The best part about being married to Collin is talking late into the night. Staring up into the black abyss, our voices bouncing back and forth off the ceiling, sometimes at each other, sometimes quietly to ourselves.
Collin is a great listener, and he has a way with packaging my complex mazes of emotions (sorry, Collin) into simple statements, so he’s excited about his big debut blog title, “This isn’t a Disney Ending.”
I went home this weekend to join my family at the Midwest Regional Emmy’s because Zach was nominated for best musical composition. Zach won, his entire ‘Clouds’ music video was played, I cried in public, (just like I hate doing), and I was so proud of Zach…but I was so sad.
I should count my blessings, right? I mean for God’s sake he won an Emmy! That’s more than any of us could do in a lifetime.
But, Zach didn’t do it in a lifetime. And I often wonder if he had to die to make an impact.
Was that impact worth his life? There is no simple answer.
Right now, I wish my brother was back. I wish that when the whole family took Daisy the wiener dog for a walk that Zach was with us, letting her leash go, running after her. I wish that when my brother Sam and I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. on Thursday night talking about the paranormal, that Zach would’ve slept in the living room with me like Sam did, because we were too scared to sleep alone. That’s how it used to be. That’s how it should be.
In my mind, he shouldn’t be replaced by replicas: great big canvases on the walls, old signed basketballs. He shouldn’t be crumpled history notes or moldy Wendy’s shakes in the freezer, a dark doorway leading to an empty teenage boy’s room, or an Emmy. He should be there, filling the space, so he could speak for himself, and not let those replicas whisper weakly in his place. Then, he could stand in this picture next to Amy, grinning his gappy smile, accepting this Emmy himself, like he deserved.
One of the most painful and cherished memories I have of Zach happened a month or so before he died.
At this point, his lungs were heavy with tumors. I had moved out of the house because I couldn’t handle the stress, and I was home for the weekend, as usual. I felt distracted, and distanced from Zach, and I wanted a relationship with him which I saw tunneling away. Somehow, I thought being away for a bit would make it easier for him to die, so he wouldn’t have to watch me completely crumble and lose my mind.
When I walked in the front door, I heard a faint crying choked with gasping. I ran downstairs, worried he was suffocating. The tumors made it a burden for him to breathe, so when he exerted himself, it was nearly impossible for him to catch his breath. He wrapped himself in his bed comforter on the basement couch. He was flushed, sobbing, wiping his runny nose on the blanket. I rushed to the couch and sat beside him, hugging him, accidentally hitting his hip which was essentially eaten by a meaty sore tumor, and he winced. He stared at his hands in his lap, and told me he wanted to give up, that he wanted to die. And, through my own tears, I told him no.
I quickly realized “no” wasn’t right. He couldn’t stop dying.
So I collected myself. I said that I didn’t want him to die, but if he had to, to remember that his suffering was just like collecting gold coins in the videogame Mario. Dying was like leveling up.
It was so stupid, but I desperately wanted to make him laugh. I wanted to reduce the cancer into a silly metaphor that couldn’t scare or intimidate him, to make his suffering understandable to me, though there was no way that was possible. He mustered up enough energy through the gasps to smile, probably more for my well-being than anything else.
Later on that night I thought, who was I to tell him he couldn’t die? Who was I to tell him “no, stay here”? Or even, “come back, this isn’t fair”? What do I know?
The reality is, all I know is what I feel. All I see is what is in front of my face. “Life-vision” so to speak, isn’t 20/20. It’s basically blind. I have a subtle idea of what impact my brother made, and I have a vague understanding of where he is now.
But just because I have a feeble mind, in a tiny skull, that can only calculate my brother’s death and impact as being “maybe worth it” doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hope. His life has rippled on into the world, a soft lyrical song that hasn’t yet stopped with the ending statement: dead, and there’s a reason for it. I know he’s reaching people in ways that no living person could.
Ultimately, I have hope that Zach made it to a place where he has never been more alive, and I’m going to pray that one day I can really see it.
But tonight, I simply miss Zach.