Sub-Arctic (November of 2020)

[Trigger warnings: Since we’re dealing with AJ, this will be pretty suicide-focused. I’ve made additional warnings for the worst screenshot. There’s also intense dysmorphia, dysphoria, betrayal, starvation, abusive relationships, cancellations, infestation, money issues.]

“Um. AJ? Why are my things on the bathtub floor?” Anything that wasn’t electronic, instantly degradable, or soft was laying directly on the bottom of the bathtub; a layer of jewellery, keepsakes, and decor making up the world’s saddest bubble bath. I knew the answer before AJ explained through the bathroom door that it was for the bugs. I winced. “I thought they mainly resided in fabric?”

“Yeah, but as I was spraying the other night, I saw one sitting on my phone charger! I put everything in the bathtub to clean them and ran out of spoons. You can just shower over the stuff.”

I was working hard to keep the pained and exasperated look off my face when I leaned my face out of the bathroom. “Can’t I just… take these out and wipe them down with alcohol wipes?”

They stared at me. “That would be insufficient.”


And thus, I showered, standing arched over the unforgiving terrain, watching my shampoo and soap suds wash over my treasures like a pathetic tide. I felt only distantly relieved that I’d hidden away my watch pendant from AJ’s reach.

The collection would remain in the tub for over a day and a half. And yes, all of my earrings rusted.

AJ was sleeping in their car, these days. Parked in the driveway, stepping in and out of the damned thing in the way one would a purity chamber. They would come in to use the kitchen and the bathroom, then go back out to either do hours of laundry or exercise at Planet Fitness for upwards of six hours a day.

I remember trying to make suggestions for getting them to sleep in the house again. Maybe we could get an inflatable pool for AJ to sleep in and line the borders with Vaseline to keep the the bugs off. Maybe we could get a hammock and lube up the feet of it.

Maybe we could call the goddamned landlord.

There was, however, some good fortune spared for us. AJ was hired by the end of October. Hired! Charlie’s friend, the one who had met up with me the night of my notorious escape, had typed up their cover letter and resume for AJ, which helped. “They didn’t even thank me,” this friend would tell me later on. “My return investment in people is usually zero, and AJ is not exempt from that.”

But! Good news! AJ was a phlebotomist, which they’d already been trained for. For those who don’t know, phlebotomists are the ones who draw your blood at the doctor’s.

It wouldn’t help with rent, however. AJ made that perfectly clear. “I’m not paying rent on a place that I can’t even sleep in!” Not the utilities either, even though AJ would routinely turn the thermostat to upwards of 80F.

How fitting. Bleeding me dry would be good practice for their new position.

In protest to the landlord, who knew nothing about the situation at AJ’s request, AJ had decided to dick me over.

But hell, this was Scorpio season, goddamnit. I was still riding the high of Spectre confirming all of my gaslit yet justified opinions of Zara. Finding out that she’d had a history of transphobia, lying, and manipulating others was practically a gift basket to my poor injured soul.

The major downside was that it put me back on thinking that Rowan and Arkady were poor, hapless victims of Zara and Vali, but it was better than thinking I was too insane to maintain any sort of healthy relationship. Someone was to blame and it wasn’t just me, damn it!

To help things, AJ and I actually had quite the good date for Halloween. I think the boost in our respective morale actually had us meeting in the middle for a solid week. I do remember sitting in the kitchen as AJ fretted over steaming our respective outfits. We’d planned on going to Mt. Hope Cemetery and taking pictures of each other in all of our finery, which was one of our favourite couple activities.

I do remember the tense couple of hours where I sat, frozen, while AJ snapped about how long the garment-steaming was taking and watching the golden hour start to dwindle. But then, off we went!

My dramatic ass holding the bloody Hanged Man card.

We had a legitimately good time, I remember. Afterwards, we went to Spirit Room for dinner and a couple of drinks. AJ took pictures of the outing and posted them. “Oh, hey. Zara just messaged me. She said that The Spirit Room is transphobic and not to go there anymore.”

I’d raised an eyebrow at them. “Zara is transphobic. I’m not interested in what she considers problematic.” Of course, the drama with my favourite bar was more far-reaching than I’d guessed at the time, but that’s for a later blog.

Then, as this Halloween happened to have a supermoon, I tried my hand at a ritual. I wasn’t quite so heretical as I am now, you see. Though I’d somewhat spurned the Chaotics gods, based on learning their origin and just sheer principle, I’d hoped to manifest something– anything to change the tide and save Rowan and Arkady from their brainwashed existence. I did my best, even using a prop left over from Crosman Terrace. I’d found this while moving, something left behind up in that infamous attic.

A note from Zara to Arkady for solstice.

Say what you want about religion, but it definitely invites a flare for the dramatic.

My birthday was actually pleasant, too! We did another photoshoot back at Mt. Hope and made plans to have a nice dinner at Grappa. It was a splurge, yes, but if I couldn’t sit at a goddamned table and have a glass of wine during a special occasion, the crisis hotline would have to intervene.

I carried around a bag of Franzia and I actually opened up to AJ a little. “You know, it probably shouldn’t surprise me that Zara’s a transphobe. I was sent a screenshot where she accused me of ‘faking’ my birthday just because it didn’t match my birth certificate. If she’s so obsessed with ‘proving’ things via birth certificates, then…” Then as the night wore on, I found myself lamenting how confusing this all was. “Arannan, the one that Rowan ‘channelled’, adopted me… Well, technically, I guess, he was already the dad of my past life, Silas. Does that just… all go away because they’re angry with me? Did they lie? Were these people their alters? Is Visarden just trapped in the back of [Arkady]’s head and disturbed at everything his new host is doing to me?” “I don’t even know how long Apollo was pulling strings. This all could have even started with him, for all I know. He could be behind this whole thing.”

I don’t remember AJ’s reply, but it must not have offended me if I can’t recall. I think when I explained who Arannan was, and that Rowan insisted that he was ‘real’, unlike Kaspar, AJ had snorted. “‘My OC is better than your OC,'” they’d said to mock Rowan.

I also have a fond memory of AJ pulling me into a dome of branches of a small tree, inviting me in for a kiss. “Step into my office,” they said flirtatiously.

I paused, surveying the tree. “Does this make you the branch manager?”

I was then denied access from the tree. Worth it.

It was a nice night. I was even sent a present from Kaspar, which caused no change to my own bank account. How? Who the fuck knows.

It was a new journal, though. I loved Kaspar’s little blurb about it.

I love my sassy little Baronex~

As the temperature chilled, so did AJ’s and my relationship. The fact that sleeping in their car was becoming moreso unpleasant and that the general fatigue of their undertaking was getting to them.

It was only just after my birthday that I innocuously asked, “Hey, erm. Since you’ve been hired, you don’t really need Rowan for helping you get on disability. Were you thinking of unfriending them soon?”

AJ actually furrowed their brow in confusion. Confusion. “Why?” It was odd that I had to explain it, but I did. I was uncomfortable with it, these people were clearly not open to reconciliation, they generally just posted abuse about me anyway. “I’ll think about it. I don’t really know too many other people here, so.”

It didn’t seem to matter that I’d suggested they bond with Charlie over cosplay, or bond with Dumptruck over their shared ADHD and lack of a filter. AJ hadn’t friended them on Facebook before moving, therefore they weren’t even options, apparently. Their nesting partner’s abusers, though? Ideal.

Thus, I was avoiding conversations with them. There was only so many days that I could come home from a long shift to listen to another increasingly unhinged rant. “This is literally traumatizing. I’m so fucking suicidal,” AJ said one night, by way of greeting before I was even out of my hotel uniform. “All of these bugs? Just crawling on me? They just feel like tiny little rapists.”

“LITTLE DRAMATIC, I thought, filling my wine glass as much as it could possibly go.

Somehow, Franzia was one of the healthier things I’d put my mouth on that year.

I’d recently dyed half my hair black, a fact that was doing its best to keep me sane. The urge to do so came about as the black-haired Sparrow would be coming back out of dormancy. What a coincidence.

I was unbelievably stressed. My genetic make-up was mostly just wine and cortisol. Sometimes AJ would even follow me over to my room to try to tell me about the bugs. Not any useful update, no questions, just repeat exclamations of the obvious. “Xanthe? Xanthe? There’s a bug on the ceiling–” They were outside my door, one night. Their hand was brushing the door, as if thinking of knocking. However, my bedroom door didn’t latch. Only a soft nudge could actually push it open.

The door creaking open, unbidden, reminded me of living with Rowan. “Okay, goodnight!” I said quickly, nearly falling as I jerked on my pyjama bottoms. Jesus, give it a rest, please.

It was probably a week later when AJ off-handedly told me, “Yeah, I knocked on your door to tell you about the bugs and you yelled at me.”

I frowned. I’d kind of wondered when I’d be lambasted from my abruptness, despite them creaking the door open when I was changing. “I’d just told you ‘goodnight.’ I’m sorry if I raised my voice.”

“No, I’m not talking about that… Though, that was rude.” Ah, so that did bother you. “I was knocking on your door and trying to tell you that the neighbours were arguing again and you yelled, ‘NO!’ It was like you were a little kid and I was trying to take your cookie or something.” I cannot even halfway convey the amount of disdain in their voice. They suspected an alter. Not only an alter, but a Little.

“I don’t remember that.” I saw the look on their face and winced. I wish I would’ve lied. ‘Oh, yeah, sorry, my bad, I was having a bad migraine.’ But no, I had switched. And they had witnessed it.

I could only imagine AJ watching ‘Split’ and taking notes on how to defend themself from an imagined eventuality. I found out later that week that it was not a Little, but Koji, who’d heard the door creaking open and actually yelled, ‘Don’t!’, as most would when they’re traumatized, and someone seems to be letting themselves into their room. But this was all the more reason to take V’s suggestion about boundaries more seriously.

I’ll just tell AJ that we can talk about the bugs, but only from 1pm to 10pm each day. Too close to bed, it could trigger a switch.

At one point, I did decide that defining my boundaries about the subject of the bugs was probably healthier than just simply avoiding my partner.

I was


If your partner is yelling, ‘Your boundaries are unfair to me’, run. Also, why did I not cut them off the SECOND they alluded to involving my rapist in on this?
Also, footnote, but it was always kind of hilarious that AJ would continuously update me on how they hadn’t switched the laundry as if my texts demanded instantaneous replies.

“You’re just making me hate you.”

Systems, if your partner ever makes you feel like simple switching is emotionally abusive, you need to run fast and you need to run far.

V said it best over our next phone counselling session. “Xanthe, this is not conducive to your healing.”

Tell me about it.

Sometimes I felt a bit guilty. Was I a hypocrite? Isn’t this what Arkady did to me? Invite me halfway across the country, put me in a traumatising environment, then villainise me for not being able to handle it?


I was never in contact with Arkady’s abusers. I never disagreed with the existence of any disorder Arkady told me he had. No one had forced me on Arkady. In fact, he was excited to spend his life with me. I’d paid rent. Arkady promised me that he would be there for me to help me heal. Near the end, when I was in my own personal hell, I would’ve fucking killed for nine hours a day of his support.

I probably would’ve done anything for even half that.

Meanwhile, I’d already made it clear that, through my own trauma, I could not be there for AJ’s healing. It didn’t mean I didn’t still try. But this all didn’t matter when they wanted someone to scream at with a moment’s notice. “This is just like when my mom abandoned me!” they snapped at me. This would be only the start of my partner comparing me to their mother.

For legal reasons, this picture is unrelated.

I’d taken to getting really into audiobooks. I’d started with ‘The Disaster Artist’, because I’d heard Greg Sestero narrates and does a bang-up job imitating Tommy Wiseau’s accent. Then I was onto ‘Gone Girl’ for a reason that definitely didn’t relate to my current love life in any way. I’d have it playing on my phone anytime AJ and I were in the kitchen together, which I found discouraged conversation. Ideal.

And of course, I’d already announced my boundary of not wanting to hear anything to do with the household. But we’ve seen how AJ thinks of my boundaries. “Hey, I know you said not to tell you anything about the household, but–” I closed my eyes, wishing on a shooting star that AJ might have the self-awareness to think about how they just began that statement. “I think you’re right about Apollo being behind the whole thing. I saw that [Arkady] had posted a picture and it was a commissioned ‘Family portrait’ of [Arkady], Vali, and Rowan. Apollo was the artist.


One of the great loves of my life had gone to my abuser and paid them for an artful boast about how I’d lost my family.

Vali and Rowan would try and fail to get to me, years past this. Anonymous accounts, harassment, messaging random Facebook friends of mine word salad of how I thought Vali had been possessed by a demon. Those are laughable, usually ending up in hurting Vali and Rowan rather than myself.

But this. This.

This came from the only person on the planet that ever knew me intimately enough to know how to destroy me. Snipe me. Go right for an Achilles heel, target the nervous system like a sadistic chemical. It could have come from nowhere else but Arkady’s mind, whomever now resided there. And with this new bit of information, it was harder to hope that the one I fell for was even there at all.

I don’t actually feel like I can put the emotion into words. Gutted, devastated, intensely mourning, suicidal, corrupted like a damaged disc– none of those actually fit. Those seem too light for this situation. I sat, stock still, barely breathing. Even if I hadn’t lost the ability to cry, I would have been beyond it. What I can say is that something vital in me, something deep in my heart fissured and broke away.

And it never came back.

That night, I was awoken by a tapping on my bedroom window. It was rhythmic, mimicking the first notes of Nightwish’s ‘Nemo.’


Fighting the hangover, I rose from my bed and opened the window and let her in, actually feeling thankful that AJ was sleeping in their car. Couldn’t let them catch me with contraband disorders!

I felt immediately sheepish at the sight of Vex, the carefully blank expression on her face, the subtle twist of her mouth. Vex was known to vanish for months– her general avoidance of people and her ambivalence to passing time had her appearing with all of the advance warning of a lightning strike. It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought of her, but hadn’t quite fit her into the dramatic turns my life had taken.

Vex. The multi-millennium Atlantean. The princess to a broken throne. The black star, the hellhound. The alter. “You owe me a talk.”

I invited her in. She declined my offer of tea. I happened to see that she seemed more shaken than usual, the shadows under her eyes more pronounced. “So. Dissociative Identity Disorder. This isn’t the first time you’ve come to the conclusion that this is all in your head.”

“It’s mainly a theory,” I said quickly. Somehow it felt as though I were in trouble, like I was back explaining to my parents why my friends called me a different name. “You know my planar theory? I feel like this ties into it. The other plane may very well exist outside of myself, but it’s manifesting as a mental–”

“I think you’re right,” Vex whispered hoarsely. “I’d been thinking about it… At first, I thought you were having yet another one of your existential crises.” Fair. “And I read your blog. About how the world began when a god split itself up into different beings… About how Thysia broke apart.” She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. I had the feeling she might have been drunk. I didn’t really blame her. Imagine finding out that your entire existence, the length of which allegedly outlasts most languages, was a figment of a traumatised child’s brain. The revelation probably constituted a rubbish week, all considering. “The books in Cecil’s library would label me as a ‘protector.'” She gave a harsh laugh. “A protector. With your… human body as a limit. What a joke.”

I frowned. We were sitting together on my bed, our sides touching. “I think it’s more for like… mental or emotional protection, from what I’ve read.”

Vex laughed again without any humour. “That’s rich.”

I sat with her, for a while. We went over the meaning of our strange little world, what this meant in her quest to rebuild Thysia, what she could’ve represented, etc. I also vented to her about the household, the commissioned portrait, and the disintegrating situation between AJ and I. “I would honestly rather wake up with ten bugs on me than sit through AJ’s reaction to seeing one on the wall.”

The look Vex gave me was one of the sadder things I’ve ever witnessed– her face a mismatched visage of youthful and ancient, cold yet profoundly broken. “That sounds familiar. I remember you five years ago, telling me you’d rather have an awful day than to tolerate the reaction of Kirra suffering a single inconvenience.” She ran her hand through her short, gunmetal hair. “And I can’t do anything about it.” She reached to stroke the back of my head in a way I’ve always savoured– firm rubs between the base of my skull to the border between Shaved and Longer. I inclined my head, the way a parrot would when being petted. “I never did understand why your spirit beast wasn’t a dog,” she lamented. “My essence within you, yet you ended up a loud bag of feathers.”

“Yknow, the fact that the inworld has us all changing into animals at will probably means that the Singlet That Never Existed probably would’ve been a goddamned furry.” This actually made Vex laugh, a welcome sound.

I leaned on her side. She didn’t know it quite yet, but even pointing out the similarities between Kirra/Apollo and AJ was doing honouring her role as a protector.

Which was lucky because AJ then decided to go right for the dealbreaker of the century.










Absolutely fucking bonkers that this comment has Like and Heart reacts, by the way.












One of AJ’s friends sent me this screenshot, as AJ had hidden it from me. I get the base logic in it, I do. I was the only contact most of AJ’s friends had here in Rochester. But, honestly, what the fuck was I supposed to do? Physically restrain them? Commit them? Call the police?

I actually had another Mt. Hope day planned for that day and I didn’t exactly skip it, circumstances be damned. Bag of Franzia in-hand, the sunset ready to envelope me in its romanticism. Romanticism was starting to seem better than actual romance by several leagues. The one promise I needed you to keep. AJ’s suicide threat was smouldering in my head. I was picturing myself arriving home and having to take pictures of their car’s license plate in case AJ texted their damned note to other people and I had to send out a bloody search party in the coming weeks. The one thing you swore up and down you wouldn’t do.

More than a decade of talking people off the ledge seemed to weigh down on me all at once. Kirra, Kirra’s friends, AJ themself. Nebula’s sleepless nights, my own, sometimes being screamed at just to distract someone from their latest plan. Drinking wine on the hillside, I texted a few of AJ’s closest confidantes. “Hey, just received this. Could you talk them down, by any chance? I’m just. Tired.”

I’d talked them down nearly every two months since 2014. Or tried to, as it typically only earned me verbal abuse. Maybe it would’ve been different if they ever listened rather than just snapped at me. Maybe I could’ve taken it if it were only a couple of times a year. But as it stood, when AJ wanted to take themself down, everyone around them was within blast radius whether there was an attempt or otherwise. I was fatigued to the point of delirium at that point, desensitized to a pathological level. Wowee, I’m so glad I forsook all of those affordable studios just for you to take the most dramatic way possible out of paying your half of rent.

Their car was in the driveway when I got home. The windows were foggy, so there was presumably still a living body in there. I hated the fact that I now felt the need to fucking check.

This didn’t exactly bode well for our relationship. I remember when we had one particular argument through text when I was at work– it was the usual. ‘I’m doing so much work!’ ‘I’d rather you not. The landlord’s setting us up with an exterminator.’ ‘I need to talk about my problems. I hate having to do all this work.’ ‘Okay, I’m equal to that nine hours a day.’ ‘NOT GOOD ENOUGH. ABUSIVE. YOU’RE LIKE MY MOM.’

I remember sitting in the back room of my hotel job, texting back when between exasperated sighs. AJ didn’t stop, imploring me to know what could even be done in the event of their witnessing a bug when I’d already gone to bed. I thought the answer was obvious. “Kill them, preferably.” And they were the one in this relationship that had a college degree.

They called me an asshole for that. “Okay, we’ve gone to name-calling,” I texted back. “I’m ending the conversation on my end.”

I heard another chime regardless.

How fucking dare you. The blow hit the raw nerve it was aimed for, sending a jolt of bitter agony through me. I flung my phone across the back office, watching it bounce off the wall opposite. My phone still has a crack in it from this. You keep his name out of your fucking mouth. The average day with him was a thousand times better than even my best with you, you treacherous ball of neuroses. He used to comfort me about the shit you’d say to me. I was honestly surprised at the thought that screamed from the depths of me, but wasn’t shocked.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t wrong.

AJ and I didn’t speak in person for at least a few days after that. I think even AJ was capable of guessing they had gone too far.

Or not.

Preferred, really.

And of course, this wasn’t limited to private conversations…

Yes, that is the person I offered to help bitching about handling it all alone, all while threatening to set my house on fire. My life was fucking brilliant.

This wasn’t hidden from me, mind you. You’d also have to be bloody stupid not to attribute most of those references to me. In a time wherein my ex Faemily (did I just now come up with that?) were telling the tri-city area that I was a manipulative monster, this was less than ideal.

And I just couldn’t remain quiet.

Pick-me ass bitch. Also, this person still stalks my profile, despite myself later blocking them. Make sure they’re not in your mutuals– they don’t respect boundaries or privacy.
I’m sorry this is cut off. I’m blocked from this profile, so I have to essentially work with what I happened to screenshot at the time. Which is still a lot, but.

I was fuming. Here I was, reduced to try to debate the cast of Portlandia while I was being put on blast for not doing what AJ refused to let me do in the first place. All while AJ was rubbing elbows with the same sadistic cunt that put us into this situation. My imposter syndrome didn’t even actually have time to set in– several mutual friends of mine and AJ’s were reaching out to me, shocked at how AJ was speaking to me and asking me if I was alright.

I also kept Casey in the loop. I cannot even begin to explain how valuable this was. I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if I had kept them informed while getting to know Rowan.

Casey, demonstrating how family is supposed to act.

I did explain to Casey that I felt breaking up with AJ was a somewhat moot point. I was viscerally uncomfortable with dumping someone who constantly threatened suicide and, well, the optics on that would’ve been awful.

How many 13 Reasons Why had nominated me for consideration by now? At least three. “They’ll probably break up with me first,” I assured them. “If they thought I was cold before, I’m about to be bloody sub-arctic.”

I didn’t tell anyone this at the time, but I was also toying with the idea of just… waiting until AJ could support themself and hop off this particularly doomed mortal coil. Without even knowing that, Casey did go ahead and partially talk me out of it.

Goddamn it, why did this kind of work?

For the next week or so, it wasn’t so much that I had a roommate as much as I had a poultergeist. I don’t know if AJ was avoiding me on purpose, but it suited me just fine. Hell, I was even able to hang out with Vex and Aberle in my room occasionally. AJ would routinely text me about their declining mental health. At which point, my reply would normally be, “Didn’t I find you a free trans counsellor?” and “I’m literally listening to you vent right now.

Another odd perspective on mental health AJ had was that therapy was pretty much professional gaslighting. That these people were going to tell AJ, “You have no problems at all, it’s all in your head, love yourself sweetie, live laugh love! That’ll be $90!” And not, you know, finding alternate coping skills to problems that weren’t treating one’s partner as an emotional punching bag. Or holding a metaphorical gun to one’s head in front of an audience.

The thing is, the human mind is not meant to fixate and spiral in the way that AJ did. Emotions, no matter how justified, tend to have a cap to them in a balanced brain and also, brains don’t want to die. The fact that AJ’s problems were all they could focus on, that any inconvenience could sink a night, how often suicide was the first option– that’s not a healthy brain.

To try to gain perspective, I asked Facebook at large how therapy and/or SSRIs had helped them in the past, or if they didn’t and why. I was looking for others who distrusted therapy and I was honestly looking for more reason to stay on Zoloft, as I wasn’t quite certain it was doing the trick for me. I didn’t think to hide AJ from this status, as it wasn’t about them.

And yet…

That day, I’d actually gotten worried when I hadn’t seen proof of AJ’s continued existence. I’d texted them at some point and had gotten no response. Hell, the message wasn’t even read. So, of course, I had to sit with the growing dread that I might have come upon my partner’s fucking death date.

I don’t know what would’ve felt worse upon being told. The pain or the relief.

As it turns out, AJ was alive and definitely online. Telling me they were alive was just clearly not the priority.

Next thing I knew, I was sent the following from a concerned friend of both AJ’s and mine:

Conversation therapy. Yep.

This didn’t stop there. Those in the comments were once again criticising my… existence. I didn’t actually grab screenshots, but I do remember that Thistle bitch harping on me. And someone saying, “I mean I’m also a system, but I would never emotionally abuse my partner the way Xanthe is!” “Yeah, I saw this post about Xanthe hoping living with them would be better than homelessness and thought it was gross.”

Okay. I was almost glad that I could feel anger again. Kirra had damn-near beaten it out of me and I wasn’t able to feel anger for nearly a full year after that relationship. But nope, my ability to feel fucking furious was in full function!

I called AJ, at that point. I forget exactly how this very short conversation started– I think I asked where they were and pointed out that I’d been trying to get ahold of them to no avail. They briefly explained that they hadn’t been able to answer back and I bit out, “Yeah, well, next time, how about you talk to me rather than about me?” I hung up.

I sat on my bed in the darkened room, trying to regulate my breathing. I was actually trembling. Then I heard the distinct sound of the apartment’s door being opened and slammed shut.

My breath caught. I could hear, unmistakably, thundering footsteps up our ridiculous stairs. My door couldn’t lock. My door couldn’t even fucking latch.

That fury was replaced with terror, a raging fire morphing into a frigid flow. Adrenaline’s two sides of the coin. I was afraid.

Absurdly, I thought of calling Arkady. I’d never tested whether or not he’d blocked my number. There was some reaching part of my brain that hoped that, seeing the situation I was in, he’d snap out of it. ‘AJ did what?‘ It wouldn’t be that flat, smug tone he’d used against me during the live. The Arkady I knew would’ve been protectively angry. That combination of fire and ice that would freeze my flying mind to the ground and keep me warm as I slept it off.

Then I thought of the last time I was scared and he was there for it. ‘This is my favourite Soap Opera.’

The ‘Family Portrait’ flashed in of me, Apollo’s style– the overly angular faces with chins that stretched to other zip codes, all done in shades of emerald and over-masculinising everyone.

No. Not Arkady.

I did have Cotton, but Cotton’s main talent had always been company and a buffer. As a witness to a screaming match, he’d be in completely unfamiliar territory. I might end up scarring the poor man.

AJ’s stomping footsteps were approaching down the hallway. I had seconds left.

Wait, don’t I have a system that’s supposed to protect me from this? Couldn’t Vex or Aberle or Xhaxhollari switch in and handle this for me? Gods, I’d love to have Vex here right now. “Vex? Vex!” The name seemed caught in my throat. Wasn’t I supposed to switch when scared or traumatised? What was the fucking POINT of this if it didn’t protect me in the moment???

I scrolled through my contacts once more and was almost surprised when I saw myself tapping Casey’s name. The phone was ringing. AJ would probably be there before Casey could answer, but at least I’d have a witness to this shit. “You want to talk?” AJ bellowed, their voice echoing throughout the narrow hallway. “FINE. We’re going to fucking talk!”

I heard the automated voicemail greeting in a tinny voice from the phone in my lap. I hung up. Guess I’m in this alone. “You’re REALLY telling people I’m trying to get you CONVERSION THERAPY? That’s such a SICK FUCKING JOKE.” My own returning rage surprised me. There’s my spine! And look at my voice, capable of raising! Gold star!

“OH YEAH? WELL, I’M KILLING MYSELF! Seriously. That’s how they said it. Like a playground argument. ‘Oh yeah? Well, I’m taking my toy back! Nyehhh!’ “And also, I’m breaking up with you!”

I waited for this to sting. It didn’t. “Go ahead. I should have broken up with you a long time ago! You legit PROMISED me that you wouldn’t be suicidal once you moved here.”

“Blame your fucking Facebook spies! I hide those statuses from you and you always end up finding out!”

“AJ.” My voice was cracking from disbelief. I balled my blankets up in my fists. My legs were tingling, but I found myself frozen by the leftover fear. “The fact that I could come home to you hanging from the closet or some shit trumps whether or not you hide triggering statuses from me! HOW do you not get that?”

“IT WOULDN’T BE IN THE CLOSET!” Yes, this was their actual rebuttal.

I almost laughed. “You’re a liar. You lied about me to your followers, you lied about not being suicidal when you got here.”

“Oh, yeah?” AJ challenged. “What did I say about you that was a lie?”

I narrowed my eyes at the door. It helped that AJ hadn’t touched it, at least. “That I’m FOR CONVERSION THERAPY?”

“YOU BASICALLY ARE!” AJ shot back. “I tell you about my dysphoria and you keep telling me to go get therapy to get rid of it!”


AJ actually paused at this. It’s been observed by more than a few that AJ’s constant fasts and extreme diets was probably starving their brain, but it seemed to wake up for just a brief second. When they replied through the flimsy door that separated us, it was a more even tone. “Well, when you put it like that…”

I actually did laugh this time. Why is my life a bloody sitcom?

My temper was actually leaving my body, my explosion already down to embers as AJ began to explain. Apparently, this newest bout (# 37, by my estimation) of suicidal ideation came after an appointment they had with their hormone doctor. “They said hormones weren’t really going to do much more for my frame and I really only held on because I thought that there was hope for that.”

Well, yeah, I thought. Upping your hormones would be like boiling steam. There’s nothing left to do. I did actually think better than saying that aloud. After all, AJ was viscerally critical of the idea that one could have both dysmorphia and dysphoria at the same time, despite their descriptions of themselves baffling everyone within earshot. It was as if the suggestion of them having dysmorphia as well just negated their entire gender identity. I asked them, why not other options? You’re going to stop at one doctor? At one method?

This is 2020, for fuck’s sake.

As everything simmered down, I made my way out to the kitchen table so the two of us could talk properly.

We went over a few things. I’d brought up AJ’s comment about Arkady and they did admit, “I felt like shit after that.”

Then why didn’t you apologise? I raised an eyebrow, but I did feel myself involuntarily soften towards them.

I also flat-out asked them why the fuck they wouldn’t let me just call the goddamned landlord in the first place. “I wanted to do it by myself. And also, you made me feel like I was like, competing against your mom.”

… What?

Mates, I just let that one go. I didn’t know where to start with that one.

It’s like I felt his ghost get just a little closer.

I also asked if they’d really meant to break up with me. They said no, and I fell into the default of our relationship status. I honestly would’ve just went with whatever they said– we had enough to debate, for fuck’s sake.

They spoke of an obscure hope, going to Mexico for lipo-suction, and needing to raise about six grand to do so. I felt like I was doing very, very flawed math in my head. This was someone who had just lied about me to our mutual friends, who had been calling me names for weeks, who used my exes to hurt me, who refused to accept my systemhood or alters, who’s invalidated my own androgyny, who’d screamed at me through a door, who had been a major source of stress in my life.

This was also someone who helped keep me going through some of the worst of the Kirra saga, the first to say, ‘Wait, she hit you?’, someone who wrote me gilded letters with flowery language and made me both their fashion model and muse.

Say I signed up for a credit card… Obviously, I had no idea if a Mexican surgeon would even take a credit card, but if I started saving my real earnings towards the surgery and used the credit card to pay rent and live day-to-day… I mean, the interest would be a bitch but AJ would still be alive.

And, if I was being honest with myself, my grief over Arkady had barely begun to process– I didn’t really expect to be around once those consequences fully dropped.

This relationship was abusive. It wasn’t salvageable. I didn’t feel safe or happy within it. It was actively putting me in a situation where I would be tempted to put myself into debt just to keep my ever-precarious partner alive.

I was still faltering, my consciousness limping along throughout these months. And the threat of someone else’s suicide has always overridden my brain like a damn virus. Maybe they even knew that, was counting on it. Maybe Rowan did.

I’m ashamed to say it. I wish I could lie, give an alternate story about how all I did from here on out was to further my own agenda. How that I seemed that I agreed but protected myself, that I had a plan B, that I couldn’t possibly be that trusting to someone who had repeatedly shown they didn’t deserve it. But no. I agreed.

I would be going into debt to bribe my partner out of suicide.