“It’s May 14th, 2012. I met ‘Fred’ at work. It was magical, like a Hollywood romance. He was tall, smart, so very smart, extremely good looking, successful, and well… single. He was everything I had dreamt about. I remember the day I met him, a handful of my colleagues and I were sitting around a cafeteria table. It was a Monday. As we were sitting there, Fred began telling stories and they were just so vivid. He was so energetic that I was mesmerized by his every word. My friend Pam and I were just enthralled. Lunch concluded and Pam and I walked back to our desks. As soon as I sat down, I received an instant message from Fred. It said, ‘Do you want to get a coffee?’ Inside our building, right next to our cafeteria, we had a Starbucks. I had shared earlier during our round robin lunch discussions that I recently relocated from Seattle and he assumed I liked coffee. I don’t. I politely declined stating that I don’t drink coffee.
Day two of this courting, Fred asked if I wanted to go for a walk on our trail around the building. I again respectfully declined because I wear 4-5-inch heels to the office daily. The third and final day, Fred said, ‘Everyone needs to eat. Do you want to go out to dinner?’ I couldn’t pass that up, so I agreed to dinner with him. We planned our date. All this courting happened approximately six weeks before that infamous call.
My Hollywood romance was unfolding perfectly. We traveled to Quebec, to botanic gardens, and to his serene lake house. I began staying there with him and we even began talking about getting married. I was 36 at the time, had never been married, and had no kids. Fred, on the other hand, had previously been married with three kids I absolutely adored and loved as my own. Everything seemed perfect. My parents loved him and his kids. We had Sunday family dinners. We had immense love towards each other. We were each other’s soul mate, twin flame. It was all perfect before that call.
It’s now July 23rd, 2012 at 12:13pm CST. It’s a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky. Fred, whom I met just six weeks prior to this infamous day, and I were heading North on I-294 from the Rehab Institute to our lake house. I had herniated my T-7/8 disks back in April which caused lower extremity paralysis for ten days. Then it happened again on Father’s Day and I was hospitalized for a second time for 4 days. The next step was learning to truly walk again with a walker/cane and eventually unassisted.
My phone rings. My mom is yelling. ‘You have to get home now!’ Fred was in the far-left lane and crossed three lanes of traffic to exit on 176 so we could head back to my parents’ house, an hour and a half drive from where we were.
I knew. I just knew it was my father. You see, for the past 12 years, I talked to my dad daily driving to work around 7:00 every morning because that’s when he got off work; he worked nights from home. That morning, when I made my daily call, he did not answer his office phone. He did not answer his cell phone. And he did not answer the home phone either. So, I assumed he was busy, and I knew I would try him again later. I tried all three numbers again around 8:00am after I checked in for my first full day at the Rehab Institute.
During the infamous phone call, my mom handed the phone to an officer. He sounded like a broken record every time I asked him, ‘Is he dead?’ He responded, ‘Rachel, just drive safe and we’ll chat when you get here.’ I recall cussing at him several times. ‘Just f***ing tell me! Is my Pappy dead?’ He remained calm and repeated his line: ‘Just drive safe Rachel and we’ll chat when you get here.’ Here…here was my parents ten acres in Hampshire, IL.
Everything changed in a minute. As we drove down their long gravel driveway, my heart was in my stomach. I was shaking profusely. Fred was in his dress pants, button up long sleeve shirt, and leather dress shoes. We passed the house on the right and parked at the Y in the driveway. We both got out and were greeted by two officers and my mom. She hugged me and said, ‘He’s gone. He’s gone!’ I screamed. Fred caught me as I began to collapse and held me. I said, ‘I want to see him!’ My mom said, ‘No, you don’t. He shot and killed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun in his mouth.’ He put my dogs in their respective kennels, he was sitting in my front room on a kitchen chair, he put the gun between his legs, and he pulled the trigger with his right hand. After several hours sweating in the 95-degree July Midwest heat, my Pappy was wheeled out on a stretcher. I was the very last person my dad texted on July 22, 2012 at 6:24pm. ‘I love you.’
The best description of my life is this: before death and after. Before death, life was incredible. I was making 6 figures, very little debt, great boyfriend, great support system, and everything seemed quintessential. After death, I became a drunk, a pill popper – because of my back, my doctors were always giving me narcotics. I was angry. I was self-harming. I pounded my head into the mirror. I used knives to cut myself. I barely ate. I rarely slept and I just wanted this pain to go away.
Prior to my dad’s suicide, I only struggled with depression once back in 2009 when I lost my job from Microsoft, and my ex, all in a short period of time. Besides that, I had been a very confident, independent, successful woman. About 6-8 weeks after my dad’s death, things went downhill. I had to have emergency surgery on a shattered finger I sustained while walking my dogs. Then, in November, Fred’s ex-girlfriend attacked me in our front yard when she came to pick up her infant son. January came and that is when I had to remove my belongings from the studio where my dad passed. March of 2013, I began attending LOSS (Loving Outreach of Suicide Survivors) groups. I started counseling and EMDR because I could not get the images of my dad out of my head. I didn’t see my dad that day in my studio, but I had obtained the police report and crime scene photos and looked at them. Those are the images I couldn’t remove. April 2013, I had my second finger surgery to remove the plate and 4 screws from my left ring finger. I was still popping pills and hiding my drinking. I was still very angry.
By December of 2013, I moved out of my perfect family home with Fred and his kids. I believed I needed space. I believed if I moved out, I could heal what was deeply wounded within me. By this point, Fred and I were still twitter pated by one another and yet we still fought. I always assumed it was because I never truly dealt with the anger towards my dad. Hindsight is 20/20, my anger was a combination of living with a narcissistic man and my dad’s suicide.
By January of 2014, I began taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. I was finally back to a full-time job in corporate America as a Program Manager. My relationship with Fred seemed to be doing well. We began looking for houses closer to his children’s mom and we decided upon an 1860’s farmhouse. On December 3rd, 2014, my birthday, we moved into our new home. It seemed perfect again, until the fights ensued and the constant ‘Get out of my house!’ and ‘Leave me alone!’ statements from him.
In the month of December 2014, I stayed in our bed alone most nights because he didn’t want to come home. I got a part-time job as a yoga instructor and personal trainer at a local gym. I thought working out and burning off some steam would help me get back to my roots. But on January 9th, 2015, I was sitting on the floor of our master bathroom with my chocolate lab to my left, a knife on my left leg, and Fred looking in from the doorway. I had already popped a bunch of pills and drank a bunch of Vodka. I looked at him and said, ‘Please take me to the hospital or call 9-1-1.’ I had already cut my leg. Fred’s response was, ‘I don’t have time for this, and I need to get my kids.’ My mouth dropped.
Fred left and as I watched his truck back out of the driveway. I made one phone call to Dale, one of the mediators in my LOSS support group. She lived 45 minutes away. It was snowy, and she drove to Fred’s house, picked me up, drove me to the hospital about an hour in the opposite direction of her. She stayed with me while they did my intake papers for over 7 hours. That was the beginning of my lowest point. I was hospitalized and Fred had no idea where I was. My brother and my best friends, Anthony and Jessica, knew and no one else. I wasn’t embarrassed. I was just sad.
I spent most days and nights in my room away from others. By day 5, I began attending groups and interacting with the other patients. Normally, I am a social butterfly and engage with everyone. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, let alone myself. I finally told Fred where I was, and he came and visited one Saturday and promised that things would be different. I forgave him. When I was released ten days later, I went back to our home. Things seemed to be getting better or was it the medicine I was on? I was on heavy doses of anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and more.
By June 2015, I accepted a job with Expedia in Washington state. The idea behind me accepting this job was that I could pay off the debt I racked up during our time together, have space again, and still work on our relationship long distance. I was on board with this plan 100% but Fred was hesitant. In August 2015, I was in Washington. I felt at home. I felt safe. I felt free. I also felt like I could truly heal because I would have to work on myself. But the 2000 miles between us really began to wear on Fred. He became more and more distant and began ghosting me for days and weeks on end. I continued to forgive him. I still loved him. I still wanted him. I began seeing a counselor again. I worked my tail off at Expedia and by March 2016, Fred and I were once more talking occasionally. I still believed in us. My work schedule and demands became more and more and with the distance between us our relationship suffered. I continued to work on finding myself after death. I learned what foods I really liked. I went to restaurants and hiked alone. I was teaching yoga again. I really immersed myself into finding myself again. Fred and I traveled to and from each other sporadically and enjoyed life as if nothing changed, at least in my eyes.
In December 2016, I opened a yoga studio in WA based out of my converted garage and by May 2017, Expedia let me go and I dove headfirst into growing my business. I met Fred in Portland in late May 2017 to celebrate his 52nd birthday. It was lovely. It was romantic. It was exactly what we needed, or so I thought. Then, June 2017, that was the last time I heard from Fred. He ghosted me for almost 8 months. I attempted to contact him frequently in the beginning and then at least once a month. I sold my house in November 2017 and decided to move back to IL to open another yoga studio and try to rekindle our relationship.
I still did not feel at peace with myself, so I thought I should finally have that boob job I wanted and liposuction. I wanted to get rid of the cellulite on the back of my legs and slim out my tummy.
When I arrived back in IL, I met a great student at a local high school where I began talking about mental health and suicide prevention/awareness. I didn’t want to be too close to Fred just in case our rekindling didn’t go as I had hoped. January 2018, Fred called me on a Friday. I literally thought he butt dialed me and I was like, ‘Um, did you mean to call me?’ I actually hung up on him. He called back, we chatted for about 15 minutes, and he invited me to Miami where he’d be working the following week. I gladly accepted. We had an amazing time. We had intimacy, communication, tears, apologies, and everything that I’d hoped. For months, we kept our relationship quiet because I didn’t want anyone to provide their commentary, their biases, and anything else that may sway my thinking. We traveled to Miami a few times together all while I was trying to open a yoga studio. We saw each other every few days and alternating weekends because of his kids. By May of 2018, we finally shared with his very loving family that I was back in the picture and they and the kids were ecstatic. I always had an amazing relationship with his parents and siblings.
At this time, I started back in Corporate America as my dream of owning a yoga studio fell through and I needed a steady paycheck since it had been since October of 2017 when I last received any income. Everything seemed perfectly amazing. I began working with a mentor on somatic healing, meditation, and journaling. I was seeing my therapist also. I hadn’t been on any anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs since June 2017 and I felt great. I was very happy with my figure. I felt strong and confident. I had an amazing man that seemed to love me unconditionally.
In October 2018, we got a family dog. A yellow lab named City. On December 12, 2018, my daddy’s birthday, I put an offer in on a house and it was accepted. January 2019, I moved out of my Geneva apartment and into my McMansion. My intention purchasing this massive house was that Fred and I would live here with his kids; they each had their own bedroom. He would sell the farmhouse and we would be debt free.
On Valentine’s Day, Fred slipped and fell on ice and had to have emergency surgery where they put a plate and 7 screws in his right leg. Due to his inability to walk, we stayed at his parents one story house 10 minutes from my new home. He seemed to be healing well and then March 7th, 2019, I was in a hit and run car accident. On the 20th I went to the orthopedic surgeon due to pain in my left shoulder from the car accident.
I told Fred we needed to get a rental car for our upcoming family road trip to Florida. After about 7 hours of fighting via text message with Fred, he drove over to my house even though he wasn’t supposed to per the doctor’s orders, let himself in, grabbed his belongings while using his knee scooter, removed these items from the house all while I was upstairs on the phone with my friend. I came running outside as he was trying to get into his car, and I was yelling at him, ‘Give me my things and keys back!’ He got upset and pushed me three different times and drove off. I called 9-1-1 and two officers showed up, took 25 pictures of the cuts and bruises that I sustained from Fred. He left on his vacation two days later and I have never spoken to him since.
As mentioned above, hindsight is 20/20. I have since learned whom he truly is, which is a narcissistic man that gaslighted me, ghosted me, told me everything that I wanted to hear, and then disappeared. He rarely wanted to hear my pain points. He’s called me several names that need not be repeated, and his love and our relationship were both conditional, when he wanted and needed it.
I continue to work on myself. I still speak at local schools. I am working on publishing a book. I still live in my McMansion with my dog, City. I am no longer working in corporate America. I started my own company, Rachel Lee, INC. where I am helping women heal their mind, body, and soul. I’m also an advocate for mental health and awareness. I have created a couple signature programs and I am creating a retreat center at the McMansion to serve these women. I truly believe that until we heal our souls and our wounds that stem from trauma, we are not truly healed. I am back on anti-depressants and faithfully working on healing myself from the inside out. I know that one day I can truly love myself like I used to. I just have to work towards it.”
[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rachel Lee. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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