ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This story belongs to the series Love Is For Children which includes "Love Is for Children," "Hairpins," "Blended," "Am I Not," "Eggshells," "Dolls and Guys,""Saudades," "Querencia," "Turnabout Is Fair Play," "Touching Moments," "Splash," "Coming Around," "Birthday Girl," "No Winter Lasts Forever," "Hide and Seek," "Kernel Error," "Happy Hour," "Green Eggs and Hulk,""kintsukuroi," "Little and Broken, but Still Good," and "Up the Water Spout."

Fandom: The Avengers
Characters: Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanova, Phil Coulson, Betty Ross, Clint Barton, Tony Stark, JARVIS, Bruce Banner
Medium: Poetry
Warnings: Past imprisonment, torture, experimentation. PTSD. Flashbacks. Dissociation. Cyclic amnesia. Temporal trauma. Broken people. Internalized oppression. Low sense of self-worth. Self-destructive behavior. Shame. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Physical and emotional whump.
Summary: Bucky experiences life in fragments as his memory cycles through past and present.
Notes: Hurt/Comfort. Mercy. Freedom. Good and evil. Family of choice. Team as family. Trauma and recovery. Healing. Friendship. Love. Nonsexual intimacy. No sex. Trust. Memory. Artificial intelligence. Safety and security. Competence. #coulsonlives

This story spans many different times in Bucky's life. It also fills the "amnesia" square in my 6-10-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. I know that this audience prefers to read poems all at once, but this one runs over 3,000 words so I'm going to break it into three parts to avoid the risk of hangfiring the blogware. If you want to read it all at once, just wait until the third part goes up.

A note on feedback: While it's not necessary to comment on every post I make, remember that I don't know who reads/likes things if nobody says anything. Particularly on long stories, I've discovered that I get antsy if there's nothing but crickets chirping for several posts. So it helps to give me feedback at least once, even if it's just "I like this" or "This one doesn't grab me." First and last episodes are ideal if you rarely feel inspired to comment in the middle.

Anonymous commenters: You don't have to specify exactly who you are, but it helps to have a first name or a username from some other service, so I have some idea of who's saying which and how many different "Anonymous" folks there are. You can just type some kind of identifier at the end of your comment.

(Also the perk story "Brotherlove, Brotherlust" is still open for audience activity to reveal new material; see Part 1 and Part 2.)

Skip to Part 3.

"The Life of the Dead" Part 1

It is 2013.

Bucky is alive.
Bucky is dead.
These two things
are equally true.

It is 1943.

The shield is heavy
in his hands as he charges,
desperate to protect Steve,
bullets pinging off the metal
like deadly hailstones,
pushing Bucky back
until he falls.

He falls.

In his mind,
he never stops falling.

It is 2013.

He knows this
because he has been told.

He is flat on his back
in an overstarched bed,
too hurt and too sick to move
and he doesn't know why,
can't even remember his own name --

but Steve is there,
wrong size, too big and tall,
his clean scent and clear breathing
so joyful to Bucky that the tears come

and he can't find his voice
to tell them why, tell Steve
that it's okay not to worry he's fine.

It is 1942.

Bucky has his marching papers.
He's proud and he's scared.

Mostly he's scared for Steve who is
liable to get his punk self killed
without Bucky to protect him,
but there's a war on, you know,
and Bucky has to do his part.

He's angry when he catches
Steve trying to enlist, again,
terrified that Steve might
somehow succeed.

Bucky throws away Steve's papers
and drags him home.

It's 2013.

She is beautiful and deadly
like the knife that his hand recalls,
her hair the color of sunset clouds
and blood in a brick alley.

There was a little girl, once,
with a face like that, pointed
enough to make his heart bleed.

Bucky can't remember her name
but she presses her thumb hard
into his right palm like the hilt of a knife
instead of just petting him.

She kisses his forehead and whispers,
"Доверяй, но проверяй."
Trust, but verify.

He comprehends,
but he doesn't understand.

It is 1940.

Bucky has a dame on each arm,
but they're not both for him,
they never are --

he always brings a spare
for Steve, because
Steve's too shy to get his own.

They're pretty in a pouty way,
a blonde and a brunette:
the blonde chesty and wild,
the brunette slimmer and soft.

Bucky finds Steve and
hands off the brunette to him
so they can all go dancing.

Steve gives her a bashful grin
and offers her his elbow.

It's fun for a while, until
Bucky hears Steve wheezing
and finds him in a corner.

"What the hell happened?"
Bucky says, patting Steve
on the cheek with anxious hands.

"Dancing," Steve gasps.
"She left ... 'nother guy."

Bucky calls her a few names
that he learned from the stevedores
as he hoists Steve's skinny arm
over his shoulders to help him home
so that Steve can rest.

He forgets all about the blonde.

He forgets everything.

It is 2013.

Bucky can't remember
anything but his own name,
and Steve's of course because
Steve is the brother of his soul,
a bond deeper than blood or bone.

Steve is there, holding his right hand,
and on the other side is a man,
small and soft as a desk-jockey.

Bucky can feel them both,
two sets of fingers twined with his,
but they don't feel the same.

He looks down and sees
that his left arm is metal,
gleaming and hideous --

but the stranger strokes it,
gently, slowly, like soothing a cat,
as he says, "This is a prosthetic.
Focus on my touch if you can.
My name is Phil. Yours is Bucky.
You faded out on us just now.
How are you feeling?"

"Lost," says Bucky.

It is 1932.

Steve is down in an alley,
getting the stuffing beat out of him
over a wet wad of kitten
that's crawled behind a trash can.

Bucky rips into the other two boys
and they're bigger but he's meaner
so he sends them running for their mamas.

He picks up Steve, dusts him off.

Steve is pouring blood from a split lip.
"M'fine," he slurs, even though he isn't.
"Find the kitty. They was gonna kill 'er."

Bucky finds the kitten.
She scratches his arms all to hell.
When Steve takes her, though, she purrs.


It is 2013.

Bucky's hair is bugging him
and he yanks on it, hard --
sometimes he wishes that
he could just rip it all out
and be done with it.

Gentle hands catch him
by the wrist and carefully
untangle the strands
from around his fingers.

"Be nice to your hair, Bucky,"
says Betty. She brushes away
a few loose threads of brown.

"I hate my fucking hair,"
he snarls, helpless with rage
that crashes over him
in a sudden, drowning wave.

"You hate your hair,"
Betty says, her voice even.
"What else about it?"

The memories come bubbling up
like water through cracked ice,
threatening to suck him down --

rough hands shoving him
into the cryochamber,
waking up with his hair
stuck to his face like cobwebs,
hacking it off with a knife,
again again never stays gone --

so that he has to gasp for air.
"I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay," Betty says.
"What about my hair, then?"

"It's pretty," says Bucky,
because it is, never mind that
she is Bruce's best girl, not his.

"Would you like to brush it?"
she asks, and his hands remember
the feel of a woman's hair, so soft.

She teaches him how to be gentle
with the long dark locks of her hair.

She teaches him how to be gentle with himself.

It is 1943.

Bucky can feel
the trees and the snow and
the blood running from his body.

He wavers in and out of consciousness.

Captured. Enemy hands.

Harsh voices barking at each other
in German, rough fingers on him,
dragging him by the ankles --
his head bumps over a rock
and the pain puts him out again.

He wakes to someone
sawing at his shoulder
with an actual saw.

Screams himself hoarse.
Starts fading out again.
Wants to die.


* * *


"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
-- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Multiple scenes in this poem come from the two Captain America movies The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier.

"Доверяй, но проверяй."
Trust, but verify.
-- Russian proverb

"She understands, but she doesn't comprehend."
-- River Tam

PTSD in the family means learning how to help someone through dissociation or flashbacks.

People debate whether hair-pulling counts as self-harm or is something different. I think it can be either, depending on context. Bucky is pretty clear about hating this part of himself; sometimes the damage is accidental but other times deliberate. He also came about it from a different angle than most people -- it's a reaction to his POW abuse, loss of body autonomy, and especially the timebending effects of the cryochamber. There are ways to cope with hair-pulling.

Gentleness is a virtue that can be taught and learned. Being gentle with yourself is the virtue of self-compassion, which can also be learned.

Suicidal thoughts may correspond to experiences of torture. Helping torture victims is difficult but possible. There is various advice on avoiding or coping with torture. Professional assistance is often needed to recover.

[To be continued in Part 2 ...]


Date: 2014-10-17 06:42 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I'm not speechless--I'm /breathless/. This is so /different/ and painful and wonderfully promising. The glimpses of Bucky Before and the help he doesn't recognize yet keep it from being downwright horrifying, but instead of a single punch to the gut it's a lingering one-two.

Wow, again. I so want to read the next part!

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-17 08:13 am (UTC)
rootsofthestories: A woman wandering into the forest (Default)
From: [personal profile] rootsofthestories
SO, I have to read anything with Bucky very carefully because uhm...Reasons. I'm jut wanting oto get it out there that i am looking forward to this and even by the first few lines, my stomach turns a little in both nerves and anticipation.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-17 10:02 am (UTC)
rootsofthestories: A woman wandering into the forest (Default)
From: [personal profile] rootsofthestories
So, I come back having read it and I....Yes, thank you. This is lovely and I am glad I came back to it, even though it is hard to read. I wish I had the ability to articulate whats going through my head with this but goodness, it's not quite there.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-18 02:35 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
This is *amazing*! Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-18 04:29 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu


(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-19 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ditto. This was powerful.


(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-20 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] tadpoleacorn
I really liked this line: "and they're bigger but he's meaner"

(no subject)

Date: 2014-10-23 02:46 am (UTC)
fred_mouse: cross stitched image reading "do not feed the data scientists" (Default)
From: [personal profile] fred_mouse
Three attempts, but I got through it. This is partly me - reading anything but brain candy has been a struggle recently.


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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