I was 21 years old when my father’s cancer killed him, and I spiraled out of control.
It was that same year a peer at school became schizophrenic and started hearing my voice in his head. Among his illusions was the one where we had been in love and he had broken my heart, despite the fact that the most we’d done together was have a polite conversation. He’d apologize to me over and over whenever he’d manage to get me alone shaking, crying asking me to take him back. He followed me, called me, texted me, left notes for me on my apartment door. He’d ask people if they’d seen me, if they knew where I was.
He’d invite himself over, show up during my shifts at work, watch me from far away, sit behind me in class, send me songs he wrote about me, and harassed anyone I showed interest in. When my keys went missing and the last place I had seen them were in my bag which hung over the back of my seat in the class he sat behind me in, I rushed to change my locks. The night before the locksmith was able to come, I lay in lay the dark, listening for footstep outside. He was always there. And the thing was, the campus was so small it actually didn’t seem that weird for him to always be present in some way. He didn’t look that out of place, everyone knew everyone so he was always connected to the group of people around me in some way, he always found a way in.
It’s hard for me to trace the path of events during that time. Mostly what I remember was feeling sick a lot. A dull ache pulsed in the back of my head and I had a sore throat most days. I ate very little and slept as much as was possible. My grief pummeled me, disabled me, for a long time I saw no way out of it. I learned that it’s possible to feel something so deeply it consumes you and then it kills you. I taught myself distance, self medication, and compartmentalization. I taught myself to hang on, to live without faith, or a plan, or control. Most days I was floating through. Most days I was aimless, most days passed in a haze. But I was alive even if it didn’t always feel like it.
I went back to visit campus once shortly after graduating. I heard that he was still there, his parents had taken him home for a semester so he could get some help, and now he was back finishing up his credits. But there was no way he would even know I was there for that one night, I wouldn’t be anywhere near him.
After a late night of partying, I ended up passing out on my friends Greg’s couch, in his dormitory. I woke up suddenly around 5am, it was still dark except for a little bit of light creeping through the windows from the street lamps outside. Cloudy, hungover, I thought it was my thirst that had woken me. Unable to find my glasses, I went without them to pour myself some water and as I stood there holding my blurry glass, something began to feel slightly askew around me. I had that sick feeling that comes after a night of heavy drinking. “Did I do something bad last night”? I thought back but nothing floated to the top of my memory.
The feeling persisted, and I thought to knock on Greg’s door, I didn’t think he’d mind me waking him up and I suddenly felt like I could not be alone. I spotted my glasses on the floor next to the couch and pushed them on. The far wall came into view and I froze, confused at what I was seeing. Across the entire wall, a manic red pen scrawl stretched from top to bottom. Slanted, illegible, it was the work of a jittery hand in the dark, the message was both illogical and menacing and at the very bottom, clearly written was my name.
I wanted very badly to think this was a prank but I knew deep down that it was not. The air felt suddenly electrified around me, my heart raced and I tried very hard to listen for any noises through the buzzing sound forming inside my head. I glanced at the front door, the lock was not bolted and my stomach dropped. I looked at Greg’s door, maybe 20 feet away. I then looked at the bathroom door right next to it. It was slightly ajar, the lights off. I made up my mind quickly, and vaulted across to Greg’s door and slipped silently inside his room.
Life in New York felt claustrophobic after that. In an attempt to get away I went to Maine to live and work in Acadia National Park. With very little money, or knowledge about what I was doing and where I was going, I drove myself 12 hours in one shot to the cabin I’d be sharing with 6 other girls. I worked in the restaurant 6 days a week 10 hours each day. On the 7th day I’d venture, usually by myself, into the woods. A small map tucked in my back pocket, a water bottle in my backpack, desperate to be alone with my thoughts.
In late October, tourist season was dying down and as the town emptied I began to feel anxious to get back home, to return to my life in New York. The days were so short and the temperature dropped a degree each day, an adamant countdown to a deep freeze. One of my last hikes there started as a nighttime walk. But it wasn’t long at all before I took a wrong term and suddenly felt disoriented by my surroundings. Night fell all at once around me and suddenly I came to the realization that I was lost in the dark.
I pulled my phone out of my bag, no service but still a bit of battery. I walked another ten minutes to a trail post and tried desperately to read the map posted on it, but it was an older one and had suffered some from water damage over the years, the faded line and symbols offered me little guidance, and I kept walking hoping I’d reach another. To the right of me was a large lake, I had the strong sense that the trail would loop around on the other side and lead me back, but my stomach was in knots as I tried to contemplate if it’d be a better plan to turn around and try to trace my steps backwards.
I decided I’d gone too far for that, that I’d follow the trail ahead around the lake and make my way back that way. Luckily the clouds would drift apart from time to time and light up the path ahead of me, I wasn’t tired yet but my heart beat very hard as I continued on, racing faster and faster every time I came around a bend and saw nothing except more darkness ahead of me. My mind did its due diligence, assuring me I’d make it back soon. There might even be dinner left at the lodge, or at least dessert. Just a little further, just a little further, we must be close now.
Hours passed, and I panicked. I began running through the woods desperate to reach a new point, to come to a clearing, to see a light from the cabins. I thought to scream for help, but I was terrified to make it known that I was out there to anything unwanted. In the pitch black silence I was invisible. I stopped and sat down on a rock at the edge of the trail. I breathed in deeply and began to cry, the darkness so thick around me I thought I might suffocate in it. Morning would come I repeated to myself, it was only a matter of time before the light came back, and I would have a window of time to find my way out before it falls dark again.