In the seventh chapter of The Wizard’s Dilemma, Nita and Diarine learn of a terrible fate. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of hospitals, death/mortality, illness, depression, and a brief mention of bullying.
The first time I spent any length of time in a hospital wasn’t until I was fourteen years old. It was a rough time in my life aside from the trauma of watching one of my parents nearly waste away. I’d started high school, and it had been a disaster. I was bullied frequently, just as much by my own parents as I was other students. I was desperate to branch out, to find freedom, to be treated with respect and admiration, and I found that in a number of clubs and sports teams. With the exception of Cross Country and Track – which had open practices, meaning that my mother could attend them – I was forced to quit them all. And as my loneliness got worse, as my depression began to consume me, life struck me with a new twist:
My mom had lung cancer.
She’s spent a lifetime smoking. I couldn’t even tell you how early she’d started. As long as I could remember, she had smoked, and she had done so around us. I resented it a lot, especially once I started running, and it took a lot for my brother and I to convince our mom to stop smoking indoors. Yet all of a sudden, it was like some terrible karma had been loosed upon the world. But against who? Who was this directed against? Was this my mom’s comeuppance for smoking or something worse? I struggled with the idea of a deity, even back at that age, and I couldn’t understand what God was trying to tell me.
And it only got more confusing. Like Nita, I had only seen hospitals from the outside. My brother was accident-prone, but I’d never accompanied him whenever he was getting a new brace or cast for some part of his body that he’d thrashed. There’s an eeriness to the text here in chapter seven of The Wizard’s Dilemma because… well, it’s that thing, you see? That thing where you experience something, and you’ve never talked about it to anyone else, and then, all of a sudden, you’re reading it in a book. It’s a unique phenomenon, and I certainly got it here.
They don’t tell you how hospitals smell. They don’t light them correctly on television or in movies. They never show you how dead-eyed people can be in there, even though it’s entirely understandable. Being a doctor or a nurse is a grueling, exhausting experience. They don’t tell you how you will walk past a human tragedy unfolding, and they don’t tell you what you’re supposed to do when you lock eyes with someone while they’re sobbing. They don’t tell you what it sounds like when someone dies, how the air might escape their lips, or how the wails of grief can echo inside your head for days or weeks or years.
And they certainly don’t tell you what it’s like to see someone you know once they’re body has failed them. I was a mess of teenage hormones, anger, resentment, and depression at fourteen. I could barely make it from one day to the next, and adding my mother’s cancer and her surgery to that? I don’t know how I survived those years. Virtually no one at school knew what was happening at home then. I could have told them, but I was conflicted. With my mother out of the house, I had found a guilty freedom from. If I started telling people about her cancer, would that mean I’d have to start performing in response to it? I didn’t know. I had never dealt with anything remotely like this, and it all felt too complicated to me.
There’s one image in all of this chapter that haunts me the most:
In the fourth bed, beyond the partway-pulled curtain, their mom lay under light covers, with one arm strapped to a board, and an IV running into that arm. She was in a hospital gown, and someone had tied her hair back and put it up under a paper cap. Her eyes suddenly looked sunken to Nita; it was the same tired look she had been wearing this morning, but much worse.
Nothing can prepare you for this. I won’t ever forget what it was like waiting for the hospital to call us to let us know if she’d survived the surgery to remove the cancer from her lungs. It had spread so far that they had to remove a third of one and nearly all of the second. When we stepped in the room, all my complicated feelings about my mother vanished. She changed. She was so frail in that bed, and she’d always been this towering mass of anger and ire and power, and there she was, laid out on her side, her bandages pink and red around the edges, and it was like the doctors took half of her mass with her. She could barely talk and her face looked like it belonged to someone else.
It was a shock, to say the least, and there was nothing in the world to prepare me for it. Duane has captured that here in The Wizard’s Dilemma, and I’ll repeat what I said on video: it’s the most surreal element of the book. I’d gotten so used to the complicated science of wizardry that once she put all of this into the story, it struck me. Hard. And perhaps this is what the titular dilemma will be. If Mrs. Callahan has the Lone Power inside of her, is that a part of the natural world or something else? Does Nita save her mother or allow the cancer to take its course?
I have no idea. Death is the worst. Bodies are the worst.
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