What I remember next from that early evening in May of 2014 is waking up, one of those naps gone wrong, feeling worse than whatever exhaustion drove me towards slumber. Except tagged to this one is an image I haven’t stopped seeing since: my girlfriend crying at the end of the couch I woke up on. Before that awakening, my last full-fledged memory was exiting the car together—no argument, no trigger, certainly no choking. The only explanation she could share through her shock was “you grabbed me.” What the hell did I do? was quickly replaced, for me, with, What the hell do I do now?
She published an essay in 2016, documenting that horrific event, along with her memory of our tumultuous relationship; it is the only perspective on that event (& several others) that is available & quite frankly, matters. At various stages of this situation, I’ve made offers as methods to forfeit any sort of power in an attempt to reconcile with LR—to drop any classes that she wanted to take that last semester, to skip any poetry / public events she wants to attend, to pay for her therapy, & to accept all punishments the university / the universe saw fit; this public acknowledgement of the event, as well as the continued search for meaning & hope beyond that incident, is my latest attempt at accountability.
“We want to know what makes other people tick, yet we are afraid to discover anything upsetting about ourselves.” – Don Richard Riso
She asked me in late 2014 to give her space, & I’ve done my best to honor that. In the last two years especially, I have poured my energy into understanding & growing out of my own experience, chasing answers to new boiling questions – How does one not only live with having done a terrible thing, but also live beyond that terrible thing? How does one strive towards being a good person, despite the harm he’s caused? The first step, obviously, was figuring out what caused it—the forgetting, the switch, the violence; honestly, even before this incident, I was flailing in the early stages of realizing something was different about me, something was off in my brain.
For a decade, I had been “losing time,” overcome by terrible mood swings & on a few occasions, even hearing voices. Before the parking lot incident, I had inexplicably stolen LR’s car & answered her call from the highway yelling non-sense & obscenities in a different voice; again, she found me on the couch asleep with no memory of the situation, a formula for outbursts that mysteriously pop up in my life to this day. In the spring of 2017, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I believe my openness about my disorder is a necessary contextualization for my betterment & hopefully her recovery, as well as a necessary puzzle piece to create a more secure & manageable future for myself & those in my presence.
“There are really only two stages in any existence—what we’re doing now and what we were doing then.” – Chuck Klosterman
After LR’s essay, a good friend asked why I didn’t just walk away from the situation—LR, the relationship, our co-habitation—immediately after it happened. This is a recurring, natural impulse for me, to flee, that happens still following spells & confrontations of all sorts, but in this situation, when I had done something that hurtful to someone I loved, especially pre-diagnosis & despite better judgement, I felt compelled to help as much as possible. But really, how could I help? First, I tried to provide whatever solutions & compromises arose; whatever LR requested, I went with it—keeping the abuse a secret, moving into a new house together, not telling people we had broken up, continuing to collaborate artistically. For better or for worse, I “helped” by allowing LR the steering wheel for as long as I could.
In learning about accountability, reconciliation, & mutual growth, I eventually realized that wasn’t enough. I had to shift my focus from what the situation “means”—about myself, for LR, for our connection—& focus on why it might have happened in the first place. As should’ve happened much sooner, we had to go our separate ways.
This was the point of the essay where I originally began telling “my side” of the story. I think it’s a natural inclination, one worth acknowledging—to flail for control of one’s own narrative & perception. Around here is where I began rambling off my own play-by-play of the moments from when LR & I finally parted ways till now—the goodbye, an investigation with the university, her essay, a series of random encounters & online interactions. After reading my wife’s responses to an early draft, I realized how off-based such an attempt is, & ultimately, how that’s not the question I’m wrestling--what happened; rather, I’m fighting for a better understanding of why it happened, what I can do to prevent situations like that again, & if anything, how I can continue to improve through the inevitable punishment & in tandem with accountability.
“How exhausting it is to be constructed / of a thousand parts—or is it several thousand?” – Timothy Donnelly
When LR finally started telling the story online, in public, & to the university, I, too, began opening up about it. I never wanted to deny her allegations, even the ones I couldn’t remember; instead, at that point, I spoke in terms of memory, as in I remember that or I don’t recall that but if she said it happened, I believe her. In that time between the incident & my diagnosis, I wasn’t getting the answers I was looking for—definite resolutions or clear answers—but the combination of all of it—the alcohol/anger management courses, the therapy, my writing, the personal conversations—it really started to nudge open some doors.
When LR published her essay, I saw the first glimpse in a couple years of her continued pain & anger. When someone that once knew you so well, that you care about so deeply, feels so strongly about your character & your place in society, it is easy to just collapse, to fold into that image, & move on as a terror. Embarrassed & concerned about this unknown disorder, I have leaned into my family, my writing, & my therapy to make this journey as “successful” as possible. Thanks to great wisdom from loved ones, I finally decided to move on instead in a different avenue than giving into a negative self-image, grappling about the facts, or attempting to impossibly control the past; rather, I worked from the belief in LR’s story & moved forward with hope in change & myself.
“We are not who we were not very long ago.” – Rebecca Solnit
A former friend of mine tweeted something about how you can’t forget that just because someone does good that it doesn’t mean they’re incapable of evil. This is a good reminder, but undoubtedly the inverse is true as well. As my loved ones have taught me, we all need the tools to be our best selves—be it diagnosis or treatment, skills or support. I’ve learned that answering what did I do or what can I do might not always suffice. Naively, I’ve been under the influence that a checklist can be completed in terms of accountability & reconciliation. As I continue to navigate the effects & reverberations of my most regrettable act, it’s clear that I have to trust the process.
I’ve never wanted to deny choking LR, & I never will. The what is clear, but I am so blessed to have the resources to explore the why & the how, which is why I write this blog to process my journey w/ DID. I also must include here a thank you gesture for all the good folks who both held me accountable & also showed me grace & dignity to witness/allow my journey. I was nearly kicked out of the university, yet the resources—insurance, time, money, etc.—that the fellowship afforded allowed me to pursue help & process internally when otherwise I would have been stranded, instead bouncing through the world with this undiagnosed disorder & an ever-destabilizing self-perception. I was separated from a poetry community that had shown me culture, taught me how to be stoked, & gifted me a rejuvenating & healing poetic practice that I would never have found otherwise.
The gratitude I am chasing in these words is that without the MFA program, my former life in poetry, & the deep relationships & practices I made in those spheres (& other arenas), I literally do not know where I would be in this journey with my disorder; it has given me the focus & call-out to address my mental health & make it a priority. I’m reminded of my time working at a ranch for adults with intellectual disabilities; we had a few residents who could be aggressive & our concern, rightfully, often jumped to the victim, their physical/emotional well-being & safety. Our supervisor reminded us that if our goal is progress, future safety, & positive community-building, then we also need to look out for the abuser as well. We must mind the psychological, environmental, & social conditions that allowed & influenced these actions, a sentiment I’ve come to respect & value greatly, one I’m thankful many people in my life have put into action. Without that, I would have been left alone to flounder, certainly harming others & undoubtedly wasting my self.
“What happened to the writer isn’t what matters; what matters is the larger sense that the writer is able to make of what happened.” – David Shields
I’ve written LR dozens of letters over the years since the incident in the parking garage. In order to respect her journey & her previous request to never hear from me again, I didn't send them. As is clear, it took me awhile to come to terms with the right approach to accountability for this situation, if I’m even there at all. What these initial, rational methods don’t acknowledge is the many human feelings wrapped up in it all, the extreme hurt as the dark cloud pulled over the situation, as well as the unknown & unseen forces—biologically, culturally, interpersonally—working in it.
It isn’t about me; I had to rethink my natural default setting of self-centeredness & give up the desire to “fix” the situation, LR, & myself. There is no instruction manual for things like this.
I’d like here to say sorry again, publicly: to LR for the harm I caused; to the communities affected & shaken as a result; to anyone else who has seen or been a part of one of my spells. While my disorder makes memory spotty & unreliable, the accounts are horrifying & real. I am terribly sorry you have to live alone with those memories. Regardless of the disorder, not an ounce of me wishes to justify or elude those actions & the consequences of those actions. It is why I didn’t kill myself or run away into the woods, as I often considered.
Instead, I am respecting the journey, accepting the challenges, & reminding myself what my wife tells me often when I’m feeling guilty about pulling her into this—she chooses each day to be with me. That’s the attitude I’ve adopted; I’m choosing each day to be with my selves, to better understand them, so together we can choose to be—safely, cooperatively, & productively—in this world. If you need anything or want to talk, we are here.