ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the October 4, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] alatefeline and [personal profile] sweet_sparrow. It also fills the "scars" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem was sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Cassandra thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem touches on some intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes mixed feelings, references to past abuse, self-injury, asking for help and getting it, worry, minor medical details, awkward conversations, references to prejudice, poor self-image, scars, nonsexual intimacy, references to lousy counseling, stress, and other challenges. Current environment is safe. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"The Strongest Souls"


Cassandra has mixed feelings about Flight.

She loved it while she had it, of course,
adored the freedom of floating into the sky
and seeing eye-to-eye with the birds.

She hated losing it, and how the clipping
left her with chronic pain that made it
difficult to think about anything else.

Now that she has some hope of
regaining what she lost, though, she
doesn't know how to feel about that.

Cassandra thought that adulthood would
make everything easier, but it hasn't.

It doesn't help that Groundhog is
beginning to regain his Flight, which
hadn't exactly gone away but had been
out of reach for most of his life.

She knows that it makes him
extra nervous about going outside,
when he was doing so well up until
he hovered for a few seconds and then
starting worrying about what it meant.

So Cassandra runs as many of the errands
as she can, because unlike Groundhog,
she likes getting out of the apartment and
relishes the sense of accomplishment
that comes from doing things herself.

Waverly introduces Cassandra to
her favorite thrift store, which is cheap
and grungy and full of stuff that can
be restored to its proper function.

Cassandra finds books and art supplies
to replace the ones she lost when
she ran away from home.

She buys a sundress in hot summer colors
that looks more cheerful than anything
she has worn in recent years, and
the clerk lets her wear it home.

She finds a battered old city bike
and uses that to haul groceries and mail.
When she rides, it feels a little bit like flying.

Other tenants notice, and start paying
Cassandra to run their errands too, which is
a popular oddjob for teens in their building.

It doesn't solve the underlying problems,
but does help keep her mind off them.

Cassandra is putting cans of cleanser
under the sink when she scrapes
her hand on something sharp.

Her mind clears, the way oil
shrinks from a drop of dish soap.

She does it again, slowly dragging
the back of her hand over the point,
and watches the blood well up
in the two ugly gouges.

The clarity feels so good
that when it begins to fade,
Cassandra reaches for the sink,
but then she hears Groundhog
puttering around the living room.

She remembers how embarrassing
it was when he walked in on her, and
how good it felt to let him take care of her.

A new feeling overtakes the old, and
suddenly she wants something else
more than she wants to cut herself.

Cassandra wraps her right hand
over the dripping scrapes on the left
and steps into the living room, but it's
difficult to unstick her tongue and ask.

Groundhog notices at once.
"What's wrong?" he says,
his face filling with concern.

"I, um, I hurt myself," she says.
It's so hard, and the words feel heavy,
like hauling groceries up the stairs.
"Could you maybe ... fix it for me?"

"Yes, of course," Groundhog says.
"Thank you so much for asking me."

"Okay," she whispers.

He still looks a little worried, but
less now that she's letting him help.
He seems happy to take care of her,
instead of finding it a bother, and that's
what Cassandra finds so compelling,
even more than the sharp clarity
that comes from cutting.

"Do you want me to get
the big kit, or would you rather
use your little one?" Groundhog asks.

"Use mine," Cassandra says.
"It's meant for this sort of thing."

Groundhog's household first aid kit is
packed to first responder standards,
which is great in a real emergency,
but not so much when it takes you
five minutes to find the bandaids.

He fetches her kit from under the couch,
then goes through the familiar process of
covering the table with towels so she can
rest her arm on something comfortable.

Then he washes his hands and
slips into some gloves before
taking a closer look at the cuts.

"Do you want to tell me what
happened?" Groundhog asks as he
starts cleaning her hand with something
that quickly numbs the broken skin.

"I snagged my hand on the latch
or something under the sink," she says.
"The way it made my head clear was so ...
I just wanted to feel that again. But
then I thought of you instead."

Groundhog smiles, and it makes her
feel warm inside. "I'm glad I could help
snap you out of it," he says. "I'll take a look
under the sink after we finish with this."

"Yeah, it might need repair," she says.

"These look pretty ragged in places,"
Groundhog says, frowning over the cuts.
"Do you trust me enough to trim off
the loose ends? They'll probably heal
better that way, less chance of scarring.
I've got some scissors in my kit."

"What's a couple more scars?"
she says glumly, but when she sees
his crestfallen look, she adds, "Okay,
clean up what you can."

"We all have scars," he says quietly,
"but that's no excuse to skimp on
taking care of ourselves."

Groundhog goes to get the scissors
and then returns. His hands are
as gentle as ever, and he warms
the metal against his gloved palm so
that the cold blades won't startle her
into flinching away from the touch.

Cassandra can feel only the grasp of
his fingers and the careful pressure
of the scissors flat against her hand.

It doesn't hurt, because she's numb
enough that the cuts have quit stinging,
and the little curls of skin are no longer
connected to the nerves anyway.

Groundhog spreads a layer of salve
over the raw skin and then asks, "Do you
want plain bandaids or EFAids?"

After Groundhog's tumble in the park,
Cassandra had seen the EFAids in
the first aid station and bought some
for herself, but she hasn't found
the guts to wear them yet.

Even though she can't get
the words out, he follows her gaze
to the package and takes out two
of the colorful bandages.

As Groundhog smoothes them
over the scratches, Cassandra
can read the gentle messages:
It Will Pass and Feel Better.

Then the words blur, and
tears spill down her cheeks.

It shouldn't be this unfamiliar
to feel comforted, to feel valued,
but it does. What she has here
is too new to seem normal yet.

"Am I hurting you?" Groundhog asks,
concern furrowing his face again.

"No, it's just -- feelings," she says.
"I think if I'd met someone like you
sooner, I'd have fewer scars."

Her eyes pick out the marks
left behind by previous episodes,
not many, but enough to embarrass her.

"Then I'm glad I can be here for you now,"
Groundhog says. "Everyone needs someone."

It should sound like a stupid platitude,
but it doesn't, not coming from him.
Cassandra knows that Groundhog
has a whole support network, in case
his past catches up with him.

"Yeah," she says, not wanting to pick at
anything too much. "It's just ... whenever
they see the scars, people tend to treat me
like I'm a monster, and I hate that."

"Scars don't make you a monster.
Hurting yourself doesn't make you
a monster," Groundhog says firmly.
"Hurting other people makes you
a monster. I'm a SPOON dispatcher; I
know all about monsters. You're not one."

"Tell that to them," Cassandra says.
She wears the sundress, she wears
t-shirts and shorts, but she also keeps
shawls and lacy sweaters available
in case people get too nosy.

"Oh, believe me, anyone who
harasses you about self-harm scars
will get an earful from me," says Groundhog,
and oddly enough, she believes him.

"Thanks," Cassandra says,
staring down at her bandages.

"Sometimes what we consider monstrous
is just what we don't understand," he says
as he rolls up his sleeves. His elbows
are mottled with old, white scars.

"Wow, what happened?" she asks.

"When I was little, I worried about
falling into the sky," Groundhog says.
"I used to bang against things a lot
to reassure myself they were solid.
Even now, if I'm startled badly enough,
I tend to back up until I hit a wall."

It wasn't the same kind of self-injury
that Cassandra had, but she could see
the resemblance, and it moved her
to point out some of her own.

"This was the first cut I made,"
she says, tracing the pale line
along her wrist. Then higher up,
she pointed to a pinker one. "This
was what the counselor found,
that put me in the hospital.
I wish they'd go away."

"There are things you can do,
even for older scars like those,
to help the skin heal," he says.
"Some people like synthetics such
as silicone, while others prefer herbs
like calendula. I keep some of each
in my kit if you'd like to try them."

"Yeah, maybe," Cassandra says.
"I hate looking at the scars."

"Thank you for showing me,"
Groundhog says. "It takes
a lot of courage to do that."

"I'm not really a brave person,"
Cassandra says, shaking her head
so that her dark hair hides her face.

“Out of suffering have emerged
the strongest souls," Groundhog says
as he strokes the old paths of her pain.
"The most massive characters
are seared with scars.”

"That's beautiful," she says.

"Words from a favorite poet,"
Groundhog says. He pats her arm,
then packs away the first aid supplies
and cleans up the mess. "Now, show me
where you snagged your hand earlier."

Cassandra looks under the sink
and finds the place where the latch
has come loose from one screw.
The metal plate is bent into a burr.
"I think this must be it," she says.

"That needs to be replaced,"
Groundhog says, frowning over it.
He fetches a screwdriver and removes
the latch, then sets it aside. "I'll call
Maintenance to deal with it later."

"I don't know what happened
to the latch," Cassandra says,
twisting her hands together.
"I only noticed it today."

"It probably got hit or hung on
something," Groundhog said.
"This place is old, so things
fall apart periodically."

"Yeah," Cassandra says.
She knows about falling apart.

He touches her shoulder, lightly,
not holding onto her but just cupping
the curve of her arm in his palm.

"How are things going for you?"
Groundhog asks. "Would you like
to tell me what's bothering you so much
that you hurt yourself? I'd love to listen."

Cassandra wants nothing more than
to melt into him and feel like she matters.
She lets herself follow the line of his arm
until she's leaning against his chest.

"It's about Flight," she warns him.

"Okay," he says. "I've been thinking
about that a lot myself, lately. Let's
go into the living room and talk."

He leads her to the couch,
and they sink down together.
This much, at least, feels familiar.

"I want it back, I really do, but when
I try to think through everything that has
happened to me, my head just gets ...
so full of stuff, I can't make out what
any of it means," Cassandra begins.
"It's confusing, and scary, and when
I cut myself, those feelings go away."

Groundhog listens, nodding and making
little sounds of encouragement as she
pours out the tangled mess of thoughts
and emotions that have built up inside her.

He doesn't pry, or push her to do what
he wants, or tell her that she's crazy.
He just sits there and takes it in.

"That sounds like a lot to deal with,"
Groundhog says when Cassandra
starts to wind down. "No wonder you
feel overwhelmed. Maybe we could
find some safer ways to clear your head.
What do you think about trying that?"

"It would be great if it works," she says.
"The shrink gave me a list of distractions,
but most of them were pretty dumb."

"Distractions can help, but they're not
the only option," Groundhog says.
"There are other coping skills such as
grounding, emotional release, self-love,
challenging your negative thoughts,
and reaching for your higher self."

"I didn't get much of that," she says.
"Mostly it was just nagging. So I try
to sort things out on my own, but when
it's big stuff -- I have all these feelings --
I want to fly again, I want to see you fly,
but I don't know how to get from here
to there. I just feel so lost inside."

"Okay, you have mixed feelings.
You sound confused and frustrated,"
Groundhog says. "Clarity and precision
are among the basic thinking skills.
Working on those might help."

"What thinking skills?" Cassandra asks.

Groundhog mutters something rude
about her school, brings out his tablet,
and shows her a chart of thinking skills.

Well, that would have been useful
while she was floundering in class.

"These are things you can practice
while reading or studying," he says.
"Another approach is meditation."

"I think I saw a flyer for meditation on
the bulletin board downstairs," she says.

The Skylark Apartment Building has
two amenity floors, one with classrooms,
and she enjoys watching for opportunities
to learn new things from her neighbors.

"Hmm," Groundhog said. "See if they
have a clapper class. Some types of
meditation use a stick to make noise and
help the students focus. You already know
that startling yourself clears your head.
You just need to find a safer method."

Cassandra thinks about all the times
when something has jolted her out of
a vicious cycle. "Yeah, that might work,"
she decides. "I'll check it out, thanks."

"I'm glad I could give you some ideas
for working through this," Groundhog says.

"Yeah, me too." She leans against him.

"Want to switch to something else
more relaxing?" he suggests.

"Please," Cassandra says.

"Let me get a book, and I
will read to you," he says.

So Cassandra untangles herself
from where she has somehow
gotten wrapped around him.

Groundhog goes into his bedroom
and returns with a volume so old that
its brown cover has faded from handling
and the fabric frays where the cover
joins the spine, but the gilt lettering
still winks and gleams in the light.

He opens the book with care,
spreading its pages across his lap
with a whisper of paper that releases
a warm scent of vanilla and spice.

Cassandra snuggles against him,
and he drapes an arm around her.

"Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love
and reap with thanksgiving,"
Groundhog reads.
"And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger,
and you seek him for peace ..."


Cassandra realizes that,
whenever she comes to him
looking for peace,

she finds it.

* * *

Notes:

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Kahlil Gibran

This is Viking Thrift and Arts where Cassandra goes. The interior holds an incredible jumble of stuff. Old furniture is sprayed with fabric paint, like this galaxy couch and chair. Doors are turned into tables. One section holds books and art supplies, while another holds whimsical clothing such as Cassandra's sundress.

Cassandra's secondhand bike is a city bicycle. There are tips on how to choose a city bike, pick out a cargo bike, or buy a used bike.

(Some of these links are upsetting.)
Cutting and other types of self-harm typically stem from extreme distress. You can help someone who self-harms by asking compassionate questions and listening. Be aware of what not to do, too. For people struggling with self-injury, here is a list of things to do other than hurt yourself. The Hurt Yourself Less Workbook may also help.

Soap disperses oil, as shown in this video.

A first aid kit for minor injuries is best accompanied by a guidebook. In addition to all-purpose kits there are ones designed for specific categories of problem, which is really convenient anywhere there's a pattern of specific injuries. Cassandra's kit focuses on minor cuts and scrapes.

This is the large first aid kit. At this size, which is recommended for big households and/or anyone who sees a lot of everyday injuries, it's important to have divisions such as trays or pockets, so that everything isn't just jumbled loose in a giant box or bag.

You can customize a first aid kit for your own needs, which is especially useful if you are making your own. This supplier allows you to make one online. Know how to stock your own first aid kit.

Most cuts are minor and can be tended at home. If a cut won't stay closed or won't stop bleeding, then consider stitches.

Staying calm in a stressful situation is the first step to solving the problem. There are also ways to help other people calm down in a crisis. Groundhog excels at this due to his dayjob as a dispatcher.

When a friend is upset, you can help comfort them.

EFAids are Emotional First Aid bandaids. They resemble these motivational temporary tattoos. There are many styles. The only local-American bandaids I've seen that are similar are affirmation bandaids.

(These links are upsetting too.)
Talking about self-harm can be difficult because people often respond badly to hearing it. There are tips for telling someone about your self-harm and explaining the scars. Such scars range from minor to moderate to major. If someone tells you about their self-harm, it is important to respond with compassion and support them as best you can. Even though Cassandra has not stopped hurting herself yet, she's making a lot of progress, largely because Groundhog listens to her which relieves some of the pressure.

Scar repair may be assisted with synthetic or natural treatments.

Coping skills
help people to deal with challenges. There are multiple categories.

Thinking skills and standards of critical thinking are important. Learn about critical thinking. There are ways you can improve your thinking skills.

The Skylark Apartment Building has plenty of amenities. The basement is the recreational floor with the more physically active function spaces. The exercise room has treadmills, free weights, punching bags, and assorted bodybuilding machines. The auxiliary gym is subdivided into two 40x20 courts for handball, racquetball, and related games. The game room includes shuffleboard, several dart boards, pool tables, air hockey, foosball, ping-pong, and a few pinball tables. The small yellow room at the end of the hall is used for yoga, aerobics, dance practice, and other freestyle activities. Social dances usually take place in either the main gym or the social hall. The kitchen is used to bake pastries for Jack's Magic Beans, which has no kitchen of its own, just a basic coffee bar and display cabinets. The side entrance is actually the main entrance for this floor, and the handicap-accessible entrance for the whole building, whose smaller front entrance to the ground floor has steps. The side entrance is convenient to the building management office in the center; to the computer lab, locker rooms, and the building's sole elevator to the right; and to the classroom and social hall on the left.

Meditation comes in many types. There are simple and comprehensive instructions on how to meditate.

"Empty mind" meditation is the kind most people think of first. It is also the most difficult to achieve. Some traditions use a stick to hit the student, or a table, to startle the mind into stillness. The 教策 kyōsaku or encouragement stick is flattened at one end. This is a bamboo Zen stick. Dog trainers use a similar tool called a clatter stick. Another mindfulness meditation features a bell.

Kahlil Gibran was a famous Lebanese poet. This is the first edition cover of his book, The Prophet, such as Aidan gave to Groundhog. It has since been turned into a breathtaking movie.

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
-- The Prophet chapter on "Friendship"

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-29 01:30 pm (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
This is comforting to read. Grazie.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-29 04:14 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Seconded. Right in the feels. Those two are good for each other.

Merci beaucoup.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-29 06:03 pm (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Yes, they are.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-29 04:21 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Squeir Modified Jazz Bass '77 (Bass)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Oh. Shameless plug: SJ Tucker's idea of Moving Meditation.

Silly me, I thought it was going to be like Pure Moods, very soothing and something you could get lost in.

Hell no, this is *dance music*.

There are some more what-most-people-think-of-as-meditative tracks at the end, but the front end is loud with driving beats... songs to shake your groove thing on. You can lose yourself here, too, but you're gonna *sweat* when you're done if you do! :D

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-29 07:12 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Tears of happiness, once again. I am so very very glad this one got posted; I think a lot of people probably need this right now.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-10-13 12:07 pm (UTC)
pantha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pantha
Beautiful. I agree. These two are very good for each other. <3

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ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
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