One year ago, as I walked the brick path around its first bend on my way to class, I saw the trees in crystal clarity. Every leaf was outlined in high-resolution detail. I felt excited. Thankful that I was alive. That I was negative.
But just as quickly all that happiness turned to hatred.
What had I done? How could I have been so stupid? So reckless?
In class I pushed all these thoughts aside to listen as my professor spoke about Africa and the Millennium Development Goals as outlined by the United Nations. One of them was to end the spread of HIV before 2015. As the PowerPoint slide came up, my spine stiffened and the fluids therein froze into a pillar of ice whose chilled grasp spread down my skin and covered me in goosebumps.
I walked up to the GLBT Center right after class. Bekah was in her office. “I wasn’t expecting that,” I told her. “It hit me really hard.” I let her know the tests had come back negative, but expressed some uneasiness about trusting it too much before I went back for follow-up tests after three and six months to know for certain.
We somehow got on the topic of classes. I’d fallen behind again. I was turning in homework assignments only halfway completed. She said if I needed any notes for my professors, the Center could write them. All my professors willing to work with me didn’t need any notes; the rest would’ve ignored them anyways.
Then my phone vibrated. I looked to see a Valentine’s Day message from my ex. I shook my head and shoved my phone into my pocket. Why is he texting me? I wouldn’t be here if not for him. I ignored his message. He was the one who had broken my heart and told me to get over him by sleeping with other guys.
But I had been the one to listen. I had downloaded hook-up apps and used them. I had let myself lose sleep over each of them. I met guys in unsafe places. I took rides from people I didn’t know without telling anyone where I was going or who I was going with. I decided to call the cab. I decided to get in bed between two men with HIV.
This bombardment of personal attacks continued. Each day as I woke up, I’d curse myself for all I had done. I lost trust in myself. If I could do something so heinous as this, what else would I do? How could I control myself?
I deleted Scruff. I deleted Grindr. I vowed never to touch them again (and I haven’t). I stopped signing on to certain websites with similar functions. I cut myself off from all the things that had led me astray–but it wasn’t enough.
Every day I walked past a parking deck. It scared me to look at it, to let my eyes drift down to its doorways, those gaping mouths of four-story staircases leading into the open air up top. I forced myself to walk on the far side of the sidewalk. To look away. If I let myself climb those steps, what would keep me from throwing myself off the edge?
I didn’t feel suicidal–I wanted to suffer more than surrender, to feel this hatred so deeply I would never transgress again–but if I had already done so much I wouldn’t normally let myself do, how could I know I wouldn’t seize the chance to end my life if God offered it?
Some days I would just sit down and cry. Days, weeks slipped by in a matter of moments, long swaths of colors bleeding together into dull greys and saturated spirals that disappeared into darkness in the end anyways.
I knew my troubles began by not taking the time to heal after my last relationship, so while I waited for my individual counseling, I went to a drop-in group for healthy relationships. I didn’t talk much those first few meetings, just listened to the others share their pain, their problems. As time wore on, I began opening up in front of them, I realized my relationship hadn’t been as wonderful as I remembered–hadn’t been as healthy as I’d thought.
The breakup especially was abusive. The way he shut down on me. The way he led me on, to believe things were okay, to turn the tables and shatter me. The way he told me to sleep around. The way he said that would heal me.
But I couldn’t just blame him. I loved him more deeply than was healthy. I let myself become dependent upon him like an addict to a drug. I made him into more than a boyfriend. I made him my life. Every breath I breathed, every choice I made, I did it all for him. In a changing, shifting time, I let him become the one constant in my life–and when it ended, I fell hurtling into unrestrained chaos.
So that, too, was my fault.
And the self-abuse continued.
What had I done?
- Prologue: One Year Ago
- Rock Bottom
- Epilogue: One Year Ago