Tourism and Trauma. (Summer of 2016)

(This story is a combination of my internal world and the external. Anything that happened exclusively internally will be written like this. TWs: Brief mention of suicide, toxic friends)

Xhaxhollari

Marysville, Ohio, 2009.

Creekview Intermediate. Also. They still have the same principle there from when I was 10? Holy shit.

We initially met Kara Slabaugh in Creekview Intermediate school in 2005. It was the first friend we’d had after our system rearranged and further split to conform to Shadow’s idea of religion, most of which SEGA probably has copy-written. Neb had even told Kara, in those early days, about Shadow’s suicide.

It wasn’t the full truth, that Neb told her. She may not have known the full truth of what happened on that fateful August 10th. I wouldn’t tell you if I did know it.

But at least Kara knew of it, for it happened almost a full year after they’d met. Nebula was obviously taking a dark turn, already exhibiting suicidal and self-harming behaviors. The fact that we were also common victims of bullying didn’t help, either.

The friendship, as rare as those could be for us, was enjoyable but frankly toxic. Kara would continuously bring about friends that hated us. Then Kara would be pulled into these games of avoiding us, saying she were going to recess when really, she was going to the library, or vice versa. As a prank, she even blacked out our school photo in the yearbook with sharpie. Dad was not happy about that one, and blamed us for his wasted investment.

But that was 10-12 year old nonsense. We met up with her again in high school– she’d moved away and then moved back again. By that time, we were already friends with April. Famously, our Junior year is when we lost the majority of our friends. Our Senior year of having no one but April and the system basically broke us. But in 2009, Kara was still left.

She’d be one of the last.

Trouble began, as it usually does in this demographic, with Anime Club. Kara had began using foundation that did not match her skintone– leaving sort of dappled patterns of rust-coloured powder over her pallid visage. April, who was the expert of the next subject to be brought up, told her, “Foundation clogs your pores.” She said it with all the tact and poise reminiscent of the doctor from “My 600-lb Life.”

This was entertaining reality TV but how was this man ever a health provider?

“It doesn’t to my pores,” Kara, the beholder of the impervious dermis, said defensively.

“It does to everyone’s pores,” April pressed. Now that she actually had a fair point, she was nearly as invincible as Kara’s pores and was going to keep pressing the issue until both of Neb’s best friends hated each other.

Yes, I also can’t believe an argument this foolish changed the course of our life forever.

In April’s eyes, Kara was defensive, arguing out her ass, and way too sensitive about foundation. She was, of course, correct. In Kara’s eyes, April was arrogant, always felt the need to feel superior to others, and was way too harsh with her surmising. She was also correct.

This devolved into a war wherein one’s friend group too close to the corner of another’s was seen as an all-out territorial dispute. They were both pressuring Neb take sides. This was officially the closest thing to a gang war that’s ever occurred in Marysville, Ohio.

Nebula refused to pick sides, which seemed to be the last straw for Kara. While Neb and I were trying to talk her out of it, Kara cut us off on an auspicious day in early August. This was her parting blow:

“Congratulations. August 10th is the day you lose another friend.” I shudder to think what that must have done to Neb’s sanity. Witnessing it was like being in the next state over from a volcano eruption.

But, you know. I still missed her company. And years later, when our host had broken up with April and presumably rid the world of her influence, I started thinking, “How would round two be like?”

Xanthe:

It’s weird.

Most times, when I think back about Kieran, I dismiss him as an entity of convenience. Yes, he was a friend I had in Savannah when April had damaged my reputation so thoroughly that I couldn’t sink into my own community. I occasionally hinted that I low-key hated him. And, you know, sometimes, I did. Like his sister, he was arrogant, he talked over others, he was quite the liar when it convenienced him– sometimes, it appeared, out of sheer compulsion. Even worse, he occasionally attacked the media that I adored and coped with. But he also liked going out to restaurants and bars, was someone good to vent to, and was one of the only queers that would talk to me.

Sometimes, I know he was a friend, and his loss is another that stings among the stack. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be rid of him. My abuser in disguise, keeping me in the same spider’s web at a distance so that I only think I have room to breathe. But he was witty– could relate about loads of subjects not even my partners could. I was quick to dismiss him to others, but I felt distressed when someone hurt him, I felt frustrated when life seemed to corner him, I felt legitimately pleased when I managed to help him out.

There. There’s a confession you won’t likely see from me otherwise. I liked Kieran. I didn’t like him with pure, simple feelings, but he was my friend.

Of course, not anymore.

It had been lonely, lately, in my Savannah life. At this point, I was on Tinder less for my ideal Dionysian polycule and more for someone to fucking talk to. For example, I thought I was hitting off of with one named Allison Frye, but after our introductory flirting, she said, “I just mentioned you to my friend and they told me that you’re a creep! Oh, and stop talking all posh. It’s not cute.”

I would have screenshots, but she unmatched. She was one of many. But on the bright side, Kaspar was coming to visit me in June and I was stoked. Plus, I was getting a lot of concierge networking in.

What is concierge networking, you may ask?

It’s what I miss most about Savannah. After Cotton and I graduated from concierge classes, we were invited to concierge events, wherein front desk agents from all around the city would be invited to check out a new restaurant. It was always on Tuesdays or Mondays, when hotel staff were usually off. Start-up restaurants would gather us all and woo us with a tour or off-limits amenities. And always with free food and unlimited wine, which I always took as a challenge.

Why did the roof of this restaurant have a bathtub? For selfie time, obviously.

Yeah, if you’re a recovering alcoholic, never get into the Savannah hospitality industry.

No, really, it was amazing. I was getting free tours all the time. My very first time experiencing The Grand Budapest Hotel was in the Lucas Theatre with a bunch of buzzed hoteliers. The staff had given us a half gallon of wine each and allowed us to mingle for a full hour before giving us a historical tour of the building. The tour was, unsurprisingly, interrupted by giggles and jokes. Then we were ushered into our own private theatre to witness one of the many films I made into a facet of my personality.

I would chase that high for the rest of my life.

Kara was someone who seemed to enter my life from an online conversation I didn’t remember starting. But! We were able to carry on about our mutual love of BBC’s Sherlock. She had grown bored of Ohio, which one neurodivergent and/or queer is wont to do. She was hoping to come to Savannah for a vacation and to be given the grand tour by yours truly. Plus, she wanted to catch Pokémon in new areas. Yes, Pokémon Go did come out this summer.

Well, I was someone who was relishing in my newly and duly earned concierge abilities. I could take her discount ghost tours! I could dazzle her with facts of every historical building! I could not only prove to her that my life was inherently better, but also prove to her that I was better than Neb.

I’d known that she and Neb had ended badly, but that had happened the better half of a decade ago. Plus, that was Neb. Also, I remembered that being primarily April’s fault. I was more than happy to welcome her as a tourist to Savannah. Particularly since my dear Cotton was heartlessly abandoning me that same summer for better and brighter things in Atlanta, I needed distractions.

And it was a lovely vacation she had. Kara was enamored with everything that had to do with Savannah. In fact, she seemed shorter and vaguely more well-adjusted than I. I was hoping she would take up the fabled ‘Watson’ mantle that Cotton was resigning from. Yes, the shortness was a qualifier.

She’d referenced Kieran, thinking that she remembered him from high school. It threw me for a moment, but. Then I remembered. High school! Where Neb was still Neb and April was still April. Even if was some trans-dimensional error that kept Kara from seeing that these were clearly two different people, it was an easy mistake to make. “Oh, yeah, he–… He’s definitely not the same person anymore.” I’d dismissed.

She understood, of course. All of that catty school-day bullshit was to be left in the past. Plus, Kieran’s transness was a good excuse for Kara not to ask too many questions.

One thing I showed Kara was the Gryphon Tea Room, one of my favourite places in all of Savannah. I knew from conversations we’d had that Kara was a bit of a ‘teaboo’ and that an actual tea room, that served scones and loose-leaf and gave the cheques in old books, would blow her Ohioan mind. Kieran and I were well-acquainted with it.

In fact, my audience is probably well-acquainted with it at this point.

When it came time to place our orders, Kieran and I ordered a pot of tea each while Kara ordered Sprite. Which– fine. I’d known Kara liked tea, and this was a good occasion to enjoy it as any, but she wasn’t obligated to order the restaurant’s special-tea.

We chatted pleasantly. I was dripping my honey into my tea with the honeycomb-shaped dropper. “Hey, can I have some of that?” Kara had asked.

The coffee cup in front of her was not hers, but Kieran’s. She wanted to take a picture of it.

“Yeah, sure!” I handed her the plastic honeycomb container.

I was figuring she’d use it to drip onto her scone or one of her pieces of fruit. But, uh… No. Kieran and I both stared in silence as Kara dripped honey into her iced soft drink. Unsurprisingly, the honey fell in a clotted clump to the bottom of the glass. I watched her frown and try to stir the honey into the chilled Sprite, as if she couldn’t figure out what was happening.

I feel like Kaspar just woke up in a cold sweat and doesn’t know why, I thought.

It was a bit of a bonding moment to bring this up to Kieran later. “Okay, I’m not sure if I imagined it, but did she try to stir her honey into her–”

“Yeah. Yeah. I saw it, too.” He affirmed, looking equally horrified.

And wouldn’t you know it? Kieran needed someone to fill Cotton’s vacancy in his apartment. Kara leapt right on that shit, in a move that left me feeling vaguely panicked for reasons I couldn’t describe. That was probably the vague feeling of Xhaxhollari screaming in the background.

But Kara’s vacation was over and she went back to Ohio, plotting to make Savannah her own. And right on time, Kaspar came fluttering in to take all of the potential stress away.

Kaspar was staying in the Wedding Cake Mansion during its extended stay, with Marie, Iska, and a few Czech friends that I honestly can’t remember the names of. I remember when I heard the dates and location of its illustrious holiday, I looked them up.

The Wedding Cake Mansion was booked for one group at a time. It wasn’t like the Forsyth Mansion that could be sectioned off into many suites and rooms at a time. The Wedding Cake Mansion, with its many rooms, was a single unit of lodging. I looked through the pictures, thinking of how fitting it was that Kaspar would choose such elegant lodgings, then checked availability.

The weird fact is that I feel like I definitely remember being in that house.
And I remember doing unholy things with Iska and Kaspar in that bathroom.

It wasn’t available for the exact length of time Kaspar was slated to stay. Because, of course, it’d been booked by them.

I did these little tests, from time to time. It seemed especially appropriate to do one now, as Kaspar was going to visit and Kieran might be invited out with the two of us to see me talking to myself. It was one of the first times Kaspar was going to be in my territory, especially with so much pre-emptive warning and pomp as this. After all, Kieran knew Kaspar. He’d painted a tasteful nude portrait of Kaspar just recently, I’d been told. Through Kieran’s and my meetings, Kieran had mentioned the portrait occasionally, with no prompting or, indeed, without me informing him of what Kaspar had told me.

But when Kaspar arrived, it was seamless. Kieran and I both spoke of showing it around our city when the other was busy, our narratives always matching. Which was a relief, as Kieran had revealed himself to be a bit of a liar.

We’d shown Kaspar Angel’s BBQ, a famous Southern BBQ place, and it loved it. Kieran tried to introduce Kaspar to iced tea and Kaspar, unsurprisingly, declared it an abomination. It thought that us declaring the inn that was built in 1833 was ‘adorable’ and it even treated me to some illustrious nights about the city.

Iska had one particular outting with Kieran, who took her to a French café on Broughton St. She came back and reported that she had such a good time. “You didn’t tell me that [Kieran] is also intersex, Kaspar!”

Kaspar was reclining on the divan in the vacation house’s living room. I remember sipping tea as I watched it smile, its eyes widening just a bit. It was Kaspar language for, ‘I know this game.’ “Oh?”

Kieran was not. He was the sort who always mentioned each and every thing that ever made him special. Kaspar and I both knew this. The fact that he didn’t mention it to myself or Kaspar, but to a tatted, dyed-haired shiny that he was probably flirting with, was a dead give-away. Kaspar wouldn’t give it away, though. It’d always had a fun time cornering people in their own webs.

“Yeah, he was pretty open about it and I thought you and he might’ve talked about it before. Oh, and he’s showing me Perch later tonight!” Iska went on, not having been with Kaspar long enough to tell when it smelled blood.

“Ah. Well, when you go, don’t forget to take a grain of salt with you,” Kaspar said cheerily, causing me to choke on my drink.

That same night, Kaspar had rented out one of the many rooms of the famous Pink House so we could all dine together. Specifically, we were in the basement tavern level, with beautiful cushy chairs. Kieran had invited along his own long-distance boyfriend, Dante, likely to even out the fact that I was dating someone there. I’d met Dante briefly before, but only in the inworld. He was one of the Methusilla vampires, platinum blonde with green eyes and very British.

We’d already had a good banter going, which could light Kaspar up like nothing else.

“We actually have good food here, Dante, which must be a change from home,” I’d told him. Dante had seemed to show distaste in me from the moment he’d walked in, but I simply assumed that I was simply used to being disliked and was trying to prompt some friendly chatter anyway.

With a dismissive turn of his head, he faced Kaspar. “Do you have any opinions on British cuisine, Kaspar?”

Kaspar sipped at its wine. “I’ll let you know when they start producing some,” it answered, making everyone at least chuckle.

Gods, I love Kaspar. Having them around that entire week was mainlining serotonin.

Marie snickered, hand covering her mouth. “Oh, I think that was a direct blow to the two Brits n the room!” she noted. She loved to further encourage banter between Kaspar and its partners; I’m pretty sure it was like foreplay for them.

“Well, there’s only one true Brit in attendance,” Dante replied stiffly.

Both of my eyebrows shot up. It was fair, that I was not a true Brit in the system’s body, or even in my inworld. The body was American. My internal self actually originated in Germany, but spent its formative years in London. But goddamn it, what a thing to police! Englishness is not a closed or disenfranchised people. Even if I did have no ties to England, one can’t claim cultural appropriation with a country that refuses to believe Welsh is its own language. Plus, the debate of who was ‘truly’ English or not smacked of the worst kind of nationalism. Really, fuck off, Dante.

That’s what I wanted to say. But I did know that Kaspar values quick wit and sass as opposed to direct confrontation, so I took inspiration from the Earl of Epigram himself. “Well, I suppose I’m living the life Oscar Wilde always said to. Befriending the liberals and dining with the Torries.”

There was an appreciative laugh– at least from everyone who knew what the devil ‘Torries’ meant. (Basically an English republican.) Kieran and Dante both responded with casual shrugs, which was not a concession so much as a subtle acknowledgement that I had held my own.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly, though. And the plan that Kara had for moving here seemed to be coming moreso to fruition. And even though Cotton grew closer and closer to moving each day, I thought things might actually turn out okay.

After all, it was summer of 2016. How bad could things get?