By Tim Lewis
Some people have funerals when they die. Though the word funeral technically is synonymous to “memorial service,” the sounds suggest two completely different notions. The word “funeral” sounds like a dirge — dark, quiet, sober, half-emotionless, half-weeping (not crying, not sobbing, not shedding tears, but weeping). It may fit some end-of-life ceremonies and may fit some people.
But not Tom Zbyszewski. I think Tom would prefer something at a merriness level between a memorial service and a wake. Sometimes avoiding the “funeral” mindset can be tough. Over the last couple weeks I’ve found myself slipping into a pensive, quiet mood immediately upon returning to college. I was walking slower, eating less, spacing out more — lethargic. I felt hollow. Something was missing.
And then, I saw a transcript on Facebook (where else?) of Tom’s salutatorian speech from my — our — graduation. And when I read it, I felt at home. Well, Tom missed a spot in his speech, something Tom never did. He was thorough. But above Tom’s thoroughness was his humility, and of course as he talked about how he felt like he was at home around all of us — his classmates — his omission was of course, himself.
Home was Tom’s most direct siblings, his yappy dogs biting your ankles. Home was frantically asking Tom questions prior to math and physics exams, and hugging him when scoring well. Home was Tom, of all people, visiting me at the county fair and taking a keen interest in the poultry I showed.
Home was getting nasty glares from Knowledge Bowl judges at our sniggering and less-than-appropriate jokes. Home was deferring to Tom on questions with 5 seconds to answer. He was always creative enough to come up with something in literally no time. Home was beating Tonasket’s No. 1 team with Duncan and Saunders. Home was complaining to Hubbard when Tom wasn’t on my team. I was always a greedy and selfish captain. Home was high fives with every correct answer. Tom was always an excellent high-fiver.
Home was philosophical lunchtime discussions in the library. Home was dueling calculus puns — it wasn’t just integreat, it was integrand (Tom never did follow that one up — the only time I ever out-punned Tom). Home was cross-room banter and a one-upsmanship contest to find the goofiest current events article of the day. Home was yet more sniggering and yet more less-than-appropriate jokes in Spanish II — and Spanish III. Tom-o was classy, but Tom still had a little adolescent side about him.
Home was going to The Merc and watching Tom ham it up. Home was Tom’s satisfied smirk when he left me speechless. Home was hours upon hours of Sarah Palin jokes and reliving last night’s “Colbert Report.” Home was bellowing “TOM-O” every morning in the hall, and Tom’s calm, quiet response of “Hey Tim” or “Tim-o.” Home was Tom bragging about Whitman’s two-week spring break. Home was nodding and smiling respectfully and lying just a little as Tom talked enthusiastically about “Star Trek.” Home was not being able to properly spell Zbyszewski consistently until high school. Tom’s still listed in my contacts on my phone as Tom Zdowihfiskublsikdruilkski.
Home was the class of ’13 gathering to remember Tom. Home was knowing Tom was laughing hysterically every time a media outlet has mispronounced Zbyszewski the last couple weeks. How many ways can you mispronounce Zbyszewski? Home was the 2-minute rainbow the day after Tom died. Home was comforting and being comforted by Jen and Ski.
And home is (present tense) all of these memories, and many, many more. Home is sharing them. And home is knowing that Tom’s spirit is with us now and will be forever.
I stopped by Zbyszewski’s on my way to Pullman, and Ski said what we all were thinking: “It sucks.” And Ski’s right. It sucks. But what would’ve sucked more is if we had never had the experience of Tom Zbyszewski.
Home is where Tom is now. And home is where we all are now.
Cheers, Tom-O … cheers.
Tim Lewis graduated from Liberty Bell High School in 2013 and is a student at Washington State University. He has been a firefighter the past two summers.