FALL 2011




Solidus Online

Devin Wilkie

Mountains Apart and Together
In memory of Zack Sochor

“Gravity is love and every turn is a leap of faith.”
– author unknown

   They’re not Zack’s skis. In fact, they never were. They had originally belonged to my youngest brother, but when he bought a new set of twin tips (now that he could do almost anything while skiing forward and wanted to try it all backward) he offered them to me so that he could teach me how to ski. Even though they had been Trevor’s skis, my mind refocuses on Zack every time I strap the skis into the bindings and look up toward the mountain where Zack had felt most at ease.
   Zack didn’t ski. He was a snowboarder; the first thing I noticed when I walked into my room on the first day at college was a brightly colored board leaning against the back wall. I had been assigned to live in a double with Steven Sochor, who I had not known before Colby-Sawyer’s letter gave me his name, and who I had never met in person before this day. When I placed my suitcase on the desk that was still empty near the corner window in Shepard Hall room 287, my new roommate walked in the door, dressed in a tee-shirt four sizes too tall and sporting a row of stitches where his right eye should have been.
   “Hey man, how’s it goin’?” I asked, in a colloquial tone that was atypical of me but seemed preferable around him.
   “Not much,” he replied, as teenagers and young adults do to respond to a friendly greeting that isn’t quite an answer. “I’m Zack.”
   Zachary was his middle name, and it suited him much better than Steven ever could have. We had very little time to talk at that moment, because the Colby-Sawyer Orientation Weekend schedule is designed so that you can introduce yourself to as many peers as possible and get to know as few as possible. We had an hour or two to unpack our bags and bid our families farewell before we began the icebreakers that nearly every student claims to loathe but secretly enjoys as an opportunity to gain more contacts. Nonetheless, when we dragged ourselves back into the room at ten o’clock that evening, we sat up to discuss everything we could think of, as a getting-to-know-you game for college students. We both listened to loud music, but our interests largely diverged from there. I had never been to a drinking party before; Zack was a frequent partier. I was interested in Graphic Design for the digital component; he was a painter. I spent my free time reading books and riding horses; Zack snowboarded.
   Riding the mountain was one of Zack’s greatest sources of joy. Even though my father had been a competitive skier for years, I knew very little about either sport. Regardless, I would listen earnestly to his stories of mountainside adventures. When he managed a new accomplishment I would congratulate him excitedly, even though I had no clue what a headwall was at the time. When he taught lessons to beginners I contemplated asking him to teach me; that thought dissipated when, as he was walking back to his car after a particularly successful day of lessons, Zack tripped on a pebble and broke his arm. Though we laughed at the irony of injuring himself in the parking lot after participating in such a dangerous sport, we recognized that he would be unable to go to the mountain for a while.
   Zack was not a great student. He felt much more comfortable zipping down the trails at Mount Sunapee than writing a paper in English class, and his grades indicated that he should have spent more time in the classroom and less time on the mountain. His regular relationship with marijuana did not help his scores either. He stayed at school for two years, but his lack of academic concentration, coupled with the return of the cancer that had taken his eye many years ago and then waited in remission for two decades, caused his parents to withdraw him in favor of the possibility of enrolling at a local college in his area.
   I didn’t see Zack after he dropped out of Colby-Sawyer. I sent him occasional messages online to suggest that we meet up, but his frequent returns to the hospital always hindered our plans. He eventually stopped responding to my messages, and I wasn’t aware how his condition had deteriorated until I received a phone call one evening after a Rush concert. Our friends and I drove down to Connecticut two weeks later, where in a crowded church his snowboard leaned against the wall beside his casket.
   After Zack passed away, my desire to ride the mountain increased. Hearing that, my brother offered to teach me, using his old skis as my learning equipment. We went to Mount Sunapee on his day off (during which he generally skis anyway; he’s at the mountain seven days a week) and tried it. I imagined it couldn’t be too hard to stand on a pair of planks while you face in the direction you want to go.
   I fell.
   I fell again.
   It took me a few hours of practice to be able to make it down the trails of the South Peak Learning Area, but shortly after I started I was ready to go to the summit. Trevor was my instructor, and his words directed me: straighten your skis, cross the mountain when you have to so you don’t go too fast, and get back up when you fall so that you’re not afraid to try again. When I made it to the bottom of the mountain, though, I looked behind me at the path I had just carved into the snow, realizing that this was why Zack loved skiing so much. The adrenaline that comes from a successful run, the speed you feel as you reach a steep section of trail, and the nervous leap your heart makes when you get ready to try something new are addicting. Zack wasn’t an inspirational student, or a model citizen-of-the-law by any interpretation of the law, but when my skis hit the snow at the end of the lift, I know why he spent so much time at the mountain and why he worked so hard at it.


Devin Wilkie

is a graduating English major with a minor in Philosophy, honors distinction, and a slew of club officer positions at Colby-Sawyer College.

Zack Sochor was assigned to be my roommate when I first started at Colby-Sawyer, and he was the first friend, and definitely one of the greatest, that I made. His constant cheer and incessant optimism affected me contagiously just as it did with the many lives he touched in his time here. He passed away on 7 September 2012. He is missed by many, but our memories of his time with us will remain vibrant, just as he always was.