Stay Calm.

I used to work as an usher at a Theatre in the City a few years ago. We weren’t allowed to have our phones on our person when we were working. One evening I signed on and put my bag in the staff room as usual. As I was greeting all my Theatre friends in our respective positions in the venue, my Manager, Andrea called me back into the staff room and told me there was a phone call for me. Staff never got phone calls. My just-catching-up-with-friends-smile fell from my face when my Fiance’s brother’s voice came through the earpiece.

“Mark’s been in a car accident – No, stay calm – he’s OK. He wanted me to call you and ask you to meet him there.”

Stay calm. His voice was authoritative and the call lasted only a minute. My heart rate shot up immediately upon car accident and then stabilised again following stay calm. I hated how much he knew exactly how I would react. This guy did not like me in his family at all and I cannot remember why. I could tell this phone call was for Mark, not for me in the slightest.

I immediately left work and checked my phone: 11 missed calls from Mark. Fuck. I was distraught – I wasn’t there when he needed me. His goddamn brother had to call me. Shame was hot on my face despite the lack of colour in my cheeks.

I knew what had happened already. I was so angry but I had to stay calm. He needed me. An equation appeared in my head: that new red sports car, plus that stretch of road in the middle of nowhere plus writing your car off equals hooning. I was livid that he had done this. If it were a cartoon, I am sure steam would have been piling out of my ears.

I called Mark as I fell into my car and frantically pulled out of the car park. I recognised the stupidity of calling my partner about his car accident while I was driving, but I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for him as soon as was possible. If he hadn’t whimpered when he picked up I would have screamed and cried “How could you be so fucking selfish? How could you put yourself in such danger??”. He cried and I cried and I knew he was terrified – I knew he needed support and so I kept my screams inside.

I did not know what to expect when I arrived. The scene caused me to feel physically ill – it’s a miracle he’s alive. The entire left side of the windscreen was completely shattered as it had ploughed right into a tree on one of the many complete rolls the car had done after leaving the bitumen road. The image could only have been made more dramatic if the car had exploded and Mark had walked towards me while the rubble burned behind his silhouetted frame.

His brother had beat me there. Again an overwhelming sense of shame and failure washed over me. Mark ran to me and hugged me tightly. I think I hugged him back. Then he kissed me – full on the lips. To this day, this kiss has been the most shocking, memorable moment of my life. Why would he kiss me? This question makes perfect sense to me, to be asked. At the same time, why shouldn’t he kiss me in this moment? I saw in front of me the man I planned to marry and raise children with juxtapositioned with a scene of complete carnage that was entirely his own doing. On the periphery of this vision was his brother whom I was completely jealous and distrustful of. I felt so alone.

Following the kiss, I wanted so badly to pound on his chest and scream and point at this goddamn nightmare in front of me, but I didn’t. Instead of “How can you kiss me – how can you possibly love me enough to kiss me – when you can do this to me? How??” I simply took off my jacket and placed it around his shaking shoulders. It was my job now to help him stay calm.

Later I would learn that Mark was speed testing his car despite his assurances to me that he simply did not see the bend in the road. His brother knew the truth and they both agreed to keep it from me. To me, this was the ultimate betrayal in a long list of betrayals including infidelity. This was no longer a time for me to stay calm. 

The next night we spent together in our shared bed, I penned a letter to Mark while he slept peacefully next to me. I began with the words “This is why I’m leaving you”. If he had died that night, it would have felt exactly the same as this did.