Dear Emma

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chapter 13 || kai

After the official first group therapy session, all I have to say is wow.

Was it cheesy? Incredibly. Did it make me hurt less? Not yet. But maybe everyone has a point about this. Maybe if I give it some time something really good can happen.

I hate therapists. After Emma died, my mom forced me to go to one and he was horrible. I did not feel safe and I never shared. I sat there every week giving the basic yes or no answers I gave everyone else

But this doesn’t feel like therapy. It’s just a bunch of fucked-up kids in one place all sharing their fucked up stories.

And for some reason, that makes everything easier. Even Jayden with his happy-go-lucky attitude. He said that this camp saved his life.

Maybe it could just save mine too.

I walk up to the rest of the group, who have already gathered around the picnic table cluttered with canvases and paints. The next table over, more than a good couple yards away, was filled with little kids scrambling around, playing with bubbles.

If I’m struggling so much with Emma’s death, imagine these little kids. They don’t even have a decent understanding of the world; how are they supposed to understand death? They shouldn’t have to learn what loss is at such a young age.

“Hey,” I say, facing the rest of the group, getting a “sup” nod from Hayden, a small smile from Zack, a “hey” from Callie and Ryder’s arm around my shoulder. “What were you guys talking about?”

“Just my inability to do art. That was Syd’s thing. I was the jock of the family and she was the artist,” Hayden says, his face scrunching up a bit at the mention of his sister. I’m surprised that he casually throws her name around, unlike this morning.

I lost my best friend, which was hard. But losing your twin? To cancer especially? No doubt that that’s a lot harder. I can hardly say Emma’s name without feeling a pang of pain and guilt

At least he doesn’t have to live with the pain of knowing that the person he lost chose to die.

“Don’t worry, my stick figures look like a dog drew them,” Zack chimes in. Callie goes to object, saying he’s probably not as bad as he thinks he is, which causes the two of them to start arguing.

“Great! You’re all here. Go and find your name on the canvas and sit down. Once everyone finds their spot, we can start,” Jayden interrupts, coming from behind us, holding his clipboard.

All conversations stopped, realizing that we’re gonna get personal again. We scatter away, scanning each post-it stuck to the canvases for our names. I find mine at the very end, next to Hayden and across from Zack.

“Hold up, I’m confused. Why are we painting again?” Hayden asks, picking up one of the brushes and inspecting it.

“It’s easier to talk about things if you’re distracted. By painting, your mind will be focused on what you’re creating and you’ll be able to- for lack of a better word- word vomit. This isn’t about the artistic ability or lack thereof, so feel free to create whatever you want,” Jayden explains using his hands for emphasis.

Sharing feelings is already terrible, but doing it without knowing exactly what I’m going to say? It’s a whole other level of anxiety.

Next to me, Hayden gingerly picks up a thick fat brush and uses a dark red color to outline what seems to be words. Callie, who’s diagonal across from me, already has 3 various sized brushes coated in different colors clutched in her palm and is working diligently.

I pick up one of the brushes beside me and dip it into the pink and mindlessly run it along the width of the canvas.

Then purple. And yellow. And green.

I have no idea what I’m trying to make, but Jayden did say we could create anything. So I let my brush do whatever it wants and maybe it’ll create something.

“We’re going to talk about guilt.” A lump forms in my throat and I catch Ryder’s eye briefly. “Do you think you could’ve done anything to prevent your loved one from dying? Anything you wish you wished you would’ve said? What do you feel guilty about?”

So many things. So, so many.

Beside me, Hayden’s hand stops midair and I can visibly see him swallowing his own lump. His eyes are shut tight before he opens his mouth and closes it again. He takes a deep breath before trying again. “I should’ve stayed in the hospital with her,” he says, his voice shaky. “I knew she wasn’t doing well. The doctors predicted less than a month. The treatment wasn’t working. We all know that she could die at any time. And knowing that, I left. I left her alone. She could’ve died with me by her side, but she didn’t. All she had was the plain, boring walls of her cramped little room.”

“You couldn’t have known that she would pass away that night. It wasn’t your fault that cancer killed her,” Jayden cuts in. I glance over at him again, seeing the relief wash over his face when Jayden takes over. “Cancer was not her choice nor was it yours. I’m sure she appreciated every second you were with her and I’m sure she didn’t want you to stop enjoying your life just because she couldn’t.”

Hayden looks down into the table, blinking rapidly. I put my hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. He looks up, and I see that pain and guilt engraved in his face. I give him a smile and he tries to muster up his own. A tear falls down his cheek and he looks away, swiping at his face.

Ryder drops his brush of a sudden, running his hand through his hair. “I think I speak for Kai too when I say that neither of us expected her to kill herself. She was doing better. And I mean, shouldn’t I have seen it coming? I was her boyfriend for god’s sake. She walked right out of school, giving me the “I don’t feel good” excuse. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”

Ryder looks over at me, and I know what he’s thinking because I’m thinking the same thing.

We should’ve seen it coming. We were the people closest to her and we didn’t fucking see it coming.

“In most people, suicide is unexpected. People act like they’re doing better because it’ll lift a burden off of their loved one’s shoulders. They think that killing themselves will rid their loved ones of these burdens, not realizing that by doing so, they’re adding more pain to their loved.”

“But that should’ve tipped me off. She never left school just a few periods before it ended, despite how shitty she was feeling. She always stayed, saying it was a waste to miss a couple of periods if you’ve already gone through the entire day. Always. I should’ve run after her and asked her what was wrong.” Ryder looks up at the sky as if he’s looking for her in the clouds. “Maybe if I did, she would still be here,” his voice becomes barely a whisper.

“There are a lot of could’ve, would’ve, should’ve’s, but you can’t carry around the weight of her choice. You did not tell her to kill herself. ”

I stare at my colorful canvas, which now has a dark, thick, slash of black right across it. I don’t remember when I did that, or why, but it happened while Ryder was talking.

“Maybe we didn’t tell her to swallow a bottle of random pills, but we should’ve done better when we knew she was still hurting,” I chime in, blinking rapidly, trying to push the tears away. “I thought she was getting better. She didn’t need the same dosage of meds anymore and she was happier. She was always so strong. Guess that was just an act,” my voice cracks. I dip my brush into the black again, creating angry slashes across the canvas.

Jayden looks at me and gives me a sad smile. “Even the strongest people need to be checked upon.”

“I shouldn’t have told my parents to come early from date night. I was feeling sick and Megan -their biological kid, and my sister- was out with her hometown friends ’cuz she came home from college and I made them come home early,” Callie starts to talk fast, never stopping her painting. “It wasn’t even that serious, just bad cramps. But I made them come home, and a drunk driver hit them. If I hadn’t made them come home early they would’ve still been alive.”

“You couldn’t have predicted that there would be a drunk driver, Callie. And you just wanted the comfort of your parents, it’s understandable. It’s not your fault,” Jayden reassures her.

I stare at the unmatched colors on my canvas. Yellows and greens line the bottom while purples and pink outline the top. It almost looks like a landscape where things were good and people could go and be happy. But then the black comes in, which ruins everything good and makes the happy place somewhere no one wants to be anymore.

Nothing good lasts forever, right?

“I,” Zack starts. “I-.” he tries again.

“Take your time Zack, no rush,” Jayden says.

He takes a deep breath before trying again. “I wish I went with my uncle,” Zack says, his voice choked up. “I was being a big baby and I begged him to let me stay home and play this stupid video game instead of going with him to the store. And I called him for some reason and he was distracted by me that he didn’t even see the other car. I heard the crash. I heard his scream.” Zack’s voice sounds haunted, like he can’t escape the noises he heard.

“If I went with him, he wouldn’t have been on his phone or I could’ve warned him and maybe everything could be different. God, I wish it was me who was in the car and died instead.”

Callie shoots up out of her seat, walking around the table to get to him, taking a seat and wrapping her arms around him. “Don’t ever say that again, alright? I’m very, very glad that it wasn’t you in that car because now I get to know this wonderful human sitting next to me.” Zack breaks apart at her words, sobbing into Callie’s shoulder. She holds him tighter, resting her head against his.

All I want to do is walk over and give him a hug, try to help him in a way I couldn’t help before.

And so I did. I got up and wrapped my arms around Zack. And then Ryder came to join our hug and so did Hayden.

And we stayed there, all of us dealing with our own separate pain together.

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