[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.’ Ditto for Apollo’s former moniker, which was Kieran.]
Happy late birthday to me.
Vali was amidst the most productive tantrum I’d ever seen him throw. In response to the sadistic request that he, you know, give back what he had stolen, he’d decided to shoulder the majority of the moving. I suppose I was meant to feel sorry for him– Arkady was keeping me well updated on his passive-aggressive complaints about his shoulder or whatnot, but refusing help all the while. I’d initially attempted to coordinate our days off in order to split the labour, but this show of martyring himself was doing nothing but lightening my workload and giving me a chuckle.
It was a beautiful moment. I was having a café day, something that was all-too rare in Rochester but were plentiful in Savannah. I’d discovered Café Sasso, which served tea as well as wine and even cocktails. Considering the decor and the location right on a busy street, it felt like home to me.
And I was drinking champagne.
“Oh my god, he’s actually trying to move that huge sewing table up to the attic by himself.” Arkady texted me.
I chuckled. “Let him. Less work for me.” The light outside was fading to the coveted golden hour. I finished my champagne, grabbed my selfie stick, and got to work. It was going to be a good day today.
I did my usual– switching between 3 and a half of the only angles I felt good about, pulling my ears back, setting my jaw. I took perhaps fifteen photos. Two would see the light of day. Kaspar had once called my self-esteem ‘selfie steam’ out of a language barrier, and I had to say, it wasn’t wrong.
Next was the Instagram app– it went right to messages. My last conversation was at the top and I felt a pang of– something. Fear? Embarrassment? Cringe?
Maybe it was guilt.
But– what a silly emotion to have. It was justified, what I had done. Wasn’t it?
When I had first began talking to/courting Arkady, one of his most prominent gripes was of this group of his former friends he called ‘The Trap House.’ Apparently, these had been a group of toxic, jealous people that had been friends with both Arkady and Rowan for years until their efforts to break the long-standing couple up finally forced my partner and metamour to cut the group off. Or the group cut them off.
It depends on who told the story.
The ‘Trap House’ was apparently full of people, but the ones I heard of most often were Franky and Sedona. With Sedona, I was given a story about how they had faked having deadly or chronic illnesses, how they had med-shamed Rowan for going on mental health medication, how they had knowingly faked an entire heritage for fun, and how they were spreading lies about Arkady and Rowan being toxic together. With Franky, the narrative was that he was transitioning just to compete with Arkady, that he hated both Arkady and Rowan because he had an unrequited crush against them both, and also spread the rumour about how toxic this couple was.
One of their chiefest sins, according to Arkady, was not taking the other worlds ‘seriously enough.’ “Franky once told me, ‘This isn’t fun anymore,'” Arkady had scoffed. “It’s war. It’s not supposed to be fun.”
And I could relate. I couldn’t very well go into a therapy office and tell them that I’ve seen people die, that I’ve been tortured, stabbed, lit on fire, and nearly died several times. Not in this reality, but somewhere else, and it was no less real to me. Arkady and I both had PTSD from battles that history won’t acknowledge. And how Sedona and Franky had treated these shared worlds sent Arkady into a crisis of doubting his experiences, his pain.
Just as what happened to me, four years ago.
I thought of Kirra sitting across the table from me at Rocks on the River. “Real friends?” she’d taunted.
It may shock and awe my frequent readers, but I’m actually quite outspoken and bitter about a good number of my former loved ones. But there are lines that even I won’t cross. Well, ideally.
But they took it too far. We took it too far. Part of being a whistle blower is recognising that even though I was caught up in the group dynamics, I still made my own choices, and they were still shitty ones.
For example, one of Arkady’s favourite anecdotes is that Franky, out of obviously wanting to be Arkady so badly, rushed to get his top surgery done by a surgeon with allegedly a bad track record. But Franky wanted desperately to have his done before Arkady’s. The result: not ideal. What was especially shameful was how myself and the household would laugh at the results photo and share it around, passing it around the room to near strangers like it was our own personal meme. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t participate, but I did, and I’m ashamed of it. Arkady always had a sock puppet following Franky’s Twitter and would gleefully read aloud every post Franky had about having a bad day– explaining to us all how it was all obviously Franky’s fault.
In keeping with Arkady’s notion that he was somehow winning at transness, we all went to Rochester Pride in July of 2019. We were all anticipating seeing this other group– I could hardly hope to spot them. Good ol’ face blindness left me a useless lookout. When Arkady did, he yelled, “Hello, Franky!” On the last two syllables, he had dropped his voice as low as it could go, meaning to mock his former friend with the contrast of vocal depth. He bragged about it for about a week afterwards.
We all laughed. It was someone I didn’t even know, being mocked for something out of their control, and I also laughed.
Sed was practically stalked– no, literally stalked by this group. Sedona was just living their life posting statuses that had nothing to do with any of us, and we were all sharing screenshots through the group chat and dissecting it. Any photos they would post with their partners, Arkady and Rowan would both ‘read their body language’ to declare that Sedona was unhappy with their partners, or that their face ‘clearly showed’ these couples were going to break up soon, which would mean that Rowan and Arkady had won. Somehow.
Sedona’s conditions were also the subject of ridicule and investigation. We’d find out that they were crowdfunding some sort of mobility aid and it was better than a comedy special to us. We’d hear how Rowan’s father had seen Sedona having the gall to walk, unaided, down their own street. Did I know that many disabled people can have good days and bad days? Yes. Did that seem to matter when in the context of this group’s enemy? No.
Here’s how deep the delusion sank: See, this group was confronted with evidence, later on, that Sed was probably about as sick as they said they were. Did they say, ‘Shit, my bad’? Nope. Arkady was who piped up with the notion of “I bet the gods knew they were faking their illness, and decided to actually make their lie true. That’s what you get!”
But we needed a scapegoat. Now that Vali was working on himself, he was deemed ‘safe’ and was becoming moreso off-limits by the day. Franky and Sed, it seemed, were this group’s tried and true.
It wasn’t much different than what it used to be like with Kirra. My relationship with Kirra actually used to go swimmingly when we had a friend that we mutually disliked. It never stopped us from hanging out with this friend, mind you. Making fun of Fedora and these twin friends of Kirra’s was the most peaceful our relationship had ever been. Kirra and I once laughed at how upset one of these twins got (I wanna say it was Ciara. They were identical) when she discovered that Kirra had blown her off and lied about what she was doing instead. That blonde girl marching after Kirra and glaring at her on River St. in obvious hurt and betrayal was the laugh of the day for the two of us.
Why did I do it in 2014? Why was I still pulling the same bullshit five years later?
Because I can be a self-serving twat and cults need a common enemy that unites them to function.
Speaking of which, you’re welcome for this past year and a half of closeness, Faerie Fantasy House.
It also kills two birds with one stone. Once you realise you’ve been manipulated and you need out, who the fuck are you going to turn to? The people you’ve bullied for the past year? Also, how do you make sure none of your victims speak to each other– well, get them to bully each other, of course.
“But Xanthe!” You may say. “You bully people on your blog all the time!”
There’s a difference.
I mock people for the things they can control. Rowan telling everyone they’re a faerie and can therefore never lie to us? Fair(y) game. Rowan being chronically ill? Nope. Vali editing his photos to the point where no one recognises him when they meet them? Fair game. Making fun of Vali’s actual appearance? Nope.
I even took an active part in this, at one point. See, Sedona actually put out a status basically stating, ‘Hey, this is an open invitation to ask me whatever you want.’ I wasn’t friends with them at the time, but Rowan was– and impishly showing the post around. We were at some bar– I can’t remember the name of it, but it must not have been that great. Especially as my memories are practically an index of different bars. Tony, Sage’s boyfriend, was celebrating his 21st on the same day at that place.
We were all talking about taking Sedona up on their offer. I think I was the first one to pull up Instagram chat on my phone. Except Sage, I will note. But after using my full name and directly threatening those who refused to condemn me, I can’t but think this was but two-faced grandstanding on Sage’s part. I volunteered. Like this was a case I was going to crack. Zeitlock Holmes! You know, at Sed’s literal explicit offer to be asked questions, but–
They, true to their word, did explain some of the misconceptions they had been under that they further spread, also admitted to jumping the gun on some misinformation. Yes, they said they were dying, but actually thought they were at the time because that was a larger-than-comfortable possibility, for example. They even sent me a list of their diagnoses to corroborate the evidence. “Ooooh!” Arkady said when I updated him. “Send me that screenshot!”
No one spoke up and pointed out that would be fucked. No one even hesitated. The power of the cult, eh?
So, I screenshotted it.
If you had asked me at the time, I would have said that of course Sed would’ve known I would share this to the household. Sed and I had hardly talked; there was no expectation of privacy. Of course this person was expecting me to break this spontaneous trust– it was probably part of their plan to one-up the household with this knowledge, to be the courier for this proof.
Then I saw their reply. “Did you just screenshot my medical shit?” Oh. Right. Instagram notifies one of that.
Or maybe, just maybe Sed assumed that even though I had contact with the household that was mercilessly harassing them, I may not have been a piece of shit since they were already being interrogated? Maybe this person gave me the benefit of the doubt that I’d been asking for for years and I spat it back in their face.
And wouldn’t that be fucked up?
Anyway. After discovering how Rowan had felt ‘forced to talk to me’ and was bitching about it to someone who had never had my best interest at heart, I was feeling decidedly insecure. Rowan had admitted that they had done so while possessed by Gaslamp, but my old existential horror was about to creep back in.
See, I often felt as though I didn’t exist or wasn’t supposed to. My inworld tended to reinforce this a lot, with the whole storyline of ‘You’re Phisoxa’s OC that she defied the natural order to create, you’re an abomination that literally breaks reality, we’ve had actual debates and votes on whether it’s ethical to keep a freak like you alive.’ And of course, the recent revelation about Rowan had brought me back to the spring, where they literally kept forgetting I existed.
And of course, there was the fact they seemed to forget my existence when I could’ve been consulted about Vali moving into the attic. Or that getting me, a rent-paying tenant in the house, a fucking house key wasn’t even a priority for two goddamned months. Oscar Wilde’s birthday, that Sage even hosted another gathering to avoid. And recently, Arkady forgot to get me a fucking birthday present?
The household had all gone to Leto’s for my birthday dinner. They paid for it and I looked pretty, so it was a pretty average birthday as far as it went. Rowan even bought me two different kinds of champagne. But I did notice; there had not been a birthday present from Arkady.
I tried to prompt him along. I’d even chosen my own birthday present, an Oscar Wilde scarf, but it had yet to materialize. “Hey, do you have a shipping date for that Oscar Wilde scarf? It’s getting cold out and I want to know when it’ll get here.” Here I was, blaming Fedex, trying to give my husband some credit.
His excuse was at the ready. We were dining at SEA restaurant, an Asian place near our house. “Oh, I haven’t ordered it yet, actually. Money’s been kind of tight and I haven’t been able to afford much more than necessities.”
Which, that’s perfectly reasonable. Except… “You… just showed me the décor you bought for the attic today?”
“Oh… I–…” He looked sheepish and perhaps a bit startled. Knowing he’s a system now, this could’ve been more than just simple forgetfulness. Arkady at least had the sense to look abashed. “I’m sorry.”
This is the same man who journeyed to Savannah to craft an entire vacation around my 25th. The same man who had (claimed to) summon fog just for me, the same man who bought me dinner at Chive. The same man who set up an entire fucking tea time in Mt. Hope for Rowan’s birthday years before.
I forget my reply. I felt hurt, but more often, I felt that my place within reality was once again slipping. This is usually a dangerous mindset for me. Because if I don’t actually exist, what would stop me from snuffing it? Who would mourn a fever dream?
Why was I suicidal? Well, it could have been that it was a massive change wherein everything I had to make me feel safe, I moved across the country from. It also could have been that my new environment seemed about to topple like a line of dominoes if Vali’s vindictive ass made good on his threats from May. But this was elevated to out-of-control when it was PMDD time.
Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder is a little known hormonal disorder that’s basically PMS except instead of moody, you’re full-on suicidal.
I’d tried to tell AJ about it, and their self-hating trans masc response was, “Yeah, I get dysphoric and suicidal around shark week, too.” Which was an astonishing miss of the point.
I began realising in 2018 that my worst breakdowns and instances of losing time (one time I even ended up on the roof, seeming about to jump, before I ‘came to’) were the week right before my menstrual cycle. I found out about it by watching an episode of Dr. Phil about Gia Allemand, a former Bachelor star, who had committed suicide. Something her mum said in her interview had struck me– that her daughter was always so bright, bubbly, and optimistic until right before her period, then her mood would take a dark, hopeless turn.
I’d recently had my intake from FLACRA, to get myself a mental health counselor. I’d mentioned having PMDD and the person doing my intake said she’d heard of it. I asked her how– “My sister-in-law had it. She died recently, left her car running in the garage by accident.” Then she paused. “Or I thought it was an accident. Huh.”
Not only did my loved ones seem to not notice I exist, but the universe seemed to be actively telling me to stop doing so.
Arkady was… hardly a pillar of support. After we’d finally put Vali in his place, Arkady was still fuming about Vali’s comment about Rowan to me. Which, I could definitely understand. But it was to the point where he seemed more focused on his rage at Vali than comforting me. Which, calm down Edmond Dantès.
I was holding out for a moment in which both Rowan and Arkady would essentially be like “Hey, your new life started off on a very traumatic note because you had to save our asses from something that seemed to have the same manipulative pull as your abuser, do you want us to cuddle you and murmur comforting phrases while you get drunk and ramble about your flashbacks?”
“I don’t want him petting my cat.” Arkady had snapped once when we were alone. Oh, right, he had a cat now. A young tom named Antari. Got him just the previous month. This will be somewhat important later.
‘Right, that’ll go over real well.’ I found myself getting frustrated that Arkady seemed to know nothing about playing ‘The Long Game’ that Kaspar and I had– how to navigate those fragile little paths, to resist showing your hand until it wouldn’t break anything. I’d had a lifetime filled with landmines. I knew how to step lightly. Arkady was making it increasingly obvious that he still held contempt for Vali, who I barely noticed existed most of the time now that I didn’t consider him a threat.
“It could be that you once considered Vali to be a sort of brother to you. Then when you found out he had been manipulating you, you were legitimately hurt.” As I spoke, I realised I needed to give Vali the benefit of the doubt, because of Gaslamp. He could very well be someone we’ve hardly met yet, due to my abuser’s influence. “You two are Water and Fire signs, remember. Think of your cats. Sir Pounce just wants to do his own thing, but Antari thinks that fighting is the best way to make friends. It’s like they’re mimicking yours and Vali’s personalities, in a way, but flipped. And you both love Rowan. You’re working to a common goal.”
I could somewhat relate. I never got along well with Marie, Kaspar’s Very Capricorn nesting partner. But Kaspar seemed to need us both, so we were able to work past those differences. Maybe, for Rowan’s sake, Vali and Arkady could as well. But hell, if Arkady was so hurt, it did make sense that he wouldn’t be able to stomach forgiveness. Especially since his blow to me was technically outside of Gaslamp’s influence. But– the decision was made. Arkady told Vali he considered him only a housemate, and no longer a friend. He also told Vali that he wasn’t invited to his birthday celebration, set to take place in Ithaca that year.
It seemed to bring him less pain and somewhat relieved a burden in him that I couldn’t understand. And we did go to Ithaca for Arkady’s birthday. I remember that I used my hotel discount for a dirt-cheap discount for the hotel we stayed at. I’d asked Arkady if he wanted to celebrate our birthdays together, as our birthdays were only twelve days apart.
Twelve– like a clock. There were too many coincidences like that.
It made sense– we’d both been taken out for birthday dinners, and the like, but to celebrate us both in the same weekend, combining birthdays like the twin souls we were– I was absolutely excited. We’d talked about maybe taking one day to spoil him, and then the next day to spoil me.
It was one of the best weekends I’d ever had. Especially since I so loved Ithaca, and I so loved the boy we were celebrating. We dressed to the nines, we drank at the hotel’s Irish bar. Even better, Aberle, having gotten close to Arkady and would not wish his birthday for the world, apparently attended!
“I can feel that Aberle trying to navigate these streets on his motorcycle.” Rowan said, laughing, as the two of us went for a wine run. It was an uphill venture from the hotel to our nearest wine store– so uphill that it felt that if I jumped, I’d be knocked back several blocks, like a video game.
Having left Arkady back in the hotel, Rowan was happy to inform me of anytime Aberle whizzed by.
“I’m going to have to scold him for that. He can’t speed on those roads,” Rowan had grumbled. Apparently, he was showing off for us. And when Rowan suggested he was around, I saw him. Just like I saw every godforsaken thing they had suggested. Sort of like my twin sons that I apparently impregnated them with. Oh, did I forget to tell you about that?
Yeah, so, Rowan told me that Arkady and I both got them pregnant with twins. They told me I was the father of two Faerie boys. How the FUCK are they telling others that I’m delusional when I only believed what they told me and reinforced DOZENS of times?
This was only a month before the inter-planar wedding Arkady and I had.
My twins are introjects, now.
See, my twins, my past-lives, my parents– there were all things that seemed inaccessable when Vali was around. Or, more frequently, Zara, who had recently decided our house was her weekend getaway, whose presence seemed moreso and moreso non-consensual– and my twins, Arannan, and Rebecca– my supposed parents– all of them seemed further and further away.
And when I was trying to cling so hard to my identity, these weekends seemed to be individual nails in my identity’s coffin.
But! Looking on the bright side, Vali managed to actually behave for our trip to Ithaca. No calling to say that he had taken himself hostage! We spent the entire weekend celebrating Arkady, our sweet little raven, and even had him pick out a new tailcoat in Ithaca’s shopping district. We played in the pool, we took plenty of selfies, I managed to charm the front desk into giving us a couple of drink vouchers.
It was only as we were leaving that I realised that– hell, even I forgot that this birthday weekend was for the both of us.
I’d expressed this to Arkady. I’d caught him in an off mood, which was happening more lately. “Sorry you didn’t enjoy our trip to Ithaca, then!” he’d snapped.
But no, that wasn’t the point, nor was it even true in the basest sense. The point is that he forgot, that I forgot, like I was trying so hard to squeeze into a timeline that wouldn’t acknowledge me. And whenever I would mention it was happening, people would get hostile.
It reminded me of the novella I was based on, Zeitstück. Within it, the title character had actually been dead for six years, but was allowed the illusion of life as long as he didn’t try to change the world around him. But as he fell in love and tried to live a domestic, cohabitating life, he developed an ailment that threatened his life because he was never supposed to exist in the first place.
I was pretty sure that was going to happen to me; that I’d committed the sin of love and fate was going to cut me down for it. It sounds delusional, sure, but that same week, my housemate just updated me that our faerie children could turn into wolves with crow wings and fly around. If I really wanted to be considered delusional, I was going to have to step up my game.
Here’s extra content of Rowan continuing to reinforce that my alters existed outside of me and that they could interact with them without my body! Enjoy!