Season Five, Episode Three: A Shout Into The Void

Zach—

Hey kid.  Shit, I can’t believe it’s been one year already—seems like it was just yesterday that Courtney messaged me on Facebook to tell me that you had died.  It seems like just yesterday that I screamed in the darkness of my bedroom when I read that message, not caring if my neighbor heard me, my mind not even comprehending that you were dead.

Dead.  You weren’t supposed to die, Z.  We all prayed and begged the heavens that you would wake up, that we would get to see that goofy grin and hear you say “yooooo what’s good, why y’all look so sad…I’m okay”.  That we would get to show you the pictures we took at the benefit held in your honor, tell you how worried we had been and how relieved we were that you made it, even if your brain and body needed some work.  But you didn’t wake up.  You died in some hospital bed in Metro because your body had just been through too much.  You weren’t supposed to die, Z.  You just weren’t.

I remember calling Reggie and Rico, texting Mike…not really being able to see my phone screen because I was crying so hard I was hyperventilating.  I’m not a crier and yet I cried more tears that day than I think I have in my entire lifetime—so many tears that I had to throw my contacts away that night because they were so full of salt.  Lydia came and sat with me on my porch while I cried and insisted that you weren’t supposed to die because you were Zach.  You were so young and bubbly and kind and so full of life and you honestly were the last person I ever would have expected to say goodbye to in a funeral home.  Even though I don’t want to, I can still see you in that casket, bow ties at your feet (because there really was no better way to pay tribute), hat on your head…I remember staring at your face, covered in that makeup that fails so badly at making a cadaver look lifelike, trying to find something that was you…I was in shock and denial and told myself there was no way that was you lying there.  I remember looking at your hands and for some reason that triggered the switch inside me that said yes, this is Zach.  I remember rushing past everyone to go outside and compose myself because I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone in that funeral home, but I cried anyway when I was back in that room, tears running down my face as I stood next to Maria and watched the video of you through your entire life.  I remember thinking how unfair it was to have to say goodbye to you, how unfair that we were all so broken, how unfair that you were gone.

It’s still unfair.  I lost my best friend.  Your friends miss you, and your family aches for you.  Your kids are doing well, your mother posts pics of them often on Facebook.  I bought them presents for their birthday and so many of us bought them things for their first Christmas without you.  I guess it’s a blessing and a curse that they were too young to understand what was going on, and too young to have really made tangible memories with you…it makes the loss easier and harder at the same time.  They really are the cutest kids—your daughter is a beautiful little girl and your son has your personality from what I saw at the dinner after the funeral and from what your mom shares on social media.  I try to check in on your mom every now and then, I know it’s what you would have done if roles were reversed in this situation.  She’s such a strong woman and I see that you got a lot of who you were from her.  You would be proud of her strength.

It’s been a hard year for me, and you dying was the first in the series of deaths I had to face—but you know that, because if there is some sort of an afterlife you are there with my dad and grandpa.  I hope that you are keeping my dad company because I know he misses me and you two would get along so well.  It was very hard to lose my dad and to not have you here to comfort me and to keep my mind busy, but you would have been happy to see that I kept it together and pushed through.  I never realized how hard it would be to not have you here—other friends have stepped up, but it doesn’t fill the void completely.

I miss you.  So much.  It’s insane how often I forget you are gone and I find myself wanting to text you about the stupidest, most random things.  I wish I could call you and sit on my floor and just talk to you—you had a way of being deep and inspiring one minute, and then silly and ridiculous the next.  I miss you coming over and hanging out on my porch with me and just bullshitting while you sit on the steps and smoke your Black and Mild.  I miss how you used to hide behind things and then jump out and scare me, and how hard you would laugh because you thought it was hilarious.  I miss walking out of the craps pit with you, arm in arm, laughing and carrying on like we did when we still worked together, making fun of you on break when you still had that old ass phone that you had before your iPhone, and hanging out with you when we would all go to the club.  I find myself scrolling through our old texts, looking at photos, laughing at goofy videos I have of you, and just reminiscing with everyone.  Your death has left such a hole in our circle of friends—Craig and Daesha moved to Las Vegas, I barely speak to a few in the group, and we aren’t as close as we all used to be.  I haven’t stepped foot in a nightclub since you died, and I haven’t gone Downtown to party since last June.  It just doesn’t feel right.

I wish I could tell you that your family got justice in your death, but they really didn’t.  The two men who killed you were sentenced to eight years in prison, and that doesn’t seem like nearly enough.  Your life was worth so much more.  You were truly a one-of-a-kind person who made an impression on everyone you met, and you were destined for great things that never came into fruition because you accidentally bumped into someone in a club.  Yet again, I’ll say that wasn’t fair.  So many things about your death were not fair.

I think about you all the time, I’m sure all your friends do.  It stormed last night and I got this impulse to run in my backyard and play in the rain, and I decided that if there is some sort of a heaven I hope that you get to look down at us and see moments like that and smile.  I hope you check in on all of us, that you have peace where you are, and that you are as happy as you can be without being on earth with us.  I hope that you are wearing those skinny corduroy pants that you loved (cuffed at the ankles, of course), some Converses, that Army jacket you sweet-talked that lady at Chelsea’s into selling you, and your NY Jets cap, because no one could wear any of that like you.  We all teased you, but you wore your unique style so well.  You were a special individual that we were all so lucky to know, kid.  I hope you knew that.  I hope you knew that you made a difference in the world, and it’s hard for someone to do that–you managed to make such a positive impact on so many people in your short lifetime, and it breaks my heart that we will never get to see what you could have done had you lived.

I don’t think we truly knew how blessed we were to know you until you were gone.

I’m gonna wrap this up the best I can, I could probably go on, but I don’t have an eternity like you do!  Keep watching over us, and we will keep trying to make your memory live on.

I love you, Boo Bear.  Always will.

Shawnster

 

 

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Season Five, Episode Five: Pretty Fair for a Square

0109198708052016.

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.


0109198708052016…01/09/1987-08/05/2016.

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.

https://www.gofundme.com/2gd658s