Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Four: Freezer Burn

After a couple of nearly sleepless nights, Compass decided not to take Mark’s advice about having someone nearby when she read her father’s blog. In fact, she ignored Mark’s advice completely, willingly and with malice aforethought. Well, maybe not malice, exactly, but there was a certain amount of chafing. That “passive” remark still stung, and Compass decided the best way to take the sting out of the bee was to ignore the bee’s advice and take charge of the situation herself.

She sat down at her computer, turned it on with a determined poke of the finger, ignored all the siren websites that sought to lure her away from her real purpose. No lolcats today, she told herself firmly. She went directly to DragonflyDad and read the two entries posted there.

It wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. Oliver seemed reasonably unthreatening and sane, so far, and Compass couldn’t deny that he had a point. Mina had always played fast and loose with the truth – the big truths and the little ones – and Compass knew from childhood that virtually anything Mina said should be verified through at least two other, neutral sources.

Mina lied to protect herself, to get what she wanted, to get herself out of trouble or others into it, for profit, for fun, for the sheer hell of seeing what she could get away with. Compass had grown up believing, for example, that milk came out of a cow’s nose rather than its teats: Mina hated milk and refused to have it in the house – grossing Compass out was a sure way to keep her from trying it somewhere else, liking it and insisting Mina buy her some. Once Mina showed up drunk to a parent-teacher conference (the being drunk wasn’t the shocking part; the fact that she’d showed up was); the next day, she tried to convince Compass to tell the teacher her mother was suffering from MS. It was one of the few times that Compass defied her mother’s edicts. Had Mina gone to the conference, she would have discovered that her daughter’s teacher actually had MS. Compass told the teacher that her mother was on medication which made her woozy. It was still a lie, but on the range of horribleness of lies, this one seemed less so.

She had taken to keeping a log. Every time something else went pear-shaped, she wrote it down. At first, it was an excercise in maintaining sanity despite the world’s continued efforts to bump her off balance, but now she found that she was almost looking forward to the next disaster so she’d have something to write about. Were this life happening to someone else, she realized, it would be interesting, perhaps even fun. So she made it happen to someone else. Putting her life’s odd knocks into the third person helped her find her equilibrium, gave her some measure of peace.

It puts the Librium in equilibrium, she decided, and named herself Margaret. All her life she’d wanted a name that didn’t require a second try: “Name please?” “Compass.” “Excuse me?” “Compass.” “Like the north, south, east, west thing?” “Yes. Like that.” It always took at least two goes plus a definition and often a full-on spelling before people accepted it. Jokes along the lines of “Well, I guess I know who to ask for directions!” had haunted her entire life, clinging to every introduction like leeches. Nowadays she responded to name inquiries with, “Let me spell it for you, C, O, M . . . ” etc. If she was lucky, they wouldn’t actually put the letters together in a meaningful way, and the rest of the “my, what an unusual name” conversation could be avoided.

After reading her father’s blog and updating her log with the new details, Compass sat at her computer, staring blankly at the screen. Mark was right. She had been passive, not just in recent weeks with all the “who’s your daddy” stuff, but for most of her life up to now. Mina had such excess of character and personality, that Compass had spent a lifetime leaning back, fifteenth row center, watching, judging, eating popcorn. She hadn’t needed to actually do anything; she floated along, letting Mina entertain her, make decisions for her; letting Mina act while she only reacted.

Several years ago, she’d had a bout with panic disorder. She’d spent months stumbling around in a haze of fear, heart pounding, wanting to fight or flee but having nothing to fight with or flee from. She grew paranoid that her life was only her imagination; that she was actually wrapped in a strait-jacket, keening, in a mental hospital somewhere. It was the most horrible time of her life, and while she never seriously considered jumping out a window, it suddenly became clear how other people could. She couldn’t work, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, got only brief periods of calm between episodes before her fear of the next attack actually brought it on.

In the end, it took a few days of therapy, then some highly targeted medicine, and the whole episode was virtually over. Occasional panic attacks still interrupted her life, but she had learned how to handle them now. She had, she now realized, taken the most interesting thing about her and co-opted it into the drab reality of herself. Her panic was the young, shocking, edgy Eddie Murphy, but she’d tamed it, flattened it out, rendered it dowdy and dull, turned it into the Doctor Doolittle-era Eddie Murphy. Some part of her had been crying out for her attention, shouting for her to do something, be something, and she’d ignored it at her peril, inviting chaos so overwhelming that even now scraps of it still remained.

Unbelievably, a single pill had broken the cycle of panic long enough to allow her to regain control and begin putting herself back together again. And because the cure had been so “easy,” compared to the disorder, she’d lost her respect for the fear, hadn’t learned the lesson her body was trying to teach her. She thought perhaps she understood it now.

It was no good blaming Mina. Yes, Compass was frozen, and perhaps Mina had stuck her in the deep-freeze, but how hard had Compass really tried to get out? It was oddly comfortable here, despite the blue lips. The question really was, where to begin?

Compass didn’t post a response to her father’s blog. There was still too much here she didn’t trust; she preferred to keep what few cards she had close to her chest. But she felt that at least this time she was choosing not to act, rather than simply not acting. It wasn’t much of a start, but the situation called for caution.

A compass is a tool that others use when they’ve lost their way, Compass thought. It doesn’t point the way for itself. Well, screw that.

The current quarter was almost at an end. Compass had classes tentatively scheduled for spring, but she decided she had other things to do and just enough in her savings account to do them. She called all her schools and turned down the hours, her voice trembling only a little. Then she called her grandparents and asked if she could visit.


NuclearToast said...

Seems that confrontation with Mina has awakened a sleeping giant. I'm glad we get to see the grans again soon!

Ash said...

I waited a week to read this chapter. It's like knowing that you only have one serving of ice cream left in the freezer and you want to eat it at the perfect time when you can really enjoy it. It was worth the wait! I can't wait to read more! I find myself looking at the vertical scroll bar when I am reading CJ and wishing that the little slidey thing wouldn't be so close to the bottom.