Jeremy sent me an email today and asked me to put this up on the blog. Here it is:
I’m having a tough day. It sounds disingenuous to say that I’m thinking about Zach today — I think of him every day, and I know lots of other people who love him do as well — but this week has been especially difficult.
Ashley, Rosalie and I were fortunate to travel to Michigan to celebrate my mother’s 65th birthday and my grandfather’s 90th. It was a nice (and too short) weekend spent in many places with many people familiar to Zach and filled with memories of him. Late in the day Sunday, as the festivities at camp wound down, I walked to the Outback by myself. Dad wrote a few days ago about how my relationship with Zach deepened in our teenage years and included a picture of the two of us standing by Stony Lake. After much discussion, I’ve figured out that the picture was taken in August of 2001 (the telltale sign is that ridiculous James Hetfield-style goatee I had at the time, which I remember trying to bleach that summer and sported for a few weeks as a freshman at college before cutting it off. Don’t act like you never made any bad grooming decisions at 18.)
Back to the Outback. I signed on to be a counselor in that particular teen camp program in the summer of 2002 after two successful years in the youth camp program. Zach made plans that summer to do a venture out trip at Storer that summer, but they fell through for some reason (possibly he wasn’t old enough to qualify for the trip??) so becoming an Outbacker was the fallback option. It was there that we truly grew close, bonded by the sharing of the program’s tremendous experience. He would return to the Outback the following summer, which would prove to be the final one at Storer for both of us. Last Sunday, I went out there alone thinking it would be a perfect time of reflection on my relationship with Zach and how much I miss him. It was weird…I sat in the fire circle, surrounded by the empty spaces where the hogans used to be, and all I could think about was my own experience at camp…the campers, the counselors, the trips, the laughs, the tears. After 15 minutes or so, I started the walk back to Ashley and Rosalie, feeling guilty because I didn’t spend the time intensely thinking of Zach. Am I moving on?
Fast-forward to Tuesday morning. I’m back at work at the fire station, and the first call of the day is a pedestrian struck by a vehicle. I’ll spare the gory details, but the only thing our crew could do for the victim was cover him with a sheet while police shut down Moreland Avenue for an investigation. It was way too familiar, right down to the pattern of the damage to the front of the pickup truck that hit him. This is the third time since Zach was killed that I’ve responded to a person struck by a vehicle, and it’s not getting easier. I keep my head down and work through it — I love my job, and emergencies don’t stop so I can recover from a personal tragedy. But I’ve spent the 24-odd hours since seeing that particular dead body in a state of numbness.
I remember a random conversation with Zach from one of the last times he came to visit us in Georgia. A song by The Airborne Toxic Event was playing on the radio, and he got really excited about the fact that the band name was a reference to a Don Delillo novel.
I brushed it off at the time, because I’d never heard of Don Delillo. Looking back, it’s one of many signs of how well-read and intelligent he was that I kind of ignored because we were too busy watching football or figuring out ways to integrate booze into cooking. It’s something I feel rather ashamed of.
Here’s a song and video that makes me think of him, not only in the lyrics but the words of singer Mikel Jollett on their inspiration:
“I feel very tied to this place and very resistant to its cliches. The SNL skit on Californians is funny and I wonder sometimes if that’s what the rest of the world thinks of us: dithering, spoiled people obsessed with their appearance. I understand it because most of what California exports (besides food) is the culture of white people who moved to Hollywood to get into films and yes many of those people are dithering, spoiled and obsessed with their appearance. But outside of maybe 10 square miles in the heart of Los Angeles, you don’t find many people like that here.”
By the way, if anyone has the time and skills to re-cut that video with scenes from the NorCal, that would be awesome.
Zach loved the state he grew up in, as did I. We talked a lot about how fortunate we were to grow up in Grass Valley; how that realization grew more and more stark as we built our adult lives in southern cities that we didn’t like.
TATE has become one of my favorite bands. I try to read more, to understand the world from an advanced perspective the way Zach did. I still have no idea who the hell Don Delillo is. But nothing makes me think of him and cry like these songs.
“i’ll write your name in stars across the sky/ And we’ll meet somewhere someday and I’ll ask you why…”