Every story of Psyche starts with mortal man’s obsession with her. Her beauty rivaled even that of the goddess Aphrodite, and people flocked to her side to admire her. She was never made offers of marriage, just marveled over.
Psyche had always been beautiful but no one ever wanted her like she wanted them to. Her artist friends painted her constantly, always with butterfly wings glowing gorgeous. There was never enough time for all the admirers that filled her family’s suburban home. Wasted time fucking the men that crowded the doorstep just to look at her, took what she thought she deserved. Never cared she was leaving parts of herself behind. There were enough people around to keep her company, after all.
Psyche was surrounded by herself and was just tired of nothing looking back.
Aphrodite, goddess of sexual rapture and beauty, which distracted everyone from her terrible temper like grating teeth, was mother to Eros, whose bow and arrow decided hearts’ fates. This mother and child were inseparable for a long, long time.
Eros’s mother Aphrodite clung like Saran wrap.
Ask and you shall receive, and Aphrodite did. She wanted to be the only beautiful thing in Eros’s life—I’ve never once wanted perfection itself, I just want to be able to say I’ve won.
To Aphrodite, love was a game. Like marbles; knock all the rest out of the ring.
The City of Angels was easy to feel lonely in. They felt like the only gods in the city, invincible. Had drugs like silver running through her veins and kept her child breathing smoke. She wanted to be the only thing Eros truly needed.
(Bow and) Eros always meant to please.
Psyche couldn’t find a husband because Aphrodite had cursed her—too many men had compared her beauty to that of the goddess’s. Her father was distraught and took her to the oracle of Apollo to find what was amiss.
They just wanted the house to themselves.
Psyche’s parents told her she needed to get out more, stop having all her friends come to her, maybe take some time out from art school or leave their Southern bubble—she was just so unhappy.
Maybe transfer somewhere else.
You have so many friends, why are you so miserable?
You could go somewhere outside of town. Live in a dorm.
Meet a nice boy.
The oracle informed them that she would find no mortal love, that her husband would be a horrid creature feared by even the inhabitants of the underworld. She was instructed to don funeral attire and ascend a mountain, where her husband would come to take her.
So she left.
Transferred to a different college. Moved up north, but the culture shock was a storm she didn’t know how to weather. Couldn’t make friends there. With sadness up to her elbows. No one wants to be with a tragic beauty. Went to bed, went to school, went to her studio, breathed.
Aphrodite asked Eros to curse Psyche with marriage to an ugly monster of a man, and Eros intended to—but upon seeing her, struck dumb by her beauty, Eros dropped the arrow from its bow and hit himself. Love struck and stuck to Eros like nothing else had before.
Aphrodite was so vehemently needy, dripping sadness onto Eros’s skin like a candle burning down to its wick. The rain of Washington was a nice change from the dead L.A. sun, cool water hitting Eros’s skin. All Eros had to do was not fall in love.
But then Eros saw her.
Psyche, butterfly wings sprouted, golden words like flowing hair, a smile that could have melted skylines. Just her posture looked like a warning—FRAGILE—FLAMMABLE—STILL NOT FOUND BUT SEARCHING. She held a book like the future and was downing sadness with a cup of gin.
Eros fled, but the flashbulb memory of her body lasted for weeks.
CITRUS WOOD AND IVORY
The west wind came to the mountain and swept Psyche away to her new husband’s grand mansion. It whispered in her ear that everything would be all right—swept her through the halls, showed her the vast amenities at her disposal.
For Psyche, Seattle’s rain had been a drastic change from the South’s unrelenting heat. She was always caught unaware, always was getting soaked to the bone.
Til one day, a girl had an umbrella.
What’s your name?
You can call me Eros.
Eros hid his wife away from his mother, kept Aphrodite in the dark and kept Psyche there too. Aphrodite had asked one thing—she just wanted to be adored.
The gods looked much better than they were; their skin told nothing about what was inside, just as blueberries are green when you peel back the layers. Skin blue, viscera green.
Mirror, mirror on the wall.
No one came to worship Aphrodite at her temple anymore. And by this, I mean that Eros stopped coming home. Standing at some other woman’s altar.
Wick exposed, Aphrodite found her veins with the points of needles and screamed into Eros’s voicemail like it was her own personal wailing wall.
Psyche was forbidden from knowing her love was the god Eros; they were only together in darkness. But Psyche was curious, and although she was always compared to a butterfly, one could also call her a cat.
Blood is thicker than water, but you can drown in both.
No, you can’t come home with me. Curled up in Psyche’s bed, bare in more ways than one, Eros added, You don’t understand. I don’t push you to tell your parents.
Psyche sighed, My parents are homophobic; I just want to see where you call home.
I can feel you playing house in the pit of my stomach—
But Psyche flapped her wings, and the butterflies erupted. Falling into one another, they fell quiet. The rain felt the quiet and stopped; there are some sounds even the rain doesn’t want to step into.
Psyche was lonely during the day, when Eros would leave to avoid discovery, and began to ask for her sisters’ presence. At last, Eros allowed them to visit.
Losing baby teeth leaves sore gums— we all have bits of our childhood stuck to our souls.
She wanted to be detrimentally comfortable in what was left of her Southern home.
Wanted to believe that their love was strong enough for her tightrope walk on their morals.
Craved support beams and blue skies and a clichéd safety.
Talking to her parents:
You’re so much happier, they said. Who’s the boy?
Held breathe. Well—and Eros’s name rolled off her tongue like muscle memory.
Upon witnessing the opulence of Psyche’s husband’s mansion, the sisters were envious, and planted the idea in Psyche’s head that she was married to a monster that would devour her when she least expected.
Love; it is not accessible to many. Years of expecting man and wife now left her family shocked—and although Southern manners dictated that rather than say something horrid, they say nothing at all—Psyche filled their heavy silences. She knew what they were saying behind her winged back.
A boy, a nice boy, that’s all you were supposed to find.
Why do you have to choose a difficult love?
She doesn’t even really love you; you’re just a passing habit she uses to fill her mother’s place while at university.
She will leave.
Psyche wasn’t perfect; self-sabotage would undo her.
Her leaving will eat you alive.
Psyche followed her sisters’ advice—with lamp and dagger in hand, she went into their chambers after Eros has fallen asleep to kill the monster she is persuaded to believe Eros to be. Seeing the beauty he was, in her shock, she dripped hot wax onto Eros’s back. And he woke, of course, forsaken and hurt, Eros fled his beloved.
My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.
Psyche said this because she felt pressed between the pages of Eros’s journal—a secret with no right to the light of day.
You’ve made me sun-shy, Psyche sighs.
Eros quietly: There’s only so much illumination one person can take. I love you. But.
Psyche finished, It isn’t enough. Cue exit. Cue anger. Cue biting break-up texts.
Woke up to a message saying Eros had gotten on a plane and Eros ignored all of Psyche’s calls. Turned her phone off.
Never had she felt such a damaging quiet.
Psyche beseeched many gods for their aid in finding Eros, but they had all sworn not to cross another goddess. Psyche realized she must serve Aphrodite herself to find Eros. Gleefully, the goddess had Psyche whipped and tortured by her handmaidens Worry and Sadness.
Eros fell into her mother’s arms, and as she usually did when her heart ached in beat with Aphrodite’s, found a glass pipe and searched for any feeling to fill the pit of her stomach—butterfly wings evicted. Aphrodite bought crack bags off street corners and gave it to Eros like a gift.
Impossible tasks ensued, culminating in Aphrodite’s demand that Psyche take a box to Persephone in the underworld and obtain a dose of her beauty. Psyche was so worn and weathered that despair wrapped itself around her and she contemplated suicide, climbed a tower to end her pains.
Psyche had done as she was told, finally, and found a boy. Never one to commit to listening, she’d carefully chosen something as bitter as Eros was sweet— He looked at her like she was a placid lake mirror, his wood nymph, and was always so tempted to lap her up. She climbed the stairs to his apartment building while the rain beat the windows, wondered how the water felt when it hit the ground from so high up.
The tower, stunned by her beautiful tragic sadness, broke into speech and advised her where to find the underworld, and how to navigate it. Psyche followed the instructions fully, and Persephone granted her request. However, curiosity struck again, and she opened the box. Instead of beauty, she found an infernal sleep.
Sleep was now a precautionary measure to keep thoughts of Eros away, pricking her finger on the boy and hoping not to wake back up. And every night, dialing the same number just to listen to a saved voice that refused to say her name.
Aphrodite was quick—
to delete every message left and light the glass and smile encouragingly at Eros every time.
Eros’s wound had finally healed to scar, and He escaped Aphrodite’s hold. Upon finding Psyche, he took her to Zeus to remedy her. He must promise future help whenever a new maiden catches Zeus’s eye, but to have love that’s a small price to pay.
Numb was foreign territory to Eros after experiencing Psyche; something she had witnessed too much before in her mother and that she didn’t particularly want to explore, in the end. And Aphrodite started to feel heavy, throwing her feelings on Eros and asking her to wear them around.
But when she called her love, she heard from the other end, She’s asleep again;
Zeus made a public decree in approval of Psyche and advised Aphrodite to end her tirade against her. Then Psyche was given ambrosia, the drink of immortality, to make the two lovers equals. Pleasure reigned as the two gods are united and married in Zeus’s solemn word.
I know that I messed up. But I left as soon as I heard you called, said Psyche. Eros looked as broken as Psyche did at the beginning of all this. Sadness to her knees and rising. You left HIM immediately. Boy who treated you more mirror than magic.
Eros looked around the small coffee shop warmed by L.A.’s star in the sky, and wished she had never called. But then she reached over tentatively, and took Psyche’s hand, because what else is there to do when the world is so rough with us?
Eros agreed to go back to school, but she would have her own bed. Tried to find a home in herself. Airing out their bed sheets in the back of her mind.
And Psyche, now she worked for her own language and was slowly teaching Eros the words. Psyche said to her, Around you, my skin still feels like an echo.
I will be the glass for you to breathe from, I reverberate in you and you give me music back, beautiful and amplified.
Just glass. Just sound. Clear.
Saving forgiveness a seat at the table, in case he decided to make a guest appearance.
Still learning how to handle a light touch.
Torii Johnson is an English and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies double major at Wesleyan University. Self-described anxious writer, intersectional feminist, annoyed bisexual, femme witch, caffeine enthusiast. She runs her personal blog, has contributed to Helloflo, and has been featured on Vagabond City Lit and The Fem. If you’re interested in her tweets, which you should be, her handle’s @toriisavannah.