When I think of the two of us as kids, the first word that springs to mind is “dirt.” We always seemed to be dirty, and barefoot, as one of your brothers reminded me today. Old pictures of you and me, age 3, age 4, age 5…we look like members of the Little Rascals during the depression. Who were those raggedy, forsaken little ruffians? Our moms were friends, our brothers were friends, and we were the same age, and the babies in our families…we were meant to be best friends early in childhood. We played, and played hard, hence all the dirt. I don’t remember if it was your brother or mine who coined the phrase, “Jane and Matthew, what a pair! Dirty face and dirty hair!” Hey, the shoe fit. The pictures of us at that stage make me laugh, both of us in our 70’s bell bottoms, you with the blond hair and bright blue eyes, me with the dreadful bowl haircut and a freckled face. We didn’t know what the future held for either of us, we just wanted to have fun.
Before I even got to your house, I remember the WALK to your house from mine. Three houses south from my house on Michigan Ave., past the creepy one covered in vines that I never saw anyone come in or out of, around the corner past the fence with the mean, yappy little dog. I remember an older lady yelling at me for making her dog bark. In retrospect, I’m terribly sorry, ma’am, for using the sidewalk. A couple more houses down on Bell was the one on the corner that had a stone wall. Across the street at the corner of Mar
Vista, and one more house north, was yours.
I can see the steps to your front door, and the entrance to the living room. We never spent much time in there and some of the furniture was covered in plastic. At one point, when we were a little older, I remember being told one of the couches in there was called a “loveseat” and that made me embarrassed and curious, since I’d never heard the term before. What was supposed to occur on that seat? The next room was the kitchen/dining area where we’d sit sometimes and not do our homework. Down the short hallway there was a bathroom on the left, and then your parent’s room. Near the other end of the kitchen by the back door, were steps leading upstairs to two bedrooms and a bathroom… was that the attic at one point? What else were your parents to do with FOUR boys? Numerous sleepovers occurred in that upstairs room, a gaggle of boys and one unkempt, squirrelly little girl. Come to think of it, our connection with your family is probably a huge part of the reason I was such a tomboy…I didn’t really have much of a choice.
Out the back door was this planet of backyard, or at least it seemed so to me at the time. To the right was some sort of large room with huge windows, maybe originally intended to be a rec room. As your brothers grew older, they each moved into this detached “apartment” of their own, somewhat of a bachelor pad since you could access it without going through the main house. The cement in front of the garage was the site of water fights, chalk drawings, and army men battles. Around the oak tree and around the garage, there was a shed on the left that held the washer and dryer, but it always scared me a little. It was covered in ivy and the room itself was probably lousy with spiders, and I avoided it at all costs. Beyond the shed was even more yard with another big tree and tons of space to play. I remember sitting and playing in the dirt with you for hours, with sticks and strings and our hands. I loved your house, and remember it vividly. I felt I belonged there, I felt like it was mine too. We played wiffle ball in the middle of the street. My girl-ness was never an issue with you or your three brothers, but I do remember the one day there were some other boys playing, and one yelled, “Why don’t you go home and play with your dolls?” You did not join in the teasing, but you didn’t rush to my defense either, and I understand why. In front of your other guy friends, you had to save face. I walked home, crushed, but also incensed! Dolls?? Who the hell had dolls? I never had or liked playing with dolls, even at my girlfriend’s houses. When I was a little older, I asked for that decapitated Barbie head you could put makeup on and do her hair. I don’t remember what sparked our motivation to do so, but the two of us ended up fully vandalizing and defacing that poor head. It was as though you were saying, “Barbie? Really? That’s not who you are!” And it wasn’t, it never has been.
There is lore I don’t remember, such as the story of me being so jealous that all of you boys could pee standing up in the backyard that I just dropped my pants and went for it one day. I don’t recall this event, but all things considered, I’d bet that actually happened. One time when we were a little older, you were over at our house and we were arguing, God knows about what. Actually, I was probably the only one arguing. I was around ten by then, and entering my moody stage, which I’m all too familiar with now since I have a ten year old girl of my own. You weren’t sure what to do with this new side of me, you only had brothers. I remember, as my mother does, you saying, slightly exasperated, “Do you want to fight or do you want to play?” It was simple to you, and you weren’t having any of my theatrics. We played that day. Come to think of it, we never fought. You just didn’t have it in you, it was as though you didn’t see the point of meanness or fighting. There was some good natured teasing, which we both did, about both of our middle names and that kind of thing, but never anything that was ever actually hurtful.
When we were ten, my mom was involved in an organization called CALC (Clergy and Laity Concerned), and they were having a convention in
. It was decided that we would drive there one summer, in her Toyota Tercel. I was so glad to have your company on that crazy, insane drive! Along with my mom, was an intern of hers, named Todd. Todd ended up marrying my sister years later. Todd had an interesting habit of singing to himself almost constantly, and it wasn’t always a tune you could actually follow…can you kind of hum and mumble jazz? That’s the best way I could describe it, and he does it to this day at times. That summer though, during my moody 10th year, I thought it was going to drive me completely insane. We were trapped in this tiny car, driving across the country with this odd young man who wouldn’t stop mumbling jazz. Thank GOD I had your company! I remember we attempted to camp, and my mom quickly discovering that you can’t really camp in the South without a tent like we could in Tennessee . Within minutes, we were all being eaten alive by mosquitoes and had to sleep in the car that night. We stayed in a few motels, and I believe that was my first time staying in a motel because I remember being fascinated that we didn’t have to make the bed. We laughed like crazy when we went through a town called “Bucksnort.” That was the funniest thing we had ever heard, and just the word would put us in stitches. Who in the world would think that was a good name for a town? For years following, we debated which state it had been in, I said California , and you said Oklahoma . We didn’t have the Internet then, but I’ve checked. We were both wrong, it was in Arkansas . At one point on the trip, we were staying with friends and I heard you quietly crying at night. I didn’t want to embarrass you because I knew you didn’t want anyone to hear, but my mom heard and asked if you were okay. You missed your mom. You were always such a sweet, sensitive soul. It was also around this period of time, shortly after I believe, that you lost your father. I didn’t know what to say to you. Oddly enough, I remember the dress I wore to the funeral. I had to borrow it from one of our housemates since I was on the tall side for my age and because as an avid tomboy, didn’t own a dress. I was sad for you, for all of you, but what does a child say to another child who has lost a parent? Looking back, I’m just glad I was there. Tennessee
The early 1980’s brought in a flood of new technology that blew our young minds. Your family acquired the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life…the video game Pong. A game you could play on the television! And you could control it with dials you held in your hand to make the lines on the screen move! It was incredible. Then came Pac-Man, but we had to go to arcades to play that. We spent a lot of time and quarters in those arcades, Pac-Man, Centipede, Frogger, and Donkey Kong were amongst our favorites. We went to
Catalina Island one time with my mom, I can’t remember if it was a day trip or a camping trip, because we did both. On this particular trip though, I don’t think either of us saw the light of day. On a beautiful, glittering day on this lovely island, we were slaves to Avalon’s video arcade. The sun hurt our eyes when we finally emerged. You also had the very first cable TV system, which was an enormous box that sat on top of your television, and was called “ON” TV. There were movies on it, but there weren’t channels like there are now. Heck, I’m not even sure remote controls were out yet, we still had to change the channels on a dial by hand.
As we grew older, we started to drift a little bit. You went to Catholic school, I was in public school. We started to have different friendships. However, we still remained pretty tight until middle school. Around the age of 11 or 12, I got a new “stereo” for Christmas and it had to be assembled. It had a turntable of course, and may have had a tape deck. It also had two huge speakers, and you came over to help me figure it out. I remember fumbling with two pieces of plastic, not being able to figure out what the hell they were for. I tried to put them together like a puzzle, that didn’t work. I tried to attach them to the stereo itself somehow, that wasn’t it. You very calmly watched me as I struggled trying to solve this mystery and you said, “This is kind of like watching the monkeys at the zoo when they’re trying to figure something out.” Nothing could have been more funny, or accurate. I remain, to this day, totally and completely spatially impaired, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard your voice saying that when I’ve been struggling trying to figure out how to put something together! I can't even fit my shoes back into the shoebox in the right way so they'll both fit without several tries. Those two plastic pieces ended up being stands the speakers were to rest upon, but you were the one who eventually put me out of my misery and figured it out.
As the years went on, we lost touch somewhat, but would see each other at various events, like your brother’s wedding or parties for mutual friends of our mothers. I heard you’d graduated high school and joined the Army. Many years passed and I heard you’d moved to
and were going to college. I was proud of you. A few years ago, I heard that you’d gotten married and was so happy to hear that you’d found someone to spend your life with. Last year when my father died, I can’t even express to you how much it meant to have you make the effort to come all the way down to Fresno for his memorial. I wish I’d had the chance to thank you more than I probably did. Before that, I have no idea how many years had passed since we’d actually seen each other in person. Maybe 15 or 20 years had gone by, but you made it, you were there for our family. And you were the same sweet, good natured person I always knew, without a mean bone in your body. Pasadena
When I received the email from my mother last Monday that you’d died suddenly, I didn't want to open it. I could only read, "I'm sad to tell you that Matthew..."and my heart just stopped. I was praying you were in the hospital, or had been in an accident, nothing permanent. It didn’t seem possible, you were only 40. I was still at work, and I opened the email and burst into tears, and my head was swimming. What happened, were you sick? Thank goodness you and your wife didn’t have children so they didn’t have to experience losing a father young, as you had to. Then I felt badly that you hadn’t had children because your wife would be alone. Oh my God, your mom…your brothers! This can’t be happening. You were a constant, a presence in my life that was always to remain, even if we rarely saw each other.
Today at your funeral, I got to meet your beautiful wife and her family. She and I clicked quickly, and she told me about meeting you and how you were so nice, she thought you had to be too good to be true. So she’d test the waters, asking you if it was okay if she went out with her guy friends. Your response was "sure." She remained in a state of semi-disbelief, that you could be such a genuinely kind, sweet, and happy person. This didn't surprise me at all, but it did make me smile. That was you. The person you were at 6 was the same person you were as an adult. She also told me that you used to carry Cheez-Its around in the pocket of your shirt, which made me burst out laughing. Some things never change. I thank God she got to spend the last ten years with you, and the last five as your wife. You were a lucky man. I was touched beyond belief when both she and her sister knew immediately who I was as soon as introductions were made. “This is Matt’s Jane!” That nearly killed me, with joy and sadness. I was amazed that you held me in such high regard. I love that you remembered me as being such a huge part of your life as much as I remember you to have been in mine. Today, it was incredibly hard to see your family in such pain and shock. It was the weird, mixed feeling I had at my dad’s memorial…I was so happy to see everyone, but my dad was gone. I was so happy to see your family, my second childhood family, but the circumstances were incredibly tragic.
In the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of thinking…about life, getting older, and losing people. I’ve fully accepted that life is an incredible gift, and no one knows how long we have. I’m so saddened that your life ended so soon, Matt. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. At the same time, I feel so blessed to have had you in my life, during my childhood, and to have been “Matt’s Jane.” I wouldn’t have been the same person without you. The question you asked me all those years ago has a different meaning to me now. I can still see your sweet round face with your ice blue eyes rolling slightly as you asked, “Do you want to fight or do you want to play?” Thank you, Matt.
I want to play.