ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls but follows on prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer, [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron, [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah, and [personal profile] nsfwords. It also fills the "healthy touch" square in my 7-31-17 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It relates to events in "An Atmosphere of Shame" and "Everything That Is Real About Us," so read those first or this won't make much sense.

Warning: This poem contains some intense material. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes anxiety, forboding, fear of communication, many references to Shiv's awful past, because the inside of Shiv's head is always a warning, feeling trapped, boundary issues, impaired consent, talking about scars, extreme body modesty, touch aversion, references to past malpractice in mental care, touching which is unwanted but permitted, graphic description of past abuse, poor self-assessment skills regarding physical and mental complaints, defensive lying which has become a reflex to the point that Shiv often can't tell the truth even when it would benefit him more than a lie, vulgar language, resistance to help, minor violence (not directed at a person), emotional flashbacks, overload, desperation, scary basement memories, and other challenges. This poem may be extra-stressful for people with a history of therapeutic abuse, toilet abuse, and/or child molestation. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Capable of Stretching"


Shiv felt nervous as he went
to the front door of Blues Moon
to meet Dr. G for their next session.

It was the first since the beach trip,
which had been mostly great, but Shiv
worried about some of the stuff that Dr. G
had threatened to "talk about" later.

In Shiv's experience, "talks" never went well.

He picked and twitched at his clothes,
the handsome red "Hot Potato" shirt that
he'd gotten at the farmer's market, and
the black shorts with snazzy red sidelines
that he'd found in Nick's Thrifts while
shopping for spare swim trunks.

He'd gotten two pairs of boardshorts
that day, too. One was mostly white
with blue flowers in a Hawaiian print,
the other black with long swirls of gray
piping just a shade lighter. More suits
meant he could swim more often.

Shiv liked Nick's Thrifts because
it was owned by an atheist, not by
Jesus freaks like most thrift stores.
He wasn't crazy about all the signs for
brain injury and other invisible disabilities,
but at least nobody bothered him about them.

The door opened, and Shiv's distraction
popped like a soap bubble, leaving him
to face Dr. G and the dreaded "talk."

But Dr. G didn't mention it at all.
"Good morning, Shiv," he said.
"Have you eaten lunch yet?"

"Uh, no," Shiv replied.
"What about you?"

"Not yet," Dr. G said. "I'm
just starting to get hungry, so I
wanted to make sure that you
weren't going to run too late
if you hadn't already eaten."

That reminded Shiv that
Dr. G was always feeding him,
and Shiv had given him squat in return.

"Hey, do you like potatoes?" Shiv said
as they walked into the jazz joint.

"Yes," Dr. G said instantly.

"You're not even going
to ask me what kind?" Shiv said.

"I like all kinds," Dr. G said with a shrug.
"The rest of the family varies, but everyone
likes at least one kind of potatoes.
We put away a lot of them."

"You want some?" Shiv offered.
"I bought, like, half a pickup load
at the farmer's market this morning."

"I would be delighted," Dr. G said,
his whole face lighting up.

"Come on, they're in back," Shiv said
as he led the way through the kitchen
and into the lot behind the building.

Around the battered old pickup
stood a couple of farmers, helping Cook
and Popgun sort out the potatoes.

"See, we got these cheap because
it was the end of the day, so they're
pretty picked over and half of them have
bruises or pitchfork holes," Shiv said as he
dug in his hands. "We'll trim off the bad spots
and hash the rest of the busted ones to put
on special today, then the whole ones will
go up as baked potatoes later in the week."

"That's a good idea," Dr. G said, following
Shiv to pick out some potatoes for himself.

"How's come you're taking some of
the bad ones?" Shiv said. "I mean,
it's what we got, but you could afford
to buy all nice ones if you wanted."

"I can now. I couldn't always,"
Dr. G said quietly. "Remember,
Tolli and I grew up pinching pennies.
Mam did the best she could, but she was
a single mother in a new country. Potatoes
are a comfort food for me and Tolli, because
we ate a lot of them. I don't mind bad spots."

"Here, get you a couple of sacks," Cook said.
He reached into the pile of empty mesh sacks
that they were sorting the potatoes into, and
handed a pair to Dr. G. "Don't put whole ones
in with the busted ones, or they won't keep."

Shiv looked down at the baker he was
holding, the size of his two fists put together.
"If Tolli likes potatoes too, do you think he'd want
a sack of his own?" Shiv asked, turning to Dr. G.
"You always come by teleporter, so I figure you
could maybe drop it off on the way home ..."

"I'm sure he'd love some," Dr. G replied.

So Cook tossed them another sack,
and Shiv carefully filled it up with
potatoes good enough for baking.

Three sacks didn't even put a dent
in the contents of the truck. So when
they finished filling those, Dr. G wrote
his name on two of them, marking one
as whole and one as broken. Shiv put
Tolli's name on the other whole sack.

Then they helped empty out the rest
of the truck into Cook's sacks that were
destined for the restaurant tonight.

Shiv and his gangmates weren't really
inclined to gossip in front of Dr. G, but they
struck up a work song, "Roll 'im on Down."

When they finished that one, then Cook
burst into "Beans Greens Potatoes Tomatoes."

Popgun gave Shiv a teasing look and
and sang, "I Don't Want No Jail Time."

Dr. G surprised them all by joining in with
something he called "The Potato-Digger's Song,"
but his accent -- barely a trace on most days --
got so thick Shiv couldn't make out half the words.

Cook slapped the older man on the back
and threatened to put him up on the stage.
Dr. G shook his head, but his eyes twinkled.

After the potatoes were all sorted and labeled,
though, Shiv figured he couldn't get away with
any more dallying, so he invited Dr. G upstairs.

By then Shiv was hungry, so he grabbed a box
of Omaha Acorn Crisps off the open shelf
and settled himself at the kitchen table.

Dr. G took a chair and said, "New flavor
of cereal? I don't recognize that one."

"Boss White buys it at some store up on
the Omaha Reservation," Shiv said. "It's
his favorite, or at least the plain one is.
I like this huckleberry one a lot better.
You wanna try some? It's good."

"Sure, I'll try it," said Dr. G.

Shiv got a big bowl and dumped out
enough for both of them to snack on,
not bothering to pour any milk on it.

As Shiv crunched a handful of cereal,
Dr. G picked out one little brown square
and nibbled on it. "That's interesting."

Shiv winced. He knew what interesting
meant. "You don't like it," he said.

"I haven't decided yet," Dr. G said.
"I'm thinking about it. It's new, and
therefore interesting. I like the crunch.
The flavor is kind of dark and earthy."

He reached out and took a huckleberry.
"Oh, that's different than blueberry!"
he said. "I thought they'd taste about
the same, but this is darker. Wilder."

"Yeah, I like blueberries, but these're
way better," Shiv said with a nod.

Dr. G scooped up a handful of cereal.
"I've decided that I like this stuff," he said.
"Thank you for sharing. I love discovering
new foods. Can you tell me where I could
buy some so the rest of my family can try it?"

"I dunno, Boss White just brings it home
after he visits some allies on the reservation,"
Shiv said. "Ask Cook for a box; he keeps
some in the restaurant pantry as backup."

"I'll definitely do that when I stop to pick up
the potatoes on the way out," said Dr. G.

They munched their way through the bowl.
"That hit the spot," Shiv said as he stood up
to put the dish into the kitchen sink.

"It's surprisingly filling," Dr. G agreed.

"Yeah, it's mostly carbs, with some fat
and a little protein," Shiv said. "It really
sticks to your ribs, that's why I like it."

He drifted into the living room,
Dr. G following in his wake.

"You might as well get it over with,"
Shiv muttered as he flopped onto the futon.

"Get what over with?" Dr. G asked. He
sat down beside Shiv, just out of reach.

"You wanted to grill me about my scars,"
Shiv said. One hand rubbed over the other,
an old habit. He tried not to give away
the location of any more, but it was hard.

His body was covered in bad memories,
most of them less obvious than the ones
that Dr. G and Edison had already spotted.

"I'm not here to grill you," Dr. G said gently.
"I would like to talk about your scars, if you're
ready. If not, it can wait until you are."

Shiv shook his head. "I'd rather
just rip it quick," he said. "Go ahead."

"I'd also like to take a closer look at
your scars, if you don't mind," Dr. G said.
"It would help to confirm or disprove an idea."

"I won't take my clothes off for you," Shiv said
as he crossed his arms firmly over his chest.

"Then I won't ask you to," Dr. G said. "How
would you feel about moving your clothes
a little? I think that would show me about
as much as I saw earlier, if that's okay."

Shiv hesitated, trying to balance between
wanting to scram right now and wanting
to give Dr. G enough to shut him up so
that he wouldn't bring this up again later.

"Maybe," Shiv hedged. A shiver
crept over his arms and down his back.

"Would you feel better if I let you
do me first?" Dr. G asked.

"What?" Shiv said. "I'm not a doctor,
I wouldn't know what to look for."

"I'm asking to look at your body,
parts that were visible in swimwear,"
said Dr. G. "You've got a superpower
that lets you feel other people's bones.
I'm offering to let you read mine."

Shiv licked his lips. "Most people
don't realize that," he whispered.

"Most people don't have my training
in observation, or my experience working
with unique superpowers," said Dr. G. "I've
seen you work with bone in the craft room."

"Nobody ever invited me to do this before,"
Shiv said. "Mostly I try to ignore it, you know,
because it seems rude to look in someone's body
like that. But I can't really ... turn it off, all the way.
Sometimes people have these little bits of metal
inside their bones, and that's really distracting.
Plus wet bone feels different from dry bone."

"I can see how medical implants would
be a distraction for you, but you're right, it's
polite to ignore other people's bodies unless
they invite you to look closer," Dr. G said.
"My offer stands. Are you interested?"

Shiv's stomach fluttered with anxiety
and anticipation. He wasn't used to people
making that kind of offer. Making themselves
vulnerable, instead of just trying to shuck him
out of his defenses like a crawdad from its shell.

"Yeah, but I wouldn't really know what
to look for," he admitted. "Dr. Bloch
showed me some anatomy stuff, but
I don't remember all of it now."

"That's okay," Dr. G said.
"If you want, give me your hand,
and I will show you where to look."

Shiv's fingers twitched a little.
It took him a minute to scrape up
enough courage to offer his hand.

Dr. G turned it palm down and set it
a little above his left knee. "Gently now,
take a look and see what you find."

Shiv concentrated on the feel of bone,
tuning out the metal and glass and
other things in the room. He pushed
his awareness down through the mist of
skin and muscle, seeking the solid core.

There it was, a strong beam of femur
crossed with a faint, thicker ridge
right underneath his fingertips.

"Wow," Shiv said. "Why's it
thicker just here?" He traced
the line of it over the fabric.

"Denser," Dr. G said. "When
a bone breaks, it heals differently
than the surrounding bone, so it's
actually stronger at that point. Most
of that smoothes out eventually,
but it leaves behind a seam."

Shiv remembered Dr. G telling him
about breaking both legs as a boy.

The seam felt old, in a way, like
how rock weathered over time,
yet still alive, still busy with life,
and under it the delicate lattice
of bone threads inside the hollow ...

A sudden spark against his hand
jolted Shiv out of his reverie.

"What -- how -- what?" he stammered.

"You were starting to fall in, so I
zapped you back out, " Dr. G said.

"Fall in, yeah, but what did you
do to me?" Shiv pressed.

"I didn't do anything do you.
I did it to myself -- I just flicked
my metabolism up and down, like
blinking a light switch," Dr. G said.
"It took me over a month to learn that,
using a biofeedback machine, when I
needed to learn how so I could help
Heron figure out his abilities."

"Huh," Shiv said. "That was ...
jarring, but kind of neat. I never
felt anything like it before."

"I wasn't sure if it would work
the same way for you, since you're
not a healer. I'm glad it did," said Dr. G.

"Why'd you pull me out, though?"
Shiv said. "You told me I could look,
and it was really interesting."

"It's also easy to get lost, and
that's scary," said Dr. G. "Part of
my job is to keep you safe, and that
includes pulling you out before
you get in over your head."

"That's not what shrinks do,"
Shiv protested. "I'm used to them
throwing me in. Everybody wants
to get into my head, and they don't
give a fuck whether I can handle it
or not. Then they get in and they
can't handle it, so they blame me."

Dr. G sighed. "I apologize on behalf
of my profession, then," he said. "What
you just described is malpractice. It tends
to happen most when the patient is not also
the paying customer -- there's a temptation
to do whatever will keep the checks coming,
even if it doesn't help, or makes matters worse."

"Yeah, I got a lot of that," Shiv said. "They
made it pretty clear they didn't care about me,
just the foster parents or parole officer or whoever."

"Well, that obviously didn't work, so we're not
going to repeat the mistake," Dr. G said. "I will
make sure you have the skills to deal with things
before encouraging you to move deeper. So far,
we've kept it fairly light, and we've dealt with issues
as they come up. How is that working for you?"

"It's pretty good," Shiv said. "I usually don't
want to stab you, and some of it's even useful."
Dr. G was really good at explaining things,
which Shiv didn't find often and liked a lot.

"All right then," Dr. G said. "Would you
like to try this again on the other side?"

"There's more?" Shiv said, then recalled
the story about Dr. G being stuck in bed
for a long time because he couldn't walk.
"Okay, yeah, show me the other one."

Dr. G picked up Shiv's hand and
set it in the middle of his right thigh.
"This time, search for it yourself," he said.
"You don't need to look any higher than
where the hem of my bathing suit was."

Shiv moved his hand carefully upward,
trying to remember the green swim trunks
with blue cartoon fish. They had been
a little longer than usual, but not as long
as Shiv's spiffy new boardshorts.

When he got to where he thought
the swimsuit had stopped, he moved
his hand back down toward the knee.

"Oh! I found it!" Shiv exclaimed.

"Well done," Dr. G said. "What else
can you tell about this side?"

Shiv moved his fingers, sliding
along the seam. "It's different than
the other one. That went across,
and this one goes up more."

"The right side broke at an angle,
and the sharp end cut into the muscle,"
Dr. G said. "The left went straight across."

Shiv made an effort not to rub over
the old bump on his left forearm where
a break had healed wrong. After he got
his superpower, he had used it to blunt
the edge of bone so it didn't bug him.

"Yeah, sharp edges suck," he said,
letting go of Dr. G's leg and leaning back.

"So, do I get a turn, or are we done for
today?" Dr. G said, stretching his legs.

"We can just quit?" Shiv said.
"But we haven't done anything yet,
and you wanted to see my scars."

"So far, we spent some comfortable time
sorting potatoes together, and we've explored
a constructive use of your superpower,"
Dr. G said. "That's hardly nothing."

"What use is looking at your bones?"
Shiv said. "Like I said, I'm not a doctor,
I hardly know what I'm seeing."

"Suppose you wanted to look for
a weak spot during a fight; you could
check for recent cracks," Dr. G said.
"Or maybe you suspect someone had
a past as rough as yours. You could look
for a pattern of old breaks -- preferably
after asking permission, but you did say
that you can't turn off your power."

"Okay, so maybe it's useful after all,"
Shiv said. Which meant that he now
owed Dr. G something in return. "Yeah,
go ahead. What did you want to see?"

"Let's start with the scars on your shoulders,"
Dr. G said. "Can you move your shirt enough?"

"Can if I pull up the back of it," Shiv said,
reaching around himself to grab the hem.
He peeled it up his back until the fabric
bunched against the base of his neck,
then turned around to let Dr. G see.

Boss Batir had beaten him black and blue
with the strap end of the belt before getting
sick of Shiv's stubborn silence and laying on
the last few stripes with the buckle end.

There were a few thin lines left where
the skin had split, but most of those
had faded within several months.

The buckle had left a checkmark
over each shoulderblade, and another
that dug into the muscle alongside his spine.
Closer to his waist lay a little divot that didn't
show the buckle shape as much as the others.

"Do these ever bother you?" Dr. G asked.

"Nah, not anymore," Shiv said. "Well --
sometimes, if I wear a backpack wrong, then
it rubs over the high spots and gets raw."

"May I touch?" Dr. G asked, his hand
hovering just above Shiv's back, so close
Shiv could feel the heat of it. "I'd like to see
if the skin is still capable of stretching."

"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said.
He didn't like the idea, but it
wouldn't kill him either.

Dr. G's hand spread wide and
warm over Shiv's left shoulderblade,
the scar farthest from the spine and
the one Edison had fussed over.

Gentle fingers prodded the scar,
finding the gritty edge that sometimes
ached if Shiv leaned too long against
a chair or bench with no padding.

It didn't feel quite the same
as when Dr. Bloch touched him,
but it wasn't bad, just unfamiliar.
That was enough to make Shiv edgy.

Dr. G moved to the other side,
testing the texture again and
then sliding the skin around.

Shiv flinched when it came
to the limit of stretch, not quite
what it had been before the injury.

"Sorry, that bit's starting to stick,
isn't it?" Dr. G said. "I'll move down."

"I'm fine," Shiv said, but that was a lie.
He was starting to shiver, even though
the room wasn't cold, and his muscles
twitched and crawled just because
someone was behind him, touching.

"Easy," said Dr. G, smoothing his hands
over Shiv's back. "You're safe here. I'm not
going to hurt you. Take a few deep breaths."

Shiv tried, he really did, but the crawling
sensation only got worse. As soon as Dr. G
reached the divot that sometimes tightened
the muscles in Shiv's back, it was too much, and
Shiv skittered away from the searching hands.

"Okay, take a break," Dr. G said as Shiv
frantically shoved his shirt into his shorts. "You
did a wonderful job. Thank you for sharing."

"But you didn't get to finish," Shiv said.

"I'm finished when you say I'm finished,"
Dr. G said, spreading his hands. "Pulling away
counts the same as saying 'stop' out loud."

The only time Shiv had heard that before was
people telling him to leave someone else alone.
Nobody applied it when they wanted to touch him.

Except Dr. G actually seemed to mean it,
because he was still sitting on the futon
while Shiv was halfway across the room and
debating whether to go hide in his bedroom.

Guy like that, Shiv didn't want to lose, because
the next one was guaranteed to be worse.

He dug his fingernails into his palms,
not hard enough to cut, just enough
to help him get his focus back.

Then he made himself walk over
to the futon. "What else did you want?"

"I would like to see the scar that runs
over your legs and up your back, please,"
Dr. G said. "I think if you push up the hems
of your shorts, that should be enough to start."

The shorts were soft jersey knit with red elastic
running partway up the sides, so it was
easy to pull them out of the way.

The scars were old and pale, no more than
a whisker of different skin tone crawling
across Shiv's thighs. You could hardly
see a few dashes in front, although they
got a little thicker across the back.

"May I touch?" Dr. G asked,
tilting his open hand.

Shiv thought about it.
"Fronts and backs only,"
he said. "You don't reach
in between my legs."

"Understood," Dr. G said.
He trailed his fingertips over
the skin, following the lines.
"And your lower back?"

Shiv sighed and hiked up
his shirt again, then rolled down
the waistband of his shorts.
"Knock yourself out."

A tender touch traced
the crisp edge of the scar
where it cut along the top of
his butt, and even that much
made Shiv tremble again.

The black wall in the back of
his head gave an ominous ripple

That was never, ever a good thing.

"This one is much fainter than
the ones on your back," Dr. G said.
"Does it ever bother you?"

"Nah, it's fine," Shiv said.
"Only I have to be a bit careful
about waistbands, because if
they get too tight, then it rubs."

"Scar tissue does tend to be
more delicate than healthy skin,"
Dr. G said, moving to the left side.

Shiv heard the sharp catch of breath
when Dr. G found the raggedy part where
the scar jumped up above his waist.

He held his breath and tried to ignore
the soft touch, but it was hard.

Spots danced in front of his eyes.

A gentle hand pressed flat
over the spot, and that was it,
Shiv was so done with this.

He bolted across the room in
three long strides and pressed
himself against the wall as he
yanked his clothing back in place.

"All right, that's enough," Dr. G said.
"I'm finished with the touching part."

Shiv panted, trying to get his breath back,
and the dark spots gradually faded.
"Good," he said. "That's good."

He slunk back to the futon and
sat down, carefully out of reach.
He wanted to curl into a ball.

"Tuck your feet up if that makes
you feel better," Dr. G said. "It's
your furniture, so you can sit
on it however you want to."

Shiv had gotten smacked
often enough about sitting
the wrong way that, even now,
he hesitated in his own apartment.

Dr. G had never hit him, though,
so Shiv slowly pulled up his feet,
then hugged his knees to his chest.

"When you sit like that, does
the old scar make a straight line
around you?" Dr. G asked.

"Yeah, how'd you know?" Shiv said.
Looking down at himself, he could
see that his shorts showed part of it.
He tugged the hems back down.

Dr. G sighed, looking so heartbroken
that Shiv worried about him. "It matches
the idea I had about how you got that,"
said Dr. G. "I can explain, if you want
to hear it, but it's sad and I don't know
how much you remember. Think before
you answer, because you have been
pushing yourself pretty hard today."

None of this had been Shiv's idea,
but he wanted to get it over with.

"Hit me," he said, and when
his shrink winced, "Tell me."

"It's called a jackknife scar,"
Dr. G said. "It happens most often
in toddlers, during their toilet training.
Basically, someone must've folded you
in half just like a jackknife, and then
dunked you into scalding water."

That was a horrible image, but
Shiv couldn't remember anything
like that happening to him.

Then again, his childhood
was more holes than memories.

"Uh huh," he said, squeezing
his knees tighter to his chest, but
that made it harder to breathe.

Shiv loosened his grip, then, and
rocked back against the futon instead.

"It could be a lot worse than it is," Dr. G said.
"From what I can tell, the scars aren't too bad,
and they don't seem to bother you unless you
do something to irritate them. However, there
are some small issues that could get bigger."

"So?" Shiv said, trying to shrug, but
his shoulders wouldn't work right.

"There are things that could be done
to make sure that they don't get worse,"
Dr. G said. "That brings me to another topic:
Heron wants to talk with you, some of it from
the beach, and some private family business.
I have an idea what it's likely to cover, but
he didn't give me any more details."

"Tell him to fuck off," Shiv snapped.
He was tired of people bothering him.

"No. Heron is an adult, and so are you.
It's not my place to police your communication,"
Dr. G said firmly. "If you don't want to talk with
Heron, then you'll have to tell him yourself.
A simple 'no' will be sufficient."

"No it's not," Shiv argued.
"Nobody ever fuckin' takes
no for an answer! You want
to know what's sufficient?"

He flicked out his switchblade
and stabbed it into the wooden arm
of the futon. "That's sufficient," he said.
"People back off when they see that
I can hurt them if they hassle me."

"Have I ever failed to take 'no'
for an answer?" Dr. G said.

Shiv struggled to remember, but
he couldn't think of a good example --
just the school stuff back in prison, and
even there Dr. G had quit eventually.

"I guess not," Shiv said, "but Halley --"

"-- is ten, and Edison is four," Dr. G said.
"I ask that you give them a little leeway
to make mistakes and learn from that, if
you can. If not, let me know and I'll keep
them away from you. I don't want anyone
getting hurt, Shiv, and that includes you."

"And Heron?" Shiv said, not looking
forward to yet another awkward "talk."

"He's old enough to make his own choices,
and it is now his responsibility to pay attention
to boundaries when dealing with friends and
clients," said Dr. G. "I think you'll find that he
has enough trauma-informed training to do
a decent job, if you're honest with him,
at least as much as you can be."

"Fine. Whatever," Shiv said.

He could always tell Heron
to go fuck himself in person --
or better yet, have Buttons
chuck him out the front.

Shiv might have to put up with
this shit from Dr. G, but that didn't
make him the family bicycle.

"All right then, you two can --
are you okay?" Dr. G asked.

Shiv realized that he was
rubbing his hands up and down
his arms, as if trying to wipe off ...
something, he wasn't sure what.

He struggled to find words
for it, but he couldn't. They were
lost somewhere inside him,
and now so was he.

Dr. G jostled the futon
that they were both sitting on.

When Shiv looked up, Dr. G said,
"Focus on this room. Feel the blanket
over the futon and the shag of the rug."

"Uh huh," Shiv said, trying to shake
himself out of the funk he'd fallen into.

"Find three brown things," Dr. G said.

"Floor," said Shiv, who was staring
down at the wooden boards.

"That's one," Dr. G said.
"Now look for another."

"Chair," Shiv said, because
it was striped in shades
of brown and black.

"Last one," Dr. G prompted.

"Your shoes," Shiv said.
They were nice loafers,
a bright golden-brown.

"Good job," Dr. G said.
"Clap your hands and
stomp your feet. Imagine
fitting yourself back into
your body, and pushing out
whatever doesn't belong."

Shiv clapped and stomped,
even though it made him
feel more than a little silly.

"It helps, some," he admitted.
"I don't know what's wrong with me."

"Well, we were talking about
some pretty rough topics,"
Dr. G said. "Flashback?"

"No ... I don't know ..." Shiv said,
groping at the air. "It's not like
a memory, just ... feelings."

"Flashbacks can be emotions,
not always images or words,"
Dr. G explained. "Then it's
a lot harder to recognize
when that's happening."

"How do I make it stop?"
Shiv whined. He felt like
he was drowning in the slosh
and slop of emotions, and he
was desperate enough to try
anything that might fix it.

"First, take a deep breath and
let it out slowly," Dr. G said.
"You need oxygen to think."

Shiv concentrated on breathing,
his chest so tight that it hurt.

"Next, tell yourself that you're
having a flashback," Dr. G said.
"You are not in danger right now,
even though you were in the past."

"It's not real," Shiv whispered.

"The feelings are real, it's the danger
that isn't real," Dr. G said. "Those emotions
loop back to something that happened to you
a long time ago. It's okay to feel what you feel."

"I don't want to," Shiv said. "I keep trying
to make it go away but it just won't."

"We'll get there," Dr. G said.
"Think about your boundaries;
that can help you feel safer. You
have a right to your own space and
your own body. If anyone tries
to hurt you, then you can leave.
You have allies now too."

Shiv focused on being here,
above Blues Moon, where if he
yelled, a bunch of pissed-off gangsters
would come charging into the room
with their weapons at the ready.

"Yeah," he said. "It's a good place."

"Ease back into your body," Dr. G said.
"Feel your skin and muscles and bones.
Your body is here in the present."

"It hurts," Shiv admitted shifting
in his seat. "Everything's tangled up."

"May I touch?" Dr. G asked
as he lifted his hand.

Shiv flinched, and that made
cramps jangle through his body.
"Leave my scars alone," he snapped.

"Okay, we're done with that part,"
Dr. G reminded him. "It's good that you
can express boundaries. I was hoping
to check something else, though. You
look like your body's tying itself in knots."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "Feels like it."

"Could I touch your shoulder, over
your shirt, just for a few seconds?"
Dr. G said. "You can say no, but this
would help me figure out what to try next."

"Fine," Shiv said. That couldn't be
much worse than he already felt.

The squeeze was gentle and
fleeting, and it barely made a dent
in the rock-hard muscles of his arm.

"That's what I thought," Dr. G said.
"The emotional tension is coming out
as muscle tension, and making you
even more uncomfortable."

"I know," Shiv said. "I just want it
to go away and leave me alone."

"I may be able to help with that,"
Dr. G said. "I know of an exercise
that often works in situations like this.
I can talk you through it, but you would
need to do most of the work yourself.
Would you like to give it a try?"

"Yeah. I feel crap," Shiv said.
"I'll try just about anything."

"All right, for this exercise you
will need to build a mental image of
a more-safe place and a less-safe place,"
said Dr. G. "Does this room work
as a safer place for you?"

"Close enough," Shiv said.
"I can't think of a better one."

"Then we'll use this, so if you get
too upset, just think yourself back here,"
Dr. G said. "Have you ever lived in
a house with a scary basement?"

"Plenty of 'em," Shiv said. "It's not
like I had many nice places to live."

"Does one of them stand out as
the scariest basement?" Dr. G said.

"The Smek house," Shiv said.
"That was their name, Smek,
but we always used to call it
the Smack house 'cause ... yeah."

"And they had a scary basement,"
Dr. G said. "What was it like?"

"It was so dark, and down
this really steep flight of stairs,
all cobwebby and awful," Shiv said.
Just remembering it made him shudder.
"I never wanted to go down there,
but they made me do it anyway."

"You didn't like going down there,"
Dr. G said. "That's understandable."

"Yeah, the laundry sink and washer
were down there, but they didn't have
no dryer," Shiv said. "We had to haul up
the wet clothes to hang on the clothesline.
I was only little, but that was my job, fetching
the clothes for the girls to hang up. Parents
got mad if I didn't, called me a lazy brat."

"That was unkind of them," Dr. G said.

"How's this supposed to make me
feel better?" Shiv whined. "It's not!"

"We're not done yet," Dr. G said.
"Think about the door to that basement."

"It was in the kitchen," Shiv said.
"Dark wood on the walls, in stripes,
and the door was wood. Every time
anyone opened that door, it screamed."

"No wonder you didn't like it," Dr. G said.
"Imagine that the door is open, and --"

"I don't want to go down there,"
Shiv said instantly. He could feel
the old doorknob under his hand,
ridged metal like a target, and smell
the mildew from wet laundry left
for too long in the hamper.

"That's good, because you're
not going down there today,"
said Dr. G. "You're just going
to sit down on the top step."

Shiv had been waiting for Dr. G
to shove him down the stairs,
so that came as a relief.

"Okay," Shiv said. "I can do that."

"Do you want me to sit with you?"
Dr. G offered. "It's no trouble at all."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I don't want
to be alone. I hated having to go
down the stairs all by myself."

"Then I'll sit right here with you
on the top step," Dr. G said.
"Do you want the light on?"

"No," Shiv said. "I don't want
to see what's down there."

"Okay," said Dr. G. "We'll
leave the basement light off.
Is the kitchen light on, though?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. He didn't
want to be in here with it off.

"So the kitchen light is on,
but the basement light is off,
and we're sitting on the top stair
looking down into the basement
of the Smack house," Dr. G said.

Shiv laughed, strangled and wild,
but it was too funny not to respond.
"Yeah. Okay. Yeah," he said.

"You're doing great," Dr. G said.
"Now here's the tricky part: imagine
that all the stuff that you're trying
to get rid of is down in that basement."

Shiv leaned back so hard that
the futon creaked in protest.
"I don't wanna go down there!"

"We're not going to do that,"
Dr. G said. "We're sitting on
the top step. Everything that's
bothering you is down there,
not right on top of you."

With a specific image in mind,
it was easier for Shiv to push out
the feelings that crowded him.

"I think it's working?" he said.

"Good," said Dr. G. "What your brain
has been doing is sending you a message
that there's stuff it wants you to work on.
You're not ready yet, and that's okay.
But brains don't always think in words,
so we're telling it in images that you're
not ready for this project today."

"And it really works?" Shiv said.
He wanted it to work. Desperately.

"You tell me," Dr. G said. "How do you
feel about the basement now? How
do you feel about your body?"

"The basement is scarier than ever,"
Shiv said. "My body is ... I dunno,
maybe it's not as bad as it was?"

"All right," said Dr. G. "Now,
the basement is a place where
you can store things you don't need
just this minute. They'll be right there
whenever you're ready for them, so
your brain doesn't have to keep
pestering you about them."

"Uh huh," Shiv said. He
remembered sitting on that stair,
the cross-hatch of brown lines on
the yellow linoleum of the kitchen and
the way the screws in the threshold
dug into the underside of his butt.

"Let all the rough stuff stay
down there," Dr. G said. "Think
of it sliding off you, like letting go
of a backpack, thumpty-bump
down the stairs it goes."

Shiv giggled a bit. "Bye-bye!"

"All the difficult feelings that are
making you stiff and sore and tired.
All the sad memories of people being
mean to you. All the monsters that
haunt you, whatever they are, "
Dr. G said. "Let them go."

"But I'm the monster,"
Shiv whispered.

Dr. G looked sad again.
"I respectfully disagree," he said,
"but that's something for us to discuss
another time. Right now, let's focus
on making you feel better."

Shiv wondered if he could dump
the monster parts of himself down
the stairs, and if there'd be anything
left of him if he actually did that.

The thought scared him, so
he pushed it away, down the stairs,
to worry about some other time.

"Someday, when you're ready,
we can go down there and clean out
that basement, get rid of all the spiders
and the old junk that you don't need,"
Dr. G said. "But today is not that day."

"Close the door," Shiv said,
uneasy again. "I don't like it here."

"The door is in your head, Shiv,
so you need to close it," Dr. G said.
"Let's stand up and step back. Now,
wrap your hand around the knob,
shut the door, and lock it."

"Doesn't have a lock," Shiv said.
He hated that about the door, like it
was always waiting to open up
and swallow him whole.

"Then put one on it," said Dr. G.
"Imagine screwing the lock into the door
and the frame, and then lock it so that
the door stays closed. You can even
lock it with your superpower, if you wish."

Shiv closed the door, and put a lock
on it, and then squeezed his hand over it
so that the lock melted into a blob.

Nobody was opening that door now.
He heaved a sigh of relief.

"Now that you've locked the door,
imagine yourself in your living room,
safe, and when you feel ready,
open your eyes," Dr. G said.

Shiv's eyes popped open.
He hadn't even realized that
they were closed earlier.

He was also leaning against
Dr. G, almost burrowed into him.

It reminded Shiv of the few times
that Dr. Bloch had run a hand
down his back to help him settle.

"Wow," Shiv said. "What a ride."

"Yes, I'd say that was quite a success,"
Dr. G said. "You're very good at this."

"I'm not good at things," Shiv said.
"Except, you know, bad things."

"Yet here you are, mastering
a mental exercise on your first try,"
Dr. G said. "That's good work."

"How do you know?" Shiv said.
People never said that about him.
He was lazy and he knew it.

"Oh, I could see it working,"
Dr. G said. "The moment that you
locked the door, most of the tension
went right out of your muscles."

"Really?" Shiv said, looking
down at himself. He didn't
see a difference there.

"Yes," Dr. G said, and he
waved his hand toward Shiv.
"Would you like me to show you?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I think that
I can feel it, but I'm not sure."

Dr. G wrapped his hand around
Shiv's shoulder and squeezed gently.
His fingers sank in, but didn't hurt.

"That's how much you've relaxed,"
Dr. G said. "You haven't suppressed
the things that were bothering you, so
they're not knotting up inside. Instead,
you put them away for a while, until
you're ready to deal with them."

He left his arm draped over Shiv,
not holding him tight, just casually there
so that Shiv could get some contact.

"What if I do need those things?"
Shiv said. He'd been uneasy for
so long, he wasn't sure he'd know
what to do with himself without it.

"Then you can choose to open
the door," Dr. G replied.

"I uh, kind of smushed
the lock," Shiv confessed.

"So?" Dr. G said. "You have
superpowers and a good imagination.
Just think the basement door open
if you need to open it later."

"Yeah, I can probably get it,"
Shiv said. He felt light and empty.
It was weird, but definitely better.

His stomach gurgled. There
had never been enough food
in the Smack house. They had
a root cellar, but there wasn't
anything in it but old paint cans.

"Time for lunch?" Dr. G asked.
"I'm getting hungry too."

"Yeah," Shiv said, pushing himself
off the futon. He went back into
the kitchen, Dr. G following him.
"I bought this ham and cheese ring
at the farmer's market for lunch.
You want to split it with me?"

"I'd love to, but I don't want
to short you," Dr. G said. "Is there
really enough for both of us?"

"Yeah, but then I wouldn't have
much left over," Shiv said. He had
hoped to get two lunches out of it.

"Keep it, then, and I'll just get
my own lunch on the way home,"
Dr. G said, shaking his head.

Then Shiv had an idea. "I got
these tomatoes, Chocolate Amazons,
at the farmer's market today," he said,
pulling them out of the refrigerator.
"We can slice them up to go
with the ham thingie."

They were dark red with
almost black shoulders, and
they made Dr. G lick his lips.

"Those look delicious," Dr. G said
as he watched Shiv lay them out.
"I've never seen any before."

"They're great," Shiv promised,
flicking out his knife to slice them.

They pulled apart the ham ring
with their hands, and for a while,
the only sound was munching.

The dark, smoky flavor of the tomatoes
made a perfect counterpoint to the ham.

They devoured all the tomatoes and
most of the ham ring, although there was
enough left for tomorrow's lunch if Shiv
found something else to stretch it.

He leaned back and belched.
"That was good," he said.
"Next time, I gotta get me
one of their taco rings."

"That sounds tempting,"
Dr. G said. "How do you feel?"

"Stuffed," Shiv said. "Oh,
you mean like feelings, how do
I feel? Okay, I guess. Better than
before. Really glad it's over."

"I'm happy the exercise worked
for you," said Dr. G. "I know that we've
been exploring things for a while now, but
we need to be careful not to push too far.
If you want to start digging into deeper things,
then you'll need to learn some new skills first."

"Nah, I'm fine," Shiv said. "You just got
all wound up over the damn scars, and I
didn't want to let that drag out forever.
Better to face up, and then move on."

"I'm satisfied that the scars aren't
a serious problem," Dr. G said.
"However, they do indicate
a challenging past, and that
might raise issues for you."

"I already know my life is
fucked up, doc," said Shiv.

"Not by my standards," Dr. G said.
"You're out of jail. You have a job,
a roof over your head, and food in
the kitchen. You can wash, dress,
and feed yourself. You even socialize
a bit now. Those are all accomplishments,
especially after what you've come through."

"Huh," Shiv said. "I never thought of those
as accomplishments. They're just stuff to do."

"Some people still struggle with them,"
Dr. G said. "Given your background, it'd
be no surprise if you did. I'm impressed with
how functional you are, all things considered."

Shiv wasn't used to being called functional.
It was a little edgy, but also kind of nice. "Me,
functional," he said. "There's a new thought."

"With each phase of growth we must shed
a protective layer, the way a crawdad has
to shed its shell in order to grow," said Dr. G.

"That's alarming," Shiv muttered.

"We are left exposed and vulnerable --
but also fresh and embryonic again," Dr. G said.
"I believe you are capable of stretching in
ways that you hadn’t ever known before."

Shiv turned that over in his head.
"Maybe?" he said. "You mentioned
new skills, though, and I suck at school."

"Was this school?" Dr. G asked,
waving a hand at Shiv.

"Well, no," Shiv said.

"This is how I work,"
Dr. G said. "You can state
a goal and I'll help you reach it,
or I can watch for things in your life
that are troubling you, and suggest
ways you could improve them."

"Huh," Shiv said. "It's not like
any therapy I had before, and I
had a lot over the years."

"Since we have established that
most of your former 'therapists'
were quacks, I'll take that as
a compliment," said Dr. G.

Shiv thought about all the people
who had tried to hack into his head,
and then compared them to the man
who let him snuggle up for comfort
without ever trying to pin him down.

"Yeah, doc," he said, "but you earned it."

* * *

Notes:

"With each passage of human growth we must shed a protective structure (like a hardy crustacean). We are left exposed and vulnerable- but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before."
-- Gail Sheehy

This shows the outside of Blues Moon with the main floor and two layers of apartments. The smaller building on the right also belongs to the Ebonies & Ivories, used as storage space for artwork and furnishings which can be used in any of the apartments above the jazz joint. The two floors above the club have apartments similar to these. The hallway extends all the way to the back stairs. The central stairwell and elevator is instead a common lounge area with public bathrooms. On the lower floor, the front right "open" apartment is a flop room with multiple beds, which can sleep a total of 12 people. The front left "Mies" apartment is furnished normally, but not permanently assigned, used as temporary housing or extra function space as needed. Shiv gets the back left "standard" apartment, with the bathroom protected inside the bedroom. Popgun has the right middle semi-open apartment. On the top floor, Boss White has the back left "standard" apartment, and Lieutenant Brown has the back right semi-open apartment.

Shiv's dining room has a quote above the table. In his living room, the black-bordered blanket is spread over a large futon. Decorations include a photoprint of saxophonist Mark Turner, several pieces of Shiv's papercut art, houseplants, a mail sorter made from old records, and decals over the light switches. Shiv's bedroom has one of his own saxophonist pictures done with creme pastels.

Shiv's bathroom has a Frozen theme with a large Elsa decal, Elsa bath mat, Elsa bath towel, Elsa drinking glass, and assorted other snowflake accessories.

Nick's Thrifts is part of the Harding Plaza strip mall. The sign just says "Thrift Store" because it changed hands several times prior to the current owner. The outside of the store includes a large covered porch commonly used for sidewalk sales. Seasonal items and bargains often appear here. This is part of the clothing section. Swimsuits have their own rack. Right in the middle of the picture, you can see Shiv's blue-and-white Hawaiian boardshorts. Toward the back of the swim trunks, you can see Shiv's black boardshorts. Here is the housewares section. Furniture fills one corner. Books fill another corner.

Staff in the sorting room take in donations and direct them to Cleaning & Repair if necessary. Then they organize items ready for sale, pack them into carts, and send them into the main store for placement in the displays. Nick's Thrifts hires many people with invisible disabilities, because most of the tasks are productive without being too difficult or demanding.

Some businesses go into this kind of support for personal reasons, some for practical reasons, but there are now many businesses that hire people with disabilities. Here are some tips for employers who want to hire people with disabilities.

A thriving member of the local community, Nick's Thrifts often staffs a booth at the county fair, street festivals, and other events. Although they do a variety of things, they are best known for their Dime-a-Dish display. Contestants may pitch as many dimes as they wish at a rack full of fancy vases and other glassware -- if it goes in one, you win the piece. Most people just toss whatever dimes they have, but the staff carry whole rolls of dimes that you can buy. Some of these games are rigged in various ways. To be fair, all the dishware must be big enough for the coin to fit inside, and players must have free choice of throwing styles. The most effective method is to toss the coin in a gentle parabola so it falls relatively straight down onto your target.

Nick's Thrifts supports all kinds of invisible disabilities. These are things that impair people's lives, but either don't show physically (like mental illness) or only become noticeable under certain circumstances (like hearing impairment). Among the hidden issues supported is brain injury, including Post-Traumatic Brain Injury Syndrome.

Here is a map of Nebraska showing the cities.

This is the Smek House in Bellevue, near Omaha. See the back door and garage. This is the back door. Shiv hated the family next door because they had a deck, a picnic table, a swimming pool, a trampoline -- and it was all fenced off, nobody else was supposed to use any of it. But they only had one child, and he didn't have any friends, so most of the time it just sat there. See the basement door with kitchen light off and with it on. Here is the basement showing the door to the root cellar which is mostly empty. This area holds the hot water heater, washer, and utility sink. See a closeup of the washer and sink.

On the first floor, this is the living room showing the front door. The staircase goes up between the door to the dining room and the door to the kitchen. Here is the kitchen. The wall opposite the appliances has the basement door. The seasonal porch faces the back yard.

The stairs go up to the second floor. There is a full bathroom upstairs. Shiv slept in the boys' bedroom. This bedroom has a door to the upstairs seasonal porch. The master bedroom also opens onto the same porch. This is the girls' bedroom. Here are the stairs to the attic. and a view inside the attic.

Shiv's hot potato t-shirt has the Omaha Farmer's Market logo on the back. His red-and-black shorts are made from jersey knit. This is a 50-pound bag of potatoes.

"Roll 'im On Down" Bahaman Ship Launching Song

"Beans Greens Potatoes Tomatoes" Thanksgiving Rap Song

"I Don't Want No Jail Time" Song

"The Potato-Digger's Song" Songs of the Great Irish Famine

Dézi is a food manufacturer on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. They make a variety of products, mostly inspired by traditional foods. Their cold cereals include Omaha Acorn Crisps, Omaha Acorn Flakes, Omaha Blueberry Crisps, Omaha Cattail Crunch, and Omaha Strawberry Crisps. They also make a hot cereal, Omaha Acorn Porridge.

dézi (noun)
Definition(s): Belly, abdomen. gloss: belly, abdomen, stomach
-- Omaha & Ponca Digital Dictionary

Omaha Acorn Crisps -- a cold cereal made from acorn flour baked into squares similar to chex, with no grains. It's available plain, with honey, or with huckleberries.

This recipe for acorn crackers can be spread thinner to make cereal flakes.

Acorns are variable in their nutritional composition – predominately a carbohydrate source with fat percentages reaching 17% and protein percentages around 4%. Surprisingly, they are also a good source of Vitamins A and C.

Sharing and describing new foods is a good way of encouraging children to try a wider range of things.

Bandaid philosophy is the perennial debate between "rip it quick" and "peel it slow." People argue vigorously for both sides. This is because most people sensibly try multiple methods and then choose the one that hurts less for them. Some methods have inescapable risks, though. If you have a scab attached to a bandaid, peeling slowly will allow you to discover this and soak it off safely. Quick removal will take off the scab along with the bandaid, which is bad. Some people have attempted comparative studies, but this study considered a two-second "pull' to be slow, which is not at all how slow pullers remove bandaids. This comprehensive set of instructions includes a much better description of slow removal. Note that this philosophy is not restricted to bandaids, but tends to permeate a person's approach to painful problems in general. People who favor the "rip it quick" method of bandaid removal are likely to do the same in breakups and other situations. In this case, it shapes Shiv's response to Dr. G's curiosity about his scars.

(These links are intense.)
Consider the spectrum of consent and assisted decision-making for people with (temporarily or permanently) impaired consent. There are short and long resources for helping people make good decisions.

(So are these.)
Abuse survivors have an impaired sense of boundaries and thus need help managing healthy ones. Boundaries are necessary for good relationships. Understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries.

Biofeedback is a form of therapy which teaches people how to influence bodily functions that are usually subconscious, such as breathing and heart rates. There is a tendency for people with perceptive superpowers to 'zone' on engrossing input, notably healers becoming enraptured by the intricacies of the human body. A safe and effective way to bring them out of it is to use the startle reflex, but shaking them is very jarring. 'Blinking' your metabolism may take a month or two to learn, but is much gentler. Dr. G learned this so he could help Heron practice.

(These links are appalling.)
Forced therapy has a low chance of success and a high chance of harm, and it happens widely in local-America because people simply don't care about the consent of anyone with mental issues. This reveals that the treatment is usually not for the comfort of the victim, but rather aimed at making other, more important people happier or richer. When therapists bully people, that tends to cause trauma. Another problem is that L-American therapists are legally obligated to be double agents, falsely promising clients privacy but then divulging intimate information to third parties without consent, which often has negative impacts on the client. Most people will fall for this once, and then know better than to believe "promises" of "privacy." So they stop talking about their problems, which lowers the chance of solving those; but at least it doesn't leave them vulnerable to people working against them. Here is a look at one person's experiences of therapeutic abuse. Another issue is therapeutic neglect, which can be either outright denial of services or providing inappropriate service instead of addressing a client's real needs. These are some of the many ways that therapists abuse their clients and the resulting damage from that. And this is how we get a supervillain who says "no" at knifepoint because he has learned that's the only way people will respect it.

This article includes a lot more ugly details about therapeutic abuse, but it also lays out some excellent ideas for collaborative instead of coercive treatment. Therapeutic abuse makes it more difficult for the victim to seek any other kind of therapy ever again -- and even if they manage it, much more difficult for their new therapist to treat them. Here are some ways to accommodate survivors of therapeutic abuse. Among the most important is simply believing that when someone says no, they have a good reason for doing that. This is actually true of Shiv, even though therapy was never his idea in the first place: when his ideas are respected as valid and used to find solutions that work, he is quite happy to make improvements in his life and is satisfied with the results. Notice that even in the middle of a rather miserable session, Shiv is entirely unwilling to let go of Dr. G and lose those benefits.

"How is that working for you?" is a question used throughout T-America to prompt people into assessing the effectiveness of their current decisions and actions. Here's an article from health care that includes a flow chart on how to serve as a sounding board for someone's self-care or problem-solving routine. This fits really well with Rogerian therapy, or any other person-centered support, because it keeps the focus on their choices while still offering help if they get stuck. A more detailed quality of life questionnaire may also be illuminating. Shiv's quality of life is definitely improving.

See Graham's swim trunks.

Shared vulnerability is the key to intimacy in close relationships. It differs from oversharing in that both parties must agree to the exchange, and effective sharing is relevant. In this case, Dr. G looked for something that would be similar in import and flavor to what he was asking Shiv to do. That experience made it possible for Shiv to divulge things that he hasn't shared with anyone else. Equality is essential to healthy relationships. If a therapist remains too cold and aloof, then clients may not form the kind of connection necessary for that relationship to help them heal. Among the most essential things for a therapist to provide is simply an authentic human presence, what Rogerian therapy calls "genuineness." Here it helps just to show Shiv that Dr. G has survived a serious injury, is fine now, and still feels comfortable inviting other people to touch him.

(This link is graphic.)
I have read about jacknife burns in various books on child abuse, but I had a hard time finding anything online. I did find this one picture of a fresh injury equivalent to Shiv's. The crisp horizontal line indicates a deliberate injury. The higher, blotchy area on the left side is typical of accidental burns -- in this case, from sloshing the water around as the victim struggled.

This "no means no" poster lists a lot of things that mean "no" other than just that word. The problem is that people routinely ignore them, not just in sexual contexts, but in most human interactions. In L-America, no doesn't mean no; power means no. So that leads directly to sexual confusion, misconduct, and assault -- because people are simply copying what they see around them all the time.

(These links are intense.)
Consent is a complex topic. Most discussions focus on sexual situations, but consent applies to nonsexual situations too. Dr. G asks properly, so he's in the clear, but that's not always enough to avoid problems. While Shiv agrees to the discussion and the touching, that's not something he actually wants to do; his past experiences have left his consent impaired in ways that Dr. G can't always compensate for.

So this raises the fascinating question of whether Shiv's decision to "get it over with" was right or wrong. Assuming competence, we believe his assessment that leaving this issue unaddressed would seriously bother him. His solution, kicking it out into the open no matter how much that hurt, has effectively solved that problem, thus attaining his stated goal. However, it was a miserable situation and went right back to the problem of Shiv letting people do things to him that he doesn't want. He has a very erratic response there -- it can be violently defensive, or panicked into the point of passivity. That's an effect of various types of damage that he has survived over the years. A rough session can undermine a therapeutic relationship, even if it was nobody's fault. There's also a very delicate question of when Dr. G needs to intervene as a therapist to prevent Shiv from getting in over his head, and when he needs to respect Shiv's choices even if that means letting him make a mistake. It's better to make mistakes in a safe, controlled environment where the risk is lower than in everyday life where things could really blow up. I think that just the process of asking for permission back and forth will prove helpful, even if the immediate result was Shiv pushing himself harder than was necessarily wise.

(Some of these links are difficult.)
Personal boundaries come in different types. Ideally, people understand how to set and maintain boundaries which are flexible and semi-permeable. Child abuse damages boundaries, causing many problems that can linger into adulthood. Survivors often struggle with setting appropriate boundaries. Shiv's awareness and handling of his boundaries is patchy at best. You can see Dr. G trying to talk Shiv through the necessary choices, but Shiv's ability to follow even good instructions is limited by his past damage. It's very much like this article about consent and autism: when someone's boundaries are violated routinely, they cannot learn healthy boundaries. Here's a more detailed exploration of boundaries and psychology.

(Some of these links are awful.)
Repressed memories often result from child abuse or other trauma. This can happen due to state-dependent memory, which in this case means that someone touching Shiv's body while he feels anxious is starting to stir those memories in a way he really does not want. Contrariwise, another thing that brings up lost memories is feeling safe enough to deal with trauma that was too overwhelming to handle when it first happened. During Shiv's childhood, he had few if any resources for coping with all the abuse and neglect, but now he has a lot more. Know the signs of repression and how to handle it.

Shiv's body language shows discomfort, defensiveness, anxiety and sadness. A child (and he's pretty far down the emotional age ladder at that point) hugging his knees and rocking is showing extreme upset. Abused children often become touch-averse, so you can't just do the instinctive thing and hug them. However, Shiv's comfort-seeking later drives him to snuggle up to Dr. G -- something he wouldn't ordinarily do, but it helps in that moment.

Emotional flashbacks are intense, wordless memories of traumatic experiences. Because they are overwhelming and yet difficult to recognize, they can rank among the worst symptoms of traumatic stress. Shiv has no idea what's really happening to him, but at least now he has a therapist who does, can explain it clearly, and knows how to talk him through it. Here are some ways of managing emotional flashbacks.

Childhood flashbacks are particularly common among abuse survivors. Because children are nonverbal or minimally verbal for the first several years of their lives, these appear prevailingly as emotional flashbacks. That contributes to the different symptoms of post-traumatic stress in children, and to the development of developmental trauma disorder. Here are some ideas on handling childhood flashbacks.

Being safe and feeling safe are not exactly the same things. I made a safety tracker for people whose experiences have impaired their ability to gauge this easily. There are ways to help someone feel safe. Dr. G has put a considerable amount of work into helping Shiv be and feel safer, and it's working, it just takes time because the damage is so deep. This workbook on overcoming trauma has a whole chapter on safety.

Visualization is a useful tool in personal development, pursuing goals, and therapy. Learn how to use visualization. There are text, audio, and video scripts for guided meditations. Shiv excels at this because of his visual and tactile orientation.

PTSD metaphors include the linen closet. Dr. G's use of a basement serves a similar purpose. This has advantages over Shiv's instinctive formation of a solid, rubbery wall in that the basement has a door which can be opened, closed, or locked; and a light which can be turned on or off.

Trauma often causes regressive behavior in foster children. While they are often diagnosed with PTSD or PDSD, a more accurate diagnosis has been proposed as Developmental Trauma Disorder. That means miserable childhood experiences damaged the victim's ability to grow up as expected, often leaving them with behaviors typical of a much earlier age. This explains why Shiv often acts like a younger teen or even a toddler, rather than like his chronological age of 20. Foster children often wind up with their emotional, mental, and chronological ages widely spread. While this can be frustrating for everyone, it also offers adults a precious opportunity to meet the unmet needs which are driving the behavior. Sometimes those injuries can be healed, other times not, but you definitely won't know unless you try. The fact that Shiv is showing more of his feelings is a sign of growing trust. Dr. G understands that the way to handle regression is to deal with the person on their current level, without criticism. Here is a detailed guide to child development, the effects of trauma, and recommended responses.

The Ham and Cheese Ring can be made from scratch or with storebought dough. Enjoy a picture.

Read about Chocolate Amazon Tomatoes.

"Activities of daily living" include self-care and other practicalities. Flip it around and you get "functional limitations" for what people find it difficult or impossible to do. The list of common functional limitations for PTSD is insultingly short -- only one item, avoidance -- so refer instead to more comprehensive lists for other conditions with similar symptoms, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (which Shiv also has). There are various measurements and types of impairment in traumatic stress. Here is a description of severity levels used by the Veterans Administration. As much of a mess as Shiv's life is in many ways, he is mostly functional most of the time. It does not help that previous people have generally failed to appreciate this.

For people with a traumatic past, mental issues, physical disabilities, etc. it is helpful to reconsider what "accomplishment" means. Setting small goals and celebrating partial successes can help them feel less anxious and more satisfied. This is especially important for Shiv because 1) he has rarely gotten praise for anything, and 2) he can't hold large or long-term goals in his mind. He can, however, manage his budget one week at a time by himself, and one month at a time with help from an experienced accountant.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-10-22 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
*shivers* As a demisensual with established issues about mental messing around, I got the shiveries here, especially when it came to the mental exercises. Well done, for that. ... Ow.

I'm liking the idea of a bunch of rough trade but not evil gangsters singing and rapping while they work, though.

O_O

Date: 2017-10-22 05:06 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I am now both impressed and terrified of doctor G. He's really really smart. And nothing like the shrinks I've had in the past! Which makes me wonder if I could actually run rings around him like I did the other shrinks I've worked with, probably not. He's like next level crazy therapy Ninja and I don't know what to do with that. I'm impressed, sort of jealous, frightened, and maybe a tiny bit longing. Which is weird. ECR.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-10-22 11:28 am (UTC)
gingicat: woman in a green dress and cloak holding a rose, looking up at snow falling down on her (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat
Interestingly, just before I read this, I followed this link my best friend sent me:
http://lysikan.tumblr.com/post/166641263875/littlestspider-lysikan-geekdawson-one-of

(no subject)

Date: 2017-10-23 02:25 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Seems like a very effective visualization exercise.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-10-23 04:06 am (UTC)
thnidu: my familiar. "Beanie Baby" -type dragon, red with white wings (Default)
From: [personal profile] thnidu
«Boss Batir had beaten him black and blue
with the strap end of the belt before getting
sick of Shiv's stubborn silence and laying on
the last few stripes with the buckle end.»

What an unmitigated bastard.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-10-25 07:03 am (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
Though, as a technical note, it's hard to beat someone "black and blue" by whipping them with the leather end of a belt. Heavier leather can do it, and if the belt is doubled over, the bend can bruise, but if someone was whipping with the leather side of a belt, I'd expect skin to split before significant bruises showed.

(I'm not complaining - "beat someone black and blue" has an understood meaning, and its use here is well within artistic license. And I would guess you know this. But with some amateur experience with straps, I wanted to call it out.)

Re: Okay ...

Date: 2017-10-25 06:16 pm (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer

Well, I'm not arguing/debating, precisely - it just stuck out in my head; sure, "beating someone black and blue" is a common expression; it works in context; but my mind twigged to "wait, belts tend to damage the heck out of skin surface".

It doesn't mean it was wrong - you're correct, Shiv, in particular, may have been beaten black and blue - maybe due to direct bruises; maybe due to various skin damage where blood oozed everywhere. It was more like... hm.

I saw a person trying to write an meaningfully sophisticated man, who brought tea in a china pot, with a bowl of sugar cubes, tongs, and... cream.

Technically, there's nothing wrong with cream in tea, but it just doesn't tend to be done. Maybe this sophisticated gentleman didn't know tea, and brought the best he had, knowing that people might take tea with dairy; maybe he knew that the woman he was serving tea to had an oddity about wanting cream, NOT milk, in her tea. It wasn't wrong. It didn't ruin the story. But it stuck out a bit, and since I had an uneasy relationship to that person, I wasn't sure if I should explain "most people take tea with milk; cream is usually seen as too rich for the more delicate flavors in tea" because it might sound like I was saying "you were wrong!" when what I wanted to impart was "tea goes with milk, unless there's a reason; don't accidentally pair it with cream. (Oh, you didn't? Cool! I wasn't sure you knew.)"

And, technically, yes, Shiv could have been beaten black and blue; and I know you're not ignorant of impact and its effects. But the phrasing stuck out as strange, and it triggered the same sort of thought, roughly, "be careful about accidentally pairing 'black and blue' with belt tongues. (Oh, you didn't? Cool! I wasn't sure you'd thought about it.)"

Re: Okay ...

Date: 2017-10-26 10:42 pm (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer

I don't think you need to add anything to the story or the notes, especially with the sense that it's Shiv's memory... like I said, "beaten black and blue" has a meaning that everyone knows and understands, and I don't think many would care whether there's literal black and blue, or bruises, or not. It was just something that caused my brain to go off in one direction, and it was easier to call it out as a technical note than to argue with myself over whether I should just ignore it entirely.

If I'd been fatigued, I'd have ignored it entirely, just because it was too much trouble, and because I'd be afraid of muffing the tone. Not being fatigued, and being in a talky mood, made me ready to mention it. It wasn't a complaint or advice or a suggestion - if it had been, it probably would have been a direct reply. I guess "just making conversation, because there was a conversation to join" is the best description.

Re: Okay ...

Date: 2017-10-26 05:00 am (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
Oh, and as a side note: I would imagine that a masochist would feel especially bitter about a beating, especially if it was in his fantasy-realm.

I'm blanking on whether I'm remembering Shiv's boss or Payne's but a whipping with a belt from someone who cares, even on the back instead of the butt, might seem exciting and have a sort of joy if given for a good reason. One example I like to use is for some serious failure in self-care, and the whipping is because "you *matter*! I *care* about you! And you nearly got yourself hurt (or killed) *stupidly*!"

Not everyone is into that, of course, but I could see such a thing being both extremely emotionally painful (from the realization that he'd legitimately hurt someone who cared) yet extremely powerfully meaningful(OMG! He's whipping me because I (nearly?) hurt someone he loves - ME!).

For a masochist, getting a sadistic beating from a bastard who just wants to spread pain because he's in a mood... it might be like finding out you're getting sex because that person you found oh-so-hot and beautiful was winning a bet or had taken a dare, and they had hated the thought of sex with, you know, *you*, except a whipping includes fear, pain, etc..

(no subject)

Date: 2018-03-04 10:50 pm (UTC)
pantha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pantha
Eeep. Tough stuff, indeed. And I concur with others - Dr. G is scary-good at this. Thank goodness.

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