Shade and Bone (Regarding the Lives)

(TW: Abuse, gaslighting, and SHADOW AND BONE SPOILERS. Just a refresher, Arkady is the codename of my past lover, who had gone on a ‘break’ with me last March. Ash is the codename his partner of six or seven years. March is the codename new, abusive member of the household who lies about… Everything. All of these people believed they were Fae and very powerfully magic. Via my DID, they manipulated me into believing the same things. When I showed symptoms of being mentally ill, I was ostracized. During this time, we took in Seven for three months, who definitely tried to integrate into all of the ‘magic’, but apparently, they didn’t do it right. )

“The more it heals, the more it hurts.”

That’s a lyric from “Dynasty” by MIIA. I know because I get wine drunk and scream-sing it at 2am at a not unremarkable frequency. That being said, I’m in a good place in my life. Despite moving here with the people who now hate me as my only support, I’ve managed to create a circle of fascinating, cherished, caring, witty people.

But where there’s light, there’s less place for one’s shadows to hide.

For a bit of history, I’d read the Six of Crows duology shortly before Arkady had. It was how we’d first started connecting. That series by Leigh Bardugo was easily engraved into my soul, at a time I needed it most. Arkady’s and my first interactions were messages back and forth about how much we’d loved the series, how much we’d hype up each moment, how much we’d related to the downtrodden characters doing their best with a rubbish hand dealt.

Still my favourite series.

He then introduced me to the sibling series, “Shadow and Bone.” He made it clear that he related deeply to the Darkling, one of the more prominent characters in the series. The Darkling was Grisha, which were basically the sort of people who were born with elemental powers. (So, kinda like Children of Chaos.) Grisha were basically witch-hunted for a good portion of this fictional history and the Darkling, being a rather special sort of Grisha, was eternal, bitter, and moreso isolated than most and turned against any potential connection he’d ever had for his inhuman superiority.

Wow, that was some foreshadowing, eh?

I remember very clearly, when I’d first fallen for Arkady. We’d been talking endlessly on Facebook– venting and relating with every reply– and I finally just called him. I’d been stood up by a friend, I remember, and he suggested that I go to a nearby rooftop bar and order prosecco.

This rooftop bar, in fact.

I did. We talked on the phone for eight hours. Dumb shit, stories about what idiots we’d been in previous years, venting about how we’d been wronged, sparring with banter back and forth. At one point, he’d blurted he was a vampire– which had become rather old hat by now. (Yeah, okay, I know like two dozen, buddy) We were heavily flirting all night. I remember as I was walking home, I’d teased that he was stuttering because he was infatuated with me.

This is how he replied, in a low, velvety voice:

“If I were only infatuated, I would be talking normally.”

Cue my knees to give out. I almost smacked into a street sign, and I don’t think that was the alcohol.

Here’s the thing about my romantic love: I don’t fall in love easily. There’s a very specific set of requirements that you have to meet, many of which even I don’t know. But if I realise you do, I’m falling Princess Bride levels in love with you, and doing so quickly. And I can’t stop it. It’s like being sucked into a whirlpool, with me kicking and screaming the whole way. I had to stop myself, several times on that same call, from saying, ‘I love you.’ Trust and expectation rarely follow suit– Sometimes I love just for the Hell of it. I prefer to be swooning and wary at the same time– adds to the thrill, you know?

That was April 27th, 2018. I was suffering from my traumaversary and he was so validating. He seemed to see me without recoiling. In fact, he said, ‘Me too.’

I wrote him a letter, which he received a few days later, confessing I was in love with him. He called me immediately, upon receipt, confessing that he was in love with me, too.

That was May 8th, 2018.

Fast forward three years after meeting him, on April 23rd, 2021. I was watching the “Shadow and Bone” premiere with one of my best friends– someone who wasn’t close to the situation with Arkady, Ash, and March, but knew about it afterwards. Arkady had always heavily kinned with the Darkling– I’d finished “Rule of Wolves” (abbreviated RoW) and Darkling dearest actually ends up tortured by a tree, which, considering Ash’s real name… uh…

I’ve had complicated thoughts about Arkady for a long time, many of which are documented in this blog. They’re rational enough. Arkady is part of a system, along with two of my other partners who have yet to betray me, named Visarden and William. I’ve enough evidence to suggest that the boy I fell for is not the same one who was screaming through a door that my alters weren’t “real.” All of his references towards our relationship just weren’t… factual

Like him saying that I was the only one who hated March, and that I roped everyone into it? Or forgetting what our relationship was even like? Or forgetting how I had to talk him down from throwing March out on the street after discovering he’d been manipulating the whole household? Or the promises he made me, to bait me from Savannah in the first place? Or that it was Ash’s idea to look through March’s things???

1984 GIF on GIFER - by Graninara
Wherein adding references to 1984 isn’t even pretentious.

I had a friend I talked to somewhat recently. She had met Arkady when he was younger. “I could tell he was a ‘shape-shifter.’ He’s the type of person who just is whatever his partner needed. I don’t think you’ll ever know who he is unless he spends a good few years outside of relationships. I don’t even think that he knows who he is.”

I think my friend could hear the jagged shards of my heart cracking moreso. She quickly rushed to explain, “Oh, I think he did really love you. I think it was all genuine. But I think the person you fell in love with was temporary. He is who he needs to be.”

Well, with DID, that’s definitely more than possible.

I remember Ash actually having messaged me saying that they were thankful that Arkady had another partner. “He’s a bit… too much… for one person.” I, on the other hand, thought that being needed was a nice change of pace. Through fate rather than intention, I’d mostly dated Virgos, who are generally the exact opposites from needy. In fact, they’re basically like dating stray cats that have opinions.

But Ash didn’t need someone to help love him, or validate him, or make him feel cared for. They needed another person with DID that could be groomed into seeing them as a faerie.

You know, much how April did to me. Which has a very good description via this song in particular.

As I sat there in Java’s, staring at my friend and outright annoyed at her for making sense, I ran Ash’s and Arkady’s twisted history through my head.

You know, like the fact that Ash didn’t believe that Arkady had alters and yelled at one of them to literally slap Ash as “proof” Arkady wasn’t lying about it– and that this was commonly used as an anecdote of how abusive Arkady used to be. Or the fact that Arkady hadn’t even delved deep into magical realms until Dmitri, an abusive partner who would use magic against Arkady– only months before Arkady met Ash. Or the fact that it was Ash’s suggestion that Arkady and I wed.

“He is who he needs to be.”

Then– the fact that Ash and I were feuding about our poisons of choice as everything began to fall apart. I remember Ash snapping at one point, “You know, you’re not supposed to be drinking on your meds!” They were, of course, referring to my Sertraline, which I take for my anxiety and depression. Ash’s mother was an alcoholic, and they haven’t learned to forgive intoxicating libations in general for it. Ash, also on SSRIs, had been high for three days and had to be led around like a toddler because they couldn’t find their way to bed. I remember humouring them and Googling the effects– and reading aloud– “Oh, hey. It says it’s not recommended to use alcohol or weed on meds. Huh.” If you’re picturing me reading this aloud with a dickish tone, you’re 100% on the money.

They stormed upstairs after that.

I remembered that Ash and Arkady had an argument about how Ash had failed to listen to us telling them that March was abusive. They’d torn off erratically in their car, scaring everyone half to death, leaving us to catch them down the street. The day after, Arkady and Ash left on a weekend long camping trip. Terrify, isolate, manipulate. A familiar pattern.

“He is who he needs to be.”

Anyway, I think about the Darkling a lot when my mind gets too close to thinking about Arkady directly. About how, considering his past, how he’d really had no other choice but to manipulate Alina and massacre loads of his own people. And my friend, with no knowledge of who I connected it to, saw the Darkling and sort of thought he was a pretentious dick.

I actually reeled a little bit. You must not be understanding him correctly! Maybe it’s different in the books! You’ll understand when you see his backstory. But then I realised where my defense was likely coming from.

I watched the rest of that series while alternating between being indignantly protective over my poor tortured shadow god and then cackling madly whenever he met his exact comeuppance. And I finished the series with Kaspar, who apparently, had opinions.

During an Alina and Darkling kissing scene, Kaspar pointed out, “Just imagine, that would’ve never happened if she’d been born human.” Then again when the Darkling tries and fails to kill Kaz, who’s only human–“I suppose that’s what happens when one relies on only magic as a tactic… and as a personality.” “Odd, how Kaz too came from tragic circumstances and didn’t feel the need to manipulate Inej.”

Have I mentioned how much I love Kaspar?

I’d paused Netflix. “Anything you would like to say, Darling?”

I expected some sort of jab at Arkady, or maybe a light roast towards my complex about the two of them. But Kaspar had a lot to say. They even put their wine glass on the table to free up a hand for emphasis. “Xanthe, what infuriates me the most about what happened is that [Arkady] only seemed to want you once he and [Ash] convinced themselves you were magic. That you could validate and cheer on everything they would say to raise themselves above the human race. And why? Because anything they do to you once you’re convicted of ‘being human’, doesn’t count. They condemned you for showing signs of mental illness because if your world was a result of mental illness, it meant that theirs is too.

I tried my usual defense. “The thing is, he has no financial independence. [Ash] would’ve thrown him out on the street if he stood up for me. He didn’t have a choice.”

“There is always a choice. There was always going to be someone unjustly tossed out, he just would’ve made it two.”

Yep, Arkady sent me this, too.

“He’s never experienced homelessness before,” I pointed out.

Kaspar actually rolled its eyes. “Oh, the poor dear.” Right. Point taken. “Xanthe, the videos from August– You didn’t take those down to avoid triggering yourself. You took them down to protect him. And honestly, fuck him. Damn him for what he did to you.”

Kaspar’s bluntness in contrast to their usual frivolity felt dizzying. I was paralyzed into noncommittal responses. “I can see why you’d say that.” “Yeah, that… does track.” “You may be right about that.” Then, finally, “I can feel myself start to get defensive. Let me mull this over.”

Kaspar had nodded and squeezed my hand. Since learning they were an alter, I sometimes almost expected their hand to feel transparent, or cold. But no, the same warm and slender fingers I’d always known. “I’m relieved to have said it,” Kaspar sighed.

I’m glad it did, too. Though Kaspar never got to know Arkady before March, which I blame myself for. But gods, did it have a point.

I remembered how Seven, our temporary member of the household, getting away with most of their immature bullshit before they tried to claim that they were Seelie Fae. I could actually see Ash’s territorial shift on their face. Suddenly, Ash was seeking us out one by one. “Is it just me or does Seven not really fit into our household?”

I’d been keeping Asra up to date on why I mistrusted Seven, and when told that Ash now did as well, Asra replied with, “Oh shit we have the trump card on our side!” The trump card. That’s what Asra called Ash.

Even between Ash and I, the conversation about Seven seemed reasonable enough. But between my resentment at having a new housemate against my will, and their resentment over their ‘recollections of past-lives’ threatening to blow the lid off of Ash’s fantastical intrigue– it didn’t take long for us to get downright petty. Making fun of how Seven would burst into an entirely peaceful room, glance at the telly, jerk their thumb towards it and asked, “We, uh… We married to this?” That was how they asked us if we wanted to change the program, by the way.

I remember Ash furtively scurrying to each member of the household, then finally Arkady. I also found out during the process that Seven had been furthering my status as the scapegoat, to solidify their place in the household and even replacing me within it once I was kicked out. So, even though this was an eerie look into my own future and how Ash began the process of ostracization, Seven deserved it.

As fleeting as our unity was, it was delicious. The four of us had the entire discussion while walking through Pinnacle Hill, so as that Seven couldn’t hear. I remember the familiar– yet so lately scarce– warmth from Arkady growing as we walked and talked. He caught me as I tripped over a branch. “You’re cute when you get like that.”

“Like what?” I asked thickly, little cartoon hearts floating around my head.

His smile was bloody victorious. “Swoony.”

Ash cheered an ‘Awwww!’ just like they used to do whenever we were cute together. That was an endorsement I knew I needed and my heart, for the first time since our break started, felt like it was soaring.

When we went camping weeks later, Ash did a reading on me through tarot that ‘through them’ predicted that Arkady and I weren’t going to get back together. I repeat, my ex-metamour told me via tarot that they wouldn’t let their boyfriend get back together with me after our break.

I panicked visibly at that. Not because of what the cards said, but what Ash had said through them.

Arkady and I were not going to get back together. Ash said. The “trump card” said.

“He is who he needs to be.”

What’s worse? My ArkadyMy Seran, having split or gone dormant and having effectively died within his system? Or there never having truly been a Seran for longer than was needed?

Were you???????????

The last part of my processing involved me at a bar and oversharing with LGBTQIA strangers, as per usual. Then I reinstated the Lives on Facebook. The Lives from August, the night I was thrown out. The Lives I set to private to, as Kaspar said, to protect Arkady.

But if there ever was a Seran– for whatever reason– he’s not in there now, and he wasn’t in there in August.

I watched the Lives for the first time ever, just the other night. I heard for the first time, his arrogance, his concentrated condescension. The voice I had so much loved, I couldn’t help but listen to it and think, “You jackass.”

I dreaded hearing my own responses. I thought I would witness myself sounding as pathetic and meek as I’d felt that day. And yes, I was visibly scared. But I fought back. I argued with him, I was snarky, there was some cheek in that. I laughed a few times at my own replies, just trying to stop the barrage of verbal attacks. And Arkady kept just tearing into me. About how I was ‘going through the motions’ of therapy without actually… going to therapy?

Which, from a man that’s gone through a year without any therapy at all, was rich.

And there he was, knowing that I was stressed and didn’t consent to a talk, and he was telling me that my alters weren’t ‘real’, and that they were all a lie. He was threatening to reveal my ‘actual’ (the body’s) birthday to sink my ‘clout.’ He was citing my narcissism as the reason no one wanted to be around me.

What We Do In The Shadows Sticker GIF | Gfycat

And I’d apologised to him the next day, for making the abuse public. I was clearly terrified, clearly alone, clearly isolated, and he was abusing me on camera. He hated the fact that I was no longer isolated, that I had a support circle that disagreed with his mistreatment.

At the end of the first video, I was so intensely triggered, that we were disassociating on camera. Xhaxhollari told me, via my mouth, “Please don’t fade away.”

I replied with the Darkling’s last words, “Don’t let me be alone.”

A good chunk of my personal life is available to the public. It’s a form of protection. I cannot and will not let anyone isolate me into nightmares ever again. If I had not gone live that night, I would not have made it.

The ending frame of my last live, just before a friend saw me on Facebook and decided to rescue me.

Manipulation needs shadows in which to hide, which is why Arkady hit me with a bloody “How Dare You” when he discovered I was on Live.

The truth can stand the spotlight.