In April was the “Turcott’s incident.” That’s what we called it when Vali got wasted at the bar known as Turcott’s, needed helped up the stairs, and required assistance using the restroom like the toddler that he is.
In May was, of course, the infamous suicide threat that lasted for four hours.
June’s was actually somewhat tame, by most standards.
Rowan and Arkady had planned on having a movie date with just the two of them and I’d extended an olive branch of sorts to Vali– he agreed that we could have wine and watch my favourite Brit com, Vicious, while the other two could spend quality time together. Rowan and Arkady decided to stay for an episode or two.
Throughout the entire show, Vali was on his bloody phone. And fine, I’m no stranger to anxiety scrolling. But he not only was clearly not paying attention, but he also kept pushing random memes in Rowan’s face. Rowan, apparently not inclined to offend Sir McKellen’s knighthood as blatantly as Vali was doing, would give the memes a terse nod and approving hum of acknowledgement before going back to the show.
This wasn’t enough attention for Vali. He began looking quite disgruntled. When we finally asked (with me pointedly pausing the show), he explained that an ex of his that he felt conflicted about was in his DMs. Which, you know, fair enough.
We gave him advice. The standard, ‘If the interactions are stressing you out this bad, then it’s not worth it to give him your time.’ And somehow, I don’t remember how, but that launched Vali into a diatribe about, “You don’t understand! I’ve never had a family before!”
Despite the dramatic escalation, that is something I do and did understand. With my limited connection to the body, it took a long time for me to even feel like the body’s relatives were any sort of allies of mine. Vex and Phisoxa created me– the body’s parents felt like mismatched furniture I’d inherited with a house. The struggle of mental illness and the sorts of queerness most boomers haven’t even heard about further strained our relationships over the years. Rowan, Arkady, and I have that in common. But I’m fortunate that I was able to remain in contact with the body’s family and even grow closer with them in recent times.
Vali wasn’t as lucky in this department, but his assumption that all of us but him had a family we could rely on and felt a part of was arrogant, to say the very least. “You don’t understand!” All of us had an underpinning of growing irritation as we tried to tell him, ‘Hey, mate, it’s okay to vent, we’re just trying to help.’ At one point, he snapped at Arkady. “You make me feel like I don’t even belong in this family!”
At least they gave you a key to the house, dickhead. I thought that so loudly that I’m surprised no one heard it.
The conflict, having no clear cause, was quickly escalating. Vali was crying. Arkady was having trouble holding his irritation back. And Rowan was at once trying to de-escalate the conflict and getting snapped at themself. “Don’t talk over me!” Rowan finally asserted.
“I wasn’t, I was just–”
It’s kind of hard to describe the odd, violent flop Rowan performed in response to this. They were seated upright on the couch, then just sort of abruptly threw their torso sideways into the couch cushions and curled with their hands over their ears.
It shut Vali up, at least. Arkady saw this and took it as a signal. “Okay, nope, nope, you’re going downstairs with me!” He was pulling Vali away and down into the basement, for the purpose of either calming him down or at least containing him.
I had my arms wrapped around Rowan, squeezing them and rubbing their arms to comfort them as they had their anxiety moment. Rowan was the most distressed that Vali was constantly talking over them, then claiming not to. “Xanthe. Do you think he meant to gaslight me?”
Ah, so at least someone’s catching on.
Another week went by. Groceries were still an ongoing issue. It was a throwback to my childhood where there could only be a jar of mustard and some butter in the fridge and my dad would refuse to go grocery-shopping until he’d run out of his food. I’d skipped breakfast a couple of days in a row and was looking forward to a Wegman’s trip– which Rowan blew off to take the car on a twelve-hour date with Vali.
We finally went grocery shopping the day after. It was only Rowan, Vali, and I, as Arkady said that he was feeling a bit blue and wanted to stay home. Within the store, Rowan asked us conspiratorially, “So, how do we cheer up the bird?”
While I was suggesting snacks or Arkady’s favourite flowers, Vali had apparently decided it had been too long since the last time he’d irritated me. “[Arkady] does have to learn to communicate what he needs and when. We can’t know how he’s feeling if he doesn’t tell us.”
I stared at him. “Almost like that’s a symptom of Depression, or something.” He stopped talking.
We were ready to leave when Rowan’s car refused to start, right there in the Wegman’s parking lot. It was a hot, July day. Not only was I uncomfortable and hungry, but Vali decided to become an expert in motor vehicles. “It’s got to be the engine,” he insisted while the innards of Rowan’s car were on display. “I can see the rust there and there. It has to be the engine.”
Rowan disagreed. I’m the furthest thing from a car expert. I couldn’t tell the difference between a Mazda and a Kia Cilantro, but they said that something specific had been checked lately and it definitely wasn’t the engine. At this point, there was a helpful bystander trying to help us with the car. The bystander shook his head. “It’s not the engine.”
“No, no, it’s definitely the engine,” Vali said with confidence. “I’m looking at it right now.”
The bystander took what I thought was a graceful pause before saying flatly, “I’m an engineer.”
I had to duck behind the car so Vali and Rowan wouldn’t see me doubling over in silent laughter.
Then, the Rosen Krown incident.
The Rosen Krown was a bar just down the street from where we lived on Crosman. We dressed together as a household– me wearing a new metallic shirt I’d thrifted– and was thrilled to be living a piece of my downtown Savannah life of bar-hopping on foot with my Rochester family.
Well, my family with the addition Vali.
As we were getting ready, he proudly announced to me in particular, “I’m pre-gaming. Do you know what that means?”
“Yeah,” I said. I’ve just moved from Savannah. That was just called a ‘lunch break’ down there, is what I thought.
Like a not unremarkable amount of bars in the Rochester area, perhaps courtesy of the Fox Sisters from whom I imagine Rowan and the like gather inspiration, the Rosen Krown had a paid tarot reader.
I actually wasn’t in the mood for one. I’d had an ex-metamour read my cards without my consent, then announce to everyone what a closed-off, bitter prick I was. But Vali and Arkady wanted a reading. I was most of the way through my ‘Purple Motherfucker’, Arkady sitting for his turn with the reader, when I noticed Rowan’s chatter had fallen quiet. “Where’s Vali?”
Probably doing some Romeo or Kirra shit where he ‘disappears’ and waits for you to notice and worry about him. I scanned the bar. The patrons were breathing in through their nose, the indoor plants were unshriveled, and the tender wasn’t looking under the wells to see if an opossum hadn’t curled up and died there. Conclusion: Vali was indeed out of the building. “He might be having some anxiety and went for a breather. He’ll probably text you if he needs you.” Please, for the love of gods, just enjoy your night. I pleaded silently with Rowan. You don’t have to be at his beck and call for every moment he ever has.
I finished my drink and went to order another. I was having flashes of my relationship with Kirra running through my head– specifically of my laptop on a weathered café table, my iPhone 4 sitting off to the side, and me watching in growing dread as the damned thing buzzed every eight seconds.
Doo-da-doot. “I”ve refused plans all day with people who ACTUALLY care about me just because I thought my partner MIGHT want to see me. But I guess the fuck not.”
Doo-da-doot. “Are you at Gallery flirting with other girls? Fine, see if I care. My pulse has been acting up all day and you’re not even listening to me. Asshole.“
Doo-da-doot. “Fine. Ignore me. See if I care if I die tonight, since no one else does.”
The unbidden memories, filled with iPhone text tones, were settling to my gut like bile– the only thing that could dim it was the purple monstrosity choked with ice. I perched next to Arkady, who was notably sans fiancé. “Where’s Rowan?” I asked, already dreading the answer.
“They went out to talk to Vali,” Arkady sighed.
“For fuck’s sake.”
Rowan rushed back into the bar just a few minutes later. “Hey, I’m going to walk Vali home. He’s having a hard time.”
Arkady and I both murmured our goodbyes. I’d hoped we’d get to stay longer, but we both admitted to a foreboding feeling the longer we left Rowan alone with an unstable Vali. We’d officially been out less than an hour, but I reluctantly settled my tab ten minutes later and we wandered home. “I hate that he has that effect on them,” I griped. “Their mood just dropped. It’s like it was suddenly their duty to play a high-stakes guessing game as to their partner’s mood. I remember doing that– it was Hell.”
Arkady was nodding along, then paused as we rounded the corner from Monroe to Field. “Is that them up ahead of us?”
I furrowed my brow. “It shouldn’t be.” The two of them had left about fifteen minutes ahead of us. But yet, there were two familiar shapes ahead of us on the darkened sidewalk. It sounded as if one or more of them were yelling. We both rushed to the scene.
“Vali, just tell me what’s wrong,” Rowan was pleading with him as we came within earshot.
“I can’t! You don’t understand!” He was tearfully yelling it out. I thought he was laying it on a little thick.
“What don’t we understand, Vali?”
“I need to go! I need to just go!”
Rowan apparently had the patience of a saint only for whoever banged them the most that week. “Go where?”
No one knew exactly where Vali alluded to, but they could guess they direction. Quite suddenly, he bolted down the sidewalk and towards the house. Oh, for the love of fuck. I wasn’t quite certain what Vali was doing– maybe getting far enough away to try to jump off something tall, maybe seeing if he could throw himself into traffic? Perhaps go missing for the next few hours until Rowan begged hard enough for him to come home?
Well, I’d no intention of finding out. Fun fact about the body’s history– it was in track for all of our middle school years and specialized in the 100 and 200 metre dash. It was nothing for me to overtake him and stand directly in his path. I expected him to stop to avoid the collision, but that would’ve been the reasonable thing to do.
We collided and both fell to the concrete. Rowan was running up behind us to see if we were okay. Vali was already rearing himself to his feet, bellowing like a stuck horse. “My hand! My hand!” He was swinging around wildly, just having missed knocking into Rowan with one of his arms.
Arkady was a good 15 metres behind us, having chosen to walk briskly rather than run. All he could see was myself on the ground and Rowan having to duck away from Vali’s wild flailing. His voice, that protective tone that was somehow frost and fire all at once, seemed to cut through the air and chaos as if someone had fine-tuned life’s audio to feature him specifically. “Think very carefully about your next move.”
Vali stopped flailing and went to whimpering, holding one of his hands to him. He actually even seemed somewhat scared of Arkady just then.
Arkady helped me up. I wasn’t injured; I’d just gotten so distracted by everything that I’d forgotten I was on the ground. After ensuring both of his partners were unharmed, Arkady seethed silently beside us as Rowan went to tend to Vali. Vali was still sniveling about the mortal wound he sustained by tackling me. “My hand!” he wailed. “I really hurt it. Look at it. I see bone!” That last sentence seemed to echo mournfully throughout the street.
Rowan paused. I could see on their face that they had to shoot down about four responses to settle on a suitably gentle one. “It– It’s just a scrape, Vali.“ I leaned over and surveyed the injury for myself. The top two layers of skin were peeled away, revealing flecks of raw flesh that didn’t even have the motivation to drip blood– just letting what little there was pool on his palm. It was hardly enough of a blood sample to satisfy a glucose monitor.
Arkady and Rowan had to help the grievously wounded Vali back to the house. I admired Arkady’s willingness to touch him. Fury was rippling across my body so persistently that it gave me energy. I was walking backwards, bouncing up and down with adrenaline as my partner and metamour dragged a rotting carcass– or what smelled like one– into the house.
We could never use the front door of the Crosman house. It took nearly a year for the front doorknob to even be functional, so we were dragging Vali through the back entrance, which had an additional five steps to climb before one was on the first level. Vali, despite the support of both Arkady and Rowan, fell rather pathetically on the floor at the top of said steps.
“I’m– I’m done. I can’t do this.” Arkady had reached his limit and was breezing past the three of us. There seemed to be the unspoken agreement that he and I would be passing the baton between the two of us, but there would be no leaving Rowan alone with Vali. I sat with the both of them as Rowan brought out a first aid kit and bandaged Vali’s hand before those six lost drops of blood left him dry.
There’s a blank in my memory. I don’t know if that’s trauma, or if my brain refused to process further cringe. I have the vague idea that Vali tried to run down to the basement, and we had to stop him– I don’t remember any details. But eventually, Rowan and I had gotten Vali upstairs to the attic and were fruitlessly trying to convince him to just go to bed. He was trying to insist he would lay on the floor– you know, dangerously near the stairs. My tolerance had also run dry, so I’d sought out Arkady.
One of the only details I remembered of that entire… Hour..??? is the state I found my partner in. Wrapped in his wheat-yellow silken robe, legs crossed, sitting on my chaise, holding a mostly empty wine glass in the shadows– You know, just to cope.
Gods, I can only feel affection for him in this moment. Even though the blighter was definitely in my room and raiding my decanter to do so.
“I– I need a break. Would you mind–?” I stood in the doorway and vaguely gestured towards the attic.
Arkady sighed, finished his wine glass, and went back upstairs.
Another memory blank. The next thing I knew, I was upstairs with Vali. Rowan had finally reached their breaking point and gone to bed, with Arkady following just behind them to comfort them. It was once more my turn to try to put Vali to bed.
At this point, the toddler comparisons just get redundant.
Vali was at a loss now that Rowan had removed themselves, thus plummeting his pity-based persuasion powers down to null. We were both sitting on the floor and he reached out to me, still blubbering, and grasped onto my hand. “I don’t mean to do all this. You don’t think that I’m bad for Rowan, right?” He was staring me in the eyes, squeezing my hand. There was such a visceral feeling of revulsion that coursed through me. I kept trying to pull away, but he’d grab onto it once again. That combination of orange hair and green eyes had me flashing back to Kirra, sobbing in her dorm room as I was being pulled violently back and forth between her and JaK’s mangled corpse. Crying about how she had to kill my friend’s spouse, like he was a pet that an unruly child had gotten too close to. “Please, I would never hurt Rowan. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Mm.” My hatred and disgust had me frozen. I felt trapped. Someone crying without me having the option of leaving them to it was the pinnacle of discomfort. It didn’t help that his room was always kept in the deepest shade of crimson light, not unlike Kirra’s.
“I think I have to throw up.”
Good, that’s more palatable then what you’re currently spewing at me.
I didn’t so much help him down the stairs as I just slowly walked ahead of him. I figured if his dumbass was going to fall, it’d at least be conceivable that I moved to prevent it– you know, rather than just witness it for pure Schadenfreude. I sat outside the door, grateful for the excuse for him not to touch me. When he came out, he begged to say goodnight to Rowan– very near the door in which Arkady and Rowan were sheltering behind. “You don’t understand!” he whined. “They’re my twin.”
“No, I get it,” I said, rather pointedly, “Arkady and I had been twins in past-lives too, but when we’ve argued, I’ve still given him space. These things need a cooling off period. Talk to them in the morning.”
“Xanthe, Xanthe. You don’t understand. They’re my twin.”
The argument circled around for a few minutes with him repeating himself and me feebly begging him to go to bed. Then Arkady opened his bedroom door. “You are not talking to Rowan when you are like this. You need to go to bed.”
“But [Arkady]. They’re my twin,” he whimpered. “How would you feel if Xanthe–”
“No, Xanthe would never do this to me! And I would never do this to Xanthe!” Arkady snapped, as my heart did its best Olive Oyl impression.
“This is unacceptable. You need to go to bed.”
“But I want to talk to–”
“No, you can talk to them in the morning. I’m done.” Arkady said that with such finality that even Vali had stopped his bleating and shuffled upstairs to his floor-spanning bedroom. After all, my poor partner had to work the next day and the entire scene had lasted for longer than three hours.
I called Cotton that night– I had to walk down the street, wine glass in hand, recounting the events of the day. “This sounds familiar,” he said in a teasingly doubtful tone. “For some reason.”
“Yeah? Yeah? You picked up on it too? How my life is one formulaic, tragic sitcom of the same histrionic bullshit?”
Cotton chuckled, then mimicked in a falsetto tone, “‘There– there was a wall here!'”
“Christ!” I laughed. “Why me, Cotton? When will it end?”
Of course, I’d be saying that sentence with so much more choked horror a year later. But for now, I was giddy off of adrenaline.
Vali tried to come into the bedroom later that night. Myself and Story, my younger alter, heard the door creaking open. Then my mind was overwhelmed by a feral sort of fear so categorical of triggers. Through Story’s panic, I could vaguely make out that Vali was babbling about a nightmare.
“Just go away and let me sleep.” Story was repeating those words in my head, compulsively, like a phantom repeating their last words over and over.
Arkady fended him off with his fire and ice words, with our body clinging to his side for safety.
Gods. I’d moved to Rochester for safety and it seemed like trigger city. But Vali was one last battle I had to win, then I could have a family.