Dealing with Romeo and Koji: An Innerworld Coming of Age Story. (2014)

A progression of hosts. The first three are partially me. Then it's Neb until the second to last picture. The last two are fully me.
What Romeo looks like in my head, but with longer hair. He also tends to dress quite femme. The actual person in the photo is Kiro from the band Cinema Bizarre.
Valentin Winter on Twitter: "Valentin Winter | Eternal Art Photography… "
What Koji looks like, but younger, with a more rounded. face The real person in this particular photograph is the illustrious model, Valentin Lucien Winter.

The rest of the system wasn’t too enthused with my arrival. I think Neb had been spouting the ‘demise of Star’ story to people that didn’t really believe her. ‘Oh, yes, this was the obviously death of your childhood.’ So, when I suddenly arrived, it seemed like everyone else in the system saw me as having Neb’s face, but that I was different. I think the main assumption that I was a parasitic spirit from the 19th century that claimed squatter’s rights within the body.

Which. Fair.

And in the inworld, I was slowly looking different, too. My eyes were getting lighter, rounder. My skin was taking on more of a golden, parchment cast. I was smaller, too. Over there, I’m between 5″4 and 5’5. I don’t like being as tall as this body is. My mouth is wider, my cheekbones and jaw more prominent. My hair is naturally wheat-blond, no roots. I look a little mixed, honestly. Phisoxa mentioned that she’d written me based on a half-sibling she never knew that probably ended up being half Desi. As a result, I’ve always maintained an interest in Indian culture, but it’s something that’s definitely hard to express without people thinking of Rachel Dolezal.

But anyway, people seemed to look at me and saw me as the version of the previous host.

I was subject to all sorts of comments. “… so much more selfish than Neb…” “look how arrogant.” “Vain.” “I feel like Neb would still be here if [Xanthe] weren’t.” (I was going by CLockwork, at the time.) Neb’s closest friends, Illusion, Sound, and Rise, tended to avoid me on the whole. I couldn’t say I blamed them. If Nebula was Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean– heroic, selfless, driven entirely by love, then I was Captain Jack Sparrow. I initially looked too much like Neb, and it probably made things more awkward for them than I could possibly appreciate. But, at the nearly total loss of Neb’s circle, I made friends.

Aberle was one of the first who sought me out. He was a huge fan of Phisoxa, admired him from a great distance, and was conclusively interested in her biggest project. He was close friends with a relatively new arrival named Koji-ru. Koji, for short.

Koji was first known as ‘Hollow.’ Sound, who was already schizophrenic and was terribly abused as a child, initially thought Hollow to be an alter. There was a good year or so where the two would split a consciousness in the same body. Sound would have their body on the waning moon– and have that time to spend with his husband, JaK, their mutual best friend, Romeo, and others– and Hollow would have it on the waxing moon, to hang around Aberle, Prosper, etc. Hollow was quite different from Sound– introverted, moody, sharp-tongued, more child-like. A good reference for him would be Armand from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. He was, as I know now to be, an age-slider. Sometimes he would seem as young as six, other times he would be as old as eighteen.

Many would treat Hollow as Sound’s alter. He had no memories of his own, at first, and was only slowly developing an identity. He eventually realised that he and Sound were both children of an old aristocratic vampire named Prosper– The gender-fluid Sound was his stillborn daughter, and Koji/Hollow was his son that had died of tragic circumstances. Both had died a couple hundred years back and their souls found their way back through the body of a Japanese-Canadian child back in 1990.

As Koji had actually lived in the 1700s/1800s, I felt a sort of kinship with him. The Victorian era had always felt at home to me, and I found myself able to relate to Koji rather often. Just as Neb was kept up on the drama of their household through Sound, I became entwined through Koji, who I was starting to think of as a younger sibling of sorts.

I’m sorry this is getting so convoluted, but the set-up is necessary for the developments afterwards. At this point, JaK’s best friend, the delicate and needy Romeo, had gone and married stoic and bookish Calisto, Sound’s best friend. The four of them were practically a set. Romeo and JaK were dramat– I mean, coming to term with their mental illness and Sound and Calisto seemed to be constantly talking them off one ledge or another. The fact that no one was human meant that everyone could take heavy, horrifying-looking damage without dying. People seemed to come precariously close, but I’d known similar situations had happened around Jake and Illusion as well.

I was about as unhealthily invested in these relationships as Neb was. And yes, they all seemed to hinge on how well I was getting along with Kirra at the time. But I’ll get to that.

My inworld is set up as different households that are all spaced out between different continents. The geography seems loosely based on the outer world, with odd differences. London is only a short drive from the beach, for example. There would be different households that different holiday parties would be held at for weeks on end. And most of the drama happened at the parties when everyone was in one spot.

All of these houses had different themes, but almost all of them were huge and had different amenities. Almost endless guest rooms, living areas with people filtering in and out most of the day. They tended to look more unique as time went on. I remember Sound’s house looked like a Parisian dollhouse and Koji had an underground glass palace in Paris.

But I do digress.

JaK and Koji were set for a wedding ceremony. It was a private little affair with probably under ten guests. I wasn’t even invited, as I frankly grew closer to Koji afterwards. But I did hear tell of what happened.

The ceremony was over. It was their honeymoon. Romeo had called, insecure that he hadn’t been on the guest list, and wanted comforted. Of course, Koji was more than a bit irate and had implored JaK to let someone else handle Romeo. After all, Romeo had an entire-ass husband and family. Why was he bothering JaK on their honeymoon? From what I remember, I don’t think Koji was particularly insulting, just. Unsympathetic, and probably impatient.

And then JaK just became thoroughly insulted on behalf of Romeo, screamed at Koji for an hour, and stormed out of the room. Koji was scared, crying, begging him to stop. JaK was even angry at Koji for excluding Romeo from the guest list, even though they’d both agreed to the guest list before.

They eventually partially made up, but the entire thing seemed to split the social sphere. There were a good amount of people, mostly controlled by Kirra, I would later find, thoroughly under the opinion that Koji should have liked Romeo just. On principle, I guess? And others, a sadly small majority, were under the impression that Koji refusing a wedding guest he didn’t like and hardly even knew was a sin fitting of Koji’s marriage being ruined before it even began.

Koji had hardly been introduced to most of the circle, but all anyone seemed to know is that poor, sweet little Romeo was crying and Koji was to blame. JaK and Koji were fighting almost constantly. Anyone seen defending Koji seemed to have their own allies (via Kirra) turn on them as well. Sound, having been Romeo’s BFF for years, was being pressured constantly to hang out with him. JaK would even actively guilt Sound whenever he didn’t.

Romeo would have an odd way of doing favours for Sound that would always turn into an act of self-harm. On Romeo’s way into seeing Sound’s modeling event, he fell up the stairs and sprained his ankle. Baking cookies for Sound, he’d managed to badly burn his hand.

I remember very clearly, Sound bitterly muttering under his breath, “I feel if I asked Romeo to get me a glass of water, he’d get hit by a train on the way back from the fucking kitchen.”

I always felt that was a succinct way of putting that situation.

The situation went from frustrating to terrifying. Koji was not only isolated, but being regularly berated by those who had taken Romeo’s side. If Romeo so much as sniffled, any progress Koji made on his interpersonal relationships fell to ashes before his eyes. He was already undiagnosed bipolar before this, and the situation made him absolutely suicidal.

I remember being agitated with the situation. It wasn’t fair. It all had snowballed over Romeo’s absolute entitlement. Whenever I brought it up to Kirra, it seemed the situation would get even more severe. She would make it very clear she didn’t like him, and would cite JaK’s increasing instability over the situation as obviously Koji’s fault. I was trying to hold Koji up wherever I could, this strange historical child that felt like he could never belong in the modern age. That he wasn’t allowed a family, a husband, or children.

I ached for him.

Once, during a party, I believe he attempted to invite himself along to a function– he was so desperate for any sort of contact, at the time, and a room full of people screamed at him. He started to… for lack of a better word… disappear. He was curled up, in the fetal position, whispering, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore, I don’t want to be here anymore, I don’t want to be here anymore.’ And he started to fade.

Well. I’ve had a ‘power’ in this world, which allowed me to steal souls, erase memories, or even manipulate people’s souls. Generally, I used this ability for good. I did that night. I looked Koji in the eyes and stole him, so he wouldn’t go away. I remember standing there, holding this poor boy’s soul in my talon– I’d transformed into a white crow, temporarily; a thing I can do– and flew away from anyone who tried to catch me and take him back.

It was like taking a battered toy from a horde of bullying children. You can’t have him back until you learn to treat him right.

I think it was then that everyone started realising they’d treated Koji abominably. I eventually released him, to sob in the arms of those that had condemned them. It was finally their wake-up call.

Romeo was, to give him credit, horrified that it had gone so far. The wave of ridicule that had been aimed at Koji on his behalf seemed to turn onto Romeo.

This one was different. This one had a stopping point. This one calmed once Romeo had apologised.

Not to say that Romeo didn’t have any more drama. I didn’t particularly like Romeo. There was too much helplessness and entitlement underneath that bubbly and innocent sort of facade. Too many seemed to jump to his defense and it seemed to enable him.

There was a time a few months after that Romeo and Calisto kept having fights. Romeo pulled the ‘You can’t say that to me or I’ll kill myself’ card one too many times. He’d also tried to convince Calisto that he needed sex in order to prevent his heart problem from becoming worse?? (If you can’t tell, Romeo was originally 100% Kirra’s creation.) Calisto, as dry and imperturbable as he normally was, was unravelling. And I… well, I had opinions.

In one moment of manic frustration, I jumped onto an open window sill and gripped the sides precariously– to further my point, of course. “Don’t you dare tell me to get down from this ledge,” I said to Romeo, Calisto, and a startled Aberle who was just then getting used to me. “because I’ll call that guilting and I’ll jump out the bloody window. And if any of you seem scared, I’ll use it as cause to hate myself and jump out the bloody window.” I was nearly shouting in like a sort of singsong voice. “If any of you start convincing me of why I shouldn’t, I’ll say you aren’t listening to me and jump out the bloody window.” I know at one point, I lost my grip but quickly regained it. Those are the only three I can think of. I know this went on for a good while, until I felt my point was made. There was a good chance that I wasn’t entirely sober.

Aberle, well, he was impressed. Had a little smirk going throughout my diatribe. He told me, afterwards, “I did see you lose your balance. But I pegged you as the type to want to die to prove your point. I was so caught up in the moment that I–… Well, not saying I would’ve let you, but.”

Yet it did have the desired effect. Romeo, who stared at me increasingly sheepish surprise, did eventually consent to have a calm one-on-one talk with Calisto. Romeo did receive therapy for his previously undiagnosed borderline and was able negotiate needs with more productive means. Calisto received therapy for the trauma he endured (and would hardly admit to.) Koji also received trauma counseling and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar. He and JaK eventually had another try at their wedding and, barring a few more catastrophes, lived a happy domestic life.

It was around these two incidents that I started to establish my reputation in the in-world. I would definitely get into more mischief, more fitting of a puckish rogue of a side-character than anyone’s plucky protagonist. But I never would forget how entire crowds turned against Koji, mercilessly bullying him, just because Romeo felt spurned. It was a phenomenon that I would later coin ‘Gaslamp.’ That always haunted me.

Probably because it forshadowed my own trauma six years into the future. But we’ll get to that.