Five years ago
As I gaze across the endless dark water of the ocean, the fiery sun begins to set. Waves lap against the shoreline creating an intricate pattern along the smooth sand, and as I lift my face to the half-lit sky, I try to listen for the voice that assures me he’s doing okay.
I can hear his laughter against the waves as they crash against the shore. I can feel the warmth of his tiny hand touching the side of my worn face, and I can smell the sting of the saltwater; it burns and reminds me of a time in my life I never want to forget. I love this peaceful beach, but it’s what I see when I come here that makes the guilt leave a trail of hot fire up my flesh.
I remember his young life as if it were yesterday, a little boy laughing along with his twin sister as they buried me in the sand. Two little toothless kids filled with excitement, bright-colored ribbons trailing behind them as they took off running with kites in one hand while holding hands with the other.
My kids were like night and day, but they had as much love for this beach as they did for each other. Landon always the protector and Leila the one he thought needed his protection. He stood up for her even when she stood up for herself. Which was daily with her being below average in both weight and height. She grew out of it, and eventually the kids who teased her did, too. Landon, though, he watched his sister like a hawk. I’ve never seen two kids glued to each other as those two were. And visualizing how they’d be if he were here is buried under the poisonous guilt spilled all over my dark and secluded mind.
With a heavy sigh that stabs my chest, I observe the familiar beach. There are a handful of people sitting around. Soon, families will fill this place up. Dads will be helping their children show off their colorful kites the same way I used to with mine, and the annual week-long kite fest will be underway, and not a single one of them will know I’ve been here.
Today, it’s just the way I like it. Quiet and peaceful. Still, I’d give everything I have not to be sitting here wondering where in my life I went wrong.
I come to this spot where I vacationed with my kids on the coast of the state of Washington several times a year. It was my son’s favorite vacation spot. The place where my daughter, Leila, and I watched the urn holding his ashes float until it slowly sunk to the bottom of the deep blue water, and now parts of him are scattered everywhere. It’s the way he would have wanted to be.
My boy has been gone one year today, and this place is where I feel closest to him. It could be the memories of a little boy who would throw a fit when it was time to leave are vivid here, could be because here is where I said my final good-bye. I’m not really sure why; all I know is, I feel his spirit soaring when I sit here. It’s the one place that brings me as close to him as I will ever be again.
Landon loved kites; he loved anything with the vibrancy to soar. He was a free-spirited teenager, a good kid who, despite his mother being a junkie and me fighting my own demons of a tortured past through living with an uncle who damaged me more than the abandonment from the woman who gave birth to me did, was tougher, stronger. And unlike his sister, he was determined to find the mother he once knew. At least that’s what he told me, and at first, I believed him; until he started showing signs I recognized all too well.
He was fourteen when I started missing concerts or taking him with me because I thought he was high. I refused to let him see his mother until I could test his blood and his piss. He was squeaky clean. We fought practically every day over my suspicion. Me in his face wanting to know how he hid it every day he denied it, and the parent part of me that believed my son wouldn’t do drugs because of the downhill battle his mother struggled with eventually won. I believed him until that knock came at my door. Several police officers and CPS standing on the other side to give me news no parent should ever have to receive.
I shake those thoughts away. Today isn’t the day to let anger twine its way around my chest and choke me. Except it does. It swirls and mocks, drops seeds of guilt in my veins, and they spread. A disease I’ll never be rid of.
“Damn, I miss you, kid.” There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t thought about him. Wondering what kind of man he’d be growing up to be. If he would have kept up with his love for playing the drums like me, or if he would have chosen a different path to spread his wings and fly.
When I lost Landon, my world collapsed. Shadows took over the light, and the pain has left a constant ache in my chest. It goes on and on like the rippled waves across the sand.
And my mind; it calls out for me to come back to the man I once was. A continuous fight of trying to fit together who I used to be. It’s wrung me out and left me hanging to dry.
Losing a child is a loss I wouldn’t know how to begin to explain. There will always be a hole in my soul that will never again be completely filled, and I’m a resentful man because of it. Losing him stole the man I was away from my daughter. It took me from my friends, and on behalf of the life I have yet to live, I haven’t a Goddamn clue how to get it back or if I even have the strength to try.
The kids’ mother and I were never together. Landon and Leila were created during a drunken night I don’t remember. I mean, I was nineteen, met some random chick at a party I was having. Fucked her and went on with my life. That is until she showed up to give me the news. And like most men, I denied it. Made her get a paternity test. Reality snuck in when the results came back saying they were mine, and they are without a doubt the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ll never accomplish anything greater than being their dad.
I press my hands to my temples. I can’t think of the way my kids came into this world. Not when what I did brought me the only two people I love unconditionally.
“Talk to me, Landon. I need to hear you and get these painful memories out of my head.”
Silence rings in my ears. Guilt claws at my throat. I usually find a sense of peace here, but for some fucked-up reason, all I can think about is what eventually took my son's life.
Somewhere along the way, the kids’ mom, Kate, got hooked on prescription pills; those turned to weed, and it escalated to the heavy stuff from there. She was out of control and blamed everyone but herself. One day it was my fault because I wouldn’t have a thing to do with her; the next she complained the kids were too much for her to handle. She was a fucking wreck waiting to happen.
I tried getting her off the drugs. I paid for several trips to rehab, and then the day came where I took her to court. Won full custody of the kids and settled into a routine with a nanny to take care of them after I hooked up with Roman and with a stroke of luck we found Miles and Brock. Together we took ourselves to fame.
I wasn't the perfect parent, but I made sure to fly home whenever we had a break from the tour. I flew the kids to me on the weekends they didn’t spend with their mother, and things were going fine up until Kate claimed she was pulling her life together and asked for more time with the kids. I called bullshit, and so did Leila. But Landon, he went to stay with her as often as he could. A kid set out to save a woman who didn’t want to be saved. And up until the day he died, I still felt that gnawing ache in my chest he was doing something.
The guilt ate me alive when the truth came out of how they were both killed.
“I should have made you go into rehab.” Then what? Would he have gotten out and started right back up like his mother did? “Fuck!” I scream, gaining the attention of a family walking the beach. I close my eyes, suck in a breath, and bow my head between my drawn-up knees.
My son was a drug addict like his mother. They were high the night they died. The forensics experts told me they were making meth and it blew up, caught the house on fire and killed them both.
“I fucking hate you for what you did to him. You were his mother, for fuck’s sake. Flesh and blood, and you dragged him to hell with you. Put our daughter through the worst nightmare she will have in her life.” Regardless of not ever allowing the anger to bubble to the surface whenever I come here, for some reason today it does.
My heart and brain become a game of tug of war—anger versus heartache—and I begin to shake. The tart taste in my mouth turns bitter, and every nerve ending dares to explode.
If she hadn’t died alongside my son, I would have killed her.
I glance around the beach that has been my solace and wish the sand would calm me down like it usually does. It doesn’t do a thing for some reason, except make me angrier. It’s a damn good thing Leila isn’t here to see me like this.
My blood rushes to my head, and my fists ball at my sides. I need to stop and find the man I once was again. Some kind of fucking calming of the soul is what I need. Something besides beating the hell out of my drums. Which I won’t be doing for a while now that we’re done recording our album and the band is taking some much-needed time off.
Every positive emotion I’ve tried to find is spread across the wide span of this ocean. I fake my way through the happy times with the happy disposition I’ve perfected. The problem I’m having now is, all the space inside of me is overflowing with negativity. I’m finding the bad in the good, and every day it’s becoming so much harder to ignore. The gap in my chest and the inner pain are almost too much to bear. It’s a lame and deadly excuse, but not even the rush of a cigarette calms me anymore, or watching Leila turn into the loving woman she was meant to be. My head is fucked up, and my guilt is slowly killing me.
“Damn it,” I grumble and turn my head when I see a woman frantically stripping out of her wedding dress at the shoreline. She tosses it into the water and crosses her arms over her chest. Her long black hair is blowing in the wind. “Christ, what the hell is she doing?”
I study her for a silent beat. There’s something about the way she’s gazing out into the ocean as she stands there in a white strapless bra and lace panties that grips me in the chest. I should pay more attention to her because despite whatever has her beaten down, she is absolutely exquisite. I wish I could hold on to the beautiful profile of her face, because it’s obvious she’s troubled over something, but the man standing several feet behind her in a black tuxedo spikes my anger. I dig my hands in the sand to stop me from standing up and walking toward him to knock him on his ass.
His tall frame is bent over with his hands on his knees as if he’s trying to catch his breath, and when he glances this way, every part of me begins to shake.
Sam Borst, a reporter for Hollywood Living. A young punk in his mid-twenties. I hate him nearly as much as I did Kate. The last thing I need is for him to see me and pop his mouth off. The guy is the biggest gossip talker this side of the Mississippi. Gives his opinions freely and exploits celebrities with misguided information. The fucking world eats out of the palm of his hands. He hosts a two-hour radio show where he asks their opinions, has them call in and stir the pot even more. Hollywood gossip. It all makes me fucking sick.
I’ve kept my personal life hidden since the day half of it was stolen from me, yet this man has never given up on trying to dig up the truth of why I buried my son.
The bastard didn’t come along and stick a thorn in my side when he first started talking about their deaths; he stuck a Goddamn knife in me, twisted it, and left it there when he opened a forum on their website for opinions on how the public thought it all went down. Our publicist told me to let it go when all I wanted was to kick his teeth in.
He didn’t give two fucks I was mourning and at the same time trying to bring my daughter back to life. For months, all I did was make sure she was going to be alright. I might have been slowly dying every day, pretending I was strong, but I had a responsibility much larger than taking care of myself, and that was her. So, I let him rattle off and ignored the prick the best I could until the rest of the paparazzi started coming around, digging for the one piece of dirt they will never find.
I beat the shit out that motherfucker six months ago. Broke his nose, fucked up his jaw, and spent a solid thirty days behind bars. The worst part of it was, I lost my temper in front of my daughter.
It was hard as hell trying to explain to Leila that she had to stay with one of the guys while I sat in the hole wishing I had let it go like I was told. She ended up staying with Miles because his apartment was closer to her high school.
At the time, I was thankful Leila didn’t watch the news or listen to gossip, so, at first, she had no idea what the hell was going on. It drained me to make up some lame-ass excuse as to why I fucked him up and to make sure she stayed away from anyone with a camera or microphone, and to this day, she’s the only one close to me who doesn’t know the truth about Landon. But I’d bet my ass this fucker here would plow her over if he knew death wouldn’t come to him the minute I found out he talked to her. Protecting Leila is the reason why everyone close to me took a vow to keep quiet and stay away from the paparazzi.
I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my daughter from people like him, and when I say that, I mean it with a vengeance that would cause the earth to shift.
The vindictive assholes who stalk us would sell their soul to the devil for a good story, and the truth behind my son's death would have every one of them lining up to see which one the devil would take first if word got out. My bet would be on him.
It was bad enough she watched her mother whittle away, but to have her think poorly of her brother or blame herself because she didn’t see the signs would kill me. Leila loved Landon more than she loved anyone, and I need to keep her heart from tainting his memory.
I pull my ball cap lower over my head and exhale. Pisses me off that my time with my son was already ruined by my anger, and now it’s doubled that he’s here.
I’m up on my feet when the woman catches my eye again as she starts walking into the water, the waves coming up to her knees, her waist, and then her neck. “Shit, she’s going to drown.”
“Damn it, Tatum, you're my fiancée. Let me help you. Stop!” Sam’s voice that reeks of panic and fear loops around my feet. I start running toward the freezing water.
I couldn’t save my child, but I’ll do whatever it takes to save her.