ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of discussion with [personal profile] lynnoconnacht. It also fills the "next best thing" square in my 5-22-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] lynnoconnacht. This poem belongs to the Antimatter & Stalwart Stan thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains intense topics, and some of the warnings are spoilers; highlight to read. There are good intentions turning out badly, aftermath of offstage child abuse, verbal abuse and other foul language, lousy interpersonal skills (and some good ones), hurt/comfort but mostly hurt in this episode, and other touchy topics. Also Stan gets dumped again. So now you know why Lawrence is such a hot mess. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether you want to read onward.


"Love Shouldn't Hurt"


Stan watched for Lawrence
in the mornings, because
sometimes people picked on him,
which could lead to power plays,
so it was just better to head it off.

This time Lawrence showed up
moving a little slower than usual,
his face wholly hidden behind
the dyed black curtains of his hair.

Stan got a sinking suspicion
that the bullies had gotten there first.
"Good morning," he said quietly.

"It's a morning," Lawrence agreed,
looking up at Stan. His hair slid back
to reveal a blue shadow around one eye
and down along his cheekbone.

Stan hissed in sympathy.
"Wow, that looks awful."

"It's nothing," Lawrence said,
shaking his head to spill the hair
forward again to cover it.

That bothered Stan. He wanted
his friend to feel safe with him,
not like he needed to hide.
"Lawrence, are things okay at home?"
Stan asked, leaning close for privacy.

"Good as ever," Lawrence said
as he tossed his books into his locker.

"You maybe lose a fight with somebody
on the way to school?" Stan pressed.

"Just a door," Lawrence said.

Stan reached out to cup his chin
and gently tilted the injured cheek
toward the better light.
"I don't think so," he murmured.

"What makes you say that?"

"The blood's already dry on the scrapes
but the bruise is still developing,
so it's older than a few minutes
but no more than an hour,"
Stan explained to him.
"You didn't get this at school,
and I don't see an edge or a corner
like bashing into a door usually leaves."

"Never mind," Lawrence snapped,
tossing his head out of Stan's grasp.

"Okay," Stan said, spreading his hands
to show that he was no threat.
"Come on, let's go to the nurse's office.
We can put some ice on your face
to keep the bruising and swelling down."

"I don't need it," Lawrence said.

"Or I could just keep trying to figure out
who hit you," Stan said, "because
I would really like to know that."

"I'll take the ice," Lawrence grumbled,
pushing his way past Stan.

Stan quickly caught up and
led the way to the nurse's office,
determined not to let Lawrence
eel out of the assistance.

"Nurse Rosenbaum, could we have
an ice pack, please?" asked Stan.
"Lawrence has a bruise on his face."

She pulled a blue packet from the fridge
and held it out. "What happened, boys?"

"I ran into a door," Lawrence said
as he let Stan press the ice pack into place.

"This is the third time that you've
come to school with a black eye this year,"
Nurse Rosenbaum pointed out.

"Just goes to show what a klutz I am,"
Lawrence said with a wry half-smile.

Stan frowned. Lawrence wasn't clumsy.
He was as limber as a willow stem.
He could run rings around Stan,
and the bullies if he saw them coming.

So how did someone manage to hurt him?
Stan wondered, uneasy again.

"The ice helps," Lawrence admitted,
as much thanks as he was
ever likely to give.

As they walked to class, Stan said,
"Hey, if you need to talk or anything --"

"Just butt out," Lawrence said,
sliding into his seat.

Stan butted out.
The rest of the day,
he let Lawrence lead
the conversations.
Everything seemed fine.

The next day was horribly worse.
Lawrence clanged his locker door open,
threw his books in, then slammed it shut.
His cheek had turned blue-black overnight.

"Lawrence? What's wrong?"
Stan asked, coming up beside him.

"As if you don't know!
"You're the one who did it,
you asshole!" Lawrence said.

"Did what?" Stan asked,
shaking his head.
"I didn't do anything."

"Well somebody called the fucking cops on us
and they took my dad away before I got there.
He's the only person who ever
pays any attention to me at home,
because my mom is always too busy."
Lawrence snapped at Stan.
"Now he's gone and it's all your fault!"

"I guess the school nurse must have
said something," Stan said. "Maybe
she thought he was mistreating you."

"He's my father and he loves me,"
Lawrence said through his teeth.

"Love shouldn't hurt,"
Stan said gently, reaching up
to feather a thumb just below the bruise
that stained Lawrence's face.

"Fuck you," Lawrence said,
smacking his hand away.

Stan pulled back, stung.
"I just wanted to help," he said.
"I don't like seeing you injured."

"Yeah well, do me a favor and
don't try to 'help' anymore,"
Lawrence said. "I've had enough."
He turned to leave.

Stan bit his lip.
If he couldn't have Lawrence happy,
then at least he was safe,
and that was the next best thing.
Still, he didn't want to leave it all
so broken between them.

He had to try one more time.
"Lawrence, I'm sorry that --"

The smaller boy barely touched him,
but a flare of power sent Stan
stumbling into the row of lockers.

"Don't fucking talk to me,"
Lawrence snarled as he stalked away.

Stan caught his breath, trying not to cry.
His back hurt where a padlock dug in,
but not nearly as much as his heart.

* * *

Notes:

Child abuse and teen abuse can have serious consequences. Know the signs of abuse. There are tips for talking to an abused child, what to say when you think someone is being abused, how to help an abused friend, and what to do about family abuse. Take extra precautions if you are being abused or if you need to run from an abusive home as a teen. Remember, abuse is NEVER okay and it is NEVER the victim's fault.

It's common for victims of domestic violence or child abuse to lie about how they got hurt; excuses like "I fell down the stairs" or "I ran into a door" are so common that if you actually have those accidents, almost nobody will believe you. Lawrence has had a lot of practice with this, and tries to conceal the pattern by claiming general clumsiness. These concepts also appear in the tropes Cut Himself Shaving and Abusive Parents. Know how to heal a bruise.

Understand that doing something for somebody else's own good usually isn't. There are many reasons why people refuse to accept help, chief among them negative experiences asking for help in the past. Lawrence has had exactly this kind of problem, to the point that he often interprets offers of help as impending doom. There are ways to help people who don't want help. It's important to realize the dynamics of abuse and how those affect acceptance or refusal of intervention, and in fact, child protective services can do more harm than good. Any unwelcome or uninformed effort to help may make things worse instead of better and even impair people's ability to solve their own problems. Sometimes people really lash out at those trying to help them. So know how to reach out gently. There are times when intervention is absolutely necessary, and when someone is in danger like this, that's one of them -- but understand that it can cost you a relationship, so gauge the risks mindfully.

Toxic parents can do a lot of damage. Abuse survivors often develop a love-hate relationship with their abuser. This is why Lawrence conflates love and hurt. There are ways to deal with an abusive or otherwise terrible father.

Abuse can be addressed by various means.  Removing children from an abusive home and placing them in foster care necessarily causes harm, by interrupting family ties and taking them out of a familiar environment, so it should be a last resort.  In Terramagne, this is done primarily in cases where both parents are completely unfit and unsafe.  Removing the abuser  places the disruption properly on the offending party, and allows the child to stay in a familiar place with a related adult.  In Terramagne, this is a favored solution when one parent poses a clear and present danger but another does not.  In-home support involves leaving everyone in place while providing supervision, counseling, and other services intended to resolve the problems.  This is much less expensive and damaging, has a pretty good success rate, and is preferred in cases where the danger is lower or intermittent with a reasonable chance that intervention can actually fix it.  Remember that in a world with superpowers, a domestic disturbance could involve a soup capable of wreaking utter havoc; the stakes are inherently higher, so people have more incentive to learn how to solve problems effectively and safely. 

It's hard to connect with someone who is afraid, angry, or hurting. Know how to handle an angry person or console an upset friend. Stan actually has pretty good skills here; it's just that Lawrence is waaayyy past rational.

Touch aversion means that someone reacts badly to physical contact. It can be physical, psychological, or both. It often results from bullying or abuse -- victims learn to associate touch with pain instead of comfort. This can correspond to attachment disorders, including the bizarre "come here/go away" dynamic of disorganized attachment. You can see how Lawrence feels drawn to Stan but is still skittish as hell, so it doesn't take much to tilt Lawrence from intrigued to hostile. He's starving for contact, but doesn't know how to process it.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 04:13 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
Wow. This hurt. I so want a happy ending for these two.

Does Terramagne have Mandatory Reporters? If so, the school nurse is definitely one.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 04:55 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I expect there will be a happy ending eventually, but it's going to be pretty rocky for a while. These are teenagers we're talking about, after all.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-07-15 09:47 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
*nods*

In other words, the kind of thing that's much more fun to read about than to live through.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-07-15 09:48 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
(me, not logged in)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 06:55 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
I hope so.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2014-07-15 06:54 pm (UTC)
helgatwb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] helgatwb
All I can think is that there has to be a better way. Lawrence needs his agency. But he also needs to not be abused any more. And poor Stan, caught between a rock and a hard place.

Btw, do you know where using 'agency' in this context came from? I used it in a conversation with my husband, and completely confuzzled the poor man. An internet search came up with nothing.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 04:56 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
We already know that Antimatter can do a form of speed-healing on himself. You'd think a bruise would be easier to handle than an open cut; why doesn't he minimize these things on his way to school? Especially since he knows it draws unwelcome attention when he's got bruises on his face. Would this come under the heading of "a cry for help"?

Lawrence

Date: 2014-07-15 08:34 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Another excellent post, absolutely no complaints about it or how the story line is playing out.

But I have a slightly different question about Lawrence's home life: if his dad was the "only one who paid attention to him," is he actually better off yet?

Or is the secondary support/education supposed to help his remaining parent learn better strategies?

Because I get the feeling he's fifteen or sixteen, and will age out far sooner than it would take to completely reteach the other parent some decent parental supervision skills.

Are there going to be other avenues for /him/ in particular? Jobs, mentors, reasons to legitimately stay away from home where he's at least mildly neglected in favor of a place where the can ask questions and have conversations?

Re: Lawrence

Date: 2014-07-16 08:20 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
So he's at the start of a series of mistakes. I can see that; he's had a lot of bad experiences but not much /experience/ overall, so he doesn't have a lot of information to use in making decisions to begin with. And he's pretty much in the WORST position to make decisions.

One of the things I borrowed from Al-Anon is HALT- never make decisions when Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, because your judgment suffers. He's at least three of the four, and I think his psychological hunger for acknowledgment counts, making it a winning ticket in the "big mistake" lottery!

Re: Lawrence

Date: 2014-07-16 08:49 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
>> One of the things I borrowed from Al-Anon is HALT- never make decisions when Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, because your judgment suffers. <<

>>That's a great rule for people who have the luxury of ever being NOT those things. But if you're abused, you usually have at least one and usually several of them happening. If you have any kind of chronic condition, same problem. I've had this conversation with folks who have things like migraines, and it's a whole different set of coping skills when your headache can last for a week. Putting off a decision until after you've eaten or slept is usually possible. Putting it off until your one or two good days a month? Often not feasible. So then you have to learn how to make livable decisions while wrecked.<<

I've got similar situations, but the idea is to make things as favorable for yourself as you /can/ before you make a decision. If you're going to be facing a change in health insurance next December, look at the options as many times as you can when feeling well, rested, and without feeling like the sky is falling. Otherwise, Dec 01 leads to panic, which leads to late nights, which leads to stress and so forth, until you pick the one which seems cheapest... and then find out the specialist you need for that chronic but manageable condition isn't even ON the list of people you can see under the new plan.

Lawrence, as an abused kid, needs a better baseline, true. But he's going to make decisions based on the patterns he UNDERSTANDS as much as on the way he's feeling at the time, and that's not going to lead to particularly good results, either.

Seriously, drop a vegan into a largely meat-oriented /culture/ and watch them flounder for /anything/ they can deal with. Ditto for dropping Thag the Barbarian (who thinks a balanced diet is eating as much beef as pork, for example) into a vegan society and thon'll have as many problems as the other guy.

I'd like for Lawrence to have help sooner, so he doesn't need /decades/ to deal with all the bad tape and baggage. Here's hoping!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-07-15 01:51 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Oof. That hits (*wince*) kinda close to home... is okay now, more than okay, really :) but ...

But coming out the other side of a story like that with the love and support of the younglings involved is the second best feeling in the world.

Thoughts

Date: 2014-07-15 05:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Oof. That hits (*wince*) kinda close to home... is okay now, more than okay, really :) but ... <<

My sympathies for the resonance. I'm glad things are better now.

>> But coming out the other side of a story like that with the love and support of the younglings involved is the second best feeling in the world. <<

Yes, that's true. Some kids are desperate to be rescued, but even they tend to have mixed feelings. It's rare for the abuse to be so bad that there's no love involved, just hate and fear. Most of the time it's very conflicted, and that makes it difficult for the survivors to appreciate the rescue. Working through that viper's nest of feelings is difficult and time-consuming.

Lawrence has the advantage of a supportive friend; whenever Lawrence stops acting out, Stan will still be there for him. They also have an adult mentor, and let me tell you, Hefty is worth his weight in spare oxygen.

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