping with the class environment.

Augustine doesn't want to stop learning.
He just wants to stop hurting.

He feels worse instead of better,
but the counselor doesn't care
or explain why it's happening,
only cares whether Augustine
sits still and makes eye contact
and speaks when spoken to.

Dr. Stoker's voice is a shifty thing,
sometimes stabbing into him
like fangs and other times
smothering him like smoke.

He's not supposed to be
using hypnosis, but sometimes
Augustine feels dazed anyway,
and it's hard to think with someone
haranguing him for an hour.

Dr. Stoker does things to him,
things no one can imagine,
that hurt in ways Augustine
can't describe, but it doesn't
matter, because it's therapy.

Maybe it's okay to hurt someone if
it's in therapy, or just if they're different.

It goes on and on until
he breaks down and does
whatever the doctor demands.

After it's over, Augustine goes home
feeling confused and uncomfortable
about what happened in therapy.

He tells his parents and
his social worker, but
they don't believe him.
Nobody ever does.

His life falls apart,
even more than usual,
and Dr. Stoker doesn't seem
concerned about that either.

He says it's only to be
expected for someone with
"diminished intellectual capacity"
and "socially inappropriate behavior."

It's not like he'll ever be normal.

Dr. Stoker won't even let Augustine
move the way he needs to in order
to sort things out in his head, and
pins the boy's hands down
whenever he tries.

It undermines his thinking
and drains his strength until
Augustine feels exhausted
just walking up the steps.

No matter how often he says that
he doesn't think the treatment
is helping, Dr. Stoker just
brushes him off.

All of Augustine's questions
go unanswered, whether he's
asking about the process or
what to expect from it
or anything else.

The doctor's words itch
and prickle inside his skull,
scraping away at his self-control
and making it impossible for him
to distinguish between himself
and everyone else.

Then one day something
snaps inside his mind, like
the time Augustine fell off the slide
he wasn't supposed to climb and
broke his arm, only now it's
his brain instead of a bone.

Everything Augustine thinks
and feels comes gushing out
of his head like water from
a smashed dam.

It rushes into the room,
and Dr. Stoker topples from
his chair with a choked scream.

It spills out of the room,
out of the office building,
into the street and down
the block and beyond.

Augustine can feel
the broken pieces shifting
and cutting into him, and it
feels like he's bleeding to death.

When everything goes gray,
and then dark, he's grateful.

Augustine wakes with
his head feeling fuzzy, but
at least it doesn't hurt anymore.

Only later does he find out
that his therapist pushed him
into a meltdown bad enough
to trigger the manifestation of
his superpowers, which allowed
Augustine to broadcast his distress
over several city blocks.

The resulting mental blast
rendered people unconscious
at close range and caused
severe upset farther out.

All of the 2,031 confirmed victims
are refusing to press charges against
Augustine, and instead have formed
a class-action lawsuit for mental damages
charged against Dr. Norman Stoker.

There are people from SPOON
to teach him about his superpowers,
and a new social worker to tell him
everything his parents and therapist
and other social worker did wrong, and
a mindhealer to listen to Augustine
talk about what happened to him
and soothe the pain of it.

Of all the things that Augustine
has difficulty imagining, this
pretty much fills his shortlist.

It takes days of mindhealing
even to start putting him back together,
to rebuild shattered barriers enough
to distinguish self from others.

It takes weeks of sensory therapy
to find something that works,
to learn that stacking blocks
helps him sort facts in his mind.

It takes years of counseling
to undo, piece by piece,
the damage done by
abusive therapy.

They know, those others
who were swept up in the flood
of his mind's dam breaking,
how hard it is just to be
in a world not made
for people like him.

Augustine isn't expecting it,
but some of them choose
to keep in touch with him.

Suyin Yale mails him
her handmade cards with
bows and ruffles and string
that say sweet things like
So sorry times are tough
right now,
and You make me
happy when skies are gray,

and Everything is better
with a friend
.

Kimberleigh Dane works
in a sensory garden and
makes him bouquets of
velvety lamb's ears and
spiky brown teasel. Thon
invites him to come visit,
and he's not ready for that
yet, but maybe someday.

Earl Murdoch is a businessman
who shares the need for convenience.
He sends gift certificates for food services
that learn to deliver selections based
on the diner's individual taste.

They understand him, even
the things no one can imagine,
because they remember it
spilling into them from him.

Augustine has never had
friends before, let alone
people who understand him.

They tell him that it's
okay to be different, and
share some of their own stories.

They tell him that it's
okay to need help, and
possible to get the kind that
actually makes matters get
better instead of worse.

They tell him that they're sad
about how it happened, but
glad that they met him.

It's oddly ... nice.

Augustine can't
believe in himself yet,
but that's okay too.

Now he has people
to believe in him until
he can believe in himself.

Suyin tells him that she
feels less alone after he
touched her mind, even
if it hurt at the time, and
that thinking about him
makes her feel connected
to something outside herself.

Kimberleigh tells him that
it's awesome to be different
and that he should look for ways
to express it, instead of hide it.

Earl sends him a catalog of
construction toys and building blocks,
and an invitation to come visit his office
and explain that thing about architecture
Augustine had doodled on the last letter.

The superheroes at SPOON
say that decency begins at home --
your house, your neighborhood, your city --
and that mean people are basically like
supervillains, even if they may not have
any special powers to mess up the world.

Augustine still doesn't know
what he's good for, though,
and that makes it hard for him
to lay out new plans to replace
what Dr. Stoker screwed up.

It is Granny Whammy herself
who takes Augustine aside one day
on her latest visit to Rain City.

She tells him about Alan Turing,
who was queer, and geeky in ways
that might have been neurovariant,
and also a Super-Intellect.

She tells him how Alan said that
sometimes it's the people no one
can imagine anything of who do
the things no one can imagine.

She tells him how Alan killed himself
because the world wouldn't let him be,
and how that helped inspire her to make
SPOON a refuge for special people.

Augustine cries, because it's a sad story
and she reminds him of his grandmother
who's been dead a long time now, and
he flails his hands because his brain
aches and this is the only way he
has to tap off the excess energy.

Granny Whammy holds him and
lets him cry on her bony old shoulder
and doesn't pin his hands down.

It's the last bit that finally gets it
through Augustine's head what
a superhero really is: someone
who doesn't take advantage of
others even through it would be
super easy for them to do.

He starts to think, perhaps, that
he'd like to work with these people.

Maybe if he asks nice, Earl will
help him make a plan for that,
because Earl is really good
at handling job things.

Augustine isn't fully recovered
from the therapeutic abuse yet --
may never be -- but he's getting better.

He can think about the future now,
even if he's not entirely sure
what to do with it.

The shapes of the days
are strange to him, because
he's not used to handling them
himself -- has never been allowed
to do that until now -- but he thinks
that he can learn in time.

So he orders himself
some calendar blocks
to help get a grip on that.

* * *

Notes:

Blocks (Augustine Taft) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short black hair. He has long, gangly limbs and wiry muscles. Blocks is autistic and finds it difficult to interact in neurotypical ways. He has some serious psychological damage from various therapists' attempts to make him act 'normal,' which in fact made it harder for him to cope with the massive data overload and the shear between his mental speed and his expression speed. This finally came to a head when his latest therapist drove him into a meltdown that broke containment, so that he broadcast his thoughts outward. The resulting mental blast covered several blocks, rendering people unconscious at close range or causing severe distress farther out. All of the 2,031 confirmed victims refused to press charges against Blocks, and instead formed a class-action lawsuit for mental damages charged against his therapist.
Several years of mindhealing later, he has recovered much of his functionality but still struggles to appreciate his distinct mindset instead of considering himself broken. Now he uses repetitive action to organize his thought processes. He favors building blocks, which are easy to stack and sort. It looks like he's playing monotonously, but at the same time he is thinking over complex problems. He works for the Rain City SPOON base as an analyst. His skills and generosity have made him popular there, although that still confuses him because he's not used to people liking him.
Origin: He was born with Super-Intellect, and developed the Telepathy due to therapeutic abuse.
Uniform: Rain City SPOON uniform consisting of a gray shirt and pants with the SPOON logo embroidered in silver on the chest pocket. His are made special-order without seams or tags. He loves the consistency, so he rarely wears anything else, even when off duty.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Spatial Awareness, Good (+2) Generous, Good (+2) Soup Friends, Good (+2) Zetetics
Poor (-2) Internalized Oppression
Powers: Master (+6) Super-Intellect, Good (+2) Telepath
Motivation: To make things fit.


Dr. Norman Stoker -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair going gray with a receding hairline. He lives in Rain City. Dr. Stoker works with people who have autism or other mental conditions, but he is a terrible therapist. He drove Augustine Taft into a meltdown that activated superpowers, causing a mental blast that affected several city blocks. All of the 2,031 confirmed victims refused to press charges against Augustine, and instead formed a class-action lawsuit for mental damages charged against Dr. Stoker.
Qualities: Master (+6) Degree in Psychology, Good (+2) Convincing, Good (+2) Wealth
Poor (-2) Abusive


Suyin Yale -- She has tawny skin, brown eyes, and straight black hair to her shoulders. Her heritage is mixed Asian, primarily Chinese. She lives in Rain City, where she has a live/work apartment. Her home business includes selling crafts such as handmade greeting cards and wedding invitations.
When Augustine Taft sent out a mental blast due to therapeutic abuse, Suyin was one of the nearby victims who got knocked unconscious for hours. However, she values the sense of someone outside herself, because she finds it difficult to connect with other people. She has chosen to maintain contact with Augustine afterwards. All of the 2,031 confirmed victims have refused to press charges against Augustine, and instead formed a class-action lawsuit for mental damages charged against Dr. Stoker.
Qualities: Master (+6) Crafty, Expert (+4) Home Businesswoman, Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Making Connections


Kimberleigh Dane -- Thon has fair skin, gray eyes, and curly chestnut hair to thon's shoulders. The eyebrows are particularly thick, connected by a lighter band of hair over the nose. Kimberleigh is genderqueer and prefers a quirky blend of masculine and feminine clothing. This makes thon a target for people who hate diversity, which results in periodic beatings and frequent harassment. Thon is an activist working toward better gender dynamics in society. Thon lives in Rain City.
When Augustine Taft sent out a mental blast due to therapeutic abuse, Kimberleigh was one of the victims on the fringe, who felt the impact but was able to resist it. However, thon understands what it's like to be different and to get hurt because of that. Thon has chosen to maintain contact with Augustine afterwards. All of the 2,031 confirmed victims have refused to press charges against Augustine, and instead formed a class-action lawsuit for mental damages charged against Dr. Stoker. Kimberleigh is a high school senior at the time, working part-time in a sensory garden as preparation for studying horticulture later.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Genderqueer, Good (+2) Activist, Good (+2) Gardening, Good (+2) Iron Will
Poor (-2) Queerbashing Target


Earl Murdoch -- He has ruddy skin, blue eyes, and short brown hair going gray. He lives in Rain City, where he works at an office building that includes executives, civil engineers, architects, developers, home decorators, and other people who work in the housing industry. Earl excels at running an office and making things, but he needs good materials to get good results. Growing up in an upper-middle-class family has left him unprepared to make do with whatever comes to hand. However, his thoughtful personality makes him a popular boss and people really enjoy working with him.
When Augustine Taft sent out a mental blast due to therapeutic abuse, Earl was one of the victims at medium range who suffered severe headaches and intrusive thoughts. However, Earl was outraged by the ethical violations going on. He has chosen to maintain contact with Augustine afterwards. All of the 2,031 confirmed victims have refused to press charges against Augustine, and instead formed a class-action lawsuit for mental damages charged against Dr. Stoker. Earl helped spearhead and fund that lawsuit.
Qualities: Master (+6) Thoughtful, Master (+6) Executive, Expert (+4) Distinguished Older Gentleman, Expert (+4) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Family Man, Good (+2) Model Railroad Hobbyist, Good (+2) Wealth
Poor (-2) Making Do

* * *

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
-- Alan Turing, creator of the first computer used to break codes during WW II.

Therapy can be abuse, and anything unacceptable for a "normal" child is unacceptable for anyone. Often the abuse is directed at destroying the characteristics of a condition or personality that privileged people find displeasing, but other times it devolves into plain old beating. Understand how to identify therapeutic abuse and tell if therapy is harmful. Know what to do about therapeutic abuse and how to heal from it.

Sensory therapy can help people with autism and trauma survivors.

Stimming is a category of coping skills primarily based on motion, although it can include other activities; or in "normal" people it's called fidgeting and is somewhat less stigmatized. Stimming is considered "socially inappropriate," which means privileged people don't want to see it and will attack anyone who does it, usually verbally but sometimes physically. So folks look for less risky, more tolerated forms of stimming such as crochet, stress balls, rocking chairs, yoga, and so forth. But some people don't care how miserable you are, as long as you can pretend to be pleasing.

Handmade cards are not just beautiful to look at, but often include strong tactile elements. See the So Sorry card, You Make Me Happy card, and Everything Is Better card.

A sensory garden may include plants such as spiky teasel and fuzzy lamb's ear.

Meal delivery services include full meal companies like Factor 75 and Provenance Meals, as well as snack companies like Nibblr and Graze. Most of the T-American companies have options where you can pick exactly what you want, order from a range of things you like, or get surprises. They tend to have robust feedback tools and accurate algorithms for predicting what customers will like based on previous data.

Construction toys have many benefits. They invite all kinds of play.

A T-American exploration of Alan Turing appears in "The Lights Behind Us."

Calendar blocks may show months, years, days of the week, numbers, etc. depending on style and purpose.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-11 02:49 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
So much yes.

Turing is one of my all-time heroes, and not just because of my profession.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-11 05:48 pm (UTC)
corvi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] corvi
I love the reactions of the "bystanders" here! What a wonderful and hopeful world.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-12 04:38 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
I'm very glad of how it turns out.

Dr. *Stoker*, eh? Feeding off his patients' problems, sucking out their self-ness to nourish his own vanity and bank account.
Edited Date: 2016-04-12 04:39 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-12 07:50 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Red-winged angel staring at a distant star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
+1 to the Turing love.

I love that everyone came together around Augustine.

Suicide

Date: 2016-04-13 02:43 pm (UTC)
heartsinger: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heartsinger
I'm having source amnesia and don't have time to look it up right now, so this may be nonsense, but I read somewhere that there is some reason to doubt that Turing's death was planned. He had purchased tickets to some kind of entertainment earlier that day, and he was experimenting with cyanide, which means accidental contamination is at least possible. The investigators skipped some tests that would have shed more light, so as it is we'll probably never be sure.

Re: Suicide

Date: 2016-04-13 06:33 pm (UTC)
heartsinger: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heartsinger
Yeah. It's even possible he wasn't planning it at all and then something happened that made him decide to. It just bothers me when it's presented as absolute fact. I get why, it's a great narrative and people are bad at complexity, but it just feels wrong to leave the possibility out.

Re: Suicide

Date: 2016-04-13 07:33 pm (UTC)
heartsinger: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heartsinger
To be more specific about what I mean by "wrong", I wanted to use some term you came up with-moral something or other, I think. I thought you mentioned it in "Against His Own SHIELD" but I couldn't find it. Anyway, it feels like Bad Guy Stuff. Part of me thinks I'm being too picky-you can't mention all the asterisks all the time, you'd never get anything done and people wouldn't know what was important. I should know*. But this... We're better than this. We shouldn't have to gloss over the doubts in one guy's story, no matter how important, because what happened to him before his death was wrong. And it was equally wrong when it was done to people who weren't famous or smart or possibly suicides. Where are their pardons? I know that a story about one person is easier to sell. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

*I spent my childhood with "you didn't mention this barely-relevant exception/detail/asterisk. Your argument is therefore invalid and nothing you say thereafter matters." as a standard make-the-kid-shut-up tactic.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-04-15 07:54 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Interesting -- my mental image of Stoker as I was reading matches your reference photo only superficially. In my head, he looks like the type of actor who was typically hired to play a doctor in 60s or 70s TV shows -- tall, handsome (but not "movie-star" handsome), and well turned-out. He has a neat short beard, also greying a bit, and typically wears a 3-piece brown suit of good but not extravagant cut. He strives to present an "upper-level professional" appearance, partly because this fits his image of how a doctor is supposed to look, but also because he knows that this will subliminally influence people to trust and support him. He is also severely blind to the effects of gender/race/class privilege, which contributes to his conviction that if his autistic patients can only be forced to "act normal", it will fix all their problems. What works for him ought to work for anybody, right?

I would also bet that he has effectively the same reaction to the class-action suit that RAT did to being arrested and fired -- he sees himself as the true victim in the situation, who has been unjustly punished for doing all the right things. It won't express the same way, but it'll be there.

icon represents Stoker not Augustus

Date: 2016-10-10 05:36 am (UTC)
callibr8: (hodag)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
Given that it's been a few months since this poem was posted, and apparently several years in Terramagne... what ever happened with the lawsuit? I'm hoping that Stoker's license was revoked, that he was fined, and that he'll be spending most of his waking hours* doing scut-work type community service. The '*' is because I don't have the data to calculate the length of sentence I want to see set, but I can describe it: one hour of community service for every hour he spent abusing neurovariant patients under the guise of "therapy".

Also ... to become a licensed therapist - at least where I live - requires one thousand hours of supervision. So either he bamboozled a good therapist, or the rot goes deeper than just Stoker. Neither of those are pleasant thoughts, but the latter is the more unsettling one, I think.

"for [whose?] own good"

Date: 2016-10-10 10:52 pm (UTC)
callibr8: East Tennessee, circa 2004 (RoadAhead)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> he didn't start out as bad as he is now. Some of that is corruption from having a lot of power and abusing it more over time as he developed a taste for it. <<

I'm kind of glad to know this, strange as it may sound. Just as long as he'll never be in a position again to use professional credentials to commit similar evils.

>> In L-America, abusing people is perfectly legal and professionally permitted <<

Yes. I can attest to this from direct personal experience. Healing those wounds is really hard, especially because so many people insist on invalidating experiences they have not had. :-(

Warden Daley ... what's the latest in that story-thread? Last I knew they had damning evidence but he was not yet ousted.

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