(As a reminder, Arkady is the code name of the partner I had at the time. Rowan is his fiance, who was dating March, who had moved into the house shortly before I had. Gaslamp is what I had termed the effect that seemed to turn crowds of people against a scapegoat, to seemingly supernatural levels. The trigger warnings for this blog don’t go anything further than existential issues, interpersonal drama, and roommate issues)
[Note: Rowan’s name was initially hidden by the codename “Ash.” Though I’ve changed the text to reflect how I will no longer be protecting them, you will still see ‘Ash’, meaning Rowan, in the screenshots below. The same is true of Vali’s former moniker, which was formerly ‘March.’]
FLASHBACK: November 5th, 2017.
My 24th birthday was the worst birthday that I’d ever had. Granted, my Scorpio ass can hardly have a break-up without there being quite a lot of hard feelings involved. And thorough revenge fantasies. Don’t worry, though. Asher ended up a pathetic little twat, but they didn’t manipulate the fact of my being a system, nor were they complicit in my being manipulated. So, while I have my grudges towards them and a story, this blog is not about them.
Save that for my autobiography. It’ll be in an extra section I’ll call ‘The Ex-Files.’
Anyway, Asher and I broke up in late August, taking most of their friend group with them. I tried to invite about thirteen other guests outside of my flat’s regulars, those being Apollo and Will. All of them forgot about it.
“Where’s Asher?” Will had asked, innocently enough. You lot haven’t heard anything of Will yet. He was my second attempt to replace the hole Cotton’s presence left in my life. Consider him a minor character.
“Who?” That could’ve been anywhere from flippant to cold, depending on how much I missed the mark on tone.
In desperation because my event was feeling so utterly pitiful, I’d posted on Facebook, basically willing to bribe local acquaintances with wine to get myself to feel less lonely on my birthday. I had one person take the bait; someone by the name of Brooke. I’d hung out with her before and she’d never caused a tiff at any of the tea parties I’d invited her to. Granted, each of those parties had someone locking themselves in the bathroom and threatening to hurt themselves, so any malfeasance of Brooke’s may have went entirely unnoticed by me.
Fun facts about those incidents:
Those were two different people holed up in the restroom at each of those parties.
Both of them were Geminis.
This was another Gemini.
It wasn’t long after Brooke had arrived before I realised that she had definitely been pre-gaming. Which, fine, whatever. It’s Savannah. ‘Pre-gaming’ is practically our lunch break. But then she started spouting out words and phrases in French– then quickly explaining that ‘this happens sometimes, sometimes I don’t know if I’m saying things in English or French.’
Was she French? Was French even her first language? No. As the night wore on, she apparently got ‘stuck’ in French and had a mental breakdown about it, spouting broken French at us and getting visibly upset when we didn’t understand her.
“Never invite her again,” Apollo told me under his breath as everyone got back from the latest wine run. Thank gods that he was historically more reasonable than his sister. Otherwise, I may have had a repeat of ‘There was a wall here!’ just to one-up Fake Frenchie over there.
Why does this keep happening? I was drinking myself into a stupor as the night wore on. Other people can throw parties without people having a bout of histrionics. Other people can invite people over without having people lock themselves in the bathroom, threaten suicide, pretend to be possessed, fake a seizure on my floor, or feign blindness on the way over. Why is my life just a series of brutal betrayals and melodrama? I felt as if I would weep, if I could.
It was so bad, so categorically representative of my life that I found myself in a depressed haze for the next few months. That is, until a cutie from Rochester started hitting me up.
I have failed Oscar Wilde.
Oscar’s 165th birthday celebration was so pathetic that one would’ve thought he were turning 24 in Savannah. I’d invited Sage, Tony, Zara, those of my household, and my ‘past life’ (alter) had invited Visarden, Arkady’s ‘past-life.’ (Alter who had claimed to know Oscar.) It was my plan to buy a copious amount of champagne, watch Stephen Fry’s ‘Wilde’, and ask everyone if they’ve heard the good news of our lord and saviour.
I was absolutely stoked, having made the event online before I’d even moved to Rochester. I had been utterly sick of the feeble friend ‘group’ I’d known in Savannah. Arkady assured me, ‘Things will be different when you move up here. You’ll never have to feel alone again.’
I’d posted in the event often, even reminding people via messages and in person.
I already did suspect that Spectre wouldn’t be coming. The group had been commenting on how Spectre had been growing slowly distant from the group, and they had recently fallen out with Zara. “Now she’s spreading rumours that [Arkady] and Rowan were so overly sexual that you guys made her feel uncomfortable.” Zara had told us. “Basically framing it like you guys are predators.”
What Spectre had actually done was confide in Zara in private about the fact that Rowan had been continually pressuring them into sex, or asking to sleep with Spectre’s alter. Arkady had actually been innocent. But I didn’t know that.
To me, it was only one more jealous, bitter, lying fool that wanted to harm what was precious to me.
I joined in on making fun of Spectre. I didn’t even know I was misgendering their partner based off Zara’s information. I couldn’t have known.
Zara had opted of Oscar Wilde’s birthday celebration a couple of days before the event. When I asked Sage, the day of, when they intended to arrive, they responded with, “Wait, did we plan something today?”
My heart dropped. Was this celebration of this bold, sassy genius going to be just down to the people who already lived with me? As it turned out, yes. Yes, it was. Tony never seemed to want to go to an event without Sage in tow, and Sage said that the two of them had homework and things around the house that they’ve neglected.
The next day, they posted pictures of another party that they’d hosted that very night.
But hell, who needs a whole party when one has a family?
Well, it was Vali’s turn to cook dinner that night. Perhaps sensing my disappointment of the three no-shows, he anxiously apologised all over himself because dinner was late– which I couldn’t care less about. A friend of his, by the name of Johnny, was hovering on the perimeter of us watching the film, ‘Wilde’ before leaving early. Vali texted the entirety of the film. Arkady got too high and fell asleep halfway through it.
Rowan ended up being the only one who’d actually paid attention.
I actually broke down crying that night as Rowan held me. It wasn’t just the party– It was the fact that I’d faced my once-in-a-lifetime trauma down again over the spring and summer, that I had moved from the only home I’ve known just to have Kirra 2.0 lurking in my living space, the fact that even getting me a key to the place I paid rent on was an afterthought… Hell, it was getting to me, and I barely knew what I was going through enough to express it. Only that I was in pain, that I felt that I didn’t belong, and that the world was actively telling me that I should have died years ago.
I think I also felt Oscar’s pain, too. He was terribly hurt by the fact that Visarden hadn’t the chance to make an appearance, but he always too much of a Libra to express such things.
I’d felt pitiful. I needed to feel like I wasn’t just on the periphery of life, squeezing into whatever spare space was left.
Which reminded me; why the fuck did Vali still have the entire top floor to himself?
When I’d last brought it up to Rowan, sometime near the confrontation in September, they told me that they wanted to be the one to brought it up to Vali. Which, fine, they probably would be more gentle than my spiteful ass.
At first, their main excuse was that they were being considerate of Arkady’s bouts of sexual repulsion by keeping Vali’s bedroom (A.K.A. his “sex dungeon”) up on a separate floor. Never mind that we could hear him clear as day anyway because he never shut his bloody door.
We’d already spent months being subjected to his bedroom noises, which, absurdly, sounded like someone kicking a terrier. There have been many an occasion when Arkady and I would be in his room, listening to the cacophony of yelping and yapping.
“Rowan, put the dog down!” I whispered– And Arkady and I giggled like we were telling jokes at a sleepover much past our bedtime.
“Yes, put the dog down. Literally. Just put him out of his misery,” Arkady whispered back.
We erupted into giggles again. Another time, when I was at work, Arkady could hear them from the bathroom. He decided the only thing there was to do was blast ‘You Are My Rose’ from Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’, known for its cringey and gratuitous sex scenes, from his phone.
Gods, I love him.
Not only that, but Vali’s insistence that he wanted to remain in the attic to respect Arkady’s occasional sexual repulsion was absurd, when you consider Vali regularly posted things like this:
But fine. I’d play along. I asked Arkady if it would bother him to have Vali on the same floor and, upon his expected answer of ‘no’, reported back to Rowan.
A few weeks went by. “Hey, any word on Vali moving out of the attic?”
“Well, I thought you’d have let it go by now.”
“He still lives in the attic, though. This is an ongoing situation.”
“I don’t want to talk about this right now.”
‘The problem wasn’t resolved but I was hoping you’d get over it?’
After a brief yet tense discussion, Rowan put forth the issue that Vali would have trouble moving to the smallest room of the house. “He can have my room. I can move to the smaller room.” It wasn’t ideal, but with the amount of time that I was spending with my family and in Arkady’s bed, being snuggled– I would honestly only be sleeping in my new, tiny room. If I had known it was to be my jail cell a mere five months later, it wouldn’t have been worth it.
With that being more or less settled, I decided to address Vali directly with as much empathy as I was capable of forcing. Which, as you can imagine, wasn’t much.
I didn’t feel a lot of pity for this rambling, cyclical fit. To me, it was the same logic as those who try to use the ’emotional support slur’ argument. ‘Oh, well, it may not have been for me, but people let me without argument at first and now I’m used to it and it brings me comfort and I think only *you*, the squeaky wheel, has a problem with it, but fine, I’ll change MY WHOLE LIFE if it makes you comfortable.”
Of course, Rowan’s reaction hadn’t encouraged me. The whole ‘I want to be the one to handle it. Wait, why are you putting this all on me?’ reminded me of the gaslighting aspects of Gaslamp. As Arkady was still stressed overall, I was afraid that I had picked the wrong timing. I was honestly almost paralysed with fear that I’d get that inevitable text from him of ‘Xanthe, I don’t have the time or energy for you to be making waves.’ As if the strength and the resilience he applauded could suddenly be inconvenient to him. And gods, how painful would that be?
But no, my darling Darkling, my raven prince– he stood up for me. He sent me the screenshots below.
Tldr: Vali responded the way that England would respond if someone asked them India and Scotland back and Arkady holds his ground. Vali also whines about us being too cold about it.
This was definitely true for me. The whole ‘family’ setting, as well as Story trying to piggyback on my consciousness, was bleeding my sordid upbringing into my day-to-day experience.”Oh, you’re being bullied? Well, what are you doing to be bullied?”
Part of it was the fact that my perceived non-reaction made me a pretty guiltless target. If I could respond with vulnerability instead of my–… well, personality, then maybe people would actually want to come to my defense.
“I’m afraid it comes with the territory, my love.” Kaspar wrote back when I had voiced this lifelong injustice I was just now beginning to formulate. “The spell of Narcissus is one borne of necessity. Too many let us down, thus we now hardly allow room to be defended. We’ve forgotten how. I daresay there’s some measure of softness that we’ve shed like an over-cumbersome coat. Of course, that leaves room for a void that will always leave us hungry. And what is ambition if not hunger? And romance is a joyous past-time, but all we really have are ourselves.”
Translation: ‘We’re both too broken to feel pity for, which is why we’ve bonded over filling our lives with intoxication and hollow victories!’
Which would also explain why the envelope smelled of cognac. The letters always appeared on my desk– I presumed Arkady did it, as he was the only one allowed in my room without my knowing. Just like I’d always assumed I’d grabbed my post from the inn and had forgotten that I’d taken it back to my room. What else could possibly be going on~?
While I was exploring my NPD, Arkady was exploring the possibility of him having ASPD (anti-social personality disorder.) I’d noticed during most of the time that we were trying to get Rowan to see the truth about Vali, when everyone would respond to the stress of it. Arkady was mostly prickly, venomous, and temperamental. There could hardly be any pity for his pain when it was covered by such vitriol. My usual reaction, of course, was to go numb and make jokes. Vali’s first reaction was always to bawl and wail, which, I guess, brought the misplaced maternal/paternal instinct out of nearly anyone seated upon a high horse.
I was somewhat sick of this happening in general. I’d lived my whole life being told, ‘Oh well you always act like it doesn’t bother you, so–‘
I was so frustrated by this that I honestly forgot what had spurred the most recent wave of this. I just knew that this was a repeated problem in my life and I wanted answers. Thus, I completely forgot Vali’s ability to make everything about him.
So, that night, we carved pumpkins. The dining room table was covered in newspaper and pumpkin guts. Vali was once again carving an eyeball into his pumpkin. Feeling territorial and ambitious, I began carving a clock symbol into mine. I admit, I might have been feeling cocky. I was riding the high of Arkady having defended me, and so I was actually honest that night when we were carving pumpkins. I admit myself fully ready for battle. The tension had been thrumming in my veins all day long. But instead of battling, I was rambling.
Maybe I wanted to be seen as something other than cold. Maybe it was Story’s influence that had me seeking, desperately, someone to understand. But either way, I admitted it. “It’s not even so much about the space as much as it is about the era in which you took it from me. Last spring, for me, was horrific. I’d already told everyone that I was leaving Savannah for romance and they’d all thought me batty for doing so. But I’d trusted Rowan and [Arkady] more than I’d essentially trusted anyone. And suddenly, they were just… absent. I was asking for support and all I got was ‘not today’ for months. I guess it’s the Gatsby in me that wants to obliterate the aftermath of like, the timeline that fucked me up so bad. And if the attic went back the way it was supposed to be, it’d… fix things.” I knew I was rambling. I don’t know if I was drunk that night. Statistically, probably. But this next part, I remember crystal clear. “I mean, you have to understand what it was like for me. [Arkady] was forgetting about our video chat dates, I’d barely had a conversation with Rowan for weeks–”
“That wasn’t my fault!”
I tried to resist rolling my eyes. I don’t believe I succeeded. But he’d taken so many shots at my alleged lack of empathy. I decided that it was time to appeal to what he claimed to have over me. “I’m not blaming you, but that effect was out in full force. Rowan almost seemed like they were avoiding me–”
“That wasn’t my fault!” Vali repeated. “I just remember Rowan telling me that they were feeling ‘forced to talk to’ you!”
I inhaled sharply. It honestly felt like I’d just been slapped. There Story was again, sucked into the same flashback I was desperately trying to avoid. “[Deadname] thought I actually wanted to hang out with her! She actually showed me all of her Pokemon things like I cared! It was so funny!” She was parroting my bullies in a panicked tone– maybe every citizen of the Living Fiction system starts out like a fucky bird of some sort. “You think I was actually serious when I asked you out?” “How many friends do you have? How many enemies do you have? Why do you think that is?”
Arkady was at my left side, bristling. I was frozen with a glass of wine halfway from the table to my lips. Rowan was actually the first of us to act, already on their feet and beside the seated Vali, pointing their index finger like a weapon. “I don’t know what the fuck that was,” they snapped. “but I don’t want to ever see that again!”
They marched upstairs, leaving a vaguely pumpkin-scented cloud of tension. Vali followed them quickly, not even deigning to glance at the one he’d actually hurt. Arkady gripped my free hand, saying something to me, trying to get my eyes to refocus.
Arkady was furious. “That’s it. I’ve tried with him. I tried to be his friend, but he went too far this time. I can never forgive him for this– this is like the Maycation incident for me. I want nothing more to do with him.”
I felt so unsteady, after that night. Story’s dialogue was taking me back to those old days when I was a kid and even the friendships that weren’t subject to espionage-esque falsehoods would end up turning into increasingly complex games of how to avoid me.
But– that was under the influence of Gaslamp, yes? Rowan would never avoid me, someone who they said they adored, under their own volition? Not someone who they had promised to rescue from Georgia and give a stable home to. What would that mean for the rest of my life with them? I couldn’t have given up everything I had in Savannah for something so utterly changeable that a new person within the group dynamic practically erased my existence?
I asked them, for my own peace of mind. During those days, Gaslamp was a convenient excuse before it turned into proof that I was a nutcase.
There it was. Confirmation that it wasn’t my Rowan that had said that.
But why did I still feel so unsafe?