[Alcoholism, TMI sexual reference, dark joke involving heroin addiction, allusions to suicide, dysmorphia, manipulation, probable but unconfirmed roofie incident.]
The first time I’d ever seen Rochester was November 16th, 2018. I was Arkady’s birthday surprise.
As always, I remember the pre-Vali days with a halcyon hue. This didn’t mean there weren’t issues, but of course, I was entirely blind to them. And I was still riding the high of how well Arkady’s vacation had gone in Savannah. The fact was, we had spent every spare moment of the day together, even spending a good portion sharing my bloody studio space and I hadn’t at all grown tired of him.
I hadn’t thought I was capable of that, even with how much I adored him. I’d always rather guessed that the constant presence of my beloveds would start to suffocate me, but that hadn’t happened. After he left, all I wanted was more.
Rowan and Arkady had both asked if I would ever consider moving states to be with them. If anyone else had asked me that, I would have thought they were insane. Who would want to move from Savannah? I mean, back when I lived on E 36th St., I could have easily cut my losses. But I was living in a posh downstairs apartment in a townhouse on a square for hardly any rent. That wasn’t a deal I was ever going to get again. Savannah was my glittering fortress, one I famously refused to leave in the midst of two hurricanes. But it’d been feeling empty for a while and I was so tired of being lonely.
“No offense, but I’m still pretty paranoid from my past experiences,” I’d told them both. “I figure we can just keep visiting each other for about three years and then if there’s no issues, I’ll decide to move.” Of course, my ‘caution’ period didn’t last nearly that long, and you’ll come to know why.
The day I flew to Rochester, I was sitting on the plane while texting Arkady occasionally through the wifi. I’d sent him a picture of that day’s outfit, making certain he would think that I’ve only just gotten up and dressed and couldn’t possibly be on my way to see him. “You know, it’s odd. I almost feel like you’re living here already,” Arkady texted me. “As if Rowan’s going to come through the door and you’ll just trail behind.”
Again, I don’t like to use or believe magic as an explanation but what the fuck. “Don’t think we haven’t considered it for your birthday,” I texted back, wondering what kind of clairvoyant past-life radar was giving me away.
I still don’t have an explanation for that. I’ve said before, out of that entire group, only Arkady had any claim to perhaps being a bit magic. And I admit that with no small amount of reluctance. As in, the fact that I find it hard to argue very much annoys me.
Besides that, my flight was blissfully uneventful. Rowan picked me up from the airport with a huge hug and a beaming smile. “I told [Arkady] that I had a surprise for him today, then I ordered myself a package. He told me it arrived and I told him, very firmly, not to open it.” I laughed. I loved the misdirection. “We also have reservations at Black and Blue, which is absurdly expensive, but this bougie-ass twink chose it.”
“It’s no wonder we get along,” I offered.
Then, of course, seeing him again. I will never forget this moment, no matter how much it occasionally (REPEATEDLY) hurts to watch.
Fun fact, he was wearing a pirate hat because Michael, his headmate, was one of the more adept at cleaning and he was also a privateer.
I still smile when I think about Arkady’s slow processing of the situation, as if his brain could not accept that something as wonderful as both halves of his heart could be in the same place at once. “‘I would be there if I could,'” he said, quoting me accusingly.
I grinned at him. “See? I never lied to you. It just turned out that I could, and I did.”
“You two will be the death of me.” He was sighing in that sort of amused way, chiding himself for not suspecting our plot, our affectionate conspiracy. “How many is the dinner reservation for?”
“Three!” Rowan answered with a smile. “We’ve been planning this since the summer. They didn’t want to miss your birthday!”
That night, I had a very brief look at my potential new home. Unlike Savannah, Rochester was far more sprawling, but it did seem to have a distinctly Victorian look to it. It was also already snowing there, which still seemed alien to me after all of my years in the south where winter was a myth.
Black and Blue was a beautiful experience. Rochester food will never measure up to Savannah cuisine, but I was still impressed. Rowan assured me that they had a near-unlimited budget for the weekend, which apparently was all that was needed for my inner craving for extravagance to show itself full force. Oysters, wagyu meatballs, a filet mignon oscar, crab fondue, three cocktails– back in the glory days where Rowan didn’t judge me for it.
“This is our first family dinner!” Rowan crooned.
Family dinner. I liked the sound of that, after so many holidays spent drinking alone. This life was more and more tempting as this went on. After dinner, we journeyed to a place called Nox. See, where Arkady and Rowan used to live was a beautiful college sort of neighbourhood that was quite close to popular restaurants, bars, and shops. We parked Rowan’s car in the back of their apartment building and walked down the street to go to the academia-themed bar.
Okay, okay. This was comparable to Savannah. It took, what, like ten minutes to walk to a nice cocktail bar? One that actually looked like Gallery Espresso? I remember sitting there, joking with Rowan and Arkady, looking around. I could actually picture myself at those tables, coming in about once a week with my laptop bag in tow, basking in the atmosphere on a cold winter’s day. “I can’t wait to see you take over this city, too,” Rowan gushed.
I smiled regretfully, taking a sip of my cocktail. “I have a free flat in a historic inn, Rowan. It’ll take me a lot to give that up. And– rooftop bars! A literal speakeasy! I belong to a concierge society where they give me free wine just for existing.”
“What was that?” Rowan teased. “I can’t hear you over the sound of me being able to hold a partner’s hand in public without being hate-crimed in my state.”
I laughed. Okay, fair. “Downtown Savannah is very queer-friendly,” I clarified. “You just… can’t leave downtown.”
Arkady seemed faintly amused. “Yeah, didn’t you tell me you had to go three hours away for your hormones?”
I winced and nodded. The Augusta Equality Clinic visits were as vital as they were unsustainable and I had known that for a while. The fact of my never missing an appointment was mere dubious miracle.
“You realise that Trillium Health is like, within walking distance, right?” Rowan pressed. “You could literally walk to get your bloodwork done for trans stuff.”
I was nodding slowly. It was true– I’d recognised my gilded paradise as a cage and I’d contemplated getting out. I’d toyed with the idea of moving to Europe, the thought that maybe I could save up a few grand and shoot myself at the continent or the British Isles to see if I’d stick. But moving for a relationship?
Isn’t that what killed Neb?
“Savannah has the inn,” I finally said. I was sipping on a cocktail called ‘Dorian Gray’s Halo’, which delighted me endlessly.
“The inn is just a job,” Rowan said, not unsympathetically if I should give them credit. “And they should be paying you for overnights to be there onsite and on-call. And they don’t. You’ve got an apartment, yeah, but that’s basically a glorified employee lounge that you just happen to sleep in.”
It isn’t just a job. I was thinking it, but not saying it, because I knew how pitiful it would sound aloud. The inn had once been my escape from Kirra, then, when the owner was still alive, one of the few semblances of family life I had ever known. The man had invited me to one family Christmas gathering and given me tea, and I clung to that like a childhood stuffed animal. It also allowed me to live my opulent lifestyle, to go to yacht parties, to stride about town with my cane from a townhouse like a Victorian dandy.
Arkady caught me frowning. “Plus, didn’t you say that Apollo was basically your only friend there now?”
Oh, christ, that was bleak. “Speaking of Apollo and the Clinic,” I said, blatantly changing the subject. “They’re late sending the pharmacy instructions to refill his hormones, so he’s a week off for his T shot. He ranted to me yesterday about how he’s going to start detransitioning, how it’s going to kill him, and how the clinic must be willing murderers with a ‘kill count.’ He actually used the words, ‘kill count.’ Which was fascinating to say about a non-profit trying to help trans people, but sure.”
Rowan was intent on really selling life in Rochester to me, though. “We can vacation to Europe like you’ve always wanted!” “I’ll even buy you a moped!”
‘Actually, no. You’ll be lucky to even get a housekey. I will rape your alter, psychologically torture you, accuse you of making the love of your life suicidal, read your journals, and make you homeless and threaten to sue you if you speak up about it.’
I wish I’d remembered enough about that night to tell you what else we talked about, but I remember it as absurdly fun. The next day was Arkady’s birthday party.
I’d even helped with meal preparation, cutting onions, before meeting Sage for the first time. They even hugged me, thrilled to know their best friend’s new partner. We all got on swimmingly, which Arkady treated as his greatest birthday present. It’s probably a petty notion that I retroactively attribute this going well to the fact that Zara could not attend because she was in rehab at the time, but– as the shoe fits, I suppose. That was the first and only times I’ve ever gotten to know Spectre in person, as well.
We all played Cards Against Humanity. I remember, at one point, Arkady had quite the unfortunately apt card for a question Spectre had played. See, someone close to Spectre had recently died of a heroin overdose and Cards Against Humanity had a card that featured the same drug.
Arkady was reasonably hesitant, wide-eyed with the possibility of either a Grade-A dark joke or ruining a friendship. “I want to play this one but it’s really dark.”
Spectre was telling him, “Go on, play it, I want to see what it says.”
“No, like, it’s really dark.”
“No, it’s okay, I want to know! It’s that type of game.”
And he did.
Spectre’s reaction wasn’t anything groundbreaking. A gasp, a hand-covering a mouth, reluctant laughter, maybe even a noise that was somewhere between horrified and amused. Spectre was even in my ‘Gallows Humour’ group for a while, this was nothing they weren’t expecting and I verified that when speaking to them years after the fact. But this will be important later.
This was also the first night where an edible had actually worked on me. It was quite the pleasant experience, that time. I remember there was something so inexplicably hilarious about my opening the fridge that I’d collapsed into giggles. Knowing me, I probably thought of a silly pun about how this was my ‘icebreaker.’ The negative upshot is that I wasn’t able to remember huge chunks of the night.
Looking back in my journal, I write of calling AJ that night. They apparently went on a rant about how their debt was going to kill them. I thought again how Arkady had said that AJ’s upcoming vacation may very well be a last hurrah. I’d spiraled a bit, but damn if I remember many details. I legitimately did not remember that had happened before I’d read it. And you can forget any quotes that might have occurred.
I do remember that I felt the sudden grip of guilt. There AJ was, hovering just above homelessness as always, miserable. And I, for one of the first times that I’d known AJ, was not miserable. The fact that I could no longer meet them on their level felt awkward. I had the possibility of a future, now.
The rest of that night is lost to me. My journal entries of that time spent much more time talking about possibility, and hope, and what I was happy about– I didn’t spend endless hours analyzing the minute plays in a convoluted drama. The idiot I was.
I remember that the three of us were at California Rollin the following evening, just down the street from their flat. At first, it was all smiles and giggles. We were even swapping stories of our ‘other worlds.’ “See, an elf’s organs are actually backwards from a normal human,” Arkady was saying candidly. “I remember one time, in battle, I was struck with an arrow that should have gone through the heart, and I just pulled it out of me and shouted, ‘Wrong side!'”
Well, at least he seemed aware, at one point, that his heart was in the wrong place. But gods, it was refreshing to openly discuss these sorts of things with people who knew how this bizarre double life felt. “During Prosper’s last breakdown, everyone followed him to Japan where he was basically on a dramatic little killing spree. He even knocked out Dominic, the Methusilla Prince, when he tried to intervene. Anyway, we calmed him down, it was basically a whole happy family reunion. We go home, have a few drinks, watch a film… Then we get a call from Joan, asking where Dominic is. He was still unconscious in the bushes in Japan and we’d just kind of forgotten about him, a whole-ass prince. Even funnier is that he didn’t even seem all that surprised.”
Rowan’s story was a bit less… casual. “I remember that I had actually died before, in Faerie. [Arkady] actually had to learn necromancy and go to the afterlife to fetch me back. Sedona and Franky knew about it and just didn’t care. There had to be someone else pretending to be me in my body before [Arkady] brought me back.”
At the time, I felt nothing empathy, or the closest someone like me can feel to it. And now– I feel only amusement and burning curiosity. I wonder if Rowan ‘died’ more convincingly than they ‘fainted.’
Rowan and Arkady then speculated on Spectre for a while– neither of them liked Spectre’s partner, who Zara had turned them against early on. “Did you see how when he arrived, he was leaning away from the door all uncomfortably?” Arkady was saying. “Keep in mind, I put [specific rune, I don’t fucking know] on there. He was probably reacting to it.”
The conversation topic prompted Rowan to sour the mood, for whatever reason. What, bitter about the one who got away, are you? “By the way, you really shouldn’t have played that card, [Arkady.] The heroin one? Really?” Rowan’s tone changed to deathly serious, as if they were a teacher telling a student how disappointed they were in him. “Did you see the look on her face? Like that really hurt her.” It hadn’t– I’d asked years later.
Arkady went silent. I remembered that I’d tried to change the subject, but it wasn’t long before Rowan announced, with no little petulance, “I think I’m going home early.” And they did. I remember well the growing dread in Arkady’s green eyes, like he knew this was something he would have to answer for.
Arkady and I tried to enjoy ourselves, just the two of us. But it wasn’t long before Arkady ceded that he, therefore I, would have to head back to the flat as well. I didn’t think very much of it at the time. Partners had awkward moments and tiffs. I still have friends wherein I leave the table for two minutes and come back to an intense conversation about fair treatment and slights. It was known to happen, and it would really only be ominous in retrospect.
I do remember, on our short walk back, thinking of something to ease the tension. Then I decided to break the ice. Literally. The snowball had disintegrated before it reached Arkady’s head from behind, but he recognised my declaration of war for what it was. It was like a repeat of our sword fight on Bay St. We were laughing, pummeling each other with snow.
I don’t think I’d ever had a proper snowball fight until then. As robbed as I had been of an outerworld childhood, I was making up for lost time.
I could have this. I thought to myself as I received a face-full of snow. Snowball fights with my partner, curling up and watching films, making each other hot cocoa and tea. Wouldn’t that be grand?
It was slowly starting to seem every bit as magnificent as all of the opulence in the world. I’d barely even seen Rochester, but I was ready for it if it included times like this.
I was willing to trade Savannah, my protection, my fortress, a pillar for my personality, for Arkady. And I realised it in that very moment.
We arrived home with snow melting in our hair, still giggling and bickering about who had won. Rowan seemed over ruminating about Arkady’s perceived slights against Spectre. We would continue to drink and joke around, then eventually, the evening turned to more carnal enjoyments.
I think it was inevitable that Oscar Wilde would switch in eventually. He’d been to Rochester in his source life, the meal we enjoyed at Black and Blue had been luxurious, and– well, on my last night there, I’d gotten head while reading ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ aloud.
I’m not abashed to admit it. In fact, it’s a fact I want on my epitaph. That wasn’t the only time, either. I’ve received oral while reading ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ twice in my life. You cannot unread that fact and I do not want you to.
Living Fiction: Cheeky Memoirs of How The Host of a DID System Received Head While Reading Oscar Wilde. TWICE.
How could you not summon Oscar Wilde with that?
Thus, that was my second time switching that I was aware of. My voice had switched to Oscar’s more posh accent, the softer and rounded voice. “You know they say that alcohol,” he began, holding up his glass. “When taken in sufficient quantities, can produce all of the effects of intoxication.”
“I knew you were there,” Visarden had answered, grinning. “I could feel you, darling.”
There, my own memory fades. The other two would go on to tell me that he made a comment that, ‘his teeth were in jail.’ He had been feeling my permanent retainer and gotten confused.
Oscar isn’t as easy to ‘channel’ as a few others, at least not without the risk of him spending my paycheque on a singular meal. Plus, to be blunt, my desire to impress this projection of my hero can turn me into a stammering, flustered fool, but I did recently manage to ask him what else had happened in his brief time out.
“Visarden, the lovely boy, he told me a beautiful thing,” Oscar told me over the champagne I’d lured him out with. “He told me that ‘same sex marriage’, as they called it, and that Uranian love, love that exists between two men, could be had without shame, without sentencing, in countries all over the world. I felt a bittersweet sort of catharsis, at that. I nearly wept. I told him, if that had been the same in my life, I would have yearned to have been wed to him. He told me, in a tone as gentle and reviving as a nightcap, that he already had known. Pity that it came far too late for us.”
“He then told me that I had been officially pardoned by the crown,” Oscar continued with a tone that sounded more weary than bitter. “One hundred and seventeen years after I was already buried. I know the saying is ‘Better late than never’, but in this case, it seems merely cruel to have done so after all of this time.”
He’d toasted to Queen Elizabeth II’s death recently, by the way.
“That evening, though blissful I’d once more reunited with my dear boy, was repulsed and shocked by an imitation of my sister.” Come on, would you expect Rowan not to be repugnant enough to ‘channel’ the dead sister of Oscar to him? “It was ghastly,” Oscar told me quietly. “A garish mimicry of someone so beloved to me. I was repulsed. I felt sorry to have even witnessed it. I quit the scene shortly thereafter. It very much offended me in every sense.”
“You didn’t call them out?” After his pause at my unfamiliar wording, I clarified, “You didn’t confront them?”
Oscar shook his head. “I’d reunited with Visarden. It wouldn’t do to have a row.”
“That, and you’re too much of a Libra for confrontation that doesn’t involve talking someone to death.” I’d told him. I’m pretty proud of the fact that made him laugh.
My first time in Rochester, and Rowan had attempted to manipulate my alter, only to fail and hurt him. It would have been a red flag, had I known. But would I have listened?
AJ began their vacation, their long-awaited return back to Savannah, on December the 1st. It felt rather awkward, the timing. Of course, I’d taken a considerable amount of time off in November for my birthday and Arkady’s. To squeeze this in at the end felt very much like I was pushing it and couldn’t devote as much time as I wanted.
Plus, as I remember it, it was planned somewhat haphazardly and last-minute. Arkady’s vacation was established well before AJ had said, “Oh, wait, I can visit too!” Early December was apparently one of the only months they could do it, we found out, and it was presumably then or never. But how could I not?
This was to be our only time that revolved around each other. AJ didn’t have University, I didn’t have to sneak around an abusive and forcibly-monogamous partner. We were free. It felt like a victory.
Of course, AJ arrived dressed to the nines and bearing gifts, decor, and even alcohol. I was beside myself with giddyness. Of course, one make-out session later, we’d talked and we then fell asleep on my makeshift bed on the floor. The tragedy of this vacation being so closely tailed with Arkady’s was that the comparison seemed unavoidable. I felt frustrated, even guilty, at the fact that I couldn’t sleep half as soundly next to AJ as I had managed with Arkady.
As you read these blogs, you may begin to wonder if I loved one partner more than the other. In truth, I’m not sure. I certainly didn’t mean to. The fact is, I’ve written the majority of this blog out of love with AJ, but my idiotic heart is still in love with Arkady, so I imagine this colours my memories. Plus, with AJ’s constant threats of suicide, I was never able to love them safely. There was always caution, always restraint, always the numbness and certain amounts of pessimism. I’m not sure if I ever actually trusted them not to abandon me in the most dramatic of ways.
The second night was lovely. I’d unfortunately had to work most of the day but I’d procured AJ the Blue Cottage in the inn’s courtyard at my usual discount. Being off work, I was greeted by a floral, purple lavender cocktail they concocted that they had decided to make Prince-themed. They had this entire set-up of blue gems, edible glitter, and even “Purple Rain” playing in the background.
You can’t accuse Alex Jean Lovelle for doing anything half-assed, that’s for damn sure.
They’d also themed a cocktail after a ‘Golden Afternoon.’ AJ and I had always referenced that when we were dating, how our courting days were our ‘Golden Afternoons.’ I actually had to wrack my brain to discover it’s a reference to a scene in the Pandora Hearts manga, but I remember no details, which is definitely a sign that I have no lingering finer feelings for them.
The stress of the week was what ended up sticking in my mind. Thinking of Arkady’s prediction, there was a maddening desperation and feeling of impending doom that seemed to rise with every given day like a fever. I remember nearly having a goddamn anxiety attack when we were both taking pictures of one another in Colonial Park Cemetery.
See, mutual photoshoots had been one of our favourite past-times. I must not have remembered how nerve-wracking it was trying to take a picture of someone this fucking dysphoric and dysmorphic. “Make sure you’re at an upward angle. No, not like that. And don’t let my hips show! See, there I look bottom-heavy. See how bottom-heavy I look? And make sure when I look up at you, I don’t look like Harry Potter.”
That last request was new, specific, and constantly repeated. I remember, with stiff hands, taking pictures of them as they stood among the trees. “Are you sure I don’t look like Harry Potter? I don’t want to look like Harry Potter.” “Do you want me to raise my chin up? Do I look like Harry Potter?” “Just make sure I don’t look like Harry Potter.” “I don’t want to look like Harry Potter.”
“W-What– Why the fuck do you keep mentioning Harry Potter?” Don’t you have enough oddly specific complexes about your appearance? You have to understand, they’d said ‘Harry Potter’ enough times that it was starting to give me a complex. Not that I was a fan of Rowling even before her bigotry stopped being subtle, but I was relatively sure that even a stranger casually mentioning the series would’ve risked an outburst from me that day.
AJ looked up at me as if I were dense. “People have told me before. That I look like Harry Potter. And I don’t want to. I think he looks like a frog.”
I’d stared at them for a long while before asking, “Well, were you wearing your round glasses when they said that?” I’d had that plenty of times– mine was even worsened by my English accent. Americans see someone in round glasses in any manner of ‘dressed-up’ and immediately say, ‘Wow! You’re like Harry Potter!’ because they hadn’t read a book for recreation since the 8th grade.
“Yeah?” AJ didn’t see the connection.
“Well, then, okay.”
A lot of our photoshoots (I believe there were three) went swimmingly enough. Of course, they designed a particular gold and white outfit and mercilessly outshone me. I adored every minute of it.
Another fraught detail was that AJ didn’t precisely take vacation time off for this week-long excursion. “Yeah, I called in sick and told them I have pink eye,” they said with a shrug.
It was a relatively new job that was rare in the fact that AJ could sustain it for a while, even vaguely tolerate it. I think they were the only one surprised when, after more than seven days of the same ‘pink eye’ excuse with no proof, they were taken off the schedule permanently. This lack of planning hinted to me that AJ really was using this as a last hurrah and snuffing it right after.
Part of me blames Arkady’s use of clairvoyance to cause more pressure on the vacation, but even without pseudo-psychic predictions, I might have come to the same conclusion myself. Between the rushed planning, the constant allusions to their end, and the fact they’d heaped a lot of ‘spare’ testosterone vials on me ‘just in case’ seemed rather textbook. Hell, I was used to waiting until the week of to buy AJ a birthday present. But gods, the prospect was daunting.
Not going to lie, the result was that I was drunk most of the time. I’m certain you lot are shocked. “I hope you don’t feel you need to drink to be around me,” AJ once said in a saddened tone as I made my way halfway through a bottle of gin.
“No, of course not!” I’d all but hiccuped the reply.
The next morning beheld a rather nasty hangover. I remember commiserating with William through text and the dear thing was giving me pointers for recovery, knowledge left over from his own alcoholic days.
But it did make me happy to make AJ happy. AJ loved the cat cafe and walking around their old Savannahian stomping grounds. They even met up with a good friend of theirs and were able to spend time with them while I was stuck at work.
As the vacation was drawing to a close, I was feeling more apprehensive. Ominous dread was building in my veins, restricting blood flow. I wanted everything to go right. This might even be their last fucking week alive. I couldn’t help but notice, with my diminished bank account and a lack of days off, that everything went less smoothly during AJ’s vacation than Arkady’s had. For example, I was thinking I might at least introduce them to Mata Hari. See, the speakeasy opened at 9pm, and my curfew was at 10pm.
But of course, Mata Hari was at least 15 minutes late to opening. Then when they did, despite seeing us having waited for them, they let in a bloody bachelorette party and served them all before us.
“I’ve never seen any of these people before,” AJ began. “But I’m pretty sure they all bullied me in high school.”
I wasn’t served until 9:35pm, at which point I was hurtling toward anxiety-induced apoplexy. I could only spend ten minutes in there before needing to rush off. AJ, at least, didn’t seem to mind. My god, was I really more neurotic out of the two of us during those times? What was the world coming to?
It was the very last night that seemed to define this vacation to me. We went to the Forsyth Mansion. Yes, the legendary Forsyth Mansion that we’d first made out in. Look, I’ve even found a picture of the infamous trap door in the mirrored wall!
And of course, we had to recreate our whirlwind tryst. Stepping into the hidden space that was clearly intended to be a storage area, we embraced like we were in a novel. It was nice, but by then, dread was utterly strangling me. This should have been the moment. It should have broken through all of the terrible feelings that had been building.
But it didn’t. That’s not current feelings colouring that memory. I hated myself for that, my sheer inability to exist in the moment without bracing for their loss.
Maybe they picked up on that– the fact that we couldn’t recapture the magic of what happened in the same trap door closet five years before. I felt fucking defective. Either way, just after this make-out session, AJ launched into their own breakdown.
Now, I never wrote down the details to this, but from my memory, AJ and I had sat down to enjoy a charcuterie board and drinks, their treat, before wandering into the ballroom. But then, AJ had seen the bill and realised that purchasing the charcuterie board may have put them in a deficit when it was time to pay for the extra fee for their luggage the following day. So, then there was a crisis about that, something that they tried to keep at bay until they were laying on their back in the centre of the ballroom floor, staring up at the chandelier’d ceilings.
“I don’t want to leave,” AJ said despairingly. “I’ll have to go back to Portland and my life there is so awful. I just lost my job. I can’t keep living like this. I don’t know what to do.” They were nearly sobbing, those jerking dry sobs they stared up at the ceiling with sheer foreboding.
As was my usual go-to, I was trying to focus on the few problems I could solve. Their one problem being, they needed money for their luggage fee. My problem– I was badly in need of a drink or five. “So, I was thinking,” I began hesitantly. “On the way home, I’ll buy some wine and give you change for the luggage fee. That’ll at least ease your mind about that.”
Again, I don’t remember the full details, but I want to say that my actual bank account was tapped out and that I was relying on my cash reserve for the rest of this trip? That was likely the reason I couldn’t just transfer the money to AJ and I feel like I only had larger bills. But I’m speculating at least a portion of that.
But no, AJ was locked in a tunnel vision stare onto their meager semblance of a life. “I wish I could just stay here. I have to leave tomorrow. I don’t want to. I’m always poor and I don’t even have enough money for the luggage fee.”
I was frowning, lounging on the floor. “Well, it’s getting close to 10pm. We have enough time to swing by the store, and I could buy wine, give you the change.”
This conversation cycled back through those at least three times before AJ finally said, “I don’t know why you’re so focused on buying wine!” they whined.
I had to pause and take into account both their despair and the fact that they had been drinking too. “… To get you change. For your baggage fee.”
I went with them and their friend, Audrey, to drop them off at the airport. I was very nearly close to breaking– the past few days had been a blur of cortisol and alcohol. As much as I hated myself for this, I was relieved. It felt like watching a dying relative struggle through their last few weeks. There was a guilt, a strangling sort of shame, of secretly wanting to get it over with.
Arkady and I had both been wrong. AJ actually didn’t attempt anything after the vacation, though they certainly never stopped threatening it. I thought it was going to be the last time I would ever see them. And considering what they would go on to do to me, I wish it was.
Late March of 2019:
I’d known Vali for years, but only on Facebook. He was part of my distant yet ever-present audience and, via the magic of filters and editing, I enjoyed seeing him post selfies as well. On Christmas eve of 2018, Rowan told me that Vali had a crush on them and that they’d begun talking. I’d hardly had good news since.
First, the disaster of my recovering from top surgery. As Rowan was my saviour, I felt evermore pressured to make my decision to move. With no lack of nerves, I announced to management that I would be moving in October of that year.
On Valentine’s day, Vali and his then partner, Vic, had an intense fight wherein Vali was physically injured. “Xanthe, would you mind if [Vali] moved in?”
“No,” I finally said. “If anything happens, we’ll communicate and work it out.” To say I was terrified would have been an understatement.
But by May, Arkady was distraught with Rowan’s sudden favouritism towards Vali, especially as they neglected him as he was worryingly sick to ‘fuck [Vali] for ten hours.’ Anything that even mentioned Vali became a conflict. Not only that, but Apollo had at last used the fact of his employment as means to sabotage me and had suddenly quit as I was recovering from top surgery. My work hours had been at least doubled ever since.
As in, six day shifts, and recurring overnight shifts. I’d done the math and there were only 56 hours in the weeks in which I wasn’t at the inn. We kept trying to hire people, but we were failing. Management, Laura in particular, was shaming me– “You’ve got it good! You’re young, why are you complaining? Are you really going to tell me that you’re stressed out in sunny Savannah, Georgia?“
But then Rowan had Arkady and I married in Faerie, so I had that odd combination of rapturous bliss and sheer terror.
I couldn’t reconcile this– this exaltation, this dread, all burning at unbearable velocity.
So, I decided to drink about it. I went out with Apollo to Co, then I went to Peregrine, then to Edgar’s. As a seasoned alcoholic, I drank a good amount on the regular, and it was only five cocktails. I’ve had eight or more and been fine. But I have vague memories of a table of businessmen flirting with Apollo. Apollo had Kirra’s habit of entertaining pitiful and even dangerous versions of attention– maybe the two of them– the one of them– did have NPD like myself.
Narcissists are more likely to be victims of abuse than abusers themselves. We like the attention. Sometimes, even if it’s dangerous.
I excused myself to the loo, came back, and finished my drink.
The more I think about it, the more I’m certain I was roofied that night. The group of businessmen were hovering by our table and were interested in Apollo. They must’ve just dosed the wrong drink because Apollo was fine that night. I only had one more brief drink at Edgar’s before making my way back for curfew.
Mates, this was a walk I’d made a thousand times in Savannah. Google it– the walk from DeSoto to Chatham Square. It was 10 minutes, at most, and only two turns. So, tell me, in all of my years of drinking and walking home, was this the only time I’d ever gotten lost? As in, I couldn’t recognise my surroundings– I was falling into the bushes, way off track, having to use Google Maps to find my way home in a city I could usually navigate blindfolded. I was calling Rowan and Arkady, scared, nearly sobbing.
They both accused me of drinking too much.
I’ve drank in Savannah, mates. I’ve drank a lot in Savannah. I did not have an empty stomach that night, I did not have any more than I had in my binge nights. And even in the nights where I was aiming to be fucked up, I’d always made it back– sometimes traumatising a karaoke bar on the way, but getting lost was outside of the realm of possibility.
It took me 45 minutes to get home for my overnight on-call shift. And by the time I was, it was only ten minutes later until someone rang the bell, and I checked them in. I checked them in accurately, I might add. No wrong room, nothing that had gone wrong, I’d even helped them carry their luggage. But I was slurring.
And they noticed. And they left a review, saying as much.
I was sitting in Laura’s office. Laura had been… trying as of late. I’d been a fond acquaintance of hers. I’d vented to her, done photoshoots with her, drank with her, laughed with her. Her boomer mentality was showing through, chiding me for begging for days off, citing my youth as a reason for why I wouldn’t need them. She even made an unofficial rule about eating meals with onions at the desk and would come in at random intervals, sniffing the air like a damn bloodhound. But damn me, when I was in her office for this review, I still had a bit of hope for the interaction.
‘Oh, shit, Xanthe, I didn’t realise this was overwhelming you this bad,’ she was saying in my most deluded of fantasies of how capitalism worked. ‘I’m sorry. Here, take a few days off. And maybe we’ll discuss some addiction resources for you.’
I was sick and struggling. I was– and am– an alcoholic. I was about to dive headfirst into the worst mistake of my life. But after I told her the summations of this review were true, that I was indeed drunk that night, there was no leeway. “Xanthe. Really? I mean, I’ve been in my 20’s too, I know what it’s like, but brew a pot of coffee for god’s sake.” She was pacing in the office. The office used to be the owner’s, but he’d been gone for nearly four years, and it was my private opinion that the inn had been going downhill since. “I almost wish you’d had lied to me. What happened to the employee I first met when I started working here? C.L., the Concierge Legend?”
I didn’t want to lie to you because I know I’m sick and I need help. I was sitting in the chair in this refurbished basement room. “I was careful–… I usually have a limit for how much I have if I know I’m due back for overnights. I don’t know what happened, actually. I’m never like that off of five drinks, and I was drinking plenty of water…” My eyes were unfocused. I was fidgeting to the point where I tore my hands apart at the nail bed. “I can’t do these hours,” I’d said roughly. “I don’t mind doing overnights and I was fine when it was only three afternoon shifts a week, but–… We still haven’t replaced Apollo. I barely have any personal time. Like– there’s literally no day of the week that I can drink and recoup. I’m extremely stressed.”
She paced around the room. I wasn’t the employee at the inn I am at [HOTEL REDACTED.] I actually gave a fuck. My first good review at this place was laminated and stuck on my fridge. “So, you’re just… throwing in the towel?”
I winced. “Not exactly. I found some serotonin tablets at the apothecary. I’ve been sleeping a lot…”
“Sounds like putting a band-aid on it,” Laura said gruffly.
I made the most silent sigh I could manage.
“Why October?” Laura asked suddenly. “Why are you waiting?”
I’d paused. I was a live-in attendant. Not only were they replacing an employee, but they were replacing a tenant. “I was trying to give you enough notice…” I’m trying to see if Rowan’s new partner is going to be a wrench in the machine. I’m scared. I know I can’t say it but why can’t you see it? When a loyal employee of six years suddenly has an issue, you ask them what’s wrong.
“Sounds like you’re pretty miserable here,” Laura said. She worded it as if it were an accusation.
I swallowed. “I’m not miserable working here…” I loved my job. I loved my job so much. I joked that it was one of the few things in life I was able to commit to. I loved the guests, the gilded antiqued scenery, the themed rooms– And when you lot had called me family, my pathetic, neglected ass believed it.
“Why wait until October? Sounds like you’re burnt out. That way, you don’t have to be miserable and we won’t have to deal with people leaving bad reviews about you.” She was flippant as she said this, which felt like a punch to the gut.
So, that was it, then. What had long been my sanctuary had stopped being uninhabitable for defective people like me. Years of tea in the courtyard, petting the cats, managing last minute reservations at the Pink House, guests telling me that I helped make this the best anniversary/birthday they’d ever had. “Yeah,” I said gruffly, after a long moment. “How about June?”