In the first half of the sixteenth chapter of The Wizard’s Dilemma, Nita feels desperate. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For talk of death, grief, and cancer.
Oh, Nita. This was heartbreaking to read, not just because it’s so sad, but because I recognize my own self at fourteen, unable to concentrate, begging for a God I didn’t really believe in to swoop down and save my mother. At the opening of this chapter, Duane makes a brief reference to Nita “more or less” sleepwalking through school, and it struck me how accurate of a depiction that was. It’s not that it was hard for me to concentrate. It was as if I was fading in and out of consciousness, or at least out of the universe everyone else was in. Time would pass, and I would have no recollection of it. When I did snap back to attention – usually when a teacher would chastise me for not being in the moment – the anxiety and terror would rush back in.
There’s that cliche or trope or whatever you want to call that based so heavily in a real-world phenomenon that I’m reminded of here: of waking up and then suddenly remembering everything is awful, that what a person experienced was not a terrible dream and nothing more. It’s only now, as I’m writing this, that I realize how my brain must have been making it hard to concentrate on purpose. Like a safety mechanism of sorts! Like Nita, every conscious moment was occupied by cancer and bodies and mortality.
And just like Nita, I turned to religion (of a sort) out of desperation. I’ve written a lot about my upbringing, so over the years, I’ve had long, insightful conversations with people around the world about how religion factored into their lives growing up. One thing that’s struck me is how rare it is for someone (like myself) to have a strict conservative Christian home life, but to have church factor nowhere in it. Until I began my conversion in my teens, I had never been to a church service in my life. My mom did not believe I needed them; every church was wrong, all of them had strayed from God’s path, and my mother was the sole arbiter of faith and virtue. At least for us, that is.
There was a prayer room at the hospital where my mom waited for her surgery, just down the hall from where she lay in her bed recovering, and when things got too hard to look at, when I couldn’t bear to see her shrunken, pale face, I would go there and beg God to save her. I did what Nita did as well: I bargained. I promised God anything just to keep her alive. I was met with a resounding silence, each and every single time. Was I begging the wrong thing? Was my bargain not sincere enough? I had been told that God does not answer prayers solely out of need or desire. So what was I supposed to do? Was I not good enough?
Maybe self-flagellation in the face of cancer’s unending march was all that could make me feel better. I remember, years later, regretting that bargain, believing that a whole host of things – homophobia, homelessness, loneliness – was the penance I paid for my mother surviving. But in hindsight, the bargaining had no real effect, aside from what happened inside my head, and that’s one of the main differences here. Maybe Nita was also met with a complete silence, but her words to the One are not the same as what I experienced. All my prayers were riddled with doubt and fear, and Nita? Well, perhaps that’s the same case for her, except she knows that the One is real, that they exist, that they are the central Power in existence.
I don’t actually know if that’s more comforting or not.
I don’t know how much comfort there is in this chapter. If anything, I was saddened that immediately after her “prayer,” the universe seemed to answer: Nita’s mother had more seizures, had to be sedated, and it’s now possible she might not make it to her surgery date, even though it was moved up. So what can Nita do? Practice. Apply herself. Push away the possibility that her mother might die. Yet even that’s complicated by Nita’s reluctance to get Kit involved. He’s her partner in wizardry, and it would be smart to have him alongside her, but note that her doubt revolves around blame and failure. What if things don’t go right? What if Kit messes up Nita’s intricate plans? Nita’s always thinking of all eventualities, even if she pushes some of those conclusions away, and her anxiety makes her obsess over them and every possible option, even the ones that are impossible.
Take her conversation with Pralaya. At one point, she speaks a frustration: why didn’t the Powers just undo what the Lone One did? Why let this play out when they could have easily erased it from existence? But that’s not even something she could bargain for. The world is as it is, and neither of these wizards can change it. Which is slightly worrisome in a sense. Is Duane preparing me for the worst? Is she reminding us that there are certain things you cannot change?
WELL, NOW I’M UNCOMFORTABLE.
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