A Conversation That Deeply Moved Me
by Rob Ohlstrom
"What's so special about her anyway?" my mind screamed, though the only audible sound was the violent slamming of the car door. "Oh, don't worry about it," I sarcastically spat at the rearview mirror, which had transformed into a miniature television and was replaying the same scene again and again: him walking right past me with her, not even pausing to look at me. "It's not like we've been planning to see tonight's movie premiere for THREE WEEKS!"
Jealousy and envy filled my thoughts as I entered my house on Friday night, seething at the manner in which my closest friend had blown me off. It was nights like these, being physically exhausted after a week of sports practice, mentally drained from school's stress and repetitious music practice, and emotionally spent thanks to tumultuous friendships, that I sought relief in the comfort of my basement in the late hours of the night. There my routine consisted of sinking into a couch, turning on the television and some music, and allowing my mind to drift away from its troubles. That night I knew the process would be lengthy, as fiery resentment remained fresh in my mind.
Just as the promise of peaceful solitude began to ease my senses, a quiet, scratchy voice ripped my hope to pieces. "Rob, is that you?" I cringed and threw my hands up in exasperation. I had forgotten: Matteo was here tonight.
I didn't hate my brother Matteo at all; quite to the contrary, we got along fairly well. It's just that describing a conversation with him as pleasant would be like calling your taxes relaxing, and that night I knew it would be too much to bear. Although he is five years older then I am, Matteo is blind and lives with several severe developmental disabilities that make interacting with him similar to dealing with the pesky kid brother or sister so many siblings can readily describe.
Due to the fact that Matteo lives with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), he will not allow the speaker in a conversation to use certain words, and he angrily demands that they be replaced with certain other words. This doesn't strike most people as a huge hurdle, until they discover that the forbidden list includes the words 'go,' 'ready,' and an assortment of additions that fluctuate on a weekly basis. Even when avoiding fatal verbs, sometimes Matteo's ODD (obsessive defiant disorder) causes him to belligerently seek conflict and contradiction, yielding arguments reminiscent of the preschool playground. But despite its demanding nature and seemingly inevitable disaster, Matteo loved to talk with me, and that night it was about stereos.
"How tall are the speakers in the upstairs entertainment system?" he asked, while shuffling right in front of the television. "I don't know, Matteo," I replied distractedly, craning my neck to see around him. "Ugh," he whined, "can't you measure them?" Irritably, I responded, "Fine, I'll go at the commercial."
"DON'T SAY THAT WORD!" he yelled, causing me to recoil in surprise and then roll my eyes in frustration. "OK. I will proceed at the...you know what, I remembered, they're three feet tall."
Oftentimes when Matteo is trying to talk with my family members while they are busy, they will distractedly respond with sentences designed to satisfy his questions while devoting most of their focus to making dinner or finishing homework. Considering the extreme injustice I felt had been bestowed upon me, I deemed this approach reasonable as I continued to lick my wounds and mull over the night's rejection.
Somewhere in the midst of the one-sided conversation, Matteo asked if I listened to the upstairs stereo like he did. Partially as a joke to myself, I responded along the lines of, "Yep, that makes us stereo buddies, huh?" His response stopped my wandering mind cold in its tracks: "Wow! I'm so happy that we're stereo buddies. That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me! I love you."
For the first time in the conversation, and perhaps in my life, I looked straight at my brother, who was rocking back and forth with a gigantic crooked smile on his face, and truly thought about what he said to me. I pondered what it meant, and wondered where it came from. Surely, that sentence was not the result of some personality glitch from one of his disabilities; it was an expression of genuine gratitude and happiness.
Feeling guilt sweep over me for blowing him off earlier and considering my own petty problems more important then my brother, I uncomfortably stammered a reply: "Thanks Matteo, I love you too." I turned to see his face light up as he exclaimed, "Wow-Oh-Oh! We really are stereo buddies! That's so cool!" His enthusiastic delight drew me into the conversation, and suddenly the television and my troubles seemed far away.
"Do you like to play the stereo..." Matteo beckoned for me to come close so he could whisper: "Loud?" Following his excitement, I lowered my voice and replied mysteriously, "Do you want to know a secret, Matteo? But you promise you won't tell Mom and Dad, OK?" "OK, it will be our 'brother secret,'" he swore.
"Sometimes," I told him, building suspense, "when no one else is in the house, I turn the stereo up so loud that...THE FLOOR SHAKES!"
"Ohhhh!" Matteo exclaimed, his whole body rocking with excitement, "I'd like to turn the stereo up SO LOUD that it...broke all the glass in the house!" From that point on the conversation was rapid and filled with laughter, and our hyperbolic observations about subjects ranging from music to family to food preferences proved to be more entertaining and revitalizing then late-night television ever could have been.
More than any other aspect of my conversation with Matteo, the irony that he was able to more directly and completely express his genuine emotions to me better then most 'normal' people can was deeply moving. Knowing that the experience had great value and would provide the opportunity for internal growth and wisdom, I pondered its meaning when compared to the events from earlier that evening. But after my friend confronted me and apologized for forgetting our plans, I understood that Matteo's lesson was more important, and more valuable, than a new perspective on the social problems of adolescence.
Right when my jealousy and self-pity created a mountain of anger and selfishness, Matteo's wisdom brought me flying down from its peak towards a base of humility, wonder, and happiness. Matteo loved me because I said something nice to him, and it made him happy. That was enough. Though so many parts of life seem so much more complicated than this, ever since that conversation I have been trying to apply Matteo's wisdom to my life by attacking my most complicated problems with simplicity.
"What time is it?" Matteo asked, still giggling from the latest of our exaggerated speculations on the loudest a stereo could play. "Oh my gosh," I said, surprised myself. "It's almost 3 o'clock in the morning. Matteo, I've got to go to bed. I've got work in the morning!" I stood up to stretch, feeling fresh and contented. "Hey Matteo, do you think we can talk like this again sometime?"
He leaned his head forward, and beckoning for me to lean closer, he mysteriously whispered in reply, "As long as you don't tell Mom and Dad we were up...late."
Rob Ohlstrom is a senior at Redmond High School in Redmond, Washington, USA.
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