I think of him most this time of year.
I’ll never forget that morning – it was one of those Chicago days that starts out chilly, with dew around the edges, but you can tell the afternoon is going to be hot. I was 23 or 24, one of those stupid ages where you think you’re just about as old as you’ll ever need to get, and I stepped into my bosses’ car, the radio playing, on my way to work, and my boss turned to me and said “it’s on the news…somone from your high school killed himself. Did you know him?”
And yes, I did know him. I did know Matt.
He was one of the first people who was nice to me, who noticed me, when I transferred to my new high school in Chicago from my old high school in Oregon. He was our class valedictorian, one of the smartest kids I’ve ever known. I latched onto him a bit, because he was just so nice, and he made me laugh. He was too smart to be popular, and he walked funny, and I am sure he took some shit from the boys in our class, but at the time, I didn’t notice. I knew he wasn’t popular, but he was nice to me.
I gave him a tie for his birthday, that first year, one of the first presents I’d ever given a boy, and he wore it all the time, and every time he wore it, I felt a little something happy inside, because someone actually cared about something I’d done.
Senior year one of his best friends gave him this terrible jacket, it was purple silk, puffy, and just…just so not the right thing to be wearing in high school in 1994. We all knew it.
He wore that jacket every day.
He was the first person I ever told that I didn’t eat, that I maybe had a problem. Standing outside the computer room, between classes, just because he asked me quietly if I was ok. And I wasn’t, and just the way he asked it made something in me break, jiggle loose, and I let a little bit of it out that day, and it was the beginning of getting better.
The winter of our Senior Year he had some math class for geniuses at the college across from my house, after school, and when he was finished he’d come over to my house and we’d hang out or walk around – he never had a lot of time because he always had so much work to do, math or volunteering or church stuff I guess, but we’d hang out and joke about boys I liked or gossip about kids in our class. I walked him to his car one night and it was snowing – just letting loose those fat puffy movie snowflakes, and the parking lot was lit by this golden lamp light and I swear if you tilted your head just right you could almost hear music as the snow fell, sharp, and glittery, and I looked up at him and he looked down at me, and he had a girlfriend and I was moving away from him, away from his social circle and into my own, but I knew that if ever there was going to be anything between us, that was the moment. And then the moment slipped away and was gone.
Freshman year of college, I was busy slogging around the redwoods in Santa Cruz and he was busy slogging around the physics department of the University of Chicago, but that new fangled thing called email meant that we kept in touch, and he emailed me late one night to say that they’d had an argument in the dorms, that his roommates claimed that everyone knew that all girls from Oregon were ugly, and he’d had to step up and say that no, actually, the most beautiful girl he’d ever known was from Oregon.
It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, and I carry it with me and bring it out at times when I need it most.
And then, we lost touch, and drifted apart. He headed to grad school, I headed home, and one chilly Chicago morning, he was gone.
I think of him all the time. I wish, so very much, that he was still here.
I think one of the reasons I don’t care about joining Facebook is that Matt is the only person I went to high school with that I really wish I could talk to today. And since I can’t, there doesn’t seem to be much point.
He was an only child, and it breaks my heart to think of his parents, and it breaks my heart to think of him, so smart, but so unhappy that the only thing that he could do was to end it.
He’s gone, and I miss him. But yes. I knew Matt. And I will never forget him.