ysabetwordsmith: (Schrodinger's Heroes)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
[personal profile] dialecticdreamer commissioned this story as an extension of the Don't Try This at Home series in the Schrodinger's Heroes project; it will make more sense if you've read the earlier installments, including the new poem "Moving Through the Water."  It also fills the "competent" square in my 5-22-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest and the "heart on sleeve" square in my 6-1-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest.

WARNING: This story covers Eric's apology to TeJay for bullying him, so it contains some intense feelings and conversations. If these are sensitive issues for you, it's prudent to make sure you're in a steady frame of mind should you decide to read it.

"With Your Heart Open"

Pat watched in the rearview mirror as the boat cruised smoothly into its trailer, Chris keeping a steady hand on the motor. Together Chris and Eric latched it into place. Chris gave the boy a nod of approval for work well done. Eric grinned back at him, open and easy to read in his enthusiasm.

The pickup truck purred as they pulled into the picnic area. Eric covered the table with a cloth while Chris unpacked lunch. Pat noted that their fair skin was turning pink from the sun -- lacking the protection of his own darker tone -- and urged them into a shadier spot. Eric obeyed without argument. These little family outings were helping to mellow his personality.

The three of them feasted on pulled pork sandwiches, Texas Forever pasta salad, and melon balls. They shared a thermos of lemonade and had brownies for dessert. Just as they finished eating, Chris tipped a thumb toward the nearby playground and said, "Now?"

Pat turned to see TeJay settling under a shade tree. "Yes, I think now is a good time," Pat said. "I'll go ask TeJay."

Eric followed their gaze and paled, his sunburn suddenly standing out like wet paint. "What'm I supposed to say?"

"Remember to approach the apology with your heart open," Pat advised.

"Don't panic, just do like we practiced," Chris said, patting Eric on the shoulder.

Pat left Eric in Chris' hands and strolled over to TeJay. "Hey there."

"Hey," TeJay said, setting aside a library copy of Native Texas Plants. Then he spotted Chris and Eric, and scrambled to sit up straighter against the tree. "What do you want?"

"Eric wants to apologize for what he did to you," Pat said.

"Then why ain't he here himself?" TeJay said, eyes narrowing.

"I thought you might not feel safe with him, so first I wanted to ask if you're willing to hear him out, and let you know that Chris and I will make sure things don't get out of hand," Pat explained.

"Do I have to listen to him?" TeJay said.

"No," Pat said. "I think it would help settle things between you, though. You still have to go to school together. Letting this fester won't do any good."

"Do I have to be nice to him?" TeJay asked. He picked a blade of grass from the lawn and pulled it slowly to shreds.

"You don't have to do anything," Pat said. "You're not at school; what you do on your own time is your choice. Just think about what you want, which choices will help you get there, and how that makes you feel about yourself."

"Reckon I can listen," TeJay said as he climbed to his feet.

Pat turned and waved. Eric came, his steps dragging the whole way. Chris trailed behind and did nothing to push him forward. When they finally arrived, Pat said, "Go ahead, Eric."

The boy straightened his shoulders and recited his carefully planned apology. "I'm sorry for picking on you and holding you down while Rob poured water on your face. It was wrong. I shouldn't have done it. I won't do it again."

"Damn right you shouldn't have!" TeJay snapped. He kept Pat between himself and Eric. "My girlfriend isn't talking to me, and my mama dragged me to see a shrink. It's all your fault."

Eric pulled his head down toward his shoulders like a turtle trying to retreat into its shell. "I'm really sorry," he said. "I was stupid."

Pat clucked his tongue to stop that train of thought. "You may condemn your actions, but not yourself," he reminded Eric.

"He's a fucking jerk," TeJay said.

"Well, he's trying to learn how not to be, and I want to help him do that," Pat said. "You have a right to your feelings, although name-calling isn't the best way to express them. Would you rather have Eric picking on you like he used to, or making amends like he is now?"

"Can't make up for what he done," TeJay muttered.

"There's gotta be something," Eric said. "I looked up stuff online about waterboarding and torture. I didn't realize how bad it was, but now I do. I want to work on stopping it."

"Why do you even care?" TeJay said. "You never did before."

"I saw what it done to you. Gave me nightmares," Eric said.

"Figures," TeJay said with a dark laugh. "I knew it couldn't be on my account."

"I saw," Eric repeated. "That's what the nightmares were about, mostly. I shouldn't have messed with you and Emily."

"You wanna make it up to me? Why don't you tell her that," TeJay said.

"TeJay, is that something you want from Eric in the way of reparation?" Pat asked. "Would it help balance things between you, or repair the relationship?"

"Yeah, but he'd never really do it," TeJay said.

"I will too. I'll do it right now so you can watch. I know her number," Eric said. "Uncle Chris, can I borrow your phone?"

"Sure," Chris said, pulling the sleek phone from his pocket. He handed it to Eric.

"Uh, how does this --" Eric began.

Chris took the phone back, flicked his fingers across the screen a few times, and then held it out to Eric. "Now just push the numbers like you would on a real phone."

This time Eric managed the call. "Hi, Emily? It's Eric. I need to talk with you about TeJay," he said. "Me and Dan and Rob roughed him up. It was a dumb thing to do. I already apologized to him but I know it made things bad for you too, so I'm sorry about that. Just don't take it out on TeJay. It ain't his fault. I'm the one you oughta be mad at."

Suddenly Eric winced and pulled the phone away from his ear. Pat could hear the tinny sound of Emily yelling, even from several feet away. Then the line went dead.

"I don't think she's talking to me no more," Eric said, looking at the blank phone. He turned to TeJay and shrugged. "Sorry. I tried."

"Wasn't expecting you to go through with it," TeJay said.

"I owed it to you," Eric said. He hesitated. Something vulnerable flickered across his face. "Do you ... think you can forgive me? Ever?"

"I don't know," TeJay said. "Shrink tells me I gotta 'process' what happened, whatever that means. I still don't like you."

"Processing means you think about something until you understand how it's affecting your life, and then you work through it until it stops causing trouble for you," Pat explained. "Forgiveness isn't about liking someone. It's about accepting an expression of regret so you can both move on, if that's what you choose to do. It's up to you."

"I know I messed up. I just want a chance to make it right," Eric said fervently.

"Can I think it over?" TeJay asked, looking at Pat.

"Of course," Pat said. "Put some serious thought into this, and maybe discuss it with your therapist. Give yourself a week or so to sort out your feelings. You know where to find us when you're ready to talk some more."

"Thanks for hearing me out," Eric said abruptly.

TeJay stalled for a moment, his forehead wrinkling and then smoothing as manners won over resentment. "... you're welcome."

The walk back to the truck was slow. Eric clung so close to Chris that they kept bumping into each other. After Chris almost tripped, he slung an arm around Eric. They sat three across in the truck as they pulled out of the park.

"How do you feel now?" Pat asked Eric.

"Like dirt," Eric said. "It's like having my heart ripped open. But I guess I deserved it."

"Well, nobody deserves to have their feelings hurt. TeJay could've been more polite in his reception, but he's pretty upset about what you did. I expect he doesn't have much more experience in accepting apologies than you do in giving them," Pat said.

"Hadn't thought about it like that," Eric admitted.

"Remember it ain't just about making up," Chris said. "It's about doing what's right. You done that, and I'm proud of you for it."

"Really?" Eric said softly.

"Really," Chris said. "It's hard to admit when you've made mistakes, especially when you realize you've been messing up something fierce your whole life." He looked at Pat. "But it's worth it."

"Yes, it is," Pat said with a fond smile. "Sometimes you discover things that way you would never have found otherwise."

"Reckon I feel a bit better now," Eric said.

* * *



"To truly repent of a big thing, you have to go into it with your heart open and force yourself to deal with it at that level and to apologize to God."
-- Bruce Wilkinson

Mentoring teens involves having the right qualities and using them to produce benefits. There are tips for mentors on what to do and what teens need from adults.

Boat Dock Park is one of several access points to Lake Waxahachie and its recreational facilities.

Picnics are a favorite activity in Texas, with many traditional menu options including pulled pork, Texas Forever pasta salad, melon balls, brownies, and lemonade.

Live Oak is among the most popular shade trees in Texas. TeJay is reading Native Texas Plants, one of the best books on the wild plants of Texas.

Mediation is one of several strategies to resolve bullying in schools and restore peer dynamics. Young people can also learn peer mediation. Here it's important that both Eric and TeJay have adults who will make them feel safe, help them work out the problem, and prevent it from getting worse.

A sincere apology must fulfill several requirements, ideally matching the recipient's preferred language of apology. For a serious offense such as this, a verbal apology is not enough; it is necessary to make amends with some concrete action. Bullying often requires some kind of restitution. TeJay is understandably suspicious of Eric's intentions, hence his fractious response. There are tips for teaching children to apologize, accepting apologies, and what to do if your apology is NOT accepted.

Dealing with trauma can raise issues with characterological or behavioral self-blame. It's important to criticize actions, not people. Eric says things like "I was stupid" because he's grown up hearing that from parents and teachers when he does something wrong. Young people need to learn positive rather than negative self-talk.

Name-calling is an instinctive action of scorn which causes a lot of problems. There are ways to reduce name-calling at home and at school. Pat is trying to discourage the negative method, while supporting the positive expression of TeJay's emotions.

Restorative justice aims to repair relationships in community. One method is reparations to make up for harm done, among the most effective ways to discourage bullying.

Processing is a way of dealing with emotions or events. There are steps for working through emotions. Cognitive processing therapy can help people integrate what happened to them. Here is a self-help guide for coping with trauma.

Forgiveness is a process of releasing hard feelings so you can move on, which has many benefits. You don't have to forgive anyone; it is a choice. Follow the steps toward forgiveness.

Teens want to make adults proud of them, and they need to hear it. There are ways to help your children make you proud, and ways to make your parents proud of you. Notice that Chris specifically identifies what Eric has done well (which is an accident; Chris doesn't actually know why that's important, he's just mimicking what people like Pat have said) which ties into Chris' own experience of earning Pat's friendship over a rather bumpy course of events.

Complex, satisfying

Date: 2014-06-23 02:34 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
The kids are becoming more identifiable in the series, more complex.

I think I /love/ the slow, scuffing walk toward TeJay, where Chris is making it VERY clear that he's not PUSHING Eric forward, just making sure he's nearby. It's so very, very believable.

Sadly, so is the edge of desperation in /both/ teens' reactions, and I'm left with hints that they're both getting help and support-- Pat reaching out to TeJay is /brilliantly/ understated.

Thanks for writing and posting this one!

Re: Complex, satisfying

Date: 2014-06-23 02:56 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sorry, this is Dialecticdreamer-- checked in on hubby's machine and forgot to LOG in.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-23 12:32 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Hmmmm. Going to have to circle back to this one a few times. I'm gently mentoring someone who may as well be a teen... and will probably find myself doing so a few times....

In Texas they even do picnics for breakfast. Quite some years back my opposite number at SWRI decided her idea of a conference facility was the Mayan Dude Ranch, 'bout 45 minutes NW of San'Tone. The last full day we were there they loaded us on the wagon and took us out by the creek where they had built big barbecue grills out of brick and wrought iron; they laid griddles on the grills and built mesquite fires underneath, and made us bacon and sausage and eggs and grits and strong hot coffee...

Thank you!

Date: 2014-06-23 01:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Hmmmm. Going to have to circle back to this one a few times. I'm gently mentoring someone who may as well be a teen... and will probably find myself doing so a few times.... <<

I'm glad you found this useful.

>> In Texas they even do picnics for breakfast. <<

I did not know that. Thanks for sharing this bit of local color. I may work it into Schrodinger's Heroes someday.

>> Quite some years back my opposite number at SWRI decided her idea of a conference facility was the Mayan Dude Ranch, 'bout 45 minutes NW of San'Tone. The last full day we were there they loaded us on the wagon and took us out by the creek where they had built big barbecue grills out of brick and wrought iron; they laid griddles on the grills and built mesquite fires underneath, and made us bacon and sausage and eggs and grits and strong hot coffee... <<

Wow. That sounds tasty.


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