Coming to Terms
I wake up in a cold sweat after dreaming about him. I am overcome with a sense of panic every time I see a guy with red hair. No one will ever understand what I went through. This gives me a sense of isolation, but it also makes me who I am today. He has given me both a curse and a gift. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Jake Smith. I met him in archery during the summer after my freshman year and automatically fell for him. We didn’t talk much once school started, and he eventually stopped going to archery, but I never stopped yearning for him.
When Jake came back to archery at the beginning of junior year, I was overjoyed. I ended up getting his phone number under the pretense of needing help with math homework. I made excuses to text him, and eventually he started coming over to my house. Over time, I got to know him in a way that his other friends never did. I learned that he lived with his mother and two siblings because his parents were divorced and that he had moved around a lot as a child. I learned that he was abused by his mother’s ex-boyfriends and didn’t have a close relationship with his father, who failed to be involved in his life after the divorce. Every memory he shared with me made me like him even more. And when he told me that he thought love and dating were pointless, my heart melted. I made it my mission to change his mind about love, and change it I did.
A few weeks later, Jake texted me to make sure I was going to archery on Friday. I thought it was sweet that he wanted to hang out with me, so I made sure to go. However, he wasn’t himself when I got there. He was quieter than usual, but it was more than that. He just seemed off, and it made me worried. I knew something was wrong, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. Two days later, he told me he was ready to talk, so I told him to come over. I didn’t know what to expect when he came over, but what he told me was much, much worse than anything I could have ever imagined.
The first thing he did was ask me out, which was great because I had been hoping he liked me back. Then, he started talking really fast. He said that he had anxiety and depression and that he was homicidal and suicidal. He said that he had had a plan to lock the doors that Friday at archery and start by taking out his brother before killing everyone else in the room. And then he grabbed my hands and told me that he didn’t go through with his plan because he didn’t want to hurt me.
The days following Jake’s confession blurred together as I struggled to comprehend what he had told me. The realization that he was going to kill all those people finally hit me the following week when he did a Homecoming Proposal for me. His brother tagged along to take pictures of the proposal, and I felt sick. I couldn’t stop seeing him dead by Jake’s hand. I faked a smile and went to class, but as soon as they were gone, I ran to the bathroom to throw up. I had finally opened my eyes to the horror of what he had planned to do, but I didn’t know what to do. If I broke up with him, what would he do? I couldn’t bear to think of him hurting anyone, so I talked to my parents.
We decided to go to the police the next day because we couldn’t offer the kind of help Jake clearly needed. The details of that day have faded from my memory, but I remember calling my friend Misael and breaking down on the phone. Once I started crying, I couldn’t stop. It was as if a dam had broke and all of my emotions were finally spilling out. They say that crying is supposed to help you feel better, but it didn’t. I felt weak. I was disgusted by the fact that I still wanted to be with him. I blamed myself for his arrest and I let that guilt fester into anger, which I then took out on my friends.
I lost one of my closest friends because she wouldn’t give me space to sort through my emotions. I asked nicely to give me time to bounce back because I knew I wouldn’t be myself for a while, but she wouldn’t stop pushing me to act normal. She wanted me to crack a joke and pretend that I was fine, but I just couldn’t. Every time I tried to express to her how traumatized I was by the whole situation, she would get mad and tell me that she was “only trying to help”. I tried to be understanding and patient because I knew she couldn’t possibly understand what I went through, but I eventually gave up on trying to be friends with her.
Somewhere down the line, my guilt twisted into something else entirely and I decided that I loved him. I sugarcoated the memories of his plan and the trauma it inflicted. I told myself I would be lucky if he took me back, and so I was overjoyed when he told me he still wanted to date me. We became the perfect couple and spent every waking moment together. That is, until Jake went to court and was banned from contacting me, “the victim”.
I was devastated at first, but I eventually adjusted to life without him. I no longer felt like I loved or needed him. A few months later, we were allowed to talk again, so he called me. It should have been a relief to hear his voice, but in that moment, terror and nausea washed over me once again. The memories came rushing back to me: the crazed look in his eyes when he told me about his plan, the visions of everyone dead, the day we went to the police. I knew I could never look at him in the same way; I had to break up with him.
He took the breakup well, but he never stopped trying to talk to me. Every time he texted me, I panicked. I hated that he had that power over me and eventually blocked his number. After blocking him, I felt a sense of profound freedom, and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
What happened with Jake was incredibly traumatic, but I have grown as a person because of it. I doubt I will ever fully recover from that trauma, but I’ve come to accept it as a part of me. I am stronger despite what happened to me, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Jake’s story is only a chapter of mine, and I will continue to tell it for years to come.
Ashlyn Easley is an 18-year-old aspiring writer and poet who currently resides in Arizona. In her free time, she enjoys procrastinating on homework by rereading her favorite books. In the fall, she will be studying a variety of things at Northern Arizona University. Direct any fan mail or critiques to her Instagram (@booknerd778).
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