On September 10, 2017, Matt woke up in Chicago and I woke up in New Jersey. I texted him a video of H crossing the monkey bars and he let me know that he was on the bus on the way to an annual trade show. He told me he was feeling great and I believed him. His text messages were punctuated with exclamation points, his responses felt enthusiastic. He felt like the old Matt.
I started to believe that maybe things were beginning to turn around. Maybe I truly had been too critical. (Yes, I was thinking specifically of the plumber.) Maybe it was good Matt had gone to the trade show (because despite the race to help him get prism lenses, a part of me worried that maybe a trip to Chicago wasn’t the best idea.)
I asked Matt whether he’d like me to text him reminders for his Dexamethasone pills and he responded with this: I’ll take ‘em! (More exclamation points, more enthusiasm, more feeling like himself.) That afternoon, I texted him his reminder and he told me he’d already beaten me to the pill.
At 4:28, he told me he was feeling good on his feet and happy to be busy. I was relieved. Matt was going to make it through this trip just fine. Hello, upswing!
Twenty-seven minutes later, my phone buzzed with another text message. Matt wrote: On the bus [on the way back to the hotel]. Couldn’t make it the whole show. Disappointed.
The upswing had been short-lived.
I asked what had happened, he’d sounded good just a few minutes ago. He said all of a sudden he didn’t feel great. When I pressed for more details—headache??? (three question marks for urgency)—he told me he didn’t know and he didn’t really want to text.
As the day progressed, we called and texted. I checked in on him more often than he would have liked and he let me know I was bordering on annoying. (No shame to admit that.) His ability to text deteriorated as the evening went on. My panic increased even as I developed cute theories to explain Matt’s sudden decline.
One year ago today, Matt and I didn’t spend the day together. It was the first of only three days over our last few months together that we wouldn’t spend (at least the majority of) the day in each other’s company. As a result, I don’t truly know what happened to make Matt leave the trade show. I don’t know how he felt as he sat alone at dinner growing increasingly frustrated as he texted me incoherent sentences. I don’t know whether his suffering was obvious to everyone around him or whether his amazing brain helped him cope when surrounded by others.
I know only that we were separated by too many miles and I was helpless, unable to do anything but listen and worry.
Twelve years earlier, when Matt and I were about seven months into our relationship, Matt went to Chicago for this same annual trade show. It was the first time we were apart. Matt and I spoke and texted throughout the day. He regaled me with stories of twenty-person dinners and too many drinks at the bar. He called me every night before he went to bed and every morning as soon as he woke up. When he returned, he brought me a miniature plastic Weber grill as a souvenir.
The gift was quintessential 2005 Matt, so well-intentioned, and yet—let’s just say there’s not much one can do with a miniature plastic Weber grill.
That plastic Weber grill became the most infamous gift he ever gave me, earning a prominent place in the kitchen I shared with three other girls in Murray Hill.
I thought for a while how to link the story of the first time Matt went to Chicago for the trade show to the story of Matt’s last time in Chicago for the trade show. No immediate connection between the two trips stood out. I tried to find a way to interpret the plastic Weber grill, what symbolic meaning I could find that might prove the gift had a higher purpose. Nothing came to mind.
After striking out twice, I considered cutting the story of Matt’s first trip to Chicago. Maybe it was ultimately irrelevant and only my Murray Hill roommates would appreciate the memory, the reminder of how Matt laughed at himself as he handed me the gift and said he liked to set the bar on expectations low. But I couldn’t stop smiling as I thought of that miniature plastic grill that didn’t survive the many moves that took me from Murray Hill to our forever home. And deleting the memory felt wrong. So it remains here, in print.
Twelve years ago, Matt purchased a cheesy restaurant souvenir for a girl to whom he hadn’t quite committed his heart. One year ago, Matt’s day transformed within twenty-seven minutes. In between, we built an unforgettable life full of irrelevant stories I can’t delete.
And therein lies the trick of Post Hope, the broken heart of this year of firsts after a year of lasts. How to celebrate—be grateful—for the years we had, while not crumbling under all those years of what could have been. It’s a balance I’m learning to strike, I hope.