(TW: toxic relationships, abuse, break ups, discussions of suicide, feelings of worthlessness. As per usual, any narration in exclusively Italics takes place in the system’s inworld. The emails mentioned, both the one I originally crafted and thought I sent and the email Xhaxhollari originally sent are here, in case you need a refresher. https://living-fiction.com/2021/07/21/both-break-up-emails-in-full-circa-2015/)
“Well, maybe there’s a god above, but all I’ve ever learned from love, was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you.”
I was mistaken when I’d said that I broke up with April on the day that David Bowie died. It was the day after, probably when I first noticed the news splashed against my newsfeed. My Facebook was split between wailing mourners and threats of cancelling over a predatory past not many were aware of.
It’s not a very relevant detail, but it’s the strange things that stick in the memory. I’m always exasperated with social media when a celebrity dies. A body gives out and people choose then to hold a trial on the value of a person’s life and contribution to the world. I consider it tiresome at best and tasteless at worst.
I associated it with Bowie because of my post that day.
The joke was initially commented on my original post, but I had deleted it before April could see it. I messaged my friend apologetically, explaining that April, a fan of Bowie’s, would likely take offense to the pun.
The friend responded, “Wait, aren’t you planning on breaking up with her anyway?”
It sort of reminded me of what I had read about what brains do when one has a plan to commit suicide. The body and brain, the primal creatures that they are, generally do not want to die. So, the brain will distract you. Mine, likely, more than most. We’ve discussed how I was seconds away from jumping to my death and I was suddenly in a fantasy world. I was distracted.
Everything that was happening in my inworld was a good deal of it. In fact, it’s probably part of the reason my inworld became a nightmare. But the crises had, in the past few months, gotten further and further away from April.
She and her circle used to be right in the middle of every spec of drama there were. But lately, she was having her hand in less and less tragedy and was being– well, for lack of a better word, remarkably well-behaved.
Back on the week of Oscar Wilde’s birthday, I had resolved to wait until Sound’s son was born. And he was born, on Halloween.
But then, Cotton’s parents were visiting in December and planning on taking the both of us to Elizabeth’s on 37th, a Savannah restaurant that had won the James Beard award. It was to thank me for helping Cotton get a job and to thank April for getting him a place to live. And, you know, a break-up would make that awkward and Cotton’s parents not only picked up the tab, drinks and all, but also usually placed bets on how many cocktails I’d order. (Yes, really.)
Plus, with all the horrors happening on the inside, April was comparatively tame. The dinner with Cotton’s parents went swimmingly. Sometime in January, I was trying to find a new normal despite having recently woken up from what seemed like a trippy nightmare that haunted my every day.
I wasn’t able to do much in the inworld. The official story was that I’d used my soul-stealing and time-stopping abilities too often in crises and that it’d put too much strain on my heart and mind. That being said, I was restricted to bedrest for the next few weeks. I couldn’t do much other than sleep. They had me at Ethniu’s home in Wales, as Ethniu’s home was known for being peaceful and the man himself was a licensed doctor. (When he didn’t let it expire or have to fake his own death from time to time.)
When I was awake, the anxiety and fragments of memory hit me like a brick wall. It felt so much like a nightmare– even what I could remember was slipping through my fingers like sand. But I remember the fear; the all-consuming dread that left me trying to sob just to get it out of my system.
I’d have visitors. I’d insist on them. I didn’t want to be alone. It was like if Aberle, Vex, Kaspar, or Koji weren’t in my sight, their existence would crumble into dust as if Thanos had snapped his fingers. I remember Kaspar came in and simply read or did paperwork in the armchair next to the bed. I remember falling asleep holding their hand.
Kaspar and I weren’t dating. I would say that we weren’t dating ‘officially’, but there would be nothing official about it. “It’ll be an arrangement,” they’d explained, perhaps partially because I’d come to hate the world ‘relationship.’ “The benefits being mutual support and all the aesthetic of romanticism. You fit perfectly as a love interest in a romance novel, darling, and I intend to indulge recklessly.”
But I held back. I mean, who else had I loved publicly and recklessly? Elisabeth, who was dead? April, who seemingly had gone insane for the ‘love’ of me? Call me superstitious, but I wanted to hold back before bestowing the kiss of death. “If you don’t mind my saying,” Kaspar said in a way that suggested I would. “It seems you may be terrified of change in general.”
I would’ve loved to argue. In fact, arguing with Kaspar was one of my favourite past-times. The banter was at least half of my serotonin intake. But it definitely had a point.
Some subconscious part of me was regarding breaking up with April as a suicide. I could tell even in the language I used. ‘That’s when I’ll pull the trigger.‘ ‘That’s going to be the end.’ ‘I’ve decided on a deadline.’ And when I had just watched everything crumble without an explanation or, mercifully, any permanence? April at least was a constant. I’d woken up to her in my life.
I could always count on her. I could count on her to lie, to be sadistic, to make everything about her, to use me to every single capacity. But at least she was there.
Unlike those who have given up on trying to save either of us. We were an awkward subject, by this time. Something discussed over hushed voices and subtle cringing.
I had a nightmare, the night before it happened. That I’d broken up with April and she had just wandered into my apartment like nothing had happened. “But– I dumped you,” I’d said thickly. “You shouldn’t be here.”
She was almost child-like, in the dream. The way she shrugged and just sat down and started messing with my things. “No, you didn’t.” She’d said simply. “That didn’t count.”
And in the dream, I just kind of… let her. She’d won. She invaded my space regardless, as if she continued to be entitled to it regardless of my feelings.
It wasn’t as if I could ever say no to her anyway. Not when it counted.
The next time she flies off the handle, I promised myself, I’ll send the email and I’m blocking her on everything.
It’d take, what, less than two days? Just wait for a restaurant to close too early. Or maybe I’d pick something to wear that she didn’t quite approve of. Or maybe my wording would be off just enough.
Or maybe it was too late for me.
I could tell by the way that some of my inworld now avoided me that something had happened before I’d collapsed. Perhaps I’d gotten too manipulative. Perhaps I was now emulating April’s tactics. Maybe she’d poisoned me. Maybe she’d ruined me.
And hell, it seemed as if she were out of my inworld. As long as I protected Kaspar, Prosper, Sumire, Cecil, JaK, Sound, Calisto, Romeo from her– the only ambiguously real person she could hurt was me.
And what the fuck did that matter?
Funny enough, technology, which had apparently been a conduit between April’s control and my mental illness, was what prompted the end of the relationship. My laptop, an old Dell, had its hinges fail, causing the screen to become a floppy companion to the keyboard. Simultaneously, my iPhone 4(s?) was starting to fail and I would occasionally be subjected to a flood of texts that had been sent to me over the past fifteen minutes. April knew that I was delayed in getting texts, but as always, her inconvenience was my problem.
It was a Monday.
The day of the week that April had decided that I was required at her house. It had been ‘agreed upon’ in the way I usually agreed with April– being too fearful and tired to argue. But I’d made an appointment with ‘Tech Yeah!’, a laptop repair stop on Abercorn St. I went to see them earlier in the day and they told me to come back when they’ve assessed the damage.
Then this happened:
My phone and my laptop were acting up. For months, I had been daydreaming about sending this like a prolific virus from my email address, but here I was, too poor for either my phone or laptop to actually work.
I remember standing in Tech Yeah in a daze, making humorous small-talk with the technician who had told me, ‘Yeah, sorry, your laptop’s basically unfixable, but I can transfer all of this over to a new computer. You can literally open this new refurbished laptop , with all of your data on it, and continue like nothing ever happened.’ I knew that my phone was receiving texts from April berating me for not existing well enough for her, but I had let it die. Then I paid less than $200 for a new laptop.
I actually forget where I was when I charged my phone and sent the email. I sent it through Facebook, through gmail, through Tumblr. I was shaking as I did so. There was a line from The Great Gatsby that kept playing in my head. “He looked as if he had just killed a man.”
And I did feel as if I had just murdered someone.
But I didn’t know why.
The next memory I had, I was at ‘Jen’s and Friend’s’, a cocktail bar on Bull St. that specialized in basically anything that made vodka and dessert elements friends. If you’ve ever wanted to sip a strawberry shortcake, well, you’re in luck!
I called Cotton. “Hey,” I said when he answered. “Would you mind meeting me on River Street for dinner?”
“I just broke up with [April.] I don’t want to be alone.”
There was a silence on the other end of the line. “Sure. Where do you want to meet?”
I think I decided at random. It was Rocks on the River, which was only significant for two reasons. One, it was where April had teasingly told me over dinner, ‘Real friends?’ And two, it had the best white truffle french fries in town.
I imagine my choosing was mostly based on the latter fact.
While I was still at Jen’s, a woman next to me had heard my conversation. “Are you alright?”
I remember I actually responded with a laugh. “No!”
“Do you want a drink? You sound like you’ve had a rough night.”
I accepted. It was a brilliant sort of interaction– after she’d brought me a drink, she went back to her own business, which I immensely appreciated. I downed my drink quickly and was probably on another one when Cotton told me that he was near.
Next thing I knew, I was seated across from him at Rocks on the River. “I can’t stop shaking.” I held my hand out, suspended above the over-priced fries so he could see. “I don’t even know why.”
Cotton nodded sympathetically and then frowned, checking his phone. “[April] is asking if I’m with you.”
I looked at him. I had been considering, lately, if something Gone Girl-esque would happen if I didn’t have an alibi. Like if she’d finally made good on her favourite threat and frame me for her murder. That mental image– of that lithe body hanging from a rope with the words ‘Xanthe did it’ slashed across the wall in Copic marker– it had me choking on my drink.
Cotton took my non-response as permission. “I’ll just tell her yes.” I didn’t want to tell him the shock of fear that shot through my veins. It was too irrational to mention. “She says that she’s glad I’m with you.”
“Mm.” My drink was more than halfway full but I had it gone within the next few seconds. Fuck you. Fuck you for pretending to care about me when it’d make you look good. You literally called me a bitch like an hour ago, go to Hell. “It needed to end. I couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Here’s what we’ll do,” Cotton said. “We’ll pick a night, go to a ridiculously expensive restaurant in town, we’ll get some drinks. We’ll be a couple of catty bitches and just be the peanut gallery to all of the bullshit.”
I nodded. I probably spent the rest of the night cracking jokes and begging him to stay around me. Just one more drink, just one more hour, just one more story. But wait, before you go, did I tell you about the time she–
Please, gods, don’t let me be alone with my thoughts.
“I should probably head back,” Cotton confessed apologetically. “I need to make sure [April] isn’t, like, burning the house down *and throwing herself on the pyre.”
Okay, I made that last bit about throwing herself on the pyre up. I occasionally need to pretend that someone other than me compares myself to Lord Byron so I don’t get cancelled. But it was a concern that April might burn their shared house or… forge my confession of murder on the wall in her blood or something.
Thankfully, my inworld was there to help me the night of.
I remember waking up to the delicate pop of a champagne bottle. Gods, champagne.
Champagne would always taste like freedom, like the Tuesdays I spent without April. I opened my eyes and saw Kaspar beside my bed at Ethniu’s, pouring me a glass in a flute. It motioned for me to raise my glass, then it clinked it with his own. “I’ve heard tell that you’ve been liberated from monogamy at last! This calls for a celebration!”
I grinned. “You knew?” I sipped the champagne. It was dry and delightfully bubbly. I was ignoring the label– I’d be too tempted to look it up later and feel either flattered or guilty.
“Your mode of suffering was dreadfully familiar to me. And I had wondered why you haven’t thrown your lot in with my flamboyant gaggle of suitors.” Kaspar was getting increasingly less subtle with its ‘We have obvious romantic tension, I can practically feel the imaginary audience screaming at the pages for us to kiss’ hints.
I winced. The ‘kiss of death’ paranoia was winking at me from the shadows. “I wouldn’t be opposed. With a bit of time. Just… promise you won’t die soon or go all Bosie Douglas on me. That fair?”
Kaspar drew their hand through my hair. “‘Promise’ is only a sanctimonious word for ‘bluff.’ What I can say is that I have no intention of doing either. However! I’ll be sure to wave around plenty of red flags for you to overlook when I feel I’m breaching the possibility.”
I smiled tightly. It seemed lovely, except… “I’m… not good at relationships.”
Kaspar was ready. “Oh, I’m not looking for one. I want romance– so much the better.”
I frowned. “I’m an unmitigated cad.”
Kaspar: “My favourite flavour of cad!”
“I think I might fit the definition of ‘alcoholic.'”
Kaspar motioned to the champagne. “I have before been complimented on my finesse with enabling.” In truth, Kaspar’s older sister was an addict and was largely credited in helping keep her alive; mainly due to its understanding nature in combination with harm reduction tactics.
“I have commitment issues.”
“I’d sooner commit you than let you commit to me.”
I was back to smiling. God damn it. “I suspect I only fall in love for the aesthetic of it… If that makes sense. I feel like my emotions are just Phisoxa’s frivolous, fictional approximation of love. I feel that I only love how novel characters love– forever damned to be too ‘unrealistic’ and shallow for real life.”
“If I were only interested in what was real, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.” Kaspar was smiling too, the banter dancing in its grey eyes.
“I’m broken.” I hadn’t expected myself to say it, but there I was. “I feel like I’m made from broken parts. I’m only ever going to be broken. No matter how lovely you are, no matter how happy you make me, you won’t fix me.”
Kaspar took my hand and guided it to their cheek. “We’re all broken, Darling.” It said, more softly. “But you lovely people help me lose track of that fact, sometimes. You’re a worthwhile delusion to fall into.”
I checked my phone later that night. Aberle texted me, saying he had gotten a text from someone saying he was Ryuuga, that April had attempted suicide and was in the hospital in critical condition. Here we go. I’m about to get ’13 Reasons Why’d’ all over fucking Facebook. I texted Cotton. “Hey, where is [April] right now?”
“In her room, painting. Why?”
I laughed. Gods, what even is my life? “No reason.”