I've Spent My Life Punishing Myself For My First Love's Brutal Death

Photo: Courtesy of the author
living in spite of grief and loss
Heartbreak, Self

It ends now.

Nineteen years ago, the world as I had known it ended.

My life is now divided into two parts. Before Nick and after Nick

Who was Nick?

Trying to sum him up in mere words is not something I am capable of doing, but in short, he was my first love and my best friend.

He was the first person in my life whom I truly knew and believed loved me.

He chose to love me. He chose to know me. He chose to give his heart to me and to accept mine in return.

Not only did he accept my heart. He accepted me. Every messed up, clumsy, goofy, scared, broken part of me. At seventeen years old, this was a concept that left me in awe.

It still does.

After two incredible years together, Nick canceled our plan to move to Seattle for college and decided to stay in Idaho. I was devastated. I had never known true heartbreak such as this. It made the mere act of breathing seem nearly impossible.

Eventually, I was able to collect myself and move forward. We tried to stay in touch. He tried to get me back. By that time, I was no longer interested in marrying him or giving our children the names we had picked out.

He had hurt me and I had moved on.

The last time I saw him was in my rear-view mirror. He was curled up against his car — crying and clutching a rose I wouldn’t take from him.

The last time I spoke to him, he'd called me to beg for one last conversation. I told him I had nothing to say to him, asked him to stay out of my life, and hung up the phone.

Less than a year later, he was dead.

The circumstances surrounding his death remain unknown. He was shot with a gun in his home, as he attempted to kick out a girlfriend with a seedy, criminal past.

The cops quickly ruled it a suicide, rather than doing a proper investigation or any forensic testing. This girl went on to a life of continued criminal activity — a delinquent to society. There are too many further disturbing details about this situation to go into, so I will leave it at that.

The guilt that has fallen upon me since Nick lost his life has been insurmountable.

I've spent my entire adult life punishing myself for not protecting him.

For saying goodbye to him. For not being there for him. For hanging up that phone. For driving away that day. For moving on. For leaving.

Nineteen years of punishment.

Nineteen years of being too afraid to let anyone close to me.

Nineteen years of self-medicating to escape the pain.

Nineteen years of running and evading and not allowing myself to experience a proper life — let alone a love life.

The immense pain and the immense fear of experiencing such loss again has caused me to push away every amazing man who has dared to love me.

I was once told by an ex-boyfriend, “You make it incredibly difficult to love you.” He wasn’t wrong or trying to be hurtful. He was being honest, and he was right.  

Every year on June 13th — the day Nick died — I try to do something wonderful in his honor.

In 2006, I got on a plane to backpack through Europe.

In 2009, I swam with dolphins.

In 2013, I took my son to Disneyland.

This year, I am going to do something different and immeasurably more important. I am going to choose to live.

I am going to begin taking care of my body. No more mind-numbing poison or taking for granted the blessing of my health.

I am going to begin taking care of my heart. No more choosing men who are geographically or logistically undesirable.

I am going to begin taking care of my spirit. Writing, reading, yoga, friends, family, and forgiveness.

No more hiding. No more self-inflicted punishment. No more self-hatred or self-harm.

Today, I am going to honor the first man who chose to love me, by honoring that love.

I am going to truly begin to live and truly learn how to forgive myself.

Perhaps more importantly, I am going to learn how to love myself. 




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