By Sarah E. Murphy
It was September of 1990, my freshman year at Bridgewater State College.
I was 18, and he had just turned 21. Although he was a junior, he was a year older than his BSC classmates, having graduated from New Bedford High School in ’87. He was also a commuter, who drove a hunter green MG, adding to his Jake Ryan/Sixteen Candles mystique.
I was introduced to Greg Motta, and many other people who would become my closest college friends, through my high school friend, Todd Humphrey, during lunch at the back tables in Tillinghast Hall.
He was boyishly handsome without the slightest bit of arrogance. Our crowd had various nicknames, and he was dubbed “Groovy Greg,” for obvious reasons – he was effortlessly cool and unpretentious, with his own preppy/deadhead/surfer vibe. Fittingly, he also loved The Brady Bunch, one of many things we bonded over, and he was notably impressed whenever I’d stump him with trivia about my favorite, lesser-known episodes.
When I found out his birthday was August 7, my parents’ anniversary, I thought it was a sign we were meant to be together.
Greg was my first college crush, but an unrequited love. We were destined for something better than a fleeting romance.
Tilly became one of our places, where we’d sit for hours over endless cups of coffee. Or the Campus Center steps, or the Commuter Caf, or Carver’s Pond, or the corner of dorm room Scorpion Bowl parties.
He was an Art major, I was an English major, and we had deep conversations about all things most important to us – family, music, creative expression. We didn’t do small talk. He listened intently and laughed loudly, his brown eyes twinkling, loving any anecdote about my upbringing, telling me all about his his parents, Anne and Frank, his two brothers, Chris and Andy, and his sister, also named Sarah. I had never even heard of Westport before I met Greg, and it seemed like such a faraway place. He loved his hometown the way I loved Falmouth.
Although I was only forty-five minutes from home, it was the first time I was away from my family, that pivotal chapter in life when we begin to identify as individuals and finally make our own acquaintance. I got to know myself while introducing myself to Greg, and during those talks, he made me feel smart and special, always identifying me as a writer, even when I didn’t feel like one.
Greg was there for me in January of 1991, when my friend Jenny Chance was killed while riding her bike near her college campus in Vermont. She died doing something she loved. No warning. Three decades later, it still doesn’t seem real. Greg was the same age as Jenny at the time, and he wasn’t afraid of my tears and grief. He comforted me during a time of unfathomable pain.
Two weeks ago, Greg died of a heart attack, after taking a run along Horseneck Beach, where he grew up, doing what he loved. Today, he should be turning 53. Instead, there is a staggering void in the world that can never be filled.
The last time our college friends got together in August of 2014, Greg invited me to visit Westport the following month when the beaches would be less crowded in September. Then life happened. My father got sick and died the following year.
I never got a chance to visit Westport until last week, for Greg’s funeral. I finally met some of his family I had heard so much about in my youth – his brother, Chris and his dad – and his beloved fiancee, Icy, his partner in life and love for the past eight years. They all offered the most gracious and sincere condolences to me, a stranger, while in the midst of their own own unfathomable grief. I tried to keep my composure, but I can’t get used to speaking about Greg in the past tense.
When Mr. Motta told me he wanted to tell me a story about Greg, I could see some of where my friend had inherited his gregarious nature. His eyes lit up as he recalled a day at Little League tryouts when Greg was about ten. He had already made the team, but another boy, who wasn’t as athletic, was standing on the field alone. Greg went over and put his arm around him in a friendly gesture, making him feel welcome, accepted, comfortable, safe. “That’s just how Greg was. He got that from his mother,” he said.
If you were lucky enough to know Greg Motta, you know exactly how that little boy felt.