Monday, August 27th, 1984.
What happened that day is something that would end up being, one of the single most impactful events in my life.
It was late. Probably past midnight. I was sleeping on the couch down in Nanny and Papa’s downstairs den; the room was dark with only a little bit of light coming from the upstairs hallway, a bedroom on the other side of the den and the greenish glow from the wall-mounted telephone handset.
I was startled awake by a bunch of noise and yelling. My mom and dad were arguing again.
They were on the other side of the room fighting, while I quietly sat there for several minutes, just listening and hoping they would calm down. I’d seen them do this before and it always made me upset…in fact, I hated it.
I remember laying on the couch hoping they would just stop. I didn’t care who started it, I just wanted it to end. It made me angry; I wanted peace.
Looking up from the couch across the dimly lit room, I could see my dad was sitting in a chair with the phone in his hand. The keypad’s soft green backlight cast just enough light so that I could see them both.
My dad was being belligerent; he was drunk again. I could see the clear liquor bottle he was holding in his left hand. My mom, obviously upset, kept begging him to calm down.
There was something about her tone of voice which told me that there was a sense of urgency about what was going on; she was full of panic and fear.
I’m not sure how long they had been arguing, but what I do remember is finally saying something.
From across the room, I asked them to calm down. I didn’t want the fighting and I didn’t want the anger. My mom and dad heard me; she told him that he was making me upset and to think about his son.
What my dad said next still echoes in my mind today.
He growled; “I’ll shoot him too, I don’t care!”
Do I think my dad would have shot me? No. Looking back to the whole ordeal, I know he was just speaking out of hurt and anger. He was in a dark place mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
After several more minutes of arguing, I saw my mom go over to the bottom of the staircase; she said she was going to go get my Nanny and Papa. She must have thought they’d be able to calm their son down.
As my mom walked up to the stairs, my dad came up behind her and pointed something at the back of her head. He told her that if she went upstairs, he would shoot them and her too.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, he had in his hand a little double barrel ‘card-players’ pistol. There were two small .22 caliber bullets loaded in the chambers.
Slowly, my mom and dad went back to the chair where the phone was; across from where I was still laying down. After what seemed to be several more minutes, my dad appeared to finally calm down…my mom doing her best to soothe him.
Several more minutes went by. As the tension seemed to subside, my mom was able to ease my dad out of the chair and coax him into sleeping the whole ordeal off.
I thought to myself that perhaps…just perhaps…the craziness would end the same way so many of my dad’s other drunk ordeals ended; he would go to bed and everything would be better in the morning.
Slowly my dad got up and followed my mom. On the other side of the den, where the night’s insanity had been unfolding, was a spare bedroom. I think my mom wanted him to go in there and sleep off the booze and anger.
As they made their way into the back backroom, things became quiet. I anxiously watched the entrance way leading back into the den. After a few minutes, I saw my mom walk back from the spare bedroom and into the den.
As my mom was crossing the threshold between rooms, there was a loud noise…POP!!!
It sounded like a firecracker. The sharp sound pierced the midnight darkness; its echo resounded off the downstairs walls as if shouting something terrible had just happened.
“Oh no…oh my God no!”, my mom screamed as she stopped in her tracks and ran toward the room where she had just left.
“MICHAEL!!!…Oh my God!”, came a blood-chilling shriek, from the back room.
As my mom ran out of the room and back into the den where I was still laying on the couch, she looked at me and yelled, “Don’t get up Matthew, you stay right there!”
She ran upstairs to get Nanny and Papa…I knew something awful had happened.
I laid on the couch for a couple minutes, but I wanted to make sure that my dad was ok.
While my mom was upstairs getting my grandparents, I walked across the den and into the next room. Immediately to my left was the little bedroom that my dad was in.
I slowly peeked around the corner and into the room; there I saw my dad laying slumped over on the floor; a thin stream of blood ran down his right temple…he was gone.
It’s a sight that no kid should see; a morbid and haunting image that’s been burned into my mind for the rest of my life. It’s a horrific scene that would end up replaying in front of my own eyes again, over 30 years later.
Monologue: Just like that, with the pull of a trigger, my dad gave up on life. All his talent, all his gifts, all his hope for the future…the birthdays he’d both never attend or ever have, every holiday and every special event…watching his sons grow up.
All of it was gone.
The next seven or so months was tough. I had a hard time adjusting to my dad’s loss. I didn’t know how to process all the bad stuff I had seen prior to his passing, not to mention what I had seen the night he shot himself.
Adding to the weight and magnitude of that loss, little did I know, that my mom was about a month pregnant with my little brother Benjamin…