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Bring Me Back: Chapter 19

PHOENIX

Daily Affirmation: “I am worthy. I am brave, bold, and beautiful.”


“Wow. You went from he’s just my neighbor to getting eaten out on the countertop.”

I shake my head on a laugh. “That’s not exactly how it happened, but yes—feelings have developed.”

Drew sighs. “And you’re really able to forget about all those awful things he said to you?”

“He didn’t say them to hurt me. He said them because he was hurting. Plus, he apologized.”

“An apology makes it all better?”

“I think it shows that he can own up to his mistakes and try to fix them. If anyone knows how important that is, it’s me.”

“I don’t know, Nix.” He sighs. “I want you to be with someone who treats you right. Someone who gets you.”

I frown. “I think it’s important to give people the chance to get me. I don’t expect someone without depression to automatically understand everything I’ve been through.”

“Don’t you think it’d be easier to be with someone who does know?”

“I’m not going to hold out in the hopes of meeting a man who just so happens to have mental health issues like me.”

“Maybe you don’t have to hold out.” Drew pauses. “Maybe you already know someone like that.”

My lips part on a silent gasp. “Drew…”

“I was trying to wait until I got out of this place to tell you in person. I wanted to give you some time to get settled in your new house. I didn’t expect someone else to swoop in and beat me to it.”

My mind races. “I had no idea you were even into me like that. I… I thought we were friends.”

“We are friends. But somewhere along the line, I realized that I wanted more.” His voice lowers. “You’re beautiful, and smart, and kind. How could I not want more?”

“Did I lead you on? Did I give you the impression that I felt the same?”

“No, no. These feelings are my own. I guess I was just hoping that you’d realize how you felt about me during this time apart, and then we’d be together when I got out.”

My heart sinks. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t feel those kinds of feelings for you.”

“But you could. Maybe I could take you on a date, and we can see what happens. I’m just asking for a chance.”

“I can’t do that, Drew. I’m really sorry.”

He’s quiet on the other end of the line. “Is it the cop?”

“He’s part of it.” My feelings for James wouldn’t allow me to feel anything for anyone else, but I have to be honest with Drew so he doesn’t get a false sense of hope. “You’re my best friend. That’s all I want us to be.”

“It’s okay. It was a long shot anyway. Nobody wants to be with the crazy schizophrenic dude.”

“That’s not true. Don’t say that. And you’re not crazy. We’ll find you someone great when you get out. I’ll spend the summer helping you.”

“Don’t worry about me, Nix. Seriously, I’ll be fine.”

“Drew—”

“Hey, I’m gonna go, okay? Let me go with my tail between my legs and lick my wounds.”

“Please tell me we’re still friends.” My bottom lip trembles. “I don’t want to lose your friendship.”

“Of course, we’re still friends. Just promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“Promise you’ll put me in the book you’re writing and make me totally awesome.”

A smile spreads across my face. “Done.”

“Bye, Nix.”

“Bye.”

I drop my phone into my lap and replay each conversation I’ve ever had with Drew, trying to figure out why I didn’t pick up on any hints about his feelings for me.

I look down at Wilbur as I scratch behind his ears. “Oh, Wilbur. Life is so much simpler when you’re a dog.”


“Are you ready?”

I muster all the courage I have inside me and give James a quick nod. “Let’s go.”

I swing open the door and step inside the room.

The marks from my father’s hospital bed are still indented on the carpet. It’s a lot like his memory—he’s gone, but the marks from where he used to be are everywhere.

My eyes bounce around the empty walls. “It’s so bare.”

James sets down his spackling tools and lays the tarp on the floor. “It won’t be when you’re finished in here.”

I walk over to the sliding glass doors and gaze down at the choppy water below. “We used to sit out here on the balcony and watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July.”

“It’s a great view.” James stands behind me and wraps his hands around my waist, resting his chin on the top of my head. “Maybe we can do that this summer.”

I close my eyes and smile. “I’d like that.”

“Do you have pictures of him?”

“They’re in a box in the closet.” I tug his hand to pull him toward the closet doors and pause in front of them. “His clothes are in here too. I want to donate them. But maybe I’ll keep a few for myself.” I let out a bitter laugh. “My mother wanted to get rid of everything. After his funeral, she brought literal garbage bags back to the house, as if she could just toss him away. We had such a big fight.”

“What happened?”

“I told her that he left this house to me, so everything in it was my property. She stormed out, and I packed up his things by myself.”

“What did your brother do?”

I slide open the closet door and shrug. “He always sides with her.”

“Have you heard from him since Christmas?”

“All I got was a text saying Merry Christmas with a picture of the baby.”

James covers my hand with his. “It sounds like he’s so preoccupied with his new life that he doesn’t realize how much you’re hurting. Maybe you should try to have a serious talk with him. Lay all your cards on the table and be honest with him about the kind of relationship you want to have with him.”

“And if he doesn’t want the same thing?”

“Then at least you know where you stand.”

I flick through the hangers and land on my father’s winter coat. He always wore a brown leather bomber jacket with beige fleece around the collar. “I used to make fun of him, calling him Maverick from Top Gun whenever he wore thisHe’d grumble about being taller and better looking than Tom Cruise.”

“Try it on.” James holds it out for me. “I bet it’ll look great on you.”

I slide my arms into the sleeves, and the scent of baby powder puffs up around me. My eyes glisten as I stare at my reflection in the hanging mirror across the room. It’s a tad long on the sleeves, but it fits.

“Well,” James says. “There’s no denying it now: He definitely wasn’t taller than Tom Cruise.”

A laugh bubbles out of me. I slip my hands into the pockets, and my fingers hit the plastic wrappers of his favorite Wint-O-Green Lifesavers. I pull out a handful. “Oh my god. We’ll probably find these mints in every pocket he had. He was obsessed with them.”

James chuckles. “Want to bet on how many we’ll find? I say one hundred.”

“Deal. I say we find two hundred.”

After we make two piles of clothes, one to keep and one to donate, I pull out a container with hundreds of pictures.

James picks one up and grins. “You were a chubby baby, huh?”

I snatch it out of his hand and feign a scowl. “I wasn’t chubby. I was healthy.”

He laughs and kisses my cheek. “You were adorable. Still are.”

I gaze down at the picture—my father holding me in his arms wearing a proud smile—and I can’t help but wonder if my mother felt proud of me then too. If she ever did. Was it my depression that ruined it, or was she incapable of loving me all along?

James holds up my parents’ wedding album. “Maybe your mother would like to have this.”

I shrug. “It’s not like she wanted it back then.”

“Maybe she feels differently now. Maybe she wishes she didn’t give it all up.”

I roll my eyes. “Then she shouldn’t have been such a cold bitch.”

James sets down the album and takes my hands in his. “I know she hurt you, and I hate the way she treated you when you needed her the most. But maybe it isn’t the end of your relationship. She might regret the things she said.”

I grunt. “Or she might still be stubborn as she always was.”

“She might. But you never know until you try.” He presses a kiss to the top of my hand. “Her and your brother are the only family you have. If they see the strong, capable, healthy woman you are now, you can change their minds about how they see you. About depression.” He shrugs. “I think it’s worth a shot.”

I gaze into his sincere eyes and lift my hand to his cheek. “I appreciate you for pushing me to talk to my family.”

“But?”

“But I’m not sure I can do it.”

“And that’s okay. It’s your decision, and I will stand by you in whatever you decide. But I want you to be happy, and I know you’d be happy if you had a relationship with your mom and your brother. I’d hate to see you not have that opportunity because you’re too scared to try.”

I nod. “I just don’t know that it’s possible to have the kind of relationship I’d want.”

“Maybe you need to let go of the expectations, and just let it be whatever kind of relationship it’s going to be. Maybe something is better than nothing at all.”

We let the conversation stop there, and we continue sorting through the pictures.

Going through my father’s things helps heal a cracked piece of my heart. By the time his closet is empty, I’m fifty dollars richer.

The man was hoarding three hundred and sixty-eight Lifesavers.

Later that night, I’m lying in bed thinking about what James said earlier. After two years in therapy, I’m definitely stronger and wiser than I’ve ever been. I’m a different person within my sameness. And in therapy, Dr. Erica taught me to push myself through the uncomfortable and vulnerable parts of life. She’d say, “Getting to the other side of that hurdle is how we grow. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it to push yourself to be a better version of yourself and do the things you didn’t think you could do.”

Maybe reaching out to my mother is my next hurdle. Whether she answers or not, I can still feel peace knowing that I tried.

So, I pull out my notebook and start writing.


Dear Mom,

I don’t know if you’ll even read this. There’s a chance you ripped it up and threw it in the trash without opening it. But knowing that there’s a chance you might read it—that you might want to read it—is what’s driving me to write this letter to you.

I want to start by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything I put you through. It must’ve been really difficult to raise a daughter with depression, and not know what to do to help her. You must’ve been really worried about my well-being and my future. And you must’ve been terrified when you found me on the floor in the bathroom the day I tried to take my own life. I wish I could’ve been better for you. I wish I could’ve been an easier child. I wish I could’ve made you proud like Tyler always did.

Do you ever wish you could’ve been better for me?

I wish you could’ve tried harder to understand what I was going through. I wish you could’ve loved me unconditionally. Maybe then I would’ve known it was okay to love myself. But we can only do what we’re capable of, and what you gave me was all you could. For that, I forgive you.

I got out of therapy in November. I’ve been living at the shore house, and I’m doing really well. I’ve been going through Dad’s things. I came across this photo album and thought you might like to have it.

Maybe you’d like to have me back in your life too.

I’d love to hear from you.

—Phoenix


I seal the letter with the album in a large envelope, and write a similar one to Tyler, enclosing a picture of us dressed up as Mario and Luigi on Halloween.

When I send the mail out the next morning, I let go of my expectations with it. Whatever will be, will be. I can’t control the outcome—I can only control my own actions and emotions.

I’m happy.

I’m worthy.

I’m healthy.

I’m strong.

I’m proud of myself.

I’m going to be the Phoenix my father always knew I could be.


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