The moment he walked into the store, my life was going to change forever. Time stopped, and that moment will live with me, always. I knew in an instant that he was going to be a huge part of my life. Unfortunately, I just didn’t know how.
I was 18, working at Abercrombie. He was with two of his friends, off the military base for the weekend. I wanted to know his name, his story, his family, his favorite color, his favorite food, his everything. I just wanted him. After some flirting, him buying a shirt and a phone number exchange, that was it. The night led to dancing, staying up until 7 a.m., and a two-year relationship.
Not many people have experienced that moment when you just see someone and know right then and there that this person you've never seen before is your soulmate, that instant when things just suddenly make sense. But that’s exactly what happened. We were meant to be.
Every weekend, we were together. He would leave the base and come visit me while I was staying in the dorms at school. He wanted me to meet his family, I wanted him to meet mine. Things were perfect. We were young, we were in love, and we knew that we were supposed to spend the rest of our lives together. I couldn’t explain it; it was something that I just knew.
We were that couple that could never say “bye,” whether it was him going to work or just hanging up the phone. We always said, “See you later.”
Even though things started out as they do in the movies, there were secrets. There were things I had never asked because I didn’t know at that age.
There were drugs. I had no idea how to respond except to try them myself. And when I did, I was introduced to a world that seemed better for those few high hours. I even saw a new side of him that made me fall in love with him even more.
Then, I saw a new side of him that struck me even more than the moment that came over me when I first saw him.
I decided to transfer to a college that was closer to him, but only two hours away from my home. I would get my own apartment, and we would get the privacy we wanted. His base was just an hour away from my new school, and he would spend every weekend with me. Things were working out just how I had pictured it. We were alone in our own little space with our bed sheets picked out and new dishes that filled the kitchen. We were together, but we were alone.
I was alone.
I was so close to home, yet I was so far. I was too busy getting high with him that I forgot about life before him. I was mesmerized, I was hypnotized, I was high — high enough that my life was in danger and I almost lost it, high enough that I realized we needed to stop, even though he didn’t.
I wanted to help him. I still loved him.
That’s when things went wrong. I wanted him to get clean, but he claimed he already was. He was an addict. During our time together, he was always high. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore; I wanted him to stop.
My first mistake was trying to hide his drugs. His solution was beating the shit out of me. The worst part was that be blamed me. He said that because I hid his drugs, I deserved to be thrown to the ground and kicked when I was down. Even worse: I believed him. Why did I do that? I thought. Why would I take away that kind of joy and pleasure from him?
The next incident lead to my first concussion because he threw me back against the wall so hard, again while he was high. He threatened my life while choking me saying, “I’m going to kill you. Do you hear me? I’m going to fucking kill you.”
He threw a framed photo of us at me while I ran away and it hit me square on my elbow, causing me to not be able to move; the pain was unbearable. I just wanted to fall asleep and let it all go away. I passed out on my bed after he had locked himself in the bathroom.
I woke up with blood on my pillow from a nosebleed and found that he was gone. At first I thought, He’s gone! I can be done with this! But he was just walking our dog and talking to our neighbor as if nothing happened the night before.
I felt stuck, and I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do. But I loved him.
Finally, we agreed that the relationship was too unhealthy for both of us — him beating me and saying he did drugs because I stressed him out. Again, I believed him and apologized. We packed up our things, and I headed back to where I had been living before. He would stay with his friend, and I would move back in with my mom. Things would be okay now that we weren’t together.
But I still loved him. I still wanted to be with him. And he said he still loved me. So why not be together?
We moved back in together, and it was a nightmare. It never got better. His addiction was getting worse. I was constantly living in fear for my life because, at any moment, I knew he could kill me with no hesitation. Drugs were all around the apartment.
Who was this man? Where was the man I fell in love with, the man with the bright eyes and loving qualities? Where was he?
Finally, the last beating happened. I ended up with bruises all over my body and a protective order put against him. I won’t go into too much detail about that incident; long story short, he just had no mercy. I came to the realization that drugs took him away from me, and he was never going to come back.
After the court date, things seemed better. I had volunteer lawyers, and we did not even have to speak in the courtroom; he had agreed to the protective order against him. No communication, can't come within 200 yards — something like that. I could breathe easier knowing he would never bother me again, that he couldn't put my life at risk anymore. I was doing things I wanted to do. I was free.
However, one thing still kept me attached. One thing still wouldn’t allow me to completely let go: I still loved him.
One night, after a photo shoot with some friends, I was driving home. I couldn’t explain it, but I had a lump in my throat — the kind of lump you get when you think you’re going to cry. But I wasn’t sad. Instead, I couldn’t breathe. My breath was short and my throat was tight. Something was wrong.
I got home and crawled into bed concerned if I would wake up in the morning. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my breathing steady. Finally, from exhaustion, I fell asleep.
My phone wouldn't stop buzzing. Something was wrong. Finally, I saw a phone number I recognized. It was his mother.
I answered, on March 5, 2013 at 6:43 in the morning, to her saying, “He’s dead.”
I screamed. I cried. My mother came in my bedroom holding me, picking me up from the ground.
I got dressed and sped to the hospital where he was. Those moments were a blur until I got to the ER. I rushed past security to the front desk and just begged. Saying his name through tears, the receptionist led me to another room where I could be by myself, not forced to wait where other people were. Someone came in and took me to the back.
I was walking toward some curtains when a nurse pulled them back just a touch, and I saw his feet. I collapsed.
It was him. There was no denying it. I knew every inch of him, down to his awkward toes, the first part of him I saw.
I was led behind the curtain, and he was lying there. Eyes closed. Crusted from blood. Blood from his ears, eyes and nose were all over his face. I put my head on his chest. He was cold. He was gone.
I had never experienced death like this before, seeing the body of someone who had died. I had been to funerals, but this was not a funeral. I was coming to see a body that had been alive not even an hour ago. I was going to see the first love of my life, dead. He was never coming back, heart stopped, ice cold, motionless, soulless, lifeless, deceased.
He. Is. Dead.
I kept repeating these words in my head over and over, trying to shake myself into this new reality. No matter what thoughts I had, how many times I told him I was sorry, nothing was going to bring him back.
I put his hand in mine, staring at him. I kept whispering to him, “Wake up. Please, wake up.” My tears fell onto his face while I pleaded to him to trade places with me. I begged him to open his eyes, to move, to get up, and tell me this was not real.
It was real.
I kept my head on his chest for what seemed like years. I was waiting for my head to move up and down from his breaths. They never came. I couldn’t stay with him forever, because there was no one to stay with. He was gone.
His mother came down that day, and we arranged some things here and there. He’d be buried back home and we made the drive back up to the Midwest. The funeral was just two days later. I had to say my final goodbyes.
He taught me how to love. He taught me what love wasn’t. He taught me more about life than I had ever known, and I will always thank him for that. He came into my life for a reason and I still pray that he felt the same about me. Unfortunately, it’s just something I will never know.
As we all began to leave the funeral, I looked back, wiped my tears, and whispered, "See you later."