I could hear his breathing from across the room, but refused to look over to him. It’s been hours since he got here, and yet, he hasn’t moved from that seat. Why? What does he see in me? There’s nothing in here but disappointment and anger. He must be even more delusional than me to not see that.
Wave after wave of hopelessness and despair ran through my mind as I thought about him. Like the ocean crashing onto the shore my mind kept hammering me, desperately trying to get me to break.
I felt my breathing grow heavier as I thought about giving in. I could end it all right now. I could stop the pain, and break the cycle. Just one motion, one second, and it’s all over. Suddenly I felt a hand reach out and rest on my side. “Ryder,” He quietly called out, hearing the quick short breathing. “Relax. You-you’re safe, okay? I’m right here.” My breathing seemed to grow quicker as my lungs screamed out for oxygen, for life. “You’re body’s just trying to fight it. Your body wants you to fight it. It’ll pass, I promise.”
His hand seemed to squeeze tighter as the breathing grew faster then finally began to go back to normal. I felt the dark grips of depression trying to find their way around me once more, but this time I let Teddy’s words sound out in my head. If he cares enough to still be here. If he’s willing to coach me through every anxiety attack, then how can I leave him behind? How can I pass the pain I’ve been battling onto him? If I can’t do this for myself, then I’ll do it for him.
I spent a few more minutes thinking it all over before turning back towards him. “I can’t find myself.” I let out in a broken breath. “I-when it all winds down I can usually find myself again. But I-who am I?”
Teddy tried desperately to hide the concern in his eyes, but it was clear watching me struggle had gotten to him. “Only you can answer that.” He shook his head. “And I know the answers still in there.”
“Where?” I shook my head in panic. As our eyes connected I saw him gulp hard. I’ve never let anyone in this close. Not even my own grandma.
“I’m not sure.” He began, desperately trying to come up with the answer himself. “It’s, who do you want to be?”
“I-I just want to be happy.” I exhaled, feeling the pressure of the caved in world around me.
“But you’ve been happy.” Teddy suggested, reaching out and meeting my hand with his. “You’ve been laughing and smiling and joking with everyone. Was-was that all an act?”
“Was it?” I questioned, echoing his words. A few minutes passed as I though it over. With every passing second Teddy seemed to grip my hand tighter. “No.” I finally decided. “I have Blake and Liz, and the band. I-they make me happy. I can be myself with them and I can laugh and joke. And then I have your parents and my grandma, and they make sure I’m safe. They protect me.” Slowly but surely the pieces in my mind started to come back together as the depressive episode began to fade. “And I have you.” I tilted my head. “You sat here all day just watching over me. No one’s ever done that for me before. Why did you?”
He shrugged his shoulders as he thought it all over. “Because if you’re not okay then neither am I.” he answered in confidence. “I can’t just leave you here in pain. I-when you need me I’ll always be here for you. I’ll drop everything I have going on to make sure you’re okay. I don’t know a lot about everything that’s going on, or what’s going to happen, but you’re my other half. That I know.”
“Promise?” I forced out, feeling my heart finally begin to beat in my chest again.
“Promise.” He repeated, a few stray tears beginning to fall from his eyes.
“I’ll be okay.” I nodded, not fully believing the words myself. Another hour of silence passed, but this time I finally managed to get out of bed. “Let’s go eat.” I waived, grabbing his hand once more and leading him into the kitchen. A small burst of relief entered his eyes as he followed along.
“Welcome back to the world of the living.” Grandma smiled, walking over and ruffling my hair. “How are you feeling?”
“Better.” I nodded, taking a seat at the kitchen table. “Hungry.”
“Hungry?” She repeated, quickly rushing over to the fridge. “Well that’s a first.” She looked over at Teddy as they both shared a tired smile. “You need to sit and eat too.” She instructed, happily fixing us whatever she could find.
Dinner was quiet as they both seemed to take turns observing me. “I’m alright.” I forced out, trying my hardest not to let the fatigue of the day show. “Would I be out of bed if I wasn’t?”
“Can you blame us for being worried?” Teddy questioned, as our eyes connected.
“No.” I sighed, lightly shaking my head. “I don’t know what happened. I was fine last night, then I woke up this morning and I-I just spiraled out.”
“You overworked yourself.” Grandma began to lecture from across the table. “Even healthy people can’t handle what you’ve put yourself through these past few days. You need some time off, for yourself.”
“That means days without the studios!” Teddy added, quickly jumping to my grandma’s aid.
“Mhm.” Grandma hummed. “Take a day with your friends to go to the beach, or an amusement park, or just, something!”
“Not yet.” I shook my head. “The album is so close to being done! Just a few more days and we’re there! And then we can even release it next week!” I yelped, already throwing stress right back onto my mind. “You know how rare that is? To finish an album and release it within weeks of one another? That hasn’t been done since like Instant Karma in the 70’s!”
“Maybe there’s a reason for that.” Teddy muttered, drawing a cautious look from me.
“Okay, okay,” I exhaled. “How about this? The album will be done Tuesday, and we’re releasing a single Wednesday, then it’ll be out Friday. We can go to the beach or wherever Thursday.”
“Promise?” Teddy excitedly let out.
“Promise.” I groaned, knowing I would regret the agreement.
A smile began to cross his face as he thought over our day away. “How can you even get an album out that fast?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “I’ve been spending more time there than home, and since I record a lot of it myself, it’s just easier than those bigger bands. Plus your uncle and the other producer have been logging a lot of hours.” I thought it over once more and realized just how hard everyone had been grinding away on this album. “We’re just all really committed to it, and we know we have to capitalize on summer tours I guess.”
He nodded his head but forced eye contact with me. “Never again with a writing process like this. Understand?”
“Yeah.” I smirked. “I think I learned my lesson.”
“Good.” He nodded, standing up and bringing his plate to the sink. “Mrs. Sullivan, do you think we can talk for a second?”
Grandma shot him a worried look but followed him into the next room. “I’m fine!” I rolled my eyes. ”I wouldn’t’ve eaten if I wasn’t!”
As they shut the door behind them all I could hear was some muffled speaking. After a few minutes the speaking seemed to grow louder. Not in an angry way, but in a way that showed the intensity of their conversation was growing. My heart began to race faster and faster as the seconds passed. “Please!” was all I could make out from Teddy, and I could easily recognize that he was trying to work his usual magic. He was after something, but what? What could she have that he wanted? Does he want me on heavier medication? Does he want me checked into a mental institute? Has he had enough of me? Was today too much for him?
Before my mind could torture me anymore Teddy reentered the room with a serious look on his face. “Your grandma will be right down.” He explained, pulling a seat close to me and grabbing my hand.
“What’s going on?” I couldn’t help but smirk. “Did I win a trip?”
“Ryder,” Teddy exhaled in a serious voice. “We just, we need you to see something.”
“Oh?” I let out, as my heart began to race even faster.
As my grandma reentered the kitchen I saw her shoot Teddy a cautious look. He nervously bit down onto his lip but gave her an encouraging nod. “Ryder.” She exhaled, clutching a piece of paper in her hand. “Do you think you can handle something serious right now?”
I thought it over and nodded my head. “Yeah.”
“Even if it changes a lot of what you used to think?” Teddy double checked in a gulp.
“Yeah.” I repeated in a nervous laugh. “I mean how big could it be?”
“Pretty damn big.” Grandma let out, forcing eye contact with me. “It, it could snap your mental strength right back down.”
I shrugged my shoulders and thought it over. “Then better now than when I’m actually happy. If this, if it’s going to be as ground breaking as you say it is, then why give it to me when I’m doing good, that would just ruin my happiness right?” I asked as they both nodded. “So you might as well give it to me while I’m still fighting, that way my body’s already prepared for the struggle.”
Grandma shifted her look to Teddy and sighed. “I guess you do know him better than I do.”
“I never said that.” Teddy let out as his face began to blush.
“It’s not a bad thing.” She shook her head. I felt her hand rest against my shoulder as Teddy gripped my hand. “Ryder,” She began once more. “This note,” she instructed laying a folded up piece of paper in front of me. “I-I’m sorry.” She forced out as emotions bubbled in her words. “I lied to you. I-Cooper did leave a note. It’s a letter to you.”
“What?” I let out as though I had just been kicked in the gut.
She nodded her head and began to squeeze my shoulder tightly, doing everything in her power to keep it together. “I thought if I never showed you it I could protect you from it all.” Her glance shifted to Teddy as she spoke. “Then I told Teddy about it, and he-he told me that you think Cooper hated you.”
“He-he does.” I shook my head, staring at the piece of paper in front of me. “He left me. He left us. He-,”
“He loved you.” Teddy forced out. “Everything he did, he did because he thought it was what was best for you.”
“I-no.” I gasped, still trying to wrap my mind around it all.
Grandma took a deep breath as Teddy stood up and offered her his chair. “He never wanted to move in here.” She began once more, finally looking me in the eyes. “But he had to.”
“What?” I repeated, overloaded by all the information. “Then why?”
Grandma looked over at Teddy who simply nodded his head, encouraging her to keep going. “He was really really sick.” She continued. “He, he almost lost custody of you.”
“He was arrested for driving under the influence of only god knows what with you in the car.” She answered as pain radiated in her words. “He, um, he signed over custody to me with the agreement that he could live with us.” Teddy walked over and held onto her, trying his hardest to give us both strength. “But by then it was too late. He convinced himself that he was becoming a monster. That one day he would go out with you and never come back. You were his life. His world. So he took out the biggest danger to you.”
“I-no, there’s no way.” I shook my head, as my world stood still.
Tears began to fall from both their faces as they thought it all over. “She’s right.” Teddy supported. “She told me while you were on tour. I, I knew you had to see his letter to believe it.” He explained, no doubt feeling my pain. “Every time you told me he hated you. That he was running from you. You were wrong. He was just trying his hardest to protect you.”
“Just read the letter.” Grandma supported through tears. “It’s, everything you need to know is in there.”
Through trembling hands I forced the paper on the table up to my face. It took me a few tries to unfold it, but when I finally did I couldn’t help but let a few tears drop at the handwriting on the page.
If you’re reading this it means my time has come and gone. It means I’ve left this earth on my own terms. In my own way. More importantly it means you’re old enough to understand everything that’s happened. I know you must be angry. So, so angry. But I even now looking at you, sitting in the living room laughing and playing with my mother. I can’t risk hurting you anymore than I have already. If I was around today I’d only let you down. Growing up I had friends whose parents were junkies. Friends who would come home to nothing but high zombies instead of a mother or father, and I, I could never do that to you. You deserve better than that. You deserve the world. So I’m leaving you. Not forever, but just for now. Me and your mother will be around, watching you in our own special way. Be better than us. Do better than us. And when the world seems dark, and you feel alone, know we’re right there with you. When the wind rushes past you, or you hear the birds singing. That’s us, right there with you. Always.
I hope your passion for music never dies. I hope this letter finds you a musician, big or small. I hope you’re still singing your heart out, the way you are right now to your grandmother. I hope you never forget the song I used to sing to you every night. I hope you’re still singing it every day before you fall asleep. Looking back the lyrics seem like such a cruel irony. But it was the song that was playing when I first met your mother. When I first discovered what love was. It was our song, and now it’s your song. When you’re ready, if you can, play it for me, I would love to hear it one last time.
I leave you in good hands. The best hands I know. She may not always understand you, but she will always love you, and that’s all I can ask for. I love and miss you both so much.
I leave you my old Fender Stratocaster. I know it’s beaten up and may not seem like much, but it was my first real guitar, and I hope in time it becomes the one you learn on.
I love you Ryder. I always have and always will. Goodbye for now. We’ll see each other again one day.
I felt tears pour down my eyes as I pulled the note hard into my chest. All the times I spent hating him. All the days thinking he never loved me. That he ran away from me. How could I have been so wrong? How could I not see it?
“Ryder?” Teddy let out as I jumped to my feet and rushed to my room. I felt tears coming down my face harder and harder as I ripped the old red Stratocaster out of its stand. I’ve had this guitar for as long as I can remember, and yet she never told me it was his. I never remember him playing it or even seeing it back when he was alive, and yet here it is. Chipped, scratched, beaten, but still alive.
“This is his?” I forced out, holding it into the hallway.
“Yeah.” I heard my grandma exhale. I could tell by the sound of her voice that she had started to cry too. “Please don’t be mad Ryder,” She began, but her voice turned to static in my ears.
I grabbed the one wireless pocket amp I had, and rushed out my front door. Desperate to give him his one last wish. Grandma and Teddy rushed after me, but stopped as they saw me kneeled in front of my parent’s graves.
It took everything I had in me to play that song. I could feel my voice cracking as the tears continued to pour, but refused to let anything get in my way. This is our song. It’s how I’ll always know they love me, and how they’ll always know I’m still thinking of them.
“I did learn to play on this guitar.” I forced out as the song ended. “I am still a musician. I-I have a record label and a tour and all. And I,” I shook my head fighting through my emotions. “I am angry. I’m mad at you for leaving me. I’m mad at you for not being the father I needed. I’m mad at you for not being in the crowd at my shows. I’m mad at you for not helping me perfect my songs. I’m mad at you for not being there to pick me up when I fell. But I love you both.” I exhaled as the summer winds began to swirl around me. “I’ll always love you both.”
A few minutes passed before I felt Teddy wrap his arms around me. Once more tears began to flood my eyes. “It’s alright.” He let out holding me tightly. “I’ve got you.”
“I wish he was here with me.” I confessed, clutching onto him. “I wish they both were.”
“I know you do.” He comforted beginning to rub my back. “But you’re making them proud, I know you are.”
As the tears finally began to dry I clutched Teddy even tighter. “Thank you.” I let out, burying my head in his shoulder. “I, thank you. You’re here with me at my lowest, and I promise you you’ll be at my highest. I swear it.”
“I know.” He nodded, letting me hang onto him.
After a few more minutes passed I noticed my grandmas shadow hanging over us. “Do you still think he hated you?”
“No.” I shook my head, letting go of Teddy and hugging her. “I, why did you keep that from me?”
“I thought I was protecting you.” She exhaled, holding onto me. “But now I see how wrong I was. I was causing you so much more harm, and I’m sorry for that.”
“Don’t be.” I shook my head, still not letting her go. “You’ve always done what’s best for me, and I could never be mad at you for that.” As she let me go and our eyes connected parts of the note came to life. “So that’s why you always say they’re around, that nature is them talking to me.”
“Because that’s what he believed.” She nodded as a bittersweet smile overtook her face. “So call me crazy all you want, but Cooper was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and if he said that’s how he’ll be there for you. Then that’s how he’ll be there for you.”
I couldn’t help but smile as she hugged me once more. I woke up today feeling hopeless and dark. I just couldn’t find the light. Then Teddy sat with me for hours and showed me the way back home. He helped me down from the ledge. But that wasn’t enough. Not for him. He took my heart and showed me my father loved me. That he believed in me. I don’t think I could ever pay him back for that. One day I swear I will. If it’s the last thing I do, I will.