(From College Roomies from Hell. Click on image to see it full-sized.)
One truism of writing is that you can never satisfy everyone. The very nature of fiction writing (if the writer takes the art seriously) is that characters evolve in time. They change and grow. However, growth is not necessarily a good thing. Sometimes it can be harmful, a cancerous growth that devours from within, leaving but a shell remaining until finally death is the only option.
While there are not too many of the old guard* left among fans of Maritza Campos’s hit comic College Roomies from Hell, if you asked one of them to quickly sum up the core characters in one line you might hear things like Mike was the asshole, Roger was the weirdo, Dave was the nice guy, Margaret was the reluctant heroine, Marsha was the mega-babe, and April was the good girl. While these characters have evolved over the years (with Mike showing a core of loyalty for his friends and family and Roger having a tragic past and future), none have changed more dramatically than the “good girl”, April.
It has been years since the events of It Had To Be You, a storyline that changed the entire dynamic of the comic and which has had aftershocks echoing through the Roomies universe in almost every storyline since. In this story, the Roomies (while under the influence of extract of Blue Mushroom) faced down the Devil… and lost.
Yes, they lost. While the new dorms were destroyed, and the Roomies were not immediately divided up, things were not the same. Dave betrayed Margaret’s trust and attacked her from behind (for her own good). Margaret turned on the others, showing a tendency of paranoid individualism that would eventually haunt her. Mike was marked by the Devil and had something integral to him negated by that marking, something we’ve still not identified. And something happened to April, something that started to build from that moment, turning her innocent gaffs and oopses into something destructive and dangerous.
The most obvious of the Devil’s victories was April. Where once this girl was the glue that helped to bond the Roomies together, now there was a girl who was seeing her own failings first and foremost. Further, she gained an inability to let go of things, to move on. I don’t know if her words to Mike (as he tried desperately to get her to abandon him and thus protect her from the Devil) were the catalyst that the Devil worked with or what. But suddenly, April was aware of just how alone she was. She looked at Mike and Marsha, who she struggled so hard to keep together… and said “I want that.” Not the companionship (because let’s face it, the events immediately after IHTBY included guys hitting on her, any one of which could with a little effort have been turned into a boyfriend). Instead, she wanted Mike himself.
Marsha’s own actions didn’t help. Nor did Mike’s. Marsha has long been damaged from a relationship of hers that failed, with her boyfriend of the time cheating on her. She never forgave. She never forgot. And she grew violently jealous, expecting all others to walk down that path. In her mind, Mike would cheat on her. He was no better than her ex-boyfriend. When she saw April sitting with Mike, talking to him (and scratching his palm, the palm where he’d been marked), she immediately suspected him of cheating on her.
The curious thing is April’s immediate response. She acted to protect Mike. She drew Marsha’s immediate wrath onto her, claiming she was trying to steal Mike. Yes, she and Mike were trying to hide their culpability in Dave’s disappearance. But was it in character? April has a tendency to analyze things. She’s been that way for a while. Her “Imaginary Floating Wiser Self” could even be considered a personification of that trait (and we still don’t know if IFWA is real or a figment of April’s imagination). Sometimes she jumps to conclusions, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that April is constantly analyzing stuff, whether it’s Dave and Margaret’s relationship or the fact that she’s alone.
And yet April was scolded by her imaginary self about going over to see Mike with her new hairdo. Margaret initiated it by alluding to the conversation April had with Mike, a revelation neither remembers, but why then would IFWA scold her grounded self about “flirting” with Mike unless there was a reason to worry? Her comment was the first pebble of an avalanche that has not yet stopped falling, and continues to do tremendous damage.
Was this the start of “satanic influences”? April has worried before (in the end of the print CRfH comic “April’s Secret”), wondered if Satan might have “put something in” at that point. Dave laughed April’s worries off. He didn’t feel that April has a problem (not for having only half a soul (which is revealed and explained in “April’s Secret”) or that the Devil “put something in her”). But April hasn’t let this go. There is a significant part of her who worries that she is being manipulated by the Devil. Last Friday’s comic is a cornerstone in that argument. She feels she can’t stop herself. She has to hurt Marsha.
Of course, there are other explanations besides Satanic influence.
If you look at the dichotomy of the April/Mike/Marsha triangle, you might notice something. April and Marsha are mirrors of each other. Oh, I’m not talking looks (with April being blonde and Marsha brunette). I am talking about how they have treated Mike.
Marsha has shown herself to be extremely possessive, suspicious, and jealous. When her suspicions are confirmed to her satisfaction she will use physical violence to “punish” the perpetrators. Nor does this treatment cease once she breaks up with a guy. Instead, they are forever marked. They are forever hers and if they are not celibate monks forsaking the company of all others, she will physically attack them, often using her favorite weapon of choice, a fire extinguisher.
Marsha has on multiple occasions gone ballistic and attacked Mike. She has tried to physically kill him. She has sworn vengeance against him and decided to hate him forever. She nurses and harbors grudges with a passion that is frightening. Fanatics hate with less purity than Marsha. She’s even struck against April, feeling that she could hurt Mike through April when she thought the two of them were having an affair. Yet the harder Marsha pushes Mike away, the tighter he clings. He’ll do anything for Marsha, including letting the Devil take a hand at the wheels for ten minutes (i.e., possession).
Compare that to April for a moment. I don’t mean early April so much as in the hateful angry child that has taken her place. April likewise has been rather possessive of Mike. At the very least, she wants him for herself. I’ve puzzled over this. Why Mike? I don’t think it’s a matter of wanting what you can’t have; initially April’s attraction to Mike was repressed and hidden. However, the very qualities in Mike that have kept him true to Marsha are what attract April. He is tremendously loyal to Marsha (not only in not cheating on her, but in eating her horrible cooking among other things). He pursues her when she insisted on ending their relationship. He shows compassion and concern for Marsha. These are things April desires, and when you add in the facts that Mike is rich and that April finds him attractive… well, the only obstacle in the way to happiness is Marsha. That and the fact Mike detests April now.
More recently, April has acted quite poorly toward Mike (and Marsha). She’s behaved toward him like Marsha behaves toward her own ex-boyfriend (and toward Mike when they are “between” relationships). Mike hates her. He wants nothing to do with her. She’s the funhouse reflection of Marsha. What does Marsha have that she doesn’t? Why does Mike love that vengeful itch instead of her? It’s not fair!
It’s not, when you think of it. Mike has forgiven Marsha for ten times the grief she’s inflicted than what April has. But when April has extended a hand in peace, Mike spat in it. When April expressed pain in how she’d been treated, Mike snubbed her. Has the man ever honestly, sincerely apologized to April for dying her hair green and playing with her feelings, or for manipulating April by pretending to know what April and he had talked about back at the start of Inertia? Indeed, a goodly portion of this whole blowup can be laid on Mike’s doorstep. He kissed her, using her as a distraction. He manipulated her, played with her emotions, and never once gave her an honest heartfelt apology.
Mike has not paid a price for his actions. And believe me, he deserves to suffer. He frequently antagonized April back before April started on her downward spiral. If he hadn’t kept manipulating her, if he’d just talked to her or listened to her, then it’s entirely possible she’d have gone back to having Mike as an unrequited love, without the need to punish Marsha for her relationship with Mike. If it were just Mike suffering from April’s wrath, I don’t think anyone would really care. But she keeps dragging Marsha into this, taking advantage of Marsha’s good will.
There’s a reason for this, of course. April quickly learned that attacks on Mike tend to do little to him. Hit him, have him beaten, and he’ll return, stronger than ever. Indeed, every time April tries to collect, Mike comes out smelling like roses and April has fertilizer smeared over her face. April’s anger and pain has intensified, coming to boil over the slow fire that is Mike’s indifference and arrogance. April once swore she wanted to make sure Mike never smiled again. She failed.
And she loves him. She hates his gut, because hate is the opposite of love just as anger is the opposite of joyous laughter. But she can’t resist him. If he opened his arms and offered to let her in, offered to let her take her place by his side, I honestly believe she’d take that place without thinking twice.
One of the greatest damnations is being alone. While I don’t believe in heaven and hell as per the Christian mythos, I did once visualize what Hell would be… and it was a land of cells, each one with one person in it, floating in a reddish light that didn’t illuminate anything, didn’t reveal anything to see. There was no sound. There were no people. There was no feeling. There was just utter loneliness and isolation, each person trapped next to another without knowing they were there, without knowing they were not alone.
April is alone. It’s chewing her up inside. Still, if there is one constant that has been true since Marsha returned from the asylum, it is that Marsha has gone out of her way to forgive April her trespasses. She has shown tremendous friendship to April. So why then is April unable to stop?
For the longest time, it seems like April takes two steps forward and then a step back. Right now she’s on the edge of the precipice, her momentum taking her toward a fall she will not recover from. The cancer has eaten her innards. Any redemption she can offer soon will only be posthumous. Her own personification of common sense and wisdom is yelling at her, demanding that she stop. And she is saying “I can’t.”
Why can’t she? What is driving her on this path to damnation? You know, sometimes I think that Marsha made a mistake when she allowed April back into the girls apartment. Yes, April couldn’t afford a place on her own… and Diana wasn’t about to let her move in with her and Paul after their little squabble, but not only does April have to live with the person who’s dating the man she wants more than anything in the world… but she’s also forced to live next door to that very man.
Add in recent events, with April actually succeeding in getting under Mike’s skin and with Mike suddenly noticing that April is as attractive as Marsha is… and you have a recipe for disaster with Marsha mixing the ingredients together. Heavens know how horrible her regular cooking is; I can’t imagine how deadly this dish is going to be when it’s done.
*By old guard I mean those who were around and active on the forums in 2000 to 2001. No doubt there are plenty of us geezers out there, but most have vanished into the backgrounds, letting younger and more energetic fans take the stage.
Comment on the Forums .