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.