What an exciting time for you! Here you are, 18, now a high school graduate, preparing to enter Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. You will major in Theatre and minor in Communications since acting, directing and public speaking are your passions.
You will make the decision to move out of your grandfather, Diddy’s, apartment to live on campus. It will be a hard decision at first, but you need to prove to him that you will be okay living on your own. Luckily, your best friend of 14 years, Jamie, is also going to that school and living on campus. You will take comfort in the loneliest of moments together and both frequent your homes more than you do your own dorms.
Your freshman year of college, you will be known around campus as “the boy who wears makeup.” You will make many friends and perhaps a few enemies as well. Many guys will be timid of you. They’ll make comments about you under their breath when you walk by. You will hear their comments oftentimes, make eye contact with them, and smile a shit-eating-grin knowing they are giving you the attention you crave. You are confident in the person you project to be.
You will befriend two girls from Ireland. They teach you a phrase that you remember for years: What’s the craic? (It means, “what’s going on,” or “what’s the latest story?”) While you adore both, you are closer with Roisin, the Northern Irish girl who towers over many of the boys. She has a bubbly, loud, boisterous personality which you adore. Met with the fact that she is a friend to everyone (even those you don’t like,) she inspires you to continue being yourself; to love the hot-pink-lip-gloss-and-green-eye-shadow-wearing version you showcase regularly. When she returns home that summer, you cry for weeks.
At 19, you will legally change your name. You were born Matthew Vetere Rivera and will now be known as Mathieu Francis Vetere-Rivera. You and your friend, Isabella, saw the movie Gothika together once at The Rave. You noticed the director’s name spelled as “Mathieu,” so after the film, you went home and did some research. You decided that when given the opportunity, you would change the spelling of your name believing it was more suitable for your personality (how you figured that, the world may never know).
Your grandfather is Francis Vetere. He is the glue that holds you together. It is perfectly fitting that you would honor him by putting his first name as your middle, and making his last name a part of yours. In the years to come, you will be known on campus and online as Mathieu Francis, and once that fades away, you shorten your name professionally, though not legally, to Mathieu Vetere.
You will become a Resident Advisor (RA) in Searcy Hall, be cast as a lead character in The Fantastiks, and begin a new job with MAC Cosmetics as a part time artist. The only makeup experience you have is applying it on yourself (and not very well, I might add,) but somehow, you’ve impressed the manager with your personality and eagerness to learn. This may even come in handy backstage in your theatre courses!
Working for MAC will provide you an artistic outlet you lacked at your former job. Plus, you’re getting paid $13.10 an hour to help people find lipgloss (excuse me, Lipglass) and eyeshadow. You’ve always been great with the public, and your team accepts you for being the youngest at counter and sometimes, being the one with the boldest makeup. You will make tons of new friends, have lots of fun and work under many different managers during your time there. You will feel you belong in this culture because of their credo: All Ages, All Races, All Sexes – All MAC. You are home!
Back at Huntingdon, being an RA seems like a great way to meet new friends and assert some authority. You introduce yourself to many of the perceived gay guys in and around your dorm. You want to help them feel comfortable in their own skin since you, yourself are (or so you think). Plus, you’re one of maybe three openly gay men on campus, so why not?
Living in a small-minded conservative setting your whole life, you tend to stand out like a sore thumb. This draws many people into you while pushing others away. One person you become fast friends with is the new Irish exchange student, Lisa. While completely different than Roisin, she, too, accepts you as you are and soon encourages you to take the plunge to… well, more on that later.
One night, you have a genius idea! You will invite a few people to take part in your first-ever music video to Britney Spears’ Slave 4 U. YouTube isn’t really “a thing” yet, but you managed to have a few views on your other high school videos you’ve uploaded. You believe this is a great way to get people more involved on your floor. One participant in the video, Quinn, will become a dear friend of yours. The two of you will work together on many videos, photo shoots, and ideas years down the road.
You capture some of the very masculine football players on film between writhing on the floor in front of a bowl. You’ll include their footage in the final edit of the music video just to assert some heteronormality into an otherwise gay-and-proud-of-it video. You edit the footage all night, uploading it onto your account around 5 o’clock in the morning. What happens next, not even you are prepared for.
The next day, every class you’re in, people are talking about “that music video.” People say, “There he is; he’s the one,” as you walk by. It turns out, one of the football players you filmed found the video, showed it to his friends who then showed it to the football coach. Word got around, and you became known for provocatively dancing around your dorm in the wee hours of the morning and filming it for the school to see. The football players in the video ask you to take them out of it, and after careful consideration, you oblige. You upload a new version of the video and soon see it has over a thousand views. This sparks a need for you to make more.
The very next week, you begin creating a new music video with different faces, this time with George and Jesi (whom who call Karen since it’s her first name). You will wear a short skirt, include your Dooney and Burke purse you carry around all over the place, and somehow manage to cram your size 9.5 feet into a woman’s 8.5. Side note: Please learn that if you’re going to wear women’s shoes, you are a size 11.
You will decide to add a scene where you walk over the camera exposing your camouflaged-patterned underwear. While not embarrassing, the world doesn’t need to see you acting so scandalous at this age. Especially since what you put out onto the internet can now live on for the rest of your life.
You continue making music videos and incorporating ridiculous makeup looks as you’re learning different techniques while working for MAC. Eventually, one becomes a huge hit (Button by Pussy Cat Dolls – a song you have never heard of until the day of filming), and you become even more well-known around your campus. You will form close friendships with MK, Kyle, Vanessa and Alana to name a few. Quinn will also introduce you to a new friend, Thomas, who also helps you with your music videos and photos.
To maintain your image, you continue parading around school in tight jeans, a full face of makeup and nail polish to match. You believe this is who you are, “love it or leave it,” but this is not at all who you are. You will realize this is just a phase, but please, enjoy this time! You are fearless! You go to malls, movies and the club wearing makeup without a care in the world. This is a time you are truly carefree.
In the fall, your manager at MAC will tell you that you have to attend a Five Day Basic Training in Nashville, Tennessee. The problem is, it coincides with the grand opening of The Fantastiks. You are told that if you don’t attend, you will be terminated. Left with a tough choice and seeking Diddy’s advice, you decide to tell your theatre professor that you cannot open the show as planned instead prepared to advance your career in makeup.
She is hurt, and rightfully so, and makes you tell the entire cast and crew that you will be leaving the show and why. Being that there is no understudy for your character, production panics and many are left with a bad taste in their mouths because of your choice. You will receive a C-grade that semester in that course and decide to switch your major to Communications and minor in Theatre (to get back at your professor for making your GPA drop). Your friend Brittney takes on your role of The Mute and learns the moves within days of the opening. Those who saw the show noted how great The Mute was. It was all meant to be…
You will be flown to Nashville and sit in a class of over twenty MAC Artists. They all are beautiful, talented and eager to grow in their artistry. On the first day, one girl catches your attention two tables over because of her laugh. You are distracted and annoyed by it because it is so loud and distinct and breaks your concentration.
On the second day, the seating arrangement in the rooms change, and you are now seated right next to her. Her name is Jade, and she is from Alabama as well. When the two of you converse, you realize you have made a mistake by judging her. You discover what a wonderful person she is and the two of you will form a bond that will last over a decade (including an inside joke of “Chat it Up with Paq and Paq.”) She even offers to drive you around Nashville in her bright red convertible Solara.
Back at school as the semester is nearing the end, your work-life-RA-theatre balance is thrown off which results in you being late to fulfill your RA duties on multiple occasions. In addition, the college staff feels that your late-night music videos are more polarizing than inclusive to many students. You will be asked to step down as an RA. This benefits you because you can now focus more on your work, videos outside of school and move back home with Diddy.
Later in the spring during a blood drive, a friend of yours asks you to go with him as he fears needles but wants to donate. You aren’t afraid of needles, so you not only accompany him, you also provide your blood. You are not into drugs, rarely drink alcohol and are still a virgin; there is no reason why you shouldn’t donate blood to someone who needs it. You both carry on afterward knowing you’ve done some good for someone down the road.
It is month’s later that your grandfather asks you to stop what you’re doing to have a serious conversation. He tells you that he knows that you’ve donated blood recently. Because you never told him, you’re very curious to know how he could know this. He tells you that he wouldn’t have if there was nothing wrong with my blood.
In a flash, you are going to panic. You are going to believe you have contracted HIV/AIDS from your parents, both of whom had it prior to your birth. He is going to tell you that it is not what you think; that it is a liver disease called Hepatitis C. Knowing very little about the disease, you and he will contact a gastroenterologist. He will present to you two options: start the double-therapy treatment which would probably mean missing a semester or two of school, or continue living without treatment until your mid-twenties.
You will look over at your grandfather who will tell you that it is your choice. Knowing he is already pushing 80 and his whole purpose up until this point is to see you grow up and be on your own, you tell them both that you will deal with this disease at a later point. The doctor will remind you to stay away from drugs and alcohol, even though you don’t partake in anything deleterious like that anyway. You feel your grandfather is relieved, though still somewhat troubled of your affliction.
Towards the end of your sophomore year, you make plans with your Irish friend to visit Belfast. You realize how much you’ve missed Roisin since she left last year and think this is the perfect time to go overseas for the first time. You are granted off from work, have your tickets booked by your grandfather, and soon after, take an adventure of a lifetime!
You don’t know what to expect going overseas, but you imagine you will have a hard time breathing once you land in Ireland. “They must have different air over here than we do,” you think to yourself. Fortunately, you learn that you’re able to breathe just fine, and you’re able to reconnect with your friend from freshman year. At one point, you, Roisin and Lisa all meet up and snap this picture:
In the years to follow, you and your theatre professor will make amends, you’ll double-major in Communications and Theatre, minor in Creative Writing and embark on making makeup tutorials on YouTube under the handle: A Boy Wearing Makeup. You will achieve moderate success on your videos, be named by YouTube as a Top 10 Most Watched Beauty Guru, and receive lovely emails from people all over the world telling you how you’ve either made them feel beautiful, made them laugh, or helped them to come out to their own parents and not be afraid to be who they are.
You will continue making music videos with your friends as well as makeup tutorials (“toots” you’ll call them). You and your friends conceptualize photo shoots and ideas, then take photos. You are not the least bit concerned with trying to fit an image or become “insta-famous” like so many others will in the years to follow. You are having the time of your life with great friends by your side!
You will gain a fan following online, though you will never like calling them “fans.” Someone named Ruben who is from Spain will reach out to you. At the time, he speaks just enough English to get by, but his and your shared love of Britney Spears and the music videos you make will keep you bonded for many years. He will even make a music video dedicated in your honor.
Your senior year will prove your most exciting in college! It is at this time that you are discovered and approached by a producer of Warner Brothers. At first, you believe his email is an attempt to get you to provide some sort of personal information. However, after calling his number and listening to his answering machine message, you realize he is the real deal. It seems that The WB is trying to make a comeback, but with online content, much like YouTube. They want original series to join the lineup of the website to garner more attention.
You won’t believe your ears when somebody from HR calls and goes over a contract with you. The plan is to make short makeup tutorials (less than seven minutes) for their website. They even want to use your YouTube name of A Boy Wearing Makeup. You will film three videos a week, edit them yourself, and submit for The WB to approve. Once greenlit, the video will end up on their website. They will even have message boards for you to connect with those who comment on your videos.
Here’s the catch: TheWB.com is only available in the United States. You won’t know this until some of your followers from YouTube email you. It wasn’t stated in the contract, and part of your contractual agreement is that you will no longer make makeup tutorials for your YouTube page. Never the less, you are asked to fly out to California to do promotion for what would become your show.
When you request off from work for that Monday through Wednesday that the WB would need you, your then-manager will tell you no. You love working at MAC so much, and everybody who works with you knows how much you want to get into film and acting, that it comes as a shock to you. You go home and speak to Diddy about this. He reminds you that the last time you were faced with this decision, you chose MAC over theatre.
“What is more important to you? Acting or makeup?”
The answer was simple: Acting.
You’ll return to work the next day with my two-week notice. Your manager will be surprised at your decision, but she doesn’t want to lose you. She knew this was an opportunity that may never come across your lap again. She will ask you to drop down to freelance instead of altogether quitting. You’ll agree, and two weeks later be off to California where you will meet tons of people at the Warner Bros. lot, promote your show and best of all, make a new friend named Marcos.
He invites you to Gay Pride in LA; a very first for you! You are extremely nervous being around so many people in a place you haven’t explored before. It causes you anxiety. It seems you lost the confidence you once had back in Alabama. Marcos assures you that this is one of the most gay-friendly states and places in California to be in. He even points out police cars with gay flag bumper stickers on them. You are relieved, and remind yourself that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On the day of the shoot, you are interviewed, photographed and filmed with the cast from other original series that The WB found online. What makes your show so special in comparison is that it isn’t scripted… it is all you, crazy facial expressions and all. They even make you your own t-shirt with your series’ name. You wear the shirt in all the scenes and think to yourself, “I have finally made it. This is my chance!” You believe that this is your golden opportunity to make it in Hollywood. You would become a renowned actor/director yet, and A Boy Wearing Makeup was just the beginning!
That January, you and several classmates will go on a trip to Paris. You intend on filming your adventures for more video log (vlog) style videos than makeup. You have also asked The WB to give you about two weeks’ time off to enjoy your school trip. They, in return, ask you to film up to six videos, edit them, and submit to be reviewed. That will be a long, hard process filming all those videos, and it will wreak havoc on your skin! In the end, it will be worth it to relax while in France.
You and Jamie aren’t speaking at this point over God knows what, but you are both going to Paris together. You will try to avoid her as much as possible. You will notice she isn’t socializing with as many people from class as you’re able to. You will think it serves her right for always depending on you to be the one who makes and keeps friends, then introduces her to them. This is not kind, and you should know better. You have been friends for over 18 years at this point. Get over it and fast so you can enjoy this adventure together in Paris!
You and Jamie will eventually make up a few days into the trip. You will be stuck in a Ferris wheel together, and with the help and helpful nudge of one professor whom you both adore, you will lock eyes, laugh, and hug while towering hundreds of feet in the air. (Thanks, Dr. Fremlin!)
You will carry your camera around nearly everywhere you go, capturing the Eiffel Tower as it lights up at night or having hot chocolate at a nearby cafe. You will spot many of the same sights you saw in one of your favorite films, The Devil Wears Prada. You will try your best at speaking what little French you know with the locals and become dismayed when one asks you if you are American and to “speak English.” You will return home ready to see your Diddy and with a shiny new pair of shoes which cost you over $600.
Soon after returning home, you will quickly learn what a Hollywood ending really looks like. After six months of your show being built up as “the most watched online,” the WB will decide to cancel your episodes altogether. You will be crushed and not understand why if it was doing as well as they said. Nevertheless, you will walk away knowing it was a great experience, but that it wasn’t what you needed to focus on in the end. Luckily, as that journey ended, you receive word that MAC needs to fill a part time artist position, and you eagerly accept.
Between the end of your WB stint and working for MAC again, you put on a ton of weight, change your hair color to black and open up a Twitter account. In one of your senior capstones for Communications, you argue that while Twitter is the new, big thing, it has a shelf life of about five years max. Boy, were you wrong. (Although, technically, more people are into Instagram than Twitter, I dare say. We will discuss this later on.)
It is time to prepare for your college graduation! Wearing the same shoes you bought in Paris and donning Fig. 1 eyeshadow in your crease, you are ready to walk across the stage and get your diploma. You are so happy that Diddy has lived long enough to see this very moment. He struggles to figure out what to wear, and you offer to dress him. You choose a green button up and a red and white striped tie for him. He reminds you of a Christmas tree, and what a happy Christmas tree he was.
Your Aunt Karen, Uncle Rick, cousins Hannah and Abby, and a slew of your college friends will be there to witness this occasion. It will be a long day for you. You graduate on a Saturday, and because you work for MAC, you cannot have off on a weekend. You will graduate that morning, have lunch with your family, then go home and get dressed for work. You will down a five-hour energy drink just to stay awake. Unfortunately, it keeps you up way past your bedtime and gives you shaky hands; not great considering how many customers wanted a winged eye that day.
That summer, you and Jamie will decide to move in together. Who better to share a home with than your best friend? You both look at multiple apartments but land on a three-bedroom duplex near your alma mater. She agrees to take the two conjoined rooms in the back of the house, one room serving as her living room, the other as her bedroom. You will have the middle bedroom with a half bath attached and the actual living room. You did have more belongings than she did, so it made the most sense.
You will learn a hard lesson of being independent by none other than your grandfather. You will never forget the time you came home and asked him for his credit card so that you could buy groceries. “What happened to you being on your own to prove to me that you could handle it?” he will ask you. You will storm off in a tiff thinking he just deserted you, but in fact, this will be hands down one of the best things he could ever do for you. It is in this moment that he has forced you to be a man.
In August, he will invite his estranged son, Mark, to come live in the apartment you grew up in from sophomore year of high school onward. It will feel awkward for you knowing your uncle will be sleeping in your old bedroom. You won’t feel comfortable with this arrangement and rightfully so. Diddy will ask the both of you to accompany him to his doctor’s appointment. It is there that you will learn that the very man who raised you as a young kid is dying, truly dying.
“I reckon he has about six months left,” Dr. Yates says with a straight face. You somehow mute everything else stated afterward. You will walk out of the office and immediately called Jamie. “He has lung cancer, and the doctor only gave him six months to live,” you tell her. Jamie breaks down while you break down, and the two of you are an absolute mess. You’ll hear the door close and know someone is out in the hallway walking towards you. It’s Mark who asks if you are able to come back into the room. Go, and wipe those tears before entering. You’ll sit down, look at your grandfather who then grabs my hand and smiles softly. Tears well up again, but you manage not to sob anymore than you had earlier.
You’ll return to the apartment, but you will need some fresh air. Tell Diddy that you are going to just drive around a bit and he will understand. You will call many people who won’t answer, but you’ll reach someone you don’t oftentimes speak with: Quinn’s mother. She will remind you how special your bond is with Diddy, and that no matter what, you will carry him in your heart for the rest of your life, thus keeping him alive within you. Take comfort in those words, because you’ll find they are true.
Upon returning to the apartment, Diddy will ask you how you’re holding up. You will tell him you’re okay, but you can’t breathe properly. He will offer you one of his prescribed Xanax’s to calm your nerves. You take it, unsure of how you’ll react, and at that moment, Mark will walk in the door. He will question what has just happened and argue with Diddy about giving you the pills. He will say that this is exactly what happened with your mom, Denise… that Diddy was an enabler and that’s why she got so heavily involved with drugs.
He accuses Diddy of being a better father to you than he was to him, his own son. He will call you names, belittle you and tells you that you were the lucky one in the family to get everything that should have been his. The Xanax will kick in, and you’ll feel no urge to argue with him, but his words will live with you for years to come. You will kiss Diddy good night and go home, terrified that the fighting would escalate further, but you know you are in no condition to argue with Mark.
The next day, you’ll call Diddy, and as usual, he will tell you everything is fine; that Mark was just on edge. You can tell you are on speaker phone and ask if Mark is around. Mark says to you, “You got something to say to me, Mathieu?”
You will respond, “Yes, I do, Mark. I am not afraid of you.”
He will threaten that you should be afraid of him, and you tell him that what he said to your grandfather was not only unacceptable, but it will never happen again so long as you’re alive. You end the conversation with Diddy knowing that these arguments would only further stress out Diddy, perhaps causing him to pass away sooner. You put aside your ego and try to avoid your uncle as much as possible.
Now September, Diddy has spiraled downward. Hospice is called in meaning he only has a short amount of time left. He is on oxygen and loses most of his color. Karen will drive down from Tennessee to be here with you and most importantly, her father. This will be a time you need to be strong. You should take the opportunity to ask him anything you still have questions about. Know that this may be your only chance to have a goodbye talk. You weren’t granted that opportunity with your father, mother or grandmother. This is your time.
He will tell you how proud he is of the person you’ve become. He will remind you that you are strong, intelligent, warm and giving. He will tell you not to give up, even when you feel weak. He will tell you that he loves you. He will tell you that of all the people in his life, you have made him the proudest; that his life, his purpose, was to be your father. You will hold his hand and remember how they felt in yours forever.
You promise him that you will be by his side up until the end. He tells you that he doesn’t want you to be there at the end. “I don’t want my boy to see me like this,” he tells you. You are stubborn and tell him that you can handle it, that you want to be there when he takes his last breath. Looking back, you’ll wish you had told him that you’ll grant his wish. You’ll realize that he needed to die in peace without you there even though you thought you should be. You’ll realize that he could only die in peace if he knew you weren’t there to see him like that.
This is your favorite picture of you and him. It was taken a few years prior. This is how you will choose to remember your Diddy:
He fought to live for you, Mathieu. He fought to stay alive until you could make it on your own. He outlived your mother and father, your brother and grandmother, just to see you make it as a young adult. He needed to know you would be okay. Be okay, Mathieu. Know that you will be okay.
Diddy slips into a coma. You are so thankful you got to say goodbye, but you’re not ready to let go. You don’t know how you will live without him in your life. This time will be a blur for you, but deep down, you know his time on Earth is nearing an end.
On September 11th, while at home, you will get the call from your Aunt Karen that he has passed. Your Diddy is gone. He lived 81 years, 22 of which you were a part of. Time stands still, but you know it’s time to accept fate. It is time for you to let him go.
You will accept that Diddy got his wish: you were not meant to be there by his side to see the end. He wanted you to remember him as being alive.
Get in your car and be careful driving to the apartment despite everything occurring in your head. When you get there, know that your life is forever changed from here on out.
Prepare yourself. This isn’t going to be easy. You need to be strong now, more than ever. He saw that in you, so you mustn’t let him down now. This is the moment where your new journey begins.
But first, you must walk through that door and face what is on the other side.
TO BE CONTINUED.