ysabetwordsmith: (Schrodinger's Heroes)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This story was inspired by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer who sponsored the "waterboarding" square on my 6-10-13 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. It belongs to the Schrodinger's Heroes project, taking place after the unscreened episodes.  There is a related poem, "Sloppy and Wet," which details the original incident.

WARNING: The following warnings are spoilers, and also very intense.  This poem is about extreme racism, bullying, and waterboarding, followed by the aftermath as one of the perpetrators is tormented by what he's done and therefore seeks advice on how to make up for it. The story does end on a relatively hopeful note, though.  If these are sensitive issues for you, carefully consider whether you want to read this.  Please make sure you're in a steady mindstate before clicking through.  (Special thanks to [personal profile] dialecticdreamer for offering to answer questions about the story from folks who aren't positive whether or not they want to read it.)


"Don't Try This at Home"


The doorbell rang. Chris answered it, letting in a kiss of cold air. Then he glared and said, "Git out of here, Eric." That made Pat sit up and take note.

A rangy teen with short blond hair stood on the step, hands fidgeting at his pockets. "I fucked up, Uncle Chris," he said. "I know you don't like me much, but I tried talking to Uncle Luke and he don't understand why I'm all tore up about it. So he said I should come here, that you know this shit. I don't know where else to go."

"Aw, hell," Chris muttered.

"Chris, let him in," Pat said. "If you don't want to deal with him, I'll give it a try." Chris swung the door wide to let Eric in. Pat waved to the couch as Chris made hasty introductions.

Eric looked pale and damp with sweat, not a good combination when the Texan desert could get so chilly at night. Pat touched the back of his hand to the boy's skin and found it clammy. Eric flinched. Pat tugged the afghan off the couch and draped it over Eric's shoulders. Then he backed away.

"What've you fool kids done now?" Chris asked.

"It was just a prank," Eric said, slumping over his knees. "Dan saw TeJay kissing Emily, and that ain't right, so we wrestled him down and was gonna make him eat some dirt. Only Rob wanted to try this thing he saw on TV, with a wet rag over someone's face --"

"You waterboarded someone as a prank?" Pat said, suddenly much less sympathetic. He felt tempted to wash his hands of the kid. "Didn't you pay attention to the part about 'Don't try this at home' then?"

"Well, at least you owned up to it," Chris said. "That ain't your style. What's eating at you?"

Eric shivered, pulling the blanket closer. "I didn't have no stomach for it this time, the way TeJay thrashed around," Eric said. "Then I overheard him telling Emily he couldn't kiss her no more, because it reminded him of what we done." He nibbled on his lip, already pink and swollen. "Next time I tried to kiss my girlfriend, same thing happened to me. I never thought before how lips could feel like a damp hankie."

"Flashbacks," Pat murmured. "Ingrained memories can come back and cause trouble." Perhaps this was an opportunity to teach Eric better ways than he'd learned at home. It wasn't his fault, any more than it had been Chris' fault, that their relatives were bigoted idiots.

"I can't sleep, Uncle Chris. I keep having these awful nightmares. I wake up yelling," said Eric. "I fucked up, and I don't know how to make it right."

"First thing is, you got to say sorry to TeJay," said Chris. "You wanna be chickenshit, you can send him a note; you wanna man up, say it to his face."

"Okay," Eric said, straightening a little.

"Second thing, no more of this horsecrap about how 'it ain't right' for a black boy to kiss a white girl. They got a right to love who they love," Chris said.

Eric cast a guilty glance at Pat's chocolate skin. "I guess."

"I dunno what to do about the nightmares, though. Reckon you'll just have to live with that," Chris said.

"Maybe I can help there," Pat said to Eric. "One thing you could do is learn about waterboarding and why it's wrong. Dreams are how the brain makes sense of things it doesn't fully understand. Once you realize that what you did is torture, you might decide to work against it. That may help your mind put it to rest."

"I ain't good in school," Eric said, licking his lips.

"Then you can practice your reading," Chris said. "We're not gonna grade it. We just want you to think about it."

Pat gestured to the hall door. "You're welcome to spend the night here, Eric," he said. "Sometimes talking about nightmares can help stop them. We'll listen, even if your parents won't."

"Uncle Chris? Can I?" Eric asked.

Chris nodded. "I'll call your mama. She ain't likely to say no, if you've been waking folks up at night. While I'm at it, I'll call TeJay's mama and make sure someone's taking care of him too. But you gotta promise to be polite. These folks are my friends."

"I'll try," Eric whispered.

Pat gave him a gentle squeeze on the shoulder. This time Eric didn't flinch, leaning into the support just a little. He felt warmer now, no longer shivering. Pat suspected that Eric would come around, once he had adults who would actually set a good example for him.

"That's all I ask," Pat said. Neither this situation nor the world was all fixed, but at least they were making progress.

Chris seemed to pick up on Eric's hesitation. "I know, your folks wouldn't particularly approve of you being polite to the wrong kinda people, so we'll start slow," Chris said. Then he winked. "Don't try this at home."

* * *

Notes:

Traumatic experiences can put people into emotional shock. Know how to provide emotional first aid.

Waterboarding is a particular method of water torture which, if done correctly, creates the sensation of drowning without allowing water into the lungs. You can watch a video of waterboarding that was done as research for an article on the topic. There are things you can do to stop torture.

Bullying is a problem at many schools. It is harmful not just to the victim but also to the bully. In order to resolve the problem, it's necessary to reach out to bullies and teach them better social skills. Follow the steps to stop being a bully. This also ties into domestic violence, and there is help for abusers too.

Racism is the idea that some people are better than others just because of their color. Children quickly learn racism from their parents. There are ways to stop being racist. This is a theme in Schrodinger's Heroes ever since the introduction of Chris to the team, as he and Pat develop a close friendship despite Chris' redneck upbringing.

Flashbacks and nightmares are common symptoms of trauma. Know how to treat them.

Guilt is a natural emotion after hurting someone. Take steps to apologize, eliminate guilt, and then forgive yourself -- in that order. Notice that Chris and Pat advise Eric to make concrete changes, not just a verbal apology.

Hurting people hurt people for a variety of reasons. Eric's home life probably isn't great. Ostracism and racism can hurt the perpetrators as well as the victims. Compassion for offenders can help them learn to do better and avoid hurting people again.

Teenagers need role models and look for certain qualities in them. Parents can have a positive or negative effect on their children's behavior. Caring adults can help a teen transform their life. Know how to be a good role model -- and understand that teens can be role models for each other, too.


 

Another great story!

Date: 2014-05-25 01:57 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
This more than met my hopes for another Schroedinger's story, with a tough topic. Thank you.

On to the details!

-Eric. Likely a very poor student (best grades hovering around C) with at least one undiagnosed learning disorder or sensory disorder, given that he's so determined to live down to his parents' expectations. VERY likely raised in a household where education is only "good for" certain things, and since he's clearly not going to be a doctor or a lawyer, he doesn't need to "bother" overmuch with that education. More likely fifteen than fourteen, given that he's got a girlfriend. (Shush, I know I'm being optimistic! LOL) That he's willing to /try/ to be polite to Chris' friends says a LOT about how badly he is reacting to the earlier situation.

That he allowed himself to lean into Pat's touch, no matter how subtly, lets me hope that he's now willing to take a serious /look/ at the way Chris' friends behave and compare it to the way he was /taught/ that they would behave.

-Pat. He stepped up for a kid he /knows/ is a racist, and likely a mouthy little twerp. (I /raised/ two boys, and ages 14 and 15 were just like ages 2 and 3, but with much broader, and worse, vocabularies!) I sincerely hope that he and Eric in particular can connect, because a guy with that much patience already has it in him to be a stellar mentor.

-Chris. He very likely heard a lot more about Luke's opinions than what Eric /said/. There's a whole library of family history behind Luke's 'suggestion' that Eric go see Chris, and it's conveyed without getting into details. I love that. And oddly, I like that Chris' first reaction was expecting something negative, and not really wanting to deal with Eric; it's very, very human.

Overall, I think that by the time the nighmares abate, Eric will be more neutral-- and definitely less likely to verbally harass someone because of race; still a racist, but a more socially mainstream one. (And possibly well on the way toward NOT being one-- again, I can hope.)

Lastly-- Your link to the study on developing racism, well, it implies a BOATLOAD of things that tie into foster care as well. Talk about problematic! (Especially if biased foster parents end up with a kid they didn't know fell into one of their "bad" groups, like finding out a kid who looks "normal" actually is dyslexic. The damage they can do to the kid in just a few days... HORROR.)

Thank you for vagueing up the actual waterboarding. Specifically. No troubles at all with the story, which is great because I could jump right into commenting!

Re: Another great story!

Date: 2014-05-25 04:52 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
"ages 14 and 15..." Heh. The older of my two girls went directly from the terrible two's to the terrible teens at about age 9. She's turned into quite a good person since then.

Just in case...

Date: 2014-05-26 03:00 am (UTC)
thnidu: Tom Baker's Dr. Who, as an anthropomorphic hamster, in front of the Tardis. ©C.T.D'Alessio http://tinyurl.com/9q2gkko (Dr. Whomster)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
In case you ever need to run a search for the stories, the cat's name is Schrodinger, not -oe-.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-25 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
I'm not really following this series, so maybe I'm missing needed context, but what part of apologizing to TeJay in person seems like a good idea, huh? Oh, yeah, go find the guy who you tortured and force your company on him. And dump your guilt on him, too. That'll work.

>:(

Re: Well...

Date: 2014-05-26 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
Oh, I see, so there was missing context. I'm not familiar with the series, so I didn't realize they were schoolmates. That sounds like a more reasonable situation for a face-to-face apology than just, say, going to his house.

Re: Well...

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-05-26 12:58 am (UTC) - Expand

Dumping?

Date: 2014-05-25 10:22 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
First, it's clearly not the next day. Eric has been /bothered/ by what happens, which means that his apology, even if ham-handed and badly done, is coming from a very sincere effort.

That's not dumping guilt on somebody. "I'm sorry I hit you, but you just made me soo (fill in the blank)," is /that/ kind of apology. Insincere, shifts both blame and guilt, and ultimately as harmful as the original incident, if not moreso.

So, sincerely, do you think the kid standing with Chris and Pat is trying to make /something/ of the situation easier to bear, easier to live with, or that he's going to dump it all onto TeJay and make it "his fault"?

Re: Dumping?

Date: 2014-05-26 12:30 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
Hmm, not quite like that. What I mean is... he probably will change, and it would be very, very difficult for that change to be for the worse.

But also, he's, as you say, bothered. He feels guilty. He's having nightmares. He's probably doubting himself. This is really upsetting for him. And going to see TeJay in this state could so easily end with him pressuring TeJay to comfort him, to say that it's all fine, all is forgiven. And TeJay may not be ready for that yet, even if Eric has met all necessary conditions for moving on.

Plus, in the aftermath (even if not the immediate aftermath) of an incident like this, seeing one of the attackers show up unexpected is not likely to be comforting, and "oh shit not again *panic*" is not the response Eric should be aiming to provoke.

Re: Dumping?

Date: 2014-05-26 01:04 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
OOH, very valid points!

I don't think /PAT/ would let Eric go off and apologize without supervision, not because he's likely to incite violence, but because he's clearly got very little /experience/ in apologizing, and having a grownup there going, "What did you want to say to Auntie Muriel? We talked about it..." not only prompting, but a solid reminder that he's already /thought this through/ and it might be hard but he /already/ knows he needs to follow through. Parenting, in effect, even though the kid is ten years older than the first time I had to walk one of my kids through an apology for hitting a neighbor kid.

Also, having Pat, who is black, show up with Eric, sends very clear messages that "this is not going to be a repeat of previous encounters".

You know, the more chordatesrock /says/ about this, the more willing I am to sponsor the /next/ part of the story arc!


Edited to add: If you haven't read any of the Schroedinger's stories other than this, I think you'll like them. PLEASE try reading "Learning to Fit In"-- Full disclosure: I sponsored the story, but my criteria were "teaching/learning" "Chris" and a vague "I like Pat" comment; I do, he's a pretty mellow guy.
Edited (more thoughts) Date: 2014-05-26 01:12 am (UTC)

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] chordatesrock - Date: 2014-05-26 01:55 am (UTC) - Expand

And also just in case...

From: [personal profile] thnidu - Date: 2014-05-26 03:07 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-05-26 03:08 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah - Date: 2014-06-08 11:16 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-08 11:53 pm (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-09 01:57 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-09 02:09 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-09 02:02 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-09 03:01 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-28 02:19 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Dumping?

From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer - Date: 2014-06-28 02:47 am (UTC) - Expand

OT...

Date: 2014-05-26 02:44 am (UTC)
thnidu: road sign: diamond-shaped black on yellow. Animated silhouette of user banging head on keyboard over & over (headbang)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Regarding the spoiler warning: I'm not sure I want to read the story. But I have code to mask text like that, just about the same as yours, and earlier today it didn't work in a comment. So  Let's try yours right here… 
...
It works in the preview.
...
Hooray, it works in the comment itself too. Thank you.

Edited Date: 2014-05-26 02:45 am (UTC)

Re: OT...

Date: 2014-05-26 02:48 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Thnidu, I've read it. It's very, very obliquely referenced here, not shown on screen, as the subject of discussed-not-shown flashbacks. I /really/ encourage you to give this a try. (Not to be pushy, but from my viewpoint, the payoff was WELL worth the risks I took in reading it. Your mileage may vary so you, or anyone who doesn't want to jump in without /knowing/ can feel free to message me privately and I'll answer questions about why I didn't want to read it, what's involved, and why I thought it was worth the risk. Just please put the story title in the subject line?

And Ysabet, this is a standing offer for this piece.
Edited (forgot a phrase) Date: 2014-05-26 02:49 am (UTC)

Re: OT...

Date: 2014-05-26 03:01 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Not a problem. I sponsored the story, so I am implicitly part of encouraging readership. And, if I answer the notes, it leaves you more time to write stories. WIN-WIN!

Re: OT...

Date: 2014-05-26 02:54 am (UTC)
thnidu: plus sign (plus)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
And while you & [personal profile] dialecticdreamer were replying to me, I was reading the story. Shaking (the story,so to speak, not me), and yes, good.
Edited Date: 2014-05-26 02:57 am (UTC)

Re: OT...

Date: 2014-05-26 03:43 am (UTC)
thnidu: When all I have is a hammer, everything looks like my thumb ("thumb" is in big blood-red letters) (thumb)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
Ach. I've found the place I tried it before: a comment on LJ. Fooey on LJ for that.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-08 07:36 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Okay, after reading both poems, I want a resolution ... I can see that our was-bully will probably be okay, but poor TeeJay...

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-25 06:19 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Damn that hits home. Partly because East Texican sounds a helluva lot like East Tennesseean, for a couple of dozen reasons whose names were Crockett, Houston, Bowie, and the like... partly because N and I have been discussing PTSD associated with kids in the foster system... partly because both of us have unpleasant bits in our personal histories, as do you... and partly because I have personal knowledge of that kind of racism... :(

Thank you!

Date: 2014-05-25 06:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Damn that hits home. <<

I'm glad this resonates for you.

>> Partly because East Texican sounds a helluva lot like East Tennesseean, for a couple of dozen reasons whose names were Crockett, Houston, Bowie, and the like... <<

Also because my dialect of Southern is in fact from my mother's people in Tennessee. There are a few grammatical differences across the Southern dialects, but most are pronunciation or vocabulary. So I try to tag Texas by looking up examples of vocabulary that I can drop in.

>> partly because N and I have been discussing PTSD associated with kids in the foster system... <<

Remember to check both versions of it, because the acute and chronic forms have some differences in symptoms and treatment. Look at this story and you can see that the kids in question had been screwing around for a while like this, but it hadn't broken anyone until just now. Sometimes persistent bullying can add up to complex PTSD. Other times it's like this, where one specific incident produces singular PTSD.

>> partly because both of us have unpleasant bits in our personal histories, as do you... <<

Sooth. But this is one way to put that experience to good use.

>> and partly because I have personal knowledge of that kind of racism... :( <<

Ack, forgot to warn for racism! *facepalm* Fixing that now.

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