343: Dee’s Dilemma

on January 21, 2009 in Book 12

In Which Spiders Don’t Smile

Dee was unusually quiet and reserved at breakfast.

That is to say, she was being quiet and reserved, but in a different manner than usual. She was never really the boisterous, exuberant sort to begin with… but something was definitely different about her manner.

The one thing about Dee was that she never made eye contact with anybody unless she was speaking to them right at that moment or waiting for a reply. She was kind of like Two in that regard… where someone else might start talking as they’re turning to face somebody, they both waited until their heads had stopped moving before they started talking.

The difference was that Two always did this. If Dee was saying something that was somewhat snarky, she was as likely to keep her gaze fixed slightly downward and straight ahead as she said it. That was her default posture… even when she glided down the hall of the dorm with her hood off, she kept her eyes focused on the floor in front of her and not the wall at the end. When she sat down to eat, she kept her head at the same angle. She didn’t look around in response to little noises. She didn’t jump in response to sounds or twitch or fidget.

At least, that was the case most days. On this morning, she was almost as squirmy as I was, and I was still having a real hard time sitting still… sitting at all, really.

“Are you okay, Dee?” Amaranth asked her.

“I am well,” Dee replied without looking up.

It was the sort of evasion Two had made when asked how she was doing, before she’d adjusted more to her personhood: healthy, nothing physically wrong, fine. I cleared my throat nervously and shifted in my seat some more.

“Is something bothering you?” Amaranth asked her after a while.

“I find myself wrestling with a moral dilemma,” she said, her gaze remaining lowered.

“Would you like to talk about it?”

Her insistence was almost palpable. So, too, was the icy shield which Dee seemed to be projecting about herself… not a telepathic effect, but a simple closing off of self. I had the feeling I was watching something like an irresistible yet overly helpful force and an immovable but very polite object. I didn’t really want to see which one of them would break first.

“Dee?” Amaranth prompted.

“In the past, I would have discussed such things with a chapel elder,” Dee said. “But unfortunately, no such person is available to me.”

“Well,” Amaranth said. “You do have friends up here.”

“Yes,” Dee said. “And I am grateful for that friendship.”

“What I mean is, you can talk to us,” Amaranth said, bursting with earnestness. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable and was glad that there was nobody else at the table but Two, who was eating her bowl of breakfast ice cream without a care. “We’re here for you… I’m here for you. So, if there’s anything you would like to discuss, please feel free.”

“Thank you,” Dee said. “I appreciate the gesture.”

“Well, it’s not just a gesture,” Amaranth said. “I mean it sincerely. You can talk to me about anything.”

“And I appreciate it sincerely,” Dee said. “Really. Thank you.”

Dee continued to stare at her plate, wringing her hands while Amaranth bit her lip and simmered. I thought about saying something, but I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t just bring on the inevitable collision all the faster. I tried to think of another topic to bring up, but couldn’t.

“You know,” Amaranth said after not very long at all, “sometimes even if somebody has a very different viewpoint from you, they can still give you useful advice.”

“I have often observed this to be true,” Dee replied, as if she thought Amaranth was just making conversation.

“Even if you don’t agree with what they have to say, maybe just the act of sharing what’s bothering you will make you feel better about it?”

“I am almost certain you are correct,” Dee said.

“Oh, for the love of penis, Dee, you don’t have to act like I’m such a humongous idiot that even hearing my advice will make you dumber!” Amaranth cried, startling Dee into looking up at her.

Throughout our immediate area, heads swung around and chatter stopped. I stopped squirming and started desperately trying to shrink in on myself.

“I… are you offering to hear my troubles for my benefit, or for yours?” Dee asked. It sounded as though she’d started to apologize, and then stopped.

“What?” Amaranth said. She sounded at a loss for words. I don’t think the impact of Dee not immediately apologizing had the same jarring sort of effect on her as a slap might have. “What… I… um…”

“I apologize,” Dee said, blurting out the words like they could not be contained any longer. “It was not my intention to make you feel marginalized, but neither do I feel that you would be the ideal person to approach with a question of ethics or morality as such concerns do not fall within your goddess’s sphere.”

“Well, that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them,” Amaranth said. “I mean, a person doesn’t even have to be particularly religious to know right from wrong. And I’ve read books about non-Khaelean philosophy. Anyway, there are three of us here… maybe we could give you something like a balanced perspective?”

I was actually a little disappointed in Amaranth… it had seemed for a moment like she’d been teetering on the brink of some realization, and then Dee had apologized and she’d regained her balance. As much as Amaranth had helped me to grow, she had her own immaturities and blind spots, and pushing Dee like this so soon after she had chastised me for my nosiness with regards to Hazel seemed a little… okay, more than a little… hypocritical.

Dee, having already interrupted her own apology to point out what Amaranth was doing, did not seem inclined to call her on it any further.

“Possibly so,” she admitted. “Very well. The question with which I have been grappling is this: if you watch a person… kill… herself and do not intervene, are you culpable in that death?”

“No,” Two said.

“I think you should do everything you can to help a person who’s hurting,” Amaranth said.

“Steff’s not suicidal,” I said. If I knew anything about Steff, it was that… she had a plan for her life, she had dreams. I didn’t know how healthy or realistic they were, but she saw her life as something that would only get better.

Was that why Dee had ducked out of the party, though? Could she not stand to see Steff endangering herself? I might have guessed that it had something to do with Steff’s behavior, but I wouldn’t have figured it was that.

Dee sighed.

“I had hoped I was not being quite so transparent,” she said. “I believe that she does not consciously, intentionally seek death, but that is the crux of my problem. Among my people… hers as well, I think… there is no shame in choosing to go on to the next world, if there are no responsibilities to keep one here. But if she had succumbed to the knife yesterday, would that have been a self-directed act or a reckless accident? If the latter, would I bear responsibility for seeing the risk and doing nothing?”

“No,” Two said, again, shaking her head. “You wouldn’t. It isn’t your fault if other people kill themselves.”

There was definitely a story behind Two’s learned insistence, but I figured that if somebody had needed to tell her that at some point in her past, it probably wasn’t attached to any memories she’d care to dig up just to satisfy my curiosity

“Dee… you’re very perceptive, but I don’t think anybody could have predicted the knife,” Amaranth said. “Not without a whole different package of gifts.”

“No? And yet, I found myself quite unsurprised when I learned of it,” Dee said. “This world is full of opportunities for a person such as Steff to harm herself. The likelihood that she will take advantage of some of them is distressingly near to certainty.”

“Yeah, but… she’s getting help,” I said. “She’s talking to a healer. She’s on a potion regime.”

“Do you think she tells the healer about the things that really worry her?” Dee asked. “Do you suppose she remembered to take any required doses after becoming enthralled with the hungry knife?”

“Dee… maybe you aren’t completely wrong,” Amaranth said. “But, we can’t be with her all the time, and we can’t control her. The most we can do is be here for her. If something unthinkable happens, it won’t be your fault.

“If it is so unthinkable,” Dee said, “why can I not stop thinking about it?”

Amaranth didn’t have an answer for that, and neither did I.

“I cannot help but speculate on the route her life is taking,” Dee said. “It seems as though she is heading through passages from which there can be no return, and there does not seem to be anybody who is positioned to stop her. Her parents are distant. The instructors are unconcerned with anything beyond the scope of their classes. The housing staff have little authority to intervene and less interest in doing so.”

“Viktor looks out for her,” Amaranth said.

“This Viktor did nothing to stop her from acquiring or using the knife,” Dee said.

“That happened when she was doing school stuff, though,” I said. For as much as I wasn’t a fan of Viktor, it felt like Dee was attacking Steff, and I felt the need to defend her. “Short of stopping her from going to classes…”

“If that’s what it takes!” Dee snapped. “What is the point of educating someone as the floor crumbles away beneath them?”

“What, she’s just supposed to put her life on hold?” I asked. Part of me was irritated at Dee’s tone, and part of me was scared because I thought the essential point… that Steff seemed destined for self-destruction… was correct. I focused on the irritation because it let me push away the fear. “Shut herself up away from the world?”

“If she cannot handle it, I fail to see how it would be a bad thing,” Dee said.

“Maybe, but it’s a little presumptuous of you to say she can’t, isn’t it?” I said.

“Would it be presumptuous of me to suggest that you not take a course of study in divine magic because it would destroy you?” Dee asked.

“No, but that’s part of my intrinsic nature,” I said. “It’s a fact.”

“And it is a fact that a person such as Steff faces unique challenges and bears unique burdens,” Dee said. “Had she been born into my culture, she would have been protected from taking on the full burdens another person would bear in addition to the unique ones of her position.”

“Dee… you’ve mentioned something like that to Steff before,” Amaranth reminded her. “She didn’t appreciate it.”

“She is not here to object,” Dee said. “And you did want to know what was on my mind. We are surrounded by people who are just barely able to cope with university life, with the mix of academic responsibilities and the lure of an active and noisy social life. If a complete mind, at peace with itself, encounters such difficulties, how can a mind made up of two disparate halves hope to survive?”

“I really don’t think Steff would accept that label,” I said.

“Steff is a girl,” Two added helpfully.

“Yes, for lack of a more precisely defined role within the surrounding culture, I agree that she is,” Dee said. She looked at each of us. “But her experiences are not the same as another woman’s. Her challenges are different. To treat her exactly the same as any other woman… or as a male… is to ignore the true roots of her problems. To expect her to put up with the same situations as a whole person…”

“She’s not a whole person to you now?” I said.

“I apologize,” Dee said. “I am not attempting to diminish her value as a person.”

“Dee,” Amaranth said gently. “I think that your concerns have some validity… that your concern for Steff is real… but I think you’re approaching this from your own cultural bias.”

“It is not bias,” Dee said.

“Viewpoint, then,” Amaranth said. “Or filter, maybe.”

“It is plain truth. Would you have us stand by and watch Steff burn herself to the ground for fear of giving any offense?”

“What are we supposed to do?” I asked. “You said it yourself… nobody has any real authority over her.”

“Steff is a free being. She can do what she wants,” Two said, though from her mouth it was a lament.

“What about having her… committed, I believe is the term… to an institution where she could be protected?”

“Are you nuts?” I said.

“If I were, I would hope my friends would intervene to help me,” Dee said.

“Maybe that’s it,” Amaranth said, enthusiastically.

“Amaranth!” I said, aghast that she was taking Dee’s side.

“Not a commitment,” she said. “An intervention. We’ll all come together and let Steff see how much we love her and how worried we are about her, and how it affects us when she risks her life.”

“Do you honestly expect that to work?” Dee said.

“It might,” Amaranth said. “At the very least, it’s something to try before we do anything as drastic as what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t believe a life-threatening situation merits drastic action?” Dee asked.

“I don’t think we’re more qualified to know if she merits that kind of action than the professional mental healers she’s been dealing with,” Amaranth said. “They haven’t seen any need to protect her from herself.”

“I take that as an indication that she has been less than open with them,” Dee said.

“I think it’s worth trying,” I said.

“The night you succumbed to your hunger, I watched Steff lose a friend to her egregious behavior,” Dee said. “She seemed singularly untroubled by this rejection. I don’t believe pressure from her peers will cause her to alter her path any more than is necessary to move away from those peers.”

“I’m not talking about pressure,” Amaranth said. “Just… love. Being there for her.”

“In much the same way that you were here for me at the beginning of this conversation?” Dee asked.

“Maybe a little less pressure than that,” Amaranth grumbled.

“I think we should talk to Steff,” I said, thinking aloud. “It doesn’t have to be a whole big thing with cookies and punch. Calling it an intervention or whatever is going to get her defenses up… she doesn’t need to hear that she has a problem. I’m sure she knows she does, but she’ll deny it if we push her and then there won’t be any talking to her about it.” I looked at Amaranth. “It’s like how you wanted to approach Hazel, versus what happened. So, we can just tell her we’re concerned.”

“Could I make cookies anyway?” Two asked.

“Sure, sweetie,” Amaranth said. “I think that’s the best idea, Mack. I mean, when I said an intervention, I didn’t mean we had to call it an intervention, but it’s still the same general idea. Dee?”

“This entire scheme rests on the fallacious assumption that Steff will recognize her best interest when it is placed before her,” Dee said.

“You won’t even try?” Amaranth asked.

“Why would she listen to me? If anything, I think she would use my presence as an excuse to brush off the whole thing.”

“Or maybe that’s how she’ll know we’re serious,” I said. “I don’t think Two could do this on her own. Amaranth would never follow through if she seemed hurt by it…”

“Baby, that’s not true,” Amaranth said.

“You’d have a hard time, at least,” I said. “And Steff can get me all twisted around without even trying. You care for her the same as we do…”

“I care about her,” Dee said.

“However you want to put it,” I said. “You care about her the same as we do, but you’re the serious one here and this is a serious situation.”

“I will consider it,” Dee said.

“If things are really as bad as you think…” Amaranth started to say.

“I said I will consider it,” Dee said, and she picked up her tray and swept away, effectively ending the conversation, though it was Two who had the last word.

“I think I’ll make spider cookies, since Steff likes spiders,” she said. “But with smiley faces so they don’t look scary.” She laughed so hard she snorted. “Spiders don’t smile.”

“No, honey,” Amaranth agreed, watching Dee gliding out of the room. “They don’t.”


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13 Responses to “343: Dee’s Dilemma”

  1. Arkeus says:

    Dee is so awesome.

    Current score: 2
    • Arakano says:

      Not entirely. She has her bias, just as everyone else. As horrible as transphobia is in our society (or in the MU society, mirroring our own in this aspect), I do not consider the underground elves’ “solution” of turning trans-persons into sex toys (the ultimate objectification, if you ask me; Dehsah is even openly called a “jewel” or variation thereof repeatedly) as superior. Ce is a PERSON, not some shiny bauble!

      Current score: 6
      • Reb says:

        Furthermore, with her insistence on sorting Steff into the role of ‘half-kind’ she intentionally misgenders Steff all the time. I love Dee, but she has her own shit to get together.

        Current score: 9
  2. Psi-Ko says:

    Dee’s problem seems to be her preference for “Drastic action”. Both in the posession and the perceived suicidal tendencies of Steff. Her answer seems to be the equivalent of “Nuke it from orbit” whenever a mild threat appears

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      I think that stems from the political structure she is used too. Remember how earlier she remarked that if a relic such as the pitchfork was on the loose they would turn the city upsidedown to find it? The idea that personal liberty is an important right is foreign to her.

      Current score: 7
  3. Anthony says:

    Wow. Dee set herself up for one of her own signature snarks there, and Mack totally neglected to take advantage of it.

    “I fail to see how that would be a bad thing,” Dee said.
    “Yeah, that’s the problem,” I responded dryly, knowing that’s exactly what she would say if it had been me saying that to her.

    Missed opportunity, Mack… 😉

    Current score: 0
  4. Tuukka says:

    I love Dee.
    Agree with averything she says here short of shemales being inheritly mentally fragile.
    That said in a society/situation where individual has no clear sexual identity said individual would face greater challences so Dees stance on transgendered is valid for Steff but not for Dehsah.

    Current score: 0
    • Leishycat says:

      “shemales”

      *wanders off*

      *shoots herself in the face*

      Current score: 1
  5. Maesenko says:

    ‘As much as Amaranth had helped me to grow, she had her own immaturities and blind spots, and pushing Dee like this so soon after she had chastised me for my nosiness with regards to Hazel seemed a little… okay, more than a little… hypocritical.’

    This. ALL of my THIS.

    ‘Amaranth said. “But, we can’t be with her all the time, and we can’t control her.”‘

    Yet she seems to have absolutely no problems doing this, or threatening to do so, with Mack.

    Current score: 2
    • keyonte0 says:

      Steff is her friend, Mack is her toy. Mack is even the one whole proposed Amaranth’s ownership of her. I’m not even into the whole Dom/sub thing and I understand how this works.

      Current score: 13
  6. Jechtael says:

    I finally find myself outright irked with one of Dee’s biases (and it IS a bias, whether positive, negative, or a mix). Steff considers herself a she, not a ce, and her cultures don’t, as far as we know, even have the same “you’re two halves of a person” attitude. Steff has experienced parts of her life as one thing and parts of her life as ([cold voice]or in the guise of, depending on how one looks at it[/voice]) another, but just because her experiences reflect two sides of the coin, that doesn’t mean she herself is half heads and half tails… and she’s certainly not an edge, as Dehsah’s people among the subterranean elves seem to be. (Not that she is, in my opinion, purely one side of the coin or the other. Many people aren’t. Possibly most people, though I would not see fit to declare it as fact.)

    I see hints of my ancestral people’s two-spirit concept in the subterranean elves’ gender politics. However, I much prefer the “you’re allowed to do extra stuff, and it’s kind of your responsibility to do so” point of view over the “don’t you worry your pretty little head over all of these things. Let men and women take care of it” way Dee’s people (or at least those around her) express these things.

    Current score: 1
  7. zeel says:

    “Spiders don’t smile.”

    This is a funny bit of metaphor I never noticed in the past. Given their goddess, the deep elves are heavily associated with spiders – Dee is the spider here, and she is not smiling.

    Current score: 4