This is what I've been reflecting on this week. I started this post days ago but had to step away a few times, because I wondered if I should share it. Is it too heavy? Do I really want to get so personal? Will I be able to put it into words? Obviously, I decided to finish the post. I think my future self will be happy I recorded these thoughts about one of the most important milestones of my life.
* * * * *
August 6, 2000.
I was seven weeks shy of my 16th birthday. I had been awake for hours, anxious to go to a surf lesson at La Jolla Shores beach. I had been wearing my bathing suit since 7:00 AM, as if it was going to get me to the beach sooner. Music floated on radio waves from my bedroom to the bathroom across the hall where I was French braiding my hair.
* * * * *
Matt's mom had called the house at 3:00 AM looking for Matt, because he didn't come home the night before. I spoke with her later in the morning with nothing helpful to offer. If something was wrong, I knew he would have told me. I figured he was at a friend's house and decided to spend the night, so I expected to see him that afternoon. He visited our house so often that the creak of the front gate always painted a smile across my face and was soon followed by a knock on the door and his beautiful face. Never had a squeaky gate brought such joy!
I was silently growing more and more concerned that he wasn't responding to any of my voicemails or pages. (For all you youngens, people used to have pagers instead of cell phones. Archaic, I know.) Minutes morphed into hours, and I still hadn't heard from him.
There may have been some small part of of my soul that knew why. There was a pulling at my heart, but I assumed it was my young, limitless love for my all-around great guy of a boyfriend. The phone rang, and the receiver was in my hand before I consciously intended it to be.
"Hello?" I knew it wasn't Matt, though I hoped it would be.
"Lindsay, I need to talk to your mom."
"Did you find him?"
"I really need to talk to your parents. Can you please give the phone to your mom?"
I felt myself leaving my body. Everything happened so quickly and in such a blur that every time I think back to the moments that followed, I picture it as an outsider, hovering above the scene. I ran to the bottom of the staircase and called up to my mom. My voice was already trembling, and the words came out with urgent force.
"Mom! Matt's mom is on the phone, but she won't tell me anything. She asked for you. I don't know why she's not telling me anything!"
All of the words formed a single sentence on one labored breath. Once I heard my mom pick up the phone, I ran to my bedroom. For a fraction of a second, I considered listening in on the conversation, but I knew what I was going to hear. I just knew. I hung up the phone and began pacing. Not in the linear and deliberate way it happens in movies. I feared standing still, and I broke out in a panicked scramble. And then I heard it.
"What?!" My mom's voice dripped with desperation.
"Oh, my god." My dad started crying.
I started a silent plea. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I couldn't understand their conversation upstairs, so I ran to the bottom of the stairs. My sister, who was home from college for the summer, looked down to me from the rail. With one heavy look and the utterance of "I'm so sorry," I knew what Matt's mom couldn't tell me on the phone. How do you tell your son's girlfriend that she kissed him, hugged him, and talked to him for the last time?
My silent plea poured out of me as I melted into my own hands. I wanted to escape my life, but escaping the house was the best I could do, so I ran to my room to grab a sweatshirt before walking out the front door. With no destination, I walked. I wanted to cry and hide and scream, but I kept walking. In mere minutes, I had played in my mind my favorite moments with Matt: the first time we met at an audition, the first time he came over to our house, being on stage with him, BBQs with our friends, holding hands the entire drive from my house to his, our first kiss, the time I got called out of AP English... because he had flowers delivered to me at the main office, and seeing my little brother get the big brother he never had.
It wasn't long before my sister pulled up next to me and begged me to get in the car. I kept walking, and the car followed. We were both sobbing, and eventually, I conceded.
"Take me to Sara's house." My cousin Sara was my best friend, and even though she didn't know Matt well, I just wanted to be with her. I didn't want to go home. Halfway to her house, I asked,
"They found him, but they don't know." I wasn't prepared to ask what that meant, but I don't think she knew anyway. We were just two sisters in a car with not a clue about what to do. My heart was shattered, and she was heartbroken for me.
* * * * *
I escaped for a few hours but had to go home, eventually. I had never heard the house echo before that night. Every wall and window was tinted with silence. I exchanged my beach attire for jeans and a T-shirt before we drove to Matt's house. His mom wanted to see me, and my anxiety-ridden self wanted to see her. My parents and I got in our tan Ford AeroStar van in which Matt and I had shared the middle bench and spoken in whispers countless times before. For a moment, I let myself forget that he was gone, and I rested my left hand on the seat to hold his hand. I swore I truly felt his hand take mine, so I let it be. His spirit and mine were still connected, though one was without a body, and I savored that car ride knowing the feeling would fade. Maybe the next day, maybe the next month, maybe the next year. But I knew it wouldn't last forever. That night was peppered with sobs and tears but also flooded with comfort and connectedness. So much more turmoil lay ahead, but for that night, we embraced, shared stories, and let emotions wash over us.
* * * * *
Matt's case was closed unsolved. It's hard to seek peace when there aren't any answers. I would have loved to seek justice, but there was no one to question. For years, I wished that I knew what happened, but it has become clear to me that there must be a reason why I don't know.
I continue to learn from this experience 12 years later. Each year and stage of life has brought new perspective. With turning 28 next month, I feel like I am nearing motherhood. This year I feel the hurt through a parental heart. I am in awe of a parent who finds strength to move forward after losing her son who just started his senior year. I ache for my parents who never expected that they would need to rescue their daughter from years of self-medicating. But I know it's possible to survive it, because I witnessed the resilience of our parents!
Life has been really confusing to me at times for various reasons, but I've gained so much as an individual and feel like I have so much more to offer to others as a result. No matter where I am in the world, I will always celebrate Matt on August 6.
To the kid whose friendship transcended titles and social groups in high school...
To the kid whose heart accepted everyone...
To the kid who was equal parts crazy and cautious...
To the kid who endlessly encouraged others...
To the kid my teenaged heart beat for...
... thank you. I will love you forever.
This year my Matt mantra is: Choose joy, even when your heart is hurting.