Last Friday I lost a friend I had been preparing to lose as I knew he had been placed in hospice care. It happened to be the exact nine month mark of sobriety for our mutual best friend, my first boyfriend, and a particular time of turmoil and distress in our great nation, which is something Matt never would have wanted to live through anyhow. I find it eerily amusing that he left on Trump’s inauguration day, I can almost hear him say, “Fuck this, I’m out, I cannot live in this world any more.” In every single picture the friends and family members post of Matt, he almost always is flashing his signature peace sign. Peace, love, unity, respect; were all values Matt lived for. At times I know he may have forgotten who he was to substances and addictions just like we all do, but at the core Matt was always a dreamer with his eye far above the horizon.
I first was introduced to him by way of his mother and mine. She went to the local athletic supply store to pick up something for one of my brothers sports teams, and always got into at least a thirty or forty minute conversation with Mrs. Lisa, Matt’s mom. I knew him from school, but we never really spent much time around one another. That day, Mrs. Lisa told my mom that Matt had a gigantic crush on me but was too shy to talk to me. My mom told me and I was far to embarrassed to talk to him then. Eventually we had classes together throughout the years and mutual friends. I eventually got a crush on him, and we sort of flirted around with each other but never started a relationship. In a way, it worked out great because we learned to love and respect one another as great friends, like brother and sister as the years passed.
We discovered Pink Floyd together, we watched the stars and moon for hours during the summer months while he would fight with our dear friend Sara over random craziness, we would play football and his little brothers would tackle me and tease me about liking Matt. We would ride around town, go swimming in little secret holes he knew about, always in his red jeep he loved as much as being outdoors. It was a wonderful friendship and those are times I will always cherish. Eventually he began to get very upset and depressed about his physical health, and a chronic lung condition that had plagued him since infancy. He had began to turn to other sources to cope with his reality and we fought about it often. His behavior was different and his attitude. He was like a stranger, but occasionally bright spots would still shine. He used to sing Vera at the top of his lungs when he was booted for acting on a dare in our experimental honors chemistry class. If I was in the halls I would usually answer back, comforted that for the moment my Matt was back.
He and Zach both began to spiral out of control as they stopped participating in course work and classes. They both were held back eventually because of it and it always broke my heart when they did not walk with our graduating class our senior year. I watched drugs take the two people that had the most influence on my development from middle school to high school start to go under, and my first boyfriend was going down with them, but he always kept his grades up, paychecks steady, and record clean. I finally wrote Mrs. Lisa an anonymous letter I typed on my computer, but Matt knew me well enough and that I was the author. She sent him to rehab, but he was furious with me for many years. He did finally tell me thank you, right before his son, Tyce, was born, and we rekindled our friendship from there.
By the time I left to go to the Navy Zach, Matt, and my first boyfriend were all using pretty heavily and part of the reason I left was because I was afraid I would end up like them. Sadly, as I have learned over the years, unless one gets away from Crossett, that seems to be how it ultimately ends for many. I wanted more to my life, and I knew I would not get better staying there. When I came back to visit he and Zach were the ones I went to find. It was never hard, if you found one, the other was never too far away. If there were ever a live example of soul mates, the relationship those guys had would be proof. The last time I was with Matt, Zach, and my first boyfriend was no different. We sat in Zach’s yard and visited while Matt made a recliner out of the boat seat; and we sang and goofed off. At the time I never realized the significance of that day, but the summer of 2007 was the last time we all saw each other alive.
It is now a memory I will always cherish. The next time we were together was at Zach’s funeral. April 8, 2008 was the day he left us, and Matt and my first boyfriend were with him the night before he died; with intentions to throw an intervention of sorts fearing his death was immenent. They got the call the next day, and were in his front yard when I found out from a sherrif deputy we went to school with that did not want me to hear it on social media. I screamed, “he overdosed didn’t he?” My friend said an autopsy would have to be performed and I just kept screaming he overdosed. I knew, he had called me about the time he died on my birthday and told me he was going to die and I had to be there to see him April 7, 2008 and was adamant about it, but had woken up to take pain pills for his dislocated shoulder and was out of his mind.
I knew the guys blamed themselves for his death but I never knew why until recently. I also knew with Zach’s death my relationship with the guys would be completely different. At the time I was not allowed to speak to my first boyfriend per his current girlfriend and Matt disappeared for awhile. We put our best friend in the ground and went our separate ways for a bit. My first boyfriend ditched his lady and started over with a empathetic and caring person I’ve grown to love, although I’ve known her since childhood. Matt went back to school and got his degree, a double major. He became a teacher at our alma mater and was loving life, it seemed he had fulfilled the dreams he and Zach had planned before his death.
I have no idea if he was still using at that point in life or not, but I know he was happy. His lungs began to really start to shut down and he became too sick to teach. His air capacity was lowering daily and he needed a double lung transplant if he was going to survive. Fundraiser after fundraiser was held to ensure that his transplant would happen if the lungs became available, and one day they finally came. He made an excellent recovery and lived life to the fullest for about a year or so. About sixth months after the transplant signs of rejection started to appear and his demons slowly started to creep back into his life. I was so angry at him for what I perceived as him giving up the fight after he was given a second chance. I didn’t realize how selfish my thoughts were until I went to his funeral. All I could feel was hurt, and anger for giving away his new life.
When I heard Matt was gone rage set in. How could he leave us, his family, his son this way. He was such a bright and brilliant light in a world clouded with gloom. I began to make arrangements to get down to Crossett for the funeral because as mad as I was, I was more hurt and afraid to tell him goodbye. Since we began talking on the phone for hours at a time as kids he told me he would die before he was forty. “No!” “They are going to fix you and cure you,” I would cry back. He was afraid to fall in love or get married because he knew his life would be cut short. Just as Zach knew he was going to die, I just didn’t want to listen to them; I wanted them to be wrong. We had kids, marriages, careers, trips, a whole life ahead of us we had to live. Now almost ten years later when I just started healing from Zach, Matt had to go, too.
I made my way home to say my farewell but I was still so mad. I knew he was in pain and he struggled his entire life just to breathe, but I wanted him here. When I walked into the funeral home, I actually used to attend as a church when our Catholic Church had burned in the seventh grade, and walked to the casket I felt differently. I hadn’t cried yet, I was too pissed and I didn’t cry when I saw him; I smiled. I had not seen him look so at peace and like himself in years, and then I knew how wrong I had been. How I had loved the man he was and always had been far before drugs came into our lives. I slipped a bag of pennies in his casket representative of our births and the dates of the years we last physically saw each other. I smiled again and whispered, “I love you!”
I found other friends, and visited and exchanged stories that made us laugh. I got to hug Mrs. Lisa and she assured me that he loved me as I loved him. She reminded me of memories I had forgotten about, which made me laugh even more. As the procession started I found a seat next to a classmate and began focusing on the video playing a collection of photos from Matt’s life. Baby photos, sports photos, school pictures, Tyce’s birth, formals, graduations, weddings, hospital stays in Dallas, camping, playing guitar, etc. So many memories ran through my head as the photos flashed through his memorial video and songs belted that we spent hours analyzing under the bright starlit sky, I finally felt all of my anger diminish.
I went to Zach’s grave that afternoon, and that night I finally went out in my backyard by the big tree we spent so many nights underneath and broke down. I cried because I wanted my friend, I wanted him here, but for the first time realizing he fought for his entire life and perhaps he was tired of living in pain and misery from a body that was failing him continuously. I felt like the shittiest friend for not seeing him once since Zach’s death and for being angry. After my cry I went inside and laid in the big chair, the one me and Zach always shared, and went through Matt’s Facebook page. As I scrolled through the months and years of posts I realized that we spoke at a minimum of two to four times a month through social media about all of the topics we had conversed about as children and into adulthood. We were still very much a part of one another’s lives and still connected as recently as a week before his death, and I followed along intently until he took his last breath. I realized that I finally remembered my friend and the love that I lost instead of the addict that I believed let himself die by giving up hope for a better life.