Until 2017, April was my favorite month. It’s my birthday month; it’s the month when the weather gets warmer; it’s a month with a school vacation in it. When Matt died, April became the saddest month.
I want to turn April around. I want there to be something good about April again. I want to enjoy the birthdays I have left. So, I’m making an effort starting now, by noticing and appreciating the singing birds and blooming daffodils. And I’ve decided to flood April with happy memories of Matt. Here are a few that come to mind.
Matt was a runner from the age of eleven months. If we were passing through a large open space, he’d take off. Once he was school age, he’d ask permission.
“Mom, can I run?”
And we’d tell him yes or no. But until he could be trusted, at least one of us would hold his hand.
One evening we walked into a restaurant, Matt flanked by Sarah and me, each of us holding a hand. He was about 4 years old, and when he announced, “I’m gonna do a flip,” neither of us really believed him.
Imagine our surprise when he pitched forward into a perfect front flip, landing on his feet while still grasping our hands. “Again!” And again. And again. For years.
While we were on vacation in the summer of 2007, Matt said, “Hey Mom, look at me.”
I turned around, and there he was, looking down at me from the very top of the doorway. He had braced his hands and feet against the sides of the door frame and shimmied all the way up. He shimmied back down and demonstrated how he was working on a way to perform the trick upside down, necessitating the new rule, “No climbing the walls upside down.”
And so began Matt’s parkour phase. I really liked the parkour phase. It gave me a whole new way of looking at the world. Perspective changes when you evaluate every object in terms of whether you can climb it or jump from it. We’d walk to the park around the corner, and Matt would leap from boulder to boulder near the duck pond, walk the backs of park benches like a tightrope, and use the retaining walls to lever himself into a handstand. I was happy to vault up and over the picnic tables with him, or scramble dramatically up the playground slides, but that was about the extent of my parkour skills. He was content to demonstrate, and I was content to watch.
Physicality is always my fondest memory of Matt. He could run and jump and throw and catch with ease, but he was accepting and encouraging of the skill level of the people 30 years his senior. The natural comfort he felt with his body enabled him to unabashedly express physical affection well past the age I expected it to vanish. Matt didn’t seem at all self-conscious about hugging his mom for his entire life. He was 16 when I backed my car into my husband’s truck, and Matt was right there next to me, arm around my shoulders. “It’s ok, Mom. Don’t cry.”
My mom loves to tell the story of Matt at age two, standing up in the restaurant booth next to my dad, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, one hand grasping my dad’s chin. My dad could barely contain his laughter as Matt dabbed Dad’s mustache with his napkin, clucking and scolding. “Wook at dis face!”
Matt’s young cousins climbed all over him; his girlfriend’s little brothers clung to him and begged him to play. Matt had boundless patience for small children, and they flocked to him because they sensed it.
The last memory of Matt I’ll tell you about was just a few months before he died. We were on our way home from a soccer game, and he was starving. As we swung around the corner of the McDonald’s drive thru, he remarked that he was nervous to try navigating the turn when he got his license.
“Oh,” I said, “it’s so much easier now than it was when I got my license. You know how hard it was getting a horse and buggy through this drive thru?”
For some reason, this image tickled him, and he burst into laughter, real laughter, not just the polite chuckle my jokes usually invoked. I’ll never forget the delight I felt from making him laugh. It was the best feeling in the world.
That’s what I’d like to do every April from now on. Remember the sound of that laughter, vault over a picnic table when nobody’s looking, and smile as I recall the feel of a small sticky hand tugging me across the Wal-Mart parking lot.
“Mom, can I run?” I hear his husky voice ask.
Yes, Matty. You can run.