It was nearly impossible to have friends outside of April and my inworld. Granted, it was theoretically much easier for me to make friends in an art college city than it had ever been in Marysville, Ohio. There were practically fields of frolicking queers in their multi-coloured hair and their septum piercings.
But gods, was it hard to actually leave April alone and actually take advantage of that. She had ‘meal swipes’ on her student ID that entitled her to a unlimited cafeteria food three times a day, but at a glance, she pronounced all of her free food inedible and insisted on going out to eat every night. I had to come with her, for she claimed her anxiety prohibited her from eating alone. So, obviously, it was my duty to show up and watch her start to get ready.
It didn’t matter what time of day it was. I could be knocking at 6pm and she’d answer it, still in her pyjamas, still with bedhead.
She’d memorized my work schedule. I was due at her dorm at every day off where I would waste two hours of my day, normally teatime, to sit awkwardly as my partner would dress herself as slowly as humanly possible. I’d learned early that I needed to have a light meal or snack beforehand, or I may starve to death before we ever left. Even worse if we couldn’t decide on where to eat.
“Where do you want to go to eat?” I’d ask, like a fool.
April, as a rule, rejected the first three suggestions with such offended ferocity that it was like suggesting a vegetable to a five-year old. “I may have had that just the other day but how Dare you suggest such slop in my presence!”
Sometimes, most of the restaurants would be closed by the time she had decided. I hated being the bearer of bad news. I feared her reaction.
If we did make it to having dinner, it would be an impersonal affair. We’d mostly discuss our mutual friends/my alters. Yes, JaK does remind me of a peacock. Did you hear what Romeo did when his child’s first words was referring to Calisto instead of him? I think Wish secretly talks to other kids, just not adults.
Afterwards, we would retire to April’s dorm. We’d choose from a scattering of DVDs to watch for the night. Sweeney Todd, Brave, Spirited Away, etc.
Then, around 3am, I would try to venture home. Despite the lateness of the hour, April would often look up at me and ask, ‘Are you going home already?’ The tone was accusatory. If I answered the affirmative, I could never shake the feeling I could be punished for it.
Sometimes, she would somehow place the cause of my leaving on not the lateness of the hour, but of what ever she happened to be doing at the time.
“You hate video games,” she’d texted me, venomously. “I know because you left while I was playing Legend of Zelda! You always seem to leave while I’m playing video games. I don’t know why we’re even together if we don’t even share basic interests like this!”
This was the condensing of several texts in a row, by the way. I decided to spare my readers the full montage. Most of these were received, by the way, when I was playing Saint’s Row 2. What is that, you may ask?
A video game.
I sent her the picture of my playing it as a response and she went on a diatribe of how “games like that and GTA and CoD” weren’t real video games.
I would argue, then she would threaten to break up with me. I don’t remember being pained or frightened by the concept– I only feel exasperation when thinking back to it. But I must have reacted differently; must have begged my way back into her heart each and every time. We would then play the Apology Game, always through text.
For you starting fights with me when you’re bored? Damn. “For making you mad.”
“Wrong. Try again.”
“What do you want me to apologise for, then?”
“I already told you.” I do remember, scrolling up and trying to see what the hell she was talking about. Near the end, I was just using quotes of hers in the format of an apology, whatever name or insult she’d come up with for me. Eventually, I’d have it right. Or at least, close enough. Have the right order of words with which to degrade myself with.
Our first fight in our relationship was actually over sex. She had a weird habit of holding the concept over my head like it was a treat for a surprisingly well-behaved mongrel. A roasting tease or some sort of perceived short-falling on my part, then I’d get hit with, “Someone doesn’t want laid tonight.” She would also ask me to do her chores– take Amaterasu out, sweep the floor, empty her de-humidifier, and let her choose the movie and the restaurant. Or else– no sex. And she’d state this often.
It was like we were a dysfunctional couple in a 90’s sitcom, with her dangling a carrot on a stick and me being expected to pant like a dog and maybe slap my foot against the ground for good measure. I could honestly give a fuck whether we had sex, but when I finally expressed my discomfort with this dynamic, she flew into a rage as if she’d been expecting it.
There was no actual rebuttal to my concerns. That she was using an intimate act as a rewards and punishments training program. All she said was, “Get out, get out, get out!” And out I went. Then she texted me so I could come back inside and hold her as she cried.
I was the one who said I was sorry. The problem was never resolved.
Throughout the night, I was basically doing the same thing. JaK and Romeo could be a lot like April when angry, I realised. I remember always telling Sound and Calisto, over text or the telephone, “You have to say the right thing. Apologise in the right way. I run into this daily, I have experience with this, you have to say the right thing, you have to do the right thing, any mistake can mean death Do You Hear Me.”
I was often staying up until six, seven, sometimes ten in the morning just to have Sound or Calisto phone back, ‘Yes, we got to him in time. He’s going to make it. We’re going to work it out right when he regains consciousness. Thanks for guiding me through it.’
I was essentially some sort of cross between a crisis hotline operator, a hostage negotiator, and a 911 dispatcher. But I was always obliged to do so. “I know JaK can go on these meltdowns,” Sound would say, “but I really love him. We’re so happy together when everything’s normal! We just have to get through this one last problem.” It was something I could empathize with, and didn’t yet see the problem with the fact that I could.
My main respite was that if I could dress myself early enough, I could snag a few hours of writing over at Gallery Espresso. Usually with Vex at my side. Grade A aesthetic, the best loose-leaf tea $2.50 a cup could buy, cluttered with antique armchairs, and it was where I met Elisabeth. This place was bloody charmed.
Vex liked it, too. Her favourite tea was the smoky Russian caravan.
I was used to people not seeing her. She told me that she was glamoured, and only people who were also non-human could peer through the planar curtains and see the small blonde woman sitting next to me. She actually spotted my future best friend before I did.
Neb had met him once. It was at Mr. Pizza, now Stoner’s Pizza (self-awareness at its finest). He’d shown off the ‘demon voice’ his acid reflux had left him with as an ability and she’d begged him to do the line from Aladdin, “Who disturbs my slumber?”
The time *I* officially met him, we’d both been invited to a birthday party with one of April’s multiple mall-goth friends at an Asian restaurant. I’d arrived late–can’t remember why– I’m under the vague impression that April forgot to tell me until it’d already started, but I can’t remember the details. What I do remember is that April hadn’t bothered to save me a seat among the goth side of the table. The side I was left sitting at was full of denim and polos.
I’m not turning my nose up by any means, but the table was markedly segregated. I still remember Cotton. His rust-coloured crescent-moon hair that had spurned the crown of his head to leave it bare, his leaf-green eyes that was more genuine than all of the unpolished emeralds in the world. His face was an interesting combination of handsome and cartoonish– it had a way of naturally exaggerating every expression he gave, which made him instantly likeable.
I honestly can’t remember exactly what we’d talked about. We were clearly eyeing each other with, ‘We’re the odd ones out, apparently; I vaguely know who you are, at best. Let’s find some common ground.’ And he made me laugh. What ever April had done to piss me off, I’d forgotten. (Permanently, I guess?) I’d had fun that night, despite the terrible service and the high-schoolesque seating arrangements.
And two weeks later, Vex was eyeing him in Gallery Espresso. “You should go and talk to him. You could use a human to keep you–… Well, human.”
I didn’t know entirely what Vex meant until I’d started talking to him. I hadn’t realised that I needed to vent about April until I’d started to do so. Cotton had nodded knowingly, and swapped stories of all of the ridiculous people we’d known and the absurd scenarios they’d led us to. And I trusted him not to report back to April, because we had, as he put it, an agreement of ‘mutually-assured destruction.’
I wouldn’t talk to anyone he’d vented about, and he wouldn’t talk to April. Mutually-assured destruction.
That’s how it started, what would probably be one of the most important friendships of my life. The Watson to my Holmes. The Wilson to my House. The Greg Sestero to my Tommy Wisaeu. The non-judgmental but sassy peanut gallery to my life with a heart of pure platinum– gold is far too common.
He actually was in the habit of asking me about my writing. At the time, I was rewriting my own backstory Phisoxa had thought up for me, Zeitstuck. It was a nice contrast to my romantic partner, who, at the time, spurned the book because I’d based a character off of the late Elisabeth as a tribute. “You wrote her into your book,” April had reasoned. “You’re basically using your book to emotionally cheat on me.”
“Y-You. You realise this a dead girl I’m supposedly cheating on you with, yeah? I’m not exactly having weekly trysts in the cemetery.”
April hadn’t liked when I pointed that out.
But finally, through Cotton, I’d had a way to vent. And gods knew I would need it.
There was another night. Just like usual, April and I had been discussing where to go for dinner. It was already dangerously late and we were running out of options. At a loss, I’d suggested Forsyth Cafe. I’d discovered it the day before on one of my runs– I didn’t know then that it closed at 6pm at the latest, but desperation and all that. That immediately threw April into a tantrum.
“What is it with you and that place? You’re like obsessed. That’s all you’ve been talking about for weeks. I’m sick of hearing about it!”
“I–… I discovered it yesterday. On a run.” I do realise, upon reflection, one of my alters could have discovered it much earlier and that might have led to this confusion. But knowing April, I’d bet at least a paycheque’s worth on her just lying for convenience. “But I’m sorry for bothering you for weeks for something I didn’t know about yet. That must’ve been baffling.” When there’s no right answer, you at least should quip back with something witty.
April picked up on it. She grabbed her satchel bag, slung it over her shoulder, and marched out of her room as if she were going to war.
Whenever I get anxious, my understanding defaults to my autism. People usually accuse me of being purposefully obtuse. I’m really not. I’m just suddenly socially an idiot when my anxiety reaches beyond my threshold, which is often with explosive people. “Oh, have you decided on a place?” I’d said brightly.
I tried to follow her out the door, but she slammed the door on my foot, despite or in spite of my stammering protests. “Hey, wait– I can’t– Ow–” She was walking well ahead of me, head down, walking quickly. I’d thought her simply impatient to eat and in no mood for a discussion.
We walked down the blocks of Oglethorpe, snaking through Liberty. It was already dark, sometime past 8pm, and it was misting down a light rain. We’d passed Six Pence, Fire, Parker’s… “Where are we going?” I finally called. “Is it somewhere I haven’t been before?”
“Please leave me alone!” She called out. Her voice was oddly high and shrill. It sounded precisely like her mother, Brenda– an abusive shrew of a woman that liked to speak in an odd ringing baby voice on a casual basis. And when Brenda was being channeled, I was definitely in trouble. “Please go away!”
My steps slowed.
I’d recognised this as one of Romeo’s tactics. When he was angry with Calisto, he had a habit of taking off into the night so that something bad could happen to him, and Calisto would feel even worse about having disagreed with him. As Romeo was friends with April, it made sense that they’d share the same guilting tactics. “Are you going to go back to your dorm? I’m worried about you being out all night by yourself.”
Savannah was hardly ever one of those cities, but if anyone could find convenient trouble, it was fucking April. “No!” It sounded so much like Brenda. A 50-something woman pretending to be a petulant child in the body of a 20-year old.
“Then where are you going?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care! Please leave me alone!”
I started texting Cotton about my predicament. We’d talked before how difficult it was to have dinner without turning it into a fight, and this was the latest example. I forget exactly what he’d texted back– probably a combination of, “Oh dear LORD” and suggestions on what to do. My alters generally weren’t available until I was physically able to be alone, so it felt good to be able to talk to someone about what was happening as it was happening.
I followed April for a while more. We were going in circles. Stalking past the Colonial Park Cemetery, grazing Lafayette Square, cutting back through near McDonough’s. After more than a half hour of this, she finally stopped under the awning under J. Christopher’s.
We stood in silence, damp in that southern way where we knew we probably wouldn’t dry off until the weekend. I checked the time on my phone, texting Cotton to keep him updated. “Six Pence and Fire would still be open by now,” I said to April. “I imagine they wouldn’t have a wait.”
April stood against the wall, arms crossed, refusing to look at me.
I sighed. “Look. I’m hungry. You said you wanted me to go leave you alone, and if you want, I’ll do that. Are you going to go back to the dorm?”
“Yes!” She shot at me.
“Okay.” I walked two blocks down to Fire. Despite this place having terminated my employment in a way that’d make OSHA’s hair curl, I loved their food. I had fried dumplings and a sushi roll called the ‘Ellis Roll.’ I texted Cotton, “I finally got some food in me– no idea where she is but it’s nice to have a peaceful dinner for once.”
“Does this happen all the time?” I remember him asking. “Because this seems weird and you’re talking about it like it’s normal.”
There it was. That first inkling of, ‘This might not be normal.’ Sure, April and I were queer and alternative. Nothing we did was normal. And she had a fucked up childhood– Brenda was if Bridezillas was a person rather than a show. But I’d always had a sick, twisted pride in being able to handle my partner. Just barely.
My resilience to April’s bullshit had become my favourite talent, aside from writing. It was a constant mental exercise. Other people couldn’t handle her, and that, at the time, seemed a failing on their part and a specialty of mine.
An hour later, April texted me predictably saying that she was having a hypoglycemic attack.
From not eating.
As per her usual, she misspelled a few texts in a row, but not so many times that I didn’t know what she was asking. She liked to create a feeling in which she were dying through text, as if you were witnessing her precious last words in blue and white font.
Following her meekly but firmly given orders, I went to Spudnik, one place she seldom said no to, got her usual to-go, and then snuck past uni security to deposit it at her door. April assured me through text that she would try to ‘summon the strength’ to walk the few paces it would have taken to retrieve the baked potato.
My head was swimming as I rode my moped home. I mean, Cotton’s life, as I’d known it, wasn’t precisely riddled with tragedy. He’s still, to date, the only friend of mine without PTSD. Of course, this would seem dysfunctional to him. And honestly, I’d reasoned, April just had her bad weeks. You know, the holidays were too near, or it was too windy for her liking, or if her professor had said something to piss her off, or when she was broke, and if I just made sure nothing I said could be misconstrued to offend her. If everything just went right for her, she was a joy to be around, and that’s what people didn’t understand.
But he wasn’t judging me. Or even judging her. He’d just seemed… just a tick worried.