As I was putting Jake down to bed tonight, I couldn’t close my eyes, which is unusual. I typically fall asleep with him and wake up an hour later, or when Julie gets home from work. But tonight, I just lay there, staring into the darkness, my eyes slowly adjusting. Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of Matt’s death and all I can think about is the last time we spoke and the gulf that formed between us in the two years between that phone call and his passing.
The last time I saw Matt was Labor Day, 2001. We were home in Cleveland visiting because we weren’t going to be flying back for Christmas that year (as Jake was due in the winter). He came over to the Flynn’s and reeked of alcohol. This put almost everyone off, even though he was in very good spirits (and with Matt and alcohol, it was hit or miss). After that night, we spoke again about him coming out to visit and whether he would be moving out west again. Before we knew it, the night was over and he was gone.
After we found out about Jake’s illness, Matt happened to call and I gave him the news. He sounded devastated. It was similar to how he acted when my dad had his open-heart surgery. I’m not sure he knew what to say. It was December and he was still living in Ohio (after moving back). He once again talked about moving west, possibly stopping by to visit on his way to Seattle. That was the last I heard from him until November.
On my birthday, 2001, Matt called to wish me a happy birthday. He was good at remembering dates like that. I’m sure he thought of me on November 1st all the time. I know that when August 9th always rolls around he is on my mind. I was surprised to learn that he’d moved to Seattle… in May. And this threw me off some because I thought he would have informed me that he was moving. But this was typical of our relationship by this point. We barely informed each other of anything. That’s not to say that I didn’t think of him constantly, it’s just that whenever I would think to call him, something would distract me and I never would.
We chit chatted about stupid shit for a while. I’m sure I promised to send him a copy of “King’s Highway” (but I never did). That is something I’m bummed that he never saw. So much of that movie dealt with my feelings for him. And for some reason, what I wanted to say to Matt came out in the movie, but never from my own mouth. But I was so sure that “King’s Highway” would get into some festival, especially Seattle, which I wanted to surprise him and just show up on his doorstep to take him to the theater. Never happened.
We hung up that night with Matt giving me his phone number and me promising to call once a month. I, of course, did not. It was my pride. I was ticked off that he hadn’t even sent me a letter in the many months that had passed between him moving and that phone call. I thought we were closer than that. This was just the way Matt acted. He didn’t think I would be upset. And since there is a whole scene in the movie that deals with just this sort of misunderstanding, I should have known better. As weeks passed, I let that piece of paper slip away and the number was lost. Months passed and I would think about calling his parents to get the number, but I never did. Dumb ass.
The following year, I decided to run my first marathon and this is when the bigger misunderstanding occurred. As typical in large fundraisers, I sent out a form letter to family and friends asking for donations, including Matt. I never heard from him.
I’ve never really spoken about this or written about what happened, but in order to have a proper wake, I need to get this out.
Now, we had sent Christmas cards every year and never got anything back. That didn’t bother me. But to not hear back from him when I was trying to raise money to find a cure for my son, I gut pissed off. What I later found out is that Matt felt slighted that I didn’t send a personally letter asking him for a donation and updating him about Jake’s status. And so, he got pissed at me.
Like I said. Ego. Pride. Stupid shit.
In December of 2004, after a second year of hearing nothing back from Matt and having sent more letters and cards, I decided to call his mom to see if maybe he had moved and he hadn’t received the mail. This was awkward because I hadn’t spoken to his folks since we’d moved to California. I have no excuse. It was lousy of me not to at least call and say hello every time we were in Cleveland… or even to stop by when Matt had moved back. I wish I could go back and change my actions, but you can’t. I can only learn from them.
When I called Matt’s mom, she told me that he was still living in the same place. My heart was broken. Why hadn’t he called? What had I done? How had we grown so far apart? And yet, I was also pissed off because if something was bothering him he SHOULD have called. We could have talked it over. Little did I know that he struggled with the decision to call me many times, asking his brother what he should do.
I will regret for the rest of my days that I never called him. Even to leave a message or to say something awkward would have been better than nothing at all. I’m not saying that us speaking would have saved him. Hardly. But I just wish I could have known where he was at in life. I wish I could have heard his voice one more time. Even as I sit here writing, I can here that smooth baritone voice that he had. How it would raise when he got excited, or how it could be really mellow when he was thinking. I can see us sitting together, him with his guitar, strumming, then putting it down and saying, “Well, what do you want to do?”
When Matt’s brother told me everything that Matt had been feeling before he died, I was very upset. You don’t know how it feels to have anger at someone and nowhere to direct it. What could I do, yell at the sky? At the car door while I was driving? But I am glad he did tell me. If anything, it let’s me know that he still cared enough to be mad. He still cared enough to want to call. If only he could get past his pride. In the year that has passed, I have come to terms with Matt’s passing, including one drunken night when Jules and the kids were out of town (and for anyone I called that night, I apologize again). If it took me seven months to come to grips with my oldest friend’s death, I can only imagine what his mom, dad and brother have been going through. And I understand better what my sister in law Karyn must be going through after the loss of her mother. Death isn’t like a stubbed toe. It doesn’t hurt for a week and slowly disappear. It stays with you, eats at you, changes you and makes you older in ways you don’t want to be.
It’s strange, as the hours get closer to tomorrow and I know what February 3rd represents, my heart grows heavier.
I miss him, now more than ever.