A serial number of a life. Numbers that tell a simple, yet complex story. 01091987—the beginning of a life. 08052016—the end. It fails to tell you the life lived between those jumbles, the memories made and accomplishments achieved, the lives touched by the person who was the sum of those 16 digits. A person who was so much more than those 16 digits, whose hopes and dreams couldn’t even begin to fit in that numerical sequence.
A person I was lucky to have as a friend.
On August 5th, 2016 at 1:41 am Zachary Larney breathed his last breath after being in a coma for 10 days and left behind two children, his mother, and two brothers. He was only 29, so full of youth and promise. I’ve never met a person who was so full of joy and laughter, so motivational, so silly. I wish that the two men who ended his life could have known Zach; perhaps they would have hesitated in beating him essentially to death in a senseless act of violence outside a nightclub in downtown Cleveland. They would have brushed off whatever happened inside Rumor and would have walked off in the opposite direction…Zach would still be alive. We would have never known what it looked like to see Zach unconscious, hooked up to a ventilator, dried blood on his forehead. We would have never seen what ultimately was our last living image of Zach, inside a special bed that was meant to keep him alive while he fought bravely against brain swelling and ARDS. We would have never had to deal with this unbearable pain of losing a person we loved. We wouldn’t have to watch his amazingly strong mother forgive the men who killed her son or watch her grieve the death of her oldest child.
I keep thinking of the pebble in the pond—we all have heard of it, where a single pebble thrown into a pond causes ripples that go out far beyond just where the pebble broke the water’s surface. We are taught that analogy to learn that one action can have tremendous effects outside of just the initial moment. In that case, with regards to that analogy…murder must be a boulder thrown into that metaphorical pond. The aftermath of such an event is violent and far-reaching. I’d liken it to a tsunami, perhaps. Devastating and all-consuming.
I don’t want to spend this entire post talking about the events that ended one of my best friend’s lives, but it must be touched upon because it needs to be touched upon. The ten days leading up to Zach’s death were torture—you couldn’t help but feel helpless reading the updates his mother Debra posted about his status in the hospital. His injuries were so severe that they placed him into a medically induced coma. I woke up to messages that Monday morning asking me about what happened and one of my friends told me to go to his Facebook page, where his mother had informed us that Zach was in a coma and to please pray for him. So pray we did. We prayed for ten long days, begging and bargaining with whatever deity would listen to please let Zach wake up, to please let him live, to please keep him here with us. We held our breath for the first few days, waiting for some kind of positive news, and we did receive some—his vitals were stable, things seemed okay, Saturday would bring an assessment. We prayed that meant that Zach would be brought out of his coma. We all worried when we saw the update the next day informing us that things had gotten worse during the night and that they had to perform emergency surgery to try to relieve the pressure on his still swelling brain. We told ourselves it would be okay, that the partial removal of skull meant that the brain would swell and then go back down and it would delay him waking up for a few days. He was Zach, he was a fighter, he had this. No worries. We breathed a sigh of relief when he became stable again, when his mother posted that even though he was still hooked up to a ventilator, the initial scan on his brain from the night of the attack showed that things looked okay and he would make an eventual full recovery long term. We were nervous because he was still in the coma, but things sounded okay.
Okay seemed to be like a balm for us. It soothed our worries, it gave us something to hold on to. It kept us from panicking every time one of Zach’s positive steps forward led to three gigantic steps back. He would be okay. Okay. Even when she posted that there was fluid in his lungs, we said he would be okay. When he had to have another emergency surgery to drain the fluid because his oxygen levels were low, we said he would be okay. The tubes they put in his lungs meant that he would be okay. Everything would be okay. Okay okay okay okay.
August 3rd a benefit called A Night For Zach was held at a local bar for Zach, to help with his ballooning medical costs and just money to help him financially until he was able to go to work. Debra had set up a GoFundMe campaign for Zach that had been absolutely tremendous—the initial goal of $5000 was met in hours. The goal was then raised to $15,000 and was met in a few days. We were willing to do anything to help, because we all knew that Zach would do the same for us if we needed it. So we all met up at Harry Buffalo in Lakewood and we celebrated our friend that we just knew would wake up and love to hear all the stories of the love and the friendship that we had for him. We took photos, we donated money, we came together. We saw a post on Zach’s page telling us that his lungs were not functioning the way they should and that oxygen was not getting into them…that due to his TBI, they couldn’t perform surgery, and short of a miracle, there was nothing else that could be done. The finality of that post put a crack in our iron-clad okay—this was the first time that we had to acknowledge that maybe Zach wouldn’t be okay. So we prayed, and prayed, and begged whomever would listen for a miracle. Thursday the 4th greeted us with the picture of Zach in what appeared to be a modern-day take on the iron lung—it was a special bed that would hopefully allow his lungs to heal. The bed had gotten him through the night. Hope sprang eternal again, and we patched up our slightly damaged okay. Things would get better, because Zach couldn’t not make it. We had never considered the option.
But that was the option that happened. August 5th, 2016 at 1:41 am Zachary Larney breathed his last breath after being in a coma for 10 days and left behind two children, his mother, and two brothers. The Plain Dealer, the city’s local newspaper, states that he is the 62nd homicide in Cleveland for 2016. But Zach is so much more than a crime statistic. He is so much more than #62 on some depressing list. He was an amazing person. My Facebook newsfeed is a testament to how wonderful of a human being he was—8 out of every 10 posts is about Zach. He was full of love. He adored his two children, ages 2 and 3, and it showed in the videos he posted to Snapchat and Facebook. Those videos make me cry now, because the world has lost that love and his children will grow up without their father. He literally lit up the room with his personality. His life, and his death, made such an impact on so many people…it is amazing to go to his Facebook page and just see the mixture of pain and sadness and disbelief…and LOVE. So much love. Very fitting for a man who was so full of love and positivity.
I used to tease him that he could never just stand there and smile for a normal photo—he was always making some crazy face or doing something silly. Thinking about it now, it was because he had so much joy inside of him and he couldn’t keep it to himself. He made anyone feel like a friend, he had such a vibrant way of life. He was well-spoken and intelligent, a man with unshakeable faith in the Lord—I remember how he would sometimes go in the locker rooms on his breaks when he worked with me at the casino and read the Bible. He had such a bright outlook on things. He loved to make people laugh. He was there for me whenever I needed him. He was my person, and I loved him like a little brother. It’s hard to put our friendship into words, but we just connected and it’s a friendship I will treasure for the rest of my life. I believe that anyone who knew Zach feels that way. I feel blessed for having him as a friend.
I think about the memories I have of him, and even though my heart is broken and I miss him so badly, the memories make me smile. I’ll always remember us going on break together, arm in arm, like we always did, laughing like we always did…him knocking on my front door and then hiding around the corner of my porch, jumping out and scaring me and laughing so hard…him listening to me cry about my dad’s cancer when it came back again, and the joy of telling him just a few weeks ago that it was gone once more. I’ll always remember him teaching my son a handshake that they would use when he would come over, the way he knew how to make you feel like you were capable of doing anything if you put your mind to it…we had planned on making time to see each other soon, we had spoken on the phone and texted in the week and a half before the assault, and he told me “Shawnster, I have plans this upcoming weekend but hit me up on Monday and we will make plans to see each other soon, I miss you”. Monday came, and Monday went, and I never spoke to him again. We lost a beautiful soul to a senseless and random act of violence, and Zach’s death is a hole that we will never be able to fill.
A serial number of a life. The dates that tell the beginning of a life…and tell of an abrupt end. Numbers that tell a simple, yet complex story. Yet it’s the life behind those numbers that words will never properly bring to justice. The world was blessed to have Zach in it for 29 years…I only wish I could have seen what 60 more years of Zach living on it would have been. I love you, Boo Bear.
“…’So hard to die.’ I don’t doubt that it is, but it cannot be much harder than being left behind.”—John Green, Looking for Alaska
Zach’s GoFundMe is currently at $23,144 and is being used for his funeral costs, medical bills, and his two children. Please visit the link below and donate if possible. Thank you.