(Mat and I, posing for our once-active Facebook page. 2010.)
Mat and I met in the late 2000’s when I still lived in Arizona. We went to the same church and were in the same grade, so naturally we had nothing in common. In fact, Mat and I hated each other. He was a short, skinny kid who liked his personal space, and I was a taller, chubby kid who really liked giving hugs. He liked K-pop, and I liked punk rock. He had a Goth streak with hair down to his shoulders and I was a teddy bear who wore fedoras and had short, curly locks. (The header image for this post, taken seven years ago, is evidence of our differences at the time.) To put it in perspective, I once hugged Mat, picking him up and swinging him around, and when I’d put him down he said, “Don’t ever do that again. Gosh.” and walked away. We didn’t speak again for months. During this time, Mat’s mom contacted my mom and asked if I’d like to go to Mat’s birthday party. I told my mom to say I’d be busy. I was not, in fact, busy. Now, roughly ten years later and three states between us, Mat is my best friend and we drop hundreds of dollars each year just to hangout. To this day we laugh about how we never should have been friends and try to decipher what got us to where we are.
While Mat and I may not have liked each other right off the bat, we ran in the same circles, forcing us to hangout, and it was video games that brought friendship about, as they do. Specifically, Mat and I were the only Soul Calibur IV players out of everyone we knew, and we wanted to challenge each other. It seems silly looking back, but we can honestly say we owe our friendship to Bandai Namco and the Soul Calibur team. For Mat’s next birthday party, he invited me himself and–obviously–I went.
Skip ahead a little and we’re hanging out at each other’s house every week, alternating location. We quickly grew to depend on each other for a friend and each other’s parents for food. Neither one of us really considered the other his best friend for a while still, until one day we realized that we’d been together for almost fourteen days straight, going back and forth between our houses and another friend’s. Neither of us had ever felt quite so in love with Panda Express, which was a short walk from my house in Gilbert, AZ. And of course, the Bashas grocery store by the Panda had 59 cent 2-liters of soda. When I lived in Mesa, we would also go to a dirt alley way and take extremely ugly pictures that we thought were fantastic.
(Photos from the alley way. 2011.)
After all this time was killed, there came October 2012, when my family decided to pack up and move away from Arizona. Mat stayed at my house for almost a week leading up to my departure and helped me pack, and then the night before I was leaving a bunch of friends came over and helped us load up the truck. At 7AM the next day, I was sat in a U-Haul truck–driving away from everything I knew. Needless to say, I cried a lot, and found out later Mat did, too.
This was when I found out what friendship is, and what a long, strong friendship truly costs. Before I moved away, Mat and I had a relatively shallow friendship in reality. Times were good, and there was minimal drama in our lives. After I moved, stuff started to happen. My family hit hard times–some of the things I talked about in my Unconventional Role Models post, for instance. While my family was suffering through its shuffled dynamics, Mat was meeting the girl of his dreams and wanted me there to meet her, too.
What happened was a fight-or-flight instinct. I heard someone say recently that that every so often life will present you with problems and make you decide whether to quit or try harder. We were both coming up against life-changing circumstances that could have really forced us in separate directions, but instead of stepping back and putting our hands up we started taking turns flying back and forth, finding new adventures, and coming to a deeper understanding of each other in the way we handled each other’s problems. You always hear the saying that “a friend in good times isn’t a friend,” and I discovered how true that is. Just yesterday Mat and I were talking about how we got even closer after I moved than we ever would have if I had stayed, because the strain of maintaining friendship long distance made us stronger when it could have broken us instead.
This past winter Mat and his girlfriend Rachel (now one of my best friends, too) came to visit me in Oregon and meet my girlfriend of two years–the lovely Victoria. We decided to take a short road trip to Rowena Crest, an amazing overlook, especially so when it’s snow laden. I asked Mat to hold my key lanyard while I threw a snowball, and Mat agreed but also wanted to throw a snowball. We all stood there as Mat, rearing back and throwing the snowball as hard as he could, threw not only the snow but also, by a freak accident, every single key to everything in my life. I saw the sun glint off my apartment key as it plummeted off a mountain side. Mat turned the reddest I’ve ever seen him as he looked to me, fear dilating his pupils, prepping for me to be so incredibly angry. And in that moment the past ten years of friendship-building paid off when I completely broke down laughing.
What I’ve learned from ten years of friendship is that the screw-ups, the hard times, the good times, the arguments, and the lapse in quality time–none of it matters. What matters is your willingness to support your friend when they need it and to shrug and laugh when the appropriate response might be a little more like grinding your teeth together or losing your mind.
But don’t worry, Mat’s punishment for throwing the keys off the cliffside was that my car keys were on the lanyard. And the car was locked. And it was below ten degrees. And he’s from Phoenix, Arizona. Luckily for Rachel and I, Victoria came to the rescue and drove the spare car key out to us.
I’ll never let you forget it, buddy!
As far as our differences go, we’ve met somewhere in the middle now. I can actually dress myself and look somewhat good, and Mat FINALLY cut his hair a couple years ago. Needless to say, things have improved.
(Photo collage of Mat’s visit to Oregon this past winter, featuring Victoria, Rachel, and Murphy. 2017.)
In closing, I’d like to say Happy Father’s Day to all the hard working dads out there and the single moms pulling double shifts, too. It’s never easy, and you’re more appreciated than you could ever know. And a special Father’s Day wish for my dad, John, and Mat’s dad, David, and to Ron, my step-father in Heaven. You’ve all contributed to the person I am today.
This week’s writing prompt is:
Your parent(s)/guardian(s) work hard for you. Write them a thank-you letter. Or, if you have a different situation, write a letter to a friend.