By Larry Zamel, 17, Fairfax HS (Los Angeles)
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Larry dedicates this article to his father, Tal Zamel, the "king of rock and roll," 1958-2003.

Before I start this off, I would like to mention that my father was a chef, a great chef. He could make anything—Italian, French, anything, you name it.

Also, he could make friends in seconds. I remember when he was in the hospital there would always be a flock of nurses and doctors in his room listening to him tell stories and jokes. Even after the chemotherapy when he lost all his hair, he would joke about it. Once, while my mom was visiting, the nurse came in to give him a physical. As she looked under his gown, he said, "What, while my wife is here? You couldn’t wait until she goes home?" He laughed till his last breath—that was the type of guy he was.

Another thing I loved about him, he was a big music fan. I’d be on the computer and he’d come in and sit on my bed. He’d grab my guitar and pretend he was Jimi Hendrix, picking the guitar strings with his teeth. Goofing off. "Let’s listen to some real music," he’d say and put on a CD of The Beatles, Black Sabbath or the Rolling Stones. He could sing any Rolling Stones song. If I told him I didn’t want to hear his ancient music, he’d laugh.

If I heard an unfamiliar song on the radio, he’d know who the artist was, because he was the king of rock and roll, at least to me. Every time I would hear a new band I would make him listen and tell me what he thought about it. He’d always say, "Everything sounds the same, music today has no passion, it’s not original." He liked The Offspring though. He bought me my first punk rock CD when I was 11, it was Americana by The Offspring. Later he got me A Place In the Sun by Lit. Those records helped the time go faster after the funeral.

In the last few months, we started spending more time together, going out to eat, hanging out in my room and going to record stores. After I had shaved off my mohawk, he joked with me that now we were both bald. We researched the Rolling Stones tour to see if we could somehow go to a concert.

One time I was alone in the house with him about two weeks before he went to the hospital for the last time. He was laying in his bed listening to music when he said, "You know what? Why don’t you get us a couple of beers?"

I got us two cold beers and I sat beside him on his bed. It was nice to sit and have a beer and really talk, especially since I was only 15 and shouldn’t be drinking. We had never done that before, the father-son chat.

He told me a story from his childhood about how you have to stand up for yourself, a story about how he beat up this bully and scared him away. It was a cool story. I liked the image of my dad kicking someone’s butt. Even more than the story, I appreciated that we were just sitting together talking like buddies. Of course, I didn’t know it would be the last real conversation we would have.

The final hours

He had been sick for about a year. First the doctors said he had diabetes, then they said it was some blood disease and then they said "Oops, you know what? It’s cancer." By then it was too late.

On his last day, he couldn’t talk at all. He was all wired up with tubes and just laying in his bed breathing slowly. It was early in the morning when my mother and brother went home for a while and left me alone with him in the hospital. That little room smelled like medicine and urine, but I got used to it after a while. I sat in a chair by his bed and periodically got up and tried to talk to him. He couldn’t speak because he was in a coma but every time I said something to him he would slightly move his head, signaling that he couldn’t talk but he was listening. He died later that night.

I didn’t feel much at the funeral. It was a formal Jewish ceremony. My father wasn’t a religious man at all until his last days. I guess that gave him hope towards the end. I remember I bought him a little pocket bible to carry when he was at the hospital—that made him happy.

So he wanted to be buried under Jewish rules, which meant that before they buried him, the family could see him one last time and kiss him goodbye. We walked in that room and saw a body covered in a white blanket on a cold metal table. One of the workers pulled back the blanket so we could see his face. I stood against the wall and looked away. If I looked at his face, that face would forever be carved in my head, and I didn’t want to remember him as a cold corpse. I heard my family crying and my grandmother yelling "That’s not him, that’s not his body!"

In this type of funeral, they don’t use a coffin. So we all had to watch as they carried him out into the cemetery and pushed his body in the grave. When they started shoveling dirt on him, I wanted to scream, "Leave him alone!" As the hole filled, I couldn’t believe he was gone. Then I just wanted to go home but instead I had to stand around and talk to all my parents’ friends and shake
their hands.

When we got home it was so quiet in the house. My mother, brother and I just went our separate ways, each in our own grieving process. I couldn’t get used to my dad being dead. I had the feeling that he was just at work or in and out of the hospital.

Illustration by Larry Zamel, 17, Fairfax HS

A few days later, I was rummaging through his room looking for one of his old T-shirts or an old pillow or something that had that warm "dad" scent. I just wanted to get the familiar warm feeling I had when I was around him.

Three days after he died I was hanging out with my friends at night like we always did. They started removing street signs from their posts, the ones that say LEFT, RIGHT and STOP. I was staring at the darkness thinking about the last few days. I was saying to God, "Come on, he believed, he tried, couldn’t You pull some strings for him? Why did You fail my dad?" I was disgusted with the Jewish religion and everything it stood for.

Suddenly—BOOM!—I was out of my body, falling in slow motion. The sound of my friends laughing and talking was replaced with a long piercing shriek in my ears, and then it all
turned black.

I woke up semi-conscious on the ground, hearing my friends screaming and running toward me. A friend of mine kneeled beside me and she was slapping me in the face to wake me up. They dragged me under a street light and when I looked at my hands, they were drenched in blood. I asked my friend, "Am I going to die?"

One of my friends, who was goofing around with the street signs, had thrown a NO ENTRANCE sign like a Frisbee. It hit me and cut a 3-inch long hole in my head. Blood was everywhere. They rushed me to the hospital and glued me back together. At first I was scared, then I was just grumpy and mad.

That experience was a sort of awakening for me. I felt like God was saying that I needed to accept my father’s death. God was saying, "Shut up, don’t be stupid. I may be God but I can’t keep my hands on everything. People die." After that, God became my buddy in a sense. He helped me feel alive, like a fish that was put back in the water.
For weeks after the funeral, I tried to fill my days with books, movies, homework, friends—anything I could to get my dad off my mind. But a few months later, I started getting all these exhausting images and thoughts in my head. I’d see my dad’s body on the metal table. He would be a corpse in my dreams, then he would fall down down down into a grave. In other dreams he would be healthy and new, and we would hug and talk for hours, but then I would wake up.

I was tired all day but I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d lock the bedroom door and sit in my room in the dark until 6 a.m. and just draw stuff—ghosts, death, axes, knives, blood—images of violence. Then I started having these dark thoughts about stabbing and killing. I used to punch the walls and scrape my knuckles until they got bloody. I imagined what it would be like if I went in my room and cut my wrists and splashed the walls with blood. I thought I was going insane and I was afraid to tell anyone in case they locked me up or put me on medication. My brother would say, "Come out and eat with us. You’re like a vampire." But I wouldn’t come out, I was too tired.

I kept my tears and my crazy thoughts to myself

I felt like if I told anyone how I was feeling, they would just lecture me on how I was a selfish whiner. Since I had no one else to talk to, I started talking to myself in my head. I told myself to grow up and let it go, but I couldn’t. Not yet. Then I started getting paranoid and wondering if maybe I killed him. I blamed myself for everything, every time he would ask me to bring him a pack of cigarettes, every second I would spend with my friends and not with him, I felt I contributed to his death. I hated myself with such passion, I felt so ugly inside. I sucked at school (I was always sleeping or staring off into space) but that didn’t matter. How could it matter when I was a murderer?

I stopped having plans. I didn’t dream of being a musician or a comic book artist. It scared me to look into the future and see nothing, especially since my dad would have wanted me to do what I love.

A FAVORITE FAMILY PHOTO Larry's father, who was a big Beatles fan, visited Abbey Road in London, where the cover photo of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was shot.

Gradually, after about a year, I started to wonder if there was more to life than misery. My dad had told us before he died, "Don’t make my death a tragedy." He wanted to be remembered, but he would have wanted me to be happy too. Slowly my violent thoughts started going away.

There’s no big secret to it, I just started feeling better as time went by. I stopped locking the door to my bedroom, and sometimes I kept the blinds open. I slept better and started spending more time with friends. I started caring more about school, my family and my life. I had this feeling that I might do something cool someday, maybe be a filmmaker, or help someone somehow.

I still miss him and his jokes and his passion for life. Even now when I hear good bands like Rise Against, or even bad rock bands like the White Stripes, I want to ask him what he thinks about those bands. Then it hits me all over again that he’s gone.

This April will mark two years since his death. I guess I’ve gotten used to the fact he’s not here anymore. I feel proud that I got through it on my own, without anyone telling me what to feel. I appreciate life much more now. I’m alive. It’s the small things—like having my own room and time to play the guitar and draw and watch TV. So in the words of John Lennon (someone who my father loved), "While there’s life, there’s hope."