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When My Fist Clenches, Crack It Open

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David finishes copying a round of his foundation work and sets aside his pen. It's the NOs that he needed most this time, written firmly into the page. Sometimes he only needs a few, and sometimes he wants to fill up a whole notebook again, to write NO until his hand hurts and his pen runs dry.

I am David. I survived.

'Ready?' Ptonomy asks, through the mainframe link.

Davids nods, breathes out, in. Focuses on the breeze against his skin and in his hair, the warmth of the sun coming up from the concrete, even in the shade. He's calm, he's okay.

'Where would you like to start?' Ptonomy asks.

'What if we can't help him?' David thinks, and feels very much not calm or okay. 'He's in so much pain. What's wrong with Farouk that he wants to hurt me so much? That he already did all that to me?What if-- I can’t share my system with Past David without losing myself?'

'Those are some big questions,' Ptonomy admits.

'And Dvd,' David continues, feeling like the pressure inside him still needs release. 'And Syd. And even-- Divad's relationship with him. And Melanie. I feel how he feels and-- It's not how I feel, except where it is, and I have enough trouble figuring out how I feel and what I want and what to do and he's terrified all the time, god he's so afraid and--'

He forces himself to stop.

'Sounds like you're tangled up again,' Ptonomy soothes.

'Like fishing line,' David thinks, tersely.

'Dealing with Past David and Melanie, that's kept us from pushing forward with your therapy,' Ptonomy says. 'I know you've been making a lot of progress on your own, especially with your headmates. I'm really impressed with how well you're sharing today.'

David's tension goes down a notch. 'Yeah. It's--' He pauses. 'Sharing was ours and Farouk stole it from us. He used it to control me and hurt me. I need to take it back.'

'And you are,' Ptonomy says. 'Your system is doing so well. You're sharing when you want to share, when it feels healthy and right. The three of you are in control, and you're taking care of yourselves and each other.'

David feels Dvd and Divad's reactions, and how Ptonomy's praise helps their tension go down, too. Because they hear what he hears, telepathically. 'This is more like group therapy than a solo session,' he points out.

'Every session you have is group therapy,' Ptonomy says, lightly teasing. 'But try to focus on your own feelings, on this space. Turn down the volume on everything else as much as you can.

David nods, and does his best to do just that.

'Tell me how you feel,' Ptonomy says. 'Not your headmates, not Past David. You.'

'Afraid,' David admits. 'Terrified, actually. Um. Angry, furious. Completely violated.'

'Aside from Past David, and how his existence affects your relationships-- What's the biggest thing on your mind?'

'Farouk,' David answers, honestly. 'What he did to me. All of it.'

'Your Farouk trauma,' Ptonomy says, understanding. 'We didn't get very far with that yesterday.'

'No.'

'Do you think you're ready to work on that now?'

'No,' David admits. 'But-- I need to.'

'Okay,' Ptonomy says. 'Would you like someone here with you, for support? Lenny, Amy?'

David hesitates. 'Lenny?' He hates making her face this with him, but-- He needs her. God, he's so selfish. He shouldn't-- God, he should--

'Shame attack,' he thinks, tightly.

'You caught that fast,' Ptonomy says, impressed. 'Great work, David. You're doing so well. Lenny's coming right up.'

It's not the worst attack David's ever had and they caught it early. He reaches out to Dvd and Divad and he feels their love, their support, and that helps him fight the shame. By the time Lenny arrives with a tissue box and a water bottle, the worst of the attack has already passed.

He still feels like crap, but at least he knows it's his own feeling-like-crap.

"Thanks," he tells Lenny, and takes a sip from the water bottle.

"Amy wants to get the rest of the lab set up," Lenny says, casually. "Mind if they go ahead without us?"

"Sure," David says. It's-- Actually soothing, thinking of them all working together, rebuilding. He flashes Lenny a grateful smile.

His smile vanishes as he turns back to his notebook. He pulls out the loose sheets from the back. Farouk Trauma, he reads.

He looks at the trauma list, at the goals. He feels like he's doing well with the goals. Healing his system, healing himself. But 'Process my trauma so I can let it go'--

'I don't like-- Thinking about what he did to me,' he starts. 'I don't think I ever have. Seeing-- Myself. As I was.' He pauses. 'I thought I knew how bad it could get. What it felt like to-- Be pushed past my limits.' He swallows, feeling the ghost of the cord. Thinking of the scars on Past David's wrists. 'Dvd and Divad said-- They didn't know how to fix me. And I mean-- Of course they didn't. Look at me.'

'Past David's in very bad shape,' Ptonomy agrees, sympathetic. 'But that doesn't mean he can't be helped.'

'I know,' David says, but it's more of an automatic defense than something he actually believes. He pauses, then: 'Farouk made me what I am. What does it mean if I don't want to be me anymore?'

'You are you,' Ptonomy reminds him.

'Maybe Past David should just be David, and I should be-- I don't know. Someone else. That's what I am.'

David looks to Lenny, knowing she understands exactly how he feels. Maybe Melanie will, too, when she starts to remember. If she still can.

Lenny starts to talk but David interrupts. 'And don't tell me I'm the ship.'

Lenny snorts. 'Okay, forget the ship,' she sighs. 'Look, do you want to be Past David? Do you really want to go back to who you were?'

'No,' David thinks, certain.

'Then don't,' Lenny says. 'You've worked fucking hard to be Now David. Stop making Past David the standard. Past Lenny? She was a disaster, too. I don't wanna go back to that and guess what? I don't have to.'

'But you're getting your body back,' David says.

'I'll get clearer versions of my memories,' Lenny agrees. 'And yeah, being in my real body's gonna change me. But the whole point of the ship--'

David groans.

'The point of the ship is that we're always changing,' Lenny continues. 'You don't just freeze one moment in time. Which Past David is the real David? Before his mind split? When he was a mess after his mom died? When he was a passenger? Or when Farouk took him out to play again?'

David huffs. 'Lenny--'

'Which Now David is the real Now David?' Lenny continues. 'When you were flunking college? When you and Benny were stealing shit for drug money? When you were--'

'Okay, okay,' David says, surrendering. 'I get your point.'

'You better,' Lenny warns. 'I've been babysitting your Past Ass for two days and let me tell you, you're still the same David. But I look at you now, you know what I see? I see you working your Now Ass off trying to get better with everything you've got. Now David is not Farouk's sunrise. He's my friend and I'm fucking proud of him.'

David stares at her, entirely taken aback.

Lenny huffs and stares back.

'I, uh-- Really missed you,' David thinks, touched.

Lenny softens. 'Of course you did. I'm the cruise director.'

'You are,' David agrees. He takes a deep breath and lets it out. Lenny's right, he knows she is. He belongs to himself. She's the one who helped him put those words into his foundation.

'Damn right I did,' Lenny says, visibly proud.

'You do want to be yourself,' Ptonomy tells him. 'You just don't want to go back to being in intense emotional pain. I think that's what this is about. And honestly, that's a healthy reaction. You don't want to suffer or hurt. When you have a shame attack, how do you feel?'

'Like I deserve to suffer,' David thinks. 'I feel-- Like Past David feels.'

'Because he's trapped in a very painful and intense shame attack,' Ptonomy says. 'Just like you were for most of your life. I have every confidence that we can help him manage and minimize those attacks, just like we're doing with you. Your headmates weren't able to help you in the past because they didn't have the right tools, the right knowledge and experience. But they do now, right?'

'They do,' David admits. Dvd and Divad know how to help him now. They know how to help each other, to be a healthy system together. Or at least-- The foundation of it.

'Farouk is the one who defined David as suffering,' Ptonomy points out. 'But that's not your definition of David. Tell me yours.'

David hesitates, uncertain. What is his definition of David? 'Love,' he starts. That's in his foundation, too.

'Good,' Ptonomy says. 'What else? What kind of person do you want to show Past David how to be?'

David barely feels like he's figured that out for himself. But he tries anyway. 'A good person.'

'And what makes a person good?'

David thinks of Lenny and Ptonomy and Oliver and Amy, and everyone who's helped him so much. 'Kindness. Understanding. Um. Giving back.'

'That's something you've wanted for a while, right?' Ptonomy says. 'To give back.'

'Yeah.' David thinks back to how he felt in Summerland, in Clockworks, even when he was slumming it with Benny. 'I don't know where it came from, exactly. I just felt-- Frustrated. I mean, I guess part of it was-- I thought-- If I could just-- Be worth something to someone-- Maybe I wouldn't feel so ashamed.' He swallows, his throat suddenly tight. 'That's how he feels. Past David.'

'He feels worthless unless someone has a use for him,' Ptonomy says.

'Not much good about that,' David admits.

'Humans are social animals,' Ptonomy says. 'We need approval, belonging. If we grow up without healthy ways to get that, we can turn to unhealthy ones. It's healthy to be useful. It's unhealthy to sacrifice yourself as a tool.'

'Or a key,' David thinks, darkly. 'Farouk's using that. My need to feel-- Wanted. Useful.'

'He is,' Ptonomy agrees. 'I think-- It's important to remember that right now, Past David genuinely is you. Not just your past self. He's part of your consciousness now. So why wouldn't he be just as capable of healing as you?'

'He just hurts so much,' David thinks.

'That pain must be overwhelming for both of you,' Ptonomy says, understanding. 'But let's go back a moment. I don't think good and bad are necessarily helpful ways to frame ourselves. It's-- Black and white, right?'

'I guess,' David thinks.

'What if-- The reason you feel this urgency to be a good person-- Is because you feel so bad about yourself? Because that shame is so overwhelming, you can't recognize your own worth. So any validation has to be external.'

David shifts in his seat. 'Probably,' he admits.

'I'm a good person. I deserve love. That was your old mantra, right?'

'One of them,' David thinks. 'I had a few.'

'It's an affirmation, a positive statement we make to try to correct negative thinking,' Ptonomy says. 'They can be very useful. But that brings us back to the fact that your shame was preventing you from feeling that you're good, and that you deserve love.'

'But-- My foundation and mantras, they're affirmations, too,' David thinks, confused. 'Does that mean they're bad?'

'Not at all,' Ptonomy says. 'My point is-- That framing, of simple good or bad-- That's part of your traumatic thinking. If you don't want Farouk to be able to exploit that, you need a new framework. A new way to understand yourself, to define David for both parts of yourself.'

David takes another sip of his water and puzzles over that idea, trying to work through it. He doesn't get very far. 'What does that mean?' he asks.

'It means-- One good or bad action doesn't define your existence,' Ptonomy says. 'Who we are as people is about patterns of behavior. About the choices we make when we have the ability to choose.'

'I don't think I've made many good choices,' David admits. Or possibly any. His life was such a disaster.

'As long as Farouk was in your head, he was in control,' Ptonomy reminds him. 'And even once he was gone, his ideas were still in control. But now you're healing and you're making new choices every day. You chose to help Melanie with kindness, with honesty and empathy. You genuinely helped her, David. Are you proud of that?'

"I guess,' David thinks, shyly. 'I just-- I know what she's going through.'

'You don't want her to suffer,' Ptonomy says. 'You don't want her to go through the pain and confusion you did.'

'Yes.'

'And you learned from your mistakes with Syd,' Ptonomy continues. 'You didn't go in there and try to force Melanie to forget what Farouk did to her.'

David tenses up. 'No.'

'It's normal to make mistakes,' Ptonomy reminds him, gently. 'What's important is that we learn from them. That we do our best to avoid making the same mistakes again. And you did that, David. You learned. You changed your thinking and your behavior. You chose to be a better person through your own actions.'

'But-- Isn't that-- Different?' David protests. 'What I did to Syd--'

'Melanie and Syd were both taken. Their minds were altered so Farouk could use them to hurt you. Both times, you and your headmates worked together to resolve the situation.'

'But it feels totally different,' David insists.

'Why?' Ptonomy presses.

'Because-- Because--' David struggles. Was it different? It feels so different. But the situations are almost identical.

'It's because you're different,' Ptonomy says. 'Your thinking is less traumatized. You're healing, and you're working on making yourself the David you actually want to be.'

'But I don't know who that is,' David protests.

'It's been hard for you to see it,' Ptonomy allows. 'But I think you've always had a sense of who you want to be. Look at your friendship with Lenny. You've been there for each other through some awful things. That's loyalty. Look at your relationship with Syd, the good parts. Right from the beginning, you were respectful of her needs. You prioritized her happiness, even at the cost of your own. Look at your headmates. All three of you have taken care of each other through a lifetime of trauma.'

'But I screwed up so many times,' David protests.

'And you had a monster in your head, torturing you, manipulating your mind,' Ptonomy counters. 'Loyalty, respect, care and trust. Do you think only the bad things should count?'

'Yes,' David thinks, but his heart isn't in it. 'Maybe. I don't know.' He sighs. 'What are you saying?'

'I'm saying-- You're human,' Ptonomy says. 'None of us are absolutely good or bad.'

'Even Farouk?' David challenges.

'Even Farouk,' Ptonomy says.

‘Farouk’s just bad,' Lenny says.

David snorts.

'Let's say-- Farouk at least has the potential to be good,' Ptonomy says. 'You know who you should talk to? Clark.'

'Clark?' David echoes, baffled. 'He hates me.'

'Are you sure?' Ptonomy asks. 'He's in the lab because he wants to change. He wants to be a better person, just like you.'

'I was wondering why he's here,' David thinks. Ever since Past David arrived, David's been too busy to notice what Clark was up to. Though now that he thinks about it-- 'I guess he does feel-- Less angry?'

'He's working on it,' Ptonomy says. 'And the truth is, so is everyone, all the time. Because no one is absolutely good or bad. Being somewhere in the middle-- Is normal. You're normal, David. In this, you're just like everyone else. How does that feel?'

'Confusing,' David admits.

Ptonomy just chuckles.

David rubs his face. This isn't where he expected the session to go. There's so many terrible things on his Farouk Trauma page, so much pain to work through. How's he going to handle Past David's trauma if he can't cross out his own?

'Is that what you think you need to do?' Ptonomy asks, sobering. 'Cross out your trauma, mark it done?'

David shrugs. 'I just-- Want to feel like I did something.'

'You are doing something,' Ptonomy says. 'You're getting better. Yes, some parts of healing are about digging into your pain. But look at your therapy goals. How many of those are about processing your trauma?'

'I mean-- Literally only one,' David thinks.

'And what's it for?' Ptonomy asks.

'To, uh-- Let it go,' David thinks.

'Therapy isn't about making you hurt,' Ptonomy says. 'It's not a way for you to punish yourself, to feed your shame. That shame is a parasite and all it wants to do is eat you alive, remember?'

'Vividly,' David thinks.

'I know you're scared about taking on Past David's trauma,' Ptnomy says. 'But you're not facing it alone. You have your system. You have all of us. We're going to do everything we can to help your system be safe and healthy and whole. And I know you want those things.'

'Yeah,' David sighs. He wants them so much, he just-- God, he's terrified.

'What's your worst-case scenario?' Ptonomy asks. 'We turn Past David into an identity. What's your fear?'

'That-- I turn into him,' David admits, but feels ashamed for it. 'That I can't take it and-- Everything falls apart and goes back to the way it was when I was him.'

'How likely does that feel to you?'

'With Farouk involved?' David thinks. 'More than I want it to be.'

'That's fair,' Ptonomy says. 'When you imagine that happening, where's everyone else? Do they try to help?'

'I don't know,' David admits. 'It just-- Happens.'

'So you're not in control,' Ptonomy says.

'No, the pain is in control,' David thinks. 'The trauma, the-- Farouk. Farouk's in control.'

'That's why you want to cross out your trauma? So you can feel in control?'

'Yes,' David thinks, strongly. He feels the urge to write more NOs but resists it.

'Let's try something,' Ptonomy says. 'I want you to imagine that happening, the trauma taking control. But don't let yourself be alone. Put someone there with you. How about Lenny?'

'Ready for duty,' Lenny says.

David closes his eyes and pictures it. It's not hard, all he has to do is let himself feel what Past David feels. All of that is agonizingly familiar. Nothing feels real, he's terrified and confused and hopelessly lost, and the monster has him in its grip and it's never, ever going to let him go. And most of all, he knows that he's broken, that he's garbage, that he doesn't deserve kindness or love or anything good, he could never ever deserve it because every single breath fills his chest with shame.

A few tears leak from his eyes. Damn it, he thought he was actually going to get through this session without crying. He's such an idiot.

'Lenny,' Ptonomy says, gently. 'Lenny's with you.'

'I'm here,' Lenny says. 'We've been through worse shit together, okay? I'm not gonna leave you.'

David takes a shaky breath. Lenny should go, she should run. She can't save him, no one can. This is all his life ever was, and all it's ever going to be, and it's exactly what he deserves.

'Bullshit,' Lenny says, angry. 'You're my friend and I love you, okay? I'm not leaving. We're gonna get through this together because that's what we do.'

David wants to refuse her. He wants to let the pain take every last thing away from him. But-- He doesn't want that. He doesn't. NO. 'Lenny,' he thinks, pained.

'I'm right here,' Lenny says, and he can feel her. Not from the outside, but-- In his heart. A stubborn, angry spark of Lenny, lodged too deep for even Farouk to pull out. He puts his hand over his heart and feels her there, focuses on her, makes her stronger.

And the bleak pain-- Edges back. He's not alone. He refuses to let the pain win.

'NO,' he thinks, the spark blazing into a fire. 'NO NO NO NO NO.'

He opens his eyes. He grabs a tissue, wipes away his tears, then does it again. He's shaky, breathing fast but-- He's okay. He's okay.

He looks over to see Lenny smiling.

'How did that feel?' Ptonomy asks.

David takes another shaky breath. 'Awful, but-- Kind of amazing.'

'That's what love means for you,' Ptonomy says. 'Love is your strength. It's what keeps you fighting. It's what helps you say NO. And no matter where you are, no matter what happens, that love never leaves you. Your mom's love is part of who you are. The love of your system stayed with you even when you forgot them. And the love you feel for us, from us-- That's yours too. No amount of pain or shame can take it away.'

'That's--' David starts, but he can't finish. It's so much. It's so much he wants to believe, and can't believe and almost believes and does believe. It makes his heart hurt, but in the best way.

'I know you're afraid of being alone,' Ptonomy continues. 'But you've never been alone. Alone was a lie and a trick. You've always had your system, your family, your friends. So when the pain feels overwhelming, all you have to do is remember us. And you'll be okay.'

David swallows, sniffs. He wipes his eyes again. He puts his hand back over his heart, and looks at Lenny, and breaks into a teary smile. And then he really starts crying.

"Sorry," he says, as he grabs more tissues.

"Hey, that's what they're for," Lenny says, casually. "Snot em up."

David laughs through a sob, then blows his nose.

He cries himself out fairly quickly. He slumps, wrung out but-- Deeply relieved. He feels like's been holding his breath all day, and finally let it out.

"Guess I needed that," he admits.

'Feeling better?' Ptonomy asks, switching them back to the mainframe.

'Yeah,' David thinks. And now what he needs is to lie down. He misses the sofa they had before. He had some really nice naps on that sofa.

'Hey, the new sofa needs breaking in,' Lenny points out. 'Wanna head back down?'

David hesitates. 'I don't want to-- The lab's pretty full.'

'Hey, that lab is ours, same as it was before,' Lenny says, firmly. 'We're taking that ground back, remember?'

'I know, but--' David hesitates again. It's just-- Clark's there, and Melanie and Past David and--

'Cruise director, remember?' Lenny says. 'I'll keep it manageable. You like manageable, right?'

'I do,' David admits. 'Thanks, Lenny.' For everything.

They gather their things and head back down. And as they wait for the elevator, David slips his hand back over his heart, and feels Lenny's love there again.