chapter 18 || ryder
Kai hands the basket off to Zack, her free hand moving towards Hayden’s. I keep my eyes trained at their hands, my anger from earlier rising again.
Kai’s going to get hurt, I know it. Some way or the other she will get hurt. She’s not even halfway close to being over Emma. We’re still at this camp for our fucked up ways. So is Hayden.
“If you could go back in time and change the way you acted after their death, what would you change?” Zack reads in his quiet voice. I watch as Zack pulls his knees to his chest, holding them tightly. Zack looks at Jayden, who gives him a reassuring smile.
“After his funeral a few days after he died, I locked myself into my room. My aunt- his sister- tried to get me to come out but I never did. A few days later, my aunt dragged me out of the room and took me outside. I started to try and distract myself from thinking, which worked during the day. Nighttime was when it got bad. One night was really bad, that I,” Zack stops, letting out a shaky breath. “I tried to kill myself. I wish I didn’t try,” he whispers so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him say it.
Callie reaches over and pulls him into a side hug, telling him how she is glad that he’s still alive.
My heart breaks for the youngest kid in the group. The rest of us are almost adults, but he’s only 15. I don’t know what happened with his biological parents but he’s gone through so much shit at such a young age. Imagining Alex having to go through that has the same effect of knowing Zack did go through it.
“Zack,” Jayden starts, “I want you to know that every single person you know and even the people who don’t know you yet are very, very glad that you’re still alive. Your uncle would want you to live. He’d want you to enjoy your life.” He takes a look around the circle, looking at each person for a few seconds. “This goes for all of you. Your loved ones would all want you to live and enjoy your life.”
“Can someone else go, please?” Zack says in a strained voice. Callie nods letting go of Zack, reaching for the basket and pulling out a slip of paper.
“When you found out that your loved one died, what was your reaction?” Callie runs her fingers through her hair. “When the officers came up to the door and told me, I was in shock. I just talked to them less than 20 minutes ago and now these men were telling me that my parents were in a really bad car crash and they both died on impact was unbelievable.
“Megan came home minutes later a complete mess. Once the officers left and I wrapped my head around the fact that they were really gone, I went into a rage. I ripped every family photo that was hung up and turned my parent’s bedroom inside out. And I cried. I cried so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I had just gotten parents and now they were gone.”
“I did almost the same thing,” I add, remembering the night Emma died. “I just didn’t understand how this could happen, you know?”
The night Emma died was undoubtedly the worst night of my life. Kai’s mom called me and I just ran to their house. Kai was in the corner, knees pulled to her chest, not saying a word. I asked her if it was true, and when she didn’t say anything, that’s all it took.
“It’s terrible. Having something here one minute then gone the next.” Hayden chimes in.
I look around our circle, locking eyes with Kai, wishing I could go sit next to her. Remembering the night Emma died has always been tough for me, but I’ve always had Kai beside me.
This time I don’t.
Callie wordlessly hands me the basket and I pick up the white slip of paper. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, hoping that this last one won’t trigger another painful memory. I don’t think I could handle it.
“If you could say one last thing to them before they died, what would you say?” I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Only one?” I chuckle, trying to use humor to lighten the mood. No one else laughs.
I clear my throat, looking down. “I would tell her that there is so much to live for. That even though the sun will rise and the moon will set and life will still go on without her, I would be broken. But if in this make-believe situation that no matter what I would say, she would end up dead anyway, I would tell Emma I love her. I hope she never had any doubt that I ever loved her.”
I constantly wonder if Emma knew that I loved her when she swallowed those pills. What if she never knew how much I loved her and she had doubts about our relationship and that added to her depression?
“Whenever I talk to anyone close to me I always tell them that I love them at the end of our conversation because I never got a chance to say that to my parents,” Callie comments.
“Everyone always says that life is short, but we never really understand how short it truly is until we lose someone we love,” Jayden says, looking around at the group. “I hope you all tell the people you love that you love them because no one ever knows when they’ll be gone.”
We all sit around, no one saying anything until Jayden speaks again. “Remember to write in your journals tonight and also remember there is no need to share what you’ve written, so be honest. That’s all for today, so I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”
Everyone stands up and grabs one another’s hand, already knowing what’s coming up.
I have to admit, the squeeze at the end of the session is growing on me. It’s a reminder that everyone here lost someone too. Everyone here is dealing with similar pain. It’s a reminder that we’re not alone; that we have each other.
While everyone else starts to leave, I keep my eyes locked on Hayden and Kai’s intertwined fingers. I catch a glimpse of Kai’s face, a wide smile spreading across her face. She doesn’t look hurt or upset.
I guess it’s a good thing but a small part of me wishes she was more upset over us.
Does she not feel bad about what happened just a few hours ago?
“Hm?” I turn my head around to whoever’s calling my name.
“Are you okay?” Callie asks, her forehead scrunched.
“Ryder, I was calling your name for a few minutes before you responded.”
“Oh. Sorry, I was a little distracted.” I glance over to where Hayden and Kai were walking.
“So Hayden and Kai, huh?” Callie says, the mischievous look back on her face.
“If it’s alright, I rather not talk about them right now,” I say, running my hands through my hair. The last thing I want to do is talk about them. In fact, I rather never hear the words “Hayden and Kai” together in the same sentence.
“Oh, um, alright,” Callie says dejectedly. I take a look at her face, her blonde hair covering her eyes that are tilted down.
“Would you like to go for a walk?” I ask. Callie’s a good friend and I know that just being around her will help me take my mind off of things. Her energy is contagious. Whoever she ends up marrying will never have a sad day if she can help it.
“Sure,” Callie smiles, looking up at me.
I take her hand and guide her into the forest in front of us, ready to catch some of Callie’s happy attitude.
The rest of the afternoon with Callie was eventful. I learned a little about each of her foster homes and how she was lucky. She told me how most of her foster friends ended up in the homes of druggies who just wanted the state given money. I told her about my soccer friends and my little sister.
As I predicted, I did catch her happy attitude. I forget about the fight Kai and I had and I did enjoy the rest of my afternoon.
I pull out my notebook from under the pillow, ready to pen in today’s entry. I know that neither of the other boys will try and look at my letters but I can’t help but be careful. I don’t want anyone to read these letters I’ve written. They’re too personal.
I pick up my pen, letting out a sigh. Today’s sessions reminded me that I have so much left to say to Emma. I wish I could go back in time and convince her not to do it; that she has so many reasons to stay alive.
We had another session today where we had to answer questions. I was asked “If I could say one last thing to you, what would I tell you”, and it reminded me of how much I wish I could tell you.
I wish I could’ve told you that if you died, I would lose my mind. I would make so many mistakes without you here because you were always the person who kept me grounded these last couple of years.
I wish I could’ve told you that if you died, Kai would be broken too. And Alex? She was scared that I’d leave her too. Alex really loved you, Em. You broke her too.
You taught me to love, Emma and I’m forever thankful for that. But I can’t imagine loving anybody else but you.
I wish I could’ve told you how much I loved you. But you never gave me that chance.