Tonight, during an internet searching rabbit hole, I found out that an old friend of mine passed away. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my own photos of him on hand, as the ones I would have were taken long before social media.
Fall and Halloween will always make me think of Matt Tate.
I met Matt one brisk autumn night in 1996, I was 16 and a hippy stoner friend of mine drove me to this new agey party at Huntington Beach, where they were celebrating a solar/lunar event of some kind – my memory escapes me with the specifics of what this event was or meant. But she was a friend, and as teenagers do I went along for the ride.
When we got to the picnic pavilions across the street from the beach, I recognized a couple of much older adults from this coffee house I frequented, The Magic Unicorn, but other than that the friend who drove me was the only person there I knew. This event seemed very specific and involved, so I found a seat on the bench next to this really tall, cute and quiet guy about my age and awaited further instructions.
Soon candles and incense were lit, and everyone was handed a piece of paper with some kind of poem or something written on it. From what I could read in the candlelight, it was something about some “horned god” and maybe something about animals, but “horned god” is what sticks out most in this memory.
Now, “The Craft” had just come out, so I was in my weird witchy phase like a lot of other girls my age, but it was more of the “hang out with your girlfriends and see if you can make your enemies’ hair fall out” aspect that most appealed to me. And even though my music at that time was all things metal, I never once felt compelled to conjure a “horned god” of any kind. So this poem thing seemed weird.
My friend who drove me was on the other side of the pavilion in deep conversation with whoever was in charge, so I turned to the guy seated on my left and showed him the paper.
“Hey, do you know what this means?”
He laughed, shook his head and shrugged.
“No idea. Someone brought me here, I have no idea what’s going on.”
Relieved that I wasn’t the only one in that boat, I introduced myself.
I held out my hand, and he shook it.
“I’m Matt. That lady over there seems to be the one handling everything, we could ask her.”
He gestured at one of the much-older adults at a nearby table. Hardwired with school etiquette, I raised my hand.
“Excuse me? Hello?”
The lady raised her eyebrows at me. I held up the piece of paper.
“What does this mean?”
“It’s a chant.”
I waited for more elaboration, and when it didn’t come I pressed on.
“Okay, but what does it mean?”
“It’s something we all say together.”
Did she think I was stupid? I pressed her further.
“I know what a chant IS, but what does this one MEAN?”
She looked at me, annoyed.
“Just go along with it, okay?” With that, she got up in a huff and disappeared. My fellow fish-out-of-water and I exchanged “WTF?” looks. But before we could find another adult, or my friend who drove me for that matter, someone’s voice rose up in a song I couldn’t understand, and the chant lady shushed all of us. I think there were drums. I was nervous. What the hell was this? This wasn’t in “The Craft”.
Matt looked like I felt, and I leaned over to talk to him in a low voice.
“Dude, this is messed up.”
He chuckled and nodded in agreement. Blueprints for our escape began to form in my head.
“Do you have a car?”
Matt shook his head and whispered that one of the older adults told him about this thing, and he thought it was a party so he let her drive him.
The chant lady turned around and “SSHHHHH!!”ed at us. It was then I remembered that my mom, never not concerned with my safety, let me take her cellular phone – an electronic brick with a pull out antenna that her boss gave her.
“Hey, you wanna’ get out of here?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
With that, we dipped out of the picnic pavilion, which was now filled with the voices of the mysterious chant, maybe drums, and we climbed the hill up to Lake Rd. and called my mom.
“Dude, what the hell was that?” I said, looking down the road for the slowing headlights and turn signal of my mom’s car.
“I dunno, I thought we were going to get possessed or some shit.”
We laughed and did the customary, “Where do you go to school?”, “Oh, do you know this person?”, “Yeah he’s my cousin. Hey, did you hear the new Chemical Brothers?” thing. I learned that he loved rap. As a metalhead, I didn’t hold that against him.
My mom arrived, and he thanked her for saving his life.
So began my friendship with Matt.
After high school, he’d occasionally pop up, usually around Halloween. We would go to haunted houses, fall shows with Type O Negative and Rob Zombie, and watch horror movies.
Matt was a quiet, thoughtful guy, but if he felt connected to someone his conversations were a gift. Ever the night owl, Matt had a knack for keeping me engaged in such conversation all night until dawn, or when my body could not stay conscious any longer, whichever came first.
“Sleep is overrated,” he’d say.
I never minded this. Matt was funny and intelligent, artistic and humble, and I loved talking to him.
As the years passed, I lost touch with him completely. Then one autumn evening, I was 29 and just moved into my apartment in Lakewood when there was a knock at my front door. Thinking it was a little late for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I opened it.
Standing there was my old friend Matt Tate, holding a jar of something I can’t remember and smiling.
I grabbed him into a hug, followed by a, “I just moved in, how the hell did you know where I lived?”
“I didn’t! I saw someone just moved in next to my wife and me, and I wanted to welcome them to the neighborhood. I had no idea it was you!”
He explained that he and his wife lived in the building directly next to mine, and if I opened the blinds to my bedroom, I would see his living room.
That night, because his wife was gone somewhere and he was bored, he invited me over to his place since mine was full of boxes. Matt’s living room was vibrant with the bright colors of his artwork, the curves of his nudes and the sharpness of his more macabre work. I was happy to see his collection included one painting he did back when we were kids filled with orange and blue swirls that I always loved. Our friendship just picked up where we left off, and once again we talked nonstop until about 5am, when my body grew limp in his recliner.
Many years later, when I settled into my place in Düsseldorf, I was trying to find Halloween decorations in a country that favors Christmas, and thought of Matt. I found him on social media and sent a friend request with a message. Unfortunately, I never heard anything back. Now I wish I had been more persistent.
Matt, I don’t know how you left us, but what I do know is there is so much less beauty in the world without you.