[TW: Self-harm, gaslighting, alcoholism, mental breakdowns, relationship arguments, codependence, injection, eating disorder.]
Every single time Arkady and I would go on a date, it would be interrupted by one of Vali’s or Rowan’s breakdowns. My heart was being cock-blocked by a combination of crocodile tears and fantasy-based drama like clockwork. Even now, I’m convinced that the timing was purposeful. If the date wasn’t interrupted, sometimes it was overwritten by how one of the two of them had stressed Arkady out that day.
The first time I’d ever met Zara, Arkady’s friend, we’d gone to Plum House and barely finished our meal before being called back to the house because Rowan was having an anxiety attack. It wasn’t a huge loss, though. I’d written in my journal that night, “First impressions: Zara’s apparently replaced her drinking addiction with pot. And a lot of it. We were late leaving because she couldn’t find her bloody vape pen.” It was nice to have another in the united front against Vali, though.
We’d vented about Rowan’s and Vali’s relationship. Zara shared her own frustrations of an ex-friend of hers– A friend who had, because of an abusive and cheating boyfriend, had been isolating from her friends and spreading vicious lies about Arkady and Rowan. As it turned out, this was Spectre– whose partner was misgendered as a guy by Zara repeatedly and had never cheated. The vicious lies were that Rowan was repeatedly pressuring Spectre’s alters into a threesome with themself and Arkady– which– considering myself and a third system has all experienced that sort of sexual pressure from Rowan– weren’t lies. But I couldn’t know that at the time.
It’s amazing how often my future fate played out in the background of my naivety before the other shoe finally dropped. But it wasn’t only interrupting dates. It was poisoning the quality time we had.
See, Rowan had anxiety over syringes, as the needlepoint contained iron, and of course, they were a faerie. They generally had to have assistance when doing their weekly hormone shot, which, isn’t itself, all that uncommon. Arkady usually volunteered. On this particular night, we had a date planned later on of watching Netflix and drinking wine. When Rowan was mentally preparing to get their hormone injection, Arkady was giving them gentle encouragements. “It’ll be quick, love. I’ll walk you through breathing through it, it’ll be fine.”
After a few minutes of this, Rowan snapped, “I feel like you just want me to hurry up so you can go on your date with Xanthe.” They spat ‘your date with Xanthe’ as if Arkady was heartlessly abandoning them to blow their savings on gambling.
Arkady looked stung. I was stuck thinking about how much of an asshole Rowan could be under the influence of the Gaslamp effect. Vali sat at their side, petting their hair like an 80’s villain with a cat.
“No, I’m just… trying to help,” Arkady said in a plainly wounded tone. “I don’t like that you assumed–”
Rowan had an odd– and in hindsight, irritating– habit of staring into space and tonelessly announcing, “I’m feeling overwhelmed!” and opting out of any further consequences on the issue. And they did just that.
Unsurprisingly, Arkady’s and my romance was limited to him brooding silently with the occasional injection of venom towards Vali. It was only one moment of Rowan apparently dangling on Vali’s puppet strings and the entire night went down the drain.
And I was quickly feeling over it.
At the time, I thought I was being selfish. It was Arkady who couldn’t keep his cool, Arkady that was clearly suffering the most from this. But jesus, I’d just given up everything I’d built in the ashes of trauma to make an absurd leap of faith and then it had all seemed to start falling apart just after I’d made the decision. I had no connections in the area that were not through these people and I was dependent on Rowan, whose personality and code of ethics were lately only gained through sexual transmission. I wasn’t able to explore this new city without worrying that Arkady, Vali, and Rowan were going to triple suicide as I took a walk. Everything that they had promised that they couldn’t wait to show me– Mt. Hope, the subway tunnels– all forgotten along with getting me a house key. Not only that, but it was a trigger metropolis that seemed specifically catered to fuck with me.
And I was an untreated, undiagnosed system that was being told that it was all magic, past lives, and channeling.
Vali also seemed so bound and determined to mimic Kirra at every turn. From his methods, to his orange hair, to the feverish ruby lighting of his room, he may as well have been method acting. And when the fourth date in a row was interrupted by another one of Rowan’s panic attacks, it had Arkady and I both summoned there in that oozing red sore Vali had turned the attic into.
It was the exact same shade of red lighting that used to be in Kirra’s room, that combination of fairy lights and filtered lamps. I could feel the same stagnant humidity that was once present in that Savannah dorm, choked with the tension you could drown in. Kirra’s dorm smelled of a noxious combination of dragon’s blood soap and dog piss. In Vali’s bedroom, I could practically smell the rotting of my hopes for my new life– or that could’ve been Vali himself.
Rowan was certainly in a state. Something– I don’t think it was ever explained what exactly, a dismissive tone or another– put them in one of those near-feral modes where communication was limited. They had a wild look in their eyes, crouched on Vali’s bed. Arkady was near them, trying to calm them down. His words were so soft and soothing. I tried to hold onto them as the scene seemed to distort around me in that contaminated nostalgia DID is known for. At times, I’d blink, and I’d be back at that linoleum shoebox of a dorm room.
In the distance, it seemed, I could hear Rowan saying, ‘Don’t touch me!’ I could scarcely hear them. The lights seemed to be pulsing above me. My left rib cage, a permanent reminder of Kirra, was radiating pain. All of my senses were processing infection, rot, and atrophy of some sort. Rowan was thrashing away from Arkady– some sort of sudden move might have startled them and they were in danger of falling off the bed, into that small space between the bed frame and the wall. Arkady grabbed them by the arm and pulled them back towards the centre. “I told you not to touch me!”
Arkady pulled back immediately, looking stricken. “I didn’t hear you–”
“You touched me when I told you not to!” Rowan’s voice turned low and venomous. It was the same tone they’d used to condemn me a year later– as if they were sentencing someone in their fantasy court. “I didn’t give you consent to do that.”
It was so bizarre– a misunderstanding that was spiraling quickly out of control, with even predatory connotations. It evidently triggered Arkady into switching with an alter named Lo’Kaven, whom Rowan thinks of as a parental figure. (He apparently is Rowan’s mother in Faerie, that ended up being in Arkady’s system. Figure that one out.) Without Arkady to yell at about whether or not he’d heard them, Rowan went silent again– feral, noncommunicative.
And sorry if this becomes vague. I normally have quite the memory for drama, but I was so deep in flashback territory that things felt distorted. I could completely understand why Arkady had missed what they said earlier. Rowan, I think, was still talking about the fact that Arkady had touched them. “No one heard you say it, dearie,” Lo’Kaven said in his velvety, warm tone.
There was a horrid silence that seemed stretched thin by time. “I heard it, but it was quiet.” I croaked.
“I heard them say it more than that,” Vali said.
Lo’Kaven, being perhaps unfamiliar with the recent power dynamics, held a finger up to Vali. “Stop talking. You’re not helping things, I’m handling this now.”
In grave danger of perhaps being calmed down, Rowan snapped at Lo’Kaven. “You don’t get to talk to him like that. You don’t get to talk to anyone like that.” It was that same low hissing tone that I would later recognise as the voice they used when they wanted to feel strong. They used it on me a year later and it felt like the auditory equivalent of this:
The next thing I knew, Arkady’s system and I were back downstairs in my bedroom. I say his system because it was Dram this time, a Bulgarian vampire alter who was known for being cold and angsty. And I was not okay.
I’ll never pretend to be sinless on this blog. I was obviously triggered and my brain was doing that alarming, intrusive thing where it was imagining my death at my hands in such graphic detail that I was wondering if it’d stay limited to only imagination. The quickest way to diffuse this, generally, was via self-harm. But I had gotten carried away in the past, which had prompted the request that I either cope with supervision or request someone else do it for me, as a safety measure. He’d requested the same from me.
So, as much as I cringe looking back at it, I was unhinged enough to agree to Dram cutting me. It made the barest bit of sense at the time and it’s not something I’d repeat now. There was something comforting in the fact that Dram and I were only distant friends– and that his edgy vamp arse truly didn’t mind making anyone bleed. With my husband increasingly unavailable, my independence squelched, and the house seemingly carpeted in eggshells, I suppose I was apt to take dopamine where I could get it.
I must’ve asked aloud how this could get any worse.
I found out after getting scarcely half a day of peace. Vali and Rowan had gone down to Naples that morning to visit the property of Rowan’s reverend, a farm-owning and married Sapphic by the name of Debs. Arkady and I were enjoying a rare moment of verbal freedom, being able to vent and just speak openly as we ate pizza on the roof– it was a rare treat. There were times where even Vali’s cat, Sir Pounce, seemed suspicious. Once, I’d had the cat in my room and Arkady had taken me aside and hissed in my ear, “Pounce is Vali’s familiar. Or did you forget?”
I was, of course, frowning and bracing myself when I saw Rowan’s grey Toyota Matrix turn down the street. Here we fucking go. Vali and Rowan joined us on the roof moments later, regaling us with tales of Naples– which mostly consisted of goats, and how cute the goats were.
“It’s actually really progressive, even though it’s the country. Everyone was saying hi to Debs and Mel. You two would love it there. It’s really liberal. And it’s so beautiful out there and the goats were adorable! And it’s not like the usual country life, it’s actually not conservative at all. It’d be perfect if we wanted to move there.” Rowan kept repeating that and giving me meaningful glances. I was getting the sinking feeling that it was because I’d vied so much for a downtown-adjacent living area, and that they were trying to convince me that my preferences were just incorrect. Even more alarming than the feeling that they may have been trying to pick a fight with me on the subject, I was beginning to suspect that they were convincing us into future plans. “You’d love it there!” they insisted.
The uncomfortable pauses were lengthening after each insistence. I’d made my preference for urbanity exceedingly clear, and a day with some horned barn animals had Rowan looking at my lifestyle as if it were a decision I needed convincing out of. Plus, a few townsfolk being on good terms with a couple of old white lesbians wasn’t enough basis to call it ‘liberal.’ Realising that I wasn’t being persuaded, Rowan turned to their fiancé. “[Arkady], can I talk to you real quick?”
Oh, fuck me.
After a solid ten minutes of fidgeting, I decided to pop in to use the loo. Arkady’s bedroom door was right next to the bathroom, where I could hear Rowan sobbing and proclaiming, “You’re not supporting my dreams!”
What the actual fuck.
Later on in the day, Arkady confirmed my worries, which I exasperatedly penned down in my journal. “Rowan wants to move to the country because they apparently can’t be happy with too many opportunities, buildings, conveniences, or fucking TRANS RIGHTS around them.”
Arkady shared my views, thankfully. “It’s like they get in these moods where they’re dissatisfied in some way and want to uproot everything.” He was doing the dishes as I sat on the counter for moral support. “They’ve done it before. Usually just with jobs, but now they want to uproot all of us? No. I’d love to live in the same place for ten years. Hell, I’d love to live in the same place for five years!”
I was relieved I wasn’t alone in this. “Yeah, that’s a whole stereotype of–”
“Borderline?” Arkady cut in with a somewhat sardonic smile. “You can just say ‘Borderline.'”
“–I was going to say Tauruses,” I laughed. “But yes, that too. I am worried, though. There was a reason I wanted to stay close to downtown.”
“I know,” Arkady sighed and dried his hands off with a towel. He turned to me and kissed my forehead. “I won’t let that happen anytime soon.”
It was a relief to have one person with my best interests at heart. It seemed even Rowan’s ‘channeled’ people weren’t even on my side anymore. Arannan, who claimed to be my father in a past life, kissed Vali with Rowan’s lips. Of course, for being my ‘father’, he mysteriously disappeared when the household began tormenting me–again, figure that one out.
Granted, I could always vent to my loved ones. Cotton always had a joke or four that shifted me from sighing to laughing within ten minutes. Aberle, having been there through the first round with ‘Gaslamp’, always lent a sympathetic ear. Kaspar was always delighted to hear about new group drama and had sharp words to say about each. (Though, they were more vocal about disliking Rowan, which prompted me to confide in them a bit less if Rowan were involved.) And my dear AJ, though they were never very big on comforting, had been with me through so much and surely could be counted on to–
It was the usual scenario. A homeless man that was screaming at random people had seen my long-haired partner and called them something feminine. So, their solution was to ‘stop eating.’
I spent the next several days contemplating the horror of such a scenario. Even as we went to the beach, I would look out the car window and find a lonely, one-floor house in the middle of a field and want to shudder. You know the sort– the telly’s always on because it’s the only way they know the outside world still exists. There are three cars parked out front. Two of them are trucks. Any pleasure that they have is regulated by these automated death traps that requires being fed sacrifices of paycheques and fossilized dinosaurs. There’s definitely a teenager that lives there who doesn’t know they’re closeted that looks up way too many articles on Columbine in between being abnormally attached to children’s shows.
Well, by this time, I had finally gotten hired by [Hotel Chain Redacted.] The biggest catch was that I would, as a front desk agent, would also occasionally double as a shuttle driver. Now, I had been in two serious automobile accidents in my lifetime and had happily given up driving. After all, in Savannah, having a car was far more nuisance than convenience. I hated everything about cars– even dating back to how Henry Ford swindled us out of a perfectly good railway system. They were marketed as rights of passage and a natural part of adulthood when they were the embodiment of late-stage capitalism. But– to have a hotel job, in the middle of downtown? Fine. Fine.
It took a couple of weeks, but I finally did manage to drive to the airport and back for the very first time. I was elated. I learned a new skill! And only had two panic attacks during! I wouldn’t have to lose my job over this!
Arkady congratulated me. “I’m glad you’re getting over your driving thing,” he said. “You’ll definitely need to start driving regularly when we move.” When I was startled and felt damn-near maddened by his sudden change of heart, he assured me that it wouldn’t be until ‘five years or so.’
Five years? Gods, even living within a 45-minute walk to nearly everything was a stretch for me. What would life be when walking or biking wasn’t even an option?
Arkady wasn’t as sympathetic as he had been just days previous. In fact, he seemed to have forgotten we’d even discussed what we had? “I used to have to bike for an hour from Rowan’s family’s house, sometimes even in the winter, to get to my job at Dunkin’. But I did it because sometimes you just have to make compromises.”
That, and your only direct relative had moved to Missouri and Rowan’s bitching about you not being perfect enough caused their family to outwardly reproach you as you lived with them, so yeah, of course you went above and beyond reason like you’re asking me to, but it doesn’t mean it’s fair. I actually bit down at my tongue, at one point, but I was by no means compliant. “Was this decided without me? Is this like the attic thing where everyone just forgets I exist for this communal decision? I asked, time and time again, before I ever considered moving, if we were going to stay in the city. That was non-negotiable for me.”
Then, Arkady started speaking to me with this tone. It was patronizing, like he was gently scolding a rebellious child. I didn’t care for it, as you might imagine. “Xanthe, Rowan has been wanting to have a farmhouse all their life. We all have to make sacrifices for the good of everyone else, sometimes. You have to understand– sometimes, plans change.”
What the FUCK.
I forget where I was when we had the majority of this conversation. I vaguely recalled that I may have been at Cafe Sasso, texting him. Or it may have even been in person and I felt so far from him that in my inworld, I was somewhere else. But I remember that we finished it in his area of the basement, what he called his necromancy chamber, that he’d decorated with green and purple lights, candles, and skulls. It seemed like the kind of place that Edgar Allen Poe might see on acid.
Between those two instances, I searched both my text threads with Rowan, as well as our chats. We’d had countless conversations about living together, what I’d need, that I couldn’t live without self-sustainability in walking distance. I searched all of the country-related terms I could, to see if PTSD had so devastated my memory through the years that I’d forgotten this glaring caveat.
Nowhere did Rowan ever mention wanting to move to the country. Nowhere in conversations did it even hint that this would be in the future, even as I had anxiously asked after the transit system and what sorts of shops were around our house. “This never came up before now,” I’d snapped at him. “Now I feel like it’s being sprung on me and I’m just supposed to accept it because I’m here now and there’s no turning back. Did it never occur to you that I wouldn’t even be able to get myself to work? Or a bar? To appointments? To visit friends or hook-ups? I’d have no independence at all!”
“I figured you would have gotten over your fear of driving by then.” Arkady explained coolly– irritatingly so.
“It’s not even driving!” Arkady and I were so often on the same page that it was distressing when he seemed so dedicated to misunderstanding me. “I’d have to rely on a car– a machine that’s notoriously an expensive pain in the ass to maintain. If that car dies, I’m fucked. I’m relying on people to have mercy and drive me around like I’m a 10-year-old back in fucking Marysville. I can’t live like that. I literally cannot.”
At this, Arkady grew visibly distressed, tensing in this odd basement subsection. He seemed almost about to cry. And I hated myself for having argued him to that state, but he was so different from the one who had comforted me a few days before. I felt as if I had no other recourse. “That’d… make me choose between the two of you,” he said haltingly. “You can’t ask me to do that.”
“I’m not, but what fucks me up about this situation is that we talked about the living situation endlessly. Rowan said they’d be fine as long as they had a yard for gardening and the woods behind our house. Why is that suddenly not enough for them?”
“Um. The iron poisoning. They’re fae, Xanthe. They’ll die if they have to live in the city any longer.”
I’d stared at him. I’d like to think that a part of me saw through Rowan’s convenient ‘faeness’ to be bullshit. I feel like I was in the back of the consciousness, going, ‘HEY DOESN’T THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?’ But I could have been just as brainwashed as the rest of them. And after all, I could never force Arkady to choose between the two of us.
He’d already chosen. Based on who had turned friend groups against him in response to behaviour, based on who had housed him after his mum had left the state, based on who his continued financial security was based on.
It took agonizingly long for me to see it.
I felt rather resigned to my fate, after that. It was terribly self-sacrificial of me, but I ultimately figured that with Rowan’s superior means of support, Arkady would be better off without me rather than them.
I wasn’t like, planning a suicide if that’s what you all are thinking. It’s just that I know myself. And I knew that isolated and rendered without my usual points of identity, I’d devolve into something like the following Peaky Blinders scene:
I started to plan out my future books in a timeline of five years. Hell, five years would make me, what, 31? Maybe that’s all the world could take of me. I could get married to Arkady in five years– enjoy the wedding reception, maybe get to visit Europe after. Get as much published as I could. I was never really that interested in living to an old age. What else could I really do in that time?
This crisis would be proposed a solution, eventually. The crisis would be averted, for a while. But I couldn’t help but notice how Arkady seemed to flip on me– how he insisted that Rowan’s farmhouse had always been a part of the plan.
Even more strangely, after this, even people like Sage failed to see the unreasonable sudden change and kept insisting, ‘Oh yes that’s always been Rowan’s life goal.’
And how coldly he insisted that I needed to sacrifice my self-respect for the good of the ‘family’, just as he did.
I was terrified and gaslit. I thought this heralded the end. And in a way, it did. But it was also hardly even the beginning.