I got a text from my brother last night. He just found out that you died. I felt guilty. It’s been months. I thought he would have heard from someone, and I don’t like to be the one who calls with that kind of news. I asked him if he was ok, and he did the guy thing and said “sure, why wouldn’t I be? I didn’t even know the guy.” That’s not true, though, is it? I can’t believe he’s completely unaffected.
I remember pelting each other with acorns when we played “War” with all the neighborhood kids. How you guys were friends one day and enemies the next. The video of you at my 7th birthday party at Showbiz Pizza. It’s funny, I don’t remember the actual birthday party, but I remember watching the VHS home video of it later.
One sunny day I walked up to the top of the cul-de-sac, in front of your basketball goal, and wrote “I (heart) Matt” in the street in sidewalk chalk. And it’s true, I did. In the way that I would only come to understand in adulthood, in the way that I sincerely love my fellow man, and feel compassion for him, and want him to see how treasured he is, I loved you so much. Of course, you thought I was weird. (No argument there.)
You guys moved away and we didn’t even speak until a frat party 15 years later, but your energy was a teeny tiny part of mine as kids, and the memory of that first crush makes me grin, mostly with embarrassment.
So many times in the last few years I told your Cancer Story to illustrate the fighting spirit and defiance that lives inside all of us, though few barely ever harness it or put it to use. Three days, they told your mother. Instead, you pushed on for two years.
[A side note that may only make sense to me: In Quantum Physics, scientists have found that once a particle has had contact with another particle, the two are affected by each other forever. Even if they are separated by galaxies. Even if they never have contact again. This is called entanglement.]
We didn’t speak the whole time you were sick. You died before Christmas and I didn’t cry. I am sad, for your wife, for your kids, for your parents. Sent your dad a note and friended your brother on Facebook. This life is so strange.
After Jason texted me about you dying, I went and looked at your profile. I looked at the books you liked. I wanted to find one I’d never heard of, and read about it, and find a message in it. I chose “Where the Red Fern Grows” because of the melody of that title, and because I had no idea what it was about. There are a lot of books one might consider classics that I have never read. Skimming your list, I promised myself to remedy that. After reading several online summaries and reviews of “Where the Red Fern Grows”, I understood why that was the one I had chosen – or you directed me to.
At 39, you were not the little kid in the army jacket, running down the street with us. You were not the drunken jerk at the party. You were a man accomplished. A husband, a loving father, a loyal friend. I am sorry that I missed all of that. To my credit, I knew you were special when I was 7 years old. You had a certain light about you, even then.
Thank you for showing me the story you liked as a boy, about Old Dan, Little Ann, and family and loyalty and strength. It seems the story of your life, right up to the end. I’m going to visit your grave one day. Not yet, I think. It’s too surreal. You were one of us, and we are still kids. But when I go I hope like hell to see a red fern nearby, planted by the angels, indicating that your life was as purposeful and divinely guided as I have always suspected.
“It’s strange indeed how memories can lie dormant in a man’s mind for so many years. Yet those memories can be awakened and brought forth fresh and new, just by something you’ve seen, or something you’ve heard, or the sight of an old familiar face.”