Death of the Supermen.
August 10, 2020 / Jade Fabello
I do not wish to intrude on your intimacy with the dead.
On Jan. 26, 2020, a helicopter went down in Calabasas. Moments prior, in its steel frame lived nine human souls. Among them: Kobe Bryant aged 41 and his daughter Gianna aged 13. After a left turn in early morning fog, the craft fell from the sky at a rate of 4000 ft per minute. It took 21 seconds for the vessel to strike the California hillside. All nine, en route to a basketball game for the children on board, did not survive the blunt force trauma.
At the very least, I believe, the NBA games scheduled for that night should have been canceled. Grown men standing as tall as they are, buried their heads into the cloth of their sleeves — somehow supposed to focus while the man they had spent lifetimes admiring washed away from the earth. Kobe Bryant was dead.
Kobe hadn’t been an idol of mine. Before his death, I couldn’t tell you the numbers on his jerseys with confidence, but I still found myself unable to complete the work I had planned for the day. That evening, the people of Los Angeles ignored the requests of public officials and gathered around the Staples Center. The Grammy Awards were happening there. But that building, where the LA Lakers had long held their home games, was Kobe Bryant’s building.
No one life is more important than another. But there are figures whose renown or infamy make them known the world over. Supermen. Superpeople. With Kobe, his legacy was tangled. He was not only a loving father, and a dedicated athlete, but a man who was charged with felony sexual misconduct back in 2003. The reminders of this didn’t cease my mourning, but added another layer of those who needed to be cared for. That day families witnessed tragedy, kids on LA streets lost their Superman, and survivors felt conflict and pain from the smoothing over of the vile parts of a person’s legacy.
Laying on the floor of my room, I said a prayer to no one in particular for the souls gone that day. Kobe Bryant had lived as a fixture of this earth for decades. “This is unreal,” I heard repeated from nearly all accounts.
The loss of someone important to you is an unmistakable feeling. It is the urge to turn pictures of them toward the wall, so that you need not confront the reality that continues without them. It is the waves of grief that always crest with joy — reminding you of why the loss hurts so bad. When someone I’ve lacked intimacy with dies, however, I’ve wondered what to do with the emotions that entered the world when they left it. Deceased neighbors and casual friends, and the dead of headlines — I’ve wondered what to do with those losses, for I have no pictures of them to turn.
That January day, a minimum of nine human souls pressed on the walls of my room. I remember people wanting to hear from Vanessa Bryant, who in addition to the loss of her husband, experienced the most unenviable pain of losing a child. I wondered too, by what right anyone asked that of her, an explanation on her feelings for the dead.
In 2010, Kobe sat in a plain room for a GQ interview. He said he started flying in helicopters so he could have more hours in the day. “My wife was like, 'Listen, I can pick (the kids) up.' I'm like, 'No, no, no, I want to do that,'” he said. “Because you have times where you don't see your kids, you know. So every chance I get to see them and spend time with them, I want that."
The dead don’t live on, for the dead are dead. But, especially at that moment when they pass, they are still a part of this world. It feels like there is a pond where all human feelings take place. At that moment when a superman dies, there are millions of unwitting connections. Reverberations colliding into each other on a once still pond, disrupting it so much it becomes a trembling sea. I didn’t know Kobe Bryant. I would never have known Kobe Bryant. But when that helicopter went down in Calabasas, I felt the ripples of thousands of beating hearts.
The death of a superman isn’t about claiming false intimacy to someone you didn’t know. But every death is a nexus of emotion, and the larger the death, the more connecting points. Whatever the level of intimacy you had with any of the dead of this world, the feelings they sent you with their passing are real and yours to claim. The dead are public domain. The grief and feelings of others are not. My dead are mine to me, but they can also be whatever they need to be to you. It is okay to mourn someone you don’t know because you aren’t just mourning them — you’re mourning every human emotion that that death inspires.
With an exception for perhaps indifference, I’d make a case for any emotion a person feels after learning of a death. You may mourn them; you may mourn their family; you may mourn the people they harmed. A human life is a valuable thing, not so easily discounted with musings of distance. And I do apologize for all of the souls I have summoned for my thoughts here; your lives are more than the stories your loved ones tell over drinks.
The day after Kobe Bryant died, I stood in the shower. Never having watched a game of basketball in my life, I cried. I cried for all relationships between parent and child, all nine souls that perished that day. I cried for conflict and I cried for LA. I cried for all those I have ever lost. The cold water ran warm over my skin. I wondered how all those still kissed by the sun, all living souls, felt. I wondered what a father does in the last 21 seconds of life to comfort his daughter as a helicopter goes down in Calabasas. ■
by: Jade Fabello
layout: Caleb Zhang & Maya Shaddock
photographer: Mary Schmidt
stylist: Alyssa Lin & Kaden Green
hmuas: Aleigh Gerron & Mariam Ali
models: Justice Beverley, Kamryn Jefferson & Lindsay Ehlers