Zac

Hey, Zac.

I miss you.

It’s been almost one year since you died. You died. I can’t even believe that those words are real.

I wasn’t ready to speak at your funeral, so I hope you’ll accept this as my way to honor you.

Flash back to fall of 2010… There you were, sixteen-year-old Zac—a smart, funny, kid in my Spanish 3-4 class and slight pain in my ass. It was no secret you were completely sick of being around a bunch of kids who, as you might say, “sucked” at Spanish, so over the next few months I tutored you after school so you could skip the next level. We studied it all—compound tenses, vocabulary, and the dreaded subjunctive.

Zac, let me try to explain the subjunctive to anyone who might be reading this, thinking “huh?” Yes, I’m the freak who chose to include a grammatical lesson in a eulogy. Deal with it.

In Spanish, there are two main “moods” of verbs. One, the indicative, is the most frequently used, representing things that are true, real, and certain. For example:

Zac es increíble… “Zac is amazing”

Tocó tantas vidas… “He touched so many lives”

No tuvo suficiente tiempo… “He didn’t have enough time”.

The other, called subjunctive, which virtually doesn’t exist in English, represents everything else—doubt, uncertainty, hopes, wishes, desires and emotions. It’s how we express what we hope will happen, want to happen, but perhaps might not happen at all.

Cuando te conviertas en médico… “When you become a doctor”

Espero que te acuerdes de mí… “I hope you remember me”

Ojalá que no nos hubieras dejado… “I wish you hadn’t left us.”

It’s also how we express emotions. Joy, happiness, sadness, regret, fear and excitement—it helps us give meaning to this crazy thing called life.

At times I described it to students as a “ghost” form of the verb—it’s there, but it’s not truly there.

And like a ghost, the subjunctive is hands-down the most confusing and daunting concept for students taking Spanish. Unless your name is Zac Bradley. What many students don’t achieve in a lifetime, you mastered in weeks. Even after skipping a year of Spanish, you came in as the most advanced kid in the class.

That year we grew closer, as you dropped by my room almost daily for yet another Spanish conversation—not that you needed any more extra credit.

We talked about everything—from our dreams and frustrations to drugs and white privilege. We challenged each other’s ideas, but you always kept an open mind for your beliefs to evolve. You cared about the truth and defended it with facts and figures, sometimes debating with me for hours until we found a middle ground. With each conversation, your Spanish improved, and our bond strengthened.

One afternoon I heard someone singing in the halls, unaware it could be you. A few seconds later, we crossed paths, both on our way to my classroom. You were clearly in a mood to sing and had decided I was going to give you extra credit for a song—Eres by Café Tacuba. Despite that you had just told me what to do, we quickly made a deal—you’d sing the whole song loud enough for me to hear every word clearly, but I had to sing with you. So I connected my iPod to the dock and you pulled out your lyric sheet—not that you needed it. There we were, a teacher and his student, two friends belting it out, not caring if anyone who walked by thought we were silly.

Eres,

lo que más quiero en este mundo eso eres,

mi pensamiento más profundo también eres,

tan sólo dime lo que es

que aquí me tienes…

The end of that school year, I left my teaching job to be a full-time stay-at-home dad. When you found out, you were clearly pissed at me, but you congratulated and encouraged me nonetheless. On graduation night, you ran up to hug me and said, “Señor, I’m never going to see you again!” I hated the idea that you might be right.

But luckily our friendship continued to grow, and next year, as a senior, you asked me to escort you down the stage at the school’s “Mr. Shadow” pageant—an honor typically reserved for contestants’ parents. When you graduated and went off to Berkeley, we’d Skype about college life and Spanish assignments and even met up each time I visited the Bay Area. I felt in many ways like a parental figure to you—proud and protective, and excited to see the incredible future you had waiting for you. Beyond this, you became “Tío Zac” to my son Ellis, who truly loved you.

berkeley

And then came the phone call I will never forget. After Thomas told me you had died, I went into the bathroom to tell my husband Simon, who was bathing Ellis. There I saw my beautiful little toddler splashing in the tub, and at that moment my shock and sadness were joined by a jolt of fear. What if my own amazing son doesn’t get to live a full life? So much potential. Such an amazing human being. Gone. Over the next days and weeks I’d find myself zoning out, trying to breath deeply. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I sang along to Eres again to honor you and heard the lyrics in a new light.

Aquí estoy a tu lado, 

y espero aquí sentado hasta el final,

No te has imaginado, 

lo que por ti he esperado pues eres…

….lo que yo amo en este mundo eso eres…

Cada minuto en lo que pienso eso eres…

Lo que más cuido en este mundo eso eres…..

 

Here I am by your side

I sit and wait here until the end

You have never imagined

What I have hoped for you, yes….

You are… what I love in this world,

You are… what I think of every moment

You are… what I hold so close to me in this world, you are…

But every time I’d get upset, I imagined you saying in a frustrated voice, “Dude, just don’t be sad. Seriously, It’s a f*cking waste of time.”

There you go again, telling me what to do, Zac. But in many ways, you’re right.

If I were still teaching, I’d be discussing the Day of the Dead right now, showing my students images of skeletons and skulls dancing among flowers, reminding us how beautiful and fleeting life can be. Back when you were my student we celebrated this bittersweet holiday, recognizing our own mortality and promising to enjoy every moment of life with those that we love. You kept your promise, and your exuberant life ended just hours before the Day of the Dead, 2014.

You always enjoyed life, whether you were laughing, singing, doing something slightly stupid, challenging an adult or giving someone a huge hug or smile. Thank you for teaching me to truly live. I’m never going to see you again, and I’ve accepted that. I think.

I once heard someone say, “A life doesn’t have to be long to be meaningful.” If there’s anyone this applies to, it’s you.

I’d like to think you’re out there somewhere, watching us and laughing, playing the role of the subjunctive—that challenging and fascinating thing that we just can’t explain or understand easily. You’re here—but not here—helping us make sense of our hopes, wishes, doubts and confusion, and our passions and emotions in life. You already know this, but I always loved the subjunctive, even though it was sometimes a pain in my ass.

mr shadow

So to close, here’s a link to Eres by Café Tacuba, the song we sang five years ago in my classroom. “Eres” means “You are”—in the most real, true and certain way. And, Zac, you are, you were and you always will be—special to me. I made sure to include the lyrics in the video. Not that you need them.

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One comment

  1. Wow Robbie! I cried reading through this. What a beautiful dedication. I remember you talking about him. How did he die? I love you and I am looking forward to our kiddos making many memories together!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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