She had the voice of an angel, gossamer words flowing outwards, rejuvenating the sapping strings of life. When Zet sang, her voice connected everyone listening.
The first time I heard her sing was on a warm summer day in June. We sat on scratchy beach chairs we bought at Walmart, trash littering the sand our chairs were perched on. Broken bottles haunted the scene, my foot already sticky with blood. But I didn’t care. Nothing down here could take from the beauty of the pearl-studded night sky, the perfect unorder to the crashing ocean. It was so sudden when she did. We sat quietly, just the two of us, listening to the rhythmic waves sloshing on the sand. And then her sweet voice broke the silence, taking control of all sound for that moment in time.
One thought crossed my star-struck mind: Woah.
It was like she channeled happiness when she opened her mouth. Singing tales of the stars, the lyrics of smiles, the essence of rainbows. Buttery sunshine on a spring day, the first cool breeze at summer camp when you know everything will be alright. The ocean faded into the distance as I listened. It was like a fresh breath of air, resetting my timeline to oblivion.
I stared at her, I remember. Her dark hair falling in waves around her tan skin, moonlight dancing on her features. Her amber eyes are forever burned into my memory, playful yet serious, touches of humor in the endless shining hues.
Zet was like a willow branch, bending to the wind. She was flexible, curling into insane shapes, yet so strong. She could hold a contortion handstand for half an hour without breaking a sweat.And when she came down, hugging me as we cheered for her new record, I could hear the faint beats of her heart pumping a little faster.
Her red face looked exhilarated after that accomplishment.
On the gymnastics mat, her flurries of cartwheels and backflips rivaled the most professional athletes. I watched her string of movements, Zet mastering a performance then assembling another one.
Every day, she trained.
Every day, she prevailed.
And when she made it into the cancelled 2020 Olympics, I was so proud.
Gosh, she was patient.
Waiting for her watermelon seeds to grow as she watered them every day.
Staying calm when her dog Balto tracked mud into the house again.
Doing those push-ups and sit-ups and weights, watching her muscles swell as she prepared for her gymnastics contests.
Patience is everything.
Ever since I observed her first learn how to write in first grade, she’s been at it. Poems, songs, novels, Zet can do it all. I’m honestly amazed. Zetta is so many things. Feisty yet reserved, sociable yet introverted, sporty but excelling in literature.
Her poems, all brevities. Short and sweet, painting tales of sunsets and heartbreaks and fields of flowers. Imagery. She poked at your heart, seeing how emotional her words could make you feel, capturing even the simplest concepts beautifully.
Her songs, all enthusiastic. She wrote her own lyrics, drawing inspiration from her poems. Cheerful bops getting stuck in your head, softer sad songs, country music about life and sweat and tears. I think I’ve been in a couple of them.
Her books, tales that you never want to end. Zet always loved fantasy because anything could happen. She talked about unicorns and powers, penning fictional alternate-realities where all her dreams came true.
She feels her words. Pours her emotions and experiences into sentences. Her characters are part her, from the protagonists to villains to that one funny cat called Emerald. Her stories mimic the best writing: you feel like it's real. I ship Sofie and Cataline, I hope Oscar gets the Dragon Gem by the end of the book, and my eyes shedded oceans when Hazelle died.
Zet had desires, and she was great at chasing after her dreams.
She didn’t want to lead a normal life. She wanted adventure and exploration. I remember her eyes glinting as she pointed to New York on the map. “This is where we’re going next,” she had said.
Once or twice a month we went somewhere new. The trips sapped at her savings, but Zetta was the queen of YOLO. As she put it, why would she trade clinging to scraps of green paper over exploring other cultures?
I loved this about her.
Fate didn’t, apparently.
Neither did the driver who didn’t see her crossing the street to get to Paris’s top shuttle line….
Zetta was so many things, and that included smart. Genius, really. While I’m effortlessly smart (photographic memory perks) but didn’t care for raising my hand much, Zet was the perfect teacher’s pet. She studied and participated and never dipped below an A+.
Our school grades were different in that way. I had to do almost nothing and she did everything. It’s almost unfair we both got A’s since she did so much and I did so little. But then, she got into Harvard with a full academic scholarship. I was scared to death we’d be separated during college, but Harvard took one look at my perfect CAT and SOL scores and I got the same.
So I definitely didn’t care about the unfairness after that relief.
Knowing what to say at just the right time, who to wrap in a bare hug. She knew everything in a way the gossip-girl of our grade, Avila, never could. Zetta dissected and inferred from history texts in school, then glimpsed into the minds of everyone else still finishing the assignment.
Zetta understood. She felt the glowing pulse of nature, the heartbeat of the Earth. She pieced together clues and knew who to comfort and about what. It was like magic.
Zet and her patience, her mind, and her empathy would’ve made a better therapist than the school guidance counselor ever did.
Zetta was amazing at her mind.
She mastered her thoughts—or at least, she tried, becoming one with her subconsciousness. Zetta would think and think and be lost in concepts and mysteries. Her head was like an endless funnel of ideas.
Sometimes it trapped her.
Weighed her down.
Brain whispering all sorts of things that made Zetta isolate herself from everyone for a full day or two. When she was like this, it broke my heart that she wouldn’t allow me to help. I want to plop her on a sofa with warm blankets and a cheesy romance movie, giving her puppies and rainbows and inserting happiness into her brain.
But she didn’t want any of that. She always said that the only way *she* could help herself was by *her* helping herself. I kind of understood this. She talked about how any depressing thoughts or something was all in her mind, so she’d lose herself in her thoughts and make herself better.
Zet literally gave herself mental therapy.
And it always worked.
I don’t know what she did by herself, but while all of my other classmates had breakdowns every other day, Zet was controlled and eerily calm. She knew how to control her bad thoughts and let her good ideas and mysteries and midnight occurrences reign free.
Mind over matter.
Zet had so much passion.
Every enchanted movement, every time she opened her mouth to sing, every story and every poem and flurries of moves to create a dance...she meant it.
There are fakers. That’s the sad reality. Gymnasts who are just in it for the money, writers who don’t feel their words, singers who don’t care about the impact of their lyrics.
Then there’s Zetta.
She’s genuine. Only does something by putting her heart into it.
She’s amazing, but sincerely amazing.
And no one can take that away from her.
Most of all, Zetta Celestine Grace excelled at stealing the hearts of everyone she met.
Every action was a gift, Zet granting the world with her existence. You loved you, you had to. As soon as you saw her gentle features smile, heard her voice like shells caressed to smoothness, witnessed her help somebody up off the ground...you would do anything for her.
You couldn’t help but adore her.
I wish she were still here.
But I’ll always remember her pink-lipped smile, her fierce smirk when she roasted a friend. Her fidgeting with her charm bracelet when she was put on the spot or complimented. Her playful personality, modest and fun to be around.
Her voice is burned into my memory, that day at the beach. She sang me a song she wrote herself, a lyrical tale of friendship and heartache. I remember the chorus of the song:
Cuz you don’t see
How much you mean to me
You’re my heart
And my soul
My whole family
And it’s true.
She was everything.
She still is.
And tonight, taking a step into the new year, Zetta Celestine Grace is taking the step with me.