Deja Vū (April of 2016) by Xhaxhollari and Harrow

A fair amount of autistic people are afflicted by what’s known as ‘facial blindness.’ It’s a lowered ability to recognize people based solely on their facial features. Xanthe had always happily told people, ‘Oi, if you see that I’m ignoring you in public, it’s probably just because I haven’t recognized you!’

It was somewhat an occupational hindrance. One could walk into the inn, check in with Xanthe, have an entire conversation with them– and then go upstairs and change clothes and Xanthe would be introducing themself all over again. It would be years before we discovered that this was an autistic trait, but it was something I knew of and took advantage of.

Kieran did as well.

Kieran and I had spoken at length about what his life would be like. He said he was eager to transition, do away with April’s wardrobe, and carve out his existence in the world just as Xanthe had done with Neb years before. The name change would be immediate– he had tried to go by this name before, he’d said, but it seemed as soon as April would take over again, the change was discarded.

He’d also spoken about how he would like to immediately start testosterone which, honestly, was a godsend. If that body showed up with a deeper voice, the chances of Xanthe being triggered were that much smaller. I’d already slipped memories of April’s ‘brother’ here and there, in areas that seemed to fit with their memories. Even adding in details– such as Kieran being raised by April’s father, rather than her notoriously violent mother– to explain the differences in personality. Remember Avery and April meeting in Chive? I inserted Kieran in there as well, to explain April’s ‘trans phase’, which I retroactively thought was Kieran poking out. Yes, of course April had just been copying her trans-masculine brother, that seems like something she would do.

I feel guilty for this, retrospectively. But I also realize that it’s my duty, as per my role in the system. But I was, as I had done so before, essentially gaslighting Xanthe about Kieran. But of course, I did have help. “Forgive me for playing matchmaker with friends, my dear pocket watch, but there’s an artist I’ve been in contact with that seems equally as dissatisfied with their social circle. And what a small world this is; they’re based in Savannah as well!”

Xanthe paused thoughtfully as if this same partner didn’t hear it drunkenly singing, ‘Sometimes I wish this all would end, because I could use a friend for a change’ at the last party– a party that officially involved no karaoke.’ “I suppose I could afford to branch out a bit.” The name was of course, familiar to it, but they hadn’t yet connected the dots. After all, Kieran’s name (different from this blog) seemed like the sort of thing an art student would name themselves. Perhaps it wasn’t even the same person.

“I’ll arrange a meeting between the two of you!” I’d done my fair share of pulling strings to make certain that this suggestion didn’t fall through the cracks, but Kieran’s charisma was partially responsible. Approaching Kaspar with flattery and the willingness to paint an artistic nude portrait– Kaspar was likely to suggest them meeting anyway. But I was who pressed the urgency. Something that Kaspar took a long time to begin to forgive, once they discovered it.

The meeting was set for April 8th, 2016.

Xanthe was still with Asher, at this point, who I also was attracted to. I had told them, still pretending to be Xanthe, of the plot to ‘forget’ what ‘Kieran’ had done. I had told them that I was rather certain that Kieran was going through his own Neb-to-Xanthe transformation, and that the agreement was always to separate for three months to allow the process to complete. Asher, for some reason, was entirely gung-ho about this.

“I feel like Asher was the sort of person that heard shit like that and contemplated ways to outdo us to seem even quirkier,” Xanthe would say about it years later.

Xanthe had suggested to meet at Foxy Loxy; the same location of Xanthe’s and April’s first date. It was as if Xanthe was spitting on the grave of their failed relationship, or at the very least, enjoying the irony.

It was so odd. No one rushed in to stop us. I’d kept Kieran’s origins and therefore identity from the system, but those surrounding us, even though they’d heard our dubious explanation, never saw any problem in Xanthe hanging out with their abuser as if they were an entirely new person. And I mean no one.

Remember Sarah, the old manager that we had at the inn? She’d since left the position, but met Kieran and Xanthe in person and thought nothing of it. Of course Xanthe had a new friend. Keep in mind, Sarah had met April, had heard Xanthe bitching about her, and had known that she was effectively banned from the inn. And when she saw Xanthe and Kieran together? Nothing was said. Granted, Sarah was always a good few drinks in after 4pm, so that may have explained it.

And god knows our parents never paid attention. Looking back, I wish one of them could have called when they saw a picture of Kieran and Xanthe together and said, “Hey, didn’t you break up with–?”

But no one stopped it. No one questioned it. Perhaps in everyone’s eyes, we’d already been so hazardously devoted that this was only destined to happen. Or that they knew Kieran, and knew that escape was never a possibility in the first place.

Xanthe walked out onto the 2nd floor balcony of Foxy Loxy, where awaited Kieran Psalm, already seated at the table. It was amazing, especially in retrospect, how the brain seemed to double in on itself to avoid what was clearly our abuser’s face staring at us. Face-blindness could account for some of it, but Kieran and April could never exactly blend into a crowd. With hip-length red hair and a tall, thin body, it was hard to mistake them. But I was pleasantly surprised by the effort Kieran had made to distance himself from his sister.

The blonde steak was all but gone, faded and combed into the rest of his hair. His aesthetic had upgraded April’s pseudo-Japanese mall goth style to a flamboyant college professor. He wore a metallic gold blazer and a tie that can’t come to mind right now. I’m not as fashion-minded as our dear host. And they didn’t seem to be.. seeing Kieran’s face.

It was like this. Also, Aberle, Xanthe, and Harrow are all obsessed with this show and it is slowly killing me, please send help. We’re on our fourth rewatch.

“Hey,” I could barely get a read on Xanthe’s mood, at first. It seemed something akin to when they knew they were in danger and responded with rambling and jokes. A distant over-correcting to regain balance, a flailing. “Thank you so much for meeting me. Kaspar knows I’ve forever been looking for people to café-hop with. There are far too many students who don’t even want to leave their dorm room for a quality cuppa. How did you meet Kaspar?” Of course, it was the ‘first meeting’ tone of voice Xanthe used on anything from a Tinder meeting to a concierge event.

“Tumblr,” Kieran said. No voice drop, as I heard, but it had been only three months. As my research showed, a voice drop could take place anywhere from a month to a year. No other changes either. Damn. Three months may not have been enough time. “I saw them reblogging some poly stuff. Or gender stuff.” He made a dismissive gesture. “Something like that.”

“Oh, you’re polyam too?” Kieran was reminding Xanthe of April, up until that point. But it was as if that had cut through the comparison. Well, most of it, anyway. “You’ve visited before, haven’t you? Back when–” Back when I was dating your bitch of a sister. “ They gestured helplessly.

I waited for Kieran to pick up on the fragile memory. After all, it’s not as if the two of them could reminisce over that dead, unraveled dimension. He did. “Yeah, you dated [April.]”

“Y-Yeah, that was–“

“Sucks to be you.” Kieran sipped his coffee, tilting his head in a shrug.

I could feel Xanthe’s mind stalling like an overworked machine. It sputtered, threw some sparks, and doubled back on itself once the springs caught the groves of the gears again. That potentially awkward conversation was put to rest with just one dismissive sentence. I could also feel them wonder if Kaspar had known that Kieran was April’s brother and shortly after decide, probably not. Kaspar still had no idea what April had looked like and wouldn’t have made the connection unless Kieran had announced it. Which, he hadn’t. Through my pulling of strings, they also decided to never bring it up to Kaspar.

This is a large part of why Kaspar loathed me for a long period of time. This has only recently eased. I can’t say I blame them.

Xanthe’s tension did seem to ebb as he talked with Kieran. They exchanged pronouns, as was customary this close to an art college. Kieran’s were he/him. Xanthe’s were they/it. They spoke of being transmasculine in this particular area of the south, the phrases they like to quip back with to all who assume the two of them are girls.

Xanthe began to bemoan how they’d hardly found anyone who actually wanted to go out. I was about half-afraid that dormant stirrings of April would begin to indignantly awaken at the transparent reference to April, but Kieran nodded emphatically. “Like, I’m also a [University undisclosed] student but I hate all almost all of them are too afraid to leave their dorms. I love to cafe and bar hop!” That was such a far cry from April’s ‘We have to spend Monday at my house or else’ that Xanthe had always felt chained to.

Even better, Kieran also knew about Dominic’s parties. He also knew of Sound, Calisto, JaK, Aberle– “JaK’s introducing me around. Have you met Cecil yet? His Faroese accent comes out when he’s drunk, it’s amazing.

“Yes, I have!” The reply was like a victory. ‘You’ve seen him too!’

I felt proud of myself, then. In one fell, manipulative swoop, I’d gotten Xanthe a new local friend in which to explore downtown with and a connection that would validate the existence of their dubious circle. Thank gods.

The meeting went pleasantly enough. It contained the usual awkwardness of a first meeting, with extra layers that Xanthe didn’t quite want to think about. We were due to hang out with Asher just after. I made sure to keep Xanthe a bit more from the front, floating in a content sort of dreamlike stasis, when Asher ran up to hug us. “How did it go? With [Kieran]?”

I’d been keeping them in the loop. Moreso than I probably should have, in hindsight. But they had these warm hazel eyes and platinum blonde hair and they were well-adept at roasting both Xanthe and I.

Okay, Xanthe roasts Asher a lot, and they have reason to, but they were by Far my favorite partner of theirs. This was me in the conversation, by the way.

“Really well!” I beamed. “I watched– I erm–saw that he’s an entirely different person, these days. He even looks different! Didn’t have any of that lingering resentment, either.”

“That’s great!” Asher was ever the supportive partner, in those days. “I’m… not sure if I’d get along with him. Considering that he hit you and all.”

“That wasn’t him.” I said, resolutely. “It’s like what I told you about Neb and I. After all, people who treat gender as you and I do can’t afford to judge someone based on their body.”

Or lack thereof.

I did explain to Asher that my memories of who Kieran ‘used to be’ would be rapidly waning, and to not bring up our history. There was only once when Xanthe had referenced Kieran to Asher on a dinner date between the two. And Asher had responded casually, ‘Well, you used to date him.’

Xanthe had squinted at them. “No, I didn’t.”

This caused Asher to have a small anxiety attack outside, thinking that they had ruined everything. But no, I was keeping careful watch. Those first months were going to be the most tricky, but once everyone had settled into a routine…

Xanthe is reading this as I type right now and suddenly, things make a lot more sense for them, regarding Asher. That’s why so many of their arguments were about ‘Xanthe’ acting arrogantly intellectual and seeming to want Asher ‘to feel stupid’ during fights. Yes, Xanthe. That was me. My bad habit was subtly insulting another’s intelligence to feel better about myself. I’ve grown past that, but haven’t you wondered? The majority of that relationship you had was, in fact, me. Though I have you to thank for the sexual portion of the equation. I appreciate you being my surrogate sex drive.

Asher would always joke about how I would say throughout the day, ‘I don’t think I’m feeling sex today.’ And then suddenly Xanthe would switch in and do the deed for me.

I do want to clarify that this was essentially the only relationship of theirs that I had secretly shared. Occasionally, Avery’s suicide threats would trigger me out, but this would mainly be seen as we were living together.

It was a pleasant balance.

Xanthe was, however, starting to show signs of knowing too much. See, we were all beginning to notice that reading and watching fiction could cause an adverse reaction if a character were to die in specific ways. Specifically, in front of a crowd, with someone begging for them not to die, or getting their skull cracked.

The last one seems random, doesn’t it? It isn’t. The mind never is.

(FLASHBACK: You can skip this if you want, it’s not that important to the entry. Xanthe witnesses a disturbing death on River St. that nearly took them down as well. The memory comes violently back to them when they’re reading about a death in a manga where someone’s head is GRAPHICALLY obliterated– There are illustrations shown below, but they are somewhat mild There will be bold text to alert the reader when the flashback is over.)

This actually slipped Xanthe’s mind when they were speaking about their homeless ventures, but they once witnessed another homeless man die back in 2012 and nearly died along with him. Lathia and Xanthe had happened upon a heated dispute that was already taking place between their comrade, Corey, and a homeless man either named Willie or William. It was 3am.

As far as I can remember, the argument was over Willie stealing things from the camp and generally creating an uneasy environment. Everyone was on the edge of River St., a hazard that none of them had considered until Willie tried to shove Corey overboard. Corey flipped the power differential and shoved Willie over the railing to save himself. Willie had grabbed onto Xanthe’s shirt-collar as he began to tumble down.

Lathia had grabbed Xanthe’s arm, jerking them back to prevent Xanthe from following the man in. But the thing is– most times, River St. has concrete platforms below in which to dock boats.

The one I’m thinking of is like what’s pictured, except smaller.

When Willie fell, his head struck the platform with an audible, sickening crack.

I remember being only a spectator, still part of Nebula, completely incapable of pulling any strings but I saw it all. And I saw how Xanthe stared at that still twitching body in the water, likely seizing before he drowned, knowing that Lathia had prevented that particular performance from being an encore.

“I feel like that was what anchored Xanthe here, to being host,” Harrow speculated as I wrote this. Harrow is a younger alter of ours, about 14 years of age, punk, edgy, and genderfluid. He’s why there’s a half a pack of flavored cigars in our bathroom cabinet. “I feel like it was kind of a flip of a coin before that happened. And Xanthe saw that and it’s like the system said, ‘Hey, this is our fucking life. We’re not going to need a sane, stable human attached to reality at the helm, we’re going to need a fucking Xanthe.'”

Especially since Lathia had made a ‘Wet Willie’ joke just after the fact and Xanthe laughed until they went into hysterics.

That memory remained dormant for almost three years. Then Bob, the owner of the inn we’d worked at, had died. Xanthe, the same week, was reading a manga called ‘The Innocent.’ And, well…

Well, if you haven’t read The Innocent and never intend to, it’s a beautifully and gruesomely detailed comic about a family of executioners. The protagonist’s first execution is his first kiss; a young man by the man of Jean de Chartois.

This young man looked a lot like Kaspar. You know, prior to his head being obliterated.

More details: Jean de Chartois was the son of a nobleman and a prostitute, who was caught kissing the protagonist– another man. He was convicted of possessing a King James Bible in France. The dialogue says he was abused and ‘disgraced’ in his time in jail. When the protagonist tries to behead him painlessly, but fails to sever his spinal cord. in a frenzy, the protagonist tries to put the victim out of his misery and ends up smashing him like a piece of fruit.

Xanthe had just lost Bob, who was then a sort of father figure to Xanthe at that time, to a disease that affected his brain. Then seeing this, with someone who so much resembled Kaspar and that also referenced the way Xanthe could have died on River St.– it was a perfect storm.

Xanthe had a breakdown that lasted for about two weeks. That familiar, frozen sort of breakdown where they stayed in bed and hoped that the paralyzing terror would go away. I’d had to cover every single one of those shifts at the inn. Since then, it had been terrified of reading anything that may have a ‘tragic character death.’

So, one of our safe reads was ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams. But, of course, even in those whimsical kinds of reads, you can come across something that looks too familiar for a system.

A good gatekeeper’s worse nightmare? A very good and perhaps unintentional metaphor for DID.

This only worsened the existential storm for Xanthe, something that they were desperate to be distracted from.

(FLASHBACK OVER)

We would get to know Kieran through attending Philocafe– a local philosophy/debate group– on Mondays and Tongue– a poetry event, on Tuesdays.

It’s almost ironic to know that one of their main conversation topics was their respective gender. The gender of Xanthe’s that had been dismissed by April as being ‘a unicorn down there’, and Kieran’s, who’d Xanthe had dismissed as a new way to irritate them.

At least Kieran seemed different than April in all the important ways. He showed no interest in wanting to date Xanthe, much less trap Xanthe into a relationship. Later on, he would even say that he was aromantic. He was less outwardly explosive and melodramatic and much more sassy and salty. No faked blindness, no feigned possessions, not even the occasional suicide threat. The meetings between the two– or us two, on occasion, were easy and generally focused around an event, such as restaurant week or a night out with friends.

Xanthe didn’t have to tell Kieran where they were going, who they were going with, who they kissed. Kieran never asked– their plans would just occasionally line up and they would part ways when they ran out of things to vent about.

But he did seem to have one big thing in common with his notorious sister; the lying.

Even from the first time they had met at Foxy Loxy. See, Xanthe had already begun the process of legalizing their name and rendering our legal one, that no one in the body seems to be attached to, obsolete.

In Georgia, the cost of such an endeavor was $270 in filing fees, $40 in court fees, and another $75 to run the name change in the newspaper for about three months. All of which was a payment up front, then it’s just a waiting game for the courts to grant the request.

When Xanthe had explained that they were in the process of changing their name, Kieran had explained, “Oh, yeah, I’d started to do it and I had to go through all the paperwork stuff, got everything filed, but there kept on being these add-on fees at the end and I stopped like halfway through. Plus, I’d just have to do it all over again when I go to get a passport and want to move to another country.”

Xanthe will appreciate the Freddie Thornhill image in this one.

One of our first attendance in Philocafe, Kieran had spun this story about how he had never expected to live beyond the age of eighteen. There will be other lies; we found out that Kieran was lying about being on testosterone, initially, due to a House of Cards reference. Next, you’ll hear about his coconut allergy, his racially charged mishaps within the shampoo aisles, and the fourth cone in his eye. Maybe this bullshit just ran in the family.

But Xanthe needed a distraction and someone else that knew our world. They found that in Kieran. At first, the two were somewhat distant and incidental friends. Then, Kara, a friend of the past would come calling, saying that she’d grown bored of Ohio and wanted somewhere else to live…