I’m not sure if Nebula was the host. I’m not even certain if there is a host. I may never know.
Her life plays within my memories like a film I’ve watched. I think of it with a feeling of detachment, and there are some memories that she seems to have taken with her, forever out of my reach. There are even some skill-sets and wells of knowledge that she appears to have taken. It’d be bonny to be able to play Sudoku or have an absolute knowledge of Greek mythology, but I may as well let ol’ Neb have something.
Neb took the name when she was nine. I don’t think there’s any of us that ever wanted to go by this body’s birth name. Like I’d said, I feel like we had co-hosted until a certain point, but I was completely dormant by the time she reached age eleven. It’s all a blur, and easy for me to sum up through vague foresight.
She was devastated by Shadow’s death. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that she had worshipped him. She had taken Shadow’s religion as her own– suicide was an extreme trigger to her, understandably. She had become withdrawn and was Very dependent on her friends as not only a motivation to keep breathing, despite an immense failure complex and being constantly bullied, but also dependent upon them for a sense of purpose. One of her closest friends was named Jeannine.
Nebula was fourteen when she met ‘April.’ That’s not her real name, but I’ve used it as an alias for her before. Jeannine had befriended April during some sort of birthday party, despite April being in the grade lower. Nebula first met April at a mutual party’s house. Now, Nebula and Illusion had broken up and she had avoided talking of her ambiguously real friends. Maybe she thought we were imaginary friends? Or really hoped we were.
Nebula had casually spoken of her religion, ‘Children of Chaos.’ Notably, April hissed at every single mention. Yes. Hissed. Like a cat. April, when questioned, explained that the ‘Methusilla’, that she was a part of, had had gone to war against Chaotics.
Neb hadn’t heard of such a thing, but it seemed to fit. Her friends in the religion would later confirm it. But still, April’s behaviour was… baffling. One evident sort of theme of the night, as nebulous (ha) that memory is, is how many in-jokes Jeannine and April seemed to have together. It was more than Jeannine just showing preference between the two friends– there seemed to be this odd flexing of control, as if to show off to Neb. April didn’t seek out a friend in Jeannine. She wanted a follower.
That same night, during a sleepover, April confessed that she had just been texted by ‘Vince’ and started sobbing that he was going to kill himself. Neb was triggered, obviously. Jeannine was fawning over April, holding her terrified friend.
Vince miraculously survived. (I don’t remember the details.) I don’t think there was ever any closure. But Neb did feel a strong sense of foreboding.
Suddenly, Jeannine would inform me about the new group of friends she had met through April. One was named Jake, and Jeannine started dating Jake. His father was abusive, he seemed to want to commit suicide every time the sun went behind a cloud. Gods know Neb had her own ideation but something about all this just seemed excessive. It seemed like at least once a month, Jeannine was sobbing in the school hallway about how Jake was in the hospital, and April was her shoulder to cry on.
It got weirder. Jeannine told Neb that she had a ‘blood-letting’ ceremony with April, and this made her a vampire, because now she didn’t like chocolate. It was announced that Jake’s suicide attempt had been successful, and that Jeannine would be mourning. And then he was somehow threatening suicide again the next week.
I swear to gods I am not making this up.
Neb finally decided to go to war with this April person. She believed Jeannine was being catfished and aimed to prove it. April was toxic, delusional, and Jeannine needed to be drawn away from her. Granted, Neb wasn’t losing much by missing Jeannine as a friend. The girl thought she was in a relationship with a Star Wars character, for crissake, and also lied about Neb to her mum to keep up the drama. But Jeannine was dumb and dramatic. April, with all her flaws, was very intelligent about how she went about this. Jeannine was won over by April and Neb cut her losses.
Good riddance, I think. Then the year after, April had a falling out with Jeannine.
I actually do not remember what prompted Neb to reach out to April as a friend. Maybe she was so bitter and betrayed by Jeannine that the enemy of her enemy was her friend? But Neb reached out to April.
April was only happy to clear everything up. Oh, Jake? Yeah, he was in a tough situation, but Jeannine lied about it to everyone. Of course he wasn’t killing himself every week. The vampire thing? Definitely Jeannine’s misunderstanding but kind of true in a way. Jeannine was lying to Neb about April and vice versa. And as Neb and April had both cut ties with Jeannine, there was no way to verify. But Neb knew Jeannine had lied, and that was all the proof she needed.
April could always be very convincing. And she was also kind of cool, honestly. I mean, yeah, she was elitist, abrasive, actually called her friends followers, (they would, in turn, call her ‘senpai’. I’m sorry for the war flashbacks I’m causing some of you) bragged about being a sociopath, but if you could withstand that, then you felt like you were better than everyone else. Because this person that knew so much and was so talented could tolerate you, you lucky bastard, more than everyone else. And hell, she was also the only other alternative queer in small-town Ohio. Beggars can’t be choosers.
And somehow, when Neb’s friends seemed to abandon her one by one, she saw the crowd around April and the empty lunch table around her. She saw April’s Hot Topic clothes, the bleached streak in the hair, the artistic talent, and saw only her own hoodies and tees, writing, and none of her own plan after high school. She still held the private belief that April was making up the majority of her friends, but abandonment had lowered her standards. And Neb emphasized with knowing people that were real to her and no one else. She didn’t know if April was doing it on purpose or not, but Neb always gave people the benefit of the doubt.
Boy, was she in for a surprise when she found out Jake and Illusion had started texting each other. And flirting. And had met.
“Jake’s actually a really cool guy,” Illusion said sheepishly. “I think Jeannine was just lying about him. I’d really like you to meet him!”
And so she did. She played video games with Jake that night– I think it was Spyro– Illusion just tended to his young daughter in the kitchen and Jake explained that, yes, his dad was abusive and he’s definitely struggled with suicidal thoughts, but most of what Jeannine had told us about was made up. Neb and Jake vented about good ol’ dramatic, lying Jeannine. Jake encouraged her to be better friends with April.
And also meet the rest of their friends, so that Neb could see how much like her friends they were. Illusion and Jake both supported each other through recovery, formed a healthy relationship that had a few major bumps in the beginning (trauma do that), and Neb got to know the rest of April’s mysterious friends.
It would start through text, instant-messaging. Sometimes April’s friends would help Neb support April. Illusion grew further attached to Jake’s friends and family, and Neb began to see them, one by one.
The world grew so much more complex. Plot-lines, multiple arcs. It also grew more terrifying. More near suicides, gore that Neb could actually see, mentions of war, people nearly dying all the fucking time. The guy named Vince died eventually. Neb left her phone on high just in case she needed to be there as support– she was probably going on four or five hours of sleep on school nights. Sometimes crises would last until 9am, with no sleep. More typically, sometime between 3am and 6am. It was like someone decided to make the Bridge to Terabithia into a horror movie.
There began to be some sort of double life that Neb led. What once was her sanctuary, a safe place where she could hang out with her friends, became a full-time dread-filled maintenance job. But Jake’s and Illusion’s romance? The children they adopted? Sound starting to date JaK? They were happy, much happier than Neb had ever been. And god damn it, if she had to put her body through hell for her friends to be happy and alive and have these beautiful romantic moments Neb was probably low-key living vicariously through, it was worth it.
Especially since her own boyfriend had left her for having ‘no future.’
It consumed her. She stopped questioning it. She was always ‘zoning out’ or ‘on her phone.’ She didn’t take a job after high school because she was always putting out fires in this ‘other world.’ She was isolated. Nearly her entire social circles were either alters or people that April made up– some of which ended up being both.
Once, when April was threatening suicide, Neb was at dinner with our father and our brother at a restaurant called Rooster’s. She was texting her under the table, trying to convince her friend out of it, and then when April stopped responding, she excused herself to the restroom and called 911. And then just came back and continued to eat as if nothing was happening. That was the level of detachment that was happening, here.
And the most damning thing– Neb fell in love with April.