Read, rate or review, but know that I didn't write this for you. I wrote it for me.
|The classroom had been artfully arranged with three rows of desks on each half of the room facing the middle. We voluntarily segregated ourselves in the usual fashion, with the "cool" kids on one half and the "not cool" kids on the other. When the bell rang, we brought our friendly conversations to an end and scanned the room for familiar faces.
That's when I saw him. He sat directly across from me, we both looked straight into each other's eyes and froze.
No, it wasn't love at first sight, it was something else...something confusing and comforting at the same time. The look on his face said that he remembered me, but then it was washed away by a puzzled expression. I am sure of it, just as I am sure of the fact that my own expression mirrored his. It was days later when I learned his name. Matthew.
Our teacher, Coach Bledsoe, had a habit of saying things that shouldn't have been funny but made me laugh anyway. The lesson about the human eye is one I remember well.
"You may have noticed, " he said as we all scribbled notes furiously, "that some of you wear contacts or glasses...and some of you wear nothing." Matthew and I both looked up sharply. We laughed aloud before we realized we were the only ones laughing.
This event repeated itself throughout the course of the class. Discussing Narcotics, Coach emphatically pointed out that "Next year we'll have the Advanced Health Class and we'll take these drugs one at a time." Once again, we were quick to laugh, and in unison, asked where we could sign up.
We rarely spoke to one another outside of class. Matthew graduated in the spring, and I moved away with my family, and I was foolish enough to think I'd never see him again.
Four years later I found myself back in Texas. I offered to pick my sister up from work at the sandwich shop downtown. I saw him there behind the counter before I even got the door open. He looked up as I walked inside and did a double take. This time, I was sure that the look on his face said that he remembered me.
"Hey!" he said, "Didn't you go to Frisco?" he asked, knowing full well that I did.
"Yeah, " I nodded. "Weren't you in my health class?" I asked, knowing full well that he was. We laughed together again, and spent many evenings after the shop had closed standing in the parking lot smoking cigarettes and talking about nothing.
When the fall came, I went back home to Missouri, and I was stupid enough to think we'd cross paths again.
I've been back in Texas for two years now, and there are things that remind me of Matthew on a regular basis...a song on the radio, an afternoon at the sandwich shop, even the smell of a Zippo lighting a cigarette all bring back memories. And all of the memories are full of laughter.
Last Saturday at 1 o'clock in the morning my telephone rang. My sister was on the line.
"Crystal, someone just told me that Matthew is dead..." She went on, but I didn't hear her. My voice cracked as I said the only word in the English language that I could remember.
She didn't have any details or specifics, but it didn't matter. I already knew the most important fact, and already in my heart I knew it was true.
Mankind has yet to invent words to accurately describe the grief I feel. If I said I never got a chance to tell him how much he meant to me, it would be a lie. I had dozens of chances, maybe hundreds, in the thirteen years that I knew him. I just never did it. Until now.
Matthew, In high school, what I needed more than anything else was a friend. Although we never shared much more than a forbidden cigarette and an immature snicker, that connection was enough for me. It kept me from doing anything too stupid. You saved me.
After high school, what I needed more than anything else was direction. When I felt I couldn't discuss my future plans with even my family, you were there to convince me that I should do what I wanted to do. It kept me from doing anything rash. You saved me.
Your early death has brought to light so many things about my own life that I would like to change. Once again, you have been my light in the darkness, clearly illuminating my path and showing me exactly what I need to do. For the third time, you saved me.
I am hopeful that in another time and place, perhaps in another lifetime, we will meet again. When we do, there isn't a doubt in my mind that we will remember each other somehow. And when that time comes, I won't wait so long to tell you how glad I am to know you.
I miss you already. I don't have a single memory of you not smiling. I've learned my lesson.
Matthew, my friend.