My initial plan was to move in October. I’m not sure why I’d chosen October– I think I was clinging to my bachelorex lifestyle and wanted to be at a vantage point to warily survey this new life change. But with the household seeming to turn on Arkady and my stress mounting because of it, that was no longer an option.
He seemed constantly forgotten by or condemned by Rowan on Vali’s behalf. Hell, early in the month, Arkady had caught randomly ill– an abrupt, severe lack of energy that seemed to warn that something may have even been wrong with his heart. It was harrowing enough to have to get checked out in the ER and scared me half to death. Rowan and Vali predictably forgot about him and spent about seven hours on a date together.
That day, Arkady couldn’t even get up to get himself a cup of water.
Though he had recovered somewhat quickly, this was getting dire. I had to move to Rochester, sooner rather than later. Arkady had even alluded to being unsure if he’d be able to make it until I arrived.
He’d had scant progress, though. On an increasingly rare date between he and Rowan, he did get Rowan to admit that Vali had been making them into his veritable pillar, all the while avoiding trying to make any other friends in the area. Baby steps, but I’d have to intervene before this turned into a triple suicide.
There was a lot I was attached to in Savannah– that I still am. I loved my job, though them over-working me half to death threatened to destroy all of my finer feelings for the old inn. I loved the historic beauty of the city, my VIP status as a certified concierge in a tourist hotspot– hell, I used to get offered free champagne by dropping my job title, as if I were some bigshot CEO. I ended up drunk in a historic theatre, giggling with a bunch of other buzzed concierges as I saw Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time.
Most of all, Savannah felt safe.
The Hostess City of the South essentially enabled me to self-destruct in style, but at least I had control over it. I lived alone as a rule, moving through the lives of others like a drunken phantom– just another one of Savannah’s ghosts, to be talked about like a novel sighting years later. After Kirra, I couldn’t get completely entangled in someone else’s life. Kaspar and AJ had been, for years, my shining distant stars, my points of joy, meeting in the middle on occasion for mutually-desired semi-regular injections of serotonin and dopamine. But we’d never planned to move in together.
Moving in with Arkady and Rowan– and the poisonous fungus growing out of Rowan’s back whose name was changed to Vali– was breaking down every defense and wall I had carefully crafted over the years. Moving far away from any support unconnected to my love, while I was being triggered my Vali, and having intense mental health symptoms both because of and unrelated to that– A past, more pessimistic me would have considered that a form of suicide attempt.
A current, more realistic me knows it is.
It isn’t as if I was going into this blind. I practically interrogated Rowan and Arkady both to be damned sure that we weren’t likely to screw each other over. I’d even disclosed to them that I had ‘ambiguously real friends’ that I wasn’t too sure actually existed.
“What’s going to happen if you see me at a cafe, talking to myself, and I tell you that I’m there with Vex?” I remember asking, nervously. My alters have always been my dirty little secret, the reason I couldn’t live with anyone else without the risk of being revealed.
Arkady responded very simply. “I would tell you to tell Vex hello for me, assume she was in the other plane, and hope the two of you have fun.”
I swear I could get high off of that level of understanding. It wasn’t my only reassurance.
“My mental illness has been a lot lately; you’re sure you’re not going to get tired of me?”
“You’re not saying ‘I’ll love you forever’ as like a flowery sort of thing teenagers say to each other, right? Because if I’m taking this chance, I’m going to need you to mean forever.”
“I’ve relied a lot on my atmosphere here. It may take me a while to get acclimated. It may be kind of intense. Are you sure you can handle that?”
“I’m like a feral cat, and I’m not used to living with other people. You’ll have to give me some time.”
They knew very well, between myself and my alters having told them, what I had been through with Kirra. I had run out of ways to say, ‘Hello, I’m several maladaptive coping mechanisms wrapped in a stylish cloak of trust issues, please for the love of gods don’t betray me.’
Arkady had made such fervent, reassuring promises to chase away even my darkest of ‘What if’ scenarios.
If he were to betray me– if I indeed made the same mistake a second time of uprooting myself just to be abused, slandered, and abandoned– my probable homelessness wasn’t even the part I was most dreading. It was the fact that those promises, if broken, would feel forever empty to me, from anyone. That even if I had survived the heartbreak, the humiliation, the self-destruction of having been so thoroughly fooled again, some last vestige of vulnerability would have been broken off and locked away.
Not only that, but this was Arkady. Brilliant, witty, charming, fiercely beloved Arkady. The one who took credit for the rolling tides of fog that enveloped River Street for my birthday, the one who had held my hands as I silently wept with the realisation he was guiding me towards– that magic was real, my other world was real, and I didn’t have to be alone in it anymore.
That was the most beautiful birthday present that I’d ever received.
And Comrade Fungus over there had hijacked my worst abuser’s mysterious power over people just to threaten this– that which I had defied the universe in even finding. The gall.
Despite the stress, I did manage to have a satisfying send-off. I invited all of my closest friends, and several promised to come. All who showed up was Marcia, the 50-some year old liberal mother I was friends with and Apollo, the type of frienemy who tends to be around when loneliness is the only other alternative.
Typical of my social life in Savannah.
I visited all of my favourite spots. Apollo was even being generous with buying me drinks. I graced my favourite bar, the Mata Hari, one last time.
I overdid it, with the full intention of having done so. Apollo and I wandered back to my place, where I rather quickly passed out. Apollo had evidently let himself out, with my front door unlocked behind him. I woke with an almost paralyzing panic– I think I’d had a nightmare about Kirra, almost as if it were she in the room when I’d been unconscious rather than Apollo.
Instinct’s funny, that way.
The day finally came for Rowan and Vali to arrive. It was a little later in the evening, I remember. Rowan had admitted that they had stopped for a quickie in the back of the van.
No, I’m not kidding.
It was the same area of the van that I was to be crammed into. See, the cab only had room for two people, and I was to lay down in the storage area with the birds in this little Uhaul for the eighteen-hour drive.
It was about 8pm when they arrived. I remember seeing the back of the Uhaul van, parked right on Chatham Square. I went rushing out to greet them. Rowan, one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had, and–
Who the fuck is THAT?
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Vali. It was really only the hair colour that helped me place him–dyed orange, to further cement his resemblance to my abuser– and the stench.
It wasn’t just body odor. That was more than understandable, under the circumstances. It was this sour, rotting smell. As if he’d rolled in curdled milk to disguise another layer of rot, then lost a fight with roadkill. It actually made my stomach turn.
I held my breath as he insisted on a group hug.
Back in the day, when Vali and myself were just two alt-looking Facebook queers who would chat occasionally, we’d sexually flirted quite a bit. Vali had referenced to those chats, as if our sleeping together would be a done deal. Rowan had even heavily implied that the entire house would just be constantly sleeping with each other.
But as sexually open as I am and was…
I still have standards. I don’t sleep with people I’m not attracted to, unless I plan to block you on everything afterwards.
After the initial greetings, Rowan and Vali took a nap in the space that was my studio apartment for one last night. After they napped, I ate one last time at the Cajun Café, one of my favourites. Then we loaded my stuff into the van, cleaned the flat, and I turned in my keys.
As we were in the lobby, we overheard a tourist motioning to the infused fruit water and saying, “That’s lemonade. Southerners drink it to stay hydrated.”
Nothing you just said was correct. I smiled. It felt like the oblivious tourist population of Savannah was waving goodbye to me with one last baffling statement.
I remember laying in the van, being shipped off to battle Gaslamp in the familiar state of being nearly three days sleepless. There was a distant feeling of bitterness forming– here I was, damn near at the finish line of having a family, having a home, having that unconditional love I had considered unreachable, and there Vali was, practically role-playing the person who had made it impossible for me in the first place.
But who else to battle this, who was so familiar with it? I was a veteran in a war I’d never wanted to fight, called back to the front lines with my family held hostage. And who else could draft me back into that nightmare but the very man who had taught me to re-believe in magic? I could also feel that more twisted, spindly part of me bracing tiredly but dutifully for a fight.
I called this part ‘X.’ He’d later choose the name, ‘Xhaxhollari’.
I glanced to the front of the van. I could see Vali scrolling through his phone with his right hand and the steering wheel in the left. I texted my love within our group chat of Zara, Sage, Tony, and Arkady. “Vali is texting while driving. If I don’t make it out of this, remember me in my last moments. Reclining on a chaise lounge in the back of a Uhaul, riding this out Wilde style.”
The group was sufficiently horrified with this.
Rowan had driven about six hours before the two of them switched. They were curled in the passenger seat, relieved to be using this break to type up a thesis they needed for class. When they’d finally noticed what Vali was doing, they did promptly respond. “Hey, uh. Hard boundary, but please don’t text while you’re at the wheel.”
I grinned like a cheshire. There’s your spine.
“Oh, sorry. It’s just boring staring at the road the entire time,” he said, driving a whole vehicle with myself and my worldly possessions stacked within down the highway.
“… Did you want to switch with me at the next rest stop?” Rowan asked him.
“Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind.”
My face fell. Damn it.
I was exhausted. I could never sleep when someone I don’t trust is around, so the night they had spent at my flat to rest up for the next day’s journey was spent with me staring at the ceiling.
I alternated between listening to my MP3 player and laying in silence. I could hear Rowan’s and Vali’s conversation in the front. There were mainly two points of conversation that were had while they thought I was asleep.
The first, that Vali was intensely over-sexual. The attic which I felt cheated out of, he called a “sex dungeon.” I gagged quietly. I was also silently counting how many times he began a sentence with, “As a sex worker.”
The final count was 18.
A notable quote was, “I’m a good dom. I always make my subs cum.”
Cue the dry-heaving.
I also heard how he often feigned self-awareness for his downfalls, referencing the hostage situation only a month ago as if it were just an immature little phase he’d been in. As he spoke of it, Rowan quickly rushed to praise him– how much he had grown, how much self-reflection he’d shown. This conversation notably took place as Rowan had to put their thesis away to drive a few more hours, lest should Vali’s boredom kill us all.
We did have a fun moment during the evening. Vali decided to play a medley of videos of Youtubers playfully roasting certain astrological signs. Invariably, Scorpios (Arkady and I) and Tauruses (Rowan) always got a slap on the wrist, as far as criticism. Aries got the brunt.
Vali decided he was done with astrology for the rest of the ride.
At one point, we’d stopped at a gas station on the side of the road. Vali’s eyes darted across to the dirty, uneven field with the scant amount of trees. He looked to Rowan– the nature-loving, self-proclaimed Fae Rowan, and said, “We should go run through the woods! Come on, just real quick, let’s do it!”
I was more than 32 hours without sleep and had thinly pleaded, ‘How about we not?’ Please, Rowan just needed someone to touch them, don’t make yourself tick bait just to prove that you’re feral enough for them.
We drove through that night and a good amount of the next morning. My excitement was building as the Rochester skyline came into view. I was texting Arkady, updating him on each minute the van grew closer.
When those van doors opened in the driveway of my new home, I fell right into Arkady’s arms. It was like something out of a film. I’d made it to him and I could actually feel him slightly sobbing in relief and exultation in my neck.
I was home. And more importantly, we were together.