Aaron, 5 years later
I remember with astonishing clarity the moment I received the phone call.
I was in the back left seat of a minivan driving from New York City to Atlantic City. We were a little ways down the NJ turnpike. I was playing Zoo Keeper Battle on my newly gifted tablet. My stomach was filled with a pastrami sandwich.
My phone started buzzing in my pocket. I pulled it out and looked at it. The call was coming from my parents' home line. Immediately, I was confused. It was Friday night--the Sabbath--my parents never made phone calls on the Sabbath.
As I unlocked my phone to pick up the call I honestly didn't know what to expect. My dad spoke. My brain lifted out of my body as the words came out of his mouth. I didn't believe them. I didn't want to believe them.
I hung up. I was shocked. I doubted that I heard what I heard. My friends in the car asked me what was up.
"My brother is dead. I need to go back to New York City."
It's been 5 years since Aaron killed himself.
A lot has changed in those 5 years. The world has changed; technology has changed; I have changed. At first, I fell into a deep dark depression. I didn't respond to messages from my friends. I didn't want to go back to work. I tried to find the few things in my life that actually brought me joy. I wasn't sure if there was a way out.
As time went on, things started to get better. I was incredibly scared when that started happening. I had this outrageous fear that if things were getting better it meant I was forgetting about Aaron. I fought against things getting better for so long for precisely this reason. I felt that I needed to feel bad in order to honor him. I felt that I needed to cry every night in order to prove to the universe that I missed my brother.
That sounds and is crazy. But even now, as I type these words into my computer, crying, I think that the times I've been carefree and happy over the past year have been my fault.
I know this isn't sane. I know that this isn't fair to myself. I just keep thinking to myself that I've wasted the last 5 years of my life. I haven't done anything that would've made Aaron be proud of me.
This too I know isn't true. The last time I ever saw Aaron face to face was Thanksgiving 2012. He wasn't upset that I was working at Google, he was upset that I wasn't using my power as a Google employee to effect change. As we talked over the phone after Thanksgiving it was clear that he was proud of me.
Shortly after he died, I attempted to do everything that might have made him proud. I convinced Google to allow me to give their USENET archives to the Internet Archive. I made sure to give money to Givewell.
Nothing ever seemed like enough.
Every year, on the anniversary of his death, I spend the day reflecting on Aaron. I reread old blog posts, watch old videos, and read articles. One video I always watch is his Freedom To Connect Speech "How we stopped SOPA". One especially powerful quote from it is:
It wasn't a dream or a nightmare, it was all very real. And it will happen again. Sure, it will have yet another name and maybe a different excuse and probably do its damage in a different way. But make no mistake the enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared...If we let them persuade us we didn't actually make a difference. If we start seeing it as someone else's responsibility to do this work and it's our job just to go home and pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watch Transformers, well then next time, they might just win.
In 2017, I had the privilege to respond to this quote exactly. I worked to make sure that Twitch had a response for the Net Neutrality Day of Action.
Working on the project was exhilarating yet exhausting. I felt amazing writing code that I knew would make the world a better place. I felt good when I finally convinced people that we needed to do this. But every time I ran into bureaucratic problems, I felt crushed. Every time I ran into a bug, I felt hopeless. I felt the weight of the entire internet on my shoulders--I felt that if I failed, I would be flattened.
I can only start to imagine how Aaron felt every day fighting for the things he fought for. Hopefully, by giving back even a tiny amount, I've made a difference that he would have been proud of.