This is another story for the contest, so I hope you all enjoy! Please review and help me to become a better writer!
Matthew Tacitus Santos died last week.
Only two kids from his class attended his funeral.
One kid brought his whole family, and they sat in the last row, sobbing into big handkerchiefs for a boy they’d never really met. I was in the middle row, hiding inside one long black pew, and feeling awkward.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to say goodbye to Matthew, it was just that I didn’t know why. He was in my class. He sat next to me for a year. He had long, crooked handwriting but always managed to tear papers out of his notebook without a single jagged bit. He ate alone at lunch, and always ate the same thing. A limp ham sandwich, dripping with grease. He was the quiet kid, the one people forget. Not a good looking kid, not a bad looking kid. Just a kid. His hair was messy and brown, his eyes nondescript. His school uniform had a couple small tears in it. His voice was raspy.
There are so many other things I could say about Matthew, but then again, would I really be talking about Matthew? All I know about him are those small things, those little, unimportant details. If someone asked me ‘What would Matthew do?’, I wouldn’t be able to answer.
Matthew had a mole under his left eye. He always paid attention in class. He never tried to hide his tests from prying looks, with the result being that we all knew he got C’s. His left hand had a scar over the ring finger’s knuckle. He licked his lips and stuttered when talking too fast. Matthew walked home every day, rain or shine, sun or sleet. Matthew had two younger siblings. Matthew was a loser. He failed at all of our sports. Not pathetically, but enough so that people looked at him with faint scorn. Matthew tripped in the hallways. Matthew was the one we all forgot. His class photo wasn’t even in the yearbook; he wasn’t there when ours were taken. No one cared, or cares about Matthew.
I don’t care about Matthew. There the priest is, rattling on and on, and I don’t care. I sit here, stare forward, and no tears prick my eyes. I don’t want to curl up and die. All I feel is a vague fog, puzzlement, as I wonder about myself, the class, and Matthew Tacitus Santos.
I wonder what his favorite flavor of ice cream was. I wonder if he liked chess. I wonder if there’s some sport he’s good at. I don’t think I’ll ever get to ask him, and that makes my heart ache. I wonder if it even matters that I want to ask him now. I never asked him while he was alive.
It’s odd. It’s odd and terrible, and it makes me feel sick, but I know it’s true. That the only important thing about Matthew Tacitus Santos is the fact that he died. At school, the day we found out about it, everyone just stood there. We clumped together in circles, muttering about him, wondering about him, shaking our heads and nodding.
No one had cared about him before, and yet suddenly, because he was gone, he was more important than even the most popular kids. Girls who hadn’t even known him were sobbing in the hallways. Boys who had laughed at his gym class performance talked about what a bright light he used to be. But then the days passed. His funeral was scheduled. The talking stopped. In the end, Matthew was still just as unimportant as ever. No one knew him. No one cared that he had died. It was like there was no point at all to Matthew.
Now the priest is nodding again, and his second chin is flapping. I remember when I first met Matthew. It was fourth grade, and I was walking into school when I bumped into him, that scrawny brown-haired boy, leading his little sister inside. He said sorry. Helped me up. If Matthew hadn’t died, would I be thinking about that right now?
People have bumped into me before, but most don’t apologize. Why didn’t I remember a little thing like that when Matthew was alive? Does it even matter now? For all I know, I’m just going to keep on living my life like normal, while Matthew cannot. For all I know, I’ll forget that a boy named Matthew Tacitus Santos ever lived. My siblings will forget. My classmates will forget. Everyone will forget. And if everyone forgets who Matthew Tacitus Santos was, then did he ever live at all?
In the front row of the church sits Matthew’s younger siblings. There are two, a scrawny sixth grader, two grades below Matthew, and a chubby, stolid third grader. They’re crying. Their parents aren’t there.
Matthew always walked his younger siblings to school. I remember when I was in sixth grade, driving to school every morning. I would press my face to the car window, waiting to pass the stop sign where Matthew always was each morning. I lived one mile from school, and Matthew lived five miles from me. He never missed a day of school. He always got the attendance award. I don’t remember anything but jeers when he received it.
I remember being downstairs in seventh grade, waiting to talk to the Orchestra teacher. There was Matthew, rushing past me, putting a torn-up glove on the hand of the little boy. The girl’s knit cap was pulled to her forehead, and her brows were knitted as she waited. Then Matthew walked out, smiling. His boot had a big, ragged hole in the back. He didn’t have a coat. Still, there he went, into the blizzard, smiling like it was the best day of his life.
Who’ll walk those two kids to school now? Who’ll make sure their gloves are put on properly? Will I ever see the girl and the boy at the stop sign in the morning? The truth is, I probably won’t care. I didn’t care about Matthew until he died. I couldn’t care less until his life ended. Then, suddenly, I remembered all of these things about the useless, forgettable Matthew Tacitus Santos.
He always signed up for school charity events. The day we had the canned food drive, he brought in a bucket filled with can after can after can. Still, it was a different person who was cheered for, a different student everyone remembered. And that was only because she was popular, and deigned to toss in a couple of cans. I cheered for her too. I didn’t even pay attention enough to notice that it was Matthew who brought in the bucket. I doubt anyone will bring in a bucket now.
Matthew wasn’t going to college. He mentioned this once, at lunch, in his creaky, ugly voice. He spoke with certainty, despite his inexperience as an eighth grader. We all looked at him, as if he were an alien. His face flushed, and he went back to eating. I wish I hadn’t looked at him like that. I wish I’d shrugged and said that it was fine. I wish I’d asked why. He probably would have said that it was for his siblings. That they were going to college, not him.
Matthew was the boy who picked up books if they fell. He was the boy who held doors open for people. He was the boy who shivered in class, even if it was very warm. He came in with bruises sometimes. He read dog-eared copies of the Hardy Boys, bringing them in every day like sacred relics. He was bad at graphing problems, but good at mental math. Matthew was the boy who sat in the back of the room, invisible to everyone who didn’t look hard. No one looked hard. Matthew the useless. Matthew the loser.
Matthew, who died last week, pushing a kid in my class out of the way of a speeding car.
No one thought Matthew would do that.
No one expected it.
But he did do it, and now he’s dead forever and ever and ever. Matthew will never read the Hardy Boys again, he will never miss that three-pointer. He will lie forever six feet under the ground, and ten thousand leagues under our thoughts.
By next week, I, and the weeping kid in the back pew, will have forgotten all about Matthew Tacitus Santos. We’ll look sad if he’s mentioned. Our hands will rub together if someone cries about him. But our thoughts will move on, unlike those of his two siblings.
So just right now, just for this moment, please don’t let me forget about Matthew Tacitus Santos. Let me feel sad. Let me cry a little bit. Let me wonder if I should have paid more attention, if I should have cared more for him.
Just for this day, let Matthew Tacitus Santos stay in the realm of the recently dead, before he moves onto the land of memory, of distance, of oblivion.
Just for this day, let the life of a boy named Matthew mean something.