It is my ex boyfriends birthday today. He is in Paris with his new girlfriend while I am sat on a Mega Bus to New York that smells decidedly like week old urine. I can’t quite tell because of the dull thud of the tires on the road, but I think the woman in the aisle seat adjacent to mine is muttering nonsensical expletives under her breath.
We are nearly at the American boarder but there are still 10 hours left of my trip. I’ll arrive in a blaze of musky glory at 8am as the bus turfs us out at 23rd and 7th. Then I’ll bumble up six blocks to my hotel and collapse in a pile in my room. My three day solo soul quest will have officially begun. Welcome to the Big Apple.
Going on a Christmas adventure has been a bit of a tradition of mine. The first year I lived in Toronto the new city was adventure enough. The next year was Chicago and then a grand adventure from Arizona to San Francisco with a day of hiking the Grand Canyon. It sounds amazing, right? It should have been. It was. But it was also truly and utterly horrible.
Will and I had been drifting for months but I had only really noticed it in the autumn. We were closing in on our six year anniversary and if you had asked me before the summer I would have told you we were untouchable. But then all of a sudden we weren’t. The moment I realized we couldn’t fix it was when a car smashed into the back of us at 70 miles per hour on a highway to Tucson Arizona, over 4,000 miles away from where our lives together began.
Our December adventure was to include Will’s 30th birthday and a Christmas by the sea in LA. We had both been extremely busy and we were looking forward to getting away. The unspoken truth between us was that we were both hoping it would fill the void that had opened up in the midst of us…or at least provide a bridge across the chasm. We had both been somewhat emotionally unfaithful, although I wasn’t quite ready to admit that to myself. A string of not even quite illicit texts on his behalf and a few slightly too regular day dreams on mine. It was because it had been a busy year, I thought. Busy it had been…and stressful too. We had been applying for Permeant Residency so we could stay in Canada which also involved us having to become Common Law partners. He was angry at me because he didn’t think I did enough to help and I was upset with him because I had had a worrying health scare that year that I didn’t think he was sensitive enough about. Somehow, two people who had made a big move across an ocean together were developing an ocean between them as well. But it was going to be okay because we were going away soon and we always got on best as co-adventurers.
We flew out to Phoenix the day before Will turned 30. I’ve always been a nervous flyer but I do my best to grin and bear it. Will slept most of the way and we landed without issue. The first time we were really alone together was when we climbed into our red Toyota rental. We cruised through the desert and stopped to take a picture of some big cactuses. Cacti?! Cacts.
After a while we were quiet. Will had his eyes on the road and I was coyly flicking through my plethora of cacti snaps. I could tell he silently hated my dedication to Instagram stories. My growing social media was just one of the things I think irritated him about me in those days. I understood why…it is a distraction and, yeah, perhaps I was looking for one.
Just as he was humming along to the playlist he had made for our journey and I was carefully hearting my favourite desert pictures, my phone flew out of my hand. Our heads jolted forward. We were run off the road.
If there is one thing to be said for Will it is that he is actually truly brilliant in a crisis. His autopilot is fully functioning. While I may have a tendency to flap, he has always leaned towards keeping a cool head in moments of danger. In that respect, I always felt safe with him. Physically, anyway. Emotionally he could be a bit of a ticking bomb, but that is quite a separate issue. I am quite sure that it was Will’s calm resolve that saved our lives in that moment. He did not, like many would, lose control of the wheel. He carefully guided the car through its course and pulled our now partially mangled car to the side of the busy road.
I had been in a devestating car accident almost 22 years to the day prior when I was just six years old. Cars don’t scare me at all and I don’t have any PTSD surrounding the issue, but what I will say is that when incidents like this happen the thing that strikes you most in the aftermath is the calm and the eerie silence. Seconds feel like minutes as you slowly come to the realization of what the fuck just happened.
The man who hit us terrified me. He was trying to blame us and had worryingly proclaimed that he had been shot last week. Voices were being raised between him and Will, who had somehow lost a valuable slice of that cool I knew to trust. I was trying to keep the peace. Eventually the man went on his way…possibly to the Mexico boarder…who knows.
Will and I sat for a moment in the aftermath of the exchange. I was shaking. The back of the car was bashed in. It was a rental. It was definitely not going to make it to San Francisco. Our mate who works at Enterprise in Toronto sorted a deal for us and now we had to call him to tell him the car was fucked. It was Will’s birthday tomorrow. Defying the odds, the car didn’t flip. The deranged driver didn’t bust a cap. Things were far from ideal. But we were alive.
Later at our hotel, after the insurance companies were called and we had recovered from the jittery aftermath, we sat in a bar in silence. My heart sank. We had almost died that afternoon yet were were no closer together than we had been before we stepped on the plane.
That night as we slept in our double bed, I stared at Will’s back with a lump in my throat. An awful thought occurred to me. For a second I wish we had died there on that road and that was the end of our story. People would remember us as the fearless couple who lived, loved and travelled together. They would never know how far away we had strayed. They’d remember us as this perfect adventurous duo forever. Of course that isn’t what I wanted…I’d never wish death, I am so in love with life…but for a split second that felt better than what I knew had to come next. I wanted the thought to go away but it was in that moment I knew it never would.
The next morning I got up and performed my good girlfriend routine for my boyfriend on his birthday. It was the sixth of his that we had spent together. I quietly worried it was going to be our last. It was.
I think of Will now, in Paris, 4,000 miles from me, probably swilling wine and toasting to his 31st year with his new flame (the receiver of the aforementioned slightly less than illicit texts). The mad thing is that that doesn’t even hurt me. I am happy for him. What still hurts is the way I felt this time last year, the aching love, the knowledge I couldn’t change it, remembering the smell of sand, petrol and metal that filled the air as I stood by the road surveying the damage to the bashed up getaway car. It was a write off that I have spent all year mourning.