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Aug 4 2018, 05:06 PM
"Did the two of you always drink when you're together?" Zelda's therapist asked her. She interjected the question casually, sounding more curious than clinical, but her words made Zelda frown and wrinkle her nose. Did they always drink when they were together? Zelda started to say 'no', because it was factually correct, but brought herself up short, because she sensed the spirit of the question was more important than its literal nature. After a moment, she said 'No' anyways, and moved on with whatever she had been talking about, because she had limited time to divulge the many things on her mind.

The question stuck with her. Had they always drank? And how much? She worked backwards for the answer. Had they drank the last time they'd seen each other, almost a month and a half ago? Absolutely. Zelda drank in spite of the conscious knowing she should not, knowing that drinking would likely make her more emotional. What about the time before that? Oh god, yes, they had drank, on top of getting high. And the time before that? Again, at Troy's house, yes. And the time before that? No, but they were high. And the time before that? Yes. She turned their encounters over like stones, and she kept finding mezcal, scotch, gin, vodka. In their last days, they had drank, and drank often.

When she stretched her memory back further, things happened differently. When she first met Troy, Zelda had not drank. She had been a terrible drinker at various points in her life, mostly to prove that she was capable of destroying herself. She had learned to drink past her size for bravado; she enjoyed blunting the razor-sharp edges of her consciousness, and still being able to think past and around other people. She considered drinking and driving to be a kind of extreme sport, one where her overactive mind, typically scattered in all directions, had to focus itself on the immediate task at hand, lest disaster strike. She drank and drank and drank and finally gotten bored with it, and when she met Troy, she only ever ordered water with her meals. Cocktails were something she ordered on dates, and they were not, to her conscious awareness, dating.

They had gone on hikes, and gone to the beach - they did not drink there. They had gone to restaurants, and Zelda had ordered more water. In retrospect Zelda saw there had been a time when they were genuinely at ease in one another's company, where the informal rejection of a romantic context had allowed them to relax away from pretense and posturing. Of course, this had been a deception, but it had been out in the open, a conspiracy that went around in broad daylight and no one said its name. It was during this period that Zelda said little of Troy to anyone, as she averted her eyes away from her own heart.

The drinking had started after she had rejected Troy, and then pushed herself back into his life. When they had met in the day, or at some halfway point, sobriety was required for their separate treks home. Conscious of her misstep, unable to negotiate a mid-point rendezvous, Zelda began turning up at Troy's apartment, where there was nothing to stop him from drinking. Perhaps knowing that she was coming helped him get started.

He drank, and so she drank; she suddenly cared about his approval, and sought it in the recultivation of her tolerance. When they went out to dinner, she drank when he did - he always drank. They did not go hiking anymore. They stayed in at night, and drank, and wandered the suburban blocks near his house, swinging on the swings and wandering through the children's playground, wet with night dew. She drank because some part of her knew, deep down, that she had cracked his heart neatly in two, and that he couldn't stand to be near her unless he was drinking. She drank with him because that way she did not have to ask about his heart.

*

She missed him terribly. It was stupid, Zelda thought, how much she missed him.

She compared the way she missed Troy to the way she missed Roisin, and drew up the the parallels. The two of them formed a mirror that Zelda used to look at herself, and the way that she tried to dissolve herself into other people. Like a spider who knows by instinct how to weave the pattern of its web, Zelda had replicated old habits.

She revealed herself in waves, in intense ebbs and flows and sorrowful confessions said in the lightest of tones, immersing people in her own inner landscape. Then came a tipping point, in which she inverted herself - she flipped herself inside-out and swallowed up the interlocutor; she sought to know everything about them, to accept everything about them. By then she had had often woven herself into the fabric of day-to-day living, present in idle chatter and jokes and pictures and links to funny things scattered across the web. Long ago, she had talked to Roisin every day, and had often been perfectly content to talk about nothing at all. What are you getting for lunch? Who said what at work today? How's the weather? What do you think of these shoes?

But Roisin had gone much further, had burrowed much deeper, than Troy had the opportunity to. Roisin was still omnipresent, having become so much a part of Zelda that the remnants were Zelda. People were always changing, even if those changes weren't permanent. They came in contact with each other and shifted as the social situation demanded. They brushed off on each other, leaving the dust of their personalities, like pollen, on one another. When people were in constant contact with each other, these changes went past the superficial. Still, when people separated, they often returned to who they had been, or they diluted the impact of the lost person until, one day, there was no longer any trace of them.

With Roisin, Zelda had lost herself - she had not been able to wholly conceive of Roisin as another person, nor of herself as another person. Without being able to put it into words, she had felt them, on as visceral level, as an omniperson, as two extensions of a single soul, and their conflicts were not of two individuals but of a single spirit attempting to resolve the contradictions of being alive. When Roisin had broken away, Zelda had kept a copy of her, a replicant with whom Zelda conversed and prayed to. Slowly, that Roisin had blended into Zelda, and now there was only Zelda - and yet, not only Zelda.

Troy - well, maybe Troy had had that potential. Maybe he was what Roisin would have looked like, had they not been separated by thousands of miles and canyons of invulnerability. She and Roisin had, in their own way, learned to drink around one another, only they had written stories. She and Troy had tried to drink their way through their unease, with mixed success, whereas she and Roisin had written their way through it, to rave reviews. Zelda realized that she was drawn towards dysfunction, which she then managed with varying degress of success.

And she missed him.

It was an unpopular kind of missing. Most of her friends could not quite understand how she could profoundly miss her own humiliation - and it had been a humiliating end. Back and forth they had gone, Zelda making blind Frankenstein offers for an open relationship, then rescinding them; Troy saying that was acceptable, then it wasn't, then it was; the two of them worked up to a poisonous lather, the main difference being that Zelda became determined to cure herself, as opposed to dying slowly. The threat of two months apart to set herself straight metastasized into three. At the high point of her agony, she made good on that threat. She cloaked herself in excruciating silence, and still, she missed him.

It was only in the beginning that she was very deeply hurt by her losing, by the fact that she victory had slipped through her fingers. She was hurt by being parted from her comforting illusions, the ones where she could stop chasing, stop running, stop purusing, because she had arrived. But Zelda knew she had not arrived. When she arrived to something, she knew it, as securely as a bird alighting on a wire. In Troy she had only arrived to the finality of Roisin. She had just managed to reach that gravestone, after wandering the cemetery for years. But Troy himself was not an end point. She had known this but had wished otherwise, and been sorry for it.

After this, she was not especially angry at Troy for not choosing her. He had simply revealed the limits of his humanity and his virtues. All people had their limits of humanity and their virtues - they simply weren't often put in positions that profoundly tested them. While life was overflowed daily with many banal opportunities to affirm whether one was good, or kind, or patient, or sincere, it was rare that someone like Zelda arrived and insisted on dragging every hairless, blind thing into the light, screaming for the safety of the underground. Zelda had seen the hairless blind things of quite a few people, scuttling about from shadow to shadow, digging a new tunnel, snuffling their whiskers at dusk; she knew that if she held still, and was quick, that she could grab them and hold them tight. Sometimes she even did - but never for very long, and not with the same ruthless honesty she had inflicted on Troy. She suspected that people needed to believe that Troy had deserved the full measure of her wrath, because if he had not, then they were just as much at risk. Troy had hurt her deeply, it was true, more than most, but only because she'd given him that unique opportunity.

The anger of others simmered around her, ready to flare up at the mention of Troy. They told her to forget him, to leave him behind. But she went on a single date, out dancing with another man, and when she told her jokes and danced and felt the warm waves of respect and desire wash over her, all she could think about was how Troy would have had a joke of his own in answer, how it would all have been funnier and more meaningful with him. She missed him even then.

She drank. Did you always drink when you were together? No. But if they had to, she thought, to see each other again, maybe it might be worth it.
Jun 20 2018, 10:41 AM


COMPLAIN HERE
  • whine about things that annoy you
  • comment on other people's whining
  • have a good time
May 6 2018, 10:00 PM
The process of preparing to die came very easily to Zelda: she had an unfortunate amount of experience with it.

Throughout her life, she'd gotten stuck periodically murdering the current version of herself and replacing it with a more polished substitute. The new and the old had at least one opposing desire or trait, and the old always came up obsolete; the trial was fixed before it ever began. Zelda understood that wanting one thing did not preclude wanting something entirely different, but it was necessary to have the willpower to bludgeon one want out of existence. It was with solemn surrender that she prepared to kill the version of herself that was in love with Troy. In only a month and a half, that version had made more trouble than it was worth.

He would not choose her - this was a certainty. Zelda went through a list of reasons why in her head. Maxine was weak - Zelda was strong. In these battles, the strong did not triumph over the weak, because the weak were seen as noble and deserving of care, while the strong were brutes who could stomach a loss. Men liked weak creatures, because they pitied them, because they wanted to save them. Maxine was simple, honest - Zelda was complicated, sometimes opaque. Maxine had done nothing wrong. Zelda had wrought wrong, by changing the object of the game halfway through. Troy would behold Maxine in her weakness, and he, too, would be weak. No matter how he claimed he felt - and there was a good chance he was lying - he would not be strong.

Maxine would visit for the weekend. Troy would get dinner with Zelda afterwards. Zelda went shopping to find the last thing she wanted to be seen in. The sales associate asked if she was going to a wedding. No, Zelda thought, A funeral. She would die covered in roses.

*

It was painful, every moment of it. The drive across town was an hour filled with sad music and her palms sweating on the steering wheel. Her mind wandered to crashing her car into one of the cement dividers, as to absolve herself of going. At the same time, she vibrated with anticipation. She would have an answer. She would wonder no more.

The beginning went as she anticipated, only she had misrepresented to herself how much she liked Troy. She had blinded herself to the contours of her love to ease her own death, and when she saw him, and they talked, and everything came easily, she realized she had not come fully prepared. If she had been a coward, she could have carried them forward forever, talking about nothing, feeling nothing, delaying the necessary. When the menus came out, and Troy began ordering, Zelda had sunk into pit of perfect despair. She liked the person she was with him; she liked his tastes, his sense of humor, the aesthetic he added to her life. She saw the two of them from a distance, heard their witty conversation. Now she was to lose all these things.

She waited until the appetizers came out to draw first blood. She did not know how long it would take to come to mortal blows, and she did not want to languish through the entrees. "So, how was your weekend?"

He hesitated, then answered. "It was good."

"That was an open-ended question, to provide you with the opportunity to speak at length, uninterrupted." She craved death.

He arched his eyebrows at her. "That's an extremely direct takedown."

"I believe in ripping band-aids off."

Of course, he had not been able to end things with Maxine. Of course, Maxine had not been able to end things with Troy. Zelda had predicted this: both of them were clearly quite stupid. Troy was stupid because he confused pity for love. Maxine was stupid because the best she could manage was to say that she would be sad if Troy left her, but she would understand. As usual, that left things to Zelda. She felt that a loaded pistol had been set down between them, and of course, she would have to be the one to pull the trigger.

"You realize this puts me in an untenable position," Zelda said.

He argued with her - another thing she had not anticipated. Perhaps she had expected greater humility from him, or greater intelligence: humility, in that he would act against feelings of greed, of wanting things both ways; and intelligence, in that Zelda's move to his counter-move was textbook, and inevitable. He would have had the time and space to accept that there was only one response, that from here things would proceed like clockwork, that this was a tragedy with its end written from the start. But apparently Troy suffered a deficiency in both, because he would not accept that the only sensible thing was for Zelda to leave.

"I told you how I feel," he said. "That is how I feel."

"Good to know it wasn't just drugs." He had ordered drinks for them, liquor as well as beer, and she poured herself a shot of sake before chasing it with the Kirin. She knew that she should not be drinking, but it was also she could do to keep herself busy. "But that doesn't make things better, Troy. That makes things worse."

"You said we could be friends." His tone became accusatory, sulky. "Were you lying?"

"No, I was very high, and I've had more time to think about how strong my feelings are."

When people disagreed with her at length, Zelda often found it useful to reframe her decisions in a way that spotlighted the advantages for the other person. She felt it was a bit of a cowardly move, a tactic that forced her to abandon the simple virtue of wanting things that she wanted and not catering to others, but it was useful in prying people's fingers from things they clung to. She told Troy that he had destroyed the boundaries between them, that now she knew how he felt and there was no recourse. She told him that she would be unable to accept friendship. She told him that she was ambitious, and that she was motivated. She told him in the most delicate way she could muster that she would advocate his cheating on Maxine. Zelda did not want to be that person. She refused to be.

His attacks withered. "But I care about. I talk to you every day."

You'll live, she wanted to tell him. I'll live. We'll both live. This will be a bad dream. "Again, that is a problem, not a positive."

They fell into silence. They engaged in a competition to see who could avoid crying at the dinner table the longest. Zelda realized later that she could have let things die there, that she could have changed the subject to something banal and frittered the next hour away; she could have simply been silent. If she had been stronger, she would have given up on dinner and left then; she would have quit while she was ahead. But when she looked at Troy, something in her brain fizzled out, and something else, some malevolent back-up generator, came online. She felt an overpowering urge to save him, to save the both of them. If he loved her, wasn't he worth saving?

"Well," she snapped, "Do you have any better ideas?"

She worked out her own theories as she drove him. He asked her for parameters; she said she had none. He said he'd never been in a position where he cared for two people at once; she told him to get over it. He said he'd always made fun of people in polyamorous relationships, that they were awkward and socially maladjusted; she agreed with him, then told him to eat his words. He said he needed time to think; she told him to think now, think fast, and think out loud. In truth she was only filling the silence, drawing up her own plan. She excused herself to the bathroom, and polished the details while washing her hands.

"Fine," Zelda said, when she came out. The restaurant was closing. "You're lucky I'm a genius. Here are the rules."

*

The rules were terrible. Zelda realized this the morning after she'd failed to murder her past self. She had utterly compromised herself. She had been a coward. She had insisted on saving something that should not have been saved, and, worst of all, she recognized the tendency.

With Roisin, Zelda had resurrected their relationship more times than she ever should have. In fact, both of them had. They elevated the virtues of loyalty and persistence above all other feelings; only at the very, very end had Roisin broken from their private religion. For ages they had conspired to make their relationship into something unbreakable. They had observed the fights and failings of others with almost sadistic glee, and sought to reverse-engineer an immunity to all the common pitfalls of relationships. In doing so, they became inhuman. Still, years later, Zelda retained the ability to make a living thing from dead parts. She knew how to keep a dying thing alive, even against its will. She had begun to kill the old versions of her and Troy, but had recoiled halfway through.

"I don't want to be humiliated," she had told Troy. "I don't want to explain this to anyone." She wanted to introduce Troy as her boyfriend without asterisks or footnotes. She wanted to speak to Maxine directly about the situation. She wanted to retain her freedom to see whoever else she wanted. Go, she said, and present my terms. Talk to Maxine.

But it was madness. It was insensible. No sane person could - or should - accept those terms. No sane person would have offered them. Zelda thought she had left her Dr. Frankenstein habits behind with Roisin, but here they were again. It was frightening, to see that those habits were as strong as they had ever been, though there was something strangely reassuring as well. She had thought that whole parts of her personhood had vanished with Roisin, and yet, here they were. They had been here all along, only sleeping.

Still, Zelda found herself unable to withdraw her offer. She felt that would seem ignoble, and worse, indecisive. It was better to be evil or incompetent than to be unable to make a decision. Instead, she decided that, if she was not given an answer immediately, she would recuse herself from the situation entirely.

It was not a difficult battle for her to win. That day, Troy came and said he'd spoken with Maxine, but that she needed more time. Take all the time you want, Zelda told him, both you. But leave me alone for two months, unless you have the answer that I want. Troy took that one in stride.

The day after that, Zelda woke with a sigh of relief. She laid the first flower on the grave. One day, she thought, I will wake up, and I won't love him anymore. She had thought that feeling love again would liberate her, only to realize that what she called love was something much more dangerous than the garden variety, and that this danger lay sleeping within her, and not the object of her affection. Love lay within her, waiting for favorable conditions, before it exploded into view, laying waste to her principles, drawing her towards oblivion. Love made her want to turn inside-out, and vanish in a wink. Love was to hollow herself out with fire and grow poisonous things from the ashes. It was love, if love was what she had felt for Roisin.

But she could still do it. She could still assassinate this version of herself, and put a better clone in its place. She just needed time. If she could not die fast, then she would find a way to die slowly. She would a way.

Hadn't she always?
Apr 25 2018, 01:21 PM
If you like Barbermonger and you're looking for more ways to contribute, how about becoming a moderator? Your job would include:
  • moving old one-on-one ads
  • posting external advertisements
  • being a friendly chatterbox
  • flagging questionable content
Basic qualifications are:
  • you are not a high-maintenance middle manager hungry for power
Anyone is invited to apply! Applications eternally open! DM me on Barbermonger or Discord (Sasha#4536) to discuss further.

To apply:
  • Let me know a little bit about you (name, age, forum experience, etc.)
  • Why you want to be a moderator
  • Your best moderator trait and your worst moderator trait

Look forward to hearing from you!
Apr 25 2018, 12:38 PM
Do you like Barbermonger? Me too! What a great time we have here! If you also like Barbermonger, and would like to throw a few dollars at site costs, there's a link for that now!

ko-fi.com/barbermonger

Site costs include:
  • $120 a year - domain costs
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  • $15 a year - Cbox premium

    Stretch goals would include:
  • $96 a year - premium independent hosting
  • $240 upfront - Xenforo
  • $50 a year - Xenforo renewal
Should you donate, feel free to DM me with silly requests, such as changing my username or discord name, special pixels, etc.
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