Remembering Matt

Wilson L. Matthew Jan 14, 1966 – Dec 1, 2003
brother, uncle, teacher and friend
Nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much

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After reading the previous post by Al Kinsella about the loss of his father, Eric commented about the power of the poem Al had written.  I took the opportunity to then ask Eric if he had a story for my blog and here is what he offered.  It is a story about a mutual friend who lost his life suddenly and way too early.
A guest submission by Eric van Wesenbeeck:
Writing this was a way of dealing with the grief of a lost friend, who left us way too early in life…

 

A while ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jim’s mother. Jim O is an old high school friend whom I still keep in touch with. In fact, we were neighbours for a few years when our kids where just young and even now we live in the same town. A mutual friend of ours, Matt, planned to come up to Barrie for the weekend to join the Saturday evening festivities. Matt lived in Bradford where he worked at his dream job as a high school English/Drama teacher. We saw Matt a few times a year when he would come to Barrie to visit friends and I looked forward to seeing him again, soon.

He first came to our house for dinner with me, my wife, Chris and our three kids. As always, Matt brought his old guitar with him and entertained the kids (okay, all of us) with a few of the hundreds of songs he had filed away in that jukebox brain of his. Afterwards, we headed off, guitar in hand, to Jim’s parents’ house for the party. On the way, Matt and I chewed the fat, toasting our common interest in music and pop culture, savouring the latest gossip of our many mutual old high school friends and digesting hearty servings of what life had recently dished up for the two of us. Matt had just broken up with his latest girlfriend and, although he hid it well, I could tell he was heartbroken. Matt had had a few serious relationships but unfortunately for him, none had worked out in the long term. I figured the evening’s party may be a convenient distraction for Matt on what may have otherwise been a cold, lonely November Saturday night.

We had great time at this Irish birthday party and a happy surprise it was for Jim’s mother! Her friends and relatives from Ireland, New York City and next door joined in to celebrate. The Irish beer and whiskey flowed and it wasn’t long before the atmosphere in the rec-room had transformed to that of an Irish pub with card games, darts, billiards, laughter and song. Ah yes, song. One of Jim’s aunts sang a few haunting Irish folk songs that mesmerized the gathering. Of course, Matt had brought in his guitar and it wasn’t long before he had many of us singing along as he pounded out the chords on his trusty Gibson six-string. As he wound down his “set”, Matt called me over to help him sing the next song, “I’m One” by the Who. Going back over twenty years to grade eleven, the love of music was something that closely bonded Matt and me. The only difference was that he could play and sing it – I could most definitely NOT. Consequently, I awkwardly stumbled through the verses and then enthusiastically helped Matt belt out the chorus in my tone-deaf voice. We had a great time.

Later that evening, as the revelry wound down, Matt drove me back home. Before leaving to crash for the night at Jim’s house, Matt stood in my driveway with me and we chatted for a long time. Matt was usually up-beat and lighthearted and rarely exposed his darker corners but that night he was particularly reflective and nostalgic and it seemed, just a little melancholy. Chronic health problems had caused him several setbacks in life, back as far as I could remember. He divulged to me a drug habit that he had only recently wrestled into control. He lamented that yet another relationship had failed. He felt that he was missing out on a certain part of life as he watched his friends get married and raise families of their own. Matt loved kids and I think he longed to be a father. I felt bad for Matt and tried to comfort him with my words. I reminded him of all the kids at school who loved him – he was an extremely popular teacher because of his gift for connecting with the students with whom he was so involved. I reminded him of all his siblings and the many nieces and nephews who looked up to “Uncle Matt”. I (regretfully) suppressed an urge to reach out and give him a hug. It was getting late, so Matt, feeling a little comforted, hopped in the car and drove across town to Jim’s house.

As Matt drove away and I made my way to bed, the tune “I’m One” kept playing in my head. I hadn’t listened to that album in years and Matt’s rendition of it had rekindled the flame I carried for this old “favorite band”. The next day, I pulled my “Quadrophenia” CD out of the dusty archives and threw it in my car for future listening.

Two weeks later, on a Monday morning while at work, I got a call from Jim. Jim somberly announced to me that our friend Matt had passed away. I sat in silence, stunned. Jim explained that Matt had gone to the hospital by himself on the weekend, not feeling well. He must have been feeling awful because with all his past health problems Matt had spend too much time in hospitals and now hated going there. He wouldn’t go unless he really wasn’t well. He passed away two nights later with congestive heart failure. Just like that, Matt was gone. I was shaken and had to leave work to clear my head. I got in the car and drove to the lakeshore and stared silently out onto the foreboding gray waters. I thought about Matt. About the conversation we had only two weeks ago. About the years we had spent together in school. About the music, friends, parties, camaraderie and life we had shared. I remembered him singing recently at the party. I loaded the CD I had left in the car and listened to “I’m One”. I listened to the track again and again. Suddenly, the lyrics spoke to me with such clarity. Matt had sung them so passionately and now I knew why. This angst ridden song of a misfit trying so hard to fit in somewhere and be “someone”, reflected perfectly what Matt was feeling. Matt felt he was only “one” and he wanted so badly to be more than that…

matt grave

It’s seems to me, that Matt never realized that he had, in fact, become more than that. There were over 400 people at his visitation, funeral and interment. Standing room only. Many were students, who felt like they had lost a big brother. Through his classroom enthusiasm and antics, his passionate dramatic creations and his rousing participation in floor hockey, Matt had so closely touched so many students. Matt was awarded, posthumously, an award for teaching excellence. A student achievement award was created and named in his honour.

I won’t easily forget Matt. I visit his grave occasionally and take a few moments to recognize all the good things in my life, even if, at that moment, things may seem kind of bleak. I remind myself to enjoy each day to the fullest because each one is precious and a chance to leave a positive impression on those I meet. In the end, we are all just “one” and that’s really not so bad, is it?

~Submission and photo by Eric van Wesenbeeck…thank you)

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For me, Matt was one of those school friends that I met in kindergarten in 1971 and besides grade 10, we spent our all of our school days together right up until grade 13.  Matt and I served on the student’s council at St Mary’s together, we hung out in groups on weekends and we played ball on the paved (yes, paved) yard at recess, after school and sometimes on weekends.  Matt loved ball.  He knew all the calls the hand signs the lingo.  He could be very dramatic and it was contagious.  We lived a couple of streets away from each other and attended the same masses at St Mary’s church.  Losing Matt felt like a blow to my stomach and a dark inner pain that just wouldn’t stop.  Dean, Leo and I were in Honduras on Roatan when I received the email from Flo that Matt had died. ‘WHAT??’ I exclaimed and my fist flew to my mouth with the shock of the news.  When you are school friends for so many years, back when people just did not move away, you really got to know someone and it is profound how much they feel like a part of you.  How well they knew and understood you.  They would just have to.  Matt used to call me ‘Marth’ and he was the only one who would.  I’ll never forget him.  He was a good friend and will always be missed.  Go well Matt.  Rest in Peace.

 

I’m One
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Come down is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
Where do you get
Those blue, blue jeans
Faded, patched secret so tight?
Where do you get
That walk oh so lean?
Your shoes and your shirt’s all just right
I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I got a Gibson
Without a case
But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face
Ill fitting clothes
And I blend in the crowd
Fingers so clumsy
Voice too loud
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
Songwriters: Peter Den

 

The Bad Lands & A New Biz 🦖

After Paddy’s had the fire and I was instantly out of a full-time job, I painted most of the rooms in our house and felt the freedom of deciding what to do with my days.  Every day, after walking my son, Leo, to school, the day would stretch out with all kinds of possibility.

It wasn’t long before Dean and I were kicking around the idea of starting up our own business.  We had noticed the need for a driving school in town, and one thing led to another, and before long we were up and running.  This was ironic due to me having been a Transportation Logistics Officer in the Army.  I had taken courses in military driving, off-roading, convoying, forward delivery points in the field and had even helped set up a heavy trucking school in Germany, teaching the Service Battalion soldiers how to drive the HLVW , (Heavy Logistics Vehicle Wheeled).  These bad boys, as seen below (creds to the guy who signed the pic).

HLVW

I also had all the office-related knowledge: payroll, payables / receivables, customer service and the like.  Dean would be an instructor: he loved to drive and he was both laid-back and had great reflexes.

Just prior to opening doors of our new driving school in June of 2006, while awaiting a few details to solidify, we realized we still had two flights to anywhere in Canada due to cancelled trips of earlier that year.  Dean and I brainstormed over where to go and we finally settled on Calgary with the idea that I would take Leo to The Bad Lands and to see the Dinosaur museum.  I had my old and dear friend, Layla out there and could possibly stay with her for a few days in High River.

Off we flew and rented a car at the Calgary Airport, driving to High River and seeing Layla was amazing.  It had been decades.  We smiled and hugged, and I said, ‘we look the same, just weathered.’ Now, she was married with three boys.  Leo, who was close to seven, was so excited about three instant new buddies.  We walked to meet them after school and Leo was instantly enjoying his new mates as Layla and I got re-acquainted.

I began to notice that Layla was a bit distant.  She didn’t meet my eyes fully.  She didn’t have all of her normal energy.  She was tired and she was keeping me somewhat at arm’s length. We went up in her sons’ tree house and saw a robin staring us down from her house’s rooftop.  We put words in its mouth and then laughed and laughed because we had both been thinking the same thing: ‘Get the fuck out!’  That’s what it was saying to us. ‘Get the fuck out!’  There she was.  Her old self had surfaced briefly.

Later that evening I had the pleasure of meeting her husband.  I immediately sensed that this guy was off.  It was all about him.  She was in a bad marriage and it was all about him.  I felt bad.  (Thankfully, it ended a few years later and now she is rid of him.  They had met in a religious cult which Layla was in for a few years, because of him).

The next day, Leo and I hit the road out to the Bad Lands and finally getting there, were astounded at the beauty of them.  The striations of colour in the sand-stone were incredibly artistic.  We took a walk.

Later we went to the Royal Tyrell Museum which was literally out of this world.  We couldn’t do it justice though as Leo was feeling a bit sick from being in the car.  In the town of Drumheller, Leo climbed up the inside of the steel T-Rex and he was giggling to the whole way.

Later we went to a pool which was the nicest and biggest and funnest pool we had ever been to.  There was a huge foam floating climbing structure to jump off and ropes to swing from and slides to go down.  This must be Alberta, I thought.  At the time, it was very wealthy compared to Nova Scotia.

That night we stayed in a hotel with a Jacuzzi in our room (the clerk, seeing Leo, gave us a free upgrade – he was the cutest!).  We put bathing suits on, got in the tub with the new movie ‘ELF’ on the big screen tv.  We giggled and giggled and this is a fond memory for me because Leo had been feeling some nausea.  He was better and that was a good thing.  I loved to hear him laugh.

The next day we were back at Layla’s, staying in a house of an absent in-law of hers and I made a simple supper for them all to come and enjoy.  I looked out the window to see all four boys on one bike.  Leo was having the time of his life!

We went for a hike in the mountains and had a picnic lunch.  The mountains were spectacular!  The gray jays were everywhere.  We visited a friend of Layla’s with a trampoline and once again, Leo was out there and all the children were laughing and having fun on the trampoline while Layla, Beth and I visited and had coffee. Later Layla made us pate chinoispate chinois and it was delicious (earlier, I had reminded her that it was my favourite childhood meal that mom would make.  I would get home, famished from gymnastics or basketball practise and sit down to Pate.  Scrumptious!)

We then played foosball and watched a doc.  Foosball was a scream, because I was screaming and because I was screaming, so was Layla who also kept looking at me to see if I was for real.  Yep.  I get into it a bit much.

The next day, we walked down by the river and all through the little downtown.  We had lunch at a wonderful diner.

Layla told me she had received a call that her Gramma was on her deathbed in North Bay.  Layla would accompany us to Toronto where she would rent a car and head north.  Sitting on the flight, during the safety briefing, Layla made a face in response to a curt instruction from the flight attendant.  Oh my god, I nearly peed.  She can make me laugh like that and it is just so stupid and funny that there is no rhyme or reason to it.  Layla wasn’t able to rent a car because it was her husband’s credit card (and he wouldn’t allow it).  She took a bus and made it to her Gramma who died just after seeing Layla. She had made it to say good-bye.

Upon returning to Nova Scotia, we began the driving school and it is still running today, twelve years later.  It has been great undertaking with three or four employees whom we generally have a great time with.  Driving instructors tend to be folks retired from other professions.  We have had a retired school principal, a retired teacher, a retired scientist, an ex-airline worker and a retired engineer.  They have taught me a lot over the years and I appreciate them immensely.

I also truly appreciate my old childhood friends.  They are the ones who know you.  Where you came from.  How you were raised.  What you are made of.  Your values.  A genuinely good friend is one you can just pick up with from where you left off.  Even decades later.  I have several of these people in my life and I appreciate them with all my heart.