When my dad told me “Quinn died”, the words felt heavy. They stuck in the air, it was almost like I could see them in front of my face, feel them in my throat. I blinked, everything looked the same, but nothing was. The world changed in an instant. It almost frustrated me that the difference wasn’t visually perceivable. How could everything just keep running? How could the world keep going? Not even a stutter.
My chest felt tight. Breathing felt especially difficult. I had to take conscious, concentrated breaths. In and out. Quinn died. It repeated in my head.
I had waited 10 years to hear those words. I had wondered a thousand times if today would be the day. I was even pretty sure that’s what my dad had called to say. I whispered it to myself in my head before he said it. Why did it feel so different out loud? How could the entire world change in an instant? From two simple words.
I have lost my brother in many ways, at many points in time. They’ve each hurt in their own way. I thought they had prepared me for anything. But this felt different. This was world shattering.
I’ve always had this feeling that Quinn wasn’t totally built for our world, it seemed like he was destined for something different. He was just a bit too big and too bright for our little town, or maybe even our entire universe, to fully contain.
Quinn just wasn’t like anyone else that I knew. And because of that, he was often misunderstood. People who didn’t know him misread his talent as cockiness, his intelligence as pretension, his bravery as recklessness, and in his darker moments, they misread his addiction as self indulgence, his self doubt as selfishness, and his depression as a lack of compassion.
But for those who were close to Quinn, they knew his light. They knew his softness, his sweetness, and tenderness. They knew the depth of his curiosity and the power of his talent.
Quinn was one of those people who could do anything he tried, almost effortlessly. Within weeks of starting piano, he could play almost anything by ear. He didn’t study for tests but he always aced them, he could master just about anything, without really even trying. And when he did put in the effort, my god could he excel. When Quinn really put his mind to something, it was fascinating to watch. He had this ability to focus on a single task that I’ve never understood. Nothing could get in his way. A week after Quinn bought his first BMX bike, he was doing the same tricks as the pros. Because he sat out in our driveway on that bike everyday, all day, practicing again and again until he nailed each move.
I’ll be honest, this part of Quinn was sometimes tough for the people around him. It wasn’t always easy to understand where his attention went off to. He wasn’t someone you could always rely on to answer your call, or stay fully present when you were together. Sometimes his mind just wasn’t there in the room with you, and that was hard to understand. On top of that, his level of commitment made him almost annoyingly talented, it challenged the people around him in a way that wasn’t always comfortable. Trust me, as his little sister, it set an impossible bar to live up to. But boy did I try.
Growing up, Quinn was more than my idol, more than my role model, Quinn was almost like my god. His words were gospel to me, and I wanted more than anything to be like him and be liked by him. I spent my entire childhood trying to catch up to Quinn. I learned almost everything I knew from him. He was my hero, my teacher, my best friend, my world.
And I know I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit of this. Quinn had many followers, many admirers. He just had this glimmer in his eye and spring in his step you couldn’t help but follow. He was so full of life and energy that just being near him made you feel a bit more alive. His smile was radiant, his laugh was truly infectious, and he had a sense of play that most of us lose as we age. This not only made him incredible with kids, but allowed him to pull the kid out of anyone. It was an almost intoxicating effect.
As a child Quinn taught me many things. He taught me how to share, how to give endlessly to those around you, he helped me learn to ride a bike, he explained addition and subtraction to me. He sat with me as I read and taught me the proper pronunciation of words. He taught me how to play handball, how to sword fight with sticks and how to play Pokeémon. He shared pieces of himself with me every chance he got, never expecting anything in return.
As we grew up, I started to learn a different kind of lesson from Quinn. I had just enough distance from him to see the way he was perceived by others, but I was close enough to know how distorted some of those perceptions could be.
I saw how the legal system was built upon a false foundation of good guys vs bad guys. And that it was willing to tear apart the “bad guys”, without showing a shred of remorse.
It confused me. How could someone so loving, so well intentioned, with such a good heart and so much potential be met with such injustice? How could the image of my brother that existed in the heads of our teachers, our neighbors and our law enforcement officers be so far from the truth?
Watching the world mistreat, misunderstand, mislabel, and mislead my brother was heartbreaking and infuriating. I watched his spirit be smothered by people who dubbed him a menace, without ever even talking to him. I watched him desperately fight to claw his way out while the walls around him were built higher and higher.
I saw how the exterior world's misguided view of my brother began to seep into his own self perception and how it poisoned his ability to fully love himself. I saw him try to drown out the discomfort in whatever ways he could. He tried so hard to be what people wanted him to be. Overtime he became less and less comfortable in his own skin, to the point it sometimes seemed he didn’t remember how to be himself without the help of chemicals. Quinn was special. He was different. It was what made him amazing. But I could see how badly he just wanted to fit in. And I saw how he repeatedly turned to drugs to provide a sense of belonging and connection. I saw him battle to be understood. To be loved. And I also saw how repeatedly, he was met with hate and hasty judgment instead.
Quinn’s battles lit an anger in me that completely shifted my view of our world and of our society, but also of myself.
He made me wonder if I had made similar misjudgments of people in my life. If I had written people off before understanding the full content of their character.
And by doing so, he taught me perhaps the most valuable lesson I have ever learned. He taught me that people are too complex to be reduced to a two dimensional black and white version of themselves, based on incomplete and partial information. And he showed me how dangerous it can be when we try to do that. He taught me to take the time to understand people before labeling them, and to stay compassionate, understanding and curious in the face of judgment.
This understanding has forged so much of the person I have become.
Quinn has had such a fundamental impact on who I am, it’s simply not possible to imagine the person I may have been without him. Even after his death, Quinn’s influence will never leave me. My world will forever carry a piece of him with it.
At times people have compared my brother to Icarus, saying he flew a bit too close to the sun. But Quinn wasn’t like Icarus to me, Quinn didn’t fly towards the sun, Quinn was my sun. And I suppose even suns eventually either explode or burn out.
I just hope that he made it where he belongs, and that he can finally be at peace, a new sun in some other sky.
Written by Lexa Hall