Friday, February 8, 2008

Remembering Matt – 25 Years

There are moments that are seared into our minds that have a profound effect on who we are. We all remember the assassination of President Kennedy, the challenger disaster and more recently the attack on the twin towers. These events change our lives in unimaginable ways. There are also those indelible moments that affect us on a more personal level, moments that remain with us throughout the remainder of our lives. It was one of these moments I will not forget - on a dark evening 25 years ago, on an isolated and lonely college campus, my 28 year old brother decided to take his life.

His name was Matthew James Dias.

I had just arrived home with my wife shopping for suits. I used to arrive at my place of employment, Levin Metals, casually dressed, but a few days earlier my boss told me it was time I started dressing in suits. It was time to look professional. So my wife and I went shopping. We arrived home that evening after scouring the shopping malls in the area in order to purchase the new wardrobe I needed to impress my boss. I left the car precariously carrying an array of expensive wool suits, cotton shirts, and 100% silk designer ties. I bought my new attire according to the dictums of the book "Dress for Success". This book was the "How to" book in becoming successful in the business world. My wife and I parked on the street and we exited the car and I headed towards the side door of the duplex where we lived. My brother-in-law and his wife lived in the other half of the duplex. Our duplex was an elongated structure with side doors to each unit which could be accessed from the driveway. My brother-in-law stumbled out of his door tripping over the porch as he approached me. He stopped abruptly, and his countenance darkened, he shouted, 'Matthew, committed suicide.' I didn't really hear him the first time, or maybe I did, but his utterance just didn't register. My sister, Cathy soon followed him out of the door. He then repeated his comment. When I finally realized what he had said, I dropped the bags of clothes and watched them fall in slow motion into the garden my wife had just watered earlier that evening. The muddy water which still lay stagnant in the patch of greenery penetrated the shopping bags that were protecting my suits, but the clothes seemed rather trivial at this point. My eyes moistened with tears, and my wife helped me sit on a chair as my legs fell limp. I felt a strange sensation that lasted through the night, probably the strangest sensation I had ever felt.

I didn't sleep that night. I stayed awake, and I could hear the palpitations of my heart grow louder with every beat as if I were listening through a stethoscope. The beating kept me awake, and sometimes I felt as if I was having a heart attack. I began to hyperventilate. I took some deep breaths. The first question that raced through my mind and one I would ask countless times after was "Why?" I stared at the ceiling, and I laid on the sofa. I recalled the last conversation I had with Matthew the week prior. I was sitting in the small cramped living room of my 800 square foot side of the Duplex with Matthew, my wife Jeanine, and my brother-in-law, Steve. We were discussing various topics, but I remembered one subject we discussed in particular. We were talking about "If we had ever thought about suicide when growing up." I couldn't help but think if that conversation might have hastened my brother's decision. I will never know. What could have been going through his mind?

Who was Matthew? Matthew was an athletic teenager with a bronze, sculpted frame, which he acquired from constantly working outside. He had his own cadre of friends that never seemed to change from one year to the next, Scott Smith, Rick Del Carlo and a couple of others were always in the driveway working and joking underneath some car with parts strewn around in some random fashion.
Matthew and I were only one year apart in age. We were in the same grade in school, and that created all sorts of tension. Matt was generally the more popular one. He got the girls, and if I liked a girl, he took her from me. That was frustrating to say the least. His favorite groups were the Allman Brothers, Jethro Tull and The Moody Blues. His favorite actor was Robert Redford and his favorite movie was Brubaker starring Robert Redford. He was an avid wrestler, and he was on the Junior varsity wrestling team in High School. He was easily angered. There was always a certain amount of rage Matt kept bottled up inside.

Matt was a force to be reckoned with. He was fearless. He sometimes had to fight my battles. On one occasion when I was studying in the High School library, a certain smart-aleck kid kept calling my name from the sound proof room. I went to the room, opened the door, and I told him to knock it off. He continued. I opened the door and hit him. Not much else happened since the teachers were close by. I figured if you started a fight near teachers, you wouldn't get hurt. Later that day, Matt was riding his bicycle home, and the kid from the library with five other guys drove up by Matt in an old-model dilapidated car. They began yelling. It was a case of mistaken identity. Matt and I didn't really look alike, but they thought we did. These ruffians wanted vengeance. Their intent was to make sure Matt could not walk home. At the time, Matt did not know what they wanted. It was an isolated road. A cool breeze was blowing. The fluttering of leaves on the ground and the slamming of doors could be heard as five kids looking for trouble exited the car and surrounded Matt. After some taunting, one of the kids raised his fists yelling something unintelligible except for the name "Mark". Matt began hitting one after the other. Fists were flailing everywhere. Blood was oozing from some of the faces. The remainder of the kids who were still unscathed jumped back in the car, and they helped their wounded comrades into the back seat. Matt left the scene without a scratch. He then came home and pulverized me.

Matt and I had a love hate relationship. At times, we would get along great, but at other times, we were the worst of enemies. I did enjoy the one day when Scott brought over the new just released Moody Blue's album Seventh Soujourn and we all sat in Scott's Lotus and we listened to the canorous and mellifluous tones of songs like Isn't life Strange reverberate in the confined space of Scott's car. It was relaxing, and for some reason I remember that moment.

When I began to listen to Latin music to improve my Spanish, Matt loathed it. The arguments over music would ensue to the point that Matt would break my records in half. These were harmonious times in the Dias household; so much so, my parents gave me my own bedroom in the downstairs unfinished bedroom. It became known as the unfinished bedroom, because since the day my Dad built the house, the lower level remained unfinished for 17 years. Bare studs absent any drywall lined the unfinished lower level of our house. But, in this room, I could now listen to my Latin music in peace.

Matt's love of cars landed him a job as a mechanic at Toyota. He left Toyota for a better job at BMW. He had to lie to get the job at BMW, however. They asked him if he had worked on BMWs before, he said yes. – He hadn't. He was fired from BMW when he forgot to put oil in one of the expensive cars after turning on the engine and causing thousands of dollars in damage. I don't think he ever got over that incident.

Matt had a self-destructive streak. He parachuted out of an airplane and came home with a broken leg. On one occasion, his car began rolling down the driveway, and when he used his body and another parked car to try and stop his car from rolling further down, he broke both of his arms. His pugnacious attitude would often get him in trouble especially with his girlfriend. Once, when he was with his girlfriend while she was driving down the freeway; he began to argue with her as she sped down the freeway. Matt jumped out of the car as the car careened around the corner at 50 miles per hour landing him in the hospital for two weeks. But nothing matched the episode of the pipe bomb.

On a bright sunny summer afternoon, Matthew decided to make his own home grown pipe bomb. With several hundred match books, he began clipping the heads of matches and placing them into a pipe. He closed and soldered the two ends shut, but he forgot something. In his zeal to finish his pipe bomb, Matt forgot the fuse. Matt contemplated his next move. He grabbed the automatic drill next to him and began drilling the hole for his fuse.


A loud thunderous and deafening explosion rocked the entire neighborhood. Shrapnel and metal fragments from the pipe-bomb were thrown about throughout the garage where he was making the bomb. A huge piece of metal was lodged in the closet door. I was taking a nap in the upstairs sofa, and I was thrown five feet. I thought we were having an earthquake. I heard yelling downstairs. Not many people were home. I ran downstairs, and I saw my brother Matthew holding his arm drenched in blood, and I noticed one of the bones in his arm was exposed. He looked at me with a blank stare, and he began running out the garage door leaving a trail of blood in his wake. As he ran, he looked back, and cried out in anguish,

-Don't tell mom!

This was Matthew. It didn't matter he just about killed himself, it didn't matter that there were pieces of metal protruding from his arm, he just didn't want mom to know. The din and commotion of the neighbors who heard the explosion called the ambulance. This was one secret Matt was not going to be able to keep to himself.

As high school ended, Matthew started two sole-proprietorships, an auto business and an art business. He modified his van as a mobile auto repair shop. By word of mouth, he would acquire his clientele, and he would service cars in the
driveways of his customers. Matt would also study the anatomical features of man, and use this knowledge to create artwork out of hangers or other materials by soldering the pieces together. His frustrations about life were at times exhibited through his artwork. In one piece, he soldered together pieces of wire to form a lady wrapped up in rope and screaming out in anguish. The artwork reflected much of Matt's suffering though no one realized it at the time. He sold his artwork at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco on consignment. Some of his pieces sold for 2,000 dollars.

After a tumultuous youth, Matt finally seemed to be getting his life on track. He began to study for a degree in Engineering at the local community college. He held a full time job at Toyota, and he was a homeowner. But, there was still something wrong.

On a cold night, Matthew drove his car to the college parking lot. He took a plastic pipe and extended it from the exhaust pipe winding it around to the window of the car. He meticulously taped around the pipe so there was no opening left exposed in the midnight air. He started the engine, and the carbon monoxide began to permeate the interior of the car. As the carbon monoxide began to take its toll, Matt took out a pad and paper and wrote the following:

Dear Kathy, family and friends

I'm not blaming you for anything. It's quite the opposite. If anything I love you and the greatest frustration is that I seem to be so unhappy. I must take this step for one simple reason, I have to know the truth and this world is so full of lies, and I can't find an answer. For everyone. I love you and for Kathy, I can't begin to explain. I've tried, it's not enough, I must take a daring step. I am afraid of going to hell, but I can't stand living without really knowing the truth. I wish I knew how to care more, but I ache so much. I've never known the words to say how I feel. I've never known how to express it; I've got to find another way. (Note: Kathy was his girlfriend. )

Matt became drowsy as the carbon monoxide began to take effect. He began to nod off; the words on his notepad grew to a light scribble, and the words he was writing became more difficult to read. The pen began to drop, and the lines became fainter as Matt's eyes closed. The carbon monoxide put Matt in a soporose state. His arms became flaccid as they dropped to his side. As the darkness of the night lingered on, Matt's car remained silently on the college campus - not a soul in sight. The flickering of the campus lights revealed a silhoutte of a car with no distinguishable features - just a lone car. Matt's body was found the next day by a college student on February 10th. 1983.

I was forced to ask myself, what could have been going through his mind? Is there anything I could have done? Anything I could have said? Why was he hurting so much? These questions will forever go unanswered.

As I was leafing through Matt's things a few days later, I found the following quote in his Bible written by William Shakespeare type written on a sheet of paper:

I commend my soul into the hands of God, my creator, hoping assuredly believing, through the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be body partaker of life everlasting.

Now as I grow older with kids of my own, I see a lot of Matthew in my son Jonathan. Jonathan loves cars. He often has cars in the driveway where he installs car alarms, televisions, etc. Matt was always working on the engines in the driveway in his car too. Jonathan and Matt would have been the best of friends. I often tell Jonathan about Matt and how much he is like him.

I will always wonder what would have become of Matt. His unbridled life ended tragically with unanswered questions. I am sure Matthew and I would have been close. It has been 25 years, and as other events fade away, those three tenuous words that echoed from my brother-in-law, "Matt committed suicide" seem to stay with me. Matt is gone now, but for those of us who knew him, his memory will always remain.


Jessica said...

Wow. I never knew all this stuff about him. Never knew any of the details really except that I had an Uncle Matt and he committed suicide before I even knew him. Good story Uncle Mark. Riveting. So today is the anniversary, huh? wow.

Your favorite niece said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Losing someone you love it's hard to let go and years will go by fast, although you will always feel like if it was yesterday.
...! Wow, 25 years!
I hope your brother found the answers he was looking for and hopefully indeed, his with God.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Matt's story so poignantly Mark. This story brought tears to my eyes as I remember him. I owned a house with him and sometimes he would erupt in anger, and I always wondered where that anger came from. I often think of him too, and wish the outcome was different. Suicide is such a final answer to temporary problems. Even as we speak, I find myself missing my brother who was in such pain. Was there something I could have said that would have eased his pain? I pray every day that the youth of our time find healing for their broken hearts from a God who loves them, and that people can give them the encouragement and love they need. Its been 25 years and yet it seems like yesterday. I never realized that.

Lloyd Benes said...

Thanks for doing the memorial to Matthew. I remember him in our driveway with his van you referred to where he took car repair to people's houses -- like a doctor making house calls, something that had already dissappeared while I was a child. He & I changed the clutch on my 1965 Plymouth Valiant. He had all the knowledge but I helped him get tools or lift parts -- kind of like a nurse assisting the surgeon in an operation.
Your picture of him surprised me because of how young he looked. I sort of expected him to look more like the rest of us after 25 years (wrinkles or something) -- impossible of course, since a photo does not age.
I remember the metal sculpture of a bear he made of wire and I think gave to Robert Redford. It seems like you recovered that or something didn't you?
Anyway, thanks and well done.
Lloyd Benes

diasgang said...

It is difficult to read your blog and to see Matt's picture. The memory of that horid day still haunts me today. I often wonder what Matt would be like if he were still alive? Would we be close? I still remember my reaction when I talked to mom on the phone. I had called the house to invite Dorothy to a party that my roomates and I were throwing.. Mom was sad and crying. I asked her what was wrong and she told me. I let out a scream hoping to relieve some of the pain in my heart. It was as though someone thrust an arrow in my chest and I let out a scream in anguish.

I remember...
I was there in the living room when the pipe bomb went off. It sounded as though someone had slammed the garage door (this was sometimes a frequent occurence at the Dias house), and so at first I thought nothing of it. I remember going to Daves Avenue school, and some of my friends came up to me and said, "Did you know that the school was robbed over the weekend?" I can't remember if I already knew that Matt and a few of his friends were the thiefs or if I found out later. I remember so much... I remember his compound fracture from the car rolling down the hill. I remember the good times I had with him as well. I remember playing monopoly and Matt kept stealing money from the bank and giving it to me. I remeber Matt helping me climb the hills of Seacliff Beach. The greatest memory I have of Matt, however, was when he began going to church. He would take me every Sunday to Los Gatos Christian Church and to the Wednesday night Bible Study. I spent an incredible amount of time with him during his last three years and we grew very close.
Thanks for the Blog, Mark...

68Bomber said...

Thanks Mark... I have a few tears in my eyes. He was the most artistic person in our family. He was a mentor to Bryan. He was mysterious and special.

I believe I have seen his anger replicated in many of us. A lot of it was spurred by the challenges we had with loving each other and Dad showing his love to us.

Mathew's death changed Dad completely. He became a different man after that day. Aileen, Bryan and I had a much different experience growing up in the house after that point.

Thank you for bringing us back. It helps us all to remember what is important.

Love you Mark.

Anonymous said...

This is from my Aunt Pris. Priscilla Von Pinnon

Hi Mark!
Yes, I do remember Matthew. He was particularly fond of his grandfather, George Stuart Frier. When grandfather was put in a convalescent home, Matt would visit him. Once (probably on Thanksgiving) we brought dad to our house for the celebration. Matt carried Dad to the car and was particularly tender with him. The relationship was reciprocal.
I knew Matt was an artist. After he died, I thought I wrote to Robert Redford asking for the grizzly bear welded sculpture to be returned to the family. I may be mistaken, perhaps it was YOU who wrote, but at any rate the bear was returned! I also had bought a "tree" welded by matt and i gave that to you. Do you remember making a portfolio of Matt's works that you had collected?
When my sister died, she left a garage full of her belongs down in Modesto. Matt drove me there to collect them. He borrowed Christopher's truck. When we were in the town matt made an illegal turn and the police stopped him and gave him a ticket. he was quite embarassed about the incident.
He nd I made a date to go a second time to Modesto to collect the remainder of Margie's stuff. That was preceded by his suicide. In his stead your father took me there to complete my task.

I remember Matt's funeral. There was an open casket. He looked so youthful and handsome.
We were all devastated. We never really "get over" such a tragedy! We can only pray that Matt found what he was looking for.

Love, Aunt Pris

Anonymous said...

Hey Mark,

This is a sad story and makes the family remember a sad tragedy in our lives. I remember two positive things that I did with Matthew. One is when he took me to Matica waterslides, and the other one is when he was going to pay me (I think it was 50 bucks) if I sold this engine at this flee market. That should of been my first sign that I wasn't a good salesperson. He was the creative one in the family and it would have been interesting to see what he would have made of himself today.


DanielleV said...

Like Jessica said, David was always a stranger to me. Thank you for taking the time to describe who he was as a person, it brought tears to my eyes. As others have said, it's so sad that Matthew couldn't have lived to see what the future held - nieces and nephews, maybe marriage, and hopefully peace with God. I wonder what he meant when he said he "had to know the truth." It was as if he wanted to die to find out the truth of what happens after death. I wonder what he found out?
Thanks again for sharing your experience.

Bryan said...

Thanks for the blog, I’d love to see more pictures. I remember his ability to fix anything. He picked up a chair from the side of the road and restored it (I loved that chair). I remember working late nights in the shop when he showed me how to weld. I was welding the sculptures of Trees and the Bears he created. He had me doing the tedious work of course but it was cool anyway. We put a ten speed together from all the parts around. Unfortunately, I was a little too short to ride it, but having all the tools around was great.
I’ll never forget the day I sat at the top of those stair, with my head between the bars, when Mom got the call. I used to day dream it was someone else and he had just taken a trip to Europe. I expected him to walk in the door any day. I’m sure he’d be doing well today, he was so creative.

Tony said...

The first time I read this post, I was in tears the whole time. My parents tell me that when I was a baby, Uncle Matt would pick me up and play with me all the time. While playing with me, his face would reveal a particular mix of sadness and joy. He was probably thinking "This could have been my son."

As far as I know, Uncle Matt wanted to get married but his girlfriend didn't. In the mean time, his girlfriend got pregnant three times and decided not to have the baby each time. I am sure that this was a tremendous source of pain for Uncle Matt, and along with everything else drove him to question his own life.

I wish I had the opportunity to know Uncle Matt better. I hope to see him in Heaven when I die.

Anonymous said...

This is from Marco Zepeda from Uruapan Mexico. He lived with us during 1975

Claro que conoci bien a MATEO. y tambien recuerdo muy bien tu casa y el cuarto donde dormi un poco mas de un año en un sliping bag, tambien conoci la animaversion que se tenian,me acuerdo de que era muy ingenioso arreglando motores y aun me acuerdo de una de sus novias o amiga que vivia al otro lado. A mi me trato bien, poco platicabamos , mi ingles era muy, pero muy malo y no podiamos conversar, yo veia lo que hacia, pero generalmente uno no valora, las personas y sus cosas a tiempo.Una ANECDOTA que yo y mi familia tuvimos con el fue : El vino a MEXICO y nos visito. Lo llevamos a conocer PATZCUARO, un pequeño pueblo tradicional de la MESETA PUREPECHA . Ahi nos dio hambre y fuimos a comer en un puesto del MERCADO unas ENCHILADAS muy sabrosas, quiero decirte que el plato consiste en 6 enchiladas grandes con mucha verdura cocida y frita despues, y una mitad de pollo frito tambien ., eso es una orden. Mi familia y yo pedimos una orden y media para todos nosotros , porque es grande en verdad. MATEO cuan grande era se comio un orden completa, yo pense que no se la comeria pero no fue asi, se la termino toda, yo por diplomacia le pregunte en mi pobre ingles, TE GUSTO, y el dijo que si, luego le pregunte , QUIERES OTRA . y la sorpresa fue mia porque dijo que si y se termino OTRA ORDEN DE POLLO CON ENCHILADAS. vaya que si lo recuerdo . y los recuerdo a todos como no te imagina. siempre AMIGO.

Anonymous said...

Mark, a Great Tribute to Matt... Mas Tardas Comaradas!!!

Virginia Gómez said...

Mark, tengo un nudo en el estómago. Admiro tu valentía al escribir este pasaje, sin duda tu hermano era alguien fuera de lo común. Muchas veces yo tampoco encuentro respuestas y siento mucha frustración...

Victor said...


I remember Matt from high school, of course. I did not know that he had passed away, and so long ago. I lived at the end of Bruce Avenue, about two blocks further up the road from you, and I vaguely remember the pipe bomb incident. Reading this brought back memories of Los Gatos and passing by your house every day on the way home from school. So much of your family history is in that house. I'm so sorry that Matt could not find the answers he sought on this Earth. Thank you for a wonderful remembrance.

Omayra said...

I wish I could have met him

Paul Dias said...

Thanks for the synopsis, Mark. I can remember that dreadful day as if it were yesterday. I was living in a bachelor house with six guys, and we were throwing a party on the evening of Febuary 10th, 1983. There was no special occasion for this party, but we were decking out the house and getting things ready. I decided to invite Dorothy, and so I called the house and mom answered the phone. She was crying. This was not unusual since my mom frequently cried, but this was a despairing cry. I asked her, what is wrong? She told me that Matt committed suicide. I paused for a moment as if in shock, and then I could not contain my despair. I let out a scream. My whole life was shattered. Matt and I were very close. He led me to the Lord. Even though he is eight years older than I am, many of my friends were also his. When I got off of the phone with mom, I told my housemate, Randy Strong. Randy was talking with someone else at the time. He turned his head to me when I told him and then continued talking to the other person. It did not register with him. Then suddenly, he turns his head to me and screams, "What!" Randy was good friends with Matt. We still had the party that night and I was in tears the whole time. Many at the party tried to comfort me. I remember reading the sermon on the mount from Matthew chapter 5 while at the party and tears were just streaming down my face. What could I have done? What could I have said that would have changed my brothers mind from making this tragic mistake? Not a day goes by that I do not think of him. What would he be like today? Would we be close?

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