A Year Without You

August 7, 2020

You died a year ago.

I wish I had more to show for it. "It" being both the last twelve months and your death.

I hate how small you are now, how your actions are so circumscribed, a few not-yet-stale links that someone might follow to your writing, a few monthly donations in your name, a few inherited books not yet opened, and all our ever-fading memories.

I wish I could have prevented that. There are stories of enormous, inspiring, heroic grief. I got the tattoo you'd wanted, the Kirkegaard quote—but by virtue of the fact that they began—with the faint hope that your sudden ending could be a virtuous beginning for me.

But your existence was far more inspiring than your death. You don’t live on as an advisory angel on my shoulder, nor as anguish I can burn to fuel a pursuit of a better world. I do not think “I should do what Zach would do” or “I should be someone Zach would be proud of” nearly so often as I think “I wish I could ask Zach about this”. You are missing from the world, and I cannot seem to make you larger or more real.

Is this a standard stage of grief? Kübler-Ross is dead, too, but her collaborator wrote a book claiming that the sixth stage of grief is finding meaning. I have not reached that stage. Your death was pointless. An accident that underscored how fragile bodies are. It is so obvious that the world would be better (that I would be better) if you hadn’t died. You can see why I might struggle to find meaning, there.

I haven’t read all of your blog posts, yet. There were many I skimmed when you first put them online, since we’d already rehearsed all your points over our phone calls. When I look back at your archive, I’m struck by how many new ideas you were generating, even during your most unmotivated months. I do not think I am being unfair when I say that most people lack your level of intellectual vitality. I might read a book or a blog post, and regurgitate a few borrowed notions, but I rarely think, deeply, for myself.

You might have argued against that self-judgment but, darling, I used to think for you. I don’t think either of us realized how much.

I broke down over your bookshelf last summer, when I was clearing out your apartment with your parents. It was A Monetary History of the United States that did it, I think. One of the early graphs in the book had moved you to tears. You told me about it over the phone, how it charted US money supply versus GDP, and the relationship between the money supply and the recessions of the past century was so elegant, so sublimely true, that you could not help but cry. I sat on your bedroom floor, and flipped through the book’s pages, and squinted at the figures, and couldn’t figure out which one you’d found so beautiful. I started to cry, not because I appreciated the scholarship, because it became clear to me how little I was interested in the book now that I couldn’t discuss it with you.

You apologized to me, more than once, for having become boring in your burnout. I see the lying inadequacy of my reassurances, now. I said I loved you, and loved talking with you, but I said it with a despicable patience in my voice. As if I trusted that you’d someday regain your former vitality, and I wanted you to believe I would wait. I wish I could show us how boring I have become, now that I no longer need to keep pace with you. A month can pass without a single insight.

I’m not lonely. I want to make that clear. I have wonderful people in my life, people who are clever and kind, people that I love, and sometimes we are talking, I am walking beside them down a side street, or lying on their bed looking up at their ceiling, and we are tossing new ideas back and forth, and I am fully engaged, and it’s so good. But, Zach, we used to do that every day. I remember.

I try to make some of the same corrections I would have expected you to make. I nudge my opinions towards freedom of speech and Arendtian intolerance. I know it’s inadequate. Your values were not fixed, and my decaying, static model of you is ever more out of date. The world is changing, and you cannot.

For my birthday, I asked people to send me stories about you. My favourites were the ones from after I’d moved away. I got a glimpse of how you looked to the friends who met you after you’d learned the shape of your anxieties, and embraced your extroversion, and realized how infectious your enthusiasm and your empathy could be. You’d grown into yourself so much. I wanted to follow that story to its ending. But lives aren’t stories. You weren’t done, obviously, but you can’t do anything more. I hate that the search results for your name are crowded with lurid reports of an accident. A meaningless ending.

I love you. I wish I had more to show for it. I wish there were more of you left in the world to love. I am so grateful, and so sorry, and I miss you.

Photograph of Zachary Jacobi, a mid-20s person in a baseball cap, marvelling at something outside of the frame.