ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem came out of the July 2016 Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] shiori_makiba. It also fills the "experiments by evil scientists" square in my 7-16-16 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest, and fills the "mad scientist" square in my 4-1-16 card for the Archetypal Characters fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

WARNING: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. Turq has a horrifying past, and thus, horrifying nightmares. This batch of nightmares features child abuse and neglect, medical torture, and related mayhem. He wakes up terrified and miserable, very much in need of comfort, but unable to seek out human contact. So he finds something else which is sort of soothing. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"In the Darkness of the Soul"


Turq whimpered in his sleep,
twisting inside the confines of
the sleeping bag that held him.

"This is for your own good,"
the Carvers said when they
took him out of his school and
sent him to a special one. "You're
not Chinese, so quit faking it."

Turq didn't know much Chinese,
but he wrote the words he knew
in dust, in water, in fog on mirrors
so that he would remember.

"This is for your own good,"
the Millers said as they dragged
him to church. "You need to learn
proper, God-fearing ways and
not that heathen nonsense."

Turq sat in the pews,
but his thoughts went to
the Four Noble Truths and
the refusal to accept violence
that was offered to him.

"This is for your own good,"
the police said when they forced
him back into the foster families
that he'd run away from. "You
have to stay where you're put,
you're too young to live alone."

Turq didn't tell them that he was
already living alone, in a house
with six other people in it. He had
become a refugee in his own country,
but he knew how to be a refugee.

He was really starting to hate things
that were for his own good, too.


Turq turned over, bumping
against the wall of the gazebo,
and that small pain sent him
deeper into his nightmares.

"This is for your own good,"
the mad scientist lied as he pushed
another needle into Turq's arm.
"It will make you stronger."

Turq didn't believe him, knew
that he was only acting out
of his own warped curiosity
in the darkness of the soul,
but Turq couldn't think clearly
through the rush of pain that
felt like he was burning alive
from the inside out.


In his frantic struggle
to escape the memories,
Turq rolled off his bench and
fell to the floor of the gazebo.

He woke with a jerk, fighting
to get free of the sleeping bag,
and dragged in desperate lungfuls
of the cold night air.

He had taken to sleeping
on top of the bench sometimes,
instead of curled safe inside it in
caney form, to give his scrambled brain
a chance to process things as a human.

It wasn't working very well.

Turq clenched his hands
in the sleeping bag that he
had found at the thrift store,
focusing on its details in hopes
of grounding himself.

The outside was heavy tan canvas,
the inside lined with soft flannel plaid
of red and blue, its smell a little musty.

Not even running his fingertips over
the blunt teeth of the zipper helped much.

Turq tried to concentrate on happier thoughts,
but he didn't have many of those to use.

Childhood should be carefree,
playing in the sun, but Turq's was
full of mire and landmines, all too often
living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.

He shook himself off and got up
to pace around the yard instead.

Somewhere overhead lay a sliver of moon
and a black sky sprinkled with stars,
but clouds hid them all tonight.

Turq walked in rambling loops,
listening to the shush of wavelets
against the shore of the lake and
the whisper of wind in the trees,
faintly rattling where the oaks still
held onto their brown leaves.

Automatically he swerved around
the rim of the firepit, and that angled
his route back toward the cabin.

Turq stared up at the wooden steps
which led to the door of the living floor,
but it might as well have been on the moon.

There was no way he could make himself
go in there, and besides, he was already
enough of a nuisance to Ansel without
waking him up in the middle of the night
over a freaking nightmare like a toddler.

With a sigh, Turq gave up and
shifted into caney form.

The blue creature gave his fur
a shake and a lick, then trotted
over to the staircase.

Sniffing the treads, he identified
Ansel's scent and even climbed
a few steps in pursuit of it.

The trail was faint, though,
and not very satisfying.

Besides, the human door
at the top would be impossible
for him to open like this, and Turq
really didn't want to change back.

He came back down and walked
around to the garage, which
actually had a caney door.

Inside, the soothing smell
of Ansel was everywhere.

Turq sniffed around the car
and the door to the office
where the scent lay thickly.

He even jumped up and
mouthed the round brass knob,
but could not make it turn.

Then he investigated the workshop
and found the checkered blanket
that Ansel spread on the floor when
he needed to lie down while working.

The soft wool held the comforting scent
all over it, despite the additional notes of
grease and metal and other garage smells.

It was much better than the sleeping bag,
which smelled of Turq instead of Ansel
and consequently reeked of mold and fear.

Turq looked at the door again.

Being inside made him uneasy,
but the idea of taking anything out of
the garage was downright uncomfortable.

He went back to the workbench and
dragged the shop blanket into a nest.

He might not be able to escape
the hideous pit of his memories
or the nightmares they brought,
but he was learning how to find
things that could give comfort
even in the darkness of the soul.

Turq curled up in his nest,
lay his nose on the fragrant wool,
and finally went back to sleep.

* * *

Notes:

“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
Dave Pelzer, A Child Called "It"

Horrible experiences can cause traumatic stress, including long-term conditions such as PTSD. In particular, they may impair someone's ability to seek or accept help from others. Know how to cope with it.

This is Turq's sleeping bag.

Shaolin is a branch of Buddhism which has traveled to America due to persecution in China. Among the interesting tenets is that martial art is not violence, but rather a refusal to accept delivery of violence offered by others.

Nightmares are a common symptom of PTSD. There are various treatments for PTSD nightmares and advice for health workers. People debate whether or not it's acceptable for adults to seek comfort after a nightmare, so most of the advice relates to children's nightmares. Understand how to cope with flashbacks and deal with nightmares.

See Ansel's shop blanket.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-24 08:42 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Oh...

I hurt for Turq. I'm glad he has his caney form and Ansel's blanket. I wish he was able to ask for more comfort than that...

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2016-07-24 09:27 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Yes, him going indoors is a big deal! But it's subtle because you handle the out/in distinction with gradations in the poem and because the back of my brain classifies 'garage/shop' with 'mostly outside.'

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2016-07-24 10:15 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
The gradations of inside/outside make sense.

I think that seeing shadings and distinctions is often a sign of a more healthful (because more nuanced and realistic) approach. (Though not always - sometimes it's uncertainty or over-identification with an opponent, which can be overly yielding, emotionally overwhelming, or just plain confusing).

The positive anchoring strategy I didn't quite get as I initially read (I was focusing on the looking-for-comfort-object with garage as incidental obstacle, rather than being-in-garage with the comfort object as supportive), but now I see how it's working throughout the poem.

Scent is powerful.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2016-07-25 01:41 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
>> You take him as close to a car as you can, and when he starts to get anxious, you back up to where he's calm again. Then you sit down and pet him, play with him, feed him treats, etc. Do this for a while, and the car just becomes background scenery for a fun part of the dog's life. <<

Thanks! I appreciate the step-by-step explanation.

>> The positive memories build up and buffer the negative ones. <<

Makes sense.

>> *chuckle* Turq doesn't even realize yet that he's scent-marked Ansel too. All Turq knows is that it feels right to rub himself all over someone he's attached to. It's not as strong as superpowered Pheromones, but to any animal with a good sense of smell, it says "This is mine," loud and clear. <<

Ohhhh yes. The tactile impulse to scent-mark and the response of other critters to "oh, this human is wearing a large-print sign in smell" is super-noticeable once you *know* that that's what critters are doing, but humans often can't sense the scent-mark consciously. Though some smelly dogs are an exception. :)

I remember Turq-caney has a mild, floral smell to human noses. Does the smell or the reassurance from sensing it carry over at all into his other nonhuman forms?

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2016-07-26 11:08 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
>> nd all of his forms recognize the scent markers made by any of them, so that things marked by the caney smell 'his' to Turq in human form, as do the ferret's marks to the caney, and so forth. <<

Fascinating! File under "required secondary powers..." *grins*

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-24 10:08 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Detailed comments:

>> Turq whimpered in his sleep,
twisting inside the confines of
the sleeping bag that held him. <<

Right to begin with, whimpered, twisting, confines, let us know this poem is going to a dark place.

>> took him out of his school and
sent him to a special one. "You're
not Chinese, so quit faking it.” <<

Discrimination against cross-cultural identities seems to be becoming a theme in this series of poetry. I have mixed feeling about it, but it’s certainly a topic with depth to explore.

>> Turq didn't know much Chinese,
but he wrote the words he knew
in dust, in water, in fog on mirrors
so that he would remember. <<

A powerful image. Hidden, temporary writing to aid memory is a great metaphor for many acts of resistance through self-affirmation. Dust, water, fog, and mirrors all provide a sense of transience, uncertainty, possible illusion, but also recurring pervasiveness.

>> the refusal to accept violence
that was offered to him. <<

>> Turq didn't tell them that he was
already living alone, in a house
with six other people in it. <<

>> He had
become a refugee in his own country,
but he knew how to be a refugee. <<

The double-edged nature of identifying with an outsider group; it teaches you coping skills, but not blending in. But it’s more than that too. I think I am missing nuances because I haven’t lived as a member of an ethnic or national-origin minority. Geek subculture, yes, and many other forms of outsiderness, but not either Mingxia’s situation or Turq’s. So this goes back to who Turq is and what it means for him to be culturally Chinese-American by (heart if not legal) adoption, upbringing, and personal resonance. The phrase “he know how to be a refugee” is powerful all in and of itself; it asserts that there are tremendously powerful coping skills that develop, for individuals and for cultures, with navigating life with fewer privileges and more danger.

>> Turq didn't believe him …
but Turq couldn't think clearly
through the rush of pain <<

A very solid piece of psychological description. Resisting someone else’s worldview, even when one know it to be false and harmful, takes work - more work when they have power over someone - and when they use that power to torture that erodes energy and processing power and everything.

>> He woke with a jerk, fighting
to get free of the sleeping bag,
and dragged in desperate lungfuls
of the cold night air. <<

An unpleasant awakening, but such a relief anyway!

>> He had taken to sleeping
on top of the bench sometimes,
instead of curled safe inside it in
caney form, to give his scrambled brain
a chance to process things as a human. <<

Wow. He’s working hard. I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to do that in his shoes (or paws) - sleep is generally where I retreat, including retreating from coping/processing.

>> It wasn't working very well. <<

Poor guy. Maybe it’ll just take time, or maybe he needs something to shift the context of his sleep.

>>
focusing on its details in hopes
of grounding himself. <<

He is using some serious coping skills!

>> Turq tried to concentrate on happier thoughts,
but he didn't have many of those to use. <<

…Awwww.

>> He shook himself off and got up
to pace around the yard instead. <<

Third coping strategy in a row!

>> Somewhere overhead lay a sliver of moon
and a black sky sprinkled with stars,
but clouds hid them all tonight. <<

Metaphor in action. It’s convenient how the weather in literature is always apropos, except when you want it to present a contrast!

>> Turq walked in rambling loops,
listening to the shush of wavelets
against the shore of the lake and
the whisper of wind in the trees, <<

I felt like I was on a soothing night walk myself, listening to this softly musical and descriptive passage.

>> Turq stared up at the wooden steps
which led to the door of the living floor,
but it might as well have been on the moon. <<

Ohhhh that feeling. Feh.

>> he was already
enough of a nuisance to Ansel without
waking him up in the middle of the night
over a freaking nightmare like a toddler. <<

And that kind of thinking… a cognitive distortion towards a negative and undervalued opinion of self?

>> With a sigh, Turq gave up and
shifted into caney form. <<

And now for something completely different! Sort of.

>> The blue creature gave his fur
a shake and a lick, then trotted
over to the staircase.

Sniffing the treads, he identified
Ansel's scent and even climbed
a few steps in pursuit of it. <<

I love the difference in thought processes from Turq-human and Turq-caney. It’s very clear in just these few sentences.

>> He came back down and walked
around to the garage, which
actually had a caney door. <<

Go Ansel!

>> The soft wool held the comforting scent
all over it, despite the additional notes of
grease and metal and other garage smells. <<

Awwww. *mentally cuddles a puppy-Turq with a blankie*

>> Being inside made him uneasy,
but the idea of taking anything out of
the garage was downright uncomfortable. <<

Not thinking like a human, but not like a simple dog or wolf either (maybe a complicated one, though - canids can have interesting personalities).

>> He went back to the workbench and
dragged the shop blanket into a nest. <<

Good intuitive problem-solving!

>> but he was learning how to find
things that could give comfort
even in the darkness of the soul. <<

Yes! More power to him!

>> Turq curled up in his nest,
lay his nose on the fragrant wool,
and finally went back to sleep. <<

…happy sigh. Peace at last. It may be small and contingent … but every peaceful moment is, and matters anyway.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-07-25 04:21 am (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
I'm glad the detailed comments were squee-worthy! I think perhaps I should post fewer little things and more big things. But I'm here to have fun, most of all.

I look forward to continuing to follow Turq's journey.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2016-07-25 09:02 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
He's on the right track, actually, but he's running into a common problem that people have when trying to solve major issues without expert assistance: doing the right things in the wrong order. He's not really ready for this one yet.

Hmmm. He didn't want to wake Ansel up because of his nightmare, but maybe he would be able to tell Ansel about it -- not so much "I had a nightmare last night," but "I've been trying to sleep in my human form occasionally, and it always seems to give me nightmares"? That might be enough information for Ansel to do some research and explain to him why that's not the best idea right now.

oh Turq

Date: 2016-07-25 02:25 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This poem is such a mix of sad/hopeful/negative/positive I don't even know how to respond other than....

AWWW

and

OUCH

and

*sigh*

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-25 03:31 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
Poor Turq. He's even more messed up than Shiv, but he expresses it very differently.

I have a very strong negative reaction to the "faking it" thing that I'm having trouble articulating. I think it connects to my being adopted, and the way people still expect me to identify more strongly with my (completely unknown) bio-heritage than with the people who raised me. They dragged Turq away from his family and then expected him to completely forget everything about them? What utter bullshit.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2016-07-25 07:47 am (UTC)
shiori_makiba: Makiba Shiori in Kanji and Roman Letters (Default)
From: [personal profile] shiori_makiba
Some foster parents save lives. Some should not be entrusted with a goldfish. Most are in between.

That's been my observation.

It probably doesn't help that it seems a lot of the time they just dump the kids and adults together and say "figure it" without giving resources for that task.

My parents were briefly foster parents to a child of a friend of the family and most the pre-foster parent screening was more like "do you have a criminal record" and "do have x amount of food in this house" and "how many rooms" than checking if either of my parents had the skills and/or could develop them if given the resources and necessary time.

Granted my mother is a nurse but she was working a full time job and me and my siblings were all under fifteen at the time. We had known the child since early elementary school, she was between me and my brother who is 16 months younger than me in age but three teenagers and a ten year old can be a lot. My father was working for a television station at the time, also full time.

We tried but kiddo had a lot of damage and there wasn't much resources given to us or her to fix it. Probably because she was already in her teens when she entered the system and sometimes it seemed like they were simply waiting for her to either age out or something to avoid devoting resources to her. Or it would all magically get better over night. And it didn't because not that how it works. (She's much better shape now BTW).

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-25 10:01 pm (UTC)
sweet_sparrow: Picture of two cats lying back-to-back with two black spots connecting to make a heart. (E: Heart)
From: [personal profile] sweet_sparrow
Oh, poor Turq. <3 I'm so glad he found Ansel's blanket and that he managed to feel safe indoors. I like how gradual you build that up.

One of my favourite parts is Turq trying to climb up to the living area. I know he only gets a few steps onto the stairs in caney form (and not at all in human form), but I think that showcases how far he's come really beautifully. At the same time, it also demonstrated how incredibly messed up he is in that moment because he's so desperate for Ansel's comfort that he'd dare do something that would otherwise quite possibly give him a panic attack. It's a very layered little moment, those lines up the stairs, but they're beautiful and heart-wrenching. And I kind of just want to wait for Turq to settle and calm and be ready to talk about that and go "But you went up the stairs! And all that happened was that you knew this was asking too much of you then and you self-cared enough to seek another solution and found it. <3" at him.

My other favourite part is the ending. ^_^ It's just so soothing to know that Turq managed to find peaceful sleep and quiet.

finding comfort

Date: 2016-09-30 01:58 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> He went back to the workbench and
dragged the shop blanket into a nest. <<

Oh, I'm so glad he did! I predict that when Ansel discovers this, he'll work something out with Turq so that Turq can have the blanket, or something else with Ansel's scent, to add to his regular sleeping place. Maybe something smaller like a T-shirt for the sleeping bag, *and* a canine-bed "nest" with an Ansel-blanket in the garage?

I also think it's neat that both the sleeping bag and the blanket are plaids. The exterior of the sleeping bag is a different color than mine (which is a faded mid-tone green), but the style and flannel lining are the same. :-) Cozy for sleeping in, yes, but since it's all-cotton, very susceptible to moisture, mold, etc. :-(

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-24 10:03 pm (UTC)
ext_12246: (yay)
From: [identity profile] thnidu.livejournal.com
Rough situation, satisfying ending. I especially like the caney's olfactory perceptions and their associations for him.

Yay!

Date: 2016-07-24 10:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> Rough situation, satisfying ending. <<

I'm happy to hear that. :D

>> I especially like the caney's olfactory perceptions and their associations for him. <<

Yes, most canids have a keen sense of smell. So Turq in caney form thinks differently, and part of that is because his senses are different and report the world in different ways than when he is in human form.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-07-25 11:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] paantha.livejournal.com
Wow. He's really come far, hasn't he!

Yes...

Date: 2016-07-25 07:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Turq really has come a long way, and this poem is a good illustration of that.

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