I was at work when I received the call from Debbie that Matt had been rushed to emergency, she was hysterical, and had no other information. I had to e-mail people in order to leave, look up the address of “Enloe” the only information Debbie had, and get driving directions. I also had to call my sister Angie to let her know. Angie had waited months to get her daughter in to see a specialist so she was going to drive up later. We were sure at that time that it was going to be one of those long emergency room waits, never considering that it could be worse.
It wasn’t long after I got on the road I received a second call from Debbie, hysterical, “He didn’t make it!” I still can’t get her voice out of my head. I hear it, and wonder will I ever have to say something like that to anyone in my family about one of my boys. “He didn’t make it”. Those were the same words the hospital had told her, when she demanded to know his real condition since she still had nearly two hours to go to get to Chico. I slammed on my brakes, pulled off the road, and screamed and cried. Then I pulled into traffic, took the next exit and parked my car. I sat in the car crying hysterically. My first thought was of how it happened, had he suffered? Had he been drugged? Even though he attended “ Chico” the ‘party school’, knowing Matt I knew he hadn’t overdosed or drank too much, because Matt was the responsible one. He knew how to have a good time, but how to not take it to excess. He loved a good time, he loved family, friends, life, laughter, sports, video games and being outdoors. He worked hard and played hard, he had morals, and ethics, and was an example of everything good in this world. He was what my sister Angie and I wished our boys could be. He was special, and no one could or would be like Matt, ever. I called Angie and had to tell her, and she rearranged her schedule, finding an alternate to take her daughter to the doctor and told me to come straight to her home, that she would drive. I doubt I could have driven that day, and in fact, I still am not sure how I made it to her house. Imagine during that long drive, having to call your father and tell him his grandson is dead, and your brother to tell him his nephew is dead, and no, I don’t know how it happened. I had to tell my children, I told them over the phone.
Those of us who knew and loved Matt, and I would like to hope that includes the boys down in that basement, know we have lost something so special we may never see it again in our lifetimes. That one person who would stand up for what is right, and what he believed in. He treated people with respect and kindness, always gave people a chance to prove their worth, never judged people from appearance, or what they had or didn’t have, and always was fair. He stood up to bullies and protected those weaker than him, he nurtured his younger brother, as no older brother I have known. I wish my boys could be as loving to each other as Matt was to Travis. Matt not only adored Travis, he always took time to include the younger cousins, including my youngest, who is only 8 years old. When everyone was telling my son “go inside, you are too young to play” Matt was bent down, showing his young cousin how to hold and throw a football. Although my son was not yet five, he talks about it still.
The last time I spent with Matt was our Las Vegas trip, since I take my camera everywhere, I had decided I was going to chronicle his 21 st birthday and even warned him of my intent, and make his mom a scrapbook, which he could have someday. The picture we wear on our badges, that is on our decals, his website, and flyers, was taken the first day of that trip, in the airport. This is the Matt I will always remember, with the larger than life smile. I only got a few pictures that week after all, since his friends drove up and we never saw him again until Thanksgiving, when the guys had gone home. On this night, the last of our trip, rather than go to the casino, a bar, or a girlie show like any other 21-year-old, Matt came to my sister Angie’s room, and played Skip-Bo with his Aunts and Uncle. Crazy as it sounds, he stayed for several hours. That was the kind of young man he was, taking the time out of his trip to make sure we knew that he felt we were important to him. It had become a tradition to spend each Thanksgiving together several years before, and we had our annual Sisters/Cousins gift exchange, but that year Matt was still at Chico on the day we could all get together, so we didn’t see him after our Vegas trip, and my last memory is of him standing near the luggage carousel, making sure I got all my bags, even though he had his, and Greg was already out the door trying to get them all onto the next shuttle. Matt wouldn’t leave us there until he knew we all had our bags, and I thought of that during the candlelight vigil when Andrew spoke, one of his very best friends, saying that they had always said “no one gets left behind” and that the last person anyone would leave behind would be Matt. I felt honored that he included his Aunt, Uncle and cousins in those he valued enough to “not leave behind”, and I will treasure that thought always.
On February 2 nd, 2005, I lost my nephew. I will picture his beautiful face in my mind forever, his baby face, his teen face and his happy 21-year-old face. I will keep his portrait up at my house, so that my children always remember the kindness of their cousin who always had time for them. I lost my nephew, and I also lost a huge part of my sister, because she is no longer whole. Her heart was broken that morning when she received the news, and it will never be fully repaired. I can’t even describe how much it hurts to see her pain, and know that I can’t help her.
I know in my heart that Debbie would not want these young men to be put away for life, but I do know that she needs to see them punished fairly for their actions, we all do, but Debbie is more compassionate then most mothers who have lost their child could ever be, and Matt got his beautiful soul from his mother. I beg you, for my sister, for my family, for the boys to understand the severity of what they have done, please make sure their sentences are adequate to the suffering they have caused. Let them learn in a way that doesn’t break their spirit, but helps them to understand the severity of their actions.
Matt at the airport before leaving for Vegas