In her new Netflix comedy special, Relatable, Ellen DeGeneres opened up about a tragic part of her past — losing her girlfriend in a car crash when she was in her early 20s. “My life changed when I was 21 years old and my girlfriend was killed in a car accident. And I passed the accident, it had just happened, and I didn’t know it was her because she was in a different car. I almost stopped but then sirens were right behind me and showing up so I kept going. And I found out later it was her,” Ellen, 60, said during her stand-up routine.

“So I had to move out of the place we were living because I couldn’t afford to live there anymore. I had no job, I had no car, no money. I moved into this tiny, basement apartment — you could barely stand up in it. It was two rooms and I had a mattress on the floor,” she continued. “And the entire basement was infested with fleas, there were fleas everywhere. And I was laying there and I just couldn’t believe — it was the first person I’d ever lost that I’d loved — and I just [thought], ‘How is this possible? This beautiful young girl is gone and fleas are here. I don’t understand.’ I was so angry at fleas.”

This actually isn’t the first time that Ellen has publicly spoken out about losing her girlfriend. In an October 2015 interview, the talk show host chatted about the “guilt” she faced after her loved one’s death. “I’d never lost anybody. I mean, my grandfather died when I was a little girl but… I wasn’t close [to him] and I didn’t go to the funeral. But my girlfriend had been killed in a car accident and we were living together at the time,” she began.

Ellen then revealed she and her girlfriend had been in a fight the night the young woman ended up passing away. “My brother’s band was performing and [my girlfriend and I] had broken up — we were fighting a lot. And she was trying to get me to come back home and I acted like I couldn’t hear her because the music was too loud. I was planning on moving back in, I just was trying to teach her a lesson and I was staying with some friends, so I acted like I couldn’t hear and I was being really dismissive of her,” the comedian explained.

Ellen DeGeneres
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“She had left before us and as we were driving home we saw a car and it was split in two and we heard sirens behind us so it had just happened. Nobody was there yet and we just kept going. And I found out the next morning that it was her in the car,” Ellen continued. “So that made me feel like I should have gone home with her that night, [that] she wouldn’t have been with that person, I should have stopped… you know, all kinds of things… a lot of guilt.”

Ellen then said the tragic experience of losing her girlfriend ultimately helped her grow and become a stronger person. “I think it made me realize how fragile and how easily you can lose someone. Just in an instant she just was gone and that was really hard. It really shifted my entire focus and life,” she shared.