Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dark Anniversary

Year Two, Day One

One year ago today I began writing this blog. For the rundown on why I began writing it, you should read that first entry.

October 8, 2005
Today is also the eighth anniversary of the day I lost my dearest friend, so this entry will be another attempt at using words to process my profound sadness over that loss.

The picture at right is one of my favorites of Matt. I was living in Atlantic at the time, and he had come for a surprise visit. Since I had a speech competition in Des Moines that same weekend, he agreed to come with me and judge for me at the contest. Matt loved speech and debate activities,
and had excelled at them for me as a student at Bishop LeBlond High School from 1995-1999 (he also appeared in all eight of the plays I directed during those years).

If you're wondering about the polar bear, the competition was held at North High School, and the stuffed polar bear is in the school's lobby.

When I would occasionally travel my Atlantic speech team to contests in Kansas City, Matt always made the time to judge for me, and to meet and encourage my students. They all thought he was terrific, of course. It was more than a year after his death before I could even bring myself to tell the Atlantic kids who had known him...

I know you do...and of course you and I would never have met if not for Matt...

Matt and the Royals

Matt was born on November 4, 1980. Just a couple of weeks beforehand, my beloved Kansas City Royals had lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. The Royals won their first World Series Championship in 1985, just as Matt was beginning kindergarten.

By the time our paths first crossed in the fall of 1995, the Royals had become quite awful. Matt was a part of my life for 13 years, and in that entire time the Royals only managed a single winning record,
in 2003. Of course, they followed that up with three straight 100-loss seasons.

That didn't keep us from going to games together from time to time, an occurrence which became more frequent once Matt moved to the Kansas City area after college.

I wish he had lived to see the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Like me, he had suffered through all of the losing without ever giving up on the Royals as a fan...


As for this season's incarnation, they beat the Red Sox 3-2 in Game One of yesterday's double-header, their third win in a row. The key hit for the Royals was a two-run home run by 1B Eric Hosmer.

In the second game, Red Sox starter David Price got revenge for his poor showing in last year's ALCS, beating the Royals 5-2 to improve his record to 6-1 on the season.

The team has today off before beginning a key weekend series in Chicago versus the division-leading White Sox.

Matt and Politics

On the same day Matt was born, Ronald Reagan was elected as the 40th President of the United States.

Matt was politically conservative when I met him, and those beliefs were no doubt strengthened as a result of our friendship. For several years, I gifted him books by favorite conservative thinkers for Christmas and for his birthday, especially books by my own conservative hero William F. Buckley, Jr.

During his college years and subsequently,
he was active in Republican politics, including working on the 2001 election campaign of U.S. Representative Sam Graves.

I'm sure he would be as appalled as I am at what has happened to the Republican Party over the past year or so...

Matt and Music

Matt's taste in music rarely coincided with my own, although he did turn me into a fan of Pearl Jam, his favorite band, and well as Live, Creed, and Evanescence.

2003 Tour backdrop
One of the peak experiences of my life took place on the evening of September 17, 2003 when he went with me to see my then-favorite working band, R.E.M., at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City.

It turned out to be the only time
I would see them perform live before they disbanded in 2011.

The weather was perfect that evening (Starlight is an outdoor venue), and by the end of the show Matt had become a fan of the band. I burned him a CD of his favorite songs from that night's setlist.

For a housewarming gift following my move to Atlantic in the fall of 2004 he gave me a copy of the band's concert DVD Perfect Square, which was filmed on that same tour just two months before we saw them.

He also went with me to see my jazz hero Maynard Ferguson in concert at the Missouri Theater in St. Joseph on Maynard's birthday in 2004.

Horse Sense

From Wiley Miller's indispensable comic strip Non Sequitur, which Matt loved as much as I do. You should read it every day (even though Wiley is a squishy liberal).

Until Next Time...

My relationship with the song in this section today is complicated, but in my mind this is music I will always associate with Matt's death, and the aftermath.

In May 2007, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company released the second of what came to be known as its "Good Deeds" commercials, featuring ordinary people "paying forward" small kindnesses shown to them by others. As the first commercial had, this one featured a song by the New York musical collective Hem...

I enjoyed the song enough to track down its name, and the name of the band. It turned out that "The Part Where You Let Go" wasn't on any of the band's full-length albums, but was included on their 2007 EP Home Again, Home Again, released in late June.

From the beginning the song was
in my "Tearjerkers" iTunes playlist, since its lyrics touched on issues like trust, friendship/love, and loss that have all played significant roles in my life.

As is often the case with people
who lose a loved one to a suicide,
I bounced back and forth between extreme sadness (bordering on despair) and extreme anger. For several years after Matt's death, whenever I heard this song it would trigger the "anger" response.

That is not hard to understand if you read the lyrics, of course (especially the part about the "darkest night"). It reached a point where I couldn't listen to the song anymore.

From time to time in the years after his death I would test my healing by trying to listen to the song without getting uncontrollably angry. It took until 2012 for that to happen.

The cathartic moment came on the closing night of the last show I directed at Atlantic High School...

At that time the high school had installed security doors controlled by computer at every entrance to the building, including the entrance to the music hallway that had the backstage doors. After I had finally gotten the last of the kids and parents out of the building following what I thought would be my final show, I got ready to head home. Unfortunately, the program controlling the outside doors was malfunctioning, and refused to lock them.

I contacted the school's IT guy to let him know, and told him I would simply stay around until he could come out the following morning to fix the problem. I just used the time to begin the "load out" process that I would normally have done the morning after a show closed.

To help pass the time, I connected my laptop to the theatre's sound system so I could listen to music while I worked. Since I was in a melancholy mood anyway, I selected the "Tearjerkers" playlist. I had forgotten that "The Part Where You Let Go" was in there.

When it began, I initially had the same angry reaction I had been having for years, but all of sudden, surrounded by the set of that show, I felt him there with me, as if he wanted to help me process my grief at ending my directing career. Before long, I was clinging to a side-stage leg drape for support and weeping uncontrollably as I listened to those lyrics. And in that moment I finally found it in my heart to forgive him for leaving me so abruptly. He has been a part of my life again ever since...

Today's send-off is the full-length version of the song. Enjoy...

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