Sunday, May 13, 2007
On Thursday morning, I received a phone call from Traci letting me know that our friend Matt Hodges had died the previous night.
I met him at the same time I met Holly and in the same way, at the trivia nights Diehl and I attended at Fado's my second year in DC. The trivia group was already fairly well established, but Matt welcomed us easily and made us feel part of the group quickly. It was a talent he had. When the trivia group lost its momentum, Matt became one of the core members of the dinner group that made up my social life during those years I lived with Diehl and for some time after. He hosted the last dinner event I was able to attend before I moved to Atlanta (an able griller, it was a good dinner). We teased him about his age (as did he), but it was with tongue in cheek, he was only a few years older than the rest of us.
When we weren't doing dinner together, we would go swing dancing. He had learned some steps in his Aggie days, Diehl and I had learned some at UVa. We combined forces, taught other members of our group, and then went out to find places to dance. We also took some dancing classes together to broaden our repertoire. All great fun.
Matt was also a regular attender of our parties, the New Years semi-formals and, of course, the Blades and Booze Party (his costumes were always entertaining and I believe he won more than one honorable mention). At one particular party, he used his welcoming talent for my personal benefit. I had known Sarah for maybe three weeks and invited her to the party. She had no idea what she was in for and, thanks to a series of forgotten props and missed messages, I was not at the party when she arrived. She knew no one at the party, although I had my brother looking out for her. My brother did a good job, but Matt did a better job. He made Sarah feel comfortable and got her involved in the party (initiating her into both the rumpling tradition and the newly formed ice luge tradition). His ability to make Sarah feel comfortable is even more impressive considering that Matt was wearing a large pair of fake breasts at the time as part of his "girls gone wild" costume (Matt's girlfriend Kourtnee was there as the photographer). By the time I got there, Sarah had gone from "what the heck have I gotten myself into" to "This is awesome." I owe Matt a huge thanks for that.
Matt and Kourtnee got married shortly afterwards (they came to the next B&B party as a shotgun wedding couple, complete with t-shirt tux and beer hats). Holly moved away and the dinner groups started to fade out. I did not see Matt as often but he continued to remember and give me birthday cards. He also gave me a number of tips on getting a girl's (favorable) attention, tips that proved remarkably effective. The man knew what he was doing. In the picture above, he is actually sprawled across three women. He managed to end up in quite a few of those poses at picture time.
I have not seen much of Matt lately, the last was at Bonnie's wedding where I spoke briefly to him. There were other people at that wedding I had known longer and seen less recently, so I spent more time with them.
He was in law school (he went back to school the same time I did), working hard, but still playing hard. Matt has always been an active guy. We went hiking together several times. Recently he trained for and ran in the AIDS marathon in 2005. More recently he joined a recreational flag football league. This is what he was doing when he collapsed Wednesday night. They called an ambulance but he died at the hospital, a result of a hereditary condition known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) or thickened heart. Kourtnee called Traci the next day and Traci spent a fair amount of time calling friends from the dinner crew to let us know initially, and then to keep us informed of the details of the funeral arrangements. It was a shock and then just weird and difficult to contemplate. I'm still not sure I've quite taken it in.
Matt was a good friend. He and his family (and most especially Kourtnee) are in my thoughts and prayers.