Gilded Stagnation. (November-December of 2017)

[Depression, self-destruction, toxic friendships, self-harm, assisted self-harm, discussion of masochism, alcoholism, sex, brief mentions of suicide, misgendering. Anything in Italics takes place exclusively in the inworld.]

November 3rd, 2022:

I had to go. I had to see it. If only just once. Though now, the experience would be more like visiting a tomb. Specifically, the tomb of a relative you had good memories with, but soured your relationship before passing on and cutting you out of the will.

I’d been vacationing in New York City in April when I’d heard the news.

Forty goddamned years, I’d thought, music blaring in my ears I wandered down the busy streets, skyscrapers standing sentry on my internal meltdown. Forty goddamned years, this inn has been open, and you couldn’t even last a full three since I’ve been gone? Everything that had made me myself was slowly fading from Savannah, facets of my identity bowing out to erase me somehow. It made me feel distinctively unanchored.

Being back in Savannah now, unanchored was the opposite of how I felt. My surroundings were a perfect balance between surreal and familiar. They seemed to embrace me as I walked past. Especially as I walked down Gordon St., tracing the same path I’d drunkenly stumbled through countless times.

I walked to building 117, no longer owned by anyone I knew. The windows were open.

I peered into my old apartment. The apartment that I’d so coveted, so cherished. The floor in which Kirra had decided to fake a seizure. The latrine that was both friend and enemy after a particularly drunken night. The fireplace that once held my books and miniature guillotine. The closet that once stored all of my finery, that– Who the fuck is that?

I frowned, keeping my distance. There was a boy, probably almost a decade younger than myself, sitting at a desk and facing away from me. I scowled at the back of his head. Some asshole is in my flat.

I went upstairs, to what used to contain the inn’s dining room. There were no blinds and curtains on the windows and I could see uniformed workers setting a long table in the dining room. The very same dining room that I used carry scrambled eggs back and forth within. The decor was oddly white. What used to look like a budding antique store now looked like a mess hall.

I knocked, too softly. It didn’t get anyone’s attention. I knocked again.

It was a good thing I was doing this in Georgia. Pulling this rubbish in Rochester could’ve resulted in a bullet hole in yours truly.

I explained to a somewhat startled employee that I used to work and live in this very inn for almost seven years. I wanted to know more about what became of it, maybe be given a short tour. This obviously wasn’t a private home, why not show me around?

“You’ll want to talk to Tim. He’s in reception– in building 121, on the–”

“On the ground floor, yeah.” Where reception always was.

Walking into reception was jarring. It was the same layout– the same hilariously tiny banister to the right, the same random step down that one could almost miss. But there again was that pervading white. They’d painted the exposed wooden ceilings white. They’d painted– oh god, did they paint the goddamned brick fireplace white?

I might’ve phoned the police. “Well, you wanted to see the body,” Xhaxhollari said grimly in my ear.

I suppose that’s why people go to funerals. To see their loved ones one last time– there was peace in finality. Even the fireplace was a ghost of its former grandeur.

I did have a discussion with the new owner. The building was now a sort of high-end dormitory for some college or another. He was showing me pictures of some of the rooms he’d redone and… well, downgraded. “You probably recognise some of these,” he said.

“Yeah. That’s the Turkish Room. And that’s the Library. And the Master.” So white. Gone were so much of the exposed brick, the gilded decor.

“What room did you used to live in?” Tim asked, conversationally. Or maybe his name was Tom. Or Todd. Some sort of white male name.

“Oh, the ground floor of 117,” I told him.

“Oh, you lived in Room 101!”

The bronze nameplate of the Tea Olive still exists, but you can see the paper sign of ‘101’ stuck on there.

I held back a cringe. It’s the Tea Olive Room, you Phillistine. The Tea Olive, named for the tree at the other side of this goddamned building. He was nice enough to show me around, though. The courtyard hadn’t changed too much, aside from the walls marking it off from the owner’s house. “They still live there, you know. Nice people, [Molly] and [Sherry.] Just got back from vacation.”

This was news to me. I’d seen their vacation photos and thought it a hopeless endeavor to run into them during this vacation, thus hadn’t even bothered. “Well, thanks for showing me around, but now it’s time for me to harass my old boss.” Two minutes later, I was ringing the doorbell to a house that was left blessedly unchanged. I could still see the bookshelves, even the cats. Louise! Chloe! Sweet feline friends, tell me you haven’t forgotten me!

I rang the doorbell twice. Through the window, I could see Molly squinting at me in her pyjamas. I waved and smiled. “Keep in mind, she remembers you as American.” Xhaxhollari warned. Molly’s eyes held that familiar vacancy. It was clear that she didn’t know who I was, at first. Though, knowing Molly, she also might not know where and who she was. Finally, her face brightened with recognition She opened the door. “Oh, it’s– You!” She never really did get over me changing my name. “Hi!”

She invited me in for a cup of tea and we caught up. Her mum, the former owner of the inn, had only just left but Molly was there to fill me in about the fate of the inn. It was the pandemic, she explained. Months of hardly doing any business, not being able to hire anyone to tend to the few people they actually did have. It was a relief to hear that. I actually had somewhat speculated it’d had something to do with me, as if my move from south to north was so detrimental that it brought down an institution open since 1975. This meant that if I had stayed behind, my opulent life within the inn would’ve come to an end regardless. Oddly, it was a relief to me.

Maybe it’s my Narcissism, but there was something comforting about me having leapt off a ship bound for an iceberg rather than seeing it continue to sail smoothly without me.

I swapped some stories from my newer hospitality workplace. “–And of course, they tore up the cheque. Something in the system added another zero. My coworker goes to the GM and says, ‘I want a raise, I want what the new guy’s getting.'”

Molly looked surprised, even on the verge of laughter. “Wow, do they really think you’re a guy?”

And suddenly I’m reminded of why I moved from the south. She hasn’t kept up with my Facebook, so she was asking me about New York. “Well, it isn’t actually New York. It’s Rochester, about a six hour drive from the big city.”

“Wow,” Molly replied dreamily, “I bet your rent is really high, living in New York.”

Yeah. Yeah. This was a familiar conversational pattern. “Well, no. Where I live, Rochester, is a smaller city. I pay less than a grand for a two bedroom.”

“Less than a grand?” she exclaimed. “Wow, I wish I could live in New York for less than a grand. I bet you can find a lot of stores that sell the stuff you dress in! Do you hit up the fashion district often?”

“Well, Rochester doesn’t really have–” Good ol’ Molly. She didn’t even look different throughout the three years I’d been gone. Savannah always did feel like a luxurious purgatory, I suppose. A gilded stagnation.

Louise the cat was rubbing up against my leg. We chatted for a bit more for probably an hour or so, catching up. Despite being on my Facebook, she’d somehow missed public breakdown in 2020 and subsequent announcements about having multiple personalities, so I left that out of the conversation. She found it very urgent to let me know that the folks who had bought the Jasper House next door was a gay couple. “They even have a pug!” Molly crowed.

It was time to make my leave. Xhaxhollari had been so viscerally uncomfortable with this socializing that he’d awkwardly chewed through the skin on my forefinger. “I should come visit you sometime!” Molly said. “I’ve always loved New York City!”

I didn’t correct her this time. I was buoyed with energy as I walked down the sidewalk, back towards my familiar stomping grounds on Bull St., smiling with the thought of Molly obliviously wandering down Wall St. and shouting my name. Well, any of the three names she knew me by, at least.

November of 2017:

Asher hadn’t yet blocked me on Instagram. That was their mistake.

As before stated, my post-Asher era was a prime example of the interesting forms my Narcisissm can take. It was one of my favourite past-times to maintain some sort of open connection, looking for a post or a comment that I could fling a good zinger at. Every bridge had to be torched in the wake of my having the last word.

This was never actually worth it. This was a full two or so months that I would be scrolling through Instagram, their name searing dread and bitterness into me every time it popped up.

But finally, I had my opportunity. Asher was doing a series of their own Tarot cards. I believe it was the One of Swords where she’d illustrated a girl being stabbed with a sword through the back.

I’d been given a gift.

“#Same,” I commented.

I got some self-righteous reply back about how I had to stop making everything about me. Somehow, pissing off my ex was the highlight of my week. She didn’t block me, though. And I wouldn’t block her while there was still a point to be made, goddamnit.

That same week was my 24th birthday. My long-time readers may recall that a casual acquaintance of mine came over and pretended to be stuck in French-language mode. The party had started out with Will asking where Asher was and me replying with, “Who?” and it didn’t get any less pathetic from there. After the French incident, Will had left early and I was left drinking with Apollo. What I didn’t admit in that earlier reference to this time period is that Apollo and I not only hooked up, but I asked him to engage in knifeplay.

It was an awful birthday and I was going to end the night with some new cuts anyway. Why not ask for a little help from a friend? Or whatever Apollo was.

Our ‘vice-sex’, as I called it within journal entries, didn’t seem inherently unhealthy to me at first. Between my surrogate-level attachment to my workplace, my budding alcoholism, my romantic relationships, and my general grasp on reality– Well, comparison made it seem rather old hat. Of course, in the lens of retrospect that my ex was probably using my masochism as an excuse to hurt me, this was fucked up.

He wasn’t dangerous with it at first, but the fact that I started on the night of my failed birthday can clue you lot into the sort of mindset I was starting to fall into.

Kaspar, who was unavailable for my actual birthday due to work (or possibly to spare itself from my mediocre guest list), invited me to Prague for a ‘make-up’ celebration. I don’t remember if I’d called Kaspar the night of my failed birthday, drunk out of my skull to tell my tragic tale of woe and histrionics. But from its somewhat urgent reaction, I imagine that this is precisely what had happened.

We went to a bar in downtown called ‘Golden Times,’ which– I looked it up, it’s actually a real thing, right in the space I remembered it.

A vintage restaurant called ‘Golden Times’ definitely seems like something I’d just make up, but no, I’m just as surprised as you.

Kaspar, bless my dear Virgo, had arranged for a few of my close friends to join me for a night of Czech bar food and cocktails, which was all I really needed. Plus, with Sumire invited, it gave me all the more opportunity to plan.

The full convoluted history of my inworld monarchy is difficult to sum up, but for you, dear readers, I will make this sacrifice. King Alcaeus, the heir of the fallen empire of Atlantis, was the ruler of the Chaotics. He’s also Vex’s elder half-brother, with Vex’s father being the disgraced former king of Atlantis and Alcaeus’ sire being a literal Chaos God. (I’ve met him, kind of a prick.) Well, within this year, I became savvy to the knowledge that Alcaeus made a deal long ago with the gods to fuck over Vex and eventually Phisoxa and yours truly.

It was knowledge I’d been keeping in my back pocket. At the same time, Vex and I needed a Thysia shard from the soul of someone named Yreine. Yreine just also happened to be the girlfriend of Anifayre, who was basically president of the inworld’s “Kill the Clockwork Wretch” club. (Which, despite being unofficial, as a startlingly high membership!) I’d been forbidden by Alcaeus from even attempting, lest it begin a war. And also, apparently because of Anifayre’s gruesome science experiments with her own girlfriend, that Thysia shard was so embedded in Yreine that it would be fatal to remove.

And apparently cursing your younger sister for eons to save your own skin was A-Okay but me mercy-killing a spiritual lab rat to spare the same sister and myself from the curse was a bit frowned upon.

You can tell that despite belonging to Alcaeus’ people, I’ve never been what one would call loyal.

Essentially, my plan was to unveil this information publicly, which would spark a fight between Vex and Alcaeus, which would kind of be like the equivalent of Godzilla and King Kong having a tiff. That’d be enough cover for me to slip away and grab the shard. I was also planning on stealing the Chaos God’s sealed-away portion of his soul and give it to Alcaeus– a bit of an apology for putting his life at risk and a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the Chaos God of Wind. Of course, I’m far from the most intimidating entity in my inworld, so I was trying to squirrel away more powerful allies to cover me.

So, Tl;dr–

Sumire was one of them. “So, when’s the wedding?” I asked cheerfully over a Negroni. Sumire and Cecil had gotten engaged, which was a beautiful relationship that began when Sumire was assigned to be Cecil’s suicide watch. This is the second relationship in my inworld that started out that way.

Sumire raised an eyebrow. We were clustered around a fireplace, just casually planning a coup “January. In Sri Lanka. You know, you can just ask me about what I want in return.”

A fireplace which apparently ACTUALLY FUCKING EXISTED, WHAT THE HELL, BRAIN.

Fucking Capricorns. “What would you like in return?”

“Same thing you want. My ex out of my head.” He motioned to his skull. His involvement of Lakshmana’s cult hundreds of years had left the poor man with an internal gag order. Even after Lakshmana’s demise, Sumire actually could not speak on what happened without literally choking on his words. “I’ve heard stories of you, able to carve out memories and foreign entities from souls. It’d presumably dangerous, but with my life on the line, that’s my price. And it has to be done before.”

Dangerous was correct. I would end up succeeding, but not without a full month or so of night terrors and my own abilities glitching like a phone dropped in water. “So, you versus Anifayre– how would that work?”

“It wouldn’t. For long. Though, if she did know of my involvement, we’d have to ensure she wouldn’t survive to out me as a traitor, which is–…” Yeah, about as easy as killing a hurricane. He glanced at me. “I admire your cause, Xanthe, but I’m not willing to die for it.”

“No, no! I’d rather you not be,” I said quickly. “Half these suicidal fucks we call friends would be looking for the first sword to fall on, and that’s no good to me. I like allies with a will to live!”

Sumire regarded me for a moment before sipping his tea. He did partake in intoxication, but generally had to wait outside so he could smoke something. His ‘Asian flush’ prevented him from indulging in my favourite poison. “That’s something I hesitate with regarding you, really.”

I frowned at him. I was vaguely aware of some sort of commotion at the other end of the bar, something coming closer. “I’m not suicidal.”

“You even considering this says otherwise. And I’ve known people like you– I wouldn’t put it past you to see your own death as a strategic move if your goal is still achieved.” Sumire pointed out calmly. He was always somewhat intimidating to talk to– this fucker had been alive since the A.D. years were in the triple digits. It was easy to feel naive in front of someone older than most countries. He was also eyeing the crowd behind us, lowering his voice. “I’m going to go out and smoke. Enjoy your birthday. Oh, and–” he touched my shoulder, rising to his feet. “That isn’t a no, Zeitstück.”

I finally looked to see what all the commotion was about. Koji was arriving late, which was unusual for him. Even more unusual, he had a dead androgynous count walking behind him.

Phisoxa!

Koji’s birthday present to me, that year, was finding a body of a willing friend for Phisoxa to possess for the night. I was bloody thrilled.

Of course, Phisoxa and I shamelessly flirted the entire night. There was something remarkable about a Narcissist blushing at an equally Narcissistic OC that it’d built for itself and– now that I’m writing this, I’m unsure of which was which. I remember at one point, someone asked, “So, if you’re a Count, has Xanthe inherited your title?”

“Of course,” Phisoxa said, eyeing me with a glass of red wine in his long hands. “All of my finest works have a title, after all.”

Well, I’m swooning.

We, of course, kissed for the first time and hooked up for one of the only times that night. (Phisoxa’s grey-ace and I caught her on one of the only occasions she was in the mood.) He was actually flustered and sheepish at once– I remember that I had to find about four different times of wording it before the count understood that I was saying, ‘I am into you.’ It was actually precious.

There was something about having someone so infamous for being calculating and evil and yet still managing to get nestled into their soft spot. Or maybe I’ve grown up in the generation where all of the villains are brooding and queer-coded, I dunno.

There was a fair amount of negging and teasing from my friends the day after, who had apparently speculated on how my night went the moment Phisoxa and I had gone off for a walk.

“I guess it’s not exactly the same thing as banging your clone,” Aberle speculated. “It’d be more like if Frankenstein’s monster had the hots for Viktor.”

I lightly smacked him on the back of the head for that one.

“So, you have one partner in Prague, and one partner in this weird wonderland purgatory,” Sound observed, to which Kaspar said,

“I’m afraid there’s not too much a difference.” Upon hearing where Phisoxa and I ended our walk, I was treated to one of Kaspar’s patented scandalised looks. “In a church, Zeitstück? You’re an unmitigated cad!”

Vex, predictably, was who expressed concern. “I never mind what you’re doing in your romantic life as long as you aren’t getting hurt,” she said. “I’d just rather you not take too much direction from her.”

“Phisoxa has his demons, sure,” I admitted. “But it’s to be expected, given what he went through.”

“His demons.” Vex made a noise somewhere between a scoff and a chuckle, huddled in an armchair with a cup of tea. “See. Phisoxa never could defeat her demons. Especially by the end. She competed with them instead.” She looked up at me. It was always somewhat unnerving when Vex looked at me. I always had the vague notion that I couldn’t look directly at her gaze, as if she were a solar eclipse. “I have higher hopes for you. For the record.”

What’s really tragic about that is that I was currently in the process of plotting something that would demote me to pariah status.

I don’t recall much of the outerworld that month. I do remember, on the 17th, I posted on a Facebook friend’s wall. It was that chap from Rochester– Arkady. He’d been a frequent commenter and I usually looked forward to his witty input. I’d even find myself venting to him from time to time. To commemorate the fact that I’d, yknow, noticed his existence, I posted on his wall, “Happy birthday, my dapper friend!”

My pitiful birthday must’ve knocked me out for most of the month of November, for I was still within the inworld by the time November 29th rolled around. Phisoxa’s birthday.

The thing is, Phisoxa had quite the split reputation within the inworld, especially in the France and Germany region. On one hand, Phisoxa was a genius in mechanics and theoretical sciences, a brilliant composer, and his vengeance for his childhood crippled the church’s hold on Europe and shook the foundations of the oligarchy that had reigned for centuries. On the other hand, Phisoxa had a nasty habit of ripping people’s souls out of their bodies, and had done about… oh, three mass murders.

But still, Phisoxa had been told of the Thysia curse early on. She’d been the only one to resist fate, outliving the average Thysia’s lifespan five times over. When both the vampires and the Chaotics refused to let Phisoxa join their ranks, Phisoxa said ‘fuck it’ and alchemy’d herself into inhumanity.

Never had those centuries-old monarchs been so scared shitless over someone that hadn’t even lived past the 100-year mark. It was a thing of beauty.

Anyway, even given some of Phisoxa’s more admirable successes, not everyone was a fan.

On Phisoxa’s birthday, unable to once again retrieve the count from Phantasiae, Aberle had arranged it so that all of Phisoxa’s ‘fans’ would go out drinking together. I struggle to remember who all tagged along. I think it was Aberle, myself, Ethniu, Audric, Kaspar, Koji, and maaaaybe JaK. The evening started out with a bang– apparently a local had gotten wind of what we were doing and threw a bottle of wine at us, which narrowly missed Aberle’s head as we were waiting to get into the tavern.

My default appearance sort of makes me look like I’m cosplaying Phisoxa, so we weren’t exactly subtle.

What he’d shouted at me had been in French, so I asked for a translation once we made it to the bar. “Uh… He called Phisoxa an abomination and said he never should’ve been born,” Koji said, frowning.

Looks like Phisoxa’s birthday and mine were on the same trajectory this month. “Well. If Phisoxa hadn’t been born, I never would’ve been written. So, I take his point.” I took a shot of cognac to avoid Aberle’s frown at me.

It was about… three cocktails after that when Sumire and Cecil came by. Sumire, I could understand. He’d actually known the count. Cecil, ehh–…

Aberle expressed this before I did. “What are you doing here?” he’d asked Cecil.

Picrew rendering.

Cecil was… difficult. Objectively, he was a pretty fascinating person with laissez-faire approach to psychology and led a pretty successful life despite indulging in intoxicants and hating his parents as much as the rest of us. But he also, like JaK, was the type to turn a brief offense into an entire evening and perhaps near-death experience and I could just feel it coming.

Cecil lifted his rocks glass. “I’m here for the alcohol.”

Aberle narrowed his eyes at him. Normally, Aberle was one of the more friendly and social people of the inworld, but he had seen Cecil’s bad (i.e. Apollo-controlled) side, which included letting JaK know of what Koji said about him in his therapy sessions. “Don’t you, uh, have alcohol at home?”

Cecil regarded Aberle coldly. He finished the rest of his drink in one gulp, which impressed me, because it looked like straight brown liquor on the rocks. “Indeed, I do.” He donned his coat again– the sort with the patched-in elbows.

I caught the look on Sumire’s face and realised, wait, Cecil was an intellectual type. Did he mean to be here for the Impromptu Evil Scientist Fanclub 2017? I approached him before he stepped out the door. “Oi! Hey! Why’d you come?”

Cecil rolled his eyes, wrapping his houndstooth scarf around his neck. “A bit nosy this evening, aren’t you, my boy?” Here, he did pause to think about it. “Oh. Right, non-binary. Excuse me–”

I was already blinking with the lightning-fast realisation. See, I hadn’t been on hormones long at all at this point. I was still getting clocked as a girl as a default. But if he assumed I was a boy, it meant he might have read a novella about me. A novella where I am referred to in entirely male pronouns. A novella originally written by– “You’ve read Zeitstück?”

Cecil frowned at me, pushing the door open. A frigid breeze blew into the bar, bringing about some snowflakes with it. “I’d already exhausted his other work. Enjoy your party.”

I wish I could say that the exchange hadn’t put a damper on the rest of the evening, but it had. I was irritated at Cecil for not just saying he’d been there for Phisoxa and waiting to be offended. I was annoyed at Aberle for assuming the same goddamned thing I had, but being the first to say something. I was furious at the man who had thrown the bottle earlier and the splatters of Merlot it left on my white shirt. I was bitter that any attempt to celebrate fucking anything had to end in drama.

And also coming to understand that most that surrounded me– and all that truly understood me– were seen as monsters.

And considering my upcoming coup, I’d have a year, maybe two, before I’d be proving them all right.

The rest of our outing was somewhat a blur. I kept being asked if I was alright. The next thing I knew, Koji was putting a blanket over me as I slouched on a chair in Prosper’s townhouse. “I called Kaspar and they said they’d be calling in the morning. There’s a pitcher of water next to you. Oh, and I’ve got some aspirin, too.”

I frowned at him. “Was I bad?” As if people made a habit of tucking in their perfectly sober friends.

I don’t remember his answer. I was already back under.

I awoke near dawn to a familiar stream of music played by a piano. It’s something I would Love to show you lot, as if I could just drag and drop a file from my mind and let you listen to it. But it was one of Phisoxa’s melodies. I took some time to wake up, to drink the full pitcher of water and try to parse whether or not I was actually hearing what I thought I was hearing. Eventually, I opened the window, I turned into my white crow, and flew towards it.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Sumire seated at the piano, in Cecil’s apartment, next to the window. I perched on the window sill. Sumire didn’t even have to glance up at me to see that I was there. “Phisoxa always was remarkable for never learning to play an instrument himself but making wonderful sheet music,” he said conversationally. He was speaking in a low voice, since Cecil was apparently sleeping off his rough night on the couch. There was an empty bottle next to him and his shoes were still on. Apparently, the psychologist had felt just as shitty about tonight as I had. “This is one of my favourite pieces of his. My 18th century German is a bit rusty, but I think it’s about the oceans between one and everyone else. I figured that might summon you.”

I, still a bird, made a noise in my throat as a reply. I didn’t really feel like being in my humanoid form for this– there was less pressure to make an appropriate facial expression.

“I did like Phisoxa, you know. I was sad to see him go… Though impressed that Anifayre and her ilk felt so threatened that they ambushed him. Not even I have maligned her that far.” I made an agreeing noise, which made Sumire chuckle. “You? Give it time.”

Around that time, Cecil rose to a seated position. His hair texture was similar to mine, so the imaginative variety of angles was enough to cut the tension. I stood still, trying to be inconspicuous but– my crow was fucking white. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when he rose and poured some black tea. Three cups of it.

The usual result of my trying to be inconspicuous.

I was finally coaxed into looking like myself. Cecil and I actually got to talking– not really about what had occurred earlier, but Phisoxa herself. We spoke of Phisoxa’s ‘Pandora’s Music Box’ invention, which was essentially a Rube Goldberg machine arranged so that the piece in motion would create and repeat a specific melody. “I had one of my own, back in the Faroese islands. I tried to build a portable one, but they never ended up all that stable.”

When I suggested Phisoxa actually take a look at Cecil’s projects the next time the inventor decided to take a sojourn from the afterlife, Cecil actually looked sheepish.

That’s the thing about the inworld and the outer. People hear about all of my alters and, for some reason, expect them to be a team ready to help me out at a moment’s notice. But just as in the outerworld, there was pointless drama that had alienated me, some with biases against who I’d been associated with, and some actually intending to end my life. But because our inhumanity bonded us, we would come across each other again and again.

The inworld had plenty of people who hated me, but they were still around. Apparently, my brain felt that abandonment was much worse than vitriol kept in close quarters which… well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

Speaking of which, I continued to invite Apollo over. It was becoming more frequent for us to hang out, as he knew he could just get off a shift at work and walk two doors down to have free wine and a free (yet terrible) therapist. There was one night where he apparently overdid it and went on one of the more bizarre rants I’d ever heard from him.

“I’m so sick of everyone not getting how it is for me!” he vented. “Everyone else just wants to like… complete goals and die happy! They don’t get that all I want to do is to move, be happy, and die!”

I nodded slowly. I’d found a brand of wine that only went for $2.99 a bottle at Kroger. It tasted terrible, but still had a respectable strength. My only limit was how many I could carry, which was dangerous. “I don’t think I’m going to move,” I offered, not even trying to try to understand the stream of consciousness Apollo was spewing.

“Really? Sometimes I just– like… want to fill up my car, keep driving until my car dies, and just start a new life wherever I end up.”

I raised an eyebrow, thinking about the abundance of red states surrounding us. “Sure.” There was a pause. We were both too drunk for any reasonable flow of conversation and I think we may have had a few more rounds that are lost intoxicating memory. But finally, I said with a surprising clarity, “I’m going to die here.” And I felt it, then. This city, as much as I loved it, was killing me. The isolation, the fountains of alcohol, the stagnation, my toxic friendships.

Hell, my love affair with living in Savannah was yet another toxic relationship that could be added to the stack.

Savannah was killing me. And I’d actually stopped caring.

December of 2017:

My relationship with the inn was one of the more Freudian I’d ever had in my life, and I’m speaking as someone who’d just hooked up with their author. My readers will remember that I was taking extra shifts left and right just to avoid dates with Kirra. Then my job as the overnight innkeeper saved me from my rubbish apartment on 36th St. The place had never heard of overtime, holiday pay, Human Resources, or even OSHA, but they did praise me, which made my neglected ass light up like a fireworks display.

I may have used this photo before, but this is, in fact, me on a roof with twine tied around my waist. The potential liability probably kept Bill awake at night. And yes, the shirt used to belong to Neb.

Not only that, but I’d adored the previous owner.

I’d rather this blog not be traced back to this inn because my feelings on it are still complex, so I’m going to call the owner ‘Bill.’ Bill was an eccentric, bearded old man that hosted one of the largest libraries in Savannah and had his fair share of witticisms. We’d talked about history and literature pretty often. Once, upon learning I’d be spending Christmas alone, he invited me to his own family holiday dinner. He even bought me Twinings tea!

To really feed my Gatsby complex, he invited my broke ass to a Yacht party. A fucking Yacht party.

He did have to specify me to ‘dress normal’, but given that dinner, drinks, oysters, and macarons were free, it was no great sacrifice.

Me at said yacht party. Did I mention I went to a yacht party?

Once, the manager of the inn had even written Kirra a note, said that I would unable to be tormented– I mean, attending Anime Weekend Atlanta because I had to work that weekend.

So, these people did feel like the closest thing I’d had to a family. But then Bill died in 2015 and his wife, Sherry, had taken a more hands-off approach. Also, Sarah, my manager and drinking buddy, had quit and been replaced by Laura. The environment that came with these changes were less chaotic but moreso restrained. I’d actually been chastised by Laura for updating my FB statuses on my shift, saying that Sherry had seen it and it’d made her nervous somehow.

My gender identity, still closeted, presented its own challenges. See, I used to go by a shortened version of my deadname, but finally asked to be called ‘CL’ (my middle initials, some people still call me this) at the inn.

And this led to the owner’s daughter, Molly, introducing people to me like this: “This is [DEADNAME.] She changed her name to CL! And she likes to go by they!”

But there weren’t any real incidents that had shaken my faith in the inn. Until around Christmas.

I think this was about the 23rd when I’d been working an afternoon shift at the inn. We had a portable telephone so we could answer while leading guests around to show them the layout. Sans a computer, we couldn’t really do much, and most callers were understanding when we would tell them to call back in about ten minutes.

Mr. Robert Allen was not. “You’re away from the desk? Well, you need to go back to the desk.” Oooh, we’ve got a Grinch this year.

Anyway, this guest ended up being sent straight from Hospitality Hell. He was demanding, insistent, and would literally interrupt my advice to tell me he didn’t know what to do. He wrote a review about me, front to back on a page. Luckily, he’d also gotten into it with Laura and screamed at her, so she wasn’t all the way convinced that I was the problem. He even clearly had it out for me, asking Apollo the next morning about the ‘rude blue-haired girl’ the night before. Apollo, a trans ally on occasion, informed him there was no blue-haired girl that worked there. I appreciated it, but it really only made this man angrier. To add to the stress, he even hovered by the desk for a half hour, offended that we were treating him like a problem customer and feeling like Laura was ‘under the impression [he] was the type that liked to complain, and [he’s] not!’

He even tried to get me to agree that, “You don’t think I’m a bad person, do you?” Eugh.

He was so bad that I still remember his mundane name five years after the incident, and I work at a chain hotel that accepts locals. Like most other 24 year olds would’ve done, I vented on social media.

I wasn’t stupid. I did hide it from Sherry, Molly, and Laura, as they all seemed to be under the impression that privacy settings didn’t exist and that posting anything negative about one’s workplace was against the law. Even sans names or even the name of the workplace. The stupid thing, it could be argued, was friending them on FB in the first place.

Well, via other coworkers, Laura had gotten word that I’d posted about it. Instead of waiting until my next shift to chastise me or even ask what cautions I’d taken, she sent me a barrage of text messages on fucking Christmas morning. “Please take the post down immediately and refrain from posting about inn business in the future. You may vent in your own personal time, but in-depth accounts are inappropriate.”

So. I would later find out that asking employees to do this was illegal. But for the very first time, I felt my leash tighten. It was occurring to me in real time that this entity, this business, had given me my home and livelihood. And they could take it away if they didn’t quite agree with all of me. They hadn’t flexed power over me yet, but they certainly could. And hell, as much as I bent the lines between work and personal time, why couldn’t they?

And– I do see the pattern in this blog. When I felt awful about that, I tried to solve it with drinking and sex. Again. Someone on FB named Syd, a non-binary shiny that had been left alone for Christmas break, posted an open invitation to come over to their house for steak and wine. It was actually a delightful time. We shared similar opinions on how the queer community just tends to fucking eat each other in Savannah, and not even in the fun way. I’d also idly mentioned that I’d like to be involved in a triad– less pressure on myself, as I couldn’t function well outside of polyamory.

They flirtily mentioned that themself and their partner had considered bringing on a third. And I didn’t need another relationship, but I could certainly do with another source of validation!

After a lovely steak dinner, we went into Syd’s bedroom to watch a Korean film called the Handmaiden. And gods, I was not prepared for how homoerotic that film was.

Inspired by the cinematography, watching turned into cuddling, then I finally had the courage to ask, ‘Can I kiss you?’

Then it escalated quickly. We basically fucked like starved rabbits until curfew.

Though, given my curfew, I did have to cut it short. “I hate to be the asshole that dines and dashes, but I have a peculiar arrangement with my job.” There was definitely a particularly tragic feeling that came from hastily getting dressed while your fun for the night languished, still nude and pleasant to look at, on the bed. “I do regret that we ended up missing half of the film.”

“Well, you’ll just have to come back,” they’d purred.

I raised my eyebrows. “Deal.”

Ah, but it was not to be. Syd’s partner, on break at the time, had come back. After that, all communication from Syd to me ceased.

Said partner was friends with Buchanan, I would later find out.

This city was cockblocking me with a goddamned broken record. This city, once my shining, glittering mirage, was starting to suffocate me.

The question was whether or not I’d let it.