Italian Crown

September 4, 2010 (Day 217) — Italian Crown

It’s funny when you think about it, how your goals change from year to year. When I was in high school, I seemed to imagine myself as a start of the stage, making reviewers weep as my Broadway renditions brought about new revelations on human emotion and behavior. I used to hang a quote above my desk in my bedroom that said “We are actors! We’re the opposite of people!” It’s an exert from the amazing Tom Stoppard play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”

Now, I find that science fiction/humor writer Douglas Adams said it better than I ever could.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I feel I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Tonight, that point was thrown into stark relief upon the arrival of a close friend of mine from high school. The last time we saw each other was two years ago at Jenn and I’s wedding. Even then, it was only in brief passing. A hello. A handshake. A hug. Then on with our lives we went. He back to school, me back to playing reporter/husband/stepfather/supremely inadequate superhero.

Then Friday, I almost smashed into him with my car in a parking lot. After apologizing to him for almost taking the front end off his car, I had him follow me home and we spent about 30 minutes trying to get caught up on at least a decades worth of our lives. There we sat in my driveway, remembering what made us such good friends back in high school. Back before I got so wrapped up in myself that burnt all my bridges. Before our group went our separate ways, became adults and left the trappings of those boys we once were in the past.

Back when Matt was still alive.

Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Matt. I first met Matthew Scott Duesing in 1996 while we were in middle school. Round cheeked, bright-eyed and shrilly entertaining, Matt and I hit it off almost right away. Me, being a scrawny nerd with huge glasses and skin issues, he a long-haired, long finger nailed metalhead already. As goofy as Matt was — and man alive was he goofy — he was always just a little bit angry. A little bit sad. Always a little bit longing.

Matt had lost his father much, much too early. However, the way he would describe him always came through in glowing terms. He was a veteran. He loved motorcycles. He used to build them by hand. Conversely, I came from a solid, upper-middle class home where both parents were still around. I hadn’t known the pain of loss at such a young age. We were kind of the perfect compliment amongst our group of friends. I was the melancholy kid who had no right to be, he was the happy-go-lucky goon who had reasons to be angry at the world.

There were five of us that ran together. Myself, Matt, Adam, Anthony and Kenny. For years we ran together, others would come and join the group, only to leave eventually. It was amorphous to be sure, but that core always remained the same. Then came our senior year of high school. Like any egotistical asshat like me, I became unrelentingly wrapped up in myself. It was all about me, myself and I. And, of course, whoever I happened to have on my arm at the time. I’d grown from the nerdy little goof into a somewhat successful, vaguely attractive young man. Matt, being Matt, had stayed largely the same. He still loved his heavy metal, although now he was head techie at the local theater. He would wear a black tie to school, however it had metal spikes all around the collar. Dapper yet dangerous. Matt in a nutshell. I’d started to ignore Matt. Not call him back when he would try and hang out.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the guy anymore. I was just… too busy.

In the spring of our senior year, Matt died in a car wreck on a dirt road outside of town. He was with one of our other friends when they swerved to miss a turkey crossing the road. Late at night and speeding, they hit the sandy middle of the dirt road, flipping the van they were driving. Neither were wearing seatbelts. The van rolled three times, ejecting Matt and rolling over top of him. He died from his injuries.

I don’t remember much about high school. The days, weeks, months tend to run together into one blur. I forget what events happened in my freshman year versus my senior year. I was never too good with memories. I distinctly that day. Being called into the office. Yelling at the principal, demanding to know what happened. Then tears. Constantly. I was torn apart, I couldn’t even being to imagine what Matt’s mother and brothers were going through. I didn’t want to even think of it.

Years later, I still miss Matt. I miss Matt as a friend who always stood by me, even when I was a complete and total prick to him. Yes, I miss him. Then there are the regrets. That despite all he had done for me as a young, awkward kid growing up, I had left him for others in the end. That in the end, I was never there the way he deserved from a friend.

Tonight, Adam and I sat on my back porch in the rapidly setting sun. Between us sat a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. The conversation had wandered and looped around. We’d talked of things in high school, caught up on those we’d stay in touch with. And as always, as these things are want to do, we came back to Matt. What we could have done different. How horribly we would sometimes treat him.

Raising a glass of Crown to Matt, that evening, we toasted the friend that all of us had, but none of us really deserved.

Italian Crown

2 oz Crown Royal Canadian whiskey

2 oz amaretto

Pour both ingredients into an old-fashioned glass half-filled with ice cubes. Allow the ice to melt for a few moments. Stir, and serve.

I chose this drink to honor Matt for one solid reason. It’s sweet, but it has one hell of a kick at the end of it. Do I have regrets about the way I treated one of the greatest guys I ever had the pleasure of knowing? Every day. But, Matt being the ever goofy bastard that he was, would quickly beat the shit out of me were he to think I was moping.

So, here’s what I ask of you, oh faithful readers. Today, tomorrow or sometime in the future, live like Matt Duesing.

Full. Happy. Forgiving. Friendly.

We miss you, Matt

— Mark


  1. That is my brother to a tee. Couldn’t describe him any better. What you’ve done here is awesome! Thank You for remembering him! We miss him alot!

  2. One of our most heartbreaking days. I’ll never forget the phone call from our grandmother, or the time I spent holding Niles at the crash site a few weeks later. I’ve always believed that, because Matt had the shortest time with his dad, my Uncle Larry, that he had to go first so they would get all that lost time back before the rest of us got there, wherever that might be.
    Thanks for honoring him…he was a great kid and he is greatly missed.

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