[TW: Infestation, bedbugs, dysphoria, toxic relationships, stalking, gaslighting, EXTREME dysmorphia, brief mentions of suicide, repeated mentions of mental health.]
Did AJ bring the bedbugs?
Learned scholars have debated this question since the time the bedbugs were first found in the mediocre Lyell-Otis property. And just to be very clear, bedbugs do happen, despite your level of hygiene or your skill at keeping house. Neither AJ or I would be a bad person if we were the unwitting source of this infestation.
However, with AJ blaming this phenomenon exclusively on myself in later months, it’s a question worth asking. Did AJ bring the bedbugs?
I’m honestly not 100% certain. The proof in their favour is that the apartment has absolutely had bedbugs before. A talk with the downstairs neighbour as well as checking the building’s history confirms this. But does that mean that the apartment had an active bedbug problem during the point where AJ moved in?
In a strange stroke of fate, bedbug bites are one of the few things that don’t tend to irritate my skin that much, so it is plausible that I may not have noticed. Gods know I was heavily in my head by this time. But– oddly, by the time we’d started treating our beds, my mattress had been largely untouched.
AJ, however, had spent months couch-surfing and sending boxes of fabrics and belongings from various locations. And perhaps the most damning evidence– they had a rash before they’d even moved in, as proven below.
My best guess is that AJ had picked up the bed bugs from one of their many temporary homes and the majority of the infestation made it into the boxes, which is how they weren’t seen in either the apartment or, allegedly, AJ’s car.
But we’re getting only a bit ahead of ourselves.
AJ actually arrived around 1am on their birthday, September 11th. It was raining outside when we embraced on the driveway. The kiss we shared was actually joyful. Despite the forced situation and the misgivings of my system, I was genuinely happy to see them. Since they’d moved from Savannah in June of 2015, I’d only seen them once in all that time.
I gave AJ a tour of the house, showing them the pros and cons of the place. The staircase? Absurd. The location? A bit sketchy but pretty useful. The restroom? Right off from the goddamned kitchen, for some reason. The living room? Spacious.
I had to work the next morning but more or less left them to it. After my morning shift, I’d had an outing planned. I would treat AJ to the Spirit Room, we would walk around to take in the sights of the Genesee River aaaand–
Gods, I didn’t even get through getting dressed without Xhaxhollari having to take over.
But he did go ahead and chug enough canned rosé (presumably while holding his nose) to summon me back. AJ was elated, posting about how this was one of the best birthdays they’d had in a while. They hadn’t even noticed my mental absence. Points for Xanthe!
One thing that made me nervous was AJ’s rash. Or, more likely, AJ’s catastrophizing about the rash. On my way out the door one afternoon that week, AJ was staring at their shin with a forlorn look, as if seeing a deadly diagnosis spelled out on their skin. “I think it might be MRSA.”
Can we have one problem at a time? Just one? “Keep me updated.”
Otherwise, the first week was brilliant. There was something comforting about having them in the same living room as me, chatting with me as we both watched the second season of Umbrella Academy. It was refreshing to come home to someone who didn’t outright despise me yet. As I predicted, the house noticeably improved with the unpacking of AJ’s decor. That, and AJ was rather happy to cook us dinner nearly every night, which I wasn’t saying no to. They even did my laundry!
“Here’s four different socks and none of them have mates,” AJ lamented, handing me my pile. “Take your bullshit to your room.”
Ah, Virgo love languages.
I do remember within that first week, they made some passing joke about Casey and why they’d never stopped over in Ohio on their way to New York. “Oh! I’d meant to tell you!” AJ and Casey had an established companionship years before and, though I didn’t quite understand how I’d let this entire incident slip, I was keen to set it right. “Remember how what was being said by their roommates didn’t add up? Well, I actually reached out to [Casey], and–…”
AJ did hear me out, even making the comment that, “Yeah, I did notice that they phrased it like [Casey]’s been doing this forever but they only had a problem with it recently.” After my explanation, AJ contemplated this and finally said, “Yeah, but I’m not going to talk to them, no offense. I feel like that whole explanation about their mental health is kind of a cop-out.”
Considering my state, I didn’t consider this a good sign. I’d texted Casey that day. “Welp, I tried.” They weren’t precisely heartbroken, at least. Not to be narcissistic, but I mildly suspected that the friendship was primarily forged to keep tabs anytime I’d blocked Casey for petty arguments in the past.
It’s also not like AJ’s and my previous issues didn’t rear their ugly head. See, a combination of AJ’s particular brand of autism and general refusal/inability to socially adapt to their environment had them a rough fit for any customer service jobs. They also needed somewhere temperature-controlled, who paid well, who overlooked an extremely discouraging employment history and somehow also relating to one of the skillsets they’d been educated in.
I remembered I’d suggested security as an interim, since the guards I knew at the hotel essentially played video games for eight hours and interacted with nearly nobody. I suggested it and AJ reacted with actual disdain. “I feel like you must not have that much regard for my career if you keep suggesting these weird things to me,” they said reproachfully.
I didn’t bother pointing out that I, a writer, was currently working a customer service job just to pay the bloody bills, but sure. Suggestions either need to be utterly ideal or it’s so far out of the question that AJ spends the next 20 minutes or so letting you know precisely why you should regret trying to help.
But otherwise, the first week nice, hilariously brief reprieve.
I woke one morning and walked out to the kitchen. AJ was seated at the table, wiry body tense, as if attempting to brace themself for giving a one person intervention. “Xanthe. I have something to tell you.” They looked at me. “Sit down.”
Oh, what fresh hell is this?
I did. Their hazel eyes met mine and they said, “We have bedbugs.” They pulled out a pill bottle, something I think had once housed their melatonin, and now held a tiny brown bug. I remember Googling bedbugs, to see what they even looked like. They looked precisely like the bug in the jar.
AJ was talking but I wasn’t quite hearing it. Bedbugs. Mum had had bedbugs before– one of her exes had left a small infestation in her studio apartment, back in the day. She was somehow relentless and fixated enough, powered by sheer anxiety, to get rid of this problem herself. I was panic-Googling, scrolling past articles of people detailing their nightmare infestation, looking up exterminators– none of which gave a price-range outright, which was ominous.
Remembering my mum’s plight with this, I called her and explained the situation. With her on speakerphone and AJ listening close, she detailed how she had gotten rid of her own infestation.
And. Y’know, in all of this panicking, it never occurred to me to just… look on the lease to see if such a thing were covered. I could strangle myself for that. Maybe my general distrust of landlords had blinded me. Maybe AJ’s catastrophizing infected me. Maybe it was the articles.
There was also the anxiety that someone who was not yet officially on the lease didn’t appear to be legally allowed to live there if they weren’t. And if the landlord sent someone to inspect the bedbug problem and found that I was harbouring an unapproved queer, that could cause problems.
But no matter what the reason, I could reach back and slap myself for not calling the landlord in the first place. What I did do, first, was call a local company and have them do a free evaluation later that week. Then they gave a price range to the tune of, oh… $700.
Fuck, mate. After what Rowan pulled, I already considered it a miracle to sustain us both until AJ got a job. This was going to kill us. “I’ll tell you what,” I said, decisively. “I’m going to look into other methods and companies and all that. In the meantime, if you do happen to get rid of them yourself, I’ll give you $300 towards your bedroom furniture.”
This actually made sense to me. If the going rate was $700, the AJ method would be only a bit less than half. And if anyone was meticulous, obsessive, and anal-retentive enough to getting rid of bedbugs, it’d be fucking AJ. And that under the instructions of the body’s equally-anxious mother.
That night, I stopped by their room and leaned against their doorframe, prepared to give them comfort and light in the only way I knew how. “Alright, AJ. Love you. Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don’t let the–…” It took a second, but their maligned look had me cackling my way to my room. (They laughed too, for the record.)
The next week was spent paying for my idiocy. I’d just sort of given AJ my unemployment card and had them procure what they needed. I felt frozen by the crisis, unable to think. Even Xhaxhollari had gone silent in sheer distress. The next several days were spent coming home from work to see the house in another state of misery. Beds? Covered in a white, plastic casing. Clothes? Bagged. Decor? Back down and stuffed into plastic tubs.
It looked like a hoarder’s house had been briefly transformed into a hospital.
We also quickly developed the habit of picking up rubbing alcohol and spraying everything down with it, as alcohol repels and even outright kills bedbugs. “That could explain why they’ve left you alone,” Aberle had suggested brightly when I’d vented to him about it on the phone.
But at the very least, AJ was initially taking the crisis better than I had expected. They posted a novel of a status, but my mention within it actually had me feeling warm and fuzzy.
Within the same post, they’d made an odd reference to the landlord that completely baffled me.
See, Xhaxhollari and AJ had only had a brief conversation about the recycling bins. AJ had asked about recycling bins and Xhaxhollari, filling in for myself, had to inform them that we didn’t have any. Speculating where he could get them, he’d made a passing joke, saying, ‘We could always sneak over and use the neighbour’s.’
And somehow, this translated to AJ’s calorie-starved brain as, “The landlord absolutely told us to rob the surrounding houses.” After reading this within that novel of a status, Xhaxhollari decided to touch base.
Healing seemed like sort of a lost cause, but I was still trying. A familiar acquaintance on Facebook that I’ll call V had a psychology degree (a real one!) and she wanted to offer free counselling. She was near my age and also trans– I’d even seen her posting to affirm the validity of it/its pronouns, so it seemed ideal. Wayne and V, along with Audric, were all counselling me once a week each. I was also hoping to scope V out for AJ; they’d been searching forever for a trans counsellor.
Gods know I needed the extra help. AJ had actually stayed in contact with all three of my former roommates online, which set me on edge. But I did have this odd, stubborn hope that perhaps AJ would remain as a sort of bridge between myself and the Faerie House, maybe pay witness that I’m not this master manipulator and spread the word to what used to be my “family.” Or maybe the cult would wake up to the impossibility of the situation they’ve put me in and, I dunno, use some of that fabled empathy they said I was so devoid of.
Instead, for some reason, AJ absolutely took it upon themself to pass along whatever abuses Arkady was posting about me. Which, obviously, made me feel as if I were being stabbed each and every time. “[Arkady] posted something petty about you today. Something like, ‘The only thing my ex hasn’t fucked is off.'”
I’d raised my eyebrows. “And Vali, unlike the rest of the house. I suspect that was part of the reason I was voted off the island.”
I still wonder how many times Arkady had to shower to get the putrid remnants of Vali off of him.
Another night, AJ told me, “[Arkady] posted this thing about how they deleted all of your nudes and said, ‘I can only hope my ex did the same.'” AJ glanced at me out of the side of their eyes. “You did delete them, didn’t you?”
I scowled at them, insulted. “I never kept them.” Arkady had body issues– it seemed awkward to just keep a photo album of what would ultimately stress him out once the hormones wore off.
AJ also told me of how Arkady was mocking how I’d never gotten published, though I can’t recall the exact wording of this one. Either AJ failed to give it or it hurt enough that my brain crumpled it up and left it rotting in the bin. I’d made only a shaky comeback of how, “Hey, at least I finish my novels.”
“It’s really not good for you to have to hear this,” V told me over the phone. “I think it’d be a fair boundary for you to ask not to hear what they’re saying about you. Otherwise, they just kind of get to bully you from afar.”
Not willing to address AJ directly, I put out a general PSA on my profile not to tell me bloody anything. The household was posting obsessively about how I was undoubtedly stalking them, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Everything to do with them felt like a gut punch– not even my NPD could override that sickening fear.
Finally, near the end of September, I was starting to write on this very blog about the household.
I was shockingly nice, choosing aliases for nearly everyone, generally based on their middle names or the month they were born. Vali was March, Sage was Asra, Rowan was Elias. Rowan, as desperate as they were to be seen as ‘a good person’, couldn’t allow their middle name to be associated with–… well, what they did. After my first post, they reached out to me to change it.
And I just… did.
I have to be honest, I’m strongly tempted to edit out how weak I was. How conditioned. I even compliment their haircut, for fuck’s sake. I want to burn my lips off for the level of ass-kissing I graced them with, just as a bloody knee-jerk.
This wasn’t Rowan’s only attempt to control the narrative. Far from it. That same week, Wayne began our phone therapy session with quite the opening statement. “I received a call from Rowan this week.”
“Are you fucking serious?” I was sitting on the roof for a bit of privacy. One of my neighbours had taken to yelling, ‘Don’t jump!’ to which my reply was generally, ‘Don’t tempt me!’ “What’d they say?”
“They said they were concerned about you. They weren’t really aggressive at all, just nice and polite.”
I scoffed. “Vali and Arkady must not have been around.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured. They were saying how they didn’t think that your grasp on reality was all that stable and that I should keep you in mind while talking to you.” There was actual laughter in his voice. This was the wryness of a man who had seen some Faerie-related screenshots, via yours truly.
Oh, yeah, Rowan. He’d already known.
My jaw dropped. “The Unseelie King told you that?”
Wayne chuckled. “I didn’t tell them that I knew about that. Just thanked them for their input and ended the conversation.”
Gotta be honest, as horrifying as this was, the mental image of Wayne, fully knowing of Rowan’s land of make believe, pretending he was entertaining this blatant attempt to gaslight me was kind of hilarious.
It took until about September 29th for me to actually consider, hey, what if an exterminator would be completely covered by the lease?
By jove, it was! New plan: Throw AJ on the lease, then ‘discover’ the infestation. We’d have to cover up signs that we’d tried treating it, but hell, this meant AJ– and by extension, myself, was off the hook.
In the meantime, just do what we could as long as it was easy to cover up–
Oh, no. AJ was actually covering the entire house in Diatomaceous earth. See, Diatomaceous earth was effective in killing bed bugs and pretty harmless, when… used properly. What you’re supposed to do is dump the powder over one small area like a carpet or piece of furniture, leave it for maybe 30 minutes at best, and then vacuum up both the dust and hopefully the dried-up bedbug carcasses. What AJ did–
What AJ did–
–was cover almost every single room in a layer of it, then just… leave it. For us to breathe in. For months. My lungs still whistle when I laugh, in case you’re wondering. Diatomaceous earth is harmless in small doses, not harmless for people to live in for the foreseeable future. They’re actually microscopic fossils that can slowly cut up lung tissue, which is fun.
“Hey, would you mind vacuuming the dust up?” I’d asked tentatively, after the number of business days it was taking for this to bother me. “It’s been like… two weeks and you’ve been added to the lease. I was thinking we’d ‘discover’ the problem and just leave it up to them.”
“Yeah, but I feel like the landlord is just going to fight us, and I’ve already done a lot. I’d rather just do it on my own. I’ll vacuum it up when I have time, which I don’t have a lot of.” It didn’t make sense for me to accept this. Why would I continue to let AJ buy supplies, with my money, just to pay them later on down the line when the landlord was contractually obligated to take care of it?
A lot of people have since asked– “Why did you not just call the landlord anyway?”
Simple answer: I shut down.
Between my recent trauma and the new stressors, I was mentally in a foetal position. I felt like I was floating through scenes rather than living in them, only able to choose from set strings of dialogue. Though, with some of the more jarring comments and questions from AJ, a more elaborate reply was usually baffled from me.
“Did you use she/her pronouns when talking to the landlord about me?” They sharply asked me, one day.
“No?” I squinted at them. “Why, did the landlord call you that?”
“No, I was just wondering.”
Why the fuck would I misgender you to the landlor– okay.
I also was vaguely catching– and slowly processing– AJ’s more worrying comments. “There’s a lot of couples that even get divorced because of bedbugs.”
I was only foggily aware that this wasn’t the first time they mentioned that. In one day.
There was also the fact that dealing with the problem was clearly showing signs of stressing them out. “I almost confronted [our downstairs neighbour] when I saw her out today,” they said, as a way of starting the conversation. “I wanted to go up to her and be like, ‘So, how long have you had bedbugs?’ And do you notice a lot of our neighbours are like, always throwing things away on the curb? I bet this whole block has it.”
I did try to help them. They were starting to complain about the amount of labour this was taking, despite turning down my idea to just leave this up to maintenance. I tried to help one day, by hauling trash bags worth of clothes down to AJ’s car for their near-daily washing for bug preventing. One of the bags ended up torn and therefore, I was inept and not allowed to touch anything bug-related. No lords or dandies; AJ would handle all of it.
A lot of the time, AJ would essentially shoo me out of the house. I have a Lot of pictures posted of scenery in that time. Pictures of autumn leaves and wooded trails that beheld the subtext of ‘I’d rather freeze than be in my own damned house.’ That month, I’d actually won ‘Employee of the Month’ and a gift card from [HOTEL REDACTED], so I spent it on The Spirit Room. That was a bloody godsend. Jake remembered my name and even introduced me to some of his regulars– and me without my usual finery. “How’s the polycule?” He’d asked.
“Oh, uh… I think I’ll be coming here without them from now on, to be honest.”
Thank gods he didn’t press. “Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that. What can I get you?”
That was one of my better nights, that month. That was even the night where it was announced that Trump had contracted Coronavirus. “Trump has COVID! Shots on the house!” Jake yelled, passing out glass skulls filled with whiskey.
I had a great time, one of the first times in more than a month where I felt relaxed. And AJ was nowhere in sight.
Probably not related.
Nights I had to spend at home, however, were less joyful. There was one night Xhaxhollari and I were co-fronting on the chaise in the living room. He was playing Pokémon while I was watching Netflix, which would come to be our standard arrangement, even if we weren’t speaking to one another. AJ was walking past the living room frequently while steaming/spraying, with something to say about the infestation with every passing. “Do you hear the neighbours arguing? I bet it’s about bedbugs.” “I saw three today while spraying. I don’t know where they’re coming from.” “I think they’re in the walls.” The last quote stands out to me the most. I remember clearly the odd plaintive tone, like a cat mewling about the rain and looking at me as if I had the power to stop it. I could stop this as well as I could change the weather, in any case.
It got to the point where our body was tensing every time AJ’s footsteps grew too close. Xhax and I eventually opted to go to bed, where I was being lulled to sleep by the familiar sounds of the downstairs neighbours arguing with each other. See, we lived above a tumultuous couple that seemed to make screaming at each other their hobby, if not their foreplay. Within probably a half hour, AJ was knocking on my bedroom door. “Xanthe? Do you hear the neighbours arguing? I bet they’re arguing about the bugs. What if that’s where it started?”
I mumbled something noncommittal. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t fix the house I lived in, I couldn’t fix a relationship that probably stopped working years ago, I couldn’t fix myself so that I was one cohesive unit of personality the way AJ wanted.
I was paralyzed.
I did try to find small things to relieve the pressure. With a lot of my finery confined to plastic bags, I bought myself a few little things online, including a baggy black turtleneck sweater. This helped because I was starting to suspect that, on top of everything else, I was beginning to look too masculine for my personal androgynous goals. When it arrived, I tried it on, and it was a sigh of relief. Sometimes, non-binary life is spending one’s time running from one binary to another, then back again. “This top is definitely good for my dysphoria,” I said, smiling at the ambiguous shape in the mirror.
AJ was as encouraging as usual. “What are you dysphoric about? You don’t have tits,” they snapped.
This was a reference to the insistent declaration that I’d been privileged to have had chest dysphoria, which they referenced often in their posts.
We were a good way into October when AJ vocalized wanting to go to Affinity House for a break. I was ashamed to find myself utterly relieved. I shouldn’t, as their partner, want them out of the house for five days. But did I? Most definitely. Their main hesitation was that the staff may misgender them, a concern I was happy to assuage. “Oh, no! They were actually really good at that. They didn’t misgender me once when I was there.”
It was true. They’d asked me my pronouns upon sign-in and since, the staff had been seamless. It was an inflatable life jacket in a sea of August’s pain.
I remember this so clearly, even within the fog. AJ was doing something in the restroom, spraying down the drawers so they were crouching and facing away from me. But at this reassurance, they turned their head sharply and glared at me. “YOU. PASS.” It was two separate sentences, meant to be hurled at me with a separate blast of vitriol.
I actually stood my ground at this one. Well, at first. “Pass as what? Because I’m non-binary. I told them they/them pronouns and they didn’t assume he, they didn’t assume she, they went with they. And AJ, I hate to tell you this, but no one passes as a ‘they.'”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Xhaxhollari heard me. Xanthe didn’t. I guess AJ’s main dislike of alters had Xanthe tuned away as a default, but angel boy started as if I’d just fired off a pistol and turned straight towards me. “What, surprised to see me breathing?”
“You.” He wasn’t wrong for calling me that. I went through a few names before settling on mine. I kept Story for a while, before meeting Averie, who also called herself Story. I figured then that I’d split. Then I changed mine to Alex. I got bored with that and would later read a book called ‘Gideon the Ninth’, and changed my name to ‘Harrow’ after Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Then as my climbing skills in the inworld grew more renowned, I was called ‘The Sparrow.’ That just stuck. Back in this era, I was still Story. Xhaxhollari was standing as a sentry near Xanthe, a pretty helpless one as Xanthe was once again getting yelled into a corner by a tightly-wound weeb with long hair. Oh boy wasn’t this familiar! “I’m glad to see you back.”
I shrugged. I didn’t really believe him. I had a life in the inworld, running errands for Jasper and drinking with him. I was perfectly content to remain there, but there was some prodding curiosity that kept pulling me back to the surface. In truth, I’d been reading Xanthe’s blogs. The one about Nebula, the old host.
“And here’s the thing, Neb.” They’d written. “You weren’t pathetic. You had a personality. Like hell, you were actually witty. You were funny. You were smart. You had some wicked concepts for books. You did your best in an impossible situation and you created someone, well, impossible. Or this brain did. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for giving you flack for your inability to tell Kirra to fuck off, I’m sorry for mocking your wolf tees even though you never had access to your own finances long enough to build a wardrobe, I’m sorry I thought you were cowering from Kirra and were happy to be her fucking servant. You were just surviving. I was too.”
I actually broke down crying when I read that. Like, outright uncontrollably sobbing. Some instinctual part of me must have known who I was, but I honestly just thought I was just having a moment of hyper-empathy. And Neb certainly wasn’t around to respond to this apology of Xanthe’s (haha), but I was keeping tabs.
What I saw was a pattern repeating. “You want to explain to me why, after all of that, we’re just living with a guy version of Kirra?” I didn’t know what non-binary was just yet, which was funny, because I definitely fit that description. I thought AJ was a guy, a first impression that they would probably call gaslighting.
Xhaxhollari frowned. “It’s a complicated situation–”
“What the fuck did Neb even die for if we’re just stuck doing the same thing? Isn’t the fucking Wunderkind over there supposed to be bullshit-repellent?” I jerked my thumb towards Xanthe, who was absolutely still oblivious towards the both of us.
Xhaxhollari’s mouth was a thin line. “It won’t last. It’s going to take some time. Xanthe is damaged by the events of this year.”
“You think they’re the only one?” The rings of scars around my wrist and my neck were still raw. I wasn’t certain if Xhax could see them when I raised my arms, but he did sort of wince. I glanced back at Xanthe– they were now being treated to a checklist of the various ways Xanthe had it better than AJ. Broader shoulders, more pronounced brow ridge, more inches in height, etc. It was the exact tone Kirra used to have. ‘Neb, stop saying you’re ‘70% lesbian’ or whatever. You’re either gay or you’re not and I’m tired of you always pretending you’re special.’ “Yeah, well. Let me know when Kirra 2.0 is out of the house.”
Before he could reply, I’d blinked away. When Jasper came home, I asked him if he wanted to show me his new vinyl records and break into a bottle of whiskey. We’d just gotten ‘Black Bird’ and I could listen to that until the record was shred into ribbons.
Someone else had also read that blog– the apology to Neb. When I asked how they felt about it, Casey replied, “Miserable.”
Yeah. Sparrow was right. I wasn’t fighting back. I did insist that AJ find a way to try to find good coping skills, though. They always had this bizarre view of depression– that one couldn’t clinically have it if something negative were also going on in their life. AJ would continually insist that they had situational depression, meaning that any reaction they would have to any given problem was just simple cause and effect.
It was a lost cause to try to convince them that a non-depressed mind wouldn’t immediately choose suicide as a viable option and also fixate on their problems past the point of functioning, but god damned if AJ was actually mentally ill, right?
I’d suggested that they use V as a therapist. V was dysphoric, V was trans, V was cost-free, V could do phone sessions, V was more than willing. Should have been ideal as a basis to tackle mental health, yeah?
Not to AJ!
“I don’t want to be someone’s guinea pig, no offense,” AJ dismissed. Ideal, or insulting. This was how AJ categorized help.
Gods know I would’ve had a fucking bake sale to get them help.
Things came to a head, as they usually do, on Oscar Wilde’s birthday. The dandy would probably be proud of how often his birthday had been the pinnacle for drama within my lifespan. It was to be a low-key affair, given that it was still 2020. Considering our housing situation, we had two or more things that could be transferred from us, so we kept the celebration between the two of us. We planned to watch one of the Wilde biopics, have sparkling wine, and a charcuterie plate.
I was in the passenger seat throughout these errands, watching AJ dart into stores for our supplies for our celebration. Within the parking lot, I noticed a homeless man pacing back and forth in the parking lot. This wasn’t out of place for Rochester. In fact, in my hotel job made me an unwilling encyclopedia of who made downtown their stomping grounds. The homeless man was yelling, at something–maybe someone that no one else could see. It seemed to be about a microchip that was put in his brain. The parking lot was empty. It was a pretty usual sight in Rochester.
AJ pulled the driver’s door open. It’d hardly shut before they exclaimed, “Did you just hear him misgendering me?”
“The… the bloke yelling?” Another one of AJ’s more stubbornly-held beliefs was that those that surrounded them, who saw them in person, were lying to AJ about how feminine they looked. As if we’d all been in on this conspiracy. Meanwhile, either their bigoted family or the odd street inhabitant having a clear mental break were the only ones telling the truth.
“Yeah! He thought I was a girl! Didn’t you hear it?” It’s hard to describe the look in their eyes, this sort of unhinged desperation. Almost as if my hearing this myself would make me go, ‘Oh my gods, AJ, you’re right, you’re the most tragically estrogen-laden person on the planet, clearly the only solution is to starve yourself and take chainsaw to your hip line, I can’t believe I’ve been so blind.’
“AJ, he’s clearly not in her right mind. He might very well have been seeing a woman, it just wasn’t you.”
AJ went into a smouldering silence. I couldn’t tell if I preferred this, or the snapping. As it turned out, it was the silence, for when we arrived back to the kitchen, the silence dissipated. “I feel so goddamned dysphoric,” they bit out.
I frowned. “I’m sorry, Love.”
“Yeah, well, that’s all everyone ever seems to tell me.” It wasn’t as if anything else ever helped. Not reassurance, not affirmations of affection, not distractions or attempts to cheer up. It was as if these moods were stepping in a glue trap– messy and time-consuming. The only solution was to extract oneself.
“Well, what would be ideal?” I asked, honestly.
At this point, they looked me straight in the eye, their hazel eyes wide and darting, staring at me as if the answer was so obvious that I’d been a fool for merely asking. “Fixing it.”
I blinked a few different times, as if feeling my filter shooting down my first few replies. “Well, I’ll just get right on being omnipotent, then,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure if they’d heard me. They’d turned away and began work on the charcuterie board.
The rest of the evening was spent watching Wilde and drinking. I was starting to wake up a little, looking around at my surroundings and realising what wasn’t acceptable. Therapy actually helped with that.
“Xanthe, this isn’t conducive to your healing,” V finally said. I also liked another suggestion of hers, when I explained the how the onslaught of bug updates were stressing me out. “You both… know the bugs are there. You’re aware. Talking it to death isn’t doing either of you any favours. Maybe have a time every night where, after that, the bugs just aren’t a subject anymore. That way, you can both unwind.”
Gods, that sounded wonderful. But boundaries were, erm… new territory to me.
Useless arguments, however, were not.
I did finally text AJ to confront them about how toxic their dysphoria was, though. It was about as productive as you might guess. I’m really not sure how this brick wall was under the impression it was so curvy.
I think I mentally checked out after this, again. The next part I was really conscious of was around Halloween time. See, I’d had a Facebook group I made myself called ‘Coping: Gallows Humour.’ It was essentially so that myself and my friends could post dark jokes to a willing audience without having someone whine about how unhealthy we were being.
It was a small group and one of the main rules was to Absolutely Not Share Screenshots. So, I actually felt safe enough to share the following:
But as all venting seemed to go in these ages, I would see the consequences of it. “Just so you know,” AJ told me that day as they were fixing themself dinner. “Vali saw that story you posted about the egg and unfriended me. He said that my response to the egg thing was ‘dismissive.'”
They didn’t sound happy about it. Which, gods, if I had gotten rid of Vali that easily only a year before, I would’ve been popping champagne. What’s wrong, AJ? Does your sense of smell fare better with the occasional shock? Do you really want an audible rendition of every popular meme that week retold to you as if original? What a fucking tragedy. “I posted that in Coping. How’d he even end up knowing about it?”
“I don’t know,” AJ snapped. “Look, I get that you’re having fun writing your blog and everything, but sometimes I’m the one that gets backlash and I really wish you’d think about that.”
My eyebrows damn-near went into my hairline with how much they were raised. That’s right, folks. My former roommates had traumatized me beyond belief and were now stalking my accounts and this was my fault. I stared at AJ. The silence went on, signalling that the conversation was dropped, but I heard quite an insistent, loud voice responding to AJ internally.
Ask to choose between you and the blog. Go ahead. You won’t like the answer. Please ask. Make me choose.
This was no alter. I was surprised to find that I was hearing my voice, with a brewing, bitter rage under the surface.
I would later extract the mole from the group. A local friend of Sage’s by the name of Collin Graves, whose reaction was a dead giveaway.
As for the blog, I wasn’t going to stop now. Not for AJ, not for anyone. Not when I was so close to finally finding answers. You see, I had just heard from another victim of the Faerie Cult. Spectre.
After more than two months of yelling into the void, the void was yelling back. The gaslit, dissociative, betrayed, villainized. Like hell I was going to stop now.