Sometimes words are not enough, but I think I would remiss if I did not try to say something.
I really met Matt in 9th grade. In a school as small as ours, you kind of always knew people even if you had never really met them. He sat behind me in English class, he would partner with me on group projects, and always wore “girl jeans” and a faded, dust colored tee that read, “Death Cab for Cutie” (a strange phrase which I would eventually Google and consequently find my favorite band). With a round face framed by dark blond curls, I always thought he was pretty, not in a romantic way, but in the most literal and dry meaning of the word. He was quirky, and weirdly observant. I remember one day he commented on my chipped nail polish, saying that I should “really fix those” as he raised his eyebrows towards my fingers. What stuck with me about this unimportant moment, was that he said it in such a matter of fact, emotionless way. He wasn’t mocking me or being rude, just stating his opinion on something I couldn’t imagine another 9th grade boy noticing.
I can’t tell you why this meaningless moment has stayed with me for over 10 years. It’s such a pointless thing to remember. And what’s odder is that it’s really the most vivid thing I remember about Matt. Maybe it’s all I could gather mentally the first time I heard Death Cab For Cutie and the memory just ended up cemented in my brain. Matt and I crossed paths after high school a few times, but outside of alcohol hazed, chance encounters and the internet, Matt and I did not really know one another. Though, any time Chris Walla’s voice came through my speakers I would always think of him.
Before social media and the expectation of 24/7 documentation, what I do know about Matt would have constituted us being acquaintances, maybe friends by popular definition. I know where he worked, what part of town he lived in, who he lived with, who he dated, who he was friends with, what his band was up to and what he looked like. Today, you can know that about anyone, so long as you can find them online. This leaves the question: is anyone you know these things about an acquaintance or friend? Or, do these silly bits of information mean nothing and we just pretend they matter?
Death has always been baffling, life’s most certain mystery. The confusion surrounding death is amplified today in situations where you’re not able to define how well you know a person. If you can’t figure out what a person means to you, then how do you know how to feel about their death?
With social media we know people in a way that was once inherently meaningful (knowing their birthday, family, friends, etc). Now, we have the ability to know and simultaneously not know a person. Within that paradox lies an emotional grey area where emotion is prescribed to anything that would have significance in any tangible relationship. The catch here is that these online, peripheral relationships aren’t always tangible. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not real to at least one person. If they’re real, then they must have some meaning, right?
And so, when someone whose emotional connection to us we do not fully understand dies, where does this leave our emotions?
I’m sure some would argue in these instances that our emotions are best left in the Absurd. The way we think we know people isn’t real. And although we as humans may attach strange value to these fake connections anyway, we will ultimately find that they do not mean anything. And freedom from the confusion will come when we let ourselves be ok with that meaninglessness.
However, in my experience with death, I find that logic goes out the window even in the most clearly defined ways of grieving. And in these stranger instances, we are left with an unexplainable emptiness where sadness wants to be, but doesn’t quite fit. To have it all be meaningless would be a relief, but that doesn’t quite fit either. That emptiness, it’s a weird sense of loss comprised of fleeting memories that might have once been relevant and it’s exacerbated by compulsively scrolling through in memoriam posts. Ultimately, we’re left with the choice of forgetting someone we barely remember to begin with, but nonetheless feel for, or continuing to prescribe meaning to something that we can’t even be sure was ever meaningful. Both are obvious and inexplicably impossible options, and neither is of any real comfort.
I know Matt and I weren’t friends in a real sense, but he was still intangibly there on the very far periphery of my life. Does that matter? I don’t know. Maybe it was all meaningless in the grand scheme, our minimal interactions and what little I did know of him. I do know that I’ll still think of Matt any time I hear Death Cab For Cutie, his death will not change that, though if I’m being honest it will be more a reaction then a remembrance. As for whether that distinction is important, I’m not sure.
In memory of Matt Terry.
Until next time ❤