Year To Live Project: The Darkness Part 4 – Dark Love

Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE, Part 3 HERE.

Perpetual darkness is insidious. It’s like Chinese water torture, breaking you down one drop at a time. In the darkness, I often felt like I was underwater but with the ability to breathe. Underwater, knowing I was surrounded by an inescapable substance, the substance omnipresent.

As I sat on the cushions in the living room floor of the Ashram eating dinner with the other Karma Yogis before my dark experience began, Arjuna, the Ashram owner, said something to me that sent a chill down my spine. A sentence I would wake up with in my ears at night and grapple with for the first week of darkness.

“The thing about 28 days isn’t how long it is,” he said matter of factly with his German accent. “It’s about how wide it is.” He extended the word as “wiiiiiiiiiiiiide,” looking at me with eyes that matched the description.

Despite my visceral reaction to his sentence, I didn’t understand the concept in that moment. I thought it was just some evil shit to say to someone about to walk into the darkness, like the spiritual version of Jules, Samuel L. Jackson’s Pulp Fiction character, quoting Ezekial 25:17 “The path of the righteous man…”

Evil it was not, Truth with a capital T, it would turn out to be instead. What I would find out during days 8 through 13 was just how wide the net that the darkness would cast. How the Pain Guru had no plans of leaving nor of slowing in his breaking of me. Seven days into my dark experience I still would have vehemently argued that growing up in my house had no correlation to the rest of my life. Walking out on day 28, I knew there was one continuous thread in my life from start to present day: May 16th, 2016.

We pick up this week right back where we left off—on Day 9, lying on the concrete floor.

Five Years From A Question

Right after college, I moved back to Connecticut and got a job managing a small health food store. One afternoon, a woman came in to buy a sandwich and a drink and we chatted for a bit. She was almost twenty years older than me but left such an impression that a few hours later I walked into where I thought she worked, asked the receptionist if there was anyone there with her name, and there on the spot asked her out. (For you kids reading along, this is how we had to do it in the late nineties.)

A week later, we went out to dinner, had a great time, and started dating. Life was good. I was falling in love despite planning on moving to California at the end of the year. I had no idea that years later I would look back on the ages of 23-27, a time when I was physically at my strongest with a black belt to my name, and as a result of that first real relationship have to raise my own hand when I asked the women in my self-defense seminars, “Who here has been in an abusive relationship?”

I moved to California first and, let’s call her Samantha followed a few months later after renting out her East Coast home. At this point, our honeymoon period came to a screeching halt. We moved into a small house in Hermosa Beach and almost immediately the explosions began. It wasn’t until I studied Chinese Medicine almost a decade later and studied Borderline Personality Disorder that I made an amateur diagnosis, one that fit to a T.

Night after night, I would wake up from a deep sleep being hit, screamed at, and cursed out for the contents of her dreams—if she dreamed it, it must be true – and she was constantly dreaming I was going to leave her for someone else, or was actively cheating. Neither of which were anything close to the truth.

In response started keeping exquisite track of my whereabouts, who I was talking to, and when I was where. I saved emails to mark conversations, using timestamps to later confirm when I had spoken to someone. She called my friends without me knowing, called my family without me knowing, and was involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit—as the accused—with her company by the time we broke up for good.

Coupled with my work schedule—the constant jetlag of a private security employment contract, working from 6pm to 6am and then reversing it just a day later for up to 100 hours a week—my internal life spiraled out of control. Every day was a series of stomachaches, anxiety, and my own paranoia about what I could possibly get in trouble for, of what rules I had broken. Part of my employment was sudden unexpected trips that would last for weeks at a time. And each time I returned home to an investigative board of who I was with, what happened when, and always, “Were there other women there?” Fortunately, with the exception of one woman, my company was exclusively male, but it didn’t stop Sam‘s obsessive paranoia.

Despite the pattern of five days being the maximum our relationship could go without the house being turned into a warzone, I never viewed this situation as “abnormal.” Six weeks on, five days off to me was love, and this was a relationship. If we loved each other, we could work it out. All we needed to do was get through this latest rough patch and all would be well. Just one more corner to get around before peace would prevail and the five days would turn into forever.

All was never well. After each rough patch there was another, and another, and another. Given four or five days of peace, I would crawl in my skin knowing an eventual —“Do you remember that Saturday six months ago when you said you were at Whole Foods? Where were you really?” This was my life for almost five years.

Cheating, Marriage, and Babies

Hoping some space would be the answer, I moved out, but we continued to date. Space wasn’t the answer. One morning after I spent the night at her house, I went to our local grocery store to grab some OJ and a Redbull. I was gone for no more than fifteen minutes, but when I came home I knew something was wrong.

“What took you so long?” she asked, her eyes the same narrowed intensity I’d seen a thousand times before, her bottom lip quivering.

“I was gone for 15 minutes, what do you mean? What do you think I was doing?”

“I think you just slept with someone,” she told me.

Instead of walking out the door, I made the mistake of laughing out loud given the ridiculousness of the situation. This was like pouring jet fuel on an already rising flame.

“Who on earth do you think I slept with at 7:22 in the morning?” I asked still laughing.

“PROBABLY THE CASHIER,” she screamed back.

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You think I drove to the supermarket in dirty sweatpants and a t-shirt, found my items, paid for them, seduced the Von’s cashier, convinced her to go on a break, slept with her in my freaking Jetta, and made it back home all in under sixteen minutes, including travel time?”

She did. For weeks she alternated between screaming at me and relentlessly begging me to confess through a torrent of tears, to just give her the gift of the truth so she could move into a space of healing. It was absurdly funny, but it also wasn’t funny at all. Like so many people I’ve spoken with since have said themselves, “I was a fool for not leaving right then and there.” As was I, but each small period of peace would give me hope things might have shifted for good. They never did, though.

“I’m going to get pregnant,” she told me one Friday after we’d been together for over four years. “You’re welcome to be a part of this or not, but I’m starting on Monday and need to know your answer.”

This conversation landed us in a therapist’s office, one who implored us to slow things down, take another month to think it all over, and then make the decision. Sam told us both at 44 years of age she didn’t have an extra month, and that Thursday I was at fertility clinic blessing a petri dish to make sure my little swimmers were good to go. They were, and we were off to the races. When you love someone, this is what you do, right?

Each month, we failed to get pregnant because I was cheating, or I was unhealthy, or I was working too much, or I didn’t care about her enough. Each month, the fighting got worse. “No one will ever love you, if you leave me,” I had been told so many times in this relationship that I actually believed it. I am a cliché. I am an A&E special. I’m the soon-to-be-dead girl everyone says deserved it for not leaving when all the signs were there. I was also by all outward appearances a healthy 26-year-old, a black belt, and a professional bodyguard. I’m also a Boehm, and outward appearances are what matter.

Being the problem solver that I am, and knowing the only real issue here was not enough love, I went out and bought an engagement ring—completely ignoring the additional red flag of Sam having already been engaged five times, married once, and divorced – in addition to the string of lawsuits that followed her employment history. Lo and behold the engagement didn’t solve anything. Go figure. In fact, it only made things worse. The yelling got louder and the accusations deeper, but if we were going to have a kid, we had to get married. Plus, that will stop the idea that I’m a cheater. The frog has been officially boiled.

A Break

A few months later, after a stern talking to by my best friend—who listened with me to a series of 17 consecutive messages left by Sam on my answering machine and then said, “Dude, no one in your life should ever speak to you that way, no one.”—I decided on a six-week break in our relationship, no contact whatsoever.

What I learned in that six weeks was revolutionary. I could surf again without feeling like I was going to throw up from anxiety. People liked me. Gone were the conversations that involved, “Hey, I need you to promise me right now you’ll never go to a bachelor party [or go out with the guys after watching an MMA match or whatever else it was that day] and if you don’t, I’m getting inseminated via a donor next week.” Good times.

What was most eye-opening for me was leaving the grocery store and feeling anxious about throwing away the receipt. For five years, I had been keeping all my receipts from every purchase in the center console of my car as they marked the time I was in a certain place, solid proof of where I was and when. I could look over them and piece my month back together when inevitably I had to explain my whereabouts. Instead, for six weeks, I threw them out and didn’t worry—and I started to breathe again. In and out. I started to sleep through the night. My appetite came back and my old view of the world as beautiful place snuck back into my head. It was like magic.

It was in that grocery store parking lot, sitting in my car staring at my receipt that I realized my job was to protect human beings from people just like Sam. I was then employed by one of the most prestigious private security companies in the world. I’d sat armed outside of houses of women with stalkers. I’d driven kids to school after their parents’ house was shot at the night before. I’d flown on private jets with CEOs and ushered them safely past hostile crowds. I was no different from any of my clients—except that I lived with my threat.

At the end of the six weeks, Samantha and I met in a park and while she told me how much she’d missed me and how excited she was to start trying to get pregnant again, my stomach wouldn’t let me agree. “I’m sorry,” I told her, “For the first time in five years I’ve felt okay in my own skin, I’m out.”

I got up and walked home with my hands shaking, still questioning whether I was making the biggest mistake of my life. Who was going to love me now?

A Doorbell & A Pistol

My ex wasn’t that keen on me leaving our relationship, despite her staunch view that if I wasn’t literally in her presence, I was knee deep in Saturday morning cashier sex. She came over to my apartment a few minutes I’d left the park and flew into hysterics, insisting I was not only making the biggest mistake of my life but again walking away from the only woman who would ever love me. She left only after I physically threw her out of my apartment and called the police.

Naively, I told myself that it was done. We were through. Finally. I had made it.

But I was wrong.

At midnight my doorbell rang waking me out of a deep sleep. DING DONG. I lay in bed paralyzed, knowing exactly who it was. It rang again. And again. And again.

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

“Traver, it’s me, we need to talk,” she said devoid of any emotion, it was like we were business associates needing to go over one last spreadsheet, making this all the scarier.

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

“Traver, this is important. We need to talk right now.”

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

“Traver, just open the door for a second, then I’ll go.”

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

I couldn’t move. I hoped she’d give up and leave. Maybe she’d think I had gone out for the night and would lose steam. She didn’t.

“Traver, I know you’re in there. We need to have one last conversation.”

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

After over a half hour of this same mantra coming at me, in a trance like state I sat up, walked silently out of my bedroom past my front door, and sat down on the couch. I knew if I opened that door my life would change forever for the worse.

I also knew she had a key.

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

In what is now the greatest fork in the road of my life, I fluidly I reached down and picked up the blue cordless phone off my coffee table, leaned back onto the pseudo leather of the hand-me-down couch my cousin had given me, and dialed 9-1-1. Cradling the phone between my left shoulder and ear, I slid my right hand into the duffle bag on the floor and brought out the shiny, silver .357 magnum I carried for work and pointed it directly at my front door.

After almost five years, I’d finally had enough.

DING DONG. DING DONG. DING DONG.

“Traver, it’s me. There’s something I have to tell you. Open the door now.”

Ignoring every safety measure I’d been taught, I cocked the hammer back, slid my finger not alongside the trigger guard where it would be safe from a sudden jolt but square on the trigger itself, and made sure I was aiming eighteen inches above my door handle—center mass. I made a deal with myself in that moment—if the door begins to open even a crack, all six rounds go through it. I’ll figure the rest out from there.

“I live at 1801 Manhattan Beach Blvd Apartment #4,” I whispered to the operator. “Someone is breaking into my house. Please tell the officers I’m a male with a shaved head and I’m also armed.” I hung up before she could ask me any further questions and waited, eyes focused on the handle of the door looking for any sign of movement, finger on the trigger, arm perfectly still across my knee, mind clear. Breathe in, breathe out, repeat.

Promise Me You’ll Call Us Back

The sound of rapidly approaching sirens scared her off and she was gone when the police arrived a minute later. “Armed” and “break in” don’t go well in a city where the median home price is 850K. I answered the door in a pair of board shorts and no shirt, explaining to the two male officers it was my “as of today” ex-girlfriend who was trying to break in, that she was violent and in her mid-forties, and that I had a gun.

They inspected my knuckles and fingernails to see if was lying and grilled me about the black eye I’d gotten that week kickboxing. They knew of my employer from my ID, inspected my weapon and license, and were kind despite being men only a few years older than me and knowing the reason they were there.

Before leaving, one of the cops put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Look, it probably wasn’t easy to call us, but promise me if she comes back, you’ll do it again.” He looked me up and down standing there in front of him and continued, “If you so much as lay a finger on her, there’s not a prosecutor in the world that’s going to look at you, read your background, and believe a second of your story. You’ll go right to jail.”

And then they left.

Ten minutes later, my ex was back. I didn’t call anyone. I was in that deep. I ended up driving her home after she convinced me she had a flat tire and couldn’t get there herself. To this day, I have no idea why I didn’t call her a cab—or tell her to walk.

The next week, I left the country for a six-month security detail in the Caribbean. It took me one month abroad and a girl named Tiffani (Link) to convince me that life outside of this codependent mess was worth living.

But by this point I was more than sure that women hurt and women control—don’t trust them. Got it.

The Do Not Open Files

Arjuna was right, “wide” was more than time under tension. Wide meant uncovering aspects of my life I’d buried deeply. I hadn’t thought of this relationship for years before Day 9 of darkness, when it played all day and all night—over and over and over again. It had stayed locked in the recesses of my mind until the Pain Guru came and dumped my “Do Not Open” files all over the floor of that dark space, kicking them in my face and making me deal with them.

What files do you have marked as Do Not Open –  hoping they stay buried forever – but intuitively knowing they never will? If we’re all only as sick as our secrets, how sick are these making you? Food for thought on a Monday eh?

Perhaps therapy is what you go to when you have other ways to distract yourself from your real issues. Perhaps the whole world should have to spend 28 days alone in the dark every decade to sort themselves out. Perhaps I’m the only crazy one walking around.

Perhaps not.

Next week I get to day 14, with one last set of years to live through, to watch, to not be able to avoid. The halfway point is coming soon, and if you think four posts is long to explain 14 days, try closing your eyes, turning off your life, and lying on the floor for two weeks to see how that feels.

See you on Monday for the last two years I spent in L.A., when a cell phone and an internet connection took me on the worst ride of my life.

Cheers from Tzununa Guatemala,

Traver

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