Chapter 35 | Healing
“Why are you always late?” I shout toward the stairs, rushing Liam to hurry up because we needed to leave for graduation over ten minutes ago.
“Punctuality has never been either of your strong suits.” Dad comments as he fixes his tie in the living room mirror.
I glance at him with narrowed eyes, giving him a deadpanned look as I finally hear Liam coming down the stairs.
“I can’t get this stupid tie to work.” He huffs, yanking at the mangled tie around his neck.
“My God, you poor thing.” I frown sarcastically.
“Come over here son.” Dad laughs, “I’ll help.”
Liam rushes over to dad, and in a matter of seconds, Liam has a perfect tie.
Liam gives dad an incredulous look, but dad only shrugs. “Years of practice.”
I smooth out my white dress, making sure to grab my cap and gown from the hall closet. I toss Liam his cap and gown and we quickly pull them on. We help each other zip up, before rushing outside and into dad’s car.
Dad speeds, so we make it to graduation with a few minutes to spare.
The girls are all supposed to meet up in a separate room to the boys. I walk over toward the designated spot, and see Lexi already standing inside.
“Dallas!” She smiles while rushing over to hug me. I wrap my best friend up in a tight hug, leaning against her as she does the same to me. “I can’t believe we’re finally graduating!”
“I know!” I laugh at how excited she is. Honestly, I am too.
I’m happy to end this chapter of my life, and eager to start a new one.
Lexi got into a really good college, but sadly we didn’t get into the same one. I did, however, end up being accepted to the same college as the one Ethan and Liam both got accepted to.
Will it be odd going to the same college as my brother and boyfriend? Not really. I’ve already been going to school with them since kindergarten. It can’t be any different.
It’s going to be hard without my best friend, so I hug her just a little tighter, before letting go.
“Today is going to be amazing, and I can’t wait for the grad party at the carnival later!”
I almost forgot about the carnival. The school set it up, which is something they’ve never done before. Usually the grad party is a private party that one of the seniors holds at his or her house after graduation.
I suppose the school thought this would be a nice alternative to booze and whatever else happens behind closed doors.
It’s completely free to all students and their families.
Suddenly we hear the coordinator shouting for everyone to line up. All the students have to line up in alphabetical order by last night.
Luckily enough, my last name is Ryder and Lexi’s last name is Saunders, so she’s standing right behind me in line as we walk out onto the open field where all of the chairs are set up in rows.
All of the boys on the right side, and all of the girls on the left side.
As Lexi and I take our seats, we both begin looking around and behind us for our families. I see dad sitting beside Mr. and Mrs. Hart, while Lexi’s parents are sitting on the other side of my dad. Typical that they would all sit together.
My heart tightens a little, as my eyes automatically look for someone who isn’t there.
My face falls and Lexi notices.
“She’s here Dal. Look around you.”
I look around and I see the sun shining bright in the blue sky. I feel the slight breeze tickling my nose. In the very faint distance, I can hear birds singing in honor of our graduating class.
Lexi’s right. She’s here. I can feel it.
I smile at my best friend who pulls me in for a hug. I look to the opposite side of the field and see Ethan sitting a few rows ahead of Liam. He’s talking with the boy sitting next to him, before he looks up and our eyes meet.
He mouths an, ‘I love you’, before smiling from ear to ear. I do the same and blow him a kiss before looking a few rows back to find Liam. He grins at me and Lexi but then looks ahead of us while wiggling his eyebrows playfully. I look a few rows ahead and see Claire blushing. I roll my eyes but laugh at my brother.
Lexi spots Carter sitting close to our parents, a bouquet of flowers resting beside him as he smiles at his girlfriend who’s grinning beside me.
I wave at Carter and he waves back.
I glance to my dad and we catch each others eyes. I wave and he waves in return.
After Liam and I left the session with Lori, we went home and Liam helped me tell dad everything. I told him about my depression, I told him about the self-harm, I told him everything that I’ve been wanting to tell him, but just didn’t know how. He seemed shocked at first, and I honestly thought he was going to start yelling at me, but when he wrapped me up into a tight hug and cried against my shoulders, telling me that he loves me and that everything will work itself out, I knew in that moment that I never need to feel scared to tell him anything ever again.
I miss mom like crazy, but I feel so blessed to still have my dad who I know will always be there for Liam and I. We need him almost as much as he needs us. We made a deal with him. Since Liam and I are going to a college close to home, we decided to live our first year at home, so we don’t have to worry about money for dorm rooms. Ethan decided to stay at home as well, but the three of us made a pact to get our own apartment for the remaining years of college to follow.
Our parents certainly didn’t mind, as they weren’t ready to let go of us just yet. Truthfully, we weren’t ready to let go either.
It’s easy to want to grow up and leave home. You want to live in a world where you make the rules, instead of having to follow them. You want to be able to do whatever you want, without any criticism.
I used to be the same way. I couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and to leave home for college. Now that the time is here though, I realize that I’m not ready to leave home just yet. The world is a scary place. As soon as you have full responsibility of yourself, it’s so easy to end up overwhelmed. We think we have it all figured out, but the truth is, nothing ever goes according to plan.
I should know that first hand.
As the principal begins his opening statements, the parents and students all go quiet, in order to hear everything.
After the Valedictorian says his speech, it’s time to start calling names. Row after row, students walk up to claim their diplomas. The piece of paper they worked so hard for. The accomplishment of doing the work and watching it pay off. The knowledge of knowing that even though the last 12 years of school was challenging, nothing is ever impossible. I thought for sure that I wasn’t going to make it to graduation. With my grades dropping, and my entire world forever changed, I thought I was going to fail.
The last few weeks of school, I managed to bring up my grades just enough to make the mark, and I feel so proud. I feel proud, because despite everything trying to tear me down, I kept myself going and I fought like hell to be where I am today.
I know I still have a long way to go, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that I can’t get through it.
One of the coordinators motions for my row to stand up. Lexi and I smile at each other as we stand and follow the long line of girls up to the side of the stage. Name after name is called, before it’s Lexi’s turn.
I hear Lexi’s mom screaming immediately as she begins to walk up the steps and toward our principal. She shakes the principal’s hand and takes her diploma, smiling from ear to ear. She glances to the crowd to see Liam and Ethan standing while shouting, both of them making ridiculous noises on Lexi’s behalf. She walks to the end of the other side of the stage, where pictures are being taken of each graduating student while holding their diploma.
I take a deep breath as I watch Lexi walk down the steps on the side of the stage, and back over to the row where she retakes her original seat.
My smile is instant as I begin walking up the steps and onto the stage. I glance to the crowd as both Ethan and Liam make the same ridiculous noises as they did for Lexi. Ethan is giving me a look of complete adoration while my brother looks beyond proud.
As I shake the principal’s hand and take my diploma, I look out and see my dad who’s clapping and shouting for me. As our eyes meet, he immediately points his index finger to the sky, letting me know that both he and my mom are very proud today. My eyes begin to tear up as I walk over and stand in front of the camera woman.
She positions me on a piece of tape, and instructs me to hold my diploma out in front of me. Just as she presses the capture button, a gleam of light ricochets from my diploma and I’m almost certain you’d be able to see it in the picture. I walk back down the steps and back to my seat, Lexi pulling me in for a hug as I sit down beside her.
“I’m proud of you Dal.”
“I’m proud of you too Lex.”
After another hour of names being called, it’s the boys turn.
Lexi and I, as well as our families, go crazy when both Ethan and Liam are called to walk the stage. After every student has walked across the stage and received their diploma, the principal speaks into the microphone again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your graduation class of 2019!”
The students all go crazy as they begin tossing their caps into the air. The principal told everyone that he didn’t permit the students doing so, but who can pass up such an amazing tradition?
Lexi and I pick up our caps and begin walking over toward the boys. Ethan picks me up and twirls me around, before kissing me in the center of the field. Liam clears his throat as I turn and see him giving us a deadpanned look.
I roll my eyes but rush over to my brother who wraps me up into a tight hug. We stay that way for a second, before finally pulling away.
“Mom would be so proud of you.” I say to Liam. Tears are instantly in his eyes, but they never fall.
“She’d be proud of you too Dal.”
I give him one more hug before the four of us turn and begin exiting the field to meet our parents.
Once we’re outside, dad wraps both Liam and I into a hug.
“I can’t even begin to express how proud I am.”
Both Liam and I pull away from dad to see a tear fall from his eye.
“Dad, are you crying?” Liam gives him an incredulous look, followed by a smirk.
Dad clears his throat, “Of course not son, we Ryder men don’t shed tears.”
I roll my eyes but laugh as dad just smiles at me.
I glance over to see Lexi hugging her dad as her mom yells at Jayce. Jayce turns and when he sees me, rushes over to me.
I lean down and give him a hug. “Way to go Dallie!”
Mr. and Mrs. Hart walk over, and Mrs. Hart is the first to give me a hug. “We’re very proud of you and your brother, Dallas. We know how hard you’ve both worked, and I’m sure your mother would be very proud too.”
I smile up at Mrs. Hart and nod. “Thank you.”
“Now, who’s ready for an early dinner before the carnival tonight?” Mr. Hart shouts. All of us are meeting up at Outback Steakhouse to have dinner.
My dad and Mr. Hart argued with Mr. Saunders on wanting to help pay the large bill, but Mr. Saunders denied them both without room for discussion. Everyone thanked Lexi’s parents for dinner and once we all had our fill of steaks and blooming onions, we left to head home before the carnival begins.
I definitely need a nap.
Everyone is awake and ready to go by the time the sun starts to set. Everyone decides to meet up at the carnival, and then the kids will separate from the parents.
Once Liam and I find Lexi and Ethan, the four of us rush away to begin having fun. Carter locates Lexi and the two of them go off to the Ferris wheel. How cliché.
Liam says he’ll be back, in search for Claire. If I know my brother, he’s going to find a secluded spot for him and Claire to make out.
Ethan holds my hand as we walk around the carnival, stopping once so Ethan can buy me some cotton candy. Just as I stuff a large portion of cotton candy into my mouth, I hear a familiar voice from behind.
Ethan sighs as we turn around to face Blake and a few of his friends. I nod to Steven and Kristina before smiling at Blake.
“Hey! I didn’t think you’d show up here.” I grin.
“Well, Steven over here loves the games, so here we are.” Blake shrugs. He then turns to Ethan, “What’s up bro?”
“Bro?” Ethan raises an eyebrow.
“Are things always gonna be hostile between us? C’mon Ethan pal, I thought we were buds.” Blake smirks.
I nudge Ethan’s side with my elbow, and he looks down at me, clearly pouting.
Ethan sighs before turning to Blake. “Just hanging out with my girl, what’s up with you, bro?”
I laugh as Blake’s smirk grows. “Awe, he talked to me. Progress.”
“He’ll get there, don’t worry.” I shrug. “Want some cotton candy?”
I hand the bucket out to Blake, who reaches in to take a huge amount, before stuffing it all into his mouth.
“Classy.” Ethan comments.
Blake shrugs and then looks around. “Where’s the twin?”
“Off with Claire somewhere.”
“I mean he’s got the right idea.” Blake then smirks over to Anna who happens to walk up right on queue.
“In your dreams, B.” Anna scoffs.
“Oh you definitely are.” Blake winks, causing Anna to roll her eyes.
I laugh at the two and congratulate Blake on actually graduating. I was surprised when I heard his name being called, but he was still smiling as he walked across the stage. Blake can hide it all he wants, but he’s a big softie.
“Well, we’re gonna get going. I’m forcing Ethan to ride the merry-go-round.” I casually state as I pull on Ethan’s hand.
“Wow, sorry man.” Blake frowns to Ethan.
“Yeah, thanks, I need it.” Ethan nods.
“Oh wow, so you two bond over hatred for merry-go-rounds? Who knew?” I say sarcastically, still pulling on Ethan’s hand.
“Bye Blakey!” I shout as Ethan and I turn to walk in the opposite direction.
“Does he really have to call you cupcake?” Ethan sighs.
“Awe, you’re cute when you’re jealous babe.” I smile up at him, as I take another mouth full of cotton candy.
Once we make it to the merry-go-round, Ethan pays for the two of us, and we rush up as I climb onto one of the horses. Ethan climbs onto a different one that’s right in front of me, and he turns around to smile at me.
I knew that asshole would enjoy himself.
As the ride begins to turn, I hold onto the horse and smile. The slight breeze causes my hair to fly backwards as the ride continues to spin around and around. It’s slow at first, but then gets just a little faster.
I lean my head back slightly as my eyes close, feeling the motion of the ride and my hair in the breeze. I take in a deep breath and let it out, smiling the entire time.
It’s taken me a while to finally get to where I am today. I never would’ve thought that I would make it here to graduation. That I would be accepted to a local college. It all feels too surreal.
Just a month ago, I was in a very dark place. I thought I would never escape my past. Losing my mom was hard enough, but then being hurt and abused twice after that, really sent me spiraling.
I’m proud to say that with the help of my family, friends, and Lori, I haven’t picked up a razor in almost three weeks.
I still wear my rubber-bands, as they’ve become a security blanket for me. Knowing that they’re there if I should need them, gives me a sense of comfort. I know eventually I will need to learn to take them off and live without them, but for now, they are right where they need to be.
I’ve slowly begun healing, but I know I still have a long way to go.
I’m happy that everyone knows to let me deal with my own demons on my own time. For a while I felt a little pressured to try to heal myself fast, because I wanted to go back to being the same Dallas before the rapes. I wanted to be normal.
Lori helped me tremendously with that. It’s because of her that I was able to take a step back and realize that I would learn to accept things on my own terms, in my own way.
As I glance at Ethan, who’s having far too much fun on this ride, I smile at him. He went from being my best friend, to being the guy that I am in love with. He’s helped me so much during all of this, and I doubt he even knows it. The way he kisses me, the way he holds me. He strong and determined and I know that as long as I have him by my side, I can get through anything.
While those same hands of his has helped to heal me, they’ve also helped to strengthen me.
I’ve learned that you can’t let people push you into figuring things out. You can’t let people force you to heal the wounds that have almost broken you. You have to find your own way out of the darkness, even if it takes a while.
After all, you will heal when you are ready to, not when they say you should.
I learned how to heal, and I’m still doing it to this very day. I know it seems impossible, but I have nothing but complete faith.
T H E E N D.