After getting home from an outing with friends, the night had begun to wind down; Kyle along with it. He’d just finished getting changed for bed when he remembered he wanted to check the weather one last time to track the brewing storm that may or may not be heading his way. Per the previous report, the meteorology team at his local news station was still up in the air about the storm’s trajectory.

He flicked on the TV and quickly found the news channel. He blew a sigh of relief that he hadn’t missed the latest report. The news anchor had just started to recap a breaking news alert. The phone number to the local tip hotline scrolled across the bottom of the screen. The anchor asked for the general public’s assistance to provide any information on a recent hit-and-run accident.

Kyle listened intently, as the accident didn’t happen all that far from where he lived. As the anchor ran down the known events at this time, Kyle began to feel uneasy. His stomach twisted and curled as he listened to the details. Wondering what kind of monster could run over a kid on a bike and keep driving like nothing. Coming to the eventual conclusion that only a horrible, awful person could do something like that. The anchor wrapped up the report stating that the kid struck by the unknown motorist was in critical condition. Everyone was praying for him and his family.

Kyle turned off the television shaking his head, stomach-churning, feeling repulsed by the event. He was no longer interested in something as trivial as the weather. He couldn’t think of anything but that poor child and what his family must be going through.

That night Kyle was unable to sleep. He tossed and turned, waking up seemingly every hour on the hour. Each time he laid back down and closed his eyes, he would immediately dream about the news story. Something about it felt all too familiar.

He woke up the next morning tired, wrestling with his eyelids just to get them opened. After his shower, he sat down for breakfast, wearily holding the spoon in one hand, head slumped into the other, quietly contemplating why he kept dreaming about the news story.

Nonetheless, the world and, most importantly, work waited for no one. Sleepy and groggy, Kyle finished breakfast and went about his typical day. Arriving to work like clockwork five minutes before nine. Finishing up for the day, he had headed home for a bit so he could change. He was meeting up with a few friends to attend a basketball game.

By the time he had finally made it back home after the game and a subsequent round of postgame drinks. A celebration of the home team’s victory. Kyle was utterly exhausted and went straight to sleep. He didn’t want to watch the news out of fear that they would be talking about the hit-and-run again. It had really disturbed him the night before, and he desperately needed a good night’s rest.

Lying down on his comfy feather pillow, Kyle mercifully began to drift off to sleep. He rapidly progressed to REM, where he was again assaulted by nightmares similar to the previous nights. However, the nightmare seemed more vivid. Detailed down to smells and sounds, placing him at the event as it unfolded. No longer a spectator. He was a participant in the nightmare itself. Each time he’d wake up, only to fall asleep, dropping him back into the dream. Which only grew more vivid and life-like every time.

What started out as a simple nightmare had now morphed into something resembling reality, placing Kyle amidst the events and not an outside bystander. With each iteration, the details themselves altered slightly. They were no longer strictly connected to the news story. Still, they now felt more familiar in nature, like a memory of his own trying to escape his subconscious.

Just as the night before, Kyle was unable to get much rest. He spent the entirety of the night tossing and turning. He woke up the following day extremely tired. 

Kyle would spend an exorbitant amount of time wondering why he was dreaming about this accident and why it felt all too familiar. He knew he didn’t know any of the people involved in it, and while it was tragic, it honestly did not affect his life in the slightest. Kyle still felt connected to the event in some way, though. It weighed heavily on his mind. It was all he could think about. It had started to interfere with his awake life now, too. Dwelling on the tragedy put him behind at work, as most of his brainpower shifted to deciphering why the story affected him so profoundly.

He was supposed to meet up with his friend Jason for a previous engagement. Still, after arriving home after a particularly rough day, he called to cancel. He needed a nap after two very restless nights. He was able to drift off to sleep fairly quickly this time, perhaps out of pure exhaustion. Thankfully, he managed a few solid hours of sleep. Waking up feeling reinvigorated, he called Jason to see if they could go grab some dinner after all. His friend readily agreed, and the two met up for dinner.

Kyle found Jason already sitting at a booth when he arrived at the restaurant. He slid onto the bench across from his friend and was instantly bombarded. 

“Yo, why did you cancel earlier on the client meet-and-greet? You know I hate doing those alone,” Jason asked.

“Honestly, I had to take a nap. I haven’t been sleeping very well the last two nights,” Kyle replied, fidgeting with the silverware napkin.

“What, are you still in kindergarten and need afternoon naps? Does mommy still bring you a juice box when you wake up?” Jason joked, following up with his signature snort-laugh.

“C’mon, man, like you’ve never had to take a quick little power nap once in a while!” Kyle retorted in mock protest to his friend’s jibe.

“Relax, I am just kidding! It’s cool,” Jason said, signaling for the waitress to come over now that Kyle had arrived. “I take it you’re going to be ordering off the kid’s menu tonight. Chicken fingers and fries.” Kyle glared at his friend with an admonishing look as a young blonde-haired waitress approached their table.

“Are you gentleman ready to order?” She asked, removing a pad and pencil from her apron.

“Yes,” Jason started. “I would like the eight-ounce filet mignon, with a fully loaded baked potato, and the sliced cinnamon apples. Oh, and my friend here would probably like a kids menu.” He added with another snorting laugh.

The woman’s gaze shifted to Kyle quizzically. “He’s joking. It’s an inside joke and not a very funny one at that.” Jason only offered an unapologetic shrug. “But, I guess I’ll have what he’s having.” The waitress wrote the order down, departing from their table. “You’re not that funny, you know.”

“Funny enough to still have you as a friend,” Jason said with a smirk.

After finishing his dinner, Kyle returned home crawling into bed, hoping, and praying to get a good whole night’s rest.

****

Having no such luck that night nor over the ensuing several weeks. He would be visited night in and night out by his nightmares. They had become so disruptive he would only get three or four solid hours of sleep. However, every night, the nightmare would change ever so slightly. Each time, slight, ever-so-subtle differences would appear. He had started to feel what he was seeing wasn’t just a manifestation of his imagination. The images and events were somehow real, like they’d happened to someone before-him.

Kyle had finally reached his breaking point and could no longer take it anymore. His body felt run down, his mind addled, not as sharp. Then, one night while driving home from work, he dozed off while sitting at a red light. He woke up when the car behind him blared its horn. That was his sign. He desperately needed to get a goodnight’s rest and needed to find out why he was being tormented by these nightmares.

Kyle, awaken once again in the middle of the night, decided to use the extra time to do some research. He wanted to find out what these nightmares meant if there was any meaning behind them at all. He came across the name of a therapist specializing in dreams and memory recall who could help him decipher what was happening to him. The next day, he reached out, setting up an appointment for the following week.

****

Kyle would continue to be harassed every night until the day of his appointment. He was anxious to meet with the therapist, Dr. Megan Jensen. He picked up a magazine while waiting to be called back. Reading the cover, it was about dreams and PTSD. He might be in the right place, he thought, skimming the main article.

“Mr. Stevens, you may come in now,” Dr. Jensen said, interrupting his reading.

She showed Kyle into the office and offered him a seat. To his surprise, there was not an oversized couch against the wall, like he had expected.

“So, tell me what’s going on. You told my assistant you were having nightmares?” Dr. Jensen asked, sitting across from him at her desk.

“I don’t really know what’s going on, Doctor, but I need something, some type of help. I…I…keep having these nightmares about an accident where a kid riding a bike is hit by a car. It feels like I’m there. Sometimes I’m just watching it happen, but other times I feel like I am involved somehow. I don’t know; it’s…it’s confusing. But I know it all started after watching a news report about a kid getting hit on a bike. I dream about it, but the dream changes every time.” Seeing the look on Dr. Jensen’s face. “Like I said, I don’t know what’s happening, and I am so confused. I can’t sleep anymore,” he said, frustrated, fidgeting with his hands, his right leg pumping up and down like a car’s piston.   

Dr. Jensen thought for a second and followed up with a series of questions to gain a little more insight into what he had been experiencing. Coming to a conclusion. “Well, it sounds like you are experiencing what is called a repressed or suppressed memory,” she said. Kyle’s face screwed up, not understanding the words he’d just heard. “It’s a type of memory that we either consciously or subconsciously have chosen to block out due to some type of trauma,” she explained further.

“Is it like PTSD or something?” Kyle asked quizzically.

The word popped up in his frazzled mind, having just read a small section of that story in the magazine.

“Not entirely. PTSD is more complex than that. So what you’re experiencing is repressed memories. Something happened to you that your brain has deemed too traumatic for you to process and thus has stored away in a hard-to-reach part of your memory to protect you. That’s what it sounds like you are going through now,” she offered.

“So, how do I fix this and get rid of it?” He asked. 

“Well, there is no real way to get rid of it per se. It varies for every individual. We could try something called regression therapy to bring that memory back from its hiding spot and maybe resolve whatever issue is causing it. If you’re willing to try,” she added.

Kyle sat thinking for a few moments. He was definitely hesitant. Obviously, his brain wanted to keep the memory away for a reason. Still, he did need to sleep eventually, especially after reading about all the horrible things a lack of sleep can do to the body. He’d always been the type to confront his fears head-on.

“Ok,” shaking his head, biting his lower lip. “I say…let’s do it,” Kyle finally said. “I want to know what I have forgotten. I need to sleep at some point. My head has been so cloudy, I can’t even think straight lately.” He confessed. “I need to resolve this, whatever it takes.”

“Ok,” Dr. Jensen stood, making her way to the window, turning the wand closing the blinds. “Please lie down,” she instructed, moving across the room. Spinning a knob on the wall dimming the lights before making her way back to the chair. “I want you to tip your head back and close your eyes.” Kyle lowered his eyelids, taking away the sting from his battered retinas. “Now, take a deep breath.” Kyle followed as instructed. “I want you to think back to the moment you first heard the news report.” Kyle closed his eyes tighter, conjuring up the moment.

Taking breath after breath, he flashed back to where he was when the news reporter first divulged the details when he was struck with a memory from when he was a kid growing up. He began to recount the memory.

Kyle recalled, “It’s a hot summer day. I am there, but I am maybe twelve, talking to some friends about going to a local public pool. There were about five of us, and we all agreed to talk to our parents about letting us go. I am the oldest, so I personally go with each of my friends to ask their parents for permission. I tell them I’ll watch everyone and take full responsibility to ensure we all get back safe. All the parents agreed, and we set off for the local community pool. While there, a few other friends show up on their bikes. We enjoy a couple of hours of fun, but it’s time to be going. One of my friends, Tommy, comes over and asks if I want a ride back sitting on his handlebars as we’re getting our stuff. I tell him no, it’s dangerous, and I have to make sure everyone gets back, so I can’t go ahead. He nods and disappears for a bit. Then just before leaving, I noticed that three of my friends accepted rides back with the others that showed up later. I knew that it was dangerous, but I still didn’t try to talk them out of it. Even after I see Stevie, who’s the youngest out of all of us. He’s seven at the time. He’s on the handlebars of Tommy’s bike.”

Kyle paused, seemingly unwilling to go on.

“Kyle, please go on. What happens next. You watch your friends ride away. How do you feel?” Dr. Jensen asked.

Kyle continued at the urging of Dr. Jensen. “I…I feel that something is off. It’s wrong. Like I just broke my promise to protect everyone. How could I? Our group is separated, with them all taking rides. Only Mitch and I are left to walk back home.”

“Ok, so you feel like maybe you left people down. That’s normal,” Says Dr. Jensen while taking notes. “Go on.”

“On the way back,” Kyle continued. “We somehow got lost and had to find a payphone to call home for a ride. My mom answers, and she sounds very distraught. I told her what happened, and she paused for a bit before saying that she was sending Mitch’s dad to pick us up. On the ride back, we passed an accident scene. There were several cop cars and news vans. They had the yellow police tape boarding the area. There’s a huge semi-truck in the crosswalk on the side of the road. At that moment, I don’t know how I knew, but I got this horrible gut feeling that one of my friends had been hit by that truck. I just knew it. I didn’t say a word. I looked at Mitch’s dad and then looked back as the scene disappeared. I began preparing myself. We get to the apartments, and I run up to my mom, telling her, ‘I know, who was it?’ She tells me that Tommy and Stevie were hit by the semi-truck as they tried to cross the street and that Stevie didn’t make it.”

Kyle opened his eyes and shot up on the couch. Tears poured down his face. He now understood all of his nightmares and why things felt so familiar. He had been in a similar situation. His mind had suppressed the event all these years until the news story forced his subconscious mind to burrow through those memories, thus allowing them to resurface.

He recognized all the feelings he felt now. They were the same ones he had ten years prior. He was just like the person in the car that hit the kid on the bike in his mind. It was all his fault. He felt the full weight of those emotions he’d blocked out so long ago. He had committed the same type of vile act that he had heard on the news all those weeks ago. He killed one of his friends. It was all his doing. It was his idea to go to the pool. He said he would protect everyone. And the story forced him to remember what he’d done. He was just as horrible of a person as that driver was, and he, too, was a murderer.

Dr. Jensen tried her best to console her patient. “Kyle, I know that remembering something like this is not easy, but you can’t blame yourself for what happened. It was an accident, something out of your control from what you’ve said. You can’t control everything that happens to you or anyone else. Things just happen. That’s life. There was nothing you could’ve done.”

“No, that was my fault! I was the oldest! I asked all the parents; I told them I would keep them safe and return everyone home. I was asked to ride on the bike first. That should have been me,” Kyle paused. “And, if it was, maybe I…I would’ve seen the truck coming and been able to stop all of that from happening. I am responsible for this. I killed my friend.” Kyle’s voice cracked, trying to fight back the tears.

     Dr. Jensen was taken aback by Kyle’s insistence the event was his fault. She’d never encountered a patient so adamant they take the blame for something they didn’t even do. No matter what she said, Kyle remained steadfast that it was his fault. He couldn’t see reason. Blinded by the same emotions he felt back then. She did her best to help Kyle as much as possible during that session, but she could not convince him that the accident wasn’t his fault. At Dr. Jensen’s behest, they scheduled several more follow-up visits over the next couple of weeks.

Weeks had passed since Kyle made the horrible discovery that, in his mind, he was a murderer. He struggled heavily with the revelation and how to reconcile with it. He may not have killed his friend directly. Still, he put them in that situation that got one of them killed and the other severely injured, and that was just as bad to him as being the driver of the truck.

****

Kyle was heading to his car after work, lost in his own mind. He’d been seeing Dr. Jensen for more than a month now. He’d been practicing the exercises she’d given him. But that only left him with a plethora of thoughts continuously running through his brain, now more than ever, when Jason interrupted him before reaching his car.

“Hey, Kyle, where have you been?” Jason called out to him, trying to catch him in the parking lot.  

Kyle stopped and breathed out a heavy sigh, not wanting to talk to anyone. Slouching his shoulders, he turned around. “I’ve just been busy lately, you know, doing my thing,” Kyle responded, not wanting to elaborate on his recent discovery of him being a killer.

“Whoa, don’t take this the wrong way, but you look like crap, dude. Are you still having trouble sleeping?” Jason asked, face crinkling with concern for his friend.

“Um, yeah, and it’s been getting worse. That’s why I am going home. Try and get a nap in. Maybe see you tomorrow,”  Kyle said, trying to hold his composure.

He twisted around and unlocked his car door as Jason shrugged and started to walk away. Inside it felt like he had some type of deep dirty dark secret he feared would just blurt out of him if he talked to anyone.

Maybe that’s what he needed: someone to hold him accountable and lay down some sort of punishment he felt he deserved. After all, he’d committed a crime and got away with it. Turning back around, he called out, “Jason!”

His friend spun around to face him. Kyle was about to unload the massive thousand-ton secret that had been weighing on him but stopped just as his lips cracked. The boulder worth of words getting stuck in his windpipe, chocking them off. Unable to extract the words. What would his friend think of him after he confessed? It was better to not say anything. This was his secret and disgrace to bear. His cross to be nailed upon.

“Um, never mind,” Kyle muttered.

 His inner voice pronounced him a coward.

“Dude, you should see a doctor or something and get some drugs to help you sleep,” Jason hissed.

Kyle had already done that but didn’t want to tell Jason. “Maybe, I’ll think about it,” Kyle replied.

****

Over the next several weeks, Kyle got invitations from Jason and a few other friends to hang out, but every time he would make up some excuse to not go. He didn’t want to speak to anyone and have to answer questions about where he’d been. He couldn’t face anyone knowing that he was a killer.

He noticed that he had begun to lose weight due to a loss of appetite. He was getting reprimanded at work for showing up late and missing deadlines. He was even caught sleeping at this desk once. He was consumed by his guilt. His past was now eating him alive. 

After months of not hearing from her son, Kyle’s mother called. It took every ounce of courage he could summon to even answer the phone.

“Hey, honey, I just wanted to check up on you. We haven’t seen or heard from you in a while and wanted to know if you were coming over for your dad’s birthday next week?” she asked.  

“Hi, mom, I’ll uh, I’ll try to make it. Work has just been a little crazy lately, but hopefully, I’ll be able to make it,” he lied. He had no real intent ongoing.

“You sure you’re ok? You sound a little down,” she replied. Sensing something was off in her son.

“Yeah, just not sleeping much lately,” he admitted.   

“Really, why?” she asked worryingly.

Kyle didn’t want to tell her that he remembered what had happened. After all, she had been there. She knew what he’d done. How could she let him forget, let alone even look at him the same way? He couldn’t even manage to look at himself in the mirror lately. He didn’t trust his own mother anymore. What mother would let their son forget something like that? How could she even stand to be the mother of a murderer? So, he made something up and hurried her off the phone.

****

During one of his sessions with Dr. Jensen, Kyle had asked, “So, now that I know what happened and I am responsible, what should I do? How do I go about living with this?” 

“Well, the biggest part is that you have to learn to not blame yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re not a killer. What happened was a tragic event that no one, especially not a thirteen-year-old boy, could’ve seen coming. Life happens. We need to embrace it, mourn those lost, and continue on. If you don’t, Kyle, this will destroy you. It’ll eat you alive day by day,” she answered. “I can help you with that,” she added. “There are medications that I can prescribe, or if you want some calming exercises. Whichever you prefer. Just know, none of this is your fault. You can’t blame yourself for any of it. How are those exercises working for you?”

They were doing ok, but nothing seemed to crack the fact that he still blamed himself. His perceived guilt had already begun to consume him.

     “They’re doing ok.” Which wasn’t entirely true. “But, but how do I go on living with the knowledge that I killed my best friend?” he stuttered.

“First of all, again, you didn’t. You need to stop blaming yourself. That’s the biggest first step, and after that, I think you need to find closure. That means something different for everyone, as no two people are alike. So, unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to do that. That’s something you need to figure out for yourself,” she said.

After leaving Dr. Jensen’s office that day, Kyle thought about what she said about closure. That’s what he needed: closure. Just how to get it, he wasn’t sure. Maybe he needed to locate Stevie’s parents.

After weeks of being tormented by these feelings and trying to find his friends’ parents and other friends online, he was left stumped. He could not find anything on them. There was no internet trail to follow.

Kyle had succumbed to the thought that he would not accomplish his closure in this form. He could not continue to go through this anymore, though. The feelings and emotions were too much for him to handle. One night, after several drinks, he came up with another idea of reaching that closure he was searching for. There was only one other way that he could think of doing it. He was absolute about this resolution, and he knew it was the right thing to do. No one would be able to change his mind.

Late the next evening after work, Kyle went home and set up the house, just as he pictured leaving his belongings. Then, he got into his car and drove to the cemetery where his forgotten friend had been buried all those years ago. He used the guide provided to locate Stevie’s final resting place. This would be the perfect spot where things would come to an end.

He approached the headstone and stood in front of it. A sense of calm and resolve in his heart. Watching the sun setting on the horizon casting a beautiful orange glow across the sky. Peace swarmed Kyle’s heart. He thought to himself what beautiful scenery his friend has had all these years. It was complete with a small lake just down the hill from where he was standing. 

God, that’s poetic,” he said, speaking to the stone. “You loved the water, little man, and now you get to rest by it every day.”

After taking in the sights for a few more moments, he agreed with himself that if this was a good enough place for Stevie, it was for him, too.

He reached around his back, lifting his shirt taking out a handgun from his waistband. It was a simple stub-nosed .38 revolver, but it would defiantly be able to do the job, or so he was told, by the street punk who sold it to him.

Kyle glanced down at the headstone, his hand trembling, he took in the fine artwork on its concrete façade

“Well, I see that you have a great final place to stay and that you have a great view from here. I hope that you found your way to the good place where you deserve to be,” he said. “It wasn’t your fault what happened to you. That was on me, so hopefully, that was taken into account for your afterlife. I never did get to say goodbye to you that day. I left it with a see you later. So, I guess I’ll say it now since I won’t be joining you up there. That’s not where murderers go,” looking to the sky. “I just wanted to say sorry, Stevie. I am so sorry for what happened.”

Using every bit of strength left to choke back the tears, but the emotions were just too powerful. Kyle finally succumbed to them and fell to his knees, feeling the wet blades of grass press against the skin of his knees. At first, a single tear came from the corner of his right eye and rolled down his cheek. 

Once that first tear was out, it seemingly opened the floodgates. Now a cascading waterfall of them had begun to rain down his face.

Kyle continued, “I am so, so sorry; I never meant for this to happen. I was supposed to protect you. I was the oldest. It was my responsibility. I should have been on the bike. If I could, I would go back in time and accept the ride in the first place. I should be the one here in the dirt, not you. Don’t worry, though, bro. I will be soon enough,” he wept. 

Wiping the stream of tears from his cheeks. “I don’t deserve my place on this earth,” nodding to himself in agreement. “I was given a second chance in this world, and what have I done with it? Nothing! Absolutely nothing.”

His hand shook, but he pulled the gun up and stared at it. He cocked the hammer and paused before pressing the barrel against the side of his head. Pressing down on the temple.

“There was nothing I could have done to save you, and for that, Stevie, I am sorry.”

He looked out across the landscape one last time, then up to the sky, which was rapidly fading from orange to black. How fitting that the last thing he would see on this earth was what he would see for eternity: nothing but blackness. He sniffed back the last remaining tears that were now trickling out.

He took one final deep breath, unlike any other breath he had taken before. This time as he took in the breath of air, it was as if the entirety of his life flashed through his head. He recounted his final words: There was nothing I could have done to save you. 

Every moment of that fateful day came rushing to the forefront of his thoughts. It was as if he was replaying that whole day over again, every moment, every decision, and every outcome. The words “There was nothing he could do” kept ringing in his ears. They weren’t in his voice, but the melodic voice of Dr. Jensen played in his mind. He couldn’t have known that anything of this nature would have happened. How could he? He was only twelve years old. There was no way to see any of that happening. He couldn’t control Tommy riding his bike to the pool. He couldn’t control Tommy asking Stevie to ride back after asking him. How couldn’t he have known Stevie would’ve said yes? He had no idea that the trucker driving that truck would be on that exact same road at that precise unperfect timing as his friends.

Kyle opened his eyes and put the gun down. At that moment, he realized what Dr. Jensen had been trying to tell him all this time. It wasn’t his fault. It had been his decision to go, and it was him that assured all the parents that he would keep them safe, but that was it. Everything else was out of his control.

Kyle wiped away the tears with his left hand. Standing up, he walked a few steps toward the pond, chucking the gun into the water. Unleashing the pent-up guilt he had felt over his friend’s death, watching the gun vanish beneath the rippling waves. It wasn’t his fault. There was no cross to bear or atonement to seek.

He walked back to the headstone and knelt down. “Stevie, I am sorry. I never meant for this to happen, and I hope you are resting in peace in a good place. And I hope that someday I will get to see you again, but I know now that day is not today, and hopefully not for a long time. Until then, brother, I miss you and will always miss you.”

Kyle turned and walked silently back to his car. As he contemplated what had almost happened before driving off, he came to a final realization of life. He understood it now.

Unfortunately, horrible things happen, and there is no rhyme or reason. They just happen, and you can’t agonize or kill yourself over those moments. No one is omniscient: you don’t have a crystal ball or knowledge of the future. We live our lives, making the best decisions we can, and live with those outcomes. Mourn the losses when necessary, but celebrate the lives of those lost, learn from them, and do better.

Everyone has a purpose to fulfill on this earth, and no one knows their purpose until your end comes. Life can be twisted and cruel at times, but cherish every moment you have and do something to positively touch the lives of those around you while you can. No one lives forever, but what we do and our impact can. So, make your life a positive one.

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