Matthew John Bocchi, SWAY

Matthew John Bocchi, SWAY

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Matt. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Matthew John Bocchi: Morning, Zibby. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Zibby: Your book was so good. I loved it. I could not put it down. I read all the way to the end, every word. I was like, don’t even talk to me, when I was reading it. Congratulations on writing this beautiful memoir.

Matthew: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Can you please tell listeners what Sway is about?

Matthew: The quick synopsis and the easiest way to put it, in terms of themes and messages, I think that my story encapsulates resilience, inspiration, hope. My story is, really, it starts off as a 9/11 story, but it shifts drastically. My dad worked at on the 105th floor of the north tower and passed away on 9/11. The reason why I think 9/11 is such an integral part of the story is because it’s the catalyst to everything else that happened in my life. Not only that, but it’s really when my life changed. All of our lives really changed. For someone who was personally affected by it, it had a really long-lasting effect on me. The early years after 9/11 I spent trying to figure out how my dad died. Hearing what I was told from family wasn’t enough and didn’t suffice for me. I wanted to have every single minute and second of those last moments outlined and figured out. I really wasn’t going to stop until I got to that point. As the years went on, I was really, really direct and poignant with my questions. I had facts and data and research to back up all the things that I was asking. This inquisitiveness really was what was my initial downfall that led to me being sexually abused by an uncle through marriage. As that transpired, the feelings that I started to accumulate of guilt and shame — embarrassment was a big one. All those feelings led me to start using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with my feelings and emotions. I went down a path of drug addiction for many years and by the grace of god was able to pull myself out of it. I’ve maintained my sobriety since. My story, it’s a continual downfall as it progresses. Of course, there’s a happy ending. There’s a rising at the end.

Zibby: Wow. As I was reading it, just one thing after another, I wanted to reach out and hug you and be like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening. Now this is happening. Yet you kept — I guess you just keep on keeping on. That’s what you have to do. You just did it. Your resilience is amazing, I guess is all I’m trying to say.

Matthew: Thank you.

Zibby: Can we talk first about 9/11? You’re one of the first people, if not the very first person, to write a memoir from the experience of a child of someone who had died that day. My best friend actually also worked in the north tower, and roommate. It’s so crazy for me to think that just a few floors up your dad was there and was my friend was there. What happened that day? Like you, your obsession with or what you later called an addiction to watching the footage religiously, almost, is something I shared at the beginning just watching all of the jumpers as so many people probably did to see if they could spy their loved one. What were they wearing? That’s such a unique phenomenon to this event, I feel like, that need to understand what happened. Tell me a little more about your compulsion to research and that need you had to understand the end and why it felt so important to you to know.

Matthew: If you look at 9/11 itself from a third-person, third-party point of view, especially someone who grew up in the tri-state area, people who knew the World Trade Center, to be witnessing what was going on with obviously the planes, but then watching people voluntarily jump to their deaths as a way out, as a way to not have to deal with what was going on inside, it was so baffling and perplexing to me that I was amazed by it. On some sort of philosophical level, I think I was looking for myself in also trying to figure out my dad’s story. I am the oldest of four boys. Being a nine-year-old kid at the time, I think that there was just a need to figure out who I would become as a person in a sense too. Really, by watching these last moments to try to figure out my dad’s story, I was trying to figure out who he was as a person. Although, you can’t figure that out in someone’s final moments in something so tragic and horrible as what was going on in there. I was extremely naïve, and I thought I could.

What I started to realize through time and watching certain documentaries was people, they at least claimed that they were getting some sort of closure by finding out, good chance my loved one was a jumper. This picture pretty much looks like them. They knew. They had their answers, and that was that. For me, I thought maybe I would have my closure and my peace and know, okay, my dad made a few phone calls after the plane hit and then he realized there wasn’t a way out, and that was that. But I didn’t have that, so I held onto that. I held onto the belief that maybe he was able to figure out something. Maybe it wasn’t so bad for him in there. As I continued to watch those videos and stuff and look at the pictures, seeing the tragedy unfold, it’s just a horrible thing to witness, obviously. Knowing that my dad was in there and that’s where he spent his final moments, it just really overwhelmed me to a degree. I’m at a point now where I know the answers. I know what I’m going to know and what I will forever know. I also know that I will not be able to find out every little detail. That is something I’m okay with today, but it took me a long time to get to that point to really be at peace, so to speak.

Zibby: Wow. The intensity of the search and all of the ways that you wrote about it were just so moving, and even how you described the fact that he was able to call and that you do have a record. You knew that he knew, and then as all these details emerged, how you had to make sense of that yourself.

Matthew: I think too, he really did know. That’s the thing that’s fascinating to me too, is the fact that he called two minutes after the plane hit. I think that there was already a level of uncertainty inside the tower. I have a feeling that things got bad pretty quickly just given the fact that he faced that head on. It would only get worse, obviously, as time would progressed. Also hearing that, too, from my family — I didn’t get to witness that myself. I didn’t get to go through that myself. I didn’t get to speak to him. I wanted something for myself. I wanted something greater that I could hold onto, that I could cherish. There’s so many positive stories. There’s good Samaritan stories like the guy with the red bandana and stories like that where there’s a happy ending for the family. I was so determined to find that happy ending story. Even though my dad didn’t make it out, maybe he did something miraculous or heroic before he passed. That was something I was really trying to figure out and search for. All it did was bring up more anger and sadness and confusion.

Zibby: Also, for you, exposing yourself at such a young age to that graphic, awful, violent, just disturbing imagery, that is a lot for anybody to take on. That in and of itself, it’s like watching a trillion R-rated movies at the wrong age over and over. The trauma of that, how do you even get over that part?

Matthew: And it’s real life. That’s the thing. I’m twenty-eight years old. I have a lot of friends who live in Manhattan. You go in there, and you look at the skyscrapers. Even the skyscrapers that are forty stories high, that are not big, big buildings, that don’t overcome the skyline, and you realize that the World Trade Center was nearly triple that, and that’s what people were watching. People on the outside were watching that. Twenty-eight years old now. I’ve had friends who finished my book and they told me, “Look, I’m going to be honest with you. I actually started looking at some of that stuff. After reading what you said and wrote and how you wrote it, I was curious to see for myself.” I don’t know to what degree they looked at it. I didn’t really ask. I think for so many people it was so easy to try to forget back then, especially around my age. I was obviously relatively young. For people like myself to be doing what I was doing and searching what I was searching, it got to a point where it was completely voluntary. I wanted to try to find something.

I think that people realize how almost heartbreaking my story is, or what I went through as a child. Many of my friends who also lost their dads on 9/11 did not go through that. They didn’t want to know. They didn’t want to look at that. Maybe they just accepted it for what it was worth. Their dad died, and he’s not coming back. That’s that. For me, I wanted something more. That’s just the story of my life. Nothing was ever enough for me. I always, always, always wanted something greater. Even with writing my book, I can’t even tell you the amount of rewrites I’ve done. Now the book’s in hardcover out for everyone to read. I haven’t even read it back to back yet. I’ve read it on the PDF and stuff. If I read that book — I opened up to the epilogue. I’m searching through it. I’m finding words that I would change. This is what I do. I over-critique myself. I’m just trying to grow as a writer, but I look for things that I wish I wrote differently or maybe had a different change on a certain way to express something. There’s certain things that I wish I did differently. I guess I could for the paperback.

Zibby: There’s always the paperback. I want to talk about your writing, but just one story which will probably make me sound crazy. I had always believed that my friend Stacey had died instantly because the plane hit right at her floor. Her mom said the phone rang once right at that time. Stacey always used to get to her desk and call her mom. Our belief collectively was that she had gotten to the office, sat down, started to call her mother, the plane hit, and she died instantly. That’s our theory because nothing ever turned up. Then I had a session with this medium. This sounds so hokey. Until this session, I didn’t really believe in mediums. She said all this stuff about other people that I just thought there was no way. Anyway, she told me that that is not what happened to Stacey and that she heard a loud explosion, so she must have been elsewhere in the building, and that she was with a nice older man. The two of them were trying to find their way out, and then it happened. I don’t know if I believe that or not.

Matthew: She was trying to find her way out and then the building collapsed?

Zibby: Yeah, or something. I don’t know. The thing is about these things, we’ll never know, but now I have two theories in my head.

Matthew: With mediums, I’ve had one experience with them. Actually, I take that back. My mom has had one experience, or at least that I know of. I never have. I did a psychic. It wasn’t the same. Those, I don’t maybe believe to a certain degree. If I really believed in them, my book would’ve been a best seller three years ago. My mom had an experience with a medium that was — she said what you just voiced, that there was no way of knowing some of these things. I’ve been kind of curious myself to check that out and see. It’s one of those things where it’s like, do you believe it? Do you want to believe it?

Zibby: I know. I don’t know. It gave me some sort of sense of peace.

Matthew: I think it should.

Zibby: Hearing it from someone else, like, I know what happened, but she’s okay now. Anyway, whatever. Let’s go back to your writing of this book. The writing itself is amazing. Some memoirs, along the way they might say how much they loved writing or something. I didn’t get anywhere in here that you had turned to writing as a coping technique at all. The drugs and all the other stuff you did were very spelled out. I was wondering, when did the writing start? Have you always loved to write? It just didn’t come through in the text. How did you do this? The crafting of it is exceptional, all of it, the time, the way you go back and forth in time, the language, the immediacy. Tell me about that part.

Matthew: First of all, thank you for that. I, like I said, critique my writing. I’m really overly critical too. I do probably what authors and writers should not do 101, read people’s reviews of your book. A lot of people — not a lot of people. I focus on the minority. That’s the way it always goes. I have a lot of good reviews. Then I have a couple reviews that have said where I either skipped out on parts on maybe fast-forwarded through parts or something. I briefly mentioned it towards the end about how I used to journal as a kid. I’m not sure if you remember that part. What it came down to was — my mom’s brother is a music journalist. He gave me my first journal when I was ten years old. He wrote a little note on Christmas morning. He said, “I’ve gone through hundreds of these journals in my life. Write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t overthink it.” In the beginning, I did that. I wrote. Whatever came to my mind, I wrote. Then I started treating it sort of like homework. I kind of strayed away from it because I didn’t really like that. I would go to bed and write, “School was good.” There was nothing deeper.

I was talking about this, actually, with one of my friends from Villanova. One of my biggest regrets in college is that I didn’t pursue creative writing the way I should have, or writing in general. I didn’t pursue my goals and dreams because, obviously, I was going through addiction. I think I was fixated on continuing the story that people wanted for me, which was go into finance or whatever. When I got sober, I started speaking at schools. As time went on in my speaking — I started off as the basic 9/11 story, into drugs, now recovered. Then I started going a little bit deeper. Then when I got deeper and I talked about the abuse and my obsession with my dad’s death and all that stuff, people were really blown away by that and said to me, “You should write a book.” For me, the journaling started to continue in sobriety. I shouldn’t say started to continue. It remerged in sobriety. I started writing just basic things. It was just whatever was coming to my mind, and the pain, physical pain, emotional pain, mental pain, all the things I was feeling. Then in 2016, I said, you know what, I’m going to do this. It was the tail end of 2016. I started writing. The way I did it initially was — I didn’t even have a laptop at the time. I had nothing. I borrowed my brother’s laptop.

I started dating stories. I still have that original document. I started dating the stories. It was like, December 2014, then I would just write out the story. I finished about fifty thousand words in three months. Then I went to an editor. He was like, “I think you need to do this, do this.” We worked on it. I wrote another thirty or forty thousand words but then cut out fifteen. Finished the first draft in 2017 and then started pitching it to agents. Nothing was happening. Then I started rewriting it. That’s where I think I started to find my voice big time because I really had to get vulnerable. There was a lot of things that weren’t there in the beginning. It was very surface level. I got really deep and basically just said my whole entire story in graphic detail. I think that’s what people are amazed by, is the honesty, especially as a heterosexual male, saying some of the things that I said, that I admitted to happening. Most people don’t want to talk about that stuff. I think that vulnerability was important for me in order to grow as a person too. Then I continued rewriting stuff. The first ending that I had was not well-rounded. It was strictly chronological in the beginning. I didn’t want that. I was viewing it almost as a movie. I wanted it to be a little creative. I wanted parts to move around. That’s when I started moving segments around. I had to find the right spots for them. I finally had these clicking moments where it was like, all right, here it is.

For instance, my dad’s car, that scene with my uncle going to get the car was initially way in the beginning. I changed that to move it to the end and then finished the story with us driving the car. As time went on, I found my voice. I did. Now I write every day. One of the issues that I ran into, not issues but sort of a dilemma, was I was writing the way I write now for my nine-year-old voice. I had to go back in time to not reflect. It had to be in the moment. What were you feeling in the moment? For me, to remember some of those details was really, really hard. I had to put myself back there to do that. Same thing with fourteen-year-old. I know what I look back at now and how I reflect on these moments. That can’t be laid out for the reader. It has to be in the moment and as it progresses. What’s a beautiful thing now is that I can write now. I’m twenty-eight years old. This is my writing now. It’s a little bit slower with dragging out imagery a little bit more. I’m trying to really slow it down for a reader like describing the cardigan, things like that, whereas I felt at times I had to condense certain things, certain parts of the story where maybe I would like to have expanded a little bit more or gone into a lot more detail. It gets to a point too, as you know, with the editing process where, does it need to be there? Is it really going to move the reader one way or the other? I’ll be honest with you, as a kid and as time went on, did I envision myself to be writing? Absolutely not. There’s days that I don’t want to do it, of course. There’s days that it feels like a job in that sense. Then there’s a day like today, a muggy day, where all I want to do is read and write. It has its perks and benefits sometimes.

Zibby: I literally posted a picture yesterday of me reading a book because it’s so disgusting outside. I’m like, that is all I want to do. That is not what I am doing. Reading, writing, cozy, maybe under the covers, oh, my gosh, that would be a dream day. That’s one of the perks of writing. Are you working on another big project? What are you up to?

Matthew: There’s a couple things. I was approached by a couple screenwriters about adapting it to a movie. I would like to have some sort of say in the writing process for that. There’s been discussions of that. That’s sort of where I’m going. The thing is, writing a memoir versus a screenplay, it’s a totally different type of writing. I’m a little hesitant in a way if I want to put both feet into that fully. The thing with my story is, I knew this going into it, I could’ve split it up into three books, essentially. I didn’t want to do that at the end because what I felt was especially 9/11 and the sexual abuse led into everything else that I did. I don’t blame them. I don’t use them as reasons for doing what I did. I know I have an addictive personality. It’s just who I am as a person. I felt that it would be remiss if I didn’t include it all because these all played into each other. It was just a domino effect.

People were saying, “Maybe you should split it up.” I didn’t want just a story of me, 9/11, and all that. I wanted it to be different. I think it certainly is. Now where the book ends versus where I am today is about four years. Besides the epilogue where I fill the readers in on where I am, where it ends was four years ago. I have four years of, in sobriety, struggles and other things that I went through. I’m debating about taking an Augusten Burroughs type of spin on it and continuing. Then maybe in continuing the story, I can also really touch back on things from my childhood that are not in Sway where it’s not going to be repetitive. Obviously, there has to be a creative and artistic approach to do that. I don’t want it to be repetitive. I think that there’s a lot of stuff that has transpired in the last four years that people who were really into my story and wanted to know more about where I am today and all that stuff will definitely — I think they’ll find it maybe somewhat satisfying and see a little bit more growth in the last four years.

Zibby: I also really wanted the continuation of how everything that happens towards the end affected your family. You had one sentence about it, like, this destroyed my family, or whatever. I was like, wait, what? What happened?

Matthew: That’s the big thing. It was really tough because I could’ve continued writing and writing and writing.

Zibby: You ended in a good place. I’m just saying now talking to you. I don’t want you to give away the ending to other people.

Matthew: To answer your question, yes, there’s a lot that I could fill in for that. There was a lot of things that — we could take it offline — that happened that I think I could tie it back creatively to when it happened originally and some of the feelings that came.

Zibby: So you are definitely never going back to finance? Is that it?

Matthew: Unless some place wants to pay me some great money to sit on a board and do nothing. Look, I said this about two and a half years ago. I was working at the company my dad would be working at now if he was still alive. I was there for about four months. Then I didn’t pass one of my financial series exams. I was presented with the opportunity to leave or basically drive myself to insanity by staying there. I was like, all right, I’m leaving. Back then, I was like, I’m going to take my dad’s death and the feelings that he had leading into his job and that day of wanting to quit and not having the chance to do it and finding his true passion in life, I’m going to do that. I didn’t do it. Now after finally getting the story out there — the publication’s there. It’s out. Everyone can read it. A couple of my dad’s colleagues reached out to me, one of which was in the book. I changed his name, but he’s in the book. Peter is his name in the book. He’s very proud of me. He’s like, “Your dad would be very proud of you. Your dad would be really proud of the fact that you’re not trying to go down this road.” He’s still in finance. He was trying to get me to come work for him. This was recently. This was right before COVID. He’s like, “I’m not going to even offer you a job if you beg. You’re good at this. You should pursue this. This is what is your path.” I think I found my path, so I’m sticking with this. I’m sticking with it.

Zibby: Good for you. That’s the best ending to any story, is finding your purpose in life. I think the only perk, perhaps, of 9/11 is that it caused so many people to switch gears and say, this is important to me. Life is short. This is what I’m going to do.

Matthew: Life is short.

Zibby: It just took you a little bit longer, maybe. One question I just have to ask is — I know we’re almost out of time. I want to know how your brothers and your mom are doing and how they felt with the book coming out.

Matthew: They’re all doing well. My mom, as time went on, I’d print out, old-fashioned, print out a chapter at a time. She got to chapter five or six around the time where the abuse starts. We had to put it on pause for a little bit. Then when I got my complimentary copies from the publisher, she was like — I got them about a month or so prior to it coming out. I was like, “Here’s your book.” She’s like, “I’m not going to read it. I’m not going to read. I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it.” She didn’t know what to do. Then she got to her own answer of, you lived it, I can read it. She read it. My mom is not a quick reader, but she breezed through it. She loved it. It’s difficult for her to read, obviously. My brothers, they’re very proud of me. They’re very proud of me for getting my story out there and being diligent with it and determined and persistent to get it done and get it out. To my knowledge, I don’t know if they’ve read it in full. It’s hard for them. It’s hard for them because they didn’t have the same effect with 9/11 that I did. They didn’t go through the other things that I went through. They know about it, but to read it on paper I think makes it a little bit more real. It certainly is the same for a lot of my family too. My mom and dad, both of sides of my family, for them to read it just makes it more real. This is not some random author. This is not some fiction piece. This is their nephew or their grandson, whatever. I think in some ways it makes it a lot harder to swallow too because how crazy that this all happened under everyone’s eyes? No one was expecting that.

It was really cool for them seeing me on TV and stuff. I hit a couple of my brother’s favorite spots, so he was really happy about that. It was important to be up front and address this and be okay with who I am. To say that on national TV — my mom was saying to me during the release — that was the one thing that they were asking me a lot about. How are you feeling? How are you doing? It’s just so surreal as you’re going through it that it almost doesn’t feel real. Four years ago, I was writing this book. I was thinking at first, I’m going to write it, I’ll get an agent in probably like three months, maybe a month. I’ll reach out to ten agents, and one of them is going to grab it. You know the process. It’s hard. To think that it actually happened is, to me, the biggest success that I could have. If it does really well, the best-seller list, obviously I’ll be happy, but that wasn’t my end goal from day one. The little messages I’m receiving on Instagram and stuff like that are, to me, what I did this for. Parents of sons or daughters with addiction, people who went through 9/11, that’s why I did this, people to be like, thank you for telling your story, and that they can get something out of it.

Zibby: That’s the true gift that you leave. It’s a true gift. Last question. What is your advice to aspiring authors?

Matthew: It sounds very cliché, but just don’t ever give up. Look, I think it was really easy at some points in the writing life — not that self-publishing is a sign of failure. It’s not, but I was very close to either just saying, I’m not going to get this book out there ever and I’m not going to even self-publish it, or I’m going to self-publish it and then we’ll see what happens. I didn’t go the traditional way either. I don’t have an agent right now. I was able to get in contact with my publisher who’s a little bit smaller. We worked out a great deal and everything that was okay with me and definitely has its perks for sure. It was not an easy step. The rejection is what I think adheres a lot of writers and prevents them from really continuing to pursue it. You get a couple rejections from agents and you think, my story’s not good enough or my writing’s not good enough. It’s really hard to hear it, but you have to just keep going. You’ll find your right fit finally. One day, you’ll find that fit. I remember there was one time I had an agent who lost their uncle on 9/11. I’m reading her response. I’m like, oh, my god, this is it. I finally found the one. Then she’s like, “But it’s too close of a story for me. I can’t do this.” It was really hard for me as someone who has insecurity issues to begin with and self-confidence and self-esteem issues to get those rejections. Sometimes they’re just so bland that it’s like, my story sucks. My writing’s not good. It’s very easy to get in your head. You really have to stay persistent and know that your writing is good in whatever way. Someone’s going to find something from your story, whether it’s nonfiction or fiction. That would be my advice. Keep going. Don’t give up.

Zibby: That’s excellent advice. Matt, thank you. It was so nice to talk to you.

Matthew: Thank you. Likewise. It was awesome.

Zibby: I had a few more questions. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and for this beautiful book complete with this amazing cover, by the way. I didn’t even really pick up on what this was until halfway through the book. I was like, oh. Well done.

Matthew: Thank you so much. We’ll certainly be in touch. I’ll keep you posted. By the way, thank you. I have to thank you again for nominating my book for the GMA list.

Zibby: Of course.

Matthew: It was so funny. When I found out the connection to that, I was like, oh, my god, I have to reach out to her. I have to try to get on her podcast.

Zibby: I actually had meant to reach out to you. Then things got crazy. I’m so glad that you did. It’s perfect. I wanted to have you on from when I first got ahold of it.

Matthew: Thank you so much. Bye.

Zibby: Bye, Matt.

Matthew John Bocchi, SWAY