by: Trevor Stokes
Introducing Matthew Martins
Matt would be 28 now. He’d be at home on a Sunday, with his kids. Playing PS4 in the basement. They’d be within an arm’s reach. He’d be behind them on the couch with the two boys on the floor in front of him. They’d be playing Mario Kart. His hand would be tracing circles on their backs, tugging through their Sunday hair, gripping their shoulders as the game progressed. His turn would come up and he’d decline, giving the younger one a chance to avenge his early exit. Matt’s smiling like only he could. Life is good. It’s as it should be or should’ve been.
I met Matt in the September of his grade 9 year. He had come to Streetfront after attending the John Oliver Bridge Program. I used to go with Bill McMillan, the original counselor at Streetfront, to this program and do a slideshow, showing the prospective students what we could offer. Matt was in the audience that May. He liked what he saw, asked a lot of questions (a lot) and the family decided to give us a shot.
He came into a wonderful class, filled with personalities, characters and challenges. I still keep in contact with many of those kids (funny how they are still kids, though they’re 29 or 30 years old) and am so happy that many of them are still close friends. Matt assumed a spot right beside my teaching desk. It’s interesting how certain kids end up in that spot – sometimes it’s intentional (behaviour management; blind as a bat and no glasses; small enough so others can see the board over them; socially awkward kid who needs to be away from alpha personalities), but often it’s entirely selfish on my part – I really like the kid and want to be entertained. If you’ve done this job for as long as I have, you need to take your gifts when you can get them and putting Matt Martins within arm’s reach, was a gift, let me tell you.
That levity saved me. It helped me see what was important with these kids. It provided the clarity my teaching was lacking. I learned from Matt that if I could make the kids laugh and giggle every class, that each class was worthwhile, it had something tangible. We wouldn’t ignore the curriculum but we would enhance the experience. If you ask my students what I do well in class, I hope they’d say that I make learning fun. I hope they remember the smiles and laughs we had. If they do I did my job well, and I guess Matt did his, too.
He was directly to my teaching right. I can see his constantly moving body, arching and swaying as he got through my class. Never one to sit idle, he was pure liquid, gravitating towards the most comfortable position. As constant as his motion, one thing that moved even more was his mouth. He always had a comment. Always had a question. Always had a wisecrack. Always had something for me. He filled the gaps and silences, like no kid I ever taught. What was different with Matt though, was the nature of his comments. It was pure jackass. Always kidding, always fooling. Never mean. Never going after a weak target. Sure it got too much at times, but I couldn’t stop going back to him. We became an unwitting tag-team. If the class needed a boost or some sort of misdirection, I’d go to Matt. I’d look at him and he’d do the work. He would know what we needed and like Karl Malone, he always delivered. Once I recognized how much fun we could have in class, my decision to stay was made.
I can see Matt now, running around playing indoor soccer, trying desperately to keep his oversized jeans up. One hand running freely, the other tugging at the waist of those ill-fitting jeans. He was a good soccer player – feisty and unpredictable. I can still hear his, “Trevvvvvvvvvvvvvv. Why you gotta be that way????” when I’d let a goal slip by me. He’d be running back towards the centre of the court, looking back over his shoulder with a big smile on his face.
His grade 9 and 10 years were filled with growing friendships and good times. Jay Corpeno, Oscar Clara, Jacob Montgomery and Matt had a special bond. Each of these boys was a little bit different than the traditional Streetfront kid that normally sat before me. These boys had a softer side to them. Jay loved art and mountain biking (not a normal combo in this most East Van of alternative schools). Oscar was really tight with his family and his cultural roots. Jacob was this anti-establishment dude who questioned most anything but in a weird neo-hippie kind of way. Then there was Matt, who had a little bit of each in him. He had the ability to fit into any group and just be accepted. Always popular with the ladies, Matt knew how to put on the Martins charm.
Matt finished up his grade 10 year and moved onto Spectrum, a senior alternative program based out of Vancouver Technical. He kept in touch with his Streetfront friends but started branching out and meeting other kids. Matt came back to visit in the spring of 2005. He was filled with the same excitement and energy. He told me about his classes and the friends he had made, about the girls he had in his sights and about the rhymes he was trying to get out of his head. He was really happy. He was making it.
I never saw Matt again. He was murdered that summer, trying to get with his buddies for Canada Day celebrations. He died over a chain he was wearing. He died a brutal death over a chain. That makes no sense. It never will.
I’ve been writing these pieces on former Streetfront students and what they’ve done since they left us. It’s been really nice going through the collective memories and showing others how amazing these kids are. Matt never had a chance to show what kind of man he was going to become; what kind of partner he was going to be; what kind of employee he was going to be; what kind of Dad he was going to be. He was gone at 16. He deserved better. Everyone deserves better.
It’s a Friday and Matt has put the boys down for the night. He checks his texts and sees that Jay’s already at the Pub. He’s got a table with Oscar. Matt kisses his wife and as he leaves he puts his head back inside the door and flashes that Matt Martins smile. It’s a smile that reassures everything. It’s a smile that tells everyone, life is good. We’ll make it. She walks back towards the TV loving the man and looking forward to what will come.
I’d like to introduce everyone to Matthew Martins, an outstanding young man you most likely never got to meet but would’ve never forgot if you did. Take care, Matt.
Sandie Martins-Toner will never get her son back. She knows that. She has replaced the anger and sadness that latch onto such a tragedy with a commitment to bringing hope and positivity to this world. Matthew would be 29 this September 20th and in his honor she will go out into the community and find someone who needs help. This will be unsolicited, like last year when she walked into a grocery store, went down the aisles looking for whom she thought needed a break, found a young mother and her daughter and then surprised them at the checkout by paying for all their groceries. Her and her husband, David called this Matthew’s Random Act of Kindness. Sandie has a fundraiser going on right now and all the profits will go to this year’s Random Act of Kindness. It’s a fitting tribute to a wonderful young man.