Escaping Hell

Escaping Hell

By Lauren Huffman

I had always wondered what the descent into hell is like. For the record, it was nothing like I had imagined. The drop was unknowing. It was innocent and comforting. I felt understood. The initial plunge into Satan’s lair was my first conversation with Frank.

It took place on the escalators at the world famous Second City. It was immediately after my first class of Improv for Anxiety. Suffering from anxiety and depression my whole life, I thought it was a good move to surround myself with others who suffer from the same. 

Frank was in my class. He was 32, separated from his wife, and had done improv before.

We talked about the anti-depressants we were on. I was on Zoloft, he was on Celexa. I sometimes took sleeping pills, he was thinking about taking sleeping pills.  

We clicked.

I went home and cried from relief. There were people who understood what I felt and the torture anxiety gives to me on a daily basis.

 We understood each other so well it was like our brains intertwined

We understood each other so well it was like our brains intertwined

My improv crew and I saw each other twice a week. We had our regular improv class on Friday nights and a group therapy session on Saturday mornings.

Through these multi-weekly sessions the whole ensemble grew close. Frank and I were the closest. We would text each other when we were feeling panicky or when ridiculous nonsensical thoughts would cross our minds. We felt solace knowing the other one understood. It was the first time either of us felt accepted.

One post class drunken outing, Frank told me he had a crush on me.

I was living with my boyfriend, Greg, which he knew. Although I was flattered, I politely told Frank I was not interested.

The next day Frank and I met for coffee. I revealed to him something I had not revealed to anyone, yet. I was miserable in my relationship and didn’t see a way out. I was constantly crying and if I wasn’t crying I was about to. I loved Greg, but it was evident he had a drinking problem and he wasn’t getting help. I felt trapped, suffocated, and that my life was over.

Frank understood. After all, he was separated. He could very well relate to a failing relationship. 

Another common layer Frank and I shared. We were growing closer.

Frank and I texted every day and hung out outside of class. He would complement me, he would make me laugh, and he would challenge me. Things boyfriends usually do. Things my boyfriend had not done in, well, I could not remember how long.

When I was lying in bed one night, I received a text from Frank. He told me he thinks of me a lot, all the time. And, yes, he wonders what I taste like when I’m wet.

Caught off-guard, I ignored the ominous comment and went to bed. We continued our improv classes and social gatherings as if the foreboding text never happened. 

Frank continued to pursue me. He would tell me how talented, funny and adorable I was. And even though I was a "pain in the ass" he really liked me and wanted to take me out. This determined and committed behavior from Frank was awakening my romantic appetite, an appetite I had been suppressing for years without knowing it. The loneliness I felt living with Greg was no longer a silent roommate—it was screaming at me to get out, to go toward something that made me feel alive. That something was Frank.

Greg and I broke up. He moved out. Less than 24 hours later, Frank and I were making out. As we were kissing in my apartment, Frank sprung up, ran out and slammed my door. Shocked and frozen I heard my text messages go off. Frank was sending an overabundance of texts. They read "Fuck you you bitch." "How can you do this to me?" "Don’t ever talk to me again."

I stood there in tears. I didn’t know what I did or what to do, next. I went to bed and cried myself to sleep. I awoke to more profanities. I begged Frank to forgive me. For what, I am not sure but I was way too fragile and weak to go through essentially two break ups in one day. 

As the day went on, Frank’s texts started easing off and becoming less angry. Soon, they were sweet again. I thought it was a onetime thing. Sure. Why not? He had been pursuing me for so long and I had really fallen for him. I felt excited and alive around him and he made me feel so very desired. This was certainly just a one off. 

We continued to see each other. Every Friday night after improv, our ensemble would drink at Old Town Ale House. Frank would put his arm around me and hold me tight. He would whisper things in my ear like "You are the most beautiful person in this bar" and "Don’t talk to anyone else when I’m around. Don’t do that to me. You’re mine." I was scared when he would say things like that but would oblige his wishes. I wanted more of the euphoric highs I felt at times with him. These lows were just lows, I could put up with them to get to the highs, right? Right.

 

He chased me down an alley, screaming at me about how horrible of a person I am

 

We saw each other more and more. And yes, started sleeping together. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and he would be gone. I would have texts waiting on my phone telling me to fuck off, I am a terrible human being that is just playing mind games with him. How can I lead him on like this?

Then, slowly but surely his texts would evolve back into nice Frank. Frank who adores me, Frank who loves to take me out and hold me all night long. He would apologize for his behavior. It is just that he likes me so much, he is falling in love with me and he cannot help how upset I can make him.

I was still grieving my failed relationship with Greg. Being with Frank numbed the pain and helped me avoid processing the downfall of Greg and me. I wanted what I had with Greg once upon a time, before he was drinking excessively and depressed on the couch. I had flashes of that with Frank. I dug my claws into those moments and held on tight.

One night while at an improv party, Frank took my phone into the bathroom and read through my texts. There was nothing incriminating in there but he did not like the fact Greg and I were still communicating. Despite the fact, he and his wife were still communicating. And where was this divorce? 

I googled him. He was not 32 like he originally told me. He was approaching 50. Oh, and I found his wife; she was a pediatrician living in South Dakota. I understood why they lived in separate states.

Disgusted and disturbed, I ignored Frank for a few days. I was feeling the pain and turmoil of my break up with Greg creeping back into my brain. So, I reached out to Frank. And we picked up where we had left off. 

The final straw occurred shortly thereafter. After a show of Frank’s, he chased me down an alley, screaming at me about how horrible of a person I am. How I do things to purposefully upset him, how I am out to get him and am trying to ruin his life. 

The next day I went over to Frank’s house and broke up with him for good. He quit our improv ensemble and we did not speak for a year and a half.

In April of this year, we found ourselves in the same a capella group. Without the wonky romance, it seemed things were OK, like we could actually be friends. He never got divorced. I told him I knew his real age. Things were fine.

Until one day when he snapped again. He started sending me mean and swear-filled text messages. Unprovoked. He would flick me off and mouth "Fuck you" to me during rehearsals. He would unfriend and re-friend me on Facebook. He would cryptically talk to me in Facebook groups we were both in and comment on posts I was tagged in. I would not respond.

Our a capella performance was in June. I gave him a hug goodbye with the intention of never seeing him again.

I often think back to our first conversation on the descending escalators at Second City. Or the descent into hell, as I commonly refer. 

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