Usually when I sit down to write something, I just write whatever is immediately coming to mind, have someone do a grammatical edit for me and then I submit it. I do this because if I read back over the piece too closely, I’ll end up scrapping the entire thing and doing it over again, and anyone who considers themself a decent writer knows exactly what I’m taking about. Which has made writing this post so maddeningly difficult. How do you write a few paragraphs about someone that would take a graphic novel to describe? How can you capture the spirit of something that would take firsthand experience to comprehend? This is why I’ve tried to write a piece on the death of my brother Zach Decker four different times, four completely different ways.
I’ve tried writing about who Zach was, I’ve tried writing about what he meant to the people around him, I’ve tried writing about experiences I had with him (God knows there’s plenty), and I’ve tried writing about what his passing has meant to me and the people that I’ve talked to. Every time I’ve tried to write, I get sick to my stomach, my hands shake and the tears start to collect. Finally, I decided to give up. I’d rather write nothing than write something that didn’t do that beautiful kid’s memory justice. But finally, tonight, I’m up at 2 am with my mind racing, so I’m just going to let the words flow and hopefully it makes sense tomorrow when I wake up.
I got the phone call around 2 or 3 in the afternoon on a Saturday. It simultaneously felt like a phone call I had always known I would get but one that I never imagined I would actually receive. I heard the words “Zach is gone, I don’t know what happened, but Zach is gone,” and after a blurry few minutes of conversation, my vision returned, and I was sitting curled up in the yard of a friend’s apartment. What followed that day were countless calls and texts but few tears, if any. Fortunately for me, friends were close by and so was a bottle of rum, so for a day, I created a vacuum to consume the impending grief. The next few days went pretty similarly and that numbness persisted.
Then it hit.
The day of Zach’s showing I woke up and it flooded over me like a tidal wave. He was gone. The brightest smile, the loudest laugh, the corniest jokes, the unreal dance moves, the emotional hurricane, the Casanova, the pledge bro, the best man, the brother, the most loyal friend you could ask for, the fucking DUDE Zach Decker was gone and would never be replaced. Ever. Suddenly the black hole wasn’t inside me sucking up the grief anymore, the black hole was the grief and I was pulled into it head first. I laid in my bed and cried more than I had in my entire life combined, writing an Instagram post about him because I needed someone to feel what I was feeling. I cried until I thought I would pass out from dehydration, and then I cried for another 30 minutes after that. I came out on my back porch and my buddy Taylor had been doing the exact same thing. We just sat and cried together. We were burying our boy way, way too soon.
Anyone who’s lost someone can tell you about this sadness, the sadness that persists for months afterwards. And in the months after that, it pops up intermittently when you least expect it. But what you don’t hear about is the array of feelings that settle over you after that. The slow-burning sadness that eats away at you constantly. The unshakeable worry that something bad can and will happen to someone you love at any moment. The numbness that makes you question why you’re here at all. The distracted haze you almost constantly find yourself in. The cruel duality of thinking about all the things you could’ve done differently, but knowing you couldn’t have stopped anything. The anger when people look happy and look at you as if you’re supposed to be happy as well. People don’t tell you that you’re expected to move on, but that your friend is going to remind you of him at every corner.
For the last 12 months, I have tried my hardest to suppress these feelings. Any moment I feel them start creeping up, I find something to distract myself with. A party, social media, a conversation, anything I can find for a temporary escape. But after months and months and months of trying to suppress all this shit going on inside my head, I’ve finally come to a realization; when you suppress the lows, you also suppress the highs. Sadness is a part of life, a part of life that human beings need to feel truly and completely to feel any real happiness. Constantly trying to beat back the sadness with some shitty, momentary escape just adds up to a lot of shitty moments.
Nobody has embodied this reality more than my brother Zach. Anyone who knew him well knew he was an emotional roller coaster. I had been the shoulder for him to cry on more times than I could count, and I knew a ton of people who can claim the same. When he got sad, he got sad as hell. But I will be DAMNED if I’ve ever met a human with a higher threshold for happiness. That boy lived his life on a carefree, moment-to-moment whim. He completely embraced whatever he was feeling, and that translated to one of the most magnetic personalities I’ve ever encountered. Almost anyone who’s ever died has had something nice written or said about them. A very small percentage of those people have had an uncountable number of amazing things said about them and had every single one be true. My brother has and they’re all true. Every. Single. One.
It was impossible to be in a room without noticing Zach. He was always making someone laugh, most of the time a lot of people. Making other people happy always made him even happier than they were. It was impossible to be sad around the man without him doing his hardest to change that.
My favorite story of Zach was a day during our sophomore year of college. I had just gotten back to our house with the shittiest attitude imaginable. I can’t even remember the reason now, but I’m fairly sure it was some combination of social, academic, and financial problems. The kid HOUNDED me after he saw how down I was, constantly trying to make me laugh, but I wasn’t taking the bait. Finally he disappeared for about a half hour before he came back to my room with a half-gallon and let me know me we weren’t leaving the room until we talked about what was going on. I ended up venting like crazy while we drank and listened to music for almost the whole day. It wasn’t until a few days later that I learned a) he had spent something like $12 of the last $30 he had to his name (all numbers approximate) on that booze and b) he had some issues he was struggling with as well that he didn’t bring up at the time while I vented about my problems. I have crazier stories, funnier stories, and more surprising stories about Decker, but I don’t have a story that more accurately portrays the kind of person he was. The kid was just absolutely one of a kind.
And this is why, as the 1-year anniversary of his passing approaches this weekend, I’m making a resolution. I am going to challenge myself to truly embody Zach Decker’s spirit to the best of my ability. Socially, I’m going to be a more selfless friend. Personally, I’m done looking for escapes, and I am going to start being thankful to just be. I am going to allow myself to feel the sadness when I need to and I’m going to do my best to enjoy every moment I’m given. Regardless of your personal association to Zach, I challenge anyone who reads this to do the same. Cheers to you Zachary Ramsey Decker. I miss you like crazy man, you made the world a better place. Thanks for just being you, brother.
PS: Jay is and always has been better than Wayne.
From the CyberProps Team: Zach Decker embodied the true spirit of our organization every single day. He was a respectful, loyal friend and a carefree spirit. He loved to do epic shit, let’s get real. Not many can say they lived life to the fullest every single day. And we respect that. Share your love, respect, and a favorite memory of Zach by going to the CyberProps app and propping +ZachsOnDeck. View other’s memories by clicking on that +prop. Rest in Peace, ZRD.