So last night I got home from a rather rough day and wanted something comforting. The first thing that came to mind was to reread a section of Shocking Violet, one of the last sections I wrote last November during NaNoWriMo.
One of the things I decided to do in this novel was to show the characters self-soothing and practicing self care, to integrate it into the story. This part of daily life for folks with trauma and folks who are neurodivergent is something I rarely get to see reflected in fiction, and I wanted it in my novel, wanted to show the ways characters manage stress and over-stimulation and trauma reactions. A lovely aspect of that is my own reading experiences of these passages: I find them comforting. Both as a reflection of my own life, and actually soothing to read.
In the following excerpt, Jax is struggling to manage a spiraling set of trauma responses, and grasping for new ideas. After attempting a few strategies that did not help as much as he wanted them to, he decides to go to an Al-Anon meeting, something that a buddy from his trans trauma group recommended that he try.
Tiny little room, posters on the walls. They gave him a packet of papers. Ok. He couldn’t look at those now, they went right into his bag. Where had all these older queers come from? At least three of them looked clearly like leatherdykes, including a salt and pepper butch that could have emerged from his fantasies, and a tough looking femme all in leather, with a chain on her right boot. She’d greeted him warmly, given him a packet, seemed genuinely glad for a new face, but not in a predatory fresh meat kind of way.
That was what felt weird! A room full of queers and no one was hitting on anyone, cruising anyone. Jax hadn’t experienced this, maybe ever. Even in his trans survivor group there had been sexual tension. He didn’t know who he’d be if he wasn’t bringing that into the room. But that clearly wasn’t the vibe here.
Honestly, it was kind of nice. He could be connected to other queers, listen, without worrying about anyone trying to touch him, hitting on him, cruising him. He didn’t have to say a word, could pass when they went around reading, what was it called? It seemed like there was something like a torah portion for every meeting, something connected to the steps, and then they’d cycle round again. That cycle, the predictability, the cruising off the table, it all felt…comforting. Like he could be where he was at, in the moment, and the structure would be there to support him.
He decided not to speak, he just wanted to listen. And yet, even listening was intense. Some of them sounded like he had, when he was with Dinah. Stuck, and struggling, and feeling out of control, full of urgency. Tired of needing to be in charge of everything. Ok, he needed to stop listening now or he was going to get too upset.
Jax began to count the t’s in what people said, focused on the letters in the words, not even trying to parse the content. It was one of his best strategies for seeming present and attentive while checking out. It really worked most of the time. This time, it felt loose, like things still got through. He left as soon as he could, needing a walk and some food. He’d realized near the end that part of why he felt so raw was that he had waited too long to eat. A couple glucose tablets had gotten him through the meeting.
Ok then. Bathroom, energy bar, and pick a restaurant. He chose a Jewish vegetarian restaurant that was a longish walk, but that he thought would feel really good. The cold felt wonderful on his skin as he headed east, already anticipating the matzo ball soup. There was nothing like it for comfort food.
The walk helped. So did the familiar smells in the tiny restaurant, where the counter was so close to the tables they just put your food there when it was ready. Jax did the classic diabetic sugar drop thing of ordering lots of food. Soup and latkes and for some reason the apple and cheddar omelet sounded perfect. Couldn’t miss when it came with challah.
Tea helped him warm up as he waited for soup, and checked his phone. He had a text from Violet! That was just what he needed. It made him grin, all sassy and flirtatious. Her energy just radiated, he could almost see the tilt of her head, the brightness in her eyes. He texted back, feeling more grounded after the walk and like a little flirtation was exactly what he needed. She responded, sending him a picture of the cat curled over her feet, her purple toenails peeking out. The cat was fat and adorable and clearly in charge, trapping Violet exactly where she was. Yum. He responded with a pic of his food, which all arrived at once, teasing her with the details of it.
She’d never been to that restaurant, asked if there were pickles. He promised to take her to a place where they keep bringing you pickles. He had just the spot in mind. Perhaps they could go there next weekend? Friday night was his, if he wanted it. He did want it.
Another date with Violet. Now that was a thought to savor right along with the latkes, which were damn good, by the way.
If you want to read other excerpts from Shocking Violet, the links are collected here. I suggest starting at the beginning, with the excerpt describing the first spark of attraction Jax has for Violet.