This, my dear friends, is Matthew.
My husband has commented that I shouldn’t keep calling him Matthew and Matt interchangeably, and as someone who craves accuracy, consistency and overall perfection, I tend to agree.
The thing is, however, that I think of Matt in two different ways: the physical being who dwelled on earth from October 10, 1980 – January 31, 2004, and the essence – or soul – who continues to live. And this soul I tend to call Matthew.
I do this because I think he would have wanted it that way. In college he started going by Matthew, especially as he was composing serious pieces of music and creating art. But to his friends and family, he was definitely still Matt.
I’ve been avoiding this post. Avoiding it reeeeaal good. For a while now.
I’m scared that people will judge me and think that I’m trying to get attention or somehow gain from Matthew’s story.
I’m scared because I don’t know how to define a human being in a blog post.
I’m scared that if I do find the words to define Matt or define our friendship, it will suddenly disperse and I will lose it forever, like smoke that dissipates just as you’re trying to take a photograph of it. Or like saying the sunset is beautiful and therefore diminishing its beauty by reducing it to words.
So how do I plan to describe this beautiful person who came to earth and taught me some amazing lessons about life and love?
I guess I’ll have to keep it simple: To me, Matthew was a person of extraordinary brilliance, intelligence and creativity. He composed complex pieces of music, was artistic, was everyone’s friend, smiled all the time, was polite as heck, had a big laugh, was incredibly kind and generous, and had a knack for giving really awesome gifts (see ‘kind and generous’).
We met in high school, but our most fabulous times together were in college; playing music together and taking long road trips between home and our respective places of education. Dave Matthews, Ani Di Franco, Tori Amos, Rusted Root and Ben Folds were significantly involved.
After his death I learned that Matthew had been diagnosed with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, and in hindsight I believe I had several experiences with him during periods of mania. When George W. Bush became president, for example, Matt was convinced that he was going to turn the U.S. into Nazi Germany and start another World War. He would call me in the middle of the night, freaking out about the latest headline, the latest encroachment on individual liberties, the latest nationalist shocker. (In Matt’s defense, the USA PATRIOT Act – or the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 is pretty damn freaky.) But Matthew also had a side that he rarely let anyone around him see – his severely depressed side. Even though we talked about everything, he referred to his suicide attempts as “getting close to hurting himself” or even lied about them, saying he had been in the hospital for food poisoning.
Even when visiting him in a psychiatric hospital, he continued to laugh and smile, never hinting in the slightest at the pain he had inside. When I imagine what his thoughts must have been in comparison to his outward demeanor, I feel sick to my stomach. Poor Matthew. Our dear, poor, Matthew.
The last time I saw Matt was at Christmas mass, a month before his death. The meeting was brief and somewhat awkward, as I announced to him (as he stood next to my ex-boyfriend) that I had gotten engaged.
His eyes looked….and I fail to find other words to describe this…like a person who had died, and had come back to mourn their own death. It was as if he were standing there, the body present, but the soul already departed. His eyes were glassy but there were no tears. I can recall the feeling I had when I looked at him. I saw a depth that went past than sadness, hopelessness. It was resignation. It was defeat. It was goodbye, except the goodbye had already passed.
Perhaps those who saw him between Christmas and January 31st may think I’m crazy. I’m sure he still had moments of laughter and jokes and bawdy games of charades on New Year’s Eve.
In fact, there must have been life energy still within him, as he had the energy to purchase a weapon, check out a book from the library (more on that in a future post), and give me a call the week of his death.
Since Matthew and I were friends before the age of smartphones, I don’t have a million photos of us together…I’m not sure I even have one. I have a cd recording of his funeral (he had so many musical friends that we formed an entire choir on the day of the ceremony), an amazing German dictionary, a wood-and-leatherbound journal, some cards and books, some recordings of our music, and some cds of mixed music that he put together for me. Every once in a while I will be playing piano and run into a handwritten note by him in my sheet music. “Matt says: ‘This is good’.” I have a coffee cup from the Steep & Brew that was near his apartment in Madison. I like to hold it in my hands.
Oh yes, and I have the original self-portrait you see here, given to me at my wedding by Matt’s mom. I was, and still am, honored that she would give me something so precious.
Now, in a place absent of form – or perhaps in a brand new body, in a brand new place – Matthew is sort of my spiritual guru. Not because of the knowledge he had, but because of where he is now. When I go to that place of beauty, where he is, I can experience heaven on earth. I’m not sure I would have ever found it without him.
It’s Matthew – all of Matthew – the friendship, the depression, the suicide, the funeral, the pain, the craziness, the relief, the understanding – that has made me who I am today. Not to say that I have everything all figured out, or that I’ve reached an enlightened status, but it has given me the capacity to feel more deeply, love more deeply, and judge a lot less.
That’s why I wanted to start this project…not so much to preserve a memory, but to be the person I’ve become because of the places he’s taken me through his death. It’s allowed me to see death and grief in a new light. It makes me want to change the way we think and feel about death, and on a very practical level, the way we create objects around death (butterflies, cherubs and seagulls come to mind). It doesn’t seem right to do this without his permission, but while he was here he was my biggest fan…so I like to think he would be totally enthusiastic about this endeavor…and that he would be the author of many, many posts.
In a way, I guess, he already is.