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Bring Me Back: Chapter 16

JAMES

“How have you been since the shooting?”

I shrug and glance away. “Fine.”

My therapist slips off his glasses and sets them on his clipboard. “Watching a teenage boy die isn’t something you can easily forget. Have you had any trouble sleeping?”

“I always have trouble sleeping.”

“I can prescribe something to help with that.”

“No.” I stare out the window just over his shoulder. “The boy shouldn’t have died that night. I should’ve diffused the situation.”

“Didn’t you try to?”

“Yes, but I should’ve tried something different. Said something different.”

“Or, could it be that the boy’s choice to bring a gun to the skate park, and his choice to pull the trigger are the reasons for what happened that night? Could it be that you had nothing to do with the outcome?”

“It was a series of unfortunate events, but I could’ve done something to stop it.”

“Hmm.” He scribbles something into his notepad. “How has life been outside of work? Your brother is back home, sober, you said. How has that been?”

My knee bounces. “It’s been nice having him back. But I don’t know how long this will last.”

Dr. Parker tilts his head. “It’s difficult when it comes to addiction. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the present while it’s here. There’s no way to tell what the future will bring.”

I let out a humorless laugh. “You’re not kidding.”

His eyes narrow. “What’s going on with you? You’re more closed off than usual today.”

I scrub my hands over my face. “Long story short, I met a girl, but it turns out that she has depression and tried to kill herself two years ago.”

“She shared that with you?”

I nod. “I told her about what happened to my mother, and then she told me that she almost succeeded in doing the same thing.”

“That was brave of her. And how did you react to that?”

“Like a jackass.”

Dr. Parker smirks. “Meaning?”

“Meaning, I told her that I couldn’t be with someone like her because I didn’t want to lose her the same way I lost my mother.”

“Ah. I imagine that was scary to hear.” He writes in the notepad again. “What has her life been like since the incident?”

“Her family disowned her, and now she’s living on her own right next door to me. She said she goes to therapy, and she’s on medication.”

“Family is tough when it comes to suicide.”

I let out a sigh. “But she doesn’t seem depressed. Not like my mom did. I wouldn’t have known she was on medication if she didn’t tell me.”

“That’s the point of medication. It helps people feel normal, for lack of a better word.” He pauses. “If she’s in therapy and taking medication, that shows she is in control of her sickness, and that she’s taking all the necessary steps to maintain her mental health.”

I wipe my palms on my jeans. “She does seem in control of it.”

“So, why the poor reaction to this news? I mean, I can understand that you were shocked. No one wants to hear that the person you care about tried to harm herself, especially when the subject hits so close to home for you. But… why cut her off because of it?”

“How can I trust that she won’t try to do it again?”

“How can you trust that she won’t cheat on you? Or that she won’t want to break up with you one day? Or that a bus won’t hit her on the way to work? You can’t know what’s going to happen, and you can’t stop it. You just have to have faith that you’ll make the best decisions for yourself, and what will be, will be. Much like the night of the shooting, and your mother’s death—you can’t control everything, James.”

“Why does everyone keep telling me that?”

Dr. Parker laughs. “Because it’s true. Listen, you have every right to be cautious when entering a relationship with someone who has a history of mental health issues. Being open and honest with each other is important, which she has done by telling you about her past. She’s taking all the necessary steps to lead a healthy life, and she hasn’t given you any reasons to doubt that. James, I don’t think your problem is with her, or with depression. I think your problem stems from the abandonment you felt when your mom died. You haven’t dealt with that or let go of it. In fact, you’ve let it spider out into every facet of your life. Work, family, now love. When will you stop carrying around your mother’s death like it’s your cross to bear?”

I rub the back of my neck. “I don’t know how.”

“I can help you if you’re ready.”

I think about Phoenix and the way my heart blazes for her. I think about the kind of life I’ve had after my mother died, the dull, mundane life I’ve cocooned myself into. I think about my father, the lonely man who has no one to share his time with.

“I’m ready.”


Phoenix

Daily Affirmation: “I forgive those who have done me wrong with ease.”


It has been said that the best love songs are written about heartbreak.

The same can be said about books. People love those soul-crushing, gut-wrenching, oh-my-god-this-is-the-most-painful-thing-I’ve-ever-read-and-I-might-fling-my-Kindle-out-a-window-if-they-don’t-end-up-happy books as we’re sobbing into a package of Oreos at two o’clock in the morning on a twelve-hour reading bender.

Some of us are masochists like that.

But the reason people like it is because everyone goes through pain and suffering at one point or another. It’s relatable. And we want to root for the heroine to make it out alive, because if she does, then so can we.

I’m going to write a book about my life. It’s not that I think my story is anything special. But I want to write a book that can help people who are struggling through the same thing I’ve been through. Maybe someone will read this and choose to keep fighting. Maybe it’ll be a suicide survivor like me. And just maybe, someone who doesn’t have depression will read it and it will change the way they view the disease.

I want to write about the darkest, lowest time in my life, and then show what happens when you survive it.

I crack open my journal and start writing. I don’t have a direction, or an outline, or a beginning and an end. My plan is to write about the experiences I’ve had and go from there.

I don’t really know what I’m doing, but the words pour out of me all afternoon and it helps keep my mind off James—even if the hero I’m creating in this story seems to be turning out a lot like him. By the time the sun sets and I’m in bed, I’m still writing.

Until a text pops up from James.


James: Hi. Is it okay if I come by? I want to apologize in person.


My chest aches, but I set my phone back down and ignore his text. A minute later, my phone buzzes again.


James: You have every right to be mad at me, but please just let me apologize.


I switch my phone to silent.


James: You know I can see you reading my texts.

Me: Then you can also see that I’m ignoring you.

Me: And don’t be a stalker.


I get up and shut my blinds without looking at him through the window.


James: Phoenix, I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve the things I said to you. I was caught off guard, but that’s no excuse. I shouldn’t have left. I should’ve listened to what you were saying instead of pushing you away. I know it couldn’t have been easy telling me about your past, and I wish I would’ve reacted differently.

James: Please let me say this to your face.


My heart urges me to respond. I know he didn’t mean the things he said. James isn’t a malicious person. I can understand that my suicide attempt was a trigger for him, and I know he needed time to process. Still, I can’t pretend that his reaction didn’t hurt.


Me: I really didn’t appreciate the way you spoke to me.

James: If I could take it all back I would.

James: I’m heading over to your house now. I’ll sleep on the porch if I have to.

Me: I’m tempted to let you.


But I’m already moving down the stairs with Wilbur at my side.

Forgiveness is what sets me apart from my mother. She’s cold and closed off, and I refuse to treat others the way she has treated me. She cuts people out of her life as if they never existed. But my heart is open and full of love, even when it’s bruised and broken.

If James wants to apologize, then I’m going to hear him out because everyone deserves a chance to be heard.

I open the door and try to remember how to breathe. James’s honey-colored eyes are bloodshot, and the skin underneath is a deep purple. His hair is a disheveled mess, and he looks like he hasn’t slept in days. He’s been struggling, and if I didn’t matter to him, he wouldn’t have lost an ounce of sleep over me.

“Phoenix, I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

“I know you are.”

“Then let me explain.”

I step back to let him in, and then I lead him into the living room.

James sits at the edge of the couch facing me and braces his elbows on his knees. “When you told me about what you did, all I could think of was my mother. It’s like it brought me right back to the day I found her, and all the anger and pain and resentment came rushing out at once. I guess I’ve been holding on to a lot more than I realized.” He reaches for my hand and holds it between both of his. “But you didn’t deserve to hear any of the things I threw at you, and I need you to know that I didn’t mean them. I was surprised, and I wasn’t thinking straight. I never want to cause you any pain or sadness, and I hate that I did.”

I nod as my bottom lip trembles. “It means a lot to me that you’re able to reflect on what you said and take responsibility for it. My mother was furious with me for trying to take my own life. But honestly? I think it was more of an inconvenience for her than anything. She didn’t care if I lived or died. She was worried about how it looked to her friends. She doesn’t believe that depression is as real as cancer. Do you know what she said to me when I woke up in the hospital? She said, If you want to die, then you’ll be dead to me. Those were the last words she spoke to me.”

James’s eyes widen. “But you’re her daughter.”

“Blood doesn’t mean shit to some people.” I shrug. “I’ve struggled my whole life with feeling less than. I wasn’t happy like my brother. I wasn’t as social as him. I didn’t make my mother proud like he did. My brain just isn’t hardwired the same way. So, when you walked out on me the other day, it felt like you were confirming all my worst fears. You confirmed what my mother taught me: That I’m not good enough for someone to love.”

James shakes his head. “No. That’s not true at all. My reaction was about me, and my issues.”

“I’m not going to hurt myself again, James. I need you to understand that. I’m not the same person I was two years ago. The depression will never be gone, but I’m managing it. I’m in control. And I’m working on myself to be better every fucking day. I’m in therapy facing shit I don’t want to face, and it’s hard. But I’m still doing it. I get up and I keep fighting.” I suck in a brave breath and prepare myself to say what I need to say. “I need someone who’s willing to fight with me. I can’t be with someone who’s going to shut down or shut me out when things get real. I need you to talk to me. If something I say makes you mad? Good. Yell at me. Let’s fight it out together. I don’t want to hand my heart to someone and have him leave it on my doorstep as he turns his back on me.”

“I shouldn’t have left you like that. Like a fucking coward.” He shakes his head. “You shared a piece of yourself with me, and I don’t want you to think that I’m only interested in the good parts. I want to see all of you. I want the broken, jagged pieces, the ones you think are ugly and ruined, the ones you hide from everyone else—especially those. I want to be the one you can trust your heart with.”

A tear slips down my cheek. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. For someone to see the darkness in me and accept me—scars and all.

James tilts my chin and holds my gaze. “I told you I’ve got your six, and that means no matter what. I’m sorry that I made you feel otherwise. I am going to work on my issues with my therapist.”

“You see a therapist?”

“I’ve been seeing one since my mom died. Nobody knows.”

“You mean your dad and brother don’t know?”

He shakes his head. “Not even my partner knows. There’s a stigma attached to therapy when it comes to cops. We see the worst of the worst, yet we’re expected to be strong enough to handle it all on our own.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re talking to someone. It really helps.”

His eyes hold mine. “Do you forgive me?”

James might’ve hurt my feelings, but he’s here trying to make things right. He opened up to me, and he cares enough to try.

“I do. I appreciate your apology and your honesty.” I wring my hands in my lap. “But I need you to be sure that you want to be with me. If you can’t because of everything you went through with your mom, then tell me. I get it. We can just be friends, if that’s what you want. I’ll understand.”

“Honestly, I’m scared shitless. I’m scared of what’ll happen to me if I let you all the way in. I’m scared to lose you. I’m scared that I won’t be enough to make you want to live. I’m scared I’ll find you the way I found my mother.”

His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. “But you’re worth that fear, because I don’t want to go back to living my life without you in it. These past few days without you have been hell. Not a moment goes by that I’m not consumed by thoughts of you. And no, Phoenix. I don’t want to be friends with you. That’s the last fucking thing I want. I can’t imagine a worse torture than being just friends with the woman who haunts my dreams every night.”

He pulls me onto his lap, and I straddle him with my legs on either side of his hips. “I yearn for you. My fingers itch to reach out and touch you. My tongue craves your taste. I want you on me, your hair surrounding me, your scent filling my lungs.” He pulls me close, and his lips speak against mine as he says, “I ache for you everywhere. It takes all of my willpower not to devour you whenever we’re together.”

My heart thrashes against my chest like a wild, caged beast.

Yes.

I slip my fingers into his hair. “What if I told you I want to be devoured by you? What if I told you I felt the same?”

“Then I’d tell you that I’m all in.” His fingers dig into my hips, and his eyes tighten. “Just promise me that if you ever feel your control slipping, if you ever reach a point where you feel like you’re losing yourself again, I want you to tell me. Because I’ll be here to bring you back from the darkness.”

Another tear falls as I nod. “I can promise you that.”

“There’s a lot I don’t understand about depression, but I’m open to learning. I want to know. I want to know you.”

I press my forehead to his and close my eyes. “Your mother is missing out on you, James. You are a wonderful man. She’d be so proud of you if she were here.”

“I think we’ve been focusing on all the things we’ve lost for too long. I think it’s time we start enjoying what we do have.”

I smile. “I think so too.”

We remain on the couch for the rest of the night, talking, asking questions, and listening to one another’s stories. And for the first time, someone shows me what it feels like to be heard—someone without depression, someone not in my therapy group, someone not being paid to listen to me. James doesn’t make me feel judged, or weird, or ashamed. He sees me, and all my scars.

And it’s because I stood up for myself and told my truth. It’s more than mattering to someone else—it’s the fact that I showed myself that I matter.

And why shouldn’t I?

My family gave up on me, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself too.

I can find people who accept me as I am, like Leo.

I can find people who will change their perspective for me, like James.

I can find friends who know what it’s like to be different, like Drew.

And I can find it within myself to love my brokenness.

It’s now that I realize I’m the one person I needed to have my back all along.

I’ve got my own damn six.


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