Back in January, I entered a contest for a female blog site. I’ll dash out any excitement now: it was a failing entry. Let me just scamper away with my tail between my legs now.
The contest was requesting submissions for a feature on their website which called for raw, honest writing about something irrational or slightly insane that’s happened in your life. Immediately I thought I’d be a shoe-in, you know, having a boyfriend pass away when I was only 22 years old and running away because of it. Instead, posts about having a racist friend and getting headaches were published. I’m failing to see the rationality in all this too.
Instead of crumpling this writing up and tossing it in the rejection pile, I wanted to share it. No writing — whether planned, free flowing, or just random thoughts — should be thrown away, after all. That’s just plain silly and frivolous.
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I Tempted Death After My Boyfriend Died
On the eve of 2008, my life mimicked a happy-sappy romance movie. I had a supportive family, I was finishing my college degree, I couldn’t have asked for better friends, and my boyfriend was Heaven sent. Little did I know my boyfriend’s ‘Heaven sent’ status was more literal than figurative.
I spent New Year’s Eve with my boyfriend, ringing in the New Year. He was feeling a little under the weather so we agreed upon a relaxing evening at his apartment, smiling and laughing over the scenes on television from New York City. After cleaning his apartment from top to bottom with Lysol and making his bed with fresh sheets to feel better, I kissed him goodbye and we intimately talked about the many, many new years to come.
My boyfriend passed away one week later. His “cold” quickly became more severe, making it difficult for him to breathe. After one hospital visit filled with apathy and ‘You’ll be fine’ sentiments, he returned home.
Two days later, he was back in the hospital fighting for his life. His “cold” was septic pneumonia, rattling his every muscle and fiber, spreading at deadly rates throughout his body.
His death, the phone call received saying he didn’t make it, and the services to follow are a big blur of darkness, sadness, and unending emptiness. Everything in my life was the same, but what made me happiest had been ripped from my hands and my heart in one fell swoop. I, foolishly, had lived most my life under the presumption that the death you face is expected: grandparents, parents later in life, yourself, your partner… all of these deaths were due to occur as I was slowing down in life, not when I was just starting.
I spent several hollow months at home, trying to piece back together the life I once knew. I sobbed silently in the bathroom throughout work shifts and would count down the seconds of any venture, calming myself with the knowledge that I would soon be home again, in the depths of my private despair.
After living in a bubble for several months, you begin to detach yourself from everything you once knew. By the summer following my boyfriend’s death, I knew something had to change.
On a seemingly out-of-the-blue decision, I announced to family and friends that I was moving to Baltimore, Maryland. Everyone’s immediate concern was the danger of the area I was centering myself. Not only was I moving to a city with one of the nation’s highest crime rates, but I was moving to a neighborhood that had been infamously written about.
On top of moving into danger, I also took a job at a nearby coming-of-age mental health center. Many patients had charges of rape, murder, drug distribution, and assault that were overlooked.
Before long, I was knee-deep in an insane new life. My upstairs neighbors were drug dealers, my clients threatened violence to themselves and others regularly, and I myself, being in the hub of the city, was beginning to experience panic associated with my boyfriend’s passing. Every ambulance that passed by my car would present flashbacks of hospital smells, overwhelming panic, and flashes of images from my boyfriend’s passing and services.
Within six months of living in Baltimore, my apartment building was raided by a SWAT team in search of the drug dealers upstairs, I came home to a dead body on my doorstep, I was almost mugged during a late-night medication drop for a patient, and I had narrowly escaped several attacks and accusatory hallucinations from patients.
My boss caught wind of my Baltimore adventures and pleaded with me to move out of the city. She had lived in the city most of her life and always expressed her concerns about a young, out-of-towner living in the most dangerous part of ‘Murderland’. Begrudgingly, I took her advice and moved to the outskirts of the city.
Once I arrived and could feel the difference in intensity, I was restless. I needed the rush of the city; the insanity of my new life craved the noise.
One of my friends at home pleaded with me to begin therapy. “You don’t realize the trauma you’ve been through, and the trauma you’re putting yourself through” she had said with more care than I could accept at the time.
With the goal of proving old friends wrong, I began therapy. My therapist was a soft-spoken older woman who ran out of a historic office in the basement of a hospital. She would offer me tea as we quietly approached her bohemian office filled with pillows, tissues, and calm-colored fabrics. After a few visits of listening about my boyfriend’s passing, the therapist made a poignant observation that would off-rail the tracks I had run full speed ahead on.
“Let’s review for a second here,” she said cautiously. “You’re 22 years old and you face the untimely passing of your boyfriend. Out of grief, you move to Baltimore. You then surround yourself with drug dealers, dangerous patients, and ultimately… death.”
I nodded and waited for her professional light to click on and explain to me why I was doing what I was doing.
“Honey,” she said, placing an extra dose of softness in her voice. “It sounds like you’re on a hot pursuit for a dance with death.”
Her words hit me like a brick wall.
“Well, don’t be too impressed. You’re not the first, or the last, who has or will,” she said to-the-point. “The bigger question is… what now?”
I sat with that question for another month. I meditated, prayed, and wrote my thoughts in a journal as if they were going out of style. Realizing the situation I had placed myself in, and the motivating factors behind my actions, made me want normalcy once again. My thirst for life could not be satiated; I suddenly felt stagnant and trapped in a life that wasn’t built for me.
I had grown up in a small town, where every trip to the coffee store or pharmacy would result in a catch-up session with a local. People kept their doors unlocked at night, taking comfort in the safety of the town. Even the patients I had worked with at home were safe; instead of discussing violence passionately, they discussed anxiety and depression. My life in Baltimore compared to my life at home could not have been more different. I thought I had nothing to lose, so I attempted to dance with death and outsmart its twisted games.
Ultimately, I moved back home. I created a new life for myself and tucked my Baltimore adventures privately in a back drawer of my mind. The danger I had danced with was a secret just for me, and I had become a professional at shrugging off others’ questions and concerns about my experiences in Baltimore.
I danced with death out of inconsolable sadness and pain. Never did I know that dance would ultimately lead me back to myself, life, and happiness.