If you’ve ever had a bad birthday, just remember Zoe Marconi. Her twin brother, Zach, died the day before their birthday. That will take the frosting off your cake real quick.
Since Zoe lost Zach, she’s been dealing with a lot. She’s watching her parents grieve the loss of one of their children. And she’s angry with Zach for killing himself. And she blames herself for not being able to stop him. It’s a lot of emotions for a teenager. Even more than usual.
So how has Zoe been coping with all this? By deflecting:
“It’s okay,” she told her quickly. “We weren’t close.”
People usually looked relieved when she told them that, but Frances’s face didn’t change at all.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“It’s fine. Like I said, we really … didn’t get on.” Zoe tried to clarify it for her. Don’t stress! You’re off the hook.
She remembered her friend Cara, the day after Zach’s funeral, saying, “At least you weren’t close.” Cara was really close to her sister. (12.40-44)
See, Zoe and Zach hadn’t been talking to each other the month before Zach died. And if Zoe tells herself that she and Zach weren’t close, then maybe his death won’t hurt as much. Maybe if she changes her birthday from January to March, she won’t have to think about Zach. Maybe her grief won’t swallow her whole like it’s swallowing her parents. Maybe she can get through another day.
Side note: That Cara is an awful friend.
Of course, Zoe and Zach were close. So close that, deep down, Zoe blames herself for Zach’s death. She could see that Zach was acting strangely before his death, and she never said anything to her parents. Zoe thinks that if she hadn’t been so stubborn, if she hadn’t ignored her brother in the month leading up to his death, but had talked to him instead, maybe he’d still be here annoying her today.
Zoe finally gets closure during her psychedelic therapy. She “sees” Zach and is able to “talk” to him:
“Oh, Zoe, you stupid-head,” said Zach.
He put his arm around her. They never hugged. They weren’t that sort of brother and sister. Sometimes when they passed each other in the hallway they randomly shoved each other for no reason at all. Like, hard enough to hurt. But now he was hugging her, and talking in her ear, and it was him, it was Zach, it was absolutely him, he smelled of that stupid Lynx bodywash which he said he used ironically but he totally used because he believed the ads about how it made the girls think you were hotter.
Zach pulled her close and whispered in her ear. “It was nothing to do with you. I didn’t do it to get at you.” He gripped her arm to make sure she got his point. “I wasn’t me.” (41.28-30)
This is exactly what Zoe needs to hear. And, sure, it’s during a hallucination, but does that make it any less real? Zoe may be imagining Zach, but she’s not imagining his response. In her heart, this is what she knows he would say: this isn’t your fault, so stop beating yourself up about it.