Apr 13, 2022
“Whaddya think, I’m an idiot?”, I snickered.
“No, you’re certainly not an idiot. An asshole, yes. But not an idiot, by any stretch.” he replied.
I was 20 years old, freshly dropped out of college, and certain I had all of the world’s answers. And standing in front of me was a kid about thirty pounds lighter and a few inches shorter than me, calling me out, right to my face, with a completely unimpressed expression on his face as I turned to confront him. As I’m sure you understand, during a male’s teenage years (and a few years after that, too), certain interactions are taken as “fighting words”, so to speak. Not necessarily a physical altercation, although in my case, that was certainly an option most of the time, as well. At the least though, the situation called for some sort of witty retort, meant to “put someone in their place”.
It was in this exact moment, looking directly in the eyes of my peer/potential adversary, I realized I was outmatched. And I wasn’t necessarily sure I understood why. I just knew I was. And so, rather than escalate the situation, I changed course.
“Ok, well played. How much to keep you quiet?” I asked.
“Haha, I’m just glad I got ya to admit you knew what you were doing with these tables. No worries, we’re good.”
This was how I met one of my best friends, Matt Fallon. We were working in a local chain restaurant, Ruby Tuesday’s, to be specific. We both had been there for a few months, but never really interacted. I was, at the time, very committed to “being cool.” That meant a certain set of behaviors, habits, and general empty headed decisions. In a lot of ways, I would come to realize that the empty-headed nature of it all reflected a very real problem in my life, and it’s one that Matt did a lot to help me understand, and overcome.
Nevertheless, at the time, my initial assessment of Matt, from afar, and up until that interaction in the kitchen of the restaurant, was he wasn’t very cool. He didn’t do all the exact same things that I, and the million other twenty year old douche bags were doing. But in that one instant, an instinctive part of my soul understood that in truth, Matt was much fucking cooler than I was. I don’t know that my ego allowed me to process this clearly, but it absolutely registered somewhere in my subconscious.
Over time, our friendship grew. It was a very unique friendship in my life, at the time. Whereas I spent most of my time socially posturing and playing a role, when Matt and I would kick it the conversations would always find their way to some deep philosophical concept. I recall so very clearly how much I wanted to show my friend that although I was more or less portraying an idiot for social acceptance, in reality, I was a smart dude. And for years, Matt would humor my shallow attempts at deep thoughts. I think that he knew I was always going to be in large part, a moron, until I stopped with all the extra bullshit.
On my end, I always felt like the least I could do was share the shallow, yet often shiny, spoils of the fool’s game I had been participating in. Some of my fondest memories of the earlier years of our friendship involve all sorts of questionable behaviors that don’t necessarily need to be included in detail here. Yet they deserve mention because those times serve as such clear examples that it isn’t necessarily what you’re doing, it’s more about who you’re doing it with. Matt’s sense of humor was dry and sarcastic. In situations where the rest of us were getting overly rambunctious, it would typically take one cutting quip from Matt to bring things somewhat back to earth. One of the things I always admired about Matt was his ability to be around sketchy situations without ever losing sight of when it was time to call it a day. I can say, without question, this is because Matt never changed or forgot who he was. He didn’t sacrifice that inner compass that we all start off with, but many of us stop paying attention to somewhere along the line.
Over time, as we both grew and evolved as people, so did our friendship. Sometimes, in life, we have friends for certain periods of time. I jokingly refer to them as “eras”, but it reflects the reality of how sometimes, our interests change, and not everyone grows the same way. It’s not like you have to have a dispute, or bad feelings; it’s just part of life. With Matt, that never really happened. He always continued marching to the beat of his own drum. He had several separate groups of friends, for as long as I knew him. And truthfully, I was never part of any of those groups. Again, not that there was ever any sort of issue, because there wasn’t. It’s just that I spent a large portion of my 20’s being a generally unreliable, fly by night piece of shit. Looking back, I was so incredibly fortunate that when I needed a REAL friend who actually knew and understood me, as a person, he never fucking hesitated to pick up the phone, or meet up with me to “smoke about it”, as we used to say.
Finally, around ten years ago, I began truly putting the pieces of my own life together, this time with a sense of purpose. With lots of therapy, psychedelic experimentation, and just plain “life beating some sense into me”, I embraced the totality of who I am as a person. It was gradual, but drastic at the same time. My circle of friends got much smaller. My hobbies and interests changed. I stopped drinking alcohol, too. And least surprisingly, my friendship with Matt really flourished around this time.
We began linking up to smoke a joint after our respective workdays had ended, and unlike the cliché images that may still pop into some minds, these sessions often led to some of the most enlightening discussions. We had a mutual respect that allowed for such easy conversation about topics that typically are not that easy to speak about. There’s no need to divulge every detail, but I assure you that whatever the topic, not only did we discuss it, we dissected that sumbitch from all sides. Around this time, I had really begun dedicating more and more time to creative projects I was passionate about. One night, Matt remarked that he was impressed at how much time I put into these projects on top of the hours spent at work; he said he would like to do that as well, and that I had inspired him. I remember feeling so fucking good about that comment, for more than one reason. Ten years prior, the last thing I would have been accused of doing was inspiring anyone. And to hear it from someone I respected so much- it was one of the most validating moments of my life, believe it or not.
From that conversation on, I considered Matt my brother; if there was ever a way I could look out for him, I would do so with no hesitation. And so when I was presented with the opportunity to partner up in the opening of a recording studio, I immediately knew I would find a way to get Matt involved- he already worked for A&E (the TV channel), he was an encyclopedia of computer and internet related information, and most importantly to me, he was someone I absolutely trusted. I knew that if this was something that he wanted to do, then there was no better person available to be my partner in this venture, resumes be damned. So, as the time to sign paperwork came close, I informed the person who had offered me the opportunity to partner up originally that Matt would also be a partner, and we could sort out the details as needed. He agreed, and construction began on our first recording studio. Essentially, we were building a skeleton infrastructure inside of an industrial warehouse, but considering the amount of these type projects I had completed in the past (that would be zero), it was a tall task. Unfortunately, around this time, Matt seemed to be having more issues with his health. I knew he had been treated for a form of cancer in the past, but in typical Matt fashion, he played it off as a minor inconvenience and didn’t mention it much since then. But as time went on, Matt shared that things may be a bit more serious than he let on originally. I was not sure how to react, but before I had a chance to, Matt jumped back in with, “but don’t worry, I’m still 100 percent doing this. I just may need more rest sometimes.”
Over the course of the next year and a half, we had an absolute blast at this studio together. In an ironic twist, the two of us were ALWAYS at the studio, while the original partner (the only one with prior experience) had largely disappeared. We set up and recorded video podcasts, photoshoots, and I even got Matt to rap on a song. As time went on, Matt and I knew that we would need to move ahead with a different setup; specifically, we needed to remove the third partner. I’ll spare the ugly details, but when the partnership was dissolved, the third partner approached Matt and essentially blamed me for things not working out, warning Matt to “watch out for Sean, he’s no good.” Matt was not one for confrontation, especially over someone else’s problem. But when my phone rang and I picked up, I could hear the pride in his voice as he described, in great detail, what had just happened. He was so amped up, letting me know that he “wasn’t gonna listen to that kind of bullshit”, and how I had always been a good friend to him when not everyone was. I can hear the conversation as I type this, and it makes me tear up just thinking about what a truly caring friend I had in Matt.
One of my favorite parts of the journey we had with the studio was the way Matt developed what he was calling his “exit strategy”, as we faced the final months of the original studio partnership. An avid gamer since the days of Nintendo, Matt had become more and more keen on the idea of being a streamer, and having his own channel where he could broadcast his superior skill set with the video game of his choosing at any given time. So, while I was recording shows or mixing songs, Matt was building out his channel and website, complete with every fine point detail one could imagine. Even though we knew the one partnership was coming to an end, we really did enjoy the hell out of those last few months, because we were always sharing new things we had put together, or potential ideas that we could collaborate on next. It was very much the essence of who Matt always was: Sure, this phase may be ending, but whatever is next surely will be pretty sweet, too.
It’s that same power of perspective that kept Matt moving forward unflinchingly once the recording studio ceased to exist. He had his custom setup streaming channel at his place, and also met an awesome girl who seemed to really appreciate Matt, in the way we all would like to feel in a relationship. He was excited for me to meet her, and when I did, she remarked that Matt had spoken so highly of me. I laughed, because of course he did, that’s who Matt is- he would never speak ill of someone he considered a friend. I responded by letting her know that anyone Matt brings around is automatically “good money” in my book, and we all shared a laugh. During this time, Matt and I saw each other a bit less frequently, but I didn’t really think twice about it. I figured that with a new relationship and his streaming (which was growing exponentially, it seemed), he was just more busy than usual. He had recently told me he was gaining sponsors, and the overall vibe he gave off was the same one of general nonchalance mixed with a twist of “trying to make sure to stop and smell the flowers”. It wasn’t until I noticed it had been like damn near six months since we hung out that I thought something might be wrong. We had stayed in touch via text and calls, but I just had a weird feeling about it. So, I called with a bit of an insistence that we get together “ASAP”. He said, “I’m sorry, man, I know I haven’t been around much. I’ll explain when I see you, I will come by tonight.”
This part is very tough for me to write. Matt explained that the cancer situation had become “a bit more of a nuisance than I was hoping”, and that he had been spending more and more time in the hospital and getting treatments. I was devastated, and he could tell. He said, “Ah dude- my bad, I’m probably making it sound worse than it is. I’ll be fine. I just didn’t want you thinking I was like hiding out from ya!”
“So, like, is it good now? Like are you in the clear for a while, or what’s next?” I asked.
“Yeah, I mean I’m tired a lot and stuff, but I should feel better as time goes on, assuming everything goes well,” he replied.
We sat and caught up for another few hours, wrapping up sometime around 3 am. At the time, Covid was still very much a factor in how people behaved, so I laughed as we went to part ways, and I questioned aloud what the best protocol for giving a pound was. Matt looked at me and said, “Ahh fuck it bro, we all been stuck at home for months, gimme a hug!”
Anyone who knows me personally knows I typically am not a “hugger”. Hell, I barely can stand handshakes. Matt especially knew that, so I thought he was pulling my leg. Not willing to let him get the upper hand on me via me reacting awkwardly and Matt laughing at it, I decided to beat him to the punch and said, “Yeah man, you’re right! I need a hug! Bring it in, bro!”
We both laughed, and shared the most sarcastic hug in the history of mankind. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, that was the last time I ever got to see my friend Matt.
The second I received the news that he had passed on, I flashed back to that moment. He knew that might be the last time he saw me, and that smart ass not only got me to hug someone, he got me to initiate it! My next thought was how incredibly selfless and strong Matt had been this entire time, to not sulk or complain at all about what he was going through. I am glad that I was able to let Matt know how much his friendship meant to me over the years, but in no way was I prepared to lose him. I still have a very hard time thinking or talking about certain times we shared, and so I don’t have a very clever or artful way to end this. I just wanted to share these thoughts and memories in tribute to a truly great person.
I miss you, Matt. Thank you for everything you taught me about myself, friendship, and life.