Updated: Jul 1, 2019
So, having exposed in my last blog: Defining Moments that I survived a car crash 25 years ago, I'm slowly becoming ready to reveal some more about that time…
Like I said, the incident that occurred (the death of my friend and the head injuries suffered by my boyfriend), branched out and touched many people's lives. At Dawn's funeral, the church was packed to the brim.
She was 18. Too young to die.
A part of me died that day too, but a bigger part of me began to grow and has continued to grow ever since. One of the lesser-discussed aspects of accidental death (or any death) is the outward ripple effect that causes the people left behind to act in "strange" ways. I say strange in inverted commas because when it comes to stress and trauma, I don't believe there's any such thing as normal.
And I'd know…
The person I am today is not who I was 25 years ago. I'm sure you can all relate. Thoughts, actions and behaviours at the age of 18 are guaranteed to evolve by the time you're 43. But our essence often remains the same. At my core I would describe myself as having a childlike spirit and being hyper-capable. I'm an eternal optimist. I see life as a playground and it takes a lot to throw me off course, but when I do "lose it", I lose it big time.
Doing things by halves has never been my style. I'm not one of those "I'll just have one square of chocolate, thanks" kind of people. I smash the whole bar, no matter how big. Same goes for life. Whatever I choose to do, I put everything into it. Exercise, work, friendships… It's all the same to me.
I live my life at 100% all the time. That's not to say I do a lot of stuff. I don't. I'm essentially an introvert who likes to do one thing a day max, but whatever that thing is, I do it wholly and completely to the best of my ability. And that includes being in love.
Or at least, it did, once upon a time.
Which is what this blog is about. My first love. Who I walked out on after we'd been in a terrible car accident.
Here's my story…
Steve and I had been dating since I was 16, so by the time the accident happened we'd been together almost 2 years. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd only dated guys for 2 weeks at the most before I met someone who I fell in love with. He was a great guy and we got along like cheese and crackers.
As with first loves, you share an incredibly strong bond. You're both learning; neither one has baggage yet, and love flows freely and easily. I loved Steve in the way any teenager loves their first: wholly and completely. He was my world. We did everything together. Life was great.
After the accident, Steve was in a coma for a number of weeks. You can imagine how distressing that was, adding to the fact that my best friend was no longer alive, it was a difficult time for me. I felt like the only one who knew what had happened (later, during the inquest, I was the only witness). I felt like a lone survivor – who had walked away from a horrific scene with barely a scratch. (There's actually a reason I managed to remain unscathed but I'll save that for another blog. It's a long story…)
While Steve was in hospital I visited him religiously. I'd drive to the hospital before work, back again at lunch time and then, after zipping home for something to eat, I'd be back until visiting time was over. I loved him and wanted to be there with him.
Tensions were high among those of us still alive and well. Dawn's parents were absolutely distraught and Steve's parents were doing everything they could to be there for their son. Which, when someone is in a coma isn't easy. How does anyone know what to do? None of us had ever been in that situation before. So, understandably it was a tough time for everyone involved.
Lots of incidents happened while Steve was in hospital and all of them had a huge impact on me. I learned a lot about life, sickness, health and healing, people's response to trauma, and mostly about who I was during that time.
Turns out I'm not the most conventional when it comes to coping.
Coping is a very personal thing. We all do it differently. Some people falter, some weep, some avoid, some deny or minimise. To list all the ways would take a whole blog. Me? I cope by coping. I become extremely practical, get things done, make sure everything is running smoothly, I observe and listen. And then, when I get behind closed doors I fall into a massive heap and sob uncontrollably. Or scream. Or both.
From the outside looking in, it can seem to anyone involved that nothing phases me. I'm one of those people who always seems to have my sh*t together. But that's because for most of my life I would cope impeccably in public and only indulge my vulnerability when I was alone. I'm sure some of my oldest friends have never seen me cry. (I've since changed and can openly cry these days…)
Like anything, that old coping mechanism has pros and cons. The down side is that sometimes it can appear (to people who don't know me) that I'm doing OK. Or that I am cold. How can she still be functioning? I never see her cry. She obviously doesn't care.
Unfortunately for me, that's how my boyfriend's parents perceived me.
On one occasion, Steve's mum actually tapped the metal railing on her son's hospital bed and venomously said to me "You're as hard as that, you are."
Hard as steel.
Maybe on the outside, but little did she know that inside I was dying.
Over time, Steve's health improved, and after a couple of months he emerged from his coma and was allowed home. And that's when the cracks really started to show. Steve was now in a healing phase, still very unsteady, and by his own admission had a "fuzzy head" but he was definitely on a path to recovery. Thank. God.
His parents had firmly told me that they didn't want Steve to know what had happened. That I was not to mention the accident. I didn't agree with their thinking, but being 18 and wanting to be loyal to their wishes, I conceded. We weren't even allowed to walk to the shops unaccompanied. I'm guessing that was incase I spoke of the accident… but who knows.
Either way, keeping their wish became the hardest thing I ever had to do.
As S continued to get better, he and I would spend time in his room chatting and hanging out. He was a shadow of his former self, and by no means the boy I had known prior to 8 December, but nonetheless, he was my boyfriend and I loved him.
On two occasions he asked me if I'd seen Dawn. She's dead, I would think to myself. I'll never see her again. But I had his parents' wish to honour and so both times I said "No, I haven't seen her."
At least I didn't have to lie.
Thankfully and remarkably, Steve continued to improve, and his head injuries, obviously healing, enabled him to speak and think a little more clearly.
That's when the clanger came.
"My mum said you only visit me because you feel like you have to."
I don't recall what my response to that was, but knowing me at the time I'm pretty certain I would have told him that I was definitely there because I wanted to be. Because that was the truth.
During this period (about 3 months after the accident), I had a nervous breakdown. One day while I was at work I had a sensation that was like being in a Hitchcock movie – the foreground panned out as the background closed in. I didn't know where I was. I burst into tears and had to be taken home.
I had finally "lost it".
No denying, I was a complete mess. From the outside I'd been "coping" but all the while I was dying inside. Knowing that my boyfriend's parents wanted me out of the picture hurt me to the core. I had nothing but love for their son, and they seemed to be doing everything to keep me away from him.
It killed me.
I was promptly signed off work for a week.
But, far from being able to rest and seek help, I had a contract with his parents to keep. He wasn't to know anything was wrong. (I didn't even tell his parents about my breakdown. I felt they didn't trust me so what would they care how I was doing.) Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time, I was 18 and was doing the best I knew how with the resources I had back then.
So, as per usual, while being unable to work because I was a total mess, I would get into my work clothes and drive to see him, morning, noon and night so as to keep up the facade. In hindsight, I can see this wasn't the most useful move, but again, I was 18 and didn't know how else to deal with the situation.
As you can imagine, it wasn't long before even bigger cracks began to appear.
I no longer recall the timeframe between this happening and my walking away but I'm guessing it was a matter of weeks. Knowing that his mum was feeding him negative information about me, when all the while I was keeping her wish, became more than I could handle.
I recognised that his family needed to heal in whatever way they saw best. Which definitely didn't include me.
So I made a choice. I walked away from the man I loved more than anything. From my first love whose bedside I had been at morning, noon and night. But who I could no longer be around because it was breaking up his family. They wanted shot of me.
I still remember the day I went round to his house and broke the news: that I was no longer able to be his girlfriend. I was broken but relieved. As I drove away, filled with tears and completely torn between doing what I felt was the "right" thing and what I wanted to do (which was stay), I decided I would live with my decision and get on with my own healing.
That task has taken 25 years.
On the recent anniversary of the car crash, I had a sense that something inside me was shifting. I meditated on it and became clear that my "abandoning" S was something I had paid a price for. On some level I realised that I had unconsciously made a pact with myself that I would serve a Life Sentence for that deed. I walked away because I thought it was the best thing for S and his healing journey (I still do believe that). But the consequence would be that I would not allow myself to fully love another man until I had served my time.
Unbeknown to me at the time, the sentence I imposed was 25 years.
But now I'm free. My karmic debt has been paid and I feel different. I know now that I am once again free to love whoever I choose. Wholly and deeply, just like the love I had for S all those years ago.
And if that isn't in keeping with my 2015 theme of miracles, I don't know what is.
Choose love x