(TW: Mental breakdown, intense emotional abuse, toxic roommates, gossip, addiction. Just as a refresher, Arkady is my partner, who is also dating Rowan. Rowan is my friend, who is dating both Arkady and Vali. Vali is my roommate, who was astonishingly toxic, but has toned down to just annoying after an intervention. A sentence that is entirely in Italics means it takes place exclusively in my internal world.)
FLASHBACK TO NOVEMBER, 2018.
I’d had my birthday celebration, earlier in the week, which was undoubtedly the best I would ever have. Both Cotton and Arkady had come down to Savannah specifically just to make my birthday special and they had.
I remember sitting in Chive Sea Bar. Arkady had proudly announced to the server that he was taking me out to dinner for my birthday– I think we were hoping to get me a free dessert or a drink out of it. Then they asked to see my ID.
I held back from wincing. It wasn’t common for a Savannah business to ask one for ID, but I always feared that they would see that August birthday on my ID and call me a delusional liar in front of the entire restaurant. Little did I know, it wasn’t the servers I had to fear, but bloody faeries. But here in my gilded cage or tourism and kitsch, the Faerie Fantasy House didn’t yet control my life.
The server smiled and returned my ID. “Happy birthday!” she’d said.
I visibly relaxed. Arkady smiled at me conspiratorially. “I glamoured it so that she didn’t see your legal birthday.” And of course I believed him. Why wouldn’t I? Especially after the amazing birthday speech he gave me– where he took my hand, looked me in the eyes and told me that I was amazing, how lucky he was to have met me, that I’m so strong for having survived what I already have, and how proud he was of me. It was his birthday speech– an annual verbal treat for his partners. I couldn’t remember being so happy.
That wasn’t all.
See, he’d known how much I loved the fog. It was the first weather I’d woken up to back in 2012, and remained my favourite weather for the way it reminded me of London. And when we stepped out of our last bar of the night, Savannah was unseasonably buried in a thick layer of fog. There was a victorious grin plastered on his face under the nebulous glow of the streetlamps. “Well, I brought you fog for your birthday!”
Of course this magical man, with eyes that looked like labradorites, who spoke with a silver tongue, had brought the fog to me long before it was even fog season. It was impossible not to believe in magic while he was around.
Then that night, we sat on the roof of the Tree Top as he held my hand. I was not only drunk, which made me so much more able to fall into the inworld, but he had given me some of his weed brownies. So, I was also a bit high. He, first, told me to enter my ‘crow form’, as he knew I could do within ‘the other plane.’
And I did, while still able to talk to him. It was a feat I hadn’t easily been able to replicate since. I could see myself soaring above a forest, feel the frigid wind, obviously far from Savannah, through my wings. He told me that I needed to ‘search for an entrance into Faerie.’ I found something that said that might be it– “I see a pond shaped like a crescent moon. The moon seems reflected in it unusually bright. Do you think that’s it?”
“That’s it!” Arkady had said excitedly. “Go down beside it and drink from it. And tell me what happens!”
I did as I was told. I perched on the edge of this strangely lit pond. It honestly looked like the entire body of water was made of the same labradorite that filled Arkady’s irises. Across the pond from me was a buck that was lapping at the same water. After I had drank my fill, I tilted my head up and looked toward the stag across from me.
It was no longer a normal stag. Its antlers had multiplied and were now glowing. It reminded me of Xerneas from Pokemon.
I explained to Arkady what I was seeing.
He told me to journey forward. I did. The woods turned vaguely Nordic, dominated by spruces and pines. I saw a familiar shape, with quite the add-on. “You… You have antlers?” I’m not sure if this impression was a lucky guess, a subconscious imprint from watching the Heilung videos Arkady had sent me, or subliminal hinting, but it seemed my vision hit its mark.
“Yes, I do!” He sounded so proud of me, a mood I’d hardly been accustomed to. “You see me! You really see me!”
He asked me to describe what else I saw. I dutifully described that when I travelled further down the trail– the bio-luminescence that I would picture a part of faerie. As his last trick, he had me find Kaspar.
All those years, since that awful day in 2015, wondering if I had just ‘made it up.’
But Arkady held my hand and guided me through my inworld. “Where is Kaspar?”
“It’s in Brussels, on business. But it always stays in boutique hotels. I think I’ve seen pictures of the one it’s staying in now.”
“Focus on that. Don’t worry, Love, you’re doing just fine.” He squeezed my hand, but I could barely feel any external sensation. What I did feel was myself as my crow, hopping through a lavish suite, up a spiral staircase– then I saw them.
Kaspar. My Kaspar.
They’d been sleeping, which made me feel vaguely invasive. Particularly since Arkady seemed to be also seeing through my eyes. I cawed low in my throat, more of a croak. The lump of sheets atop the bed began to stir. “Xanthe?”
I was so startled, so ecstatic, that I lost my link with the inworld. But I was grinning and breathless, looking up at Arkady. He echoed my thoughts when he noted that I was, for one of the first times since he’s known me, speechless. “You did it, Xanthe. They’re real. It’s all real.”
Tears prickled the edge of my vision. Gods, so many years of doubt, wondering if hanging out with some of my closest of friends was worth a trip to a padded cell, and there someone was.
He could see them, too.
He hadn’t known that I’d booked my flight to Rochester. November 16th, 2018, was the first day I had ever step foot on Rochesterian soil. I’d told him, weeks ago, that I would attend his birthday party “if I could.”
The video below is his realisation of the fact that, indeed, I could.
Is it sad that this video still makes me smile?
November-December of 2019:
It was at Sage’s party in Chili that I first met Alanaleilani. Truth be told, I’d been nervous as hell at this party, having brought my own box of Franzia’s Sunset Blush to stave off the stark feeling of not belonging. Sure, I knew Sage and Tony, somewhat. I, of course, knew my own household. Well, at least what I could admit to myself about them. But everyone else at this party? No.
And that wasn’t usually an issue for me. I moved from Savannah– it was rare for anyone to grow up in downtown. Everyone was a stranger to everyone and the most that anyone had known one another was half a decade. Rochester is different. The Rochester queer community has either been blocked by or pregnant by one another. And I was one of the only outsiders who hadn’t known everyone else since they were ten, who didn’t know everyone’s parents on a first name basis.
Along with Alanaleilani. Alanaleilani is from Hawaii and instantly zeroed in on me for not being a Rochester native. Not only that, but I was also not from the United States mainland.
My household knew damn-well that my body was grown and produced in Ohio like a strange variety of corn, but when it came to introductions to strangers, I kept it simple. Yep, I’m English. My blood type is tea and crumpets, God Save the Queen, no breakfast is complete without baked beans, I was born with a tea cup in my hand. We immediately started exchanging our culture’s idiosyncrasies and what we found odd about the mainland. I briefly chatted with most at the party, but Alana was a great conversationalist.
It was honestly a relief to make a connection outside of my household and my coworkers.
As we were getting into the car, Rowan immediately turned to us and said, “Hey, you guys, did you know that Alana is from Hawaii?” they prompted with a fake scandalized tone.
We all laughed. I didn’t see that as particularly catty. Gods knew I made fun of my loved ones with their repetitive vocal idiosyncrasies. But then, this next part–…
“So, get this,” Rowan said as they began driving. “She’s not native, like she says. Alana literally tells everyone that she used to look native Hawaiian, but a car crash and facial surgery turned her white.”
Wow! You’re surely thinking. Are you a magnet that attracts these kinds of people? Do they just grow on trees around you?
Because that’s what I thought. When someone told me they were something, I just went with it, most times. It could be my cultural ignorance or it could be that this is a load-bearing pillar of their personality. I didn’t like to gamble with that. Alana was pale, yes. But she did have that flatter Polynesian face, all except for her nose.
Granted, Alana being Hawaiian seemed more believable than Vali’s pasty ass claiming that he ‘tanned so much in the summer that he looked like a kid off the reservation.’
But hell, Rowan was outside of Gaslamp’s influence, and I was learning to trust them again.
I didn’t know that Alana had never claimed to be anything but her half Hawaiian self, who took after her Irish mother rather than her native father. I didn’t know that the car accident that changed the shape of her nose forever had traumatized her and could have killed her. And here Rowan was, after it seemed like I’d made a connection outside of the household, cruelly trashing her.
“Yeah, I tried to hang out with her once,” Vali put in. “I invited her to Vertex but she was all standoffish. Then told everyone that I accused her of trying to steal Rowan from me. I don’t put up with that– I don’t tolerate drama in my life.”
I coughed in the backseat to cover up the loud, squawking cackle that nearly gave me away.
I didn’t want to show that I still heavily disliked Vali. Rowan still tended to shut down conversations that tended to lean that way, which was one step up from putting their hands over their ears and saying ‘la la la la!’ Plus, Rowan was someone I’d missed. They’d told me that they’d love nothing more to get drunk and high respectively in the newly communal attic and we’d talk about our trauma, which I frankly needed. Between their obsessive need to be around for Vali and their obligatory time with Arkady, we rarely had time between the two of us.
I needed that.
Especially since Zara’s presence was getting more irritating as the weeks wore on. See, Arkady worked full-time for the first time in his mentally ill life and I worked many weekends. He was really too exhausted on the weekdays to do much, so I looked forward to the scarce point in the weekends where the gods of [HOTEL UNDISCLOSED] would let me have alone time with my husband. You know what else happened on weekends? Zara would come around, park her ass in the living room on Friday, and stay until Sunday evening.
She’d told us that her mum didn’t like her smoking weed, so she clearly had no other choice than to turn our house into her weed-kend getaway. She was a recovering alcoholic, but by Arkady’s own admission, she had ‘traded one addiction for another.’
“What a hypocrite you are!” the overly critical audience in my head cries. “You’ve made how many references to drinking and you’re criticizing someone else’s weed use?”
Even at the rate I use alcohol now– which has, admittedly, skyrocketed after a year’s worth of betrayal, I’m not drunk nearly as much as she was high. She’d even delay us from going out to eat because she had to look for her JUUL pen for thirty minutes first. And, of course, there was a reinforced divide between our self-medicating of choice. Rowan, Zara, Arkady, and Vali all liked weed. So, the fact that Zara always shared meant that no amount of weed was too much weed and everyone could get high together– sharing deep, intimate thoughts and venting I wasn’t allowed to hear because I wasn’t part of the stoner club.
No one would drink with me, either. Zara might get offended and feel left out, you see. We can’t have anyone feeling left out.
Arkady was always gone half the night, taking a ‘nature walk’ with Zara– it was a spiritual experience, you see. They were stoned enough that most of what they saw in the night seemed to have meaning, thus the gods were surely smiling down upon them.
Once I awoke, excited for a walk Arkady had told me we were going to take together, only for Rowan to tell me he’d already left on a walk with Zara instead.
It was getting to the point where Rowan and Arkady were objectively spending more time with Zara, from Syracuse, than me, who they lived with. I’d agreed to her coming over the first couple of times, but after, permission of the entire household was just assumed. I was told when I’d be having company in my house. She was over so often that, Rowan, without prompting, made her a copy of a key.
That’s right. Rowan gave someone I wasn’t even close with a key to our house, after waiting so long to get me one.
What the fuck was even going on?
The resentment was bubbling in me, mixing with the stagnating and fermenting trauma of that summer. One night finally came on December 14th.
When I’d left for my 3pm-11pm Saturday shift, Rowan and Arkady told me emphatically that they may pick me up from work, but that did depend on how inebriated they were. And that didn’t bother me– it’s a Saturday, with friends, it happens. But they also told me, explicitly, that they would let me know by 11pm if I needed to get my own ride. Which, fair enough. The last RTS for an hour leaves at 11pm, and usually my relief got in early.
I texted Rowan and Arkady at 9:30pm. “Hey, am I on my own for a ride tonight?”
At 10pm, I tried calling both of them.
At 10:45pm, getting desperate, thinking something must’ve happened, I called Vali and Zara as well.
Arkady historically had issues with his phone. He’d called it the ‘drug dealer phone.’ The last thing I wanted to do was walk to the bus stop while he was pulling up on Main St. I watched from the window as the 11pm bus drove by. By 11:20pm, I had to admit to myself that no one was coming to get me or telling me so, and requested a Lyft.
The Lyft had a 45 minute wait and I watched as the little car icon literally went stationary and didn’t move after 35 minutes. I tried calling the driver, but he picked up just to hang up on me again. I had to cancel and get another one. By the time I was finally home, it was 12:43am.
Arkady greeted me in the kitchen. “Hey, sorry, it was too late by the time I noticed you’d called. Have you eaten? Want me to make you dinner?” His movements and speech were slow and mumbled. I could see by his mannerisms that he was embarrassed, maybe even a bit guilty, as he stumbled through the kitchen and made me some sort of cheesy barley rice dish. It was his version of an apology, and I’d accepted it as one.
“I had a shitty day at work. And a hell of a time getting a Lyft home. Would you mind keeping me company for a while?” My voice strained to keep from shaking. I didn’t want to have to beg the love of my life for quality time, but there it was.
Arkady grimaced. I knew the answer to his question before it even left his mouth. “I… had more than I thought I did… or it was stronger than I thought… Either way, I’m having trouble staying awake, so…”
I nodded. “Thanks for dinner.” I meant it. “Honestly, after the day I’ve had, all I want to do is go up to the attic and play some video games.” Why were my video games in the attic? Because the room I had moved in was so small that I couldn’t conceivably fit a television in there. Video games were often in communal spaces, so I never thought this would be a problem.
“Oh, you can’t go up there!”
He said that so urgently that all I could do was look at him quizzically from my seat in the kitchen.
“Zara and Rowan are up there. They wanted alone time,” Arkady qualified. “They didn’t want to be disturbed.”
“Oh,” I said. What the actual fuck? I thought. The point of making it a communal space is to make sure it’s always open.
Arkady excused himself to bed and I wrote a furious entry in my journal in the sloppiest writing I’d ever done. It was perhaps a half hour later when Zara and Rowan stumbled down the stairs. Rowan, perhaps realising the missed calls and texts, stumbled over to me and wrapped me in a hug. Their eyes were glassy and bloodshot. And they smelled like–
FLASHBACK: TW for vague references to CSA. Highlight to read.
Bruce Evans showing us the porn my mother and he made together, looking like grotesque writhing flesh to our eight-year old eyes. “Your mom loves it when I do that. I can make you feel like this, too.”
My bedroom door closing behind the middle-aged man. My brother and we shared this room, but he was at basketball. Maybe if I was good at sports, maybe if I didn’t quit basketball, maybe I’d be out there instead of–
END OF FLASHBACK.
“I’m sorry… I got too high.” Rowan said in their scratchy, wavering voice.
“Yeah.” I said stiffly, trying to push my stepdad out of my head while someone else’s hands were on me.
“I was with Zara. We were talking about my trauma,” they slurred, as if replacing me for something they’d promised to do with me for months was a good excuse for forgetting I existed for four hours.
Are you fucking kidding me? I was trying not to breathe. They knew that smell was a trigger for me. It had been their excuse for excluding me so often when Zara was around. They were being considerate, you see. Unless they forgot to be.
I was silent about that incident for about a week. My emotions took three to five days to process on a good day. I didn’t trust myself to bring this up without disturbing the uneasy peace. But the next week, Arkady forced it out of me. Hell, maybe I was even testing it. I texted the group chat that, after the day I’d had, I would’ve killed for a cup of tea when I got home. I even texted the approximate time I’d be home, four hours before I’d be there. The sheer memory of me seemed to be falling through the cracks, lately. Thank gods ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ hadn’t been released yet. I would’ve read that and come up with an entirely different theory, courtesy of V.E. Schwab.
I arrived home precisely when I’d said I would, looking for a kettle on the stove or maybe a steaming mug– just some indication in the environment that I even existed.
No such luck. Arkady was around to greet me, though, and I started telling him what a stressful day at work it was, as I had been forced to drive the godforsaken shuttle van.
For some reason, he started harping on my bloody fear of driving. “Oh, you’re going to have to get over that. Especially if you’re going to be living in the farmhouse with us.”
“You… were going to get a shop, in the city. You told me. I’d live above it.” Why the fuck did I believe that? Because I believed in him, to the point of being utterly foolish.
He sighed. It sounded so bloody condescending. Like I’d just told him the tooth fairy was letting me crash on her couch. “Xanthe, that’s gonna take time.”
“That’s not what I agreed to!” I’d only been in from work for about ten minutes. I was telling him about how much I hated driving the hotel shuttle van, how I’ve always hated driving and always would, when he started this bullshit. “You told me that it would be a sure thing before you moved! I need my independence, [Arkady.] It’d kill me to be in the middle of bumfuck, hoping I’ll get a ride in time to bring home a goddamned paycheque! How do I know you’ll even answer your phone?”
It was an open secret that Vali always got rides everywhere he went. Arkady and I had to choose between walking and riding the bus, but somehow, Rowan always found time for him. Fucker’s never even seen a Rochesterian laundromat– Rowan took care of that, too. The rest of us had asked and been told to fuck off. I mean, told that Rowan “didn’t have the spoons.”
But in this odd moment, Arkady seemed to have forgotten that. “Xanthe, when have we ever not answered your texts and calls?”
I stared at him. “Um. Last weekend?”
“Yeah, but that was the only time.” That glaring flaw in his theory was dismissed so easily. Arkady seemed annoyed with me for even having brought it up.
Anger was bubbling in my gut– I suppose I should have just shut up, or changed the subject. If I wasn’t me, I suppose I would have. “Did you manage to make a cup of tea for me, like I asked?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Fuck off!” He stormed out of the kitchen, leaving me there to enjoy another fruitless night alone. I’d given up Savannah to never feel alone again, yet the hollow pit in me was quickly being turned to bitterness and more loneliness. We were supposed to be spending time together, but that clearly wasn’t happening.
I pulled my phone and texted him.
I was frustrated. Frustrated about being nudged out of the life I had fought for, frustrated that expressing this feeling caused such vitriol. I was texting on the couch, already having Netflix queued, hoping Manny Bianco and Bernard Black would keep me company if no one else would. At some point in the argument, I heard a thundering down the stairs.
Arkady was running down the stairs, movements crackling with rage.
I froze on the couch, phone still in my hand. I was struck instantly by a terror that was mine and wasn’t. I was consumed by the sudden notion that he was going to hit me; or worse.
And he really didn’t do much better.
He thundered around the edge of the couch and crouched down in front of my face, as if I wouldn’t hear him if he weren’t at a safe distance. “You don’t get to talk to me that way. Ever!” he seethed. His voice started out raised, but then lowered until it was a hiss.
At this moment, Rowan had heard the quick movement through the house and crept down the stairs. “Hey… Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine!” Arkady called as my brain imploded. “We’re just talking.”
I curled on the couch, choking out a sob. My thoughts were fragments of terror and betrayal. All I could really make out of what seemed to be my thoughts but not my thoughts were, “Not him not him not him, can’t be him, he’s safe, this isn’t safe, not safe, I’m SCARED I’m sorry I’m sorry please be safe again I love you I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’M SORRY.” I started actually speaking it, too. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry–”
All traces of anger and resentment were gone. I could only feel fear. Tears streamed down my face. I was crying. I’d only learned to cry last year, but now, I couldn’t stop the tears. I was hyperventilating. He was still speaking to me, in that harsh, searing tone as before. After an excruciating few minutes, he softened his tone. It seemed to take so long for him to see that I wasn’t in the state to continue to argue. Maybe it only felt that long. He started stroking my cheek, and hair. I was being pulled into a hug. I was shaking so violently that my teeth chattered.
There was eventually some sort of apology murmured. A promise to talk, as Arkady finally recognised the state I was in. The inability to debate is practically a death rattle for me; it’s a shame that he didn’t realise sooner.
I suppose we had some reconciliation. It’s something I never wrote about and don’t remember.
But this only strengthened the notion that I wasn’t meant to exist here. That I was in the wrong timeline; a damned one. A horrifying one wherein safe was frightening and everything good was only there to be taken away again.
But– there was hope on the horizon. After all, I was planning an elaborate New Year’s Eve party. New Year’s was my favourite holiday. And even-numbered years were always lucky for me. Clearly this was just 2019 trying to get its last licks in.
My New Year’s Eve party was going to be brilliant.
It was going to be the year where everything went right.
(Disclaimer: Around this time begins the failed integration. While I know the events above happened, I may have gotten confused at which argument it was that he yelled at me for. I did look through chats and journals and didn’t see an alternative, so this is my best guess. Though I do my damndest to be a reliable narrator, trauma likes to obscure the worst moments of my life. How inconvenient of it. Everything above DID happen, though. In which order, I’m unsure.)