Today’s lighthearted alternative is a project announcement. Before Catastrophe Theory even had a name, before the author had any intention of making her silly documentation public, there was a sim whose bizarre life choices blew the author’s mind. A sim who took charge of his own life and outdid any planning a human could have done. Whose love story can only be described as “epic,” whose actions alone motivated the story’s public release. And because this went down so early on, the description in Book I does not do it justice.
Because the story and characters are so much richer than I’ve revealed, I’m going to give it another shot. This time with a twist: it’s a comic. Yeah, it actually motivated me to learn to draw. I’m confident the story will speak for itself even with my shaky hand on the pen—two damaged misfits who have done unforgivable things but damn, you can’t hate them because they’re clearly meant to be? That’s enough beautiful disaster to forgive many of the visual art sins I’m about to commit, fingers crossed.
Besides that morning’s wonderful postmodern-cartoon-and-plastic-cheese conversation, Hector was having an absolute butt of a day; there was some Big Test sprung on him last-minute and he had to decide whether to nap or cram, the choice to nap being the wrong one on this occasion, as he learned. It was a doughnut’s worth of school-system trauma. He did have some—doughnuts—in the fridge, thanks to yesterday’s culinary self-serving self-study he’d focused on instead of the test.
As he approached the front door, he became aware of a prickling feeling. He slowed his pace to process what his intuition already knew. On the patio’s left side, there was a figure dressed in black, peeping through the windows, standing between him and the doughnuts. Ragged was the only word he could summon to describe the figure’s energy. There was nothing still about the sim in black: in their meditative state they did naught but breathe, but those breaths made them look like an indecisive balloon, or a fly seeing its own reflection for the first time in a spider’s compound eyes. Neither Hector’s conscious nor his subconscious could drum up a non-sketchy reason as to why this would be happening.
Perhaps he’d been standing there long enough for the shadow at his window to notice a disturbance, because it’d begun to turn around. Oh, thank fuck, it was Aileen.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hector!” When she said his name, it was like she’d spat out whatever had been keeping her in ragged stasis. He could tell she was angry, but that this anger was tainted with another emotion, one he couldn’t associate a color with. Another thought pushed its way in, a speculation about how quickly he’d lose to Aileen in unarmed combat if it came to that. “Thank god you’re here! I need you to let me in.”
Hector’s friendliness won out over his confusion. “Hi, Aileen! Uh, how was your day? Are you here to see my mom?”
“I need you to let me in.”
“Alright, alright.” But he would ask later about what was grilling her cheese, partly to use a phrase he was fond of. Hector moved toward the door and his presence caused it to swing open.
Despite the summer heat, home felt even warmer than usual, his mother’s bright laughter filling the oversized room. Whatever he was feeling before washed away at the sight of her. She was sitting with Dad at the bar, not fighting or sulking or shutting down, but joking, being her old delightful self. “Mom!”
“Hector!” She rose from her stool, stretching out both arms to request a hug.
“Hector. Don’t joke with her. Get back.”
“What th—what’s grilling—” was all Hector could get out before Aileen reached her target.
“I’m sorry, Claudia.” Before Miss Universe could react, Aileen slapped her cheek hard enough to torque her backward.
Disadvantage in unarmed combat or not, Hector felt his jaw clench and his body lunge toward his mother’s attacker. But once more, his gut told him to wait. Claudia had stopped moving. She’d stopped laughing. She hung there, twisted, as if she had something to say.
The tension was so thick, Hector found he couldn’t move or even breathe.
She slowly turned her head back toward Aileen. Comedy is all about timing.
Aileen’s assault didn’t faze her. The grin she wore reminded Hector of a ventriloquist dummy: designed to mimic amusement, but ultimately the smiler wasn’t the one pulling the strings. That was impossible, though—she was just off, ticcy even—and why was his gut reacting to her and not Aileen? Speaking of Aileen, she seemed to be looking toward him with regret, like they were on the same team even though she’d just used him to barge into the house and slap his mother silly.
And then his mother started laughing again. And the smile made sense. By the time Hector had finished processing the situation and re-configuring his loyalties, Aileen was already up in Claudia’s face, speaking a mile a minute and whipping out item after item from her inventory.
“Alright, Claudia, stay with me. Look at this painting, can you just look at this painting for a minute? I know it’s hard but stay with me. Deep breaths.”
He turned to his father. “What happened? What did you do?”
“Claudia, here, drink this. Claudia? Can you see what I’m holding?”
“I didn’t do anything, she just started doing that. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Claudia found Aileen’s potion so hilarious she had to sit down. At least Hector thought it was a potion. He’d never seen one in real life. Still, Aileen wasn’t letting up. “Go ahead and sit down if that’s more comfortable. Claudia, remember those breathing exercises we did? Okay, you’ve leaned forward, stomach in like a pillbug, exhale everything out. Now relax with me. Big inhale, arch your back.”
Claudia rose from her sternum, pulling her chest toward the ceiling and allowing her head to fall back a tad, before another convulsion jerked her head all the way toward the ground, the hardwood ringing out when she made contact.
“Mom, no!” Hector screamed and ran to his mother’s side. Having stepped over Claudia to support her head, Aileen tried to synchronize her palms with Claudia’s twitching long enough to dart between her head and the floor, wishing she had brought something softer to rest on instead of the crystals.
For her noble intentions, Aileen also blocked Claudia’s view of the living room—upside down and backwards! It didn’t end at the living room; her whole world was upside down and inside out and backwards. And every other time, Claudia’d kept going past backwards till she was right side up again. How many times do you have to flip the world on its head before it’s back to normal?
She was finding the whole thing just an incredible riot. If this was the end, it was fitting for her, wasn’t it? The girl who could never stop smiling.
A choking fit brought her forward. As her spine curled she tried to obey Aileen’s commands to exhale, commands she could barely process but could piece together from context, but could only focus on gasping for air between spasms. It was like her mind had a mind of its own and this was what it had been training for a lifetime to do, to find the joy in anything. Like how Tai Chi practitioners say that if you do something enough times, muscle memory will kick in and save you before you’ve realized what’s happened.
Was this irony? She couldn’t figure that out. Another thing to laugh off.
She thought how much better the world would be if everyone learned to laugh at themselves when they’ve made a mistake. Every weakness was a chance for mirth. Hunt them down and it becomes a game. And whatever she was doing now, she knew she couldn’t contain it and didn’t understand it, and that was bad of her.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Yet another mistake.
She howled louder.
She didn’t know how long they’d been standing over her like that, if the last breath command she’d heard from Aileen was three seconds or three minutes ago. So she’d finally lost control; to think her final attempt to take back control would teach her she still had more to lose. The power was inside you all along! So simple. Even kids’ movies thought that was too cheesy nowadays. Claudia admitted that she’d also grown tired of it, the message, and was just now realizing the reason it had to be bashed into her head. She didn’t listen.
She didn’t listen until she had a reason to listen, and by the time she finally had one, it couldn’t help her.
She couldn’t help herself. It was all so funny.
And then a single word rang through the racket she herself was making. Mom.
She used what remained of her energy to drift off to the left, hoping the speaker would get that her measly turn was the only way she could communicate, that she wanted to look into his eyes, hear what he needed to tell her. She wished he were smiling. Why wasn’t he smiling with her? She strained against instinct to pull her lips over her teeth and close her jaw, producing a smile that must have looked like a card caught in the spokes of a bicycle, blurry and trembling, hoping he’d return her efforts.
He didn’t. And then she kept drifting.
“Can you still hea—“
The scent of orange blossoms and chili powder hung in the air.
NOTE: If you empathize with Claudia in this chapter, or are going through something similar, the message is not that it’s impossible to leave. No one can predict the future that well. Instead, don’t convince yourself that you deserve to be mistreated simply because your abuser hasn’t gone violent. You don’t.
The scope of abuse is much larger than people think it is. Why Does He Do That? is a great resource for learning about more insidious forms of abuse and manipulation.
And good luck. If you’ve made it through thus far, you’re much stronger than you think you are.