Happy Birthday to Me! (And YOU!)
It’s my birthday today! I’m 31!
While I don’t exactly like getting older, I *LOVE* my birthday! (And Supernatural, hence the gif!) I wanted to do something to give back to the readers for my birthday, so you guys are going to be the ones getting the presents!!!
*throws more rainbow penis shaped confetti*
Okay, so here’s the deal. I’ve got some stuff cool stuff and I hope you guys want it too! The prizes are:
(1) Finding Home key chain
(2) Back to You key chains
(2) Back to You magnets
(4) Finding Home magnets
(1) Finding Home mini notebook
(2) Finding Home paperbacks (signed if you want them!)
(1) Leighton Rose author pen
That’s a total of 13 prizes! Does that sound good to anyone? 🙂 (Do we need more penis shaped confetti?) *throws more confetti*
Here’s the deal! I’m going to run this giveaway until the end of the weekend, let’s say, Sunday night at 8PM Central time will be the cut off! What do I want you to do in order to be eligible for the birthday contest, you ask? Okay, you guys know my good friend Kade Boehme, right? Well he’s doing something amazing and I want you guys to help me help him! For the next several months, he’s donating a portion of his sales to the Wounded Warrior Project and so I want you guys to support him. Buy his books, promote his books to your friends, leave reviews somewhere where others will see them if you haven’t already, or just shout him out on Facebook or Twitter to help spread the word. This is important to me to help him and so for my birthday, that’s what you can do for me. Then, when you are done, post here and tell me how you helped! It doesn’t have to be huge gesture. Every little bit helps!
You guys are amazing!
Also, I wanted to give something back to everyone who’s been so awesome to me. This is something I wrote several years ago and have edited and revamped a bit for you guys. It’s not very long, about 3k words, but I really hope you guys will like it! It’s just a little freebie for all the support and love you’ve shown me! *Disclaimer* This has been roughly edited by me mostly. It has not gone through a professional editor so please forgive any mistakes you might find!
‘Welcome to Syracuse’
Every year it’s the same damn thing; I pass that sign and my heart sinks into my stomach and breathing becomes more difficult. I only come back to Syracuse once a year. It’s all that I can handle, but it’s a tradition I’ve started and I refuse to give it up, no matter how hard it is.
I see the first gas station on the main road and my car pulls into the parking lot as though it’s on auto-pilot. I head in the doors, straight back to the coolers and pick up a six-pack of some random beer. When I get to the front counter to pay, I recognize that the girl ringing me up is Jennifer Stewart, someone I went to high school with.
“Hey, Luke,” she says as she scans the bar code. “Is it that time again already?”
My eyes shift downward, staring at a random speck on the counter. I take a deep breath. Everyone knows why I’m here. “Yeah, it comes around too soon…” I barely choke out.
“I know; it sucks. I’m sorry…” she says softly. I can’t handle the pity from the people around here. It’s the reason why I left and only come back once a year. People think they know how I feel, but, really, they have no idea how bad it is.
“Uhm…” I clear my throat. “Can I just pay for the beer?” I ask as I shift uncomfortably under her gaze.
“Oh! Sorry!” she squeaks in embarrassment, scanning the box. “Of course. That’ll be seven dollars even,” she told me, taking my money and handing me the change quickly.
“Thanks.” I muster a small smile, grab the beer, and head back out to my car quickly. I really hope this is the only encounter I have to endure while I’m here.
I start the car and pull back out onto the road, taking the winding road up to my final destination.
As I pull through the iron gates and drive slowly to the spot I know all too well, my mind starts to spin and I feel a bit dizzy. It doesn’t take long and I’m pulling off into a designated parking place and getting out of the car.
I hate this place so much. It breaks my heart knowing that my best friend will spend the rest of eternity here, and the best I can manage to do is visit once a year. Now I know what you’re thinking, technically I could come back more than once a year, but what good would that do anyone? I know for a fact that it wouldn’t do me a damn bit of good. This trip sucks enough as it is.
I walk slowly up to his resting place, taking in the beauty that is his headstone. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it fits, because Taylor was one-of-a-kind. It’s an angel kneeling on a flat rectangular surface, his upper body draped over a gigantic heart. The angel’s face was designed with Taylor’s features and it hurts to see it, regardless of its beauty. The words engraved inside the heart take the breath right out of me, even though I’ve seen it many times before.
Taylor Allen Culver
Beloved Son, Brother, and Friend
Unfairly Taken Too Soon
Loved and Missed By All
It takes me a moment to compose myself as I run my fingers along the edge of the heart before I sit down against the tree next to his space, place a beer on the edge of his headstone, and pop the first one open for myself.
The first drink is bitter as it slides down my throat, quenching a thirst I wasn’t aware I had. “Hey, buddy…” I say out loud, my voice cracking the tiniest bit. “Time for our yearly visit. Happy birthday, man.”
I raise the bottle in a toast before I put it back up to my lips and take a few bigger gulps before I start speaking again. “I can’t believe another year has passed already. It’s been ten years, Tay… ten fucking years since we were sixteen.”
I close my eyes and rest my head against the tree. “Where should I start? I’m doing okay this year. Haven’t really been seeing anyone, but the new job I got takes up most of my time and I’m pretty okay with that. Can you believe I actually got a fucking job with National Geographic magazine? They send me all over the world to take pictures of amazing places and beautiful animals, and I can’t help but think ‘Taylor would love this place’ every time.”
I let out a deep sigh because it’s really hard for me to sit here and spill the mundane details of my life when my best friend doesn’t even have a life anymore.
“Hey, do you remember that time we were supposed to be practicing for baseball tryouts, but instead we snuck underneath the bleachers and tried to see up the girls’ skirts?” I laugh for the first time in a while because it’s pretty funny now, but back then it wasn’t such a great outcome for us. “Angie and Tasha were so pissed off at us that they wouldn’t even talk to us for three whole days. Wasn’t it crazy how that seemed like an eternity?
“Oh, and then there was the time we nearly fell asleep in Kramer’s biology class because we had stayed up way too late the night before playing video games and looking at porn. Remember how we had to keep elbowing each other to stay awake and Kramer was giving us the evil eye the entire time, but never said a word to us?
“And, of course, we can’t forget the night that we both had sex for the first time. I still can’t believe you made Tasha and I use Emmett’s bedroom, promising me he would never find out. That black eye hurt like a bitch and made me an ugly fuck for like two weeks, and you just laughed your ass off at me every time someone at school asked me what happened. What was I supposed to say? ‘Oh, my prick of a best friend made me use his brother’s bed to have sex on and when he found out about it, he punched me in the face.’” The chuckle that escapes my lips actually feels real, natural even. It’s weird though, because I feel a slight pang of guilt for being able to laugh, but I continue talking to him. “I’m sure Tasha would have loved that. Did I ever tell you she wanted me to let her put make-up on my eye to cover up the bruise? Yeah, that girl was a bit crazy.”
I quickly shuffle through the memories we‘ve made together and settle on one of the best ones. “It’s so hard to pick out the best times we had together, because we had so many of them. Taylor, you’ve been my best friend since we were six. I’m sure you remember the day I moved in next door to you. I was so mad at my parents for making us move to this dreary, rainy place, but when I first saw you and you asked me to go play cowboys and Indians in your backyard, I was suddenly okay with being here. Now, I can’t stand this place. Everywhere I look and anywhere I go, there’s a memory linked to you. It’s more than one person can handle, or at least someone as weak as I am.”
I can’t find the words to express what I’m feeling at the moment, so I down the rest of my first beer and crack open the second.
“I remember how fucking picky you were about your car; you treated that thing better than you treated your girlfriend at times. It was kind of hilarious when you backed into that pole at the grocery store and I thought you were going to hyperventilate because you scratched the damn bumper. You didn’t even dent the damn thing but you acted as though your life was over… God damn drama queen, you were.”
It’s so much easier to laugh about the good times now, probably because I can feel the alcohol making its way through my veins, loosening me up a bit. I have to be careful not to drink too much, because I still have a long drive back to Chicago tonight. No fucking way am I ending up stuck in this town for longer than I need to be.
“God, those were the fucking days, huh? If we were sixteen again, I’d suggest we do a lot of things different, like studying more and causing a lot less trouble. We thought we were hot shit back then… and I suppose we were. Popular with the ladies, everyone looked up to us, and the teachers even knew not to fuck with us; those were some good times, old friend. Here’s the thing though, I’d give it all up, go back and be nobodies’ who had to work hard for everything if it meant you’d still be here with me…”
I take a deep breath, steeling myself for my biggest confession. “And damn it, I would have told you I was in love with you when I had the chance.” I have to fight back the tears, but I do because Taylor wouldn’t want me to cry and I refuse to let him down again.
“I failed you, buddy. Going to Mike’s party that night was the worst decision we ever made. We should have stayed home and blown some shit up on the PlayStation or watched some movies and gorged ourselves on pizza and bread sticks. That would have been the smart thing to do, but, of course, we were pretty stupid back then. We both drank more than we should have, all things considered, but I was in far better shape to drive than you were. I know you were upset about Angie cheating on you with Jacob, but I should’ve been a better friend. I should have stopped you from drinking so much or done every-fucking-thing in my power to get those keys from you and drove you home, but I didn’t want you to be mad at me and you had that fucking sick attachment to your car. Plus I was so worried about how to tell you what I was feeling that I ignored my better instincts.”
I clenched my fists and slammed them down on the ground beside me, angry with myself all over again. “Damn it, Taylor, you were more than a best friend to me, you were like my brother, for fuck’s sake, and I fucking let you down. I got in the passenger seat and let you drive your car straight to your death. The whole thing is my fucking fault and I’m sorry, Tay. I’m so fucking sorry…” The last few words come out more as a whisper because I’ve run out of breath.
I close my eyes and try to regain control of my lungs, but that’s an even worse idea as I see the whole scene replay again in slow motion behind my eye lids.
It had been raining and the roads were drenched, which wasn’t unusual for Syracuse in the spring. Taylor was far too drunk and should’ve never been driving; he misjudged the turn. I screamed at him to slow down and he slammed on the brakes, only to hydroplane right into the guard railing. My air bag inflated, breaking my nose and knocking me unconscious, but his never did. His head slammed hard into the steering wheel and that’s the last thing I remember.
I force my eyes open because I don’t want to see it anymore; I hate remembering. “They told me you died instantly from the snap in your neck, that you didn’t feel any pain, and for years I wanted to die too, so I didn’t have to feel any pain either. I didn’t even give a shit about the physical pain; it was the emotional pain I couldn’t handle. Being alive when the other half of you isn’t is the worst possible thing anyone can go through… and I could’ve stopped it from happening. Knowing that makes it a thousand times worse. The guilt consumed me. No matter how many different therapists my parents sent me to or how many times your parents told me that they didn’t blame me, it didn’t fucking matter. I’m still the one who could have saved you, but I didn’t.”
My heart is pounding so hard that I think it might break free from its cage and join Taylor in his eternity. I would honestly welcome the relief, but I had stopped hoping for that a long time ago. I gave up on a normal life and have settled for a tolerable existence.
“You know, I hated Angie for years… couldn’t stand to see her face at school or even hear her name. If she hadn’t cheated on you with that asshat from our rival school, you never would have felt the need to get so annihilated and you would still be here with me today. I still don’t like her, Tay, but I’ve come to understand that I can’t push the guilt I feel off onto anyone else anymore.”
Pushing the blame onto Angie had helped me for a few years, when the guilt got so overwhelming that I felt I might suffocate from the weight of it all, but eventually even that failed to help anymore. I’d lost Tasha over the whole thing, she told me that she was sorry but her best friend came first. That’s where even I couldn’t fault her, because I knew I would have done the same thing in a heartbeat. The whole situation was so messed up. I was only with her because that’s what was expected of me anyway. There was only one person I wanted to be with, but that wouldn’t have been acceptable. How fucking cowardly could I be?
So I do the only brave thing I can think of and tell him exactly what I’d have done differently. “If we were sixteen again, I’d have stood up to you that night and forced you to let me drive you home, even if it meant you would have hated me for a while for driving your car. I’d gladly take all the hate you could throw at me if it meant that you’d still be here and I could be talking face-to-face with you now instead of to this headstone.”
I change my position so that I’m now laying down on top of the patch of grass that Taylor is buried under, just to be a little closer. “It’s been the ten hardest years of my life living without you, Taylor. I love you so damn much that it honestly hurts to keep on surviving, but I do because I know it’s what you would want.
“I’m sorry we’ve never talked about this before; it just never felt like the right time to admit all of this to you. I still see a therapist whenever I’m feeling especially down about missing you, and it’s usually around this time of year. I saw her last Thursday and she thinks I need to purge myself of these feelings, so that’s why I’m doing it after all these years.”
Thinking back, I hate the me that I was after the accident. Everyone tried to help me, but I just shut down completely. I tried to kill myself a few times with pills and alcohol. Once I even contemplated throwing myself off of a bridge before I realized that it wouldn’t solve anything and it would only cause more grief for those who were already mourning Taylor. I couldn’t bring myself to do it after that. My therapist had said that it was a major break-through I’d had when I realized that and apparently it was the start to my emotional recovery.
I scoff out loud at that thought. Recovery, my ass. I’ve never recovered or thoroughly come to terms with what happened, and I’m not sure I ever will.
I lay there for a while just letting whatever words I find spill out of my mouth to fill the silence, and I never revisit the topic again during my time with Taylor―I’ve said everything I need to say.
The sun is setting behind the tree line and it’s starting to get chilly. I sigh heavily knowing that that’s my cue to leave. “Well, Tay, I’ve gotta be heading out. You know how chilly it gets this time of year. I miss you and I love you, and I’ll see you again next year─same time, same place.”
I have to drag myself up off the ground and force myself to leave him behind once more. I trudge slowly back to my car and, once I’m safely inside, I rest my head against the cool steering wheel. The weight of the day is exhausting and I just want to sleep, but I know I have to get out of here.
As I make my way back to the main road, consciously avoiding the path that would take me past the accident site because I’m just not ready for that step yet, I can’t help but wonder what our life would be like if we really were sixteen again.
Okay guys, that’s all I have for you right now! Spread the word and don’t forget to comment and let me know how!