Monday, August 1, 2016


On Saturday, I was sitting shotgun in Red's car, waiting with him in the service line at the maintenance center.

Conflict had started to simmer throughout the morning. Not between us. Between him and someone else. When the first hint of an argument sparked--thanks to a single text message--I couldn't say much of anything. Not to ease his worries, not to alleviate the anger, not even to dismiss it all. I didn't know how to use my voice to silence the conflict and I didn't know how to try either. The whole time, I ran through a dozen unspoken phrases, hoping I could pick one to make him feel better. But nothing sounded right in my head. It would have sounded worse out of it.

We parked on the line of cars and went to speak with someone there. Might have been one of the mechanics or just the guy who checks appointments--no idea. But let's say he was the former. Red asked him something and the mechanic gave a slightly disappointing answer. On its own, that's what it was: slightly disappointing. In the context the mechanic could not have known nor needed to imagine, it sparked that anger again. Fed into the earlier conflict, twisted it up, made it worse.

So we get back in the car and that conflict goes from a simmer to a boil. Red says he's going to call the person from earlier and tell them what the mechanic told us. I'm tense all over, because it'll get ugly and I won't know how to be anything except a bystander with her lips sewed shut. But I can't put together a proper protest. So he calls.

First call goes on and on. Bluetooth is on, so I hear the ringing through the speakers. It reaches a voicemail. Second call gets immediately routed to a voicemail. Third call rings. Rings again. Rings a third time. 

Outside, the mechanic motions for us to start exiting just as someone picks up the phone. They get as far as "Hello?" before Red starts to talk, already angry, agitated, sick of this fight before it's even started. 

But it's like too many commands are registering at once--talk on the phone, pull out the service line, check behind the car, be angry, make the person on the phone listen and understand. So he tries to do it all at once, and because of it, we don't notice the blue car parked behind us until we back straight into it.

We hear the hit. It's loud. Loud enough to make you think--dents on a bumper, scratches everywhere, paint chipped off leaving behind bare grey metal. He curses and jumps out to check and leaves me there with the person on the phone. I already didn't want the call to happen--because I've had too many like it, where there was nothing to do except scream at each other until someone hung up mid-sentence in tears. And I think, it can't get any higher than this. Hitting a car is the final escalation of this conflict. Don't let it get any louder.

So I hang up. That's my instinct--hang up on the source of conflict. When Spotify doesn't realize it's not the best time to keep playing that Stone Temple Pilots song from an hour ago, I mute that too.

He comes back in, pulls the car forward an inch, goes back out, and three or four or five other people check the area. There's no damage, of course. Because we were going two miles an hour and were about five inches away from the blue car. 

I'm not sure then why our nudge sounded like a quarter of a collision. Maybe we were already tense, and it was unexpected, and our ears blew up the sound thanks to the stress.

But there's not a scratch or a bump or anything. So Red comes inside and sits down behind the wheel again. The guys who work for the maintenance center and were inspecting for possible damage with him start waving at us. At first I think they'll tell us to move again. But they're not doing that. They're giving solitary waves and small smiles. Bits of sympathy. 

The mechanic comes up to the window and taps it. Red rolls it down; he's buzzing in place with adrenaline. The mechanic leans in and grabs Red's shoulder, as if trying to steady him, and says, "you alright? You okay? Don't drive like this. It's all fine, but don't drive like this. Have some water--there's water inside. Relax. Don't drive like this." And then he points at me and tells him, "Remember you're with her. She's in the car with you. So don't drive like this."

He walks away after instructing me to grab Red's forearm and comfort him. I'm hesitant to do so, so I ask him, "are you the kind of person who doesn't like to be touched when they're angry?"

And he seems to think about it, still stressed and trying to keep his composure and probably deafened by a million other issues. Eventually he answers me. "No."

So I grab his arm, lean against his shoulder, and start tracing circles over his wrist. Together we sit there for a while, waiting for tranquility to find us again. 

It's sad that I'm someone who works with words ninety percent of my waking hour, who rebuilds sentences up and down, from the length of the sentence to the punctuation, trying to get everything perfect, and yet can only do so in the written form. Vocalizing a sentiment--even a simple, "It's okay. You're okay. Don't drive like this," is far beyond my capabilities.

But because I couldn't think of a way to provide words of comfort, I sought silence. I've always found solace in it, and I hoped he would too. 

It didn't fix anything, of course. Person on the phone was even angrier later (and in part because I hung up on them). The same problems that existed when we pulled into the service line existed when we left it. And there'll be that anger and stress again, building on each other, weighting heavily on him.

I didn't even get to give him real, complete silence. But while I couldn't mute the entire conflict, I think I managed to hush it down to a bearable whisper. No angry phone calls, no music, no extra unnecessary words.

I sat there, leaning against him, thinking about the mechanic and all the car maintenance people. I hoped they knew I was thankful for their kindness.

The mechanic didn't have any context; he just saw a boy in distress and a girl who couldn't speak, so he found just the right thing to say to make it all momentarily better.

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