Status Imperfectus

Annabelle stands on the rooftop of Griffith College. She doesn’t mean to imitate the brooding nature of Batman, however cool it would be to be him, or Kate Kane. She knows that she should leave the brooding to Jasper, even if these nights he doesn’t have as much to brood about. Even now, after everything Nelli and Victor would find it absolutely hilarious that “Baby B” is being all angsty up here like some stereotypical vampire. Hell, even Ramona would heckle her if she were here with one of her Rat Pack.

She wishes Ramona were here, even with her duties to the Valkyries: one of the results of her own decisions as leader or the face of the Anarch Movement such as it is. Annabelle also wishes X were here too. And …

Annabelle replays the song on her phone. She knows she shouldn’t. She knew the risks. But she can’t let herself forget. The Brujah cannot ever let herself forget.

“I hurt myself to-day, to see if I still feel …” 

She laughs, wetly, through her blood tears. The song is both ridiculous, and it hurts. It hurts that this is the music on the Playlist tonight.

“Well, it’s no Linkin Park.” A gruff, almost gravelly voice says right beside her.

Despite all this time, and everything she’s learned, Annabelle feels the blood rise inside of her. Part of it is instinct. The predator, the Beast that is now her constant companion, snarls and wants to brace itself against a potential threat in her personal space. According to her own experiences, and talks with both Nines and Casey, their Clan are even more prone to angry outbursts, to rage, than some of the others: just as they were capable of still feeling great moral outrage and passion. But it is more than fury, it is also fear: fight or flight. And it is more than just being startled, even with her heightened senses and still being caught off guard.

It’s the vampire next to her. The other Brujah in her life. It’s him catching at an emotionally vulnerable moment.

“Carver, fuck!” Annabelle growls, deciding on anger, snatching her cellphone away from him, wiping at her eyes. “Personal space, dude!”

Carver, the smug son of a bitch, holds up his hands in a semi-placating manner, backing away a little bit but still amused with himself. He still wears his leather jacket, black where Annabelle’s is red, and sporting his Mohawk where Annabelle’s head is still shaved only on one side. “Hey, Babydoll, it’s not my fault you forgot your vigilance. You’re an important girl these nights. You can’t afford to laze. I mean.” He looks at a spot in the shadows and stares. “I know you’re there Jasper, but you won’t always be.”

Annabelle can’t help but bite her lip in some amusement at the familiar guttural snarl from the darkness, but she’s still annoyed. “Still none of your business.”

The older Brujah smiles, as though knowing there isn’t nearly as much vehemence there as there once was. A lot’s changed since they first — officially — met. She still doesn’t like him very much, but she doesn’t hate him anymore. They came to something of an understanding. But she never really calls him Dad. Not like with Victor. Not even sarcastically.

“Well, what it’s worth it’s still better than ‘crawling in my skin.’ Damn.” He says, taking a flask of … something out of his jacket pocket. Annabelle doesn’t see a blush of life appear on his features for it to be just alcohol. “Gives me the jeebies. Reminds me too much of a Tzimisce.”

“A … what?” Annabelle asks, quirking one brow.

Carver chuckles and shakes his head, taking a swig from his flask. For a few moments, Annabelle actually thought she saw an uneasy look, a grimace, form on his face. “Never you mind, Babydoll. Not here for you to take more note-taking.”

Annabelle is aware that, even now, she’s still learning new things. She’s had time to acclimate, one way or another, but she is still the youngest of the coterie. She has a lot to learn. And she will be damned, one way or another again, if she lets anyone else make fun of her for it: least of all Carver.

“Then why are you here, Carver?” Annabelle asks, exasperated. “Is Mr. Sisters of Mercy criticizing my taste in music?”

“Easy there now.” For his part, Carver sees her irritated confusion, and somehow manages to smile even more widely, his own growl a light mockery. “Did Nines introduce you to Damsel yet?”

“No …” Annabelle draws it out, squinting at Carver.

“In a certain light, you kind of look like her: except it’s the pop cultural ranting instead of just the political stuff.”

“Well no.” Annabelle gathers herself up. “Nines’ been too busy helping me through the ‘political stuff’ himself.”

“And how he must hate it.” Carver shakes his head, with a rueful grin. “The politics, I mean.”

“Huh.” Annabelle doesn’t have the energy to be annoyed anymore, but there is still a degree of impatience. She notices, as well, that her face is still warm and wet. Right. Vampires cry blood tears. All she did before in attempting to rub them away, was smear her face with its redness. To Carver’s credit, he doesn’t react — not making any snarky remarks, or so much as even smirk — as she takes out some tissues from her pockets — her many pockets — of her jacket, and wipe her face. “Power is everywhere.” Annabelle remembers, from her classes, now so long ago.

“And the personal’s political, isn’t that right, darlin?”

So much for that shred of decency, Annabelle supposes. She’s about to retort, to tell this jerk to go fuck himself despite her curiosity about his presence —

“You know, they can take care of themselves.”

At first, Annabelle didn’t think she heard him properly. Can vampires suffer hearing loss? But then she realizes, he’s spoken so softly, so uncharacteristically gentle, that it almost sounds like distant thunder, more of a rumble than a growl. Annabelle doesn’t know what to say to this, doesn’t know how to deal. “I know.” She says instead, thinking about Mark and Ellenore sabotaging political offices together, organizing protests, even the rally in Griffith Park where everything almost turned to shit … and other moments since then. “I just worry. I …” Annabelle’s words, and thoughts trail off to a place darker than anything a Lasombra can summon, but she feels stupid talking about it, especially to someone like Carver.

“You’re worried about all this.” Annabelle focuses her attention back on the older Brujah, who takes another drink out of his flask. There’s a funny smell to it, kind of like vitae, and anything else that she can’t quite name. “About you.”

“I’m …” Annabelle says, then straightening her shoulders out again. “I’m not afraid for myself. Of dying. I’ve risked my life –”

“Not death.” Carver sighs, and it occurs to Annabelle how much affectation they all still have, that they sigh when they don’t even have to breathe anymore. “I mean what you’re fighting for. Losing that battle. Losing … sight of what it is.”

“I know what I am fighting for.” Annabelle says, with more force in her voice than she knows is necessary. “I was at the Succubus Club. I saw what the Duskborn were doing in the student houses, what they were driven to do. And what the Inquisition is doing. And what Victor, and Nellie, and Jasper went through at Elysium …”

“And what you had the Gangrel do to Rags.”

Annabelle narrows her eyes. She … she knows it hadn’t been perfect. But it had been a choice between letting him go, or being destroyed. It had been a test: a test the Valkyries had set up for her. To see if she was worthy of mentoring, of allying alongside. But how dare he come here, after all this time, and dredge that up. Carver would have killed everyone, or blown them up, or left everyone there to clean up the mess while taking whatever it was he came for. How dare he condescend to insinuate anything when he didn’t even try to do better. When he didn’t even have loved ones …

When he didn’t even have Ghouls …

“I gave him a chance.” Annabelle says. “I try to give everyone a chance. And then …” Her shoulders droop. “I know I don’t have the answers. I know I know nothing and all that Socratic crap. But the Tower has to be stopped. There’s no need to treat people like objects. It’s … it’s wrong. Oppression is wrong. And everyone … everyone deserves a home.”

“We declare our kinship with oppressed Kindred everywhere and offer a home to all Kindred of all generations and clans who will agree to dwell in harmony with us.”

This time, Annabelle looks at Carver. She really looks at Carver. He shrugs. “The Status Perfectus.” He takes another drink. “Jeez. I’d have thought that Nines would’ve shown you it by now, or at least talked to you about it. Or maybe Abrams. Maybe.” He looks back at her. “Really. Here they are, going on and on about how you’re like the reincarnation of MacNeil, and they don’t even tell you about his and Salvador Garcia’s Second Anarch Revolt Declaration of Freaking Independence? Of the Anarch Free State. Heh … I mean, MacNeil was a screw-up, and Garcia probably a fucking traitor, and everything turned into a clusterfuck, but really.” He wipes at his mouth. “I expected better from Nines at least, if this is going to be your freaking heritage.”

“Well, who pissed in your Polyjuice Potion?” Annabelle finds her patience rapidly disappearing, fueled even further by information she never had. Why hadn’t anyone told her about this yet? Why does she keep getting left in the dark? Is she that much of a figurehead to the other Barons? Even … She shakes her head. “You disappear for God knows how long, leave me to my own devices, I do the best I can, and Nines picks up the slack, and you have the audacity — the freaking balls — to start lecturing me like you’re my –”

“Hey.” Carver interjects. “I did try to look for you. I got that favour from Eva, and it seems you got some too. You really should wash that jacket. It reeks.”

“No. Just. Don’t.” Annabelle points at him, right back to the level of fury. “Why are you back here, Carver? Are you just here to get your jollies telling me just how much I don’t even know? After you threw me right into the middle of all of this?”

“No, darlin.” Carver says. “I’m not here to lecture like Abrams, or give you a pep talk like Nines — a Kindred afraid of his own power. And I like the man. But seriously. You are a born activist. A student. You keep wanting to change things, but you don’t really look at everything that came before, at what others tried to do. You have …” He looks down at his flask, at his hands. “You are different. It’s the reason I didn’t leave you to die in that building. I could’ve. I think some days, when it’s really bad for you, you wish I did. Just …”

“What?” Annabelle demands, her blood rising despite herself. ‘What else should I know, Carver?”

“Look at the tools, the … tools of the oppressor, of the colonizer. The master’s tools. That’s what they teach you these days, right? At this college.” Carver has a strange light in his eyes, even as his tone remains the same steady, growling pitch it has always been. “Look at the fears that motivate us. The sun. Fire. Humans knowing what we are, and how that all affects anything we build. The Traditions, like the one that tells us to hide from humans, those existed before the Cam. And the Cam, the Tower, they formed in Europe when the Inquisition — which had been made by other Kindred trying to one-up each other — to supposedly protect all Kindred. To hide us. But look at what happened before that. When the Inquisition, the kine tools of power, got out of control and the Elders threw their childer at them. To save themselves. That’s when the First Anarch Revolt happened.”

This catches Annabelle’s attention. “The First Anarch Revolt …” She thinks about it. “Victor said something about that. Maybe Nellie too.”

“Yeah.” Carver nods. “It was a big deal. That’s kind of what led to all of this. I guess the Baron of the Valley knows some stuff after all.”

Annabelle doesn’t rise to the bait. Victor has made his mistakes, but she will never doubt his loyalty to her, the friendship of any of the coterie no matter their flaws. None of them are perfect, and Carver is one to throw stones. “What happened to them?” She asks instead, the question suddenly extremely relevant and overshadowing any sense of personal grievances with this man. “What happened to the first Anarchs?”

Carver is quiet for a while. He blinks, once. “When the others formed the Cam, with the surviving Elders, they rebelled. They became pretty much the Sabbat.”

Annabelle feels something crawl down her back at the way Carver speaks that word. She has heard it before. Victor has mentioned it. Even the others seem to know what it is, but they never really talk about it. Finally, he speaks again.

“Remember Nick the Asshole?”

Annabelle tries not to shudder, attempting not to remember the Nosferatu killing her, or the savage beating she laid on him afterwards after Carver had — arguably — saved her. “Yeah.”

“Yeah. Imagine a whole Sect like him. But worse. They wanted revenge on humans for hunting them. They wanted to turn them all into chattle, into things to feed on, hunt … play with … and kill. The Cam, it’s fucked right? I don’t have to tell you that. But mostly, it just wants to leave humans alone so they get left alone. And when they kill, well, it’s pretty brutal but just necessary. That’s the idea anyway. The Sabbat though? They enjoy it. They make games out of it. TThat’s what they would do to the whole world if they could’ve gotten away with it. The Lasombra and the Tzimisce especially.”

“That’s …” Annabelle wonders if she needs the blush of life to return the colour that she feels is leaving her cold skin She recalls the Scourge Rodrigo back at the Maharani, his eyes deeper than the abyss, asking her what she would build with the framework or the tools left from the systems that she would destroy, understanding the impart of those words a little more now. “That’s horrific.”

“And they all started from Kindred that just wanted to be free.” Carver sighs. “But this isn’t History Class. You want to find out more about those assholes, ask Nines or maybe your coterie. Hell, the Valkyries hate them too. You know, they come from Europe right? Another Old World group. They’re not just an Anarch faction. Just something you might want to look into on your own.” Carver shakes his head again, as though disgusted with himself. “I’ll give you another tidbit for free, darlin.” He says. “The Perfectus was made before the Baronies. MacNeil and Garcia, and the others, they had to make them when it became clear as a night of freezing rain in the ninth level of hell that Kindred couldn’t govern themselves without causing great fuck-ups. The point is, as you probably figured out by now, the Baronies were concessions to our baser natures. Little better than Domains — freaking Princedoms — in the Cam. A point of failure. I think that’s why MacNeil up and left. He knew, you know? He knew we used the tools of the masters, that trying not to made things worse. He didn’t want another Sabbat. Another Cam. Probably broke his damn fool idealistic bleeding heart. So when our better natures didn’t work out, I guess he gave up. Left us to our devices.” He takes another swig from the flask, a deeper one. Annabelle almost thinks she sees his skin flush from that drink. “I guess it was better than becoming a dictator, or a monster. Sure better than what happened in Carthage, or Russia. Anarch socialist experiments — especially Brujah ones — they don’t always go well, Babygirl.”

“Well …” Annabelle tried to take all of this in, tries to remember all of these terms to look up later, to pester Victor and the others about. “Why do you tell us how you really feel, Carver.”

Carver pauses for a moment. Then, he laughs. He laughs hard. It is a deep, belly laugh tinged by wheezing. Annabelle wonders, at first, if the older Brujah is choking until she remembers what they are. “Me? I just get stuff done.”

“With who?”

“With a gang or two that I put together.” Carver replies nonchalantly.

This time, Annabelle looks at him. Really looks at him. There is something different about him today. She can’t figure it out. “Don’t you have a coterie?”

Carver looks down at his flask. “I did.”

Annabelle doesn’t know what she’s looking for. She doesn’t have Nellie’s Discipline in Auspex, nor can she develop it on her own as far as she knows. But she has a decent skill at reading people. “What happened to them?”

“They’re gone.”

Annabelle thinks about Mark. She thinks about Ellenore. Her eyes go back to her phone and the Playlist that she had just heard. “What about anyone else?” She knows she’s prying again, but she had been so angry at Carver this whole while that she didn’t know anything about him. And for some reason, right now, this bothers her. “Did you have anyone else in your life?”

“I did.” He says, simply. “She’s gone too.”

“I’m sorry.” Annabelle replies, totally at a loss, awkward, wondering why suddenly she cares.

“Eh.” Carver shrugs his shoulders. “Shit happens.” He turns to her. “The important thing, darlin? Why I’m here now? I might not be lecturing, but just … I know how hard this must be for you. Figuring all of this out. It helps that you have friends. Something more than a crew. They keep you here. They keep you real. I went on about all those Sects and names. But the real enemy’s not even the Beast. It’s us. It’s time. A lot of those fuckers probably started out, even selfish, with some good ideas. But when you live forever, you forget things. Especially when you get caught up in the Jyhad. It’s easy to forget that Humanity after a while. Or take it for granted, until it’s gone.”

“I still remember who I am.” Annabelle says. “Do you?”

Carver grins at her, a big shit-eating grin. “Babygirl, I know exactly what I am. Just … heh. But seriously. When you have to make the hard calls — and you will — just remember who you have. And what you have. Because disappointed idealists, they make the worst kinds of sons of bitches. Don’t let yourself be a monster, Annabelle.” He says, his tone direct, his face flat again. “But don’t let them keep making you their puppet. I didn’t save your life for any of that. Ask the right questions. Keep asking everyone those questions. Keep asking yourself.”

Annabelle nods. “I … I will.” She bites her lower lip. “Thanks.”

“For my childe, anything.” Carver wryly smiles back at her, before putting his flask back into his coat pocket.

She can’t help it. Annabelle rolls her eyes. “Yeah, says the guy that made me and left me to wander the campus feeding without telling me what I was.”

“It’s better than some Gangrel Embraces.” Carver replies, putting both of his hands in his pockets. “And it seems to worked out pretty well for you.”

“I guess.” Something a little more hopeful enters her heart, thinking about it all now. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

“Also,” Carver says, looking at Annabelle a little longer.

“Uh, yeah?” She asks, feeling awkwardness before discomfort.

“Annabelle.” He tells her. “You are a lot more powerful than you think you are. When you’re doing your homework,” he points in a dismissive gesture, but his tone doesn’t change, “remember that.”

She nods again. There is something direct. Imperative. Clear. For a few moments, it’s as though Carver is speaking to her in a different way.

“Well, enough socializing.” Carver says. “I have situations to kill and all.”

“Hey.” Annabelle says, something occurring to her. “That thing you quoted.”

“Yeah?” He says, turning around.

“What was it again?”

“The Third Principle of the Perfectus.” Carver says. “Offering a home to all oppressed Kindred of all kinds in the Free Anarch State.”

“I see.” Annabelle nods. “I was thinking, when I find a copy, and read the whole thing of changing that. To all Kindred. All kine. All … people.”

Carver seems to consider it for a few moments. “Huh. Go figure.” He smiles at her. “I knew all the Unbound needed was some new blood.” He turns around and begins to walk away. “You’re just starting, and you’re already better than MacNeil ever was. As for the rest, just get ready to break some heads.”

Then, Annabelle only blinks once, and Carver is gone. She opens her phone and looks down at the Playlist. It takes her a moment, but she adds a new song. Right below Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” now resides a song from Halestorm. “Love Bites (So Do I).”

It’s a little risque, even cliché considering the circumstances, but Annabelle figures that it’s worth it.

*

Carver speeds away, his Celerity taking him from the rooftop in almost literally the blink of an eye.

It had been close. Annabelle is far from stupid, and perhaps he overplayed his hand. Chimerstry only takes you so far, taking your vitae, masking an appearance you’ve taken pains to disguise independently, before it runs out like some kind of glamour. Fucking A Song of Ice and Fire with Mance Rayder as Rattleshirt comes to mind. He doesn’t suppose that the Nos of the coterie could teach his Disciplines. Or worse, what favour he’d owe if he asked Golden. He doesn’t like his chances there.

Then again, just saving Annabelle’s life had been a risk. He is lucky, in some ways, that some Kindred remember the person he used to be. Eva owned him that major boon, one that has kept Annabelle safe up until this point. He wonders how Isaac hadn’t sensed his presence, or Annabelle’s earlier, but he has his suspicions: that the elder Toreador had already known what Annabelle was, and where she came from. Perhaps he even hoped for this outcome, whatever it may still be. Indeed, from his own sources, he knows that many people from the beginning of the Movement saw something in the young Brujah that they hadn’t seen in a long time.

It is all the more reason for him to keep his distance. For just as he had allies who knew who he was, he had enemies with long memories as well. Especially from the Tower. He never forgot the day that the Prince had made him humiliate himself, bowing and scraping, and worse. How he forced him to smash his head against the floor until his Ghouls took him out and threw him in that dumpster.

He wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He especially doesn’t want this for Annabelle.

He said he was done. That the Experiment hadn’t worked, like so many failures before and after it. There were never supposed to be Barons or Baronies. There especially wasn’t supposed to be a Baron of Los Angles. He didn’t want any of that.

So he went underground. He kept making crews. Just impersonal adhoc operations to make things uncomfortable for the elite. All grassroots. All under the radar. He would not associate with anyone closely again. It … hurt too much.

And he especially wouldn’t sire another. The one he left in New Orleans still rankles, even if he’d gone to the Cam for his own purposes.

But then there was the Office, and that asshole Nick, and then the girl and everything he saw her do with Mark and Ellenore. It reminded him of something. It reminded him of something that he had lost a long time ago.

Perhaps, looking at Annabelle, he saw the person that everyone else saw. The inspiration that he used to be. No, deep down Carver knows that he sees something better. If it survives.

Armando will look after her, he keeps telling himself. He might not want power, but that is why he trusts him with her all the more. And, as she goes on, she will come into her own true power: something beyond Generation or age. Perhaps beyond Faith. Carver doesn’t know. He knows that he knows nothing. In the meantime, he will lay the groundwork, do the grunt work, help light the flame that Annabelle will ignite.

His time is long passed now. Perhaps Annabelle will do better. He has hope that she will do better.

“You’ll do fine Annabelle,” he says, his voice no longer gravelly as he whispers to himself. “Break some heads, Babygirl.”

The Neurodivergent Shadows in Us

There are going to be spoilers for Jordan Peele’s film Us, this movie that’s been out for months now, but sometimes that’s just how it has to be, and it wouldn’t make sense if I attempted to do anything else. Also, I am writing specifically about my personal experiences in relating to both this film and the following subject matter with which I try to engage.

Like Terry from his Gayly Dreadful article Tethered to the Closet, I knew practically from the beginning that Adelaide Wilson wasn’t normal and that, eventually when I learned about them, she was one of the Tethered. However, the difference I want to make clear is that while Terry related to her as someone coming to terms with being gay, I am not on the LGBTQ spectrum at all, I am also not American, and part of my reasoning for thinking she was one of the Tethered is because I am fairly good at guessing twist endings: being a writer, and a geek.

Yet there’s another reason why I can relate to Adelaide, and the Tethered.

Like Adelaide, I grew up as a child in the 1980s. And like the Tethered, who replaces her, who was the original Red and becomes the Adelaide that we know as the protagonist of Us, I grew up with developmental issues. I’ve talked about them before. These days, I would be called non-neurotypical, or neuro-divergent. My brain is wired differently from some perceived baseline in the mainstream population. I learn and I react in other ways in contrast to the current social paradigm. But, growing in the public school system of Canada and North America itself, I was given another label.

I am learning disabled.

Diagnosis is still relatively confusing to this day. Some of my disabilities could be confused with aspects of what some experts call the autistic spectrum, while many of my challenges have — ironically enough — been classified under the umbrella of nonverbal learning disorders.

Of course, I am not saying that the Tethered are the same — seeming to be clones of citizens created by the American government with their own developmental issues either by accident or design — but some of their characteristics can be seen as symbolic as some kinds of neuro-diverse behaviour. Terry, and other writers examining Adelaide focus on how she has a different, or inverted, sense of rhythm compared to others such as when she’s attempting to snap with the music that her husband Gabe is playing on the car radio. I remember her trying to also show her son, Jason, how to do the same thing: and this feeling I couldn’t describe came over me watching her. She looked both happy, and vulnerable, and awkward but genuine in that moment. It is a situation that the actress Lupita Nyong’o portrays well. She has, to some extent, learned how to match the rhythm, or mimic it enough where she is only slightly off. And aside from not being one for small-talk, no one can really tell the difference. Adelaide seems normal on a cursory glance.

She can pass as mundane.

At the beginning of the film, Adelaide is lost as a child in a boardwalk mirror house on the Santa Cruz beach. When she is found again, or seems to come out of the establishment, she seems to be rendered mute. Of course, we realize later that this isn’t the Adelaide that went in there, but rather the Tethered girl Red who has not learned how to vocalize, and her hand-eye coordination is relatively sloppy and haphazard. Her parents believe that something traumatic happened to her when her father lost track of her. They get her to see a therapist, they enroll her in dance courses — in ballet specifically — and she acclimates after a while.

When I was a child, I didn’t vocalize. Not really. I communicated in gestures, and grunts. It is one of the reasons I couldn’t stay in a mainstream daycare or kindergarten. My hand-eye coordination was also terrible: having what is called motor clumsiness. I didn’t really learn how to walk until later in my developmental period. My parents had me see therapists. I even had physiotherapist sessions where I rolled around on a giant ball and developed my reflexes more. My parents also enrolled me in a specialized kindergarten for children with special needs called Adventure Place. In fact, I had gotten so used to being there that when my parents were told I could attend mainstream public schooling, or I had to, I was so confused by the idea of “recess” and time before class that I got lost my first day at Thornhill Public School. And then, another time, I stayed on the school bus and the driver accidentally drove away with me: completely terrifying my parents even though I had, apparently, dozed off and had a nap.

I mean, I guess at anyone of those times I could have — or someone like me — could have found myself in one of those subterranean places filled with rabbits not unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or its original title Alice’s Adventures Underground where I found a Shadow: not unlike those whom are forced to suppress their own feelings and mirror the actions those of their counterparts above ground against their will from the story that Red told Adelaide.

Do you want to know what I remember the most about my time as a child in the 80s, outside of therapy and all encompassing special educational spaces?

I was afraid. All the time.

My main memories of Thornhill Public School, were the dingy, yet antiseptic halls of the school itself with their old copper-coloured rubber glue stoppers, the long grey crooked scissors we used in art classes, and just how dark and old the basement was where the janitors had their office. I remember not wanting to be there, and wanting to be at home. I just wanted to go home.

At the same time, this was the period of the Beetlejuice cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fraggle Rock, and the Dark Crystal comics as well as You Can’t Do That On Television on YTV. Adelaide herself had C.H.U.D., The Goonies, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her early life, and while I hadn’t been exposed to 1980s horror and specifically those adventure art movies at that time, they were on my popular cultural periphery and they would have intersected. And I was always both fascinated and terrified by horror in the form of hearing about such movies, and also folktales. I fed off of these elements, and they became part of my intellectual DNA, especially when in my Special Education class with Mr. Phillips I learned how to actually read from Grades 1-3.

They got me through a lot of the fear, but I still remember those halls and that basement: a place not unlike the underground facility where Red — before she was Adelaide — then Adelaide herself having been captured and abandoned by Red — and all the other Tethered clones wandered around aimlessly. It always occurred to me just how easy it would be to get lost in those corridors, and looking at the Tethered, few can be as lost as they.

Even though my perceptions improved, I still had — and still have — spatial difficulties. I get lost all the time, and directions as well as maps don’t always make sense. I also have dyscalculia: a learning disorder that makes arithmetic extremely difficult to do in my head. I can add and subtract, but I am slow at it, and I can’t multiply or divide without extreme challenge, or a calculator.

I also used to fidget a great deal — and I still do. Usually, it is a way to express excitement, anxiety, stress, or all of the above. I’ve learned to control it publicly for the most part, but the mileage can vary depending on the circumstances and my comfort level. Sometimes, when I get into that state, it is a lot like a free-form dancing: and it reminds me of Adelaide’s own dance and ballet classes as she was growing up on the surface.

And then there is communication. Like I said earlier, in the beginning I barely if ever used words to communicate. And, even now, when I’m nervous I will either ramble a great deal to make up for a perceived lack of content on my part, or I will be quiet and utilize few words. Even looking at how Adelaide talks with Kitty Tyler on the beach, or has difficulty talking or expressing her emotions to her own husband reminds me of my own impatience, or discomfort with small talk — which I generally try to compensate by talking about very specific topics of my interest, and not always the other person’s next to me — as well as my challenges expressing myself in a public, or even personal situation.

I know I really felt for Adelaide when she was attempting to communicate with her husband about her feelings: about her lack of comfort being in Santa Cruz, and even her annoyance with him for making fun of her quirks. I’ve had that happen a lot: from children laughing at my slow talking or thinking, and authority figures telling me to stop talking to myself (as if I were embarrassing myself and not them), and even having partners who just didn’t understand why I couldn’t be more like everyone else. That is the social interaction disorder element of some learning disabilities coming into play. It’s frustrating. It is beyond frustrating. When I was in daycare, before Adventure Place, I apparently did not want to talk or interact with my peers. I just wanted to stay in my own world. And I recall feeling a lot of anger and resentment for having to be with others who either made fun of me, or just didn’t understand me at all.

Even later, having gotten more therapy, I would often not cut or make my art the way I wanted to, and I would get frustrated with my tools — with my hands — and my own coordination to the point where I would destroy what I was working on because it didn’t meet my own expectations. My psychotherapist has asked me on occasion whether I sometimes feel toxic inside, or outside: and often I say I feel both for this reason. And I can only imagine Adelaide, especially with her experiences having gotten out of the facility underground, and adapting to the world above, having similar feelings and thoughts.

And I adapted too. I went to Special Education classes, but aside from those I focused on my strengths. Whereas someone like Adelaide delved into dancing and ballet, I attempted to become an artist, and eventually a writer. Overtime, as I went through the ranks of the public school system and university, I weeded out the courses I had difficulty with and focused purely on my strengths. Eventually, in my own mind, while taking advantage of the extra time afforded me because I was a learned disabled student, I came across as normal. I could be like everyone else. I could be “high-functioning.”

I could pass.

But I never really did. And while Terry, in his “Tethered to the Closet” article talks about that deep, dark Shadow secret of his sexuality has he attempted to pass on the sexuality spectrum, I tried to pass on a psychological and developmental one, while knowing — deep down — that there was something in me that set me apart from a lot of my peers: that it was always there, that it will always be there, and I will eventually go back to it.

I did. A lot. I had to ask for extra time. Sometimes I needed further clarification for my tasks. And then, by the time I made to York University, I needed the label and diagnosis to accord me extra time to remain in my Graduate Program just to maintain my full-time status with only half a course load.

Yet that anger, it never goes away. That frustrated, helpless anger. The kind you have in the dark where you can’t talk, or relate. Where you can’t express your emotions. Or the very least, you can’t do any of these things in an acceptable way to the society or space with which you find yourself. People laugh at you. Or bully you. Or worse: sometimes, they just interact with you out of some sense of pity.

So you take those elements of yourself. You face yourself in that mirror much like Red and Adelaide faced each other in that fun house near the beach. You strangle it. You push it down. You chain it to a bunk post, take the T-Shirt, and hope no one realizes that you are an intruder: that you are wrong. But you even when you play along with your parents, as much as possible, even when you find a hobby, find a field to work in and justify your existence — even when you make relationships — that part of you that you thought you could hide, even in plain sight, will always be there. It will always be waiting.

And the society that you grew in? That made you? It does it to control everyone to an extent. It wants you to conform so that you don’t make anyone else comfortable. But it only goes so far. For me, I had all of that “extra help” until I was done with school, or rather school had been done with me.  Then there was no structure, nothing but more antiseptic institutions that arbitrarily help or condemn you like welfare and disability offices and organizations that force you to embrace your disabilities as your identity — the very thing you spend ages attempting to wean yourself away from — while mostly leaving you to wander around like Tethered clones abandoned by their creators when they couldn’t control them, or use them to control others.

The structure is gone. You are just lucky at times to have a place that will still feed and clothe you. And, meanwhile, other people have jobs, families, relationships, and something fulfilling while — often enough — you feel that a lot of them have an emptiness inside of them that mirrors your own, but they are just less honest about it. They have the appearance, the passing, of knowing who they are, and what they are going to be.

And I think at this point, I am talking less about relating to Adelaide and more about relating to the Tethered: to the quiet, angry, sullen, forgotten, grunting, gesticulating horde of people abandoned in the dark, that want more but can’t always find a way to communicate that. And the people above, everyone else who is supposed neurotypical or neuro-conforming? They are part of a society that made you and they are always showing how ideal their lives are in social media, or relying on devices like the Alexa stand-in Ophelia to show how affluent they are. It all sometimes feels like a fun house of distorted reflections, or shadows.

I guess, in this context, I can understand where the fear and the anger, cultivated by Red — by the girl who used to be Adelaide and left to atrophy in her own stunted hatred — would want rise up, while still holding hands together in that Hands Across America gesture from 1986 which is a parody of that superficial sense of belonging that is just, at the end of the day, for appearances. There is nothing sincere about it, nothing warm, or loving. But, in the end it is a gesture of defiance, of anger against the order of things, or the lack of order: of the system’s broken nature.

Just like these words.

So who knows? Maybe a long time ago, I wandered through the dingy, cold hallways of a basement and encountered someone who looked me like having wandered away from falling asleep on a bus, or getting lost not knowing what recess was, and I strangled him and took his place like some changeling in the night. Or perhaps, unlike Red, I actually killed him from the start and — if the conceits of Us are true — then we shared a soul, and that is why I don’t always feel whole. And when you disregard this hypothetical situation as the metaphor it is, there have been many times I’ve had to distance or destroy something in my life to continue to somehow be the person that I want to be.

And sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Maybe, like the Tethered, I am my own Tethered reflecting the abuses of the unreasonable expectations that I inflicted on myself. And who hasn’t had a time where they have been so angry themselves, hated themselves so much for not performing the way they are expected to, that they don’t want to destroy the system that made these expectations? To burn the whole shallow mess to the ground? Or with a cry of primal, inarticulate rage strangle the part of you that’s angry at yourself, that hates yourself, that you feel is sabotaging both your life, and the relationships of those around like Adelaide, who was Red, finally did to Red who was Adelaide — who she thought she abandoned — in that dark bunk chamber where she thought she left her, her dirty little secret, even her secret in plain sight, for good?

I didn’t even think about it that way, or thought I would write much about this beyond superficial comparisons until I sat down — past five in the morning going six — and realizing just how much this film affected me. Surely there are dark tunnels, and hidden cities in Canada as they are in America. I mean, the North American system probably uses these places, these mentalities, to survive. And I have known people, people I loved or thought I loved, or people who loved me, or I thought loved me — or they thought they loved me — who are so similar to the people that Jordan Peele depict through his version of the doppelgänger as a central monster symbol in Us.

I think it safe to say that, in addition to feeling an affinity to the cognitive difficulties of the Tethered, I have also known, and loved people like Adelaide, and it is amazing how you can be so close to someone because of your shared differences, and so separate from them — and alone — for these exact same characteristics.

I guess I had more to say about Us than I thought beyond the fanfictions, and the film article I wrote a few months back. Certainly, this writing became more personal than even I’d anticipated. At the end of Us, Adelaide reunites with her family after rescuing her son Jason from her double. Jason is her biological son. Learning disabilities and neurodivergence according to some studies are genetic. They are passed down. Jason has always, throughout the film, fidgeted with a broken lighter and loves to hide in a cubbyhole in his grandparents’ cottage. He also prefers to wear a monster mask.

At the end of the film, he seems to realize that his mother is a Tethered, not long after she comes to grips with it herself. She puts her fingers on her lips. Her daughter Zora doesn’t seem to take after her, and her husband still doesn’t understand. Throughout the film, Adelaide is terrified of Jason becoming lost in this world, like she supposedly did, like she actually had been. Jason, for his part, takes his mask and places it back on his face: hiding himself, quiet, yet colourful. Defiant. Adelaide also puts hers back on, but it blends in, it’s unremarkable. She pretends to be mundane again. Jason’s mask, by contrast, still stands out and I think there is something to that. To accept that you are different, and to own it.

Or something to that effect. Personally, I just think that Jason’s monster mask is pretty cool.