[Trigger Warnings: Ableism, internal transphobia, cancellation, mental health shaming and discrimination, non-acceptance of systems, addiction, gaslighting, weak accusations of Nazism, suicidal ideation.]
Autumn of 2019: Lento’s.
Rowan and I had a planned metamour’s date at Lento’s, a popular and extravagant Italian restaurant in Rochester’s NOTA district. I remembered, distinctly, that we were leaving the house when Rowan said, flirtatiously, “Maybe I can… buy you a drink.”
This actually wasn’t a malicious moment. We’d both had a healthy back and forth with the feigned flirting. Well, maybe it wasn’t all that healthy, since I might have been the only one feigning. “Maybe you can–” I began, mimicking their seductive tone. “–buy me several.”
They slapped me playfully on the shoulder, called me a brat, and then we were off. And gods, I needed that night. AJ had been raging most of the month about… uh… the mentally ill and the existence thereof. And I’d been recently struggling with the thought that, huh– I actually have plenty of narcissistic symptoms. After years of frustration with the same basic three arguments, my knee-jerk instinct to try to defend my partner was cracking in about… one cocktail. “Can I vent about AJ for a moment?”
“I figured you needed to,” Rowan admitted. “That comment section was, uh, pretty tough to read as someone with Borderline,” they said pointedly.
I didn’t need an invitation. “I can’t believe the hypocrisy!” I scoffed. “As someone who’s deluded into thinking their twink-ass looks like Kim Kardashian and literally has multiple vitriolic meltdowns because of it, they’re really going to sit there and judge massive groups of strangers? People on the schiz and psychotic spectrum are far more likely to be abused than to abuse. Like, really, AJ, you talk shit about delusional people but you think smelling like onions scientifically means you have the most feminine body shape on the planet? Really? You want to talk about that?”
Rowan nodded empathetically, then glanced down at their glass. I remember that whatever cocktail they’d ordered was in a teacup. Or maybe they’d just had tea and I’m an alcoholic, who knows. “Xanthe, can I ask you a question?”
They didn’t need to voice it aloud, but I’m not one to assume. “Go ahead.”
“Why are you still… dating them? I mean, especially with how they are about gender, I wouldn’t be able to stand that. Especially when it came to living with them.”
“Oh, I could never live with them either,” I said quickly. “Even their last trip in Savannah had me anxious to put them back on the plane.” It didn’t help that our last date out in Forsyth Mansion had dissolved in a mental breakdown and allusions to suicide, dimming my once fond memories of the place with viscous helplessness and dread. It’d said something that Arkady’s presence left me blissed out and dreading his departure, whereas AJ’s tended to make me tense and counting down the hours. But that’s not something I’d say aloud. “With everyone, I sort of think of it as a matter of pros and cons. With AJ, the pros still outweigh the cons. Though it’s, ah–… been a close thing, at times.”
Rowan’s mouth was spread into a thin line, as if they were watching someone trying to make their way up an icy driveway in flippers. “I’ve noticed. And it seems to be the same arguments again and again… They sent me this picture of themself, of back before transition, and they were wearing a black and white striped bikini.”
I was nodding emphatically. “I know the one!” It was one of AJ’s bits of ‘proof’ of that loathsome ‘femininity’ they kept bemoaning. It backfired so spectacularly that the photo left most baffled and asking AJ if they’ve seen a therapist. Then, suddenly, AJ would be taking to Facebook and yelling about how everyone assumes he has dysmorphia.
How dare they.
“Yeah, and they were like… wanting me to see curves that just… weren’t there. And I’m thinking, ‘If AJ considers themself too curvy to be seen as masc, what does that make me?’”
Somehow, in this conversation, my second cocktail had disappeared. I flagged down the waitress, somewhat desperately, for a third. “Common complaint,” I admitted. More than a couple have texted me, saying, ‘I’m sorry, Xanthe, I had to unfriend your partner–’ “You know, I’d really love for them to have another partner to vent to. Maybe they could eventually move here, but then they could rely on a whole group of friends rather than, you know. Me. I’m not meant to be anyone’s pedestal. It’s too easy for it to turn into a burning stake.“
Rowan’s brow furrowed into concern, watching me run my fingers through my hair. “Yeah, no offense, and I hope they get out of their shitty situation… But if they ever move here, it’d be really hard for you to deal with AJ by yourself.”
Flash forward to one year later:
Rowan has always been well-aware that AJ was detrimental to my psyche. The more I look at all of the past conversations and texts, the more I realise that Rowan had never intended to have AJ as their roommate. They intended to have AJ move here as an affliction upon me. I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but hear me out.
It’d serve two purposes. One, financially cripple me and make me unable to house Arkady if he came to his senses needed an escape. Two, drive me to destitution, suicide, or both.
And I have to admit, the disgusting notion of using another human being like that aside, that’s a pretty solid fucking plan. As was taking a huge chunk out of my unemployment money by kicking me out, just in case I ever thought it was feasible for it to last as long as I needed it to. Thankfully, the 15th came soon enough and I ‘moved in.’ That phrase is in quotes because I essentially rode to the apartment, let myself in with the long-awaited key, and looked around at the despairing emptiness and the lack of electricity. RG&E wasn’t due to turn on the power until later in the week. I hadn’t been able to retrieve the majority of my things from Crosman.
Standing there, dripping in sweat and staring out my front window to the street, I pulled out my phone and called Affinity House. The rude man from the other night didn’t answer– instead, it was someone actually helpful. They told me that they had a bed and to come on over.
Affinity House was a pleasant and bizarre place. It’s essentially a softer form of checking oneself in. One big downside was that no drugs or alcohol were allowed on the premises, but I also figured my liver could’ve used a break. I only partially remember checking myself in– sitting in that front office as the Affinity worker wrote down my unique, life-altering problems on a clipboard. “Alright,” he said. “Have you given any thought to your WAP?”
Goddamn me for having heard of Cardi B before this conversation. “I-I beg your pardon?”
“Your Wellness Achievement Plan,” he said, motioning to my welcome sheet.
The entire place was a large, clean house with two winding stairways and at least ten different bedrooms. The bedrooms all had locks and you had the key– your things were not subject to search. Mine was Room 8, which was objectively the smallest room. I was given a small basket of toiletries. There were also common areas– a kitchen, a living room, dining room, four or five bathrooms, a ‘zen’ room which somewhat functioned as a study. That room was my personal favourite.
People in Affinity House were as easy to avoid as they were to seek out. It would have been ideal if it weren’t for the lack of wifi.
In an uncharacteristic move, I was actually keeping the body’s mum informed. She was showing a good amount of worry and despite her nasty history with Arkady, she actually hadn’t started in on the ‘I told you so’ avalanche. No, she’d wait at least a few months for that.
“Yeah, I, uh… decided to stay at this mental health halfway house. Just for a while. It’s free, so…”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. I probably could’ve sensed something interesting about to come out of Mum’s mouth. After all, the two types of mental health she thought existed were, A.) ‘Oh, that poor soul. I hope the facility will be able to take care of them for the rest of their life’ and B.) ‘Everyone does that, why do you need a word for it?’ “I guess I didn’t realise that this affected you this bad.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. It…” Destroyed me. “It really messed me up.”
Mum sighed. “Well, I’m sorry this happened, and I know you were excited about living in that house, but when you’re four people and all you have in common is being trans and being on medicine to change your gender–”
“Mum, no.” My accent even slipped there. Whoops. “[Arkady] and I had everything in common. He’d even dated someone that was a lot like Kirra.” Mum actually did know about Kirra. I’ve told her before that Kirra had broken my ribs but Mum’s main beef with Kirra was that ‘Her hair was down to her ass!’ “We had similar childhoods, we loved the same films– he even liked Darkwing Duck, for gods’ sake. We had the same sense of humour, we had a matching petty side. Like, it was like nothing I told him ever weirded him out. We finished each other’s sentences. Like–…” Now my suffering was his favourite soap opera. How did this happen? How the fuck could this be happening?
I closed my eyes, trying to hold the memories at bay. Mum gave some vague apology and I zoned out through the rest of it.
Okay. I’ve got the apartment, I’ve got air conditioning. If my stray cat ass wandered down at around the right time, I even had free food. The next five days were taken care of. That was my base level of needs in my personal pyramid– the next level was venting on Facebook. I’d mentioned how the $45 I’d given up for groceries essentially paid for nothing, as Rowan used the funds to buy groceries ‘for the house’ before kicking me out of said house. The post was filtered, set to friends only, etc.
Of course, to someone who pilfered my journals, that was merely a trifle.
I went through my Facebook for any more friends that might have been Rowan’s mole. But of course, Vali also had a rather large Facebook following and since I was blocked, I’d had no way of knowing who the mutuals were.
And I wasn’t going to let them intimidate me out of my entirely justifiable bitching, especially when the spying was just making me moreso irritated. Nothing like a homemade Office meme to boost morale!
I posted this and someone commented something to the effect of, “I want to curbstomp whoever’s spying on you!”
And then Rowan called me a nazi.
I google’d it and, sure enough, the phrase that someone else in my comment section, who had no knowledge of Rowan’s alleged heritage, had fucking Nazi connotations. So, I was the nazi.
I was amazed. They must’ve googled every single verb and noun in my comment section to try to cancel me. No one knew that off the top of their head. So, I decided to be the most passive-aggressive diplomat I could be, with all the grace NPD had to offer. I put out a PSA to educate everyone as to the term, then addressed the comment thread itself, should Rowan continue to feel their life was threatened about the 5″3 commenter posting from California.
It was frankly insulting that the mastermind for ruining my life could also be so undeniably pathetic.
This, of course, sparked another argument wherein Rowan denies having knowledge of a mole. So, evidently, my statuses were being uploaded to them by Unseelie telepathy or some bullshit.
On the 18th, it was moving day. The household had agreed to vacate the premises by then, which left me free to gather my belongings without being harassed. At least, in person. I’d paid to rent a moving van but after being generally traumatized by the [HOTEL REDACTED] brand shuttle van, I’d decided to ask Charlie to help me move in exchange for at least lunch and perhaps some money as well. I remember we’d haggled on where we’d pick up the Uhaul. There was one close to my new apartment, but Charlie veto’d that. “I’m not comfortable leaving my car parked in a neighbourhood like that. No offense.”
The move itself was a blur. There was a nice desk that I had to give up– it was heavy and I couldn’t see it coming up my stairs. It also took way longer than it should have because in the two weeks I should have been organizing and putting everything in boxes, Rowan had, you know, made me homeless. Not only that, but AJ had been sending more than half of all of their worldly possessions by Fedex and it was left in a pile in the study, along with the two suitcases.
I walked past the pantry, which had been mostly cleared out. Mostly. Along with a note that simply said, ‘Xanthe’s food’, I discovered that my $45 contribution to the grocery fund had transformed into two boxes of spaghetti and salad dressing.
I just left it. I probably wasn’t in the position to refuse food, but I was honestly too insulted.
Speaking of food, the Uber Eats that I’d ordered on the worst night of my life was still in there. It was a salad that had been left to rot in its container for over half a month and what remained of lobster bisque. So, these people were willing to go through my bedroom and have a group reading with my journals but didn’t even have the sense to throw out obvious rubbish.
The birds had made an absolute wreck of the room. Rowan had, of course, neglected to maintain the cage, resulting in droppings and seed casings all throughout the room. Even their water bowl was dirty. I’d estimated to Charlie that the move would take two trips– it actually took about four or five, including the half hour or so it took to round up my feathery friends.
“You really need to plan better,” Charlie chided in the car. “I don’t mind helping you, but it could help if you were a little more organized with this. I’m also going to need you to hustle more– I saw on Facebook that you’d updated your status during all of this.”
This was one of the worst parts about my recent isolation. All I had to depend on was the kindness of near strangers and I had no idea or reference of what they would or could do if I didn’t bite my tongue. But while I was being scolded like a middle schooler caught texting in class, I did feel the need to clarify; “I updated that status in transit. While we were in the car.”
Another thing that irked me was their reaction to my apartment. You know, the apartment that my alter had scrambled to find under the pressure of having to solely foot the bill for it for a number of months. “Wow, this is definitely a millennial apartment.”
But credit where it’s due, they did help. I had them drop me off back at Affinity Place that night. They were incredulous about that, but I had the choice of sleeping among boxes and emptiness and despair– or sleeping in a tiny, air-conditioned palace with a zen room. The decision was easy.
In fact, I was sitting in said zen room the next time I talked to AJ. “And then they accused me of being racist against the Romani– over something one of my Facebook friends said. I wasn’t even the one who said it.”
“Are they actually Romani, though?” AJ asked, not unreasonably. “Or do they just say that?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I admitted. “They also say they’re a fucking Faerie, so, you know. And [Arkady] used to tell me that they’d shush him whenever he brought up the Romani heritage in front of Rowan’s family, so, you know. Add it to the stack.”
We talked a bit more over the phone. I have to admit that I was fading in and out. Again, Affinity House does not allow alcohol. I did notice that I was playing Pokémon– generally, that’s not something you look down and vaguely realise you’re doing, but it was happening more and more. The save name was ‘Icarus.’ One question of AJ’s did capture my attention, though. “So, what does your therapist think about you having DID?”
I shrugged. “Well, considering one of the main reasons I started seeing him was because I had ‘fugue states’ and kept losing time, he says it makes sense. He’s never talked to any of the others, but I’ve always talked pretty candidly about my friends that I’m not sure exist.”
There was a pause. “What’s it like when you like… switch out? Like are any of them gonna try to talk to me, or…?”
“I mean. Historically, it’s been through mostly text. I was apparently dissociating and Aberle or someone would text someone from another account. I figure the most they’re going to do is– like, if I shut down, they might text you to say I’m not doing okay–”
“I don’t want them to do that,” AJ said quickly.
I blinked a few times. “Like, ever? What about Kaspar? You’d always wanted to meet them.” I wouldn’t have recommended that, but it seemed like a safe suggestion now that AJ was wanting to wash their hands of the whole business.
“That was before,” AJ replied sharply.
I sat with my eyebrows raised. My sanity was still precarious. What if I did become catatonic and Aberle could still text? What if I was triggered, shut down, and only an alter could reach out? Why was my partner– and soon-to-be roommate– just opting out of an entire daily part of my life? “Yeah. I’ll let them know not to contact you.”
“Pretty bold to assume that any of us would want to.”
I glanced at the general direction I’d heard Xhaxhollari from. He wasn’t visible. I held down the power button on my DS without saving first, showing him that two can play the petty game.
I could sense that he was not pleased.
On one of my last days at Affinity House, I decided to treat myself by going over to Magnolia’s. No sooner that I made that decision that, while getting dressed, I received a text from none other than Ethniu, one of my more scarce alters. “Good afternoon! Is Rochester still where you live? Sumire was needed for a meeting with Eastman and we’re here for the night. If you’re able, we should meet for a late lunch.”
These people were in my head but of course, they had to have an excuse to be visible in the area. Sumire was, in the inworld, a famed music teacher who also made musical instruments. Of course, his reason for visiting would be related to Eastman School of Music.
I remember it was an awkward thing to be seated. Would I ask for a table for three and just accept that the host and server were going to think I’d lost the plot? Should I say that I’m a single diner and watch as my table magically expanded? What would I do if I didn’t know I had DID? Was I fucking with it just by contemplating this?
I chose a happy medium by requesting a four top– citing my particular preference for a window view, but specifying that I was dining alone. I ordered a glass of wine; my first in three days, thanks to Affinity. It felt like a breath of life itself. I was free to drink off property, just not within it. Over the host’s booth, I soon saw the tops of those familiar heads. One with curly, short strawberry blonde hair and another one with black, sleek, long hair.
And thus, I was in a Park Ave cafe, seated across from two of my alters who didn’t know they were alters. The conversation started off quite pleasantly. Though Ethniu and Sumire weren’t frequents in my inner circle, they’d both proven themselves to be allies I could rely on when things got dicey on the other side. I was pretty grateful they were here.
They updated me about the details to their life. Sumire and Cecil’s marriage was still going well, the lucky bastards– the musician and the psychologist were teaming up to study the effects of music on a traumatized psyche. They were expecting a daughter, that they would later name Vesper. Ethniu had just published an article about a sort of ‘super Saturn’, which had a name of only letters and numbers. He and Moirae were split up again, for about the 12th time that decade. Then they asked me about my life, which I had to sum up since I didn’t have this blog.
“Sounds like a cult,” Sumire said, picking at his wrap. “Especially with how desperate they are about shutting down any attempts to keep those outside of the circle informed.” Sumire would know. I mentioned a while back in these blogs, but he used to belong to a cult led by Lakshmana, who could basically mind control people with speech alone. That phase of Sumire’s life led to him eventually being the only survivor of this group, the rest killed by an unwitting mass suicide or going insane after the event.
“It wasn’t, really. Not until Zara and Vali showed up,” I replied, regrettably still loyal.
Sumire tilted his head in a shrug. He didn’t know them enough to say. “Word of warning; that sort of damage will stay with you for life. Zoradysis never recovered her sanity after what had happened. There are going to be days where it seems like you never made it out. At least not in one piece.”
I finished my second glass of wine before replying. “Funny phrasing, that. I’ve… actually begun to wonder whether I might have Dissociative Identity Disorder.” I repeat, I was telling my alters this. “And– well, you know my theories about the two planes. I’m thinking that one of the two planes of existence might be in my head. I mean, still, utterly real in their own regard, but–”
Ethniu was nodding, as if he had been waiting for me to come to this conclusion. I was relieved that he seemed so willing to accept it, until… “Yes, I always have wondered about the particulars of your life. You have a friend whose given name is ‘Cotton’ that none of us have ever met whose presence saved your life on multiple occasions. And your spending your 20’s in a downtown historic inn always seemed a bit of a flight of fancy,” said the scientist whose given name was Castor with telekinetic abilities who was born in the 1500’s.
I’d grown stock-still, staring at him.
Sumire nodded. “Every story I’d ever heard of Savannah seemed dubious. And of course, this was when you were the loneliest. The Mansions with trap doors you’re somehow able to sneak into, the presence of speakeasies, dancing in fountains… I’ve also noted that you always seem human, in your stories. It’s always been interesting to me, but of course, I know more than most the urge to slip away from Alcaeus’ influence…”
For those new to this blog, everything they just referenced absolutely happened to my physical self. With witnesses and pictures.
Well, this wasn’t going the way it should. That’s what my mind would have been saying if it were not saying, ‘AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’ I was silent for a long time, fidgeting and shifting in my chair, until I finally said, “I-I’m sorry, gents. I thought myself equal to this conversation, but it appears as though I’m not. I’m still processing everything, I suppose.” I gave a shaky smile. My inner dialogue had devolved the screams into hysterical cackling.
Ethniu smiled gently, as if being gentle with the poor soul before him who probably has DID, something he couldn’t even imagine the burden of. Yeah, make that make sense. “I’d recommend going to see Audric about this. Not that Cecil wouldn’t also be more than capable,” he spared a glance at Sumire, who nodded to say ‘No offense taken.’ “But you two have a history. I’ve seen Audric before– he does quite well with empathizing with… well, erm, addicts.” Yeah, Ethniu and I were both alcoholics, though his preference was for lager. I somehow considered that an important distinction, as if my fancying champagne would spare my insides from all that ugliness.
I actually brought it up with my therapist, that night. The existential crisis as well as the idea of having Audric as a secondary therapist. “Well, I’m honestly less concerned about him being an alter than I am about him being your friend’s father,” he said, frankly. “But if he helps, he helps.”
Eventually, I was an official resident of my new apartment on more than just paper. It wasn’t all bad. The house had rooftop access, which I had long decided was a vital need. It was a lot of space for the price, which kind of made up for the fact that the floorboards didn’t even reach the wall half the time. There was a beautiful oak tree in the vacant lot next door. A few parks around, a Family Dollar within walking distance. And I could see a laundromat outside my window, which officially stopped being just a front about a year ago!
It took a bit to get situated, entirely. I spent probably half a week, sleeping on a mattress on the floor, digging my work clothes out of plastic bins. Then there was the matter of myself needing to order a microwave and a kettle. And then I had to go shopping for essentially everything else. I’d left most of my dishware behind in Savannah, you see, under Arkady’s insistence that “Oh, we’ll have everything you’ll need for cooking, you can just leave that behind.”
I do have to admit, I was excited for AJ coming, for them to tear open those boxes and fill the house with clutter that looked like it was from a Ghibli film. They had impeccable taste in decorating. Not only that, but think of us, taking Rochester by storm in our coordinated outfits and couple-centered shoots. Clearly, we’d only been kept apart all these years because our combined beauty would make the gods jealous.
Oh, my ego-as-a-defense function is still working. Good.
I hated the way it’d come about, obviously. I was daunted by the task of keeping us both fed and housed while struggling with the worst trauma I’d been put through and a whole new facet of my life revealed to me. But, this was AJ. AJ, who had been a catalyst in my decision to break up with Kirra. AJ, who I’d made out with in a trap door of a mansion. AJ, who sent me glitter bombs in immaculate wrappings on my birthday.
Surely, we didn’t always get along, but we did have a highly romanticized history to consider!
Plus, it was really either me or homelessness, so I at least had the advantage of comparison.
I’d also made scant progress in cleaning up my old room. Honestly, if given the opportunity again, I would have said ‘fuck it’ to the clean-up and left Rowan to deal with it. I’m not sure if I was interested in still playing nice or just jumpy about the idea of possible litigation. They were actually threatening to make me pay the deposit in my failure to clean, and considering I was never on the lease, good luck with that. The emotional toll was difficult, the house was sweltering, and– well, for someone who wanted me to sweep up so badly, you’d think Rowan would spare a fucking broom.
Essentially, I’d torn off a cardboard flap off the box and used that and my hand as a bit of a dustpan. The result was not ideal.
“Yeah, Rowan’s pissed that you left the room a mess,” AJ told me over the phone, with laughter in their voice. “They said it was trashed and I’m like, ‘I mean did you leave a broom?'”
It was definitely a dark time in my life when AJ was one of the few people talking sense.
It wasn’t too terribly long after I had everything packed that I realised that my sleeping bag and bed roll were missing from my stock. I had the brief, bitter flashback of Arkady and I in that camping store. “It’ll be expensive,” he’d warned me. “But you’ll go on plenty of camping trips with us in the future!”
I texted Rowan about my missing things and they agreed to drop them off at [HOTEL REDACTED.] Then with no explanation, I receive the following from Arkady:
All of this is happening when these people know that I don’t own a vehicle. Also, check the time, then the date. Rowan was privileged enough never to need the bus and Vali was so babied by their rides to and from work that he probably thought a bus stop was a strange species of lawn ornament. But Arkady, the redheaded stepchild of Rowan’s partners, rode the bus to and fro every day. He would know that on a Saturday, there would only be one bus (the 11:30pm) that I’d be able to take down to my old residence. And he also knew that this was the last of the evening, so he was forcing me to pay for an Uber or take my chances with porch pirates hopping away with about $150 worth of camping gear.
Absolute fucking dickery.
“Oh, I’m sorry, AJ.” I said, muttering through an entirely hypothetical conversation as I hauled my things off the porch of a residence I no longer lived in. “I can’t afford to give you gas money to your job interview. As it turns out, the fucking UNSEELIE FAE KING was too busy cementing their ass indent in Arkady’s couch to drop off MY PROPERTY THEY TOOK to the middle of downtown so I had to pay for a BLOODY Saturday night Uber!” I would later find out that Rowan had relocated to somewhere even closer to downtown than I was. They could’ve damn-near bowled my items to the hotel, but instead drove them in an opposite direction from my residence and workplace. They put in more effort to fuck me over than it would’ve taken just to give me my possessions back. This was almost impressive.
A closer look at the sleeping bag would reveal that the damned thing wasn’t even mine. Mine had blue and white interior. This was orange. They’d swapped it for someone else’s. Thankfully, it hadn’t been Vali’s. I would’ve been able to know the difference a block away. Otherwise, it would’ve had to have been incinerated. And of course, this camping gear would be all I would get back. My flashlight, my eating ware, accessories, they all kept. Easily $80 worth.
The next couple of weeks felt like brushing away the rubble and enjoying the view my razed nest left behind. I was able to decorate, somewhat. I actually set wifi up all by myself, which I was absurdly proud of. AJ had officially moved from Oregon and had been driving across the United States. They had a stopover in Iowa, to stay with their dad and help him with a house was either trying to live in or flip.
They hated their father, so I was honestly a bit baffled as to why they were lingering. But it did give me another two weeks to just… be. I took walks, I read, I played video games. Aberle was actually with me on one of these walks, taking in the neighbourhood with me. “The area’s not that bad,” he’d said, encouragingly. “I mean, it looks like there should be notes from ‘Your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman’ all around, but–”
“Shut the fuck up,” I laughed. Gods, would I even be able to hang out with Aberle inside the house? Would I have to take a wine bottle into a local park to drink with him? Would I be zoning out and answering a conversation no one else would hear while AJ live-streams it?
I had, however, told AJ to try to make it here for their birthday on the 11th. I didn’t want to even imagine their arriving mood if they had to tolerate their father on their birthday.
It was only a few days into September. I was in my new but now-familiar pattern of watching YouTube and playing video games to it. There was something comforting about deep-dives about cancellations, especially a cancellation gone wrong. It was part of the reason why my life of being a pseudo-celebrity felt so comforting. See, I could be like Rowan and exist in an echo chamber full of people I grew up around, Pavlov them to hiss at strangers I didn’t like, exist in a world where revealed abuse was just ‘dirty laundry.’ It was like a virtual suburbia.
But FB fame was more like a city where I felt I could get a fairer trial, for better or for worse. Where fact trumped history and people would test the logic of outlandish claims for their own entertainment. I liked that world.
At some point, I began thinking of Casey. AJ was on their way here. Weren’t they supposed to make a stopover at Casey’s? Weren’t they running out of time for that?
And I immediately struck with the feeling that something was terribly, terribly wrong. I felt a rush of panic, like when you’re leaving for vacation and you’re suddenly certain you left the stove on. Or when your credit card is missing after a night of bar-hopping. Or realising that you left a child in a hot car for, uh… six weeks.
That is kind of what the higher powers did to Casey in general, wasn’t it?
Details were rushing back to me. Accusations, a whole group against them, hypocris– No, that’s what happened to me, wasn’t it? No, it happened to them. Holy fucking shit, it happened to them too. Only weeks before it’d happened to me!
I whipped out my phone.
Xhaxhollari was beside me in an instant within that living room. I could tell he was startled, too. I almost wonder if that icy feeling was a glimpse of what he was feeling, realising something important to the system got lost in the mix. “I know, I know, just– There are some messages and chats you need to read through, first. You were ah–” Dead. “–out of it, at the time. Just, ask some questions and take caution, is all I’m asking.”
I stared at him. I felt vaguely insulted, but I couldn’t formulate why. He guided my hands and I scrolled.
It was almost like I was suddenly in another cancellation deep dive, only about someone I knew. And the allegations were dark. Essentially accusing Casey of everything but murder. They were startling, but–… “These don’t… make sense.” That wasn’t denial, that wasn’t loyalty, that was just common sense. I wish I could go into it with examples, but I’ve been requested to keep this vague. One of the accusations didn’t make physical sense with the layout of Casey’s house, for example. Some of the screenshots of Casey being an asshole were shown with one of the other roommates egging them on, as if this is what everyone was doing. So, why were the only one being lambasted? Even more damning, the story was that Casey had been keeping up this behaviour for years, but everyone who’d lived with them were just– cool with it?
Well. Cool with it until some romantic relationships had shifted.
Oh, this was familiar.
Something told me that this was a group of people who had spiralled in similar ways until they needed a scapegoat. “Any reason you didn’t tell me about this until now?” I was trying to find Casey’s FB, but it had been obliterated off the internet by their own accord. I was starting to get worried. What chance did I have if Casey’s cockroach ass hopped off this mortal coil? Christ, if I could just find like a fucking sign of life after all of that–
I opened the text thread and greeted them.
The text back was immediate.
I felt relieved. I essentially opened with, “I know you have your edgelord moods but some of those accusations just make no sense.” And they easily offered explanations. Toxic relationships, addiction, mental illness, multiplied by how many people were there. It was like math for me, at this point. And of course, Casey’s dark humour and dubious ability to go with the flow can lead to some convenient moments to put a more sinister spin on. As in, if I were their PR agent, I’d probably be screaming. Casey told me they were essentially treating this as a wake-up call, albeit a devastating one.
The first conversation was running until nearly midnight when we said goodnight.
“Did you ask them about any of the allegations?” Xhaxhollari asked, somewhat anxiously. He was visible beside me, wearing a flowy white blouse and black trousers, wings on full display.
“Not really. I figure it can wait until tomorrow. They’re essentially telling me what I already figured anyway.” I was being dismissive on purpose. I may have spent years being herded into and away from social situations, but I was quite new to knowing it.
“It’s nothing against [Casey.]” Here, he seemed sincere. “We’re in a particularly vulnerable spot. I’m just– I don’t want you to get into something with someone else just out of history…” He was trailing off, already realising his mistake. Someone else.
Oh, I see. I scoffed. “Tell me you hate AJ moving in without telling me you hate AJ moving in.”
Xhaxhollari gave me a levelling look. “I’ll say it directly, if you’d like.”
Damn. Angel boy wants to fight. “I find it actually hilarious that you’re criticising who I fraternize with when you had me unknowingly hanging out with my abuser for three years. And yknow, if AJ had never moved to Oregon, your castle of glass might’ve crumbled a long time ago, and we wouldn’t have been in this situation. That’s why you hate them being around.” Y’know, that might have been true. AJ’s no-filter self would have been taking me by the shoulders and going, ‘Um, hey, why is the ex who beat the fuck out of you your drinking buddy?’
Xhaxhollari rolled his eyes. “Do I need to remind you that you lived in this castle of glass? You’ve even crowned yourself king.”
“Oh, do not pretend this was all for me!” I snapped. “The household decided to cut me off because you had me so fucked up that I couldn’t even see that Apollo was my abuser this whole time.” I was now sitting up on my chaise. I noticed I was trembling, but couldn’t discern any emotion that wasn’t just simple adrenaline.
Xhax was standing. It actually gave me a petty joy to see his feathers flare. “Is that what you think? That that’s the reason?”
Xhaxhollari caught the uncertainty, there. He let out a short huff of amusement. “Well, make sure you don’t run out of wine.”
“Is that an alcoholism jab?” Talk about going for the low-hanging fruit. Though, take my wine away and my unstable ass may end up as some hanging fruit.
“Nope.” Xhaxhollari was already fading from view, like a condescending Cheshire cat. “It’s a word of advice. If AJ wants you sans the disorder, you’ll need to be drinking.”
“Oh, woe is me, then!” I said, bitter laughter threatening to cut up my words. “I’ll just have to drink!” Catch me following the doctor’s orders for a change.
Xhaxhollari was fucking ready for me, having already faded into a smarmy little echo with just enough time to get the last word in. “Not the first time they’ve driven you to it!”
W O W.
Okay, he did win that round.
But no, no. AJ living with me would be great! We’d been dating for three years, at that point. And what I needed was consistency, something that knew me too well to side with Rowan and their ilk. Someone who was already making fun of some of the claims.
And it was actually a relief that I had Casey back in my life. Worse for wear, as I was, but I was evidently one of the few that’d actually reached out to them after everything had gone down. And, hell, I actually had a long-awaited explanation for one of our more common arguments.
I told Casey I had DID.
It was actually a better reaction to my disorder than I’d gotten with—
Nope! AJ moving in was going to be great! But gods, it helped to fall back into Casey’s and my familiar banter as I worked at the front desk of the hotel the next morning. I was letting Casey know what trauma I’d recently suffered, and they were letting me know about the extent of theirs, which was essentially parallel in eerie ways.
I did ask questions, then, about specific accusations. Some had no basis in reality at all to the point where Casey seemed visibly confused. Others were half-truths. “Well, yeah, I was absolutely an asshole to this person, but I never actually–” Some were just taking advantage of mental illness and addiction, which– huh, sounds familiar. “I didn’t have the best grasp on reality at the time, but it’s not like they didn’t know that.”
In the end, their story just made more sense. No contradictions within it, open to questions, and they even provided photos of their side. “I didn’t know you actually had an addiction issue,” I’d said. Which was stupid, because my explanation was about to be, ‘I just thought you were on drugs all the time.’ “How long did that go on?”
“Seven years, give or take.”
I did the math. Nebula went dormant in 2012. I chewed on my lip at the desk, my hand poised on my Kindle, the other on my phone. That–… Huh.
I dropped the subject.
Casey, of course, wasn’t stupid. They remembered that AJ was supposed to have had a stopover but never did. Which brings up their next point…
I vented a while more about my situation. It became incredibly clear that neither of us were aware about how badly the other was struggling throughout the years.
Not only did I have a friend back, but Casey knew more system history than anyone alive. Or, more than anyone I preferred alive, at least. They knew the system back before there was even a me. They could actually serve as a keystone for my past. That, and my new blog had actually become therapeutic.
As for AJ and I? We were going to fine. Just fiiiiine. They were going to be here in just under a week, a day or so before their birthday.
And if we weren’t fine?
No one’s ever accused me of not being prepared.