Everyone remembers their first – their first love, their first best friend… that first fill in the blank, is always a big deal, so incredibly special… My first best friend’s name was Matt. And when I think back on all of the great times we had, I smile. 372 days after I first found out he was gone, and remembering is more happy than sad. My breath still catches in my chest, I can’t speak and there is a heat behind my eyes, and I know my body is readying itself for tears, but they don’t come anymore. And I don’t really stop smiling. Time doesn’t make the pain go away or make a person forget, but it does seem to turn what was sharp into something dull and much more tolerable.
I have been thinking about Matt a lot lately, and it wasn’t until I went through some old writing that I realized why. Because a year ago last week was when I found out he was gone in that terrible permanent sense. And though we fell out of touch along the way, the grief gripped me as if no time had passed. It surprised me – how fierce it was… This is what I wrote, eight hours after finding out he was gone, still trying to make sense of everything, still trying to accept that he really was gone.
Last night I was wrecked. I gathered my things so as not to let on that I was anything but okay. My husband had dozed on the couch; I needed him but my friend was at the table on his computer. I grabbed my water and a book in hopes I could lose myself in it and forget. But that was a pipe dream because I had just found out.
I didn’t know how to feel, but I knew whatever it was I was going to lose it soon. When I was in our bedroom I woke my husband up cell phone to cell phone. I told him to come upstairs, but not for bed. I was trying so hard not to lose it. I didn’t want to lose it at all, I never do.
But when my husband came upstairs and into the room and he asked me what was wrong and his face told me my face gave me away, I tried to speak. After the first few unintelligible words came out, I lost it and I have been losing it on and off, ever since.
Every child remembers their first best friend. My first best friend in the world I was friends with from the ages of five until I was fourteen. There was never a falling out, no negative memories to speak of, we simply went to different high schools, lived much farther away from each other and neither of us drove. We just ended up falling out of touch. Until months ago he added me on Facebook.
I was delighted he had found me, happy to reconnect with someone who was the only bright spot in an otherwise bleak childhood. We always missed each other online and really never got past each other’s hellos. The last hello was two months ago and from what I can tell scrolling, two days before he stopped coming online himself. He wasn’t active on Facebook and now I believe he only used it to track down the people he felt he needed to.
He seemed so different than the boy I remembered so I didn’t go out of my way to become close to him again. I wondered if he simply grew up to become this person; I had nothing else to go on. He seemed so angry and his statements from the outside seemed more about blaming people for things he felt were owed to him. Now that I know the truth I feel so incredibly guilty. It is a small fraction of the total grief I am feeling, which is surprisingly sharp.
So for an hour last night I couldn’t stop crying as my husband held me and then I cried myself to sleep and now this morning as soon as I woke up I began crying again, and I am crying as I am writing this. I am filled with memories of us when we were seven and eight. His laughter was not just contagious; it had the ability to lift a person up. He was eager, enthusiastic and the world was ahead of him, ahead of both of us. Only that didn’t end up being the case.
When we were in the second grade he had a crush on a girl, but was worried about asking her out because he didn’t know how to dance.
“I’ll show you,” I replied and took his hand. We proceed to ballroom dance across the playground, none the wiser what people would think. I never cared and that seemed to make him not care either.
Then there was that time in music class when we conspired on being able to sit next to each other when the music teacher was assigning seats for the rest of the year. We were fidgety so she would call on someone else and once she called on one of us the other would be the picture of innocence. It worked! He was called and I played it sweet, silent with hands folded in my lap. She called my name and I started towards the seat when he let out a loud, “Yes!” and made a fist pump in the air. My heart sank.
“Well, never mind then,” the teacher said and told me to return to the ranks.
That same year another boy, who at eight years old was already an ass, teased Matt, saying he just saw him pick his nose.
“That’s not true!” I shouted back, before Matt could respond. “You’re the one who picks his nose!” Everyone around us who looked at Matt as if waiting for confirmation turned back to the boy and laughed.
A few days later at Matt’s house, he recounted the story to his mother and sister and his sister just laughed and shrugged (she was a cool middle schooler) and said, “You probably were picking your nose.”
When my parents divorced, I moved and changed schools, but we kept in contact by talking on the phone for hours at a time. After this… nothing.
I don’t have anything left and I never will again. No more memories can be made. I won’t have the opportunity to tell him everything I wish I had. I won’t be able to let him know that I was going through bigger things and he was the one who kept me going many times. Even if we had not been a part of each other’s lives for the last fourteen years it didn’t matter. We were bonded by the friendship of years before and before the phrase became popular or we had heard it we really were best friends forever.
I know he wouldn’t want me to go on like this but for now I can’t help it. My grief is fierce, fiercer than I thought it could be. And it comes with this useless shame that I hadn’t made more of an effort with him in these last few months and guilt… I don’t understand how he could be gone. I am angry and keep thinking that it isn’t fair. He never had the chance to get married, have a family, strive towards a dream he had or find one if he didn’t.
Then another heavier guilt breaks my thoughts. I have cheated death so many times. Between dozens of surgeries and two freak illnesses that each should have killed me and I am still here, worse I am actually better! I know the world isn’t fair and we have no control over life and death, but I don’t know what to think or what to do with this. I am so angry, I am so unbelievably sad – I want to stop crying and right now I feel like I might never stop. I know eventually I will, rationally I know I will continue and with time this will be easier, but right now I can’t believe my own rational thoughts because the last time I felt so utterly wrecked, I don’t even remember. Probably when my grandmother was taken too soon, her life stolen by cancer. Oh, how I hate cancer. It makes me absolutely… there are too many words to list.
He never told me he was sick, he just said hello and waited for my reply, but by the time I replied he was gone again and now he is gone forever. I wonder if he deliberately didn’t tell me. Why? Did he not want to bother me? Did he think I wouldn’t care? Did he want to focus on something else? I didn’t go around telling people I was sick and old friends I purposely kept out of the loop if they saw me. I didn’t want them to see me like that. But why keep it a secret when he tried to reconnect with me? I am not angry at him, but I wish, so very hard as if by wishing it I could go back and change things, that he had told me.
Why does it hurt so much when we had such a distance for so long? Because I feel as if I have lost my current best friend and while all my memories are happy, after every single one I remember how that bright, happy boy’s story ended and that happy memory suddenly becomes so cruel. And I go back to being wrecked because I don’t know a better word that encompasses everything I am feeling.
I now think I understand a lot of the things that made me hold back. His anger, his blame, his everything; even past the whole terminally ill thing. Some of the things he said that made no sense, have become so clear now that his life thief has been identified. Brain cancer. I want to continually scream every obscenity I know at the sky over and over. Brain cancer. FUCK!
On November 15, 2013 at 11:03pm I found out that my best friend, who will always mean more to me than I think he ever realized; who will always be with me died on November 2, 2013 at 12:31am and I never even knew he was sick. Rest in peace, Matt. You can finally rest.
I’m not wrecked anymore, but it still hurts. I still wish I had done things differently – made that extra effort to find out how he was doing, and what was really going on. But I remember the lesson he made me remember, because I already knew it but didn’t practice it as much as I should have. I tell the people who mean so much to me – exactly that. I always return a text or another message immediately. I try not to let things go unsaid. I try to see beneath appearances, and I try to be the best friend that I can. Because you never know when it will be the last time you ever talk to that friend or loved one. And I try to make sure I don’t take anyone for granted.
Matt, I still think about, so much, more often than I think you’d believe. And as much as I miss you, I know you’re out of pain and I hope you have that fantastic dopey grin on your face right now. It always made me smile.