Memories of Matt Tate

Tonight, while in an insomnia-driven rabbit hole on Google, 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 those 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 years old and my hippy stoner friend drove me to this new age party at Huntington Beach, which was to celebrate 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, I recognized a couple of much older adults from the coffee house I frequented, The Magic Unicorn, but my friend who drove me was the only person there I really knew. This event seemed complicated and involved, so I found a seat next to a tall, cute and quiet guy about my age and awaited further instructions.

Soon more candles were lit, and everyone was handed a some kind of cryptic poem. I held it up to the candlelight to read something about a “horned god”, maybe some 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 the “hang out with your girlfriends and see if you can make your enemies’ hair fall out” aspect that most appealed to me. This poem seemed weird.

My friend who drove me was out of earshot, 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.

“I dunno, some chick brought me here, I thought it was a party. I have no idea what’s going on.”

Relieved that I wasn’t the only one in that boat, I introduced myself.

“I’m Laura.”

“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 the next table. Hardwired with school etiquette, I raised my hand.

“Excuse me? Hello?”

The lady looked at me. I held up the poem.

“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 know what a chant is, but what does this one mean?”

Annoyed, she snapped, “Just go along with it, okay?” and disappeared in a huff. 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 how I felt, and I spoke to him in a low voice.

“Dude, this is messed up.”

“Yeah, I’m getting kinda’ spooked.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Totally.”

Together we formed the blueprints for our escape. 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. I kept it in my purse and flashed it at him, and he gave me a nod of approval.

We told everyone that “We’re going to use the bathroom!” and dipped out of the picnic pavilion, which was now filled with the voices of the mysterious chant, maybe drums. We climbed the hill up to Lake Rd. and called my mom.

“Dude, what the hell was that?” I said as I kept watch for the 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, “What school do you go to?”, “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, I’d usually see him around Halloween when we’d watch horror movies and go to haunted houses together.

One night, he and I went with another friend to the Haunted Laboratory in Akron, and the other friend drove. On the way back, while speeding down I-77, the friend driving had a seizure.
From the back seat, I watched, terrified, as Matt calmly reached over from the passenger seat and took the steering wheel, then reached one of his long legs to the drivers’ side, pumped the brake, and managed to pull us over. He spoke to the friend in his soft, calming voice until the seizure subsided, when Matt begged to take over driving. I remember how impressed I was with Matt’s calmness in a crisis, and this gentle nature was always something I admired about him.

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 up all night engaged in such conversation until dawn, or when my body couldn’t 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 and life went on, I lost touch with him. 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 bag of coffee and smiling.

“Whoa!”

“Whoa!”

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 my place was a mess of boxes, he invited me over. 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 that I always loved, filled with orange and blue swirls. 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, after I settled into my place in Düsseldorf, I was trying to find Halloween decorations in a country that favors Christmas, and I 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 that fall will never feel the same to me now that you’re gone.

6 thoughts on “Memories of Matt Tate”

  1. Aww. I remember that night. I was so proud of your good judgment, and I liked your new friend. I was glad he was there with you. Otherwise you may have been ground up and put into amulets. I’m sorry for the loss of your dear friend.

  2. That’s a lovely read, can’t believe you ended up as neighbours, the world really is so very small. You can really feel the sense of loss in here, I’m very sorry for that.

    1. Thank you so much, Fergus. The world really is small, and our paths crossed in such unusual ways. I really hoped that they would continue to do so.

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