Before I start, I want to say that I will not be going into details about the things he did. Thatís not whatís important. What matters is that those awful things taught me a lot about people and human behavior. They taught me about myself.
High school relationships are meant to be a roller coaster. First thereís the not-so-subtle flirting, and then the hand holding in the hallway. The short and blissful kisses after school. Thereís going to each others houses and watching movies, maybe having sex and drinking liquor sneakily stolen from the liquor cabinet. Thereís the fall. Falling quickly and deeply into something youíve heard but never quite felt. Love. You canít get enough of it. The rush every time you kiss. The feeling of comfort in their presence. And then thereís the heartbreak. The inevitable end to an immature relationship, no matter how ďadult-likeĒ it may have seemed at the time. Thereís wallowing in self pity. Blaming yourself for whatever it was that went wrong. Blaming your partner for it. Looking down, trying to be subtle when you see each other in school. Crying on your friendsí shoulders. And then you move on. Rinse, repeat.
I learned what it means to be afraid. I learned what it meant to be truly afraid and without control. The kind of fear that makes you triple check everything you do and say. The kind of fear that makes you believe what you do or say could be the difference between life and death. The kind of fear that forces your heart into your stomach and make you nauseous. The only time I felt safe was when I was away. And even then, there was the phone. The constant buzzing that I dare not ignore. I donít think Iíve ever felt fear as deeply on a daily basis as I did when I was with him. I had been wanting to end it six months before I finally could. I was too afraid. If he was doing the kinds of things he was doing when he said he loved me, what would he be capable of if I left? Even after it was over, I was still shaken. I didnít trust anyone. My relationships with men changed, perhaps forever.
I learned to hate myself. For a long time, I blamed everything he did on me. To this day, a part of me still does. He would tell me that if I had only done what he wanted, he wouldnít have had to do what he did. He made me believe he had no choice. I was the one who fucked up. I deserved it. I learned to blame every bad thing that happened to me on something I did or said.
I learned how to lie. I lied to everyone. I lied to my friends, my parents, my teachers. I lied to people I should have trusted. I lied to people who could have helped me. I lied to the police. When they asked me about him, I looked at my shoes and lied. I said ďnoĒ to just about every question they asked me. I became an expert. I learned to use excessive amounts of cover up, and blame any injuries on my own clumsiness if anyone asked. Even though telling the truth could have saved me a lot of pain, both emotional and physical, part of me was always satisfied when I told a successful lie.
I learned about anger, and how difficult it is to control. When a mutual friend of ours, who I worked on the schoolís literary magazine with told me that I ďruined himĒ, I went off. I didnít care that a teacher was present. I didnít care that several other students were present. I didnít care that I was in a classroom. She humiliated me. She reinforced what I already knew - that it was all my fault. I started screaming. If I hadnít left when I did, I would have started throwing chairs and desks at her. I donít even remember the details of what I said, but my own rage and words were enough to have me storming out of the room.
Not only did I find a new side of myself that was filled with rage, I learned how seemingly insignificant things can set someone off and have potentially life or death consequences. I have never seen anger in someone the way I saw it in him. I could see it in his face, and that alone was enough to make me start shaking. Arguments so small that normal couples could simply laugh off would send him into a rage, stabbing his mattress with a ten inch knife. I became so submissive in fear that soon enough, I would be that mattress. And several times, I almost was.
I learned who my friends are. He wouldnít let me hang out with my friends. Even girls were off-limits if he couldnít be there. He didnít really have many close friends, and that meant I couldnít either. I lost touch with a lot of people that I thought I cared about, and that I thought cared about me. My real friends were with me when I reached the other side. They knew I was in trouble, and even though they didnít say anything to me, even though I could rarely see them, they were there for me. When I confided in one friend that I wanted to end it, but was terrified of doing so, she offered to be nearby with her boyfriend in case it became violent, which I was certain it would, even in a public place. Unfortunately, even with that sense of backup, it didnít provide enough security for me. He scared me into staying with him. He scared me into abandoning my friends, most of whom I completely lost touch with. But I was lucky enough to have one good friend stay by my side all the way through. She understood when I had to cancel plans and didnít hold it against me, even though I refused to tell her what was going on. It took me nearly five years to confide in her how bad it really was, and the extent of it. She taught me what it means to be a good friend, and for that, I canít thank her enough.
Perhaps most importantly, I learned that someone who says ďI love you,Ē and means it, doesnít treat you like that. They donít use lies and coercion to get what they want out of you, to bleed you dry of your individuality so you can serve them. They donít use fear as a weapon. When you cry, they hug you, not threaten you. Someone who loves you isnít someone youíre scared to be alone with. Someone who loves you doesnít need to say it. Their actions show it.
It's weird to go from being so entangled in someone's life to being hardly anything at all. It sucks to hear the person you once cared for more than anyone talk about someone else the way you wish they still talked about you. And to think it wasn't that long ago when you could call them at two in the morning during finals week because your entire life was falling apart and they'd come running to your side.
I can't help but replay those words over and over in my head even though they're the last thing I want to hear.
I know how cliche it is for me to write this on Valentine's day, but it's pretty fitting when you think about how terrible we were with timing. We never quite figured that out.
And I know I promised, and I'm trying to stick to my word, but it's so much more difficult than I imagined. It's easy to make those promises when you have everything in the palm of your hand. It's hard to keep them when it's all slipping through your fingers.
I think about the night I met you when you unlocked the bathroom for be me because I locked my keys in there. I wonder if you knew then what was going to happen six months later. I still wonder if maybe youíd be happy by now if you were still here. Things can change so much in a year. So much.
I always say that I donít believe in a better place or anything like that, but sometimes I like to think that youíre in one. I hope you found whatever it was you were looking for. I hope you found the happiness that didnít exist for you here.
And I guess it's none of my business,
but I hope you're well old friend.
March 11th, 2003. Thereís a pit in my stomach. I walk into my parents room shaking all over. Iím going to throw up, I say. I tell them Iím sick. I donít know how else to describe it at that age. They tell me to take a Melatonin and try to get some sleep. I canít say I blame them, because this happens every night.
In a few years, Iíll learn that this feeling has a name. Anxiety. Iíll have massive panic attacks. Iíll find myself sitting on the steps of a subway entrance crying hysterically while people walk by and donít say a word because theyíre used to seeing crazy people like me. Iíll pick up everything I can get my hands on in the kitchen and throw it as hard as I can, hoping for some relief that never comes. Iíll start drinking what the average person would call way too much. Iíll punch walls and break my hand. Iíll wind up in the Emergency Room. Eventually Iíll see a doctor who will put me on Xanax, which Iíve taken before, but never orally or legally, and it feels like a godsend, at least for the first few days until I realize that Iím not cured, because unmedicated, Iím still the same fucking wreck Iíve always been.
If news travels fast in small towns, it travels even faster in small buildings. It took me two days to find out Liz was dead when I was twelve, but it took no more than a matter of minutes to find out about Jackie. When people think of suicide, they think about a young girlís poor family and friends who will forever be scarred by her absence. They donít think about the girl who walked into her room to find her roommate hanging and let out a piercing scream that would be heard throughout the entire building. They donít think about the awkwardness, sadness, and horror that fell over the building within minutes. They donít think about groups of terrified students standing in the hallways, unsure of what to do before the police arrived. They donít think about the fact that thousands of strangers would know before her parents. They donít think about police officers carrying a bodybag out of a dorm room hours later.
I didnít quite believe my roommate when she came into the room saying ďI think some girl just killed herself.Ē I don't know what I thought she meant, but I didn't think for a second that she was serious. I was sitting on my bed with Tyler, and we just looked at each other, silent and confused. My roommate grabbed a box of tissues and a water bottle and ran out of the room to take them to the girl who had just unleashed an unearthly shriek below us.
The entire building knew before the police did, and the entire quad must have known before they arrived.
I cried before I even knew who it was. I was standing outside on the sidewalk next to the building when my dad called to talk about a doctor appointment. He knew right away that I wasnít alright. I collapsed to my knees in tears as the snow fell around me and tried to explain in a mess of words what happened. I canít imagine how I formed a coherent sentence, but I must have, because the message got through. He asked a few questions, none of which I had answers to. I didnít even know who it was. Thereís nothing quite like knowing that someone you know is dead, quite possibly one of your friends, and not knowing who it is.
There was a shallow attempt to distract ourselves by heading to the tower and playing video games in Frankís suite, followed by trying to stomach chicken nuggets from Wendyís in the campus center, both of which were unsuccessful. It was in Frankís room that I found out it was Jackie. I felt sick. I wanted to collapse. I didn't have the energy to be awake, but I couldn't sleep.
We went back to our building, feeling sick after just eating. Second floor girls cried on the floor of our hallway, temporarily expelled from their hall as police officers below took the body out. I sat with Laurel, who sat against the wall wailing, reading and rereading her last text message conversation with Jackie and blaming herself for everything. ďShe was fine four hours ago!Ē she cried. It was hard to see a friend in that kind of pain. We all told her it wasnít her fault, that there was nothing anyone could have done, but thereís only so much that can be said.
There was a building meeting at 10:00 PM. They didnít say anything we didnít already know. Jackie had taken her own life. Everyone in the cramped basement room wore the same face and stared at the ground, trying with everything they had to hold it together.
Adirondack did not sleep that night. Noise was heard from all rooms and throughout the halls as people visited friends and hosted late night discussions about death, or more commonly, steering as far away from the subject as possible. Girls went to the bathroom in pairs. Everyone was terrified to be alone. People with extreme grudges asked if one another were okay.
Almost everyone in the building went home for the weekend. Possibly to be with their families, but most of them just needed to get away for a couple days. When Sunday came around and people returned, things were calmer, but still not okay. These kinds of stories never turn out okay. I've never believed in a better place, but sometimes I like to think she's in one.