Fourteen years ago today, my boyfriend at the time was killed by a drunk driver at the age of 20...and my life changed forever. I've known for a while now I wanted to write about this. But this is such a tender topic for me and I haven't known where to begin. So, I suppose I'll begin at the beginning.
Adam and I started dating in my sophomore year of college. He lived in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, and we'd met when I was home for Thanksgiving break. We were drawn to each other immediately and spent that whole week together before I went back to school. He came to visit me every weekend. We were crushing on each other pretty hard and were in that heart-open, anything-is-possible place. We were excited about each other. It was still new.
The weekend before finals week, we'd planned for me to go home to visit him. At the last minute, I decided against it because it was only going to be one more week before my finals were finished and I'd get to be with him for a whole month at home. I was a big procrastinator and I still had papers to write. And I wanted to spend the weekend with my school friends since I wouldn't see them for a month.
In our last phone call, I told him I wouldn't be coming home that weekend. He was upset about it. I don't remember his last words to me. Or whether we resolved it.
Around 5:00 Sunday morning I got the call from Adam's brother and best friend. Car accident overnight. Severe head injury. Coma. The other driver so drunk he passed out behind the wheel after the crash. Adam was still alive but it didn't look good.
My roommates woke up to me frantically packing my things up and sobbing. In shock. Since I was hysterical, they convinced me not to drive the 2 1/2 hours home.
He died later that day. I'm glad that I didn't make it home before he died. I've heard the horrible reports about how he looked in the hospital and they've haunted me since.
In the weeks, months, and years after that I struggled with nightmares; guilt about not going home (in my mind if I had he might still be alive); feeling like I was cheating on him whenever I got close to another guy, since it's not like we ever broke up; feeling very alone on an impossible and obsessive crusade to get everyone I knew to never drink and drive again (no one really listened to me); and a grief that felt way bigger than our short romance warranted.
It's that last piece that I'm working with this year. See, in the last several years, I've noticed that around the anniversary of his death, I start to re-experience or re-taste some part of my experience from back then. Back when it happened, there was so much going on inside me that it was more than I could metabolize or process through. So as each year has passed, I've gotten to do another part of my internal work around this.
The grief felt huge. And yet Adam and I had only been together for around a month. I was young and felt insecure about feeling so much. I mean, we hadn't even said, "I love you," and at that age, the rules of dating as I read them clearly stated that I was supposed to not show how much I cared at the beginning.
But then Adam died. I couldn't help showing it because it felt so big. I felt really unsure about how to talk with people about it because when I did, I thought I was treated as though I just wanted attention and should be over it. It was never that big of a deal in the first place. Somehow my feelings weren't real. Or I didn't deserve them. I felt really alone.
I realize now that this was a life-defining time for me. But all around me it seemed like this wasn't a very big deal, since we were only together for a month. I had no idea how to deal with this big life event. I was only 20.
So now, fourteen years later, I'm realizing I've told very few people about this event in my life. It's not something I talk about much. Now the story is rearranging itself inside of me. It's no longer about how I'm strange because this impacted me so greatly or that it shouldn't have. Nor is it about what other people didn't do or should have done.
Now, it's a story about the truth of how devastated I was and how much I've learned from this big event in my life. It's about me taking responsibility for the ways that I hid my vulnerability about it and then didn't get the support I needed from the people closest to me.
Adam's death was part of my past and matters greatly to me. And now, fourteen years later, I'm finally talking about it. It's finally time to share this vulnerability. And let it heal me.
Please leave a comment below and let me know how this impacted you. Or tell me about something you're ready to start reclaiming and talking about.
To Adam's friends and family: I felt so welcomed into your circle and felt safe and accepted as I was grieving with you. I am forever grateful for that.
And finally, to Adam: Thank you. Even though we were young and never said this out loud to each other, I love you.