To My Friends: An Open Letter

For the better part of a year, I’ve been debating with myself about how personal I should be getting on this blog. In fact, in almost every aspect of my life, I’m habitually over-analyzing what is “appropriate” and what isn’t, what I should say, how things may be perceived and how it is acceptable to behave. I’m overly self-conscious, apologetic, nervous and reserved and I’ve been this way as far back as I can remember. It’s a work in progress a lifetime in the making but is a character flaw that I’ve generally been able to accept. I’ve even managed to convince myself that maybe it isn’t a bad thing.

But now, I’m left questioning whether I should be accepting of it. Even now as I’m writing this, I can feel that self-consciousness arising, wondering, “is this appropriate? Am I allowed to do this?” Nothing I say could possibly be meaningful enough to encompass the enormity of the circumstances around these past few weeks and there is especially no easy way to begin. But I suppose I wanted to do this, because writing is one thing that I’ve been able to use as a successful measure to cope with and organize messy thoughts... (“messy” being a serious understatement.)

I realize I’m posting this very publicly and that alone makes me undeniably afraid - the last thing I want is for my intentions to be ill-perceived. Right now, however, I feel it’s important to cast aside these reservations, because there is a sentiment to be shared that transcends any personal insecurities. I could sum all of this up with a resounding, “I love you”... but I’m far too wordy for that. So, here it goes:

To every last one of you:

I remember being a sophomore in high school when I met the beginnings of this absurd and beautiful group of friends. I was immediately enamored with your closeness, your singularity and your raw, eclectic lifestyles. Any creative vitality I had was enlivened just by being around all of you. You weren’t just people I met - you weren’t just acquaintances. You were - and still are - bright, lively characters who surrounded yourselves with the most glorious clutter. The brightest graffiti. The messiest artwork. I didn’t really need to be in the middle of the mayhem to enjoy the company. I was entertained enough just by being there, enjoying the collective sense of humor, taste in music, and outlook on life… it was all brand new and alluring for me.

Then, for years to come, I would find myself glued in, growing entangled within this peculiar company - in love with the thought of being a part of such an eccentric family. We partied together, we dated each other, moved in, fell in love, fought, drifted apart, wandered back and eventually started marrying each other. We are part of a dynamic that will always be difficult to explain or justify to those on the outside looking in. Yet, this unparalleled closeness is something that shouldn’t be minced or abbreviated. It’s truly a fascinating comradery that we find ourselves in, as if fate gravitated us together. So, despite any emotional turbulence or drunken commotion over the years, we have each molded each other into what we are today, even if some strange avenues have been taken. We have all shared with each other our adolescent insecurities and, together, we have all grown up into the adults we are now. Inevitably, some of us drifted or disconnected, some moved states away, some clung to grudges and willingly separated themselves... and yet come the morning of February 26th, none of it mattered anymore. Any existing resentment was forgotten, friendships were mended and we came together, showed our support and loved each other. It’s been beautiful in the most tragic way I can imagine.

The passing of Matt Dority has sent us all unto a whirlwind. I have seen everyone I know in a perpetual state of shock, disbelief, and utter anguish through these last few weeks. He was an enormous part of our silly, dysfunctional family of friends and the void he left behind is monumental. It’s as if this entire city came to a stand-still in the wake of his death, sending a shock-wave through every loved one, every friend, and every acquaintance. The devastation and the pain that I have seen reflected within each of us is simply indescribable. We didn’t just lose a friend, we lost a piece of our family and his absence will always be felt like a hole in our hearts.

So, when I sat down to write this, I thought, “I’m not the right person.” How can I possibly write about someone like Matt, anyway? He was one you could write books about and as someone else so beautifully put it, he lived his life on his own terms. He said whatever he wanted, he acted however he pleased and though it may have gotten him in plenty of trouble, he could still laugh about it later. I think that carefree spontaneity is what intimidated me about him and that is what has me feeling regretful now.

In a lot of ways, I have consistently allowed my shyness to get in the way of exploring deeper, more meaningful connections with people I care about. Sometimes, I’m so busy worrying about the possibility of saying the wrong thing or being misinterpreted that I shrink back and don’t say anything at all, or I fumble around awkwardly and end up embarrassing myself.

Though I may have been around, attending parties, hanging out and drinking on the weekends alongside everyone else, how could I be around someone like Matt Dority for ten years and not make a bigger effort to make that connection? Perhaps it is just the hindsight that comes with losing someone that makes me feel like I didn't do enough as a friend. Though the guilt I feel may be difficult to explain, its presence is obvious and heartbreaking. I realize that even if I had done things differently, maybe nothing could have stopped him from doing what he did. Even so, I wish I could voice how much he was appreciated, or tell him how thankful I am for his presence in my life and for all of the memorable moments that he provided to myself and to countless others.

In my own personal experiences with him, he was nothing but kind. Matt was among the first to make me feel welcome within the group when I doubted myself the most. He was the one to tell me that anyone who couldn’t say “I love you” wasn’t worth my time. He was the one who came to my rescue on a night when things got especially out of hand. It is a moment that I will always love him for and I regret that I never properly thanked him for looking out for me.

I will always be incredibly thankful that he was a part of my life. I will always be thankful for this crazy family of friends. And I will always be thankful for all of the selfless support that has been offered among us during this difficult time. It’s something that no one will easily move on from, and an event that will be forever ingrained in our lives, shaping us yet again, leaving us a little more loving, a little wiser, a little more perceptive, but always with a piece of our hearts left yearning. 

Now, while others are contemplating what tattoos they’ll get in honor of him, I decided to celebrate him in one of the ways I know how. I like to think that by writing this and putting all of my thoughts, love and effort into a letter that it might still be a way to reach out to him and show my gratitude. Maybe - wherever he is - he’ll feel the collective affection, love and heartache reverberating through all of us, reaching up like little hands to bring him back.

If I’ve learned anything through this experience, it’s to embrace conversation, to show my love and appreciation for my friends, to put the camera down and take a step closer. You are all wonderful and rare human beings and my affection for you is huge. So, even if I hang back and prefer to take portraits rather than engage, it’s not because I’m not interested - it’s because I’m intrigued and because I find you beautiful. Sometimes, photography is just my way of getting closer to you. Though there have been plenty of moments when I wish I hadn’t always been behind the camera, I know it was all worth it. I have years and years and years of memories right at my fingertips to enjoy and remember forever.

Always cherish the people in your lives with the knowledge that they won’t be around forever. Don’t ever leave things on a negative note. Don’t put things off. If you’re thinking of someone, let them know. Provide help, compassion and sympathy when it’s needed and don’t be afraid to say “I love you.” Never forget that every person you talk to is their own unique entity with their own unique set of thoughts, insecurities and complex feelings. Be kind to each other and know that your capacity for tenderness is great.

I’m so happy to have been part of the madness.

Thank you, Matt. We are all thinking of you, we all love you and you will be sorely missed for as long as we are here, ourselves.

Rest easy.