we tend to think
that hurting someone
is like one big thrust
of a sword, to the gut
but the worst pain of all
are the tiny little knives
often used daily
that puncture us
over and over again
until we bleed out
Today is a bit different, for several reasons. Mostly, this place isn’t in my hometown. This is also where things peaked for me for about a decade. It’s only been recent that, with the benefit of hindsight, I understand I had let my life spiral for those ten years. But we’ll get there.
Northern Kentucky University was the first college I went to after high school. It was the first time I was living away from home for longer than a week, and it continued to build on the lessons learned in high school. Lessons of growth, acceptance of others, and independence. It also bred new insecurities, feelings of lack of control, and new levels of chaos in my life.
My roommate freshman year was one of those super popular kids from high school. He also happened to have two strikes on his criminal record. I don’t remember his name now. He was a really nice guy that seemed to have a knack for finding trouble and allowing trouble to find him.
I remember one night he snuck in through our window, got in bed, and said he had been there the whole time. And that’s precisely what we told the cop that showed up at our door about thirty minutes later. I still have no idea where he had been.
That first semester went well. I had good grades, was actually enjoying my classes, and had made new friends. Being that I knew basically no one there, those of us from Louisville quickly found each other and bonded. But there was definitely a core group that I hung out with consistently.
Reggie and his roommate Roger were my two closest friends. We hung out pretty much when we all had free time, and they taught me a lot about opening myself up to new experiences. Roger and Reggie were both much more outgoing than I was, so I tagged along on a lot of experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have.
I opened up so much so that I was starting conversations with people that I had classes with, which was virtually unheard of for my introverted self. In particular, there was one girl in one class. And eventually, to make a long story short, I started dating the first woman I would love.
She was beautiful, intelligent, funny. Basically any good quality you could want in a partner, she had. Even her family was great. But I did everything a young man in love could think to do to mess things up. I stopped hanging out as much with my friends. I threw myself into the relationship while simultaneously becoming less trusting of her and, eventually, we split up sometime after the second semester started.
I spent a lot of time talking to mutual friends, and eventually, we started talking again. I don’t remember all the details now, but we ended up back together. A second chance.
The end of the semester came, and I had decided to move back to Louisville. My friends had found new friends due to my absence, my roommate never came back from winter break, and I thought that we could make a long-distance relationship work. And at another time, a more mature version of myself might have been able to.
In our break, she had started dating someone else. And it wrecked my psyche with jealousy. I brought that jealousy and paranoia into the exact situation where those kinds of thoughts and feelings would be the death knell. And the executioner was sharpening his blade.
When we broke up the second time, I was arrogant. I had talked her into giving me a second chance once, why couldn’t I do it again. And somehow, she was ready to give me another. It’s clear to me now that, as much as I loved her, she loved me more. And I took advantage of that until the people in her life wouldn’t let her anymore.
She had asked me to come to her dance recital. I say “asked” as if there was any chance of a future with her if I didn’t go. She stressed over and over how important this was, especially as someone who was trying to get back in the good graces of her family. And I was committed to going. Until I wasn’t.
I balked at the last minute and flaked. I don’t remember the shit excuse I gave myself, but trust me, it wasn’t worth remembering. I tried and tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t have it, and for great reason. I asked and asked, why? I knew I had messed up, but can’t you give me one more chance? No. I was, and I quote, a dick. And it only stung as bad as it did because I knew she was right.
I spiraled. Hard. I knew I was to blame, but I refused to admit it, even to myself. I deflected and pretended, all while my mind was beginning its first descent into the dark world of depression. I got put on an anti-depressant, by my own request. And it helped for a while.
But my 21st birthday was quickly approaching, and the thing with anti-depressants is that drinking alcohol while on them is a terrible idea. I did it anyway. The night of my 21st birthday party, I wanted to be anywhere else. I wasn’t suicidal, and I never have been. But I didn’t want to be on this planet that night. It’s one of the worst nights of my life when it should have been one of the best.
At the time, I believed I was heartbroken. And to an extent, I was. But now I think I was punishing myself. I knew all the wrong things I had done. I knew drinking alcohol with the medication was dangerous. I did it anyway. I wanted to feel the consequences of my actions. Or to feel anything.
NKU shaped me differently than the other places have. Not only because I had, until recently, associated more negative feelings toward it than positive, but also because the story, my story, isn’t tied as much to the physical location. When I went up a few weeks back to take the pictures, I definitely had a rush of memories associated with the school. But those aren’t what shaped me.
The feeling of connection with another person on that level was something I had been searching for. I was always the kid that believed in high school sweethearts. And that dream, that I had put on a pedestal, came crashing down around me, because of me. I wasn’t ready for love at the time. But even more than love, I wasn’t prepared to look myself in the mirror for who I was and hold myself accountable for the behaviors.
Especially in writing this, I see how much I’ve grown since college. Some of the people I’ve met more recently may not even think this story is about me. And honestly, I don’t think about it much anymore, because I know I’m a different person. But it is a part of my story, warts and all. Besides, I still hadn’t hit rock bottom.
Thank you again for those of you following along with this series. It’s been very therapeutic.