My brother Zeke died yesterday. This is my favorite picture of him and my sister Tara. Grief is a strange and personal creature, molding itself to your own specific schisms and dogmas. It coils itself around your heart delivering periodic electric shocks or administering blessed analgesics so that you feel strangely empty and disconnected from the earth even if what you think you want is to bleed your heart into cracked dry earth.
Everyone will have their own version of Zeke to hang onto when they miss him. This is mine.
When we were in grade school and walked to Mira Vista Elementary he would sometimes take out his anger on me by kicking me in the shins. I forgave him every time he did it because I loved him so much and felt so protective of his fierce angry soul that I hoped I could absorb it all with my own body. I wanted to fix the world for him and still believed back then that love and compassion would do the trick. He knew better. I’m a pretty old soul but however old my soul might be, his was primordial.
Mums said Zeke was born angry. I don’t get to tell the story of how she came to think this, because it isn’t mine to tell, but I’d definitely like to know why I never wore pretty camisoles like this one when I had Max.
I loved classical music when we were kids as much as Zeke loved rock and roll. We argued about the superiority of one over the other quite often since his bedroom was next to mine and he played his music loud.
He brought a black widow into the house in a jar with a flimsy tin foil covering poked full of holes and when the spider disappeared I never slept again. He loved spiders, lizards, hermit crabs, and sharks. I remember one of his early acrylics was of a shark and I was so jealous that he could paint so well while I could not.
Zeke liked to think he was taller than me when, in fact, we were the exact same height. Philip measured us. His nephew outgrew us by inches just in the last year. So Max wins.
I have been known to accidentally call Max “Zeke”. In the last couple of days I’ve done it several times but now it kind of hurts. Max is a lot like his uncle in so many ways. Especially when he was a small kid.
Zeke loved his family in small doses. His friends are where he sought his daily familial needs but he loved us none-the-less. You know when a person truly loves you. Even if they walk in after months away and tell you when they need to leave before saying hello. I’m his sister, not a sentimentalist. There are bonds that are formed especially with childhoods like ours that nothing but siblinghood can create. We love him so much, so fucking much, we cursed him and his prickliness, his slippery-ness, and tried to hold onto him every time we saw him because he was connected to us through spirit. He was also so much fun to hang out with.
Right before Christmas I was looking up vintage clear non-prescription glasses to wear while riding my Vespa at night. On Christmas day we picked Zeke up and he’s wearing the very glasses I was hoping to find – except they weren’t vintage. I wanted his glasses. How is it that no matter what cool thing I want to do, he gets to it before me? Fucker.
This is my favorite picture of Zeke and me.
I once ate a big bite of salmon because Zeke loves salmon (and fish in general) so much and insisted that I would like it the way he made it. I knew he was wrong but I hated to disappoint him so I ate it and almost immediately threw it up all over him because fish is disgusting and I will never like it.
Zeke was always honest, even when it made others exquisitely uncomfortable. It never made him uncomfortable to be true to himself and speak his mind. He was not a saint. He was constantly getting into sticky situations, spent a lot of time broke, was prickly as fuck, already an old man by the time he was five, and I have spent my whole life worrying about him because I came into this world before him and was a curmudgeonly old man first.
He had a deep love and connection with music, was always introducing those around him to new sounds as he discovered them. He was a serious lifelong skateboarder, but never went pro. He was possibly the most fearless person I’ve ever known, although I suspect he was afraid of dentists. He was an incredible artist. Over the last few years he has honed his photography and his art series “Urban Archeology” so much that I felt sure he would soon be able to get his work into galleries. I don’t say this as a loving indulgent sister, I say this as a person with a strong eye for design and art but without the talent he possessed.
I loved my brother unconditionally, but not blindly. Zeke was always the coolest person in the room, but he was rough around the edges, always scraped and bruised, and there were times I was worried he was becoming a conservative republican. But the best thing about Zeke was that he had a genuine big heart. He wasn’t around his family half as much as we wanted him. We were always trying to hold onto him a little longer before he jetted off. As a sister I couldn’t rely on him to be there in ways I could count on our sister to be there for me. I think most people will agree that when it comes to Zeke, you have to take him on HIS terms.
My most treasured memory of Zeke is the time we spent together with Tara in Scotland attending our dad’s wedding.
In spite of Zeke only knowing how to live on his own terms, and not on anyone else’s or for anyone else’s comfort, whatever he had to give he gave it freely and fully. I’ve always been incredibly proud of my brother.
I’m desperately sad that I’ll never get to laugh with him again.
I love you, little brother. I’m sorry I didn’t have the power to keep you safe.