My Cousin Zeev

Zevy; a brilliant, funny, caring, quirky man. Practical to a fault. A scientist on the cusp of major breakthroughs in cancer research. Avidly interested in Zen. A minimalist, with no patience for being bogged down by earthly possessions. Handsome from birth. A meat enthusiast, who was known to eat lamb chops for dessert. Respected and admired by his colleagues. Loved and cherished by his family.

Zevy took his own life on April 20th. When he didn’t show up at his lab, for the third day in a row, the police were called to check on him at home. They found him in his overstuffed recliner, with an empty vial of sodium azide and a half-drunk bottle of tequila nearby. He liked that recliner. It was one of the few pieces of furniture that he owned.

To say that this tragic event has rocked my world would be an understatement. Zevy was a huge source of support to me when I was sick. He brought a unique cocktail of scientific pragmatism, spirituality, Zen, and unbridled optimism to my bedside every week, and fed it to me with a spoon. He pushed me to move, when I could barely lift my head. He encouraged me to summon my inner strength, and use it as a tool in my own healing. He explained to me that cancer occurs when there is a massive failure of the immune system, that the pharmacological could only do so much, if I didn’t have the will to survive, and not to worry about relapsing for “at least two years”. He reminded me that living creatures are biologically programmed to “cling to life”. Right or wrong, those are things that he told me; that he held as self-evident, and he was so genuine about it, that I couldn’t help but listen and absorb. I believed him, too. *Disclaimer: I think all that talk of “positivity” for cancer patients is complete bullshit. If it were a matter of attitude, I’d be dead right now, but that’s a whole other blog post…

On the one hand, it’s so difficult for me to wrap my brain around his suicide. I went to great lengths to survive an aggressive cancer. I allowed my body to be cut, mutilated, poked, prodded and poisoned. I endured excruciating pain, sacrificed organs, oozed body fluids, all in an effort to return to the privileged world of the healthy, and it was absolutely worth every miserable minute. It’s hard for me to fathom that a person with a healthy body would go to equally extreme lengths to do themselves in. At the same time, is also easy for me to wrap my brain around his suicide. It’s hard and it’s easy. That’s confusing, but I’m grateful for it. I understand that Zevy was very sick, and that his thinking was distorted–too distorted to even allow him to seek help for himself. I know that he believed the things that he told me, and that he fashioned his life based on them. I know that he wasn’t lying to me, or holding me to a standard he wouldn’t hold himself to. One of the many reasons why  mental illness is so terrible, is that it makes the sufferer look like they are just being an asshole. Or a liar. I know that, had the chemicals in his brain been balanced, he would not have wanted to die. He was a biologist. He would have rejected the notion as scientifically unsound, that a living creature would kill itself. He was so full of passion and purpose. He would have wanted to see his research through to the end. He would have wanted to see ME through to the end. He did a great job of hiding his pain, and didn’t show a single outward sign that anything was wrong, but there were people in my family who knew that he was suicidal, and kept his secret. As a result, he wasn’t able to get the help that he needed and, I believe, would have wanted.  I’m very angry about that. They found a piece of paper on the windowsill, in the room where he died, that had my name and phone number on it. Zevy didn’t use a smartphone. He, literally, had my number in his hand, but he couldn’t make the call. I would have dropped everything…I had absolutely no idea what was happening, and I am heartbroken that I wasn’t able to do for him, in his darkest, ugliest days, what he did for me during mine.

Anxiety was an alien sensation to me, when I was first diagnosed with Cancer. It became a frequent and familiar visitor, though, and I recognize it creeping back now. I’m emotional, my appetite is down, I’m restless, and I’m having trouble sleeping. I don’t like to leave my apartment. Drawing helps. I’ve been drawing a lot of faces in recent days. I’m using pastel, because it’s so easy to rub out mistakes, and I don’t want to be ruled by the worry of ruining canvases. Writing helps, but make no mistake: it is not making me feel any less shitty. I resent the commonly held notion that an artist doesn’t struggle with grief, only uses it as source material. “Sorry for your loss, but I bet you’ll write a great song about it”. No words make me rage hotter.

I wrote a song called “Rewind” for my Lyric Writing final. It wasn’t my choice. I had to write a song that dealt with the subject of personal struggle, it had to be my own personal experience, and the listener had to believe that it was something that I’d experienced directly. Normally, my MO is to write about real emotions and experiences, but couch them in story songs. It was a way that I protected myself from my own emotions, and my wonderful professor had me figured out, almost from day 1. She joked that she knew I’d find this assignment to be particularly challenging, and I agreed. Then, Zevy killed himself, and the words just spilled out onto the paper. I didn’t write “Rewind” for anybody per se, not even for myself. I had a fucking final, guys! If you’re actually reading this awkward and ill-conceived blog of mine, and you want to hear a demo, here’s a link: soundcloud.com/taliasegal/rewind

And if you are actually reading this, and you fear that somebody close to you is contemplating suicide, PLEASE INTERVENE! There are a ton of resources out there. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

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