It was November 11th, 1986. I remember because it seems as though it was just yesterday. It is so true, but Matthew will never know this, that the older you get the faster time goes.
I had just come from the doctor's office and called my husband. My labor had started, but the doctor could not tell me since he was my first, how long my labor would be. He had also told me to wait until the contractions were no more than five minutes apart.
The next four days the pain was so bad, I did not sleep. I walked and walked and timed my labor. When they were 10 minutes apart, I called my husband and told him to come home and get me. When we got to the hospital, they told me he was facing backwards and they would have to turn him. At this point, I was exhausted from lack of sleep and it was time to push. I pushed and pushed for five hours, to no avail.
Down to surgery. They took him via C - section. When he was placed in my arms, I truly knew the feeling of love. He was 7 pounds 10 ounces. Normal weight. He was 21 inches long. But what everyone was talking about was how big his head was. He had a lump on his head from my five hours of pushing. The nurses all came in and presented him with the biggest hat they had for his 17 inch head circumference. But he was so beautiful, raven black hair with the brightest blue eyes. He was the best baby ever. By two weeks, he was sleeping six hours a night. By six months, he was sleeping eight hours.
He eventually shed the black hair and turned blonde. By the age of 18 months, no matter what he had on everyone thought he was a girl even after I cut his hair. He was just so pretty and a very happy baby. Jessica was born two and a half years later.
We would do a thing called family hug from the time he was born. We would wrap our arms around them and say family hug. By the age of three, no matter who I was talking to my son would stretch out his arms and say, “family hug, please!” He had my outgoing personality. He learned his numbers by watching the lottery go off before bedtime every night. He picked things up so easily and his favorite toys were Legos. What amazing things he would build! Quite a bright imagination.
Matthew was a little different. Always being a clown, he truly made us laugh. He loved his sister with all his heart and protected her the best he could from the time she was born.
He went to kindergarten. The first day of school when the principal told them all to sit down and be quiet, my son stood up and declared," we do not have to listen to this stranger." He very soon found out that this stranger was not a stranger at all, after she picked him up, put him in his chair and told him who she was. She loved repeating this story to everyone.
When we were in Mercerville, we put the kids in the YMCA teams. In basketball, Matthew would sit under the basket and talk with the coach because he had no interest in running up and down the court. He liked t-ball and baseball. He had a personality that interested grownups more than kids. He had a huge vocabulary and a smile that would put you right at ease.
Were in a cape cod house with two bedrooms downstairs and just one room upstairs. We knew we would have to either add on or sell the home. We decided to sell.
So we built a four bedroom colonial out in New Egypt. They each had a room and we thought things would go great, because the school system had a very high reputation. They put the kids first. But Matthew was starting to pull into himself more. He was mad that we moved him away from his best friend and he was not bonding well as an outsider in the new school district. We signed him up to play travel soccer. He had found his niche. He soon excelled on the field making shot after shot into the goal. This was probably the happiest I had seen him in awhile.
In sixth grade, he had a huge growth spurt and was starting to outgrow the other kids. He was picked to play varsity soccer at school. All was good for the middle school years. He played soccer and baseball. He was doing great in school and was a top athlete. He had high expectations for himself, but was also on an emotional roller coaster. When he was upset, I was the one he would come to. I would listen but not judge. I would ask him why he was feeling so bad and he told me everyone belittled him.
I told him that when other people belittle you, there is something within themselves that they do not like. “You are so handsome, bright and athletic, they feel they have to tear you down,” I said. “Do not let them disturb you. I am raising you to become a good man.” But no matter what I told him, I could not change the way he felt.
By the time he was in the eleventh grade, he rarely went out and was on the computer all the time. He had started developing websites for people who would pay him. He was becoming a self entitled kid with few boundaries. He had been sucker punched by a fellow soccer player and refused to play after that. He quit all sports. We were starting to worry about him. He developed an angry side to himself that I had a hard time dealing with.
We had had enough of him sitting in his room. I think back to that night and wonder, why did we make him go out? I know truly in my heart that he knew what these kids were doing and really wanted no part of it. But I believe he buckled to the peer pressure that night because six hours later, the cops were at our door telling us they busted up a party in the woods and all the kids scattered, except for Matt. He tripped over something when he started to run and it was obvious that he was drunk.
We put him to bed and told him we would talk about it in the morning. By the time we were up the next day, he had left the house. When he came home, he was drunk again. So we put him to bed, dead bolted the doors and hid the keys. I was up before him in the morning and I went into his room and splashed his face with water. He woke up swinging. Good thing I had moved back or he would have taken me out. I told him I expected him at the kitchen table in five minutes. He had some explaining to do.
He was very surly when he came to breakfast. I told him he was grounded for two weeks. He was to go to school, find a job and start being a better man. “This is no way to live,” I said. “I put up with my mother's drinking, your father's drinking, but I am not going to watch you do this to yourself. Your dad has been clean and sober for 15 years, you have his gene. You keep this up, there will be no return.”
He got himself a job at Six Flags. Then he was fired from the job because he was stealing. But he had a smile that could melt your heart. We paid back the $450 he had stolen and told him until he paid us back he would not be getting his driver's license. He got a job on a farm and was giving us half of his take home pay and putting the rest in the bank. Things went OK for the next couple months. He liked working at the farm. Mostly because of the girls who worked there. They all told him how cute he was. He started dating Michelle. He was trying to get better, he told me. Michelle brought out a better side of him. “She is kind of like you mom in the way she deals with things,” he said. “Nothing bothers her about me. She likes me just as I am.”
He stayed clean for a little while because of Michelle. Then she broke it off with him and he got depressed. Next thing I know, I found a big bag of pot in his room. He swore to me that he was not using, but was selling it to make money to pay us back. This was the first time I had him screaming at me when I took the pot and flushed it down the toilet. All hell broke loose that day. I would not be manipulated. I had already had 15 years of Al Anon training for this moment. I calmly told him that when he calmed down, I would talk with him.
Two days later, he came downstairs smiling that sweet old smile at me telling me I was right. He would respect me and not bring anymore into the house. Until the next time he did.
It was really starting to get tense in our home. I was in the middle of it, because I was not a screamer. My daughter was starting to scream at her brother. Major issues kept arising. Matthew's anger was out of control and we had no idea how to help him.
One day, a group of kids came over and started beating on my son. My next door neighbor, who was a cop, came running with his gun. I went running out just in time to hear my son tell Mel that he could handle it. He did not need his protection.
We went to the social worker at school and she referred us to a Family First program. We attended this program for about six weeks before they asked us to leave. All he learned from that program was how to be a bigger pain in the butt. He refused to get up and go to school. He was argumentative all the time. He was turning into a person that I feared, but also that I feared for. His anger escalated when he got into a fight at school and broke the other kid’s nose. The kid who was supposedly his best friend. He was suspended for a week. I went to the school screaming at them. I could not leave my kid in the house alone while his father and I worked. So they worked a deal with me. His teachers knew he was smart and four of them agreed to meet him at the library and teach him. He stayed at the library from 7:30AM when I dropped him off until I picked him up after work.
He was clean for this time. That was the rule of the tutoring. I then lost my job, because I was not giving more than I could, even though they all knew what was going on at home. It was a blessing, though. My children would have me home for the summer. Little did I know. We started talking about moving from the wonderful place we had. I let go of my son that year. He was hardly ever home and the tension was better when he was not there.
He was hanging out in town with a kid named Rich, who Matthew thought had the coolest parents. They let the kids drink and do drugs in the basement of their house and even joined them now and then. When I found this out, I blew up. “You think his parents are cool!” I screamed. “They are not cool. They are fools if they think it is OK for addicts to party in their basement. It's because they have not grown up yet.”
I called the realtor the next day. We sold the house in 10 days, at the start of the housing boom. Then we did the most unthinkable thing. We moved back to Hamilton and put Matthew in Hampton House, which kept him for 10 days.
He got a job at Valley Pools, where he met Ryan. What a pair they made. Ryan told Matt that he should never tell his parents the truth, just spin it, and taught him how easy it was to steal from stores and the register. He went to Steinert a half day all senior year. My beautiful, bright-eyed, innocent child had turned into a surly, who gives a damn, non-talking monster. Then came rehab in Florida. After two weeks, they put him on a plane and sent him back even after we said no. Then he went to Salvation Army in Newark because the Salvation Army in Trenton won’t take anyone until they turn 21.
He was there about three months before we could visit him. He had graduated the first phase and was allowed a pass. We went bowling and actually had a good afternoon. He told us he was feeling great and really wanted to succeed this time. His eyes were shining the way I remembered them and I had hope for him for the first time in years. Less than two months later, they kicked him out for testing dirty. I told him he could not come home, but they had already put him on the train home. I called Goodwill and they said they would take him the next day. He slept at our house one night and back to Newark he went.
He stayed clean for the next six months, but ultimately tested dirty again. He also found a new way to get high. “Do not worry Mom, I will never do heroin it costs too much,” he had said. This was after he blew $1,500 on cocaine. He started huffing dust off. He would walk into Staples, Walmart, CVS, any of the bigger chain stores and lift the cans. “Do not worry Mom, I don't touch the mom and pop stores. Only the big stores that are ripping us off,” was his claim to fame.
He started getting sores from the freezone in the can. He was flopping like a fish on the floor one night, having some sort of convulsion. I Googled what the stuff did and then got very scared. When you spray the stuff into your mouth, it actually freezes your brain then causes a drowning sensation. We had to do it. We kicked him out of the house. I packed him some snap top soup cans and crackers and sent him on his way.
On Jessica's 18th birthday, I took her shopping, we went to the movies, then we went to dinner. When we got home, the papers from Teen Challenge had shown up. Matthew was at his wits end. I went and picked him up. Took him to the YMCA for a shower and stopped at McDonalds to get him a meal.
I told him I would take him to Teen Challenge tonight if they would take him. He called. The guy told him he would be entering an 18 month program and he really needed to want to be sober. Matthew begged and begged the guy to let him come in. This was Friday and I know my son was desperate. The guy on the phone prayed with him, then I prayed with him. I told him he would always be precious to me and I loved him so much. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me that I was the best mother any boy could wish to have. We talked some more. I then called his father.
His dad said, “He is pushing your buttons.”
I replied, “No, Greg, you are not with him right now. I do not think he is going to make it through the night.”
So then my husband said, “If you bring him home, I am leaving.”
My son heard this. He then said, “Mom, whatever happens, I just want you to remember how special you are. I don't know why God thought you deserved a son like me. You are a good woman and I will always love you. Tell dad I forgive him and tell Jessica she is a great kid. Make sure she stays that way. I really do love you, Mom.....”
On Saturday, April 28th, 2007 at 3:30pm, Jessica was at a friend's house. My phone rang. My husband cried into the phone, “Matthew is dead, I just found him”. That was the day after Jessica's 18th birthday. Not a tear fell from my eye. I think I was cried out by then.
When I think back to the intense four days of labor I had when he was born, somehow I think he never wanted to be born.
But then again, I did not know how many people he had touched in his short life. The men who had known him from the Salvation Army and the Goodwill both brought vans down to the funeral. The director of the Goodwill center got up and spoke about what a good hearted and charming man he was. They had all been praying that he would make it. One guy said he had come in with no jacket and Matthew said he had two sweatshirts and he could have one. Matthew had gone there with five sweatshirts and came home with one. ….Mom, I knew this is what you would have wanted me to do….
He was like me in some ways after all.