ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the February 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "be still my beating heart" square in my 12-17-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

WARNING: This poem deals with some intense topics. The detailed warnings contain spoilers; highlight to read. Thanks to notably inept parenting, Cassandra has reached legal adulthood with minimal idea how to live a mature and functional life. In this poem she's struggling with sexuality and inadvertently steps all over Groundhog in the process. Inexperience, consent issues, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, confusion, angst, and other unpleasantness ensue. Then Groundhog overextends himself a bit and has trouble dealing with the outside world. But in the end, they manage to get through a conversation about healthy sexuality, and Cassandra selects some useful materials for personal exploration. If these are sensitive issues for you, consider your headspace before deciding whether to read onward.


"To Feel the Freedom"


Groundhog watched Cassandra
flounder through her new adulthood.
It soon became painfully clear that
her overbearing parents had left her
with a great desire for independence
but very little preparation for it.

By the time she came out of the fog
from her superpower injury and
her panicky escape from home, she was
sputtering with uncontrolled energy
that sent her skidding from one project
to another, eager to try new things
but unsure how to analyze any of them.

Groundhog was nevertheless blindsided
when she plopped herself in his lap and kissed him.

"Okay, whoa, what?" he said
as he scrambled out from under her.
"Where the heck did that come from?"

"I'm eighteen so I don't have to worry about
my stupid parents and their stupid rules anymore,"
Cassandra said, pressing so close that he could
feel her heart fluttering. "I can make out if I want to.
You're nice and I like you, so let's do it."

Groundhog shook his head. "I don't think
that's a good idea, Cassandra."

"Did I -- did I not start right?" she said,
her face crumpling as she switched
from assertive to insecure in an instant.
"I could do it over. What do normal people do?"

"Ideally, they ask if the other person is
interested first," he said as gently as possible.

As quickly as it had gone, her determination returned.
"Well fine then, if you don't want me, I'll go
find somebody else who does!"
She flounced out the door.

"Shit shit shit," Groundhog said,
raking a hand through his short hair.
He approached the door, wavered,
turned on his heel and began
pacing his apartment instead.

He pulled out his smartphone,
brought up Aidan's entry, but then
hesitated over the icons.

If you're not sure it's an emergency,
it probably is,
he remembered Aidan saying,
and pushed the emergency icon.

Aidan picked up halfway through the second ring.
"Eunan, what's wrong?" he asked at once.

"Cassandra sat on me and kissed me,
and I -- I don't think I handled it very well,"
Groundhog admitted. "She said that if
I wouldn't give her what she wanted,
then she'd find someone else who would."

Aidan said something low and tense
in a language that Groundhog didn't know.
"Are you all right?" Aidan asked.

"Yeah -- well, no, I'm a little shook up,
but she didn't hurt me, just shocked me,"
Groundhog admitted. "I wasn't expecting that
from someone with her background."

"Sometimes a repressive environment
makes people act out when the pressure
suddenly disappears," Aidan explained.
"Girls who grow up with expectations of purity
can rebel through casual or risky sex."

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Groundhog whispered,
clenching the phone in a sweaty hand. "I don't want
her to get hurt just because I wasn't -- oh hell, Aidan,
I know she's eighteen but it's a soft eighteen.
She still reads like a kid to me; I almost didn't
let her stay with me because of it."

"I understand your feelings," Aidan said.
"I expected that something like this might happen,
not this specifically, but that she would
get a little wild in her explorations
once she started to feel the freedom."

"It's like she's determined to make
all the mistakes in the world
as fast as possible, just because
now she can," Groundhog said.
"Aidan, I'm scared. How do I
keep her from getting hurt
without driving her away?"

"Try to help her understand that
she has options now and doesn't
have to flail around on her own,"
Aidan suggested. "Do you have
any idea where she went?"

Groundhog stopped and thought about it.
"She didn't say, but if she's on the prowl
for a casual hookup, the logical place
for that is a bar," he said.

"Check the ones closest to you.
She probably won't go far," Aidan said.
"If you find her, tell her that you're not angry
and you'd like to talk about what happened
so that she has time to think over her choices
instead of making a snap decision she might regret later.
Sexual mistakes can have lasting consequences."

"Okay," Groundhog said, "okay, I can do that."

He had training in how to handle a crisis.
It was just easier to do in his dayjob
than in personal circumstances.
At least when the red phone rang,
he had some warning of trouble on the line.

After finishing the conversation with Aidan,
Groundhog screwed up his courage
and put on his jacket.

He knew the neighborhood around his building well,
because on good days he went out walking
to build his tolerance for going outside.

There were three bars within the nine-block square
that he frequented: a scuzzy little alley joint,
an all-purpose bar, and an upscale hotspot for singles.

Bricks-n-Lix was crowded and smoky,
taking only a few minutes to determine
that Cassandra wasn't there, but also
taking a toll on Groundhog's tolerance
for people and public places.

The Watering Hole had a sign covered
in frisky African animals, but inside
it was actually less crowded.
Groundhog kept a hand on the wall
to steady himself as he searched the bar.

He found Cassandra at one of the tables,
surveying the other patrons nearby
like a cheetah sizing up a herd of gazelles.

"Hey," Groundhog said quietly.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" she snapped.
"You had your chance and you blew it."

"I'm not angry about that," Groundhog said.
"I just wanted to make sure you're okay."

"You're not my father," Cassandra said,
crossing her arms over her chest.
"You can't tell me what to do."

"Thank goodness for that," he replied.
"Your father sounds like a jerk. I'm here
as a friend, because I'm worried about you.
I want you to think about your choices,
make sure you're choosing something
that you really want, and not just doing
the opposite of whatever your parents said."

"Oh yeah?" she said. "And what if my choice
is to stay here and find someone to screw?"

Groundhog sighed. "Then it's your choice,"
he made himself say. "Did you find
the personal supplies in the bathroom?
If not, the men's room here has a dispenser
for free protection, so the ladies' should too."

"I can take care of myself," said Cassandra.

"Then I'll take your word for it,"
Groundhog said, turning to leave.

He was getting that unpleasant sense again,
where everything went muffled and distant
so that he could hardly feel his feet,
which made him anxious because
then he couldn't tell if he was
actually touching the floor.

One hip whacked into the corner of a table,
making him stumble and swear.

Cassandra sprang out of her chair to catch him
and hold him steady. "Hey, are you okay?"
she said. "I didn't break you, did I?
If I broke you, Aidan will skin me."

Groundhog had a white-knuckled grip
on the edge of the table. "You didn't break me,"
he said. "I just ... pushed myself a little
farther than would have been ideal."

"Because of me," Cassandra said.

"It was my decision," Groundhog insisted.
"I couldn't just let you go running off and
maybe get hurt without at least trying
to patch things up. Friends don't do that."

"My hero," she said softly. "Okay, fine.
I'll walk you home. I'd feel awful if
you went stumbling off by yourself
and something bad happened to you."

Groundhog hadn't felt this unheroic since
that time he had failed to get the kitten out of the tree.
What kind of a hero needed help from the person
he was supposed to have rescued?

Outside the bar there was entirely too much air
and the sky was very far away. Groundhog
swallowed hard and kept his gaze on his feet.

Cassandra draped one arm over his shoulders
and leaned on him, for once using her height
to good advantage instead of trying to hide it.
With that assistance, Groundhog could feel
the sidewalk under his feet again,
which made him less shaky.

Once they got home and closed the door,
Groundhog felt better. He sat on the couch
and took a few deep breaths. "Thanks," he said.
"I mean, thanks for walking me home and
maybe taking a little time to think things over.
I don't want you to feel unwelcome here.
You just caught me completely off guard."

"I'm sorry I ran off like that and made you
chase after me," Cassandra said.
She leaned on the far arm of the couch,
but twisted so she could look at him.
"I know you said that sometimes
it takes a lot out of you to go outdoors,
but I guess I didn't expect it to be that bad,
like you were hungover or something."

"Psh. That wasn't bad," Groundhog said.
"Bad is when I have to call someone
to pick me up because I can't move."

That always made him feel like a complete failure,
because teleporters were supposed to be for emergencies,
no matter how many times Tumbler and the others
had told him, "You call if you need me."

He'd gotten to where he could make the call,
but not to where he felt comfortable with it.

"I'm really sorry," Cassandra said.
"You shouldn't have to deal with my ..."
She waved a hand. "... baggage."

"We all have our baggage," Groundhog said quietly.
"Apology accepted. I'm sorry if I made you
feel unwanted or uncomfortable, too."

"Yeah, okay," Cassandra said. "Can I maybe ...
make it up to you somehow?"

"Do you feel like talking about this?"
Groundhog said. "I have some ideas."

They had floated up through his brain
as he walked, which was one reason
he insisted on pushing his limits:
moving around helped him to think
and to process his feelings.

"Yeah, I guess," Cassandra said.

"Okay, this whole thing started because
you wanted to explore a little," said Groundhog.
"What did your parents think about sex?"

"It's bad," Cassandra said.

"Premarital sex, casual sex, or what?"
said Groundhog.

One angular shoulder lifted and fell.
"I think all of it," Cassandra said.
"They weren't really specific, you know?
Beyond Don't do it, that's dirty."

"So they'd frown on things like erotica
and adult toys?" Groundhog said.

He could feel himself blushing,
because he didn't usually talk about
this stuff with other people, and yes, he did
still think of her as more girl than woman.
He reminded himself firmly that Cassandra
was an adult and needed his help.

Now she was blushing too, and all right,
fine, they could be embarrassed together.
"Um, yeah, pretty much everything."

"Those are things you could explore
that would break your parents' rules,
hopefully be fun for you, and also help you
discover what you like so that when you go
looking for a partner, you won't be hunting blind,"
Groundhog said. "I could share some resources."

Cassandra gave him a sidelong look.
"How do you know about this stuff?"
she asked him.

"I do okay now, but for a long time
I just didn't go out very much," he said.
"Even now, my job makes it challenging
to meet people and maintain relationships.
Sure I'd like to fall in love someday, but
I've also spent a lot quality time with myself."
He held up a hand. "Don't pity me for that.
I really do mean quality time. That's how I
know the resources worth recommending."

"So you have, what, a box full of those
dirty magazines that boys like?" she said.

Groundhog shook his head. "I'm not comfortable
jumping into the deep end with that much
personal detail," he said. "I will tell you that
I have a collection of text, images, and toys.
Wait here and I'll get you started."

He got up to fetch his laptop.
When he came back, he found her
piling dishes into the sink.

"I'll wash these later," she offered.
"You know, so you don't have to
look out any more windows today."

"That's very thoughtful, thank you,"
he said, sitting down to open his laptop.
and bring up his list of favorite links.

"So what is all this stuff?" Cassandra asked
as she joined him on the couch again.

"Some of these sites are coed,
and some cater to men," he explained.
"There are others primarily for women."

"Guess I'll have to find those on my own,"
Cassandra said glumly.

"No, I know a few to start with," Groundhog said.
"Here, Good Vibrations is a go-to spot for some friends."

Cassandra let go of the far arm of the couch
and leaned toward him. "Wow, that is a lot of pink,"
she said. "Purple too. Those are some funny shapes,
I mean, what do those even do? Yeek, not cheap though."

"There are some things on this site which are affordable,
but no, nothing is cheap. Never buy cheap sex toys,
because you can get hurt that way," Groundhog said.
"Don't worry about the cost, though -- Aidan left me
some extra for expenses, and I guarantee that he counts
supplies for sexual health as money well spent."

"They have books?" Cassandra exclaimed,
bouncing a little on the cushions.

"Quite an excellent selection of nonfiction,
plus some erotic fiction, and maybe a little
photography or art," Groundhog said.
"You like reading, then?"

Cassandra nodded absently as she
flicked through the options.
"Yeah, I'm kind of a bookworm,"
she said. "You think they'd have art?
I like drawing and painting too, just
haven't had much chance to practice."

"Then those should help you learn a lot,"
Groundhog said. "How about you pick out
a practical guide or two, an art book, and
some erotic fiction -- maybe an anthology
so you can sample different things. They have
some great advice on how to choose toys, too;
look for a simple one, not a gizmology wannabe.
That should be enough to start with today."

Cassandra spent a few minutes paging through
the options, and mumbling questions.
Groundhog offered to let her browse in private,
but she shook her head. "I'd get lost," she said.
"All I got was the sex ed legally required at school.
My parents opted me out of everything they could."

In the end she settled on a plain waterproof vibrator
plus the books S.E.X., Orgasmic: Erotica for Women,
and the more whimsical Color My Boobs.

"Good choices," Groundhog said. "Do you think
you might like women as well as men?"

"I don't know, I haven't had room to think about it,"
Cassandra said. "I just thought that
the boobs book looked like fun."

"Fun is definitely the goal here,"
Groundhog said firmly. "I don't think I have
anything to color with, though. Do you want
crayons, colored pencils, or something else?"

"Colored pencils ... if it's not too much trouble?"
Cassandra said. "I liked the ones we had in art class.
There were all different kinds, pencils and sticks and stuff."

So Groundhog opened a different search
to find a mixed media set of colored pencils
and a smaller set for diverse skin tones.
"There, that should do it for now," he said.

Suddenly Cassandra said, "Oh God,"
and buried her face in her hands.

"What's wrong?" Groundhog asked.

"I just realized ... I sleep on the couch,"
she groaned. "I don't have a room or anything.
Where would I even ...? This is so stupid."

"You could use the bathroom," Groundhog said.
"You picked a waterproof toy, which is smart,
because lots of people like to play in the tub.
On the other hand, I could go do laundry or
hang out in the rec room for an hour or two,
and call you before I come back."

"I don't want to kick you out of your
own apartment," Cassandra said.

"It's not kicking me out if I offer," Groundhog said.
"I really do need to visit the laundry room
at least once a week, and I try to spend time
socializing with my neighbors as well."

"Okay, then, if you're sure," she said.

"I'm sure I want you to feel comfortable here
and have a chance to learn about yourself,"
Groundhog said. "Your parents may not have
given you a very good foundation, and I know
you had to scram without much stuff -- but you're
smart and determined, so you just need to think about
what abstract resources you have and how to use them."

"Abstract resources?" Cassandra echoed, frowning.

"You're a bookworm, so you can learn by reading.
You're an artist, so you can learn from pictures,"
Groundhog said. "Things like that."

"What about friends?" she said,
leaning delicately against him.

Slowly, so that she could move away if she chose,
Groundhog reached an arm around Cassandra.
"Social resources, support network," he said.
"Friends definitely count."

"Is it okay to sit like this?" she whispered.

"It is if we both want to," Groundhog said.
"I'm gathering your parents did a lousy job
of teaching you about boundaries, too,
but this is stuff you can learn. I have
complete faith in your ability to figure it out.
I'll help if you want me to."

"I want ... to feel the freedom
that comes with adulthood," she said.

"Of course you do," Groundhog agreed.
"Everyone wants freedom! It's a precious thing.
That's another reason why I keep testing my limits.
I want to be free to explore the world, without
getting pulled up short by my own mind."

"You deserve freedom," said Cassandra.

"Everyone does," said Groundhog,
and on that they could both agree.

* * *

Notes:

"Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain... To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices - today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it."
-- Kevyn Aucoin

Raising responsible teens requires building a relationship of trust and adding responsibilities gradually. That obviously hasn't happened here, and the fallout is awful.

Overbearing parents cause a variety of negative effects, including a higher chance of delinquent behavior. There are ways to recover from control-freak parenting. It basically entails the same thing as a healthy adolescence: finding relationships of trust, and exploring slowly.

Repressive culture can mangle people's ability to identify and articulate consent for themselves or others. The liberal demand for explicit consent ignores this issue, but is a real and serious concern which lies at the root of the whole consent problem. Repressing sexuality can also create an opposite reaction where young people act out sexually. None of this is good either.

Despite a lot of unhelpful myths like "men always want sex," it is possible for women to sexually assault men. Sexual misconduct spans a wide range of activites including touch without consent and making another person touch any of one's intimate bits. What Cassandra does by sitting on Groundhog and kissing him without warning may technically qualify, depending on the details of local law, but it's done out of ignorance rather than malice. (Imagine if the sexes were reversed, and it may be easier to see.) Her parents prevented her from learning much about human sexuality, so all she has to go on are glimpses of pop culture and public affection, coupled with her own urges to break free of that background. While it is unfun, it doesn't do damage, and Groundhog is mature enough to handle it -- eventually -- by redirecting to something mutually acceptable. Ideally, clear consent makes sexual activity safer and more enjoyable. As mentioned above, however, not everyone has the advantage of a healthy and fully-informed background. Sometimes you just have to work with what you've got and try to navigate mistakes so they don't turn into major disasters.

Free condoms and other sexual health supplies appear occasionally in local-America in schools and public events. Such offerings are much more common in Terramagne.

Dissociation is a feeling of distance from reality. Understand how to prevent such zoning out. Derealization is a sense that everything is nebulous or imaginary. There are ways to cope with derealization. Both of these can occur due to anxiety over various issues. Know how to overcome anxiety. Agoraphobia is intense fear of open spaces. There are steps for handling agoraphobia. Groundhog has agoraphobia due to a traumatic manifestation of his Flight power. He has mostly overcome this, but going outside still requires a certain amount of energy and concentration. So if he pushes himself too far, he can wind up with unpleasant symptoms of anxiety, derealization, and dissociation.

Friendship is important for a healthy lifestyle. True friends help each other cope with life challenges and celebrate successes.

Heroism is a confluence of courageous and altruistic traits. Groundhog, who hangs around with superheroes all the time, has trouble seeing his own activities as heroic. (This is true of most heroes.) Cassandra, however, is perfectly capable of recognizing that it's heroic to dash into a daunting situation to keep a friend from getting hurt.

Everyone has baggage. Part of living a happy life entails learning how to unpack yours.

Sexual education includes information and skills for safe, healthy, enjoyable practices in erotic and romantic areas. L-America has many serious barriers to complete and accurate sex ed. T-America is better in that the basics are mandated so that parents can't block their offspring from life-saving information, although parents can opt out of more detailed classwork, and students can opt out if they feel too uncomfortable because it's not legal to force anyone to listen to sexualized conversation. The good schools offer not just basics but comprehensive attention to anatomy, health, masturbation, sexual orientation and gender identity, consent, relationships, practices and precautions. What happens above is an example of the negative results that can come from not having that more detailed information about how consent works and how healthy romances begin.

(This section is adult sex stuff.)

Good Vibrations offers extensive resources on the hows of sex, vibrators, books, and other goodies. Cassandra picks out S.E.X., Orgasmic: Erotica for Women, Color My Boobs, and a waterproof vibrator.

Colored pencils come in prismatic and skin tones. T-America has much better access to ethnic spectrum art supplies.

Personal boundaries require thoughtful development. Understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries allows people to define their social circles and distinguish appropriate interactions at each level. Public space can be designed to accommodate personal boundaries, something that T-America does better than here. Control over one's own boundaries is what enables healthy intimacy. Understand how to set your own boundaries, respect other people's boundaries, and deal with someone who does not respect personal boundaries.

Apartment building amenities vary from one place to another. The laundry room and rec room are just the beginning of the goodies at the Skylark Apartment Building where Groundhog lives. Some of the apartments have a private washer and dryer, but not all of them do, and some people just like being able to do six loads all at once. You can pay with coins or get a reloadable swipe card which is cheaper. Gaming offers a popular way to socialize.

Freedom is a basic human need. Without it, teenagers rebel. The development of autonomy is a necessary part of adolescence. Teenage risk-taking reflects changes in the brain during adolescence. Friends influence people's choices. Maturity requires learning how to balance freedom and responsibility, individuality and connections.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-23 04:54 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
HHhaaaa, more good stuff, resolving troubles.

• I've also spent a lot ^ quality time with myself
^ of

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-23 11:13 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Oh, poor kid. I had my own parent-related issues around sexuality, and my parents weren't nearly as bad as hers! She might benefit from a female friend to discuss these things with, as well as Groundhog.

(more later, we're out the door for the weekend)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-26 06:25 am (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Yay, more healing.

*chuckles* a certain Marvin Gaye tune comes to mind...

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-30 04:36 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Re skin-tone art pencils, I spotted these on a dealer table at the con, and it made me think of you.

This kind of "rebound" when someone is finally free of an extremely repressive environment is very realistic. And of course it's made worse because that very repressiveness means she hasn't had much chance to develop judgment about people and situations. I've encountered teenagers with helicopter parents about whom my first thought was, "That kid is going to hit 18 and run flat wild, and possibly get into far worse trouble than their parents are imagining, just because they won't have the skills to stay out of it."

I can totally grok that she felt hurt and rejected when Groundhog said no, and I'm glad they were able to work past that particular issue and negotiate to the level of affectionate contact, because she needs that too. (And so does Groundhog!)

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-23 01:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clockworklady.livejournal.com

*blushes* A little important for me now. My long-term boyfriend, who is 21, has Dissociative Identity Disorder. While his two 'siblings' rarely ever come out, his sister is lonely when she wakes up in his chronically-pained body. As a result of what she had to shield him from when he was 13, she has complained of having high passionate impulses but has always remained 13, despite her maturity and her 'real' body seeming closer to 16- Australian age of consent.
It's bad enough being a lonely bicurious teen, but she's in the body of her brother- who has a girlfriend- and if she was able to find an understanding partner, what she can actually consent to safely is indeterminable. It's hard to help her without making her feel like she's being taunted by what she doesn't or can't have or do, such as asking someone her age out on a date or even wearing her ideal clothes in private (my boyfriend does cross-dress sometimes and has breast forms that she's allowed to use also). Her feelings for me are ambiguous: mostly sisterly affection and wanting a bit of romance, but only to the extent all three of us would be okay with- she's so happy her brother found someone and doesn't want that interfered with. Just kisses and cuddles.
She was always going to get hugs, but it's hard to find out what she can practice on her own. She has gender dysphoria, but she knows the body she inhabits occasionally is her brother's most of the time- she will never want him to change it for her sake. I let her pick out a body massager, which can also be good for chronic pain- penetrative objects aren't an option for her due to trauma, even counting the ones not made for vaginas only. Most sensual tips are written for when you have a trustworthy partner and masturbation tips are written for cis-sexual people. I hate the idea that she can't find some happiness when she's out.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-04-26 01:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paantha.livejournal.com
Wow.

Further proof that Groundhog is a) awesome and b) an utter love. Hero, indeed.

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