“Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”
– Jim Morrison
Matt never knew this, but I knew we were going to be friends before he did. At a “Father & Son Breakfast” at our high school, our families ended up sitting together at the same table. My dad and I along with Matt’s dad, his three brothers and himself. Our older brothers knew each other from running track and that’s what dominated most of the conversation. But Matt was quiet and mainly kept to himself only to share a few words with his brother, Chris away from the rest of us. He had a swagger about him, a way he carried himself that exuded “coolness.” I remember thinking, I’m going to be friends with that kid.
I remember the moment that my friendship with Matt began – at choreography practice for the musical we were both part of in high school. I told some random joke. Matt overheard me, laughed uncontrollably. Just like a flame igniting on the first stroke of a match, we were friends. It really was that easy and never have I had a friendship start so effortlessly before.
We were friends from that moment, and if our inseparability didn’t prove it, it would have been that we seemed to be the missing puzzle piece in each other’s lives. As quickly as our friendship started, we were labeled “The Matt’s.” Our commonalities started with our names, but branched into both being second basses in chorus, and our love of pulling pranks, wearing ridiculous outfits, driving, busting a move and throwing parties.
I would come to learn with Matt that friendship was not work. It was easy, and it was learning from the other person. It was letting people be who they were and not holding them to an expectation. Mostly, it was having fun, throwing plans out the window and having a blast over the simple times.
What we had in common was identical and what differentiated us was night and day. While it would frustrate me at times, and I’m sure would frustrate Matt, too, I found our differences refreshing. He is a live-in-the-moment kind of guy, while I am constantly juggling the past and the future. He loves the windows down and music up. I prefer the air conditioning and music at a reasonable volume. He prefers singing, or rapping. I prefer talking until my mouth is dry. He was chill and knew things would work out, I was a worrier, wasting hours thinking about things out of my control.
We couldn’t be more similar, and yet more different.
When my friendship with Matt started, I never anticipated that I would go through the best years of my life with someone who challenged me as much as he entertained me. We thought of ourselves as the funniest people out there who always knew how to have a good time. Our trips to New York City were just as exciting as the ones we would take in our own neck of the woods. We went through scary things, heartbreaking things, but managed to be there for one another no matter what.
I learned many things from Matt – from practical things, to more philosophical things. I learned if you feel you need to sneeze, and you can’t, you should stare into bright light. Matt explained the science behind it was that it makes your senses sensitive and releases the sneeze. Whether that is true or not, it works every time. I’m sure I’ll be blind as a bat for all the bright lights I now stare into. I learned that goats are not the easiest animals to kidnap and that its best to be at least 21 at a comedy show. I learned that you are never too young to build a fort, or too tone-deaf to belt out a song. I learned that when we play beer pong we always shoot better if he is on the left and I’m on the right. I learned that the perfect outfit can be found in the comfort of your local Amvets. I learned to let things go and not hold a grudge. I learned to not worry as most things are out of your control anyway. I learned that while its not the best decision, you can still survive a 30-mile bike ride after a night of drinking. I learned to always roll your windows down, if not for the free breeze, then for the fact that you can meet memorable people when stopped at a red light. I learned to NEVER, ever ride the Megabus. I mean it – never. I learned that overheard conversations in McDonald’s are hysterical. I learned there is a reason you memorize certain phone numbers. I learned not to be offended if two women pull out the hand sanitizer after shaking your hand at the Sign of Peace (still bitter). I learned how to wear sneakers without tying the laces and throw a legitimate house party. I learned that dudes do borrow each other’s clothes. I learned a “Help Wanted” sign does not guarantee you’ll even get a job application. I learned that all you need to move into an apartment is a motivated friend and a pick-up truck. I learned disco is not dead. I learned you are never too old to pull a prank. I learned that you can’t get anywhere in life without a best friend.
Matt would often pick me up and greet me with “Matt! My man!!” which then became our normal way of greeting one another. That was followed by “All right, what are we doing?” We’d usually end up driving around and end up at Target or Walmart and then stop at Tim Hortons where Matt would get a turkey bacon sandwich. We’d drop in randomly on someone who was either getting ready for bed or working. And that comprised a pretty successful night in our book.
Moments like these are what truly show the beauty of friendship. Some people never really appreciate the beauty of the simplest moments. I’m lucky that it was those moments that define our friendship.
I can’t forget when Matt threw a surprise birthday party for me the year we moved out of our apartment. Matt, the man who hates to make plans, texted me to come to his house on a certain Monday at 6 p.m. It was obvious he was up to something. I remember jokingly telling him that morning that I wasn’t sure if I could make it and I could almost feel his disappointment and scrambling through his text message, asking if I could stop by for just a few minutes. I ended up getting to his parents’ house and could hear the commotion in the backyard to where Matt assembled friends from all chapters of my life. The best part was that Matt knew that birthday was especially tough for me, as my grandpa passed away only a few weeks later. The time around that particular birthday was when the uncertainty of his diagnosis was hitting my family hard.
There was a night when Matt and I ended up going out to everyone’s favorite bar, Frizzy’s. We played a few games of darts and I was destroying Matt only for him to come back and win. I could just remember us up to our stupid antics laughing at quite possibly nothing. Our photo booth photos are now enshrined on the Frizzy’s wall from that night. I remember as we were were calling it a night, him turning to me in his car and saying, “Why don’t we do this more often?” I wish I would have listened.
Perhaps my favorite memory of time well spent with Matt was the night of my 21st birthday. At midnight, I went to the gas station near my parents’ house and bought a six-pack of beer (it was Coors Light and that may be the biggest regret of my 21st birthday). We ended up walking up to an overpass that extends over the Interstate 90. We sat on the train tracks and drank our beers. That night we talked about life. We talked about where we wanted our lives to go, what we hoped the future would hold for us. We were excited because we were about to be roommates and be on our own. We talked about how glad we were to have each other to count on. A week later Matt would borrow his brother’s truck and surprise me at my parents house, grabbing my stuff to move into our apartment. My plan was to “slowly but surely” move in over the course of the summer, but I was all moved in on June 2nd. That was the best surprise Matt could’ve given me because that summer would be one of beers on the porch during the summer nights, exploring the bars of Buffalo and stupid antics and laughs that would make our stomachs hurt.
I’m scared to walk this earth without my best friend. No matter what happened Matt was always the one to add a sense of ease, a dose of excitement and transform a simple moment into the best memory. I was always a little weird and fun and went against the grain in my own way, but having a sidekick who is just as much into living life how I like to, makes life all the better. I can’t imagine that life can ever be as sweet without him walking this earth.
But I know Matt would tell me “dude, chill.” It was his way of letting me know that life would work itself out. Things will work themselves out and everything will be okay. It’s hard to believe that right now, but I know that life will still be fun, if for nothing else than for the fact that it is how Matt would want it.
I’ll forever cherish the last moment I saw him. We ran into each other by chance at a brewery. I can still see him wearing his baseball hat with his blonde, long hair tied into a ponytail bun out the back. He was wearing an oversized jacket and I commented on his new nose ring. He told me he was moving back home and that things were good. He flashed me that smile and it is still imprinted in my mind. It was pure. It was genuine happiness. Happiness that made me know Matt was good. The friends he was with were leaving so he was on his way out. We quickly talked about the fact that summer was coming up and that we would need to go back up to Sherkston. That coincidental meeting was what would spark more conversations between the two of us over the next several weeks. I would apologize for not reaching out more, and for being a “shit stack” of a friend to which he would simply say, “You’re not a shit stack of a friend,” and would carry the conversation to picking up where we left off. Matt had no time for negativity and I appreciated that. Before he left that night, we hugged. I could feel the heaviness and deepness of it, almost as if I was hugging his soul. He cracked a giggle and I couldn’t help but laugh back. Matt was contagious in everything he did. If he smiled, you smiled. If he laughed, you laughed. If he sang, you sang. It wasn’t because you had a choice, but rather because he was hypnotizing and brought the fun side of all of us out.
There will never be a friend like Matt in my life. Someone that great, just doesn’t come around often. The short years we conspired on this earth, were enough to last me the rest of my days here. When I think about the true essence of friendship it lies in the willingness to share your deepest and truest self with another. I’m so thankful, Matt, my man, for all you have shared with me. I have learned. I have grown. But mostly I have truly fallen in love with life because of you. So for all the good times with my man, the laughs, the memories, the outfits, the pranks, the lessons, and the talks, I give him a solid 10/10.
In the Comments section below, please share your favorite memory of Matt. As we mourn the loss of our friend, brother, uncle, cousin, nephew and son I hope we can all share our memories and keep his spirit with us always.