I dug the heels of my hands into my eyes; then blinked at the computer screen tiredly. The email was long, far too long for anyone’s comfort. I had been meaning to send it for two days, but was never able to, somehow. I sighed, taking another sip of the whiskey. It burnt down my throat and I was pretty sure it didn’t help anything with the healing process. There were a whole bunch of things holding me back from sending the email.
The guys, for one. They would absolutely not appreciate being informed of my departure this way. What would they say if they found out I was leaving them to pick up the pieces? They would emphasize the fact that we were a team and that everyone had to play his part.
I bit my lip, contemplating if I wanted to end this 21 year old journey with a fight. No, of course not. But it wasn’t a question of wanting. It was a question of failure. Hadn’t I let them down enough already? Wasn’t I doing this for the good of the group? They would work it out, the four of them; they would be fine. They didn’t need me. Just like that basketball team hadn’t needed me all those years back. They’d be better off, that was for sure.
But what about me?
I stood up slowly from the bed. My legs felt weak and wobbly. I shivered. Although it was mid-August, I felt cold as ice. Shuffling towards the bathroom slowly, I winced when I saw my reflection. The tired, disheveled figure in the mirror resembled the quirky popstar act I had carefully build up for years only very little. His hair was all over the place, some white grey strands intruding the hairline. His pale complexion was accentuated by the dark bags under his eyes and his face was skinnier than I can remember.
What was wrong with me?
I shivered again as the hairs on the back of my neck rose, the cold chills slowly travelling over my body.
Opening my mouth as wide as it could go, I carefully massaged the joints of my jaw. It didn’t hurt as badly as it had before and slightly encouraged, I experimentally cleared my throat. I winced as the scorching pain travelled up with the vibration; but at least there was sound. I swallowed cautiously and took a deep breath.
“Maaaa,” I croaked at my reflection, my eyes widening.
I sounded like an eighty year old with pneumonia, but that was quite okay. My reflection smiled at me and I could see tears forming in his bloodshot eyes. I closed my eyes, croaking out the exercises I had been taught.
My hands shook in excitement as I hummed falteringly, hissed and pulled all kinds of faces in order to relax the muscles. I was well aware of how weird it looked; having seen the footage from my therapy. It was definitely cringe worthy.
It was also essential.
Glaring disapprovingly at my reflection, I quickly opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve the pills neatly ordered there. There were all kinds of sizes and I expertly picked the ones I needed from the collection. The medication was one of the aspects I despised most about the treatment. I often had the feeling that swallowing Tic Tacs would decidedly have the same effect. There was just no indication that any of them really worked. Whatever success I accomplished had likely more to do with therapy than with drugs.
Still I quickly propped them into my mouth and took a sip of water, then swallowed, squeezing my eyes shut and holding my breath as they went down. It hurt more than I wanted to admit. I put the anti depressants and anxiety medication back, unused; feeling like I didn’t really need them today. They were optional anyway.
I walked down the stairs slowly in my sweatpants, my bare feet making no sound on the steps. It didn’t take long before I detected Baylee in the hallway, cooing to the small white dog; which he’d appropriately called Big Dave. Baylee had spent a large part of his childhood trying to teach tricks to the three Maltese dogs we had. And although Maltese weren’t exactly that smart, he did manage to teach one of them to speak once. “Hey,” I greeted quietly.
Baylee’s head shot up and he turned around, more than a little surprised to see me, let alone hear me. A wide grin spread across his face and he picked up the dog with ease, “Hey Dad,” he replied, his smirk not faltering.
“What ya doing?” I asked; my voice hoarse and a bit awkward. I sounded a little bit like AJ, but with a horrible cold. It felt like someone had aligned my throat with gravel.
Baylee didn’t seem to mind the roughness of my voice as he demonstratively put the dog in front of me and put up a hand, “Big Dave can sit,” he declared.
“That so?” I smiled, raising one eyebrow.
“Uhuh,” Baylee replied, looking at the dog, “Dave!” he called; a shock travelling through the white Maltese at the sound of its name, “Sit!”
Big Dave looked at him uncertainly and didn’t move.
Baylee’s face fell and he glared at the small dog.
“Dave!” he repeated, a bit more urgent, “Sit!” Dave watched him with big round eyes, then plopped his behind down on the floor and eventually jumped right back up at Baylee’s approving, high voice. “Good dog!” the boy praised, “Good dog; did you see that, Dad? He sat! I taught him that! I taught him to sit!”
“Quite impressive,” I nodded, deciding to speak in as few words as possible. Baylee’s youthful enthusiasm reminded me of when he was younger, and everything was a big happening to him. Did you see that seagull, Daddy? He snatched my sandwich, Daddy! I don’t mind, he can have my sandwich, Daddy! He’s hungry, isn’t he, Daddy? Are there more sandwiches, Daddy? The older he got, the less things impressed him. Nowadays, I got a burning glare whenever I told him to finish his math homework, and that was about all the emotion I got out of the young teenager. It was good to see him excited again.
Baylee grinned in agreement, picking the dog up again, “Mom’s in the living room,” he commented matter-of-factly.
I smiled gratefully and made my way into the room. My wife was on the computer, leaning forward with her eyes trained on the monitor and her glasses at the end of her nose. I walked up behind her, draping my arms around her shoulders.
“Oh!” she yelped in surprise, twisting around on the chair to see who was behind her.
I gave her a lopsided smirk, “Didn’t mean to scare you,” I said in a low tone and watched her eyes widen at the sound of my voice. I saw the relief pass over her face and she smiled back at me.
“Sure you didn’t,” she said.
“Are there still pancakes left?” I asked softly, coughing slightly as the last word got stuck halfway.
“That depends,” she mused, her eyes returning to the computer screen. “Did you delete that email yet?”
I sighed. I knew she was well aware of the fact that I hadn’t sent that email, but hadn’t deleted it either.
Just like I was aware that she was hiding three of my songs in her drawer. “No,” I said.
“Then no pancakes for you,” she commented sternly.
“So that’s how it’s gonna be,” I muttered, my hands slowly massaging her shoulders as we both looked at the computer, “What are you doing?”
“Tea,” she replied.
“I think your tea is working,” I whispered.
“I’ll make some more in a minute,” she mumbled, “Licorice root. Supposed to be against swelling and irritation. I’ll add some honey if you like, should make it a little sweeter.” She looked at me with questioning eyes.
I smiled, “Thank you.”
She took my hand and gave it a tight squeeze; then frowned. “Are you cold?” she asked in confusion.
I shrugged, “I don’t know,” I mumbled, “Maybe a little.”
“Brian, it’s like a hundred degrees outside,” she said, like the temperature of my hands was my fault.
“Maybe I should go outside then,” I stated calmly, avoiding the concern in her eyes.
“We should all go outside before we turn into zombies,” Leighanne muttered and I knew she was primarily addressing me. “I’ll go get Baylee; we could sit by the pool.”
“Good luck getting him away from my laptop,” I laughed; then coughed. Laughing hurt.
“Don’t let him play on your laptop,” Leighanne sighed and stood up.
“Is there any food left?” I called as she walked out of the living room. Food had become somewhat of a chore since the whole voice thing had started to get worse.
Swallowing was painful and if I felt too stressed before or after a show, I would likely throw up. But now I was hungry.
“There’s some pancakes in the fridge,” she replied absently and I smiled.
“Pancakes it is.”