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
Matt Dupuy 10/20/15 4:41 PM
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
Me 10/27/15 10:57 PM
Zelda’s – quarter draft night
Matt Dupuy 10/27/15 10:58 PM
Me 10/27/15 10:58 PM
Omg I forgot about that place
Me 10/27/15 10:59 PM
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.
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.”