It was early in the morning, just after 5:00, on October 12, 2008, when I said goodbye to Los Angeles, and the last two plus years of my life. I didn’t want to leave, but I needed to leave. It was one of those “adult” decisions that are for the best despite what you want. It cost me what I knew then of love, my dreams, and my greatest accomplishments up until that time. What was worse, I was going back to a place I hated, broken, worn, embarrassed and feeling as if my world wasn’t only ending, but as soon as I crossed the Nebraska state line, it had effectively ended. I was done.
When I moved to LA I was full of hopes and dreams and had a bright future ahead of me. Contrary to most stories that begin with moving to Los Angeles, I had no interest in acting or being famous, or even wealthy. And I didn’t party or fall into a bad scene so to speak. Perhaps that was what made everything worse.
There was a guy. A bad guy that I loved, or thought I loved, very much. But he was a bad guy. Like every abusive relationship – it was complicated. In the beginning, he was a prince and swept me off my feet. He did everything right, and before long I realized I loved him. I felt I needed him. And yet after months together – most of the time it felt impossible to love myself, to be healthy, and be with him. I felt I had to choose: me or him. This choice was difficult, but making the break was even more difficult. Long after we started dating (several months in) one of his friends tried to challenge our relationship. His friend didn’t like me. I was plagued with my own doubts as my boyfriend had started to seem unstable and possessive and at times, scared me. He didn’t lay a hand on me, but I think he would have been less scary if he had and that was it.
I told my boyfriend I wanted to end things. His friend was harassing me and even hacked into my computer/accounts (I had evidence of this, messages read that I didn’t read, messages sent that I didn’t write) and after changing all of my passwords, it didn’t stop. I was over it. And also, it seemed like reinforcement I was doing the right thing. For so long, I rationalized any doubts as nothing but my own relationship baggage and I definitely had endless amounts of that. Now I know better. There are doubts that are echoes of something and there is your gut. You can talk your brain into anything. You can perceive things inaccurately because of biases… but your gut – you can’t fool that. Now I listen to my gut every time. I wish I had done that then.
When my boyfriend faced the possibility of losing me he did what he thought would make me stay. He told me he would get his friend to stop bugging me. I didn’t relent at first, but there were those pesky emotions I felt for him and his pleading and finally I agreed. My boyfriend had some of his gangbanger buddies jump his friend after a rave. They bashed his skull in. I know many people would have thought this would have made me leave, but it had the opposite effect. As my boyfriend told me what he had done, holding me, telling me “Now nothing can come between us,” I didn’t leave. I was too scared to. It was a message to me. I wasn’t going anywhere until he decided to let me go. I was not a person he was with, but one of his shiny possessions to show off.
My boyfriend, a popular DJ and promoter, also had a double life he kept from me. He was a drug dealer and the term “rough crowd” really didn’t cover the extent of his connections. I knew if I left him, I had to leave town. And not just LA… I had to disappear to a place he would never go to, a place he had no such connections. Leaving him took months of planning. All of my money was tied to his in joint accounts, so I had to borrow from friends. I had to make arrangements behind his back, I had to clue him in on things strategically because I couldn’t hide the fact that I was leaving him, so I had to mask it as “going to Nebraska for a visit”. This meant leaving all of my worldly possessions behind.
I moved to Los Angeles for graduate school and even though I got off to a hairy start down there (including a Bengal tigers, one landlord trying to kill himself on my third day there, and a not-so-secret prostitution ring) I came out on top after just a few months and was soon working for a prestigious company as one of their top performers, going to dinner parties in the Hollywood Hills with D-list celebrities and attending work functions on yachts. I got swept up in that glitz and who wouldn’t? I was coming into my own. All the while I went to school fulltime and kept up with my studies, graduating with my Master’s after just two years.
I had always wanted to live in a liberal big city. I had always wanted to live by the ocean. I had always wanted to leave Nebraska, full of painful memories and an environment I would never feel “at home” with, but I always needed a reason to move, because just leaving to leave was the same as running away. When I moved to LA I was moving towards something. When I left LA, I was running away. Not just running away, but desperately fleeing.
At the time I was depressed more than I had ever been in my entire life. I loved him and yet I chose to leave. I had to dig myself out of financial ruin because of him (he charged up all of our accounts and even used my personal accounts without my knowledge), and I had to let go of everything that used to matter to me (my clothes, my book collection, DVDs, journals, things I could have sold like furniture and electronics). I had to start over, and even though I was moving back to my hometown, my biological family has never been there for me, and the reason for my baggage has much to do with them. (Long history of child abuse, the law got involved and I was later emancipated from my parents.)
While I have C-PTSD and have struggled with depression and anxiety as a result, I don’t take antidepressants or other drugs. I don’t judge people who do, but they’re just not for me. But when I feel so close to the edge that I need help beyond my own coping abilities, I ask. I have asked for such help twice in my life, and the second and last time was when I returned to Nebraska. Ashamed that I let some guy run me out of town, and angry at myself because I didn’t want to leave him. I still wanted “us” to work, even if I knew we wouldn’t.
Since I left LA, I have never wanted to go back. I miss the ocean. I miss my friends from grad school. I miss the weather. I miss some of my favorite hangs, but none of that was worth going back. All of the badness I left behind that tried to break me… I rose up – again. I built a life, a good life. I’m happy now. There is nothing for me in LA but the people I miss from my past. And as much as I want to see them… well I already said how I feel about that.
For me I guess there is a little fear. My ex has tried to get in touch with me many times over the years, as recently as a few months ago. I change numbers, block him on social media sites, I’m not listed anywhere and I make sure my name doesn’t appear on any property records etc. I’m careful. But he is resourceful. So part of me feels like I’m playing Russian roulette if I ever went back to Southern California. I don’t like to admit to any human weakness, but I admit I am scared of going back. If he found out or if I saw him by chance, what would he do? What would he have someone do? He’s the only living ghost that haunts me. Any other hauntings are memories or regrets, but I feel like he is still a danger to me…
But I am going back to LA. I have a conference to attend there next month. Part of me is excited. I will get to see my grad school buddies and visit campus which I’m sure looks worlds different after eight years… I can be a tourist and revisit any places I liked or didn’t like so much to get a sense of final closure. I’m grateful for that opportunity.
But I’m also terrified and all of that has to do with my ex. I don’t ever talk about him and my husband never brings him up. For years after I left I couldn’t even say his name as if it was the dirtiest of words. Now I don’t give him that kind of power, but whenever he tracks me down I am plagued with panic attacks and fighting the urge to hide out in a dark room and never come out again.
And now, here I am, going back to the place where he still lives. Where he has his contacts and friends, and I wonder if I am being incredibly stupid for taking such a risk or if I’m simply being overdramatic about the magnitude of the potential risk.
So I turn to me gut. My gut says that it’s unlikely he’ll know I am there, when I’m there, and even more unlikely that I would randomly run into him. My gut also says that if I did run into him or if he did know I was coming… I’d be in very real trouble – like the physical, dangerous kind.
And yet here I am. My plans are made. I’m either being stupid or brave. Reckless or paranoid. But all I can do is take a breath and focus on what’s ahead. I’m doing this. I’m coming back – returning to a place I swore I would never so much as have a layover in again.
And hopefully, when all is said and done, I’ll be better for it. Seeing people I care about. No longer being ruled by fear. And getting the one thing I never had a chance to have before – closure.