Death changes you. No matter the kind of death.
It can unravel you, it can unbuckle you, in the face of death you can learn who you are.
You probably WILL learn who you are.
5 years ago, my play little brother took is life. Matteo.
I helped to raise this child, and the most peculiar thing about it, or perhaps not, is that no matter what I accomplish, I will never see his flesh face. I will never see him get married, I will never hold his baby, I will never see him graduate from college. I will never, I will never.
I help to raise Mat, or as I called him Matteo, because if you know me online or afk (away from keyboard) I have a special affinity for names and naming.
There are are a variety of kinds of death. Murders, Cancer, Natural Death, HIV Aids, drive-bys, structural racism being mapped onto your under/un-insured body. He took his own life.
He was tall, lanky, handsome, White, with a cleft in his chin, his “hella’s,” his handsomeness and Love for our favorite Thai Restaurant on Grand Ave, the last place I took him to eat after he picked up from the airport after a work meeting in New York. His astute awareness of being a young White man in Oakland. His gift of poetry. His alto voice. His willingness to work. His ability to make me laugh at things I should not laugh at. His loyalty to his friends.
I couldn’t grieve his death for a year. I paid the price for this. It cost me, in part, a very important relationship. Once I began to grieve and continued to, I learned how to do it. I did it with videos, with art. I dedicated my first book to him. I made a painting about Oakland and the book and I included him in it.
I got to a point where his death became a part of my day to day life. It just was. Not that I thought about it, or that I felt sad about it, his Life like his death became a part of me.
In making the video in Oakland in 2012, I came to conclusion that it wasn’t for me to say what he should or should not do with his life. It is what it is, and it was what it was.
One of the things that I am most proud of in life is that in the few months before his death I was very insistent about texting him to make a time for us to talk. This was before it was common knowledge that young people prefer to text, rather than talk on the phone. It took me a few days to schedule it, and we finally spoke and it was a lovely long conversation. We talked about home, his school and grad school desires, his friends, his family, how grad school was going for me and the fact that I had fallen in love recently.
He died 2 months later.
Death changes you. HIS death changed me.
I will say that 5 years later, I still see his face in children. And I mark it as well. Their round faces, their soup bowl haircuts. I look for and see his face in the crevices of their smiles, in the shape of their hair cuts, in the lankiness of their gaits.
One memory I will always have is of me taking him on the 15 bus from the Berkley pool to Oakland while listening to Illmatic on my walkman. Me listening, and being protective. Him looking out the window at all of the activity on the streets. Me negotiating the stares from Black men wondering what I was doing with this White child.
I helped to raise him.
The thing that I know know that I did not know then is that the suicide of a young person is something that you do not get over. It is something that you learn to live with; hauntingly. Today, it is NOW something that I know that I don’t ever WANT to get over. I relish in the opportunity of ever getting to know his spirit.
I Love you Matteo, Always. I see you every day.