• Laura Hegarty

The Road Less Traveled

Updated: May 5

Summer that year had been sensationally hot for Cape Cod. Fall being my favorite, I was eager for the cooler temperatures and for the spooky festivities the season brought along with it. It had been a Halloween tradition of mine to indulge in haunted hayrides, ghost walks and really anything mildly festive. That Halloween, however, would change everything. On October 30, 2016, I was assaulted at the hand of someone I considered family. These are the events that transpired after. My assaulter and I had been dating for over five years. To a 23-year-old, five years feels like a lifetime. I know it did for me. I will not put energy into explaining the assault. I will say that he was someone who had attended weddings with me, celebrated six wonderful birthdays and had even helped write my first college paper. This person was not only my friend but also, he became my family too. The incident felt almost surreal, like watching someone else’s life falling apart. In the same instant, I lost the person I was going to spend my life with and the future I had worked so hard to build for us.

Immediately after I was assaulted, I tried to put back together the pieces of my life. I immersed myself with work, drifting through extra shifts at the hospital. I spent more time with family and friends. As is expected with group mentality, our loved ones took sides. The added conflict caused me more stress. I noticed that the more time I spent keeping busy, the more detached I truly became. I began to distrust people, even people whom I have known my entire life. Getting out of bed became more like a chore than a blessing. I carried my pain around with me like a disease.

November 16, 2016, came to me like a beacon. My parents had been trying to sell their house for a staggering two years. That November, someone put an offer in on our home. Even though my parents would never admit it, the sale of the house was a blessing for everyone. After the assault, I had been existing in their home. Having no place to live now, I moved back in with them. This was a very different environment than the previous years spent living with my assaulter. In two short weeks, a younger couple would be moving in. My parents decided their new home would be Wilmington, North Carolina, a place that evoked warm childhood memories. When I learned they were moving to Wilmington, I quit my job and made the decision to start a “new” life in a new state with them.

The first six months in Wilmington were harder than the actual assault. I spent most of my time in my Grandmother’s guest room, secluding myself from the three people who still made the effort to be around the angry person I had become. Six months had passed until I became more acquainted with the new town. After much pressure from my parents, I hesitantly explored downtown Wilmington. My first outing I visited a brewery. I remember how cozy I felt in the historical building. It was the first time in months my shoulders were not tense from stress and my jaw was not held clenched. I knew I had a connection to the old building. That same day I applied for a job at the brewery. Two days later, I had my first day of work.

Before I knew it, a year had passed. I had made friends with common interests. I looked forward to going to work and spending time with the friends who had adopted me. I excelled at my job. Another year passed and just like the seasons, I also changed. I started reading books again, something I had always enjoyed before the incident. I attended concerts, became a regular at downtown spots, and invested more time into getting to know my friends. It was comforting to slip into my new identity and a new hope simmered inside of me.

Time has a funny way of passing if you aren’t paying too close attention. One more year had passed. Since then, I had grown out of two jobs. These jobs gave me the tools to succeed at the present career that I love. Old friendships dwindled and stronger ones were cultivated. The broken bonds within my family formed back together with patience, effort, and sheer faith. Life had become, once again, something to fight for and the future held promise. I had scrambled up the highest peak of my mountain and I was about to be rewarded with the view.

From a very young age, hiking had always been an intense passion of mine. Hiking was an interest I shared with my assaulter, as hiking had become a fixture in our relationship. After the assault, I lost my passion to explore. The incident had stolen so much from me. I could not separate my love for exploration without reliving the pain of the incident. Happy memories and the cravings to make more intertwined deep with pain and confusion. After years of not acknowledging that part of myself, I started to want it again. I allowed myself time to heal and from that, the passion for hiking grew. This year I have planned multiple camping trips. I have hiked 3,765 steps, three glorious mountains, and felt the tickle of eight waterfalls. I may not be the hiker that I once was, but I’ve welcomed my zest for life back. Like an old friend, the need to travel has crept back into my life. I don’t know how I survived this long without it.

I am a survivor. I survived assault from another being and then from my own self. I have grown from the good as well as the bad lessons that life has awarded me. I have chosen to live a happy and healthy life because I was given a second chance. For a long time, I let a tragic incident define who I was. I refuse to let it control me any longer.

The famous environmental philosopher John Muir once said, “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” This advice is a metaphor, for not all paths you are dealt in life are perfect. Some can be littered with potholes, roadwork, and speed bumps. Most paths, I have discovered, are covered in dirt. These are the roads we may not set out to take, but they are the ones that are the most rewarding. It may take a little longer to travel them but all roads lead to the same destination. My journey to self-love is far from over, but I wake up every day looking face forward, to the light. No matter which path we take, it is our choice, and ours alone, to enjoy our journey. I think I'll take the road less traveled. I’ve heard it has a beautiful view.

Laura Hegarty

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