I started telling Ryan and I’s love story last week. The story began at the beginning of my journey to finding love with Ryan. It is not your typical love story – as it starts in heartbreak years before I even met Ryan.
But, this is the story that brought me to Ryan and this is my story to tell.
It was October 2009 and my week’s vacation at the beach had come to an end. I tearfully said goodbye to my mother and brother and hopped on a plane back to Chicago to face my future. I was so hurt on the inside but I masked it with a fiery rage. Zero part of me wanted to have a conversation with him. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and run away. I could barely walk with out shaking as I collected my bags at baggage claim and made my way out to his waiting car. My heart felt like it was going to explode when I made eye contact with him for the fist time. He looked guilty. He looked sad. But, to me all I saw was a loss. Something I didn’t even recognize anymore. I spent five years of my life with him but I did not know him anymore.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I tried to make things work. Giving up felt like quitting and I’m not a quitter. But as October turned into November it became easier to see that the life we built together was over. But, it’s hard to say goodbye to something that you’ve held so close for so long. It was a decision that was stalled and ignored. I laid in bed and tried to sleep it off. At the beginning of November, we jointly made the decision that I return to my childhood home in PA for the duration of the holidays.
So four years ago, on this week in November, my father flew out to Chicago and helped me pack up my tiny two door coupe with just enough clothes and belongings to get me through New Years Eve. The following day, he, my dog Maggie, and I started the 12 hour drive to Lancaster, PA. I left with a horrible sinking feeling, like how you sometimes feel when you are leaving for a trip and feel like you left something crucial behind like your ID or your camera. But along with that sinking feeling, I was overcome with a sense of freedom of letting go. Yet, I still held hope that the heart I knew hadn’t completely been buried in tarnished memories. I still held hope for not only my future but our future.
The usual happy tidings and excitement of Thanksgiving and Christmas weighed down on me like a bag of bricks. I couldn’t make it through most Christmas songs without breaking down in tears and I suffered countless panic attacks. I felt both comforted and claustrophobic in my childhood bedroom – recently remodeled away from my girlhood pink carpet and twin size bed. I felt so lost. I settled into the comfort at home, but part of me still didn’t feel like I belonged.
It wasn’t just the loss of love that made me feel so out-of-place, it was the fact that my identity was so wrapped up in that love, in that life. But the love and support that I felt from my family and girl friends pulled me though.
Sometime before Christmas, it was clear to me that although I had never experienced this much pain or this much confusion, I was better off here than there. I was better off with out him. With out that life. It was time to call off the wedding. I felt like a failure. Like a disappointment. I was 26 years old and had no idea where my life was headed. Thank goodness my mom handled all of the dirty work. It was just all so embarrassing.
But, I was ready to rewrite my story. I decided to go back to school – and took some classes at the local art college to get certified in web design and graphic design. I accepted a new job using these skills and gained back some confidence. I ignored all of the phone calls with him, pleading for me to take him back. Crying out that he had changed his mind, that he had made a mistake, that there was nothing else he needed but me. I ignored it all and kept reinventing myself.
I travelled almost every weekend to be with friends. Yes, I probably drank too much, dated too many losers, and slept too little, but I had fun. I also created bonds with girlfriends during this time that are everlasting. I found my soul mate in a college best friend – a bond stronger than any I had with him. I’m forever grateful for this time and the bonds it help me create with girlfriends. Life wasn’t perfect, but I was surviving.
My defense mechanism was a giant wall of coyness and coolness. I let no one in other than my family and girlfriends. I dated boys that were not dating material. I tried on all different types. I treated some badly, just because I wanted to feel what it was like. But, I was still wounded.
I was the girl who would sometimes cry at the bar. I was the girl who would never reveal anything personal about herself. I was the girl who didn’t let any man in, but then got hurt when I didn’t receive anything in return. I craved validation. I was the girl who had no idea where her future was headed.
Five months after I moved back into my parent’s home, my Dad and I flew back out to Chicago to pack up the rest of my belongings and mark my furniture for professional movers to bring back. Walking into my old home was a strange experience. It felt haunted, I didn’t recognize the ghost of myself that I caught glimpses of. I was ready to officially say goodbye. I wasn’t that girl anymore. Yet, I still didn’t know the girl who had replaced my former self.
For the next year, I was an explorer. In many ways, the world felt like a fresh new place. I was rewriting my story. I learned that only I could control my destiny and I was going make sure my new life was just what I wanted. I was searching for myself again. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find – was she going to be better than the person I was with him? Was she going to be better than the person she was before him? Was I going to have to force myself to love her? Will she love me?
I was searching for love, but the most important kind, self-love.
Once I finally started to feel comfortable with myself again and could see a future, I decided I wanted to share her and it with someone. In the beginning of summer 2011, I decided to try a free online dating site.
What did I have to lose?
Stay tuned next week for Part 3: Second Chance