Today, my friend made me cry

In the fall of 1995, the phone rang in room 316 of a renovated mansion on a tiny women’s college campus in Pittsburgh.

“Hi, this is Matt Lytle. We met last week at a party, and, well, I just called to say hi.”

“Wait, a Pitt football player wants to talk to me?”

So it went on for about 15 minutes, until I heard laughing in the background. I recognized that laugh – it was my friend Tony. “Hand him the goddamn phone!” I shouted. “Who the hell is this?”

“That,” Tony said, through fits of laughter, “wasn’t Matt Lytle. That was the infamous Matt Dupuy.”

He gave the phone back to his friends, whom I had only heard about because of Tony’s many stories – a guy from Texas who followed a girl to Pittsburgh. Matt and I talked for another 15 minutes, and laughed and laughed. Then, we made plans for lunch the following day. Meet me outside the William Pitt Union, on the Forbes Avenue side.

He was from Texas. I was intrigued. I pictured him as a strapping cowboy, with a plaid shirt and tight Wranglers, and a smart, beige Stetson hat, all cowboy, right down to the piece of straw that dangled from the space between his teeth.

Instead, I met a skinny guy with a scraggly beard, who wore a backwards baseball cap, toting a heavy green backpack, and wearing busted cargo shorts and the ugliest blue windbreaker I’ve ever seen.

Regardless, that next afternoon in the William Pitt Union changed my life. Matt Dupuy became my friend.

***

We spent a year in Pittsburgh as part of a clique. Three girls – Melissa, Olivia and Rachel – and a group of rag-tag guys who lived on the top floor of the University of Pittsburgh’s Litchfield Towers.

Tony was the glue of that group. Tony brought everyone together. But Matt Dupuy provided the comic relief and a certain perspective.

Because of Matt, we had inside jokes – if you ever hear me say the number “SEVEN!” and giggle, it’s a testament to Matt.

If you ever hear one of us talk about “Joe Seppi Lane,” we’re talking about the fictional address Matt made up for his “phat” apartment in Pittsburgh.

If you ever hear us say “Is this Denorse?” it’s a reference to a phone call we made to a future NFL player, one of the many prank calls Matt made, using one of the many voices he used from all his training as an aspiring actor.

Matt Dupuy had a gruff Texas drawl, and always talked about how he was “fixin’ ” to go to play practice, or how he was “fixin’ ” to go to dinner. Life was a comedy to him, a dark, funny, straightforward comedy. And you always knew where you stood with Matt. If he didn’t like you, he told you face-to-face. If he loved you, he came to your dorm room, sat on the tiny plush couch, opened your copies of Sports Illustrated and put on his favorite CDs – the ones he took from you and never gave back to you.

Matt Dupuy loved acting. He loved children. At one point, he wanted to become a lawyer who worked in children’s advocacy.

He became a teacher. He became a father and a husband. He supported causes such as the liberation of Syria, Occupy Austin and peace in Palestine. He hated the movie “The Blind Side” and pointed out the latent racism in such a movie and in the adaptation of the actual story.

Larry Hagman served as his spiritual guidance. When Larry Hagman died in 2014, I sent him a text message that simply read, “I’m sorry about Larry.”

***

Matt became sick in May of 2015. He went to the hospital and while he went home, his body was never the same. But his spirit, his heart and his personality continued to shine, through whatever ravaged him. He loved his son, Joshua. His wife, Sylvia, was his rock – and she had to be strong through so many things in her life. His parents, Bob and Virginia, took care of him, too – proof that parents, no matter how old anyone is, still take care of their children. That’s what families are supposed to do.

We hoped Matt would get better. We wanted to see him at a Pitt football game on a fall day, with the leaves turning on the Allegheny River, and the sun shining at a certain angle, wearing his backwards baseball cap, his ugly blue windbreaker, his busted cargo shorts and his black Tevas, holding a cheap beer in one hand and a smelly cigar in the other hand, asking us if we knew who got shot on Joe Seppe Lane.

“That’s down in the Hill, you know?” he would tell us. And everyone – Tony, Bill, Brian, Mike Costa, Jeremy from Butler, Craig the Slob from New Jersey, Melissa – would laugh and laugh. And we’d probably end up at one of the dive bars in Oakland after the game, drinking quarter drafts of Natural Light that probably cost three dollars now, wondering what happened to Miami Subs and “Gloria,” my old roommate from college.

“Her name is Olivia,” I would tell Matt.

“No, it’s not. Her name is Gloria!”

***

We were apart for years and years. I tried to reach out to him when I lived in Texas, but my phone calls to Highland Park went unanswered. Then, through the power of Facebook, I found him. And I was hesitant to send him a friend request. Are we still friends?

Then, he wrote me one little word in his “friend request accepted” message: “Seven?”

“Oh my God, we are totally cool,” I said out loud in the empty living room.

Little did I know what was going to happen, but that’s the great and scary thing about time. Each day is uncertain and unexpected. But we didn’t expect Matt to start struggling.

Through his illness, Matt kept his strength and his humor. Look at his Facebook page from the last 15 months, and he wrote some of the funniest, simplest, most profound things. His text messages were just as colorful.

Matt Dupuy 10/20/15 4:41 PM
Rick pitino

Matt Dupuy 10/20/15 4:41 PM
Looking good

Me 10/27/15 2:51 PM
How are you? Had dinner with Tony on Saturday – lots of laughs about Tower C

Matt Dupuy 10/27/15 10:57 PM
The o!

Me 10/27/15 10:57 PM
Zelda’s – quarter draft night

Matt Dupuy 10/27/15 10:58 PM
The holiday!

Me 10/27/15 10:58 PM
Omg I forgot about that place

Me 10/27/15 10:59 PM
Stratus

Matt Dupuy 11/05/15 7:31 PM
Bill Jennings at the metropol.

Me 11/05/15 7:31 PM
Best. Text. Ever.

Even in his worst days – and I didn’t know how bad it was for him, because we were so far apart – he still managed to make a joke about Rick Barnes in a text message exchange between us, he from his home in Dallas and me from a conference in Miami.

Then, he told me this: “… this is by far the worst yet. Cancer is a mess.”

“Be strong, my friend,” I wrote back. “We are all strong for you.”

I hope everyone’s strength sustained Matt through those 15 months.

***

Matt made me laugh. He made me angry. He made me love him. He made me learn to love others and to be honest with them. Because sometimes Matt wasn’t honest with me, but that’s okay. We were young and stupid.

But Matt Dupuy never made me cry.

Until today.

August 9, 2016.

Matt died this morning after a 15-month fight with cancer, colon problems and septic shock.

You are never truly prepared to see your friend go into the afterlife. But for 21 years, I was lucky, because Matt Dupuy gave me the gift of his friendship. He gave it to so many others, too.

And when I cried again about Matt’s death, my father gave me some good advice, one that all of his friends should know, too.

“Take solace that you knew Matt,” my father told me. “That he was a good friend to you.”

mattkaraoke

My friend Matt

This can’t be real. I’m in shock. We texted just last week, about the Tampa Bay Lightning and Rick Barnes “looking good!”

You have made me laugh and laugh, and you helped me be strong and look at life in a new way. And in the 21 years I knew you, I was lucky for all 21 of those years, and then some. Your gifts to the world will continue through all of us, the Tower C group, the Chatham girls, the “East End Mafia.”

I tried to prepare myself for this, but you never can really prepare yourself for this. I just want another quarter draft night at Zelda’s on Bouquet Street, where we count the number of plastic cups stacked on the old wooden table, and you can pick out the ones I drank out of, because they’re the only ones with a lipstick smudge on them.

I need to dry my tears and gather my thoughts about you, my dear friend.

Cheaters never win

By now we’ve watched Melania Trump’s speech from Monday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

And we’ve all analyzed it. Dissected it. Lampooned it.

And we’ve all made some sort of hot take regarding the consensus belief that Melania Trump, the wife of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, may have ripped off Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Some consider the evidence circumstantial. New Jersey governor Chris Christie claims that “93 percent” of the speech was original content.

Donald Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told The Hill:

“These are values, Republican values by the way, of hard work, determination, family values, dedication and respect, and that’s Melania Trump. This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd.”

Re-read that quote. No, it’s not from The Onion. The Hill is a respected D.C. publication.

But with the furor surrounding Melania Trump’s speech, a former high school classmate of mine brought up a point:

“… spoiled girls are notorious for copying off the smart girls who actually do the work. It’s who they are. She probably doesn’t even get why people are upset.”

And it made me think of an instance from the fall of 1993, my senior year of high school.

I was sitting behind two of the “popular” girls in a school assembly and watched as one girl handed the other a manila envelope for a college-level class. The other opened the folder, looked at the paper … and began copying everything her friend wrote onto her own loose-leaf paper.

No wonder all those girls got good grades! They all were doing the same work! While many of us were juggling our grades, sports, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and college applications, these two girls gamed the system, in front of many of their classmates.

And in witnessing it, we were complicit. I was complicit.

I’m all for the “old girls network” but do it the right way. The fair way. Don’t go pulling strings for each other while stabbing other people in the back.

I know who you are. I saw everything that happened. I have no qualms about telling the story. I can tell you their names, the class they cheated in, the color of their hair, the sports they played, the clubs they were in and what they were wearing that day. And I sort of regret not ratting them out.

And it completely proved my friend’s statement from earlier today.

So anybody who cheats? The world knows. And people don’t forget.

And if all the “cool kids” or those “popular girls” from high school want to come back and skewer me for telling the truth? Whatever. Fine. Do it. It can’t be any worse than the way you treated people 20 years ago.

An ode to and a defense of “Muva”

An ode to and a defense of “Muva”

amberrosieYou can’t help but to overhear things when you’re on a coffee run. One snippet of a conversation among a group of young women jumped out at me:

“Ugh, I hate Amber Rose, she is such a slut.”

As a confessed fan of “Muva,” I couldn’t help but to defend Amber Rose.

“No, she is not,” I shot back. “Amber Rose takes ownership of who she is. She takes ownership of her personality and her sexuality. She wants other women to do the same, and not be ashamed of it.”

*cue the sneers from 20-something girls who think they are always right*

muva
#Muva

Whatever.

We fear what is different. What challenges us. Or maybe what is a little too similar to us.

People dislike Amber Rose because her convictions frighten them. Her boldness causes people to evaluate their own insecurities – about their appearance, their sexuality, their own voice. And let’s be real, sex – one of Amber Rose’s favorite subjects – is still very taboo in our society.

We can take a lesson from Amber Rose, who is taking ownership of herself and the power she has to influence people to do the same. Maybe we should be teaching people and teaching ourselves to do that, as well.

An open letter

 

To my peer who decided to make fun of someone who can’t drive:

Listening to you and your friend make fun of someone who doesn’t drive – merely assuming they choose not to drive – caused me ask you if you knew why they didn’t drive, and it forced me to consider a few things about a situation my family was recently in.

As someone who had to take care of someone who lost the ability to drive because of a medical condition, listening to what you and your friend said really struck a chord in me.

What if you didn’t know why my husband wasn’t driving for 4 1/2 months  and proceeded to make fun of both of us for doing something we HAD to do, out of necessity?

My husband suffered a seizure that rendered his driver’s license null and void, forcing both of us to rearrange our lives. Medically, he was not allowed to drive until he was seizure-free and cleared by a neurologist, and until then, he lost that independence. He couldn’t go to the grocery store to run errands. He couldn’t drive when we wanted to go out to dinner or to a movie. He couldn’t drive to a local park to take photos on the walking trails, one of his favorite things to do. These are things that are normal and routine for him, and because he couldn’t drive, he couldn’t live that part of his life. Instead, the driving in the family fell on me, and I just did it. When you are married, that is what you do, no questions asked. Because you love that person and will do whatever you can to make sure that they are safe and are still capable of living their life.

And if my husband wasn’t married? He’d have to carefully consider options for transportation, merely to maintain his livelihood.

If you suffer a seizure in Ohio, you’re not allowed to drive for a minimum of six months, unless you are cleared by a neurologist. In California, your license is revoked for two years and you are entered in a state database that essentially says you cannot drive. There are other reasons why people cannot drive: Narcolepsy. Fainting disorders. Chronic vertigo. Mental illness. Medications that control medical issues.

So before you decide to arbitrarily make fun of someone for what might be a choice, or what might be forced, ask my husband what it was like for him not to drive for 4 1/2 months. Or, better yet, ask the person who isn’t driving why they’re not driving – if it’s by choice or by force. Or, even further, ask yourself what you would do if you were put in that position  and without that outlet.

***

Tonight, one conversation forced me to consider the value of empathy. If I ever made fun of you without knowing the whole story, I’m really, really sorry.