My Brother Matt
By Amy Oestreicher
Matt lives with us now, he is working close to home so he sleeps in the room next to mine, in his childhood bed. It’s a lovely feeling, as though I have a brother and friend now. His energy transforms the entire house to the point where setting the table, washing the dishes, or putting the milk away all become a kind of happy ritual. I secretly enjoy quibbling with him or waking him up in the middle of the night, anything to stir up some good old sibling rivalry that I was never able to have before. My three brothers, 11 to 13 years older than me, belonged to a realm of their own, unexplored by me. But now, Matt sleeps in the room next to mine, in his childhood bed. We go through the day together, and perhaps we have finally discovered the person behind the sibling. It’s the illumination of a part of him that I was unable to see before, the realization that not only do I love Matt, I like him too. A deeper kind of love, a trust, sprouts from this awareness. As I watch our relationship evolve, I can’t help but reflect on a poignant glimpse I got of Matt the Person during a week we spent in the Berkshires.
I had never seen Matt with his head shaved before. It drew more attention to his prominent facial features and gave him a European look. His beauty was an austere one, a noble, antique beauty that inexplicably connected me to history, to ancient earth through his unyielding eyes. He kept a firm stance, his feet clutching the earth as if he were drawing it to him like a breath. And then the exhale foot as a release, only to press it down into the leafy earth again. Reveling in the tension of opposites and then repelling it. He marched on and on like this, purposeful and elegant. So elegantly, in fact, that a subtle imperfection became more and more glaring with each step. His arms seemed to be split into tiny segments; they seemed to lack the natural flow that connected them into a fluid whole. So he made awkward, sporadic motions with his arms, as if his stabilizing energy only ran longitudinally. I envisioned him with no arms as I trailed behind him, and then without a body, only as a narrow strip of vertical florescent pink energy, bobbing determinedly up and down the path like the dancing broomsticks in Fantasia. I felt sorry for him for having to keep his burning line of pink energy in his awkward body, sorry that he couldn’t bob up and down the trail like an enchanted broomstick. Instead, here he was, a precious remnant of an olden, nobler way of life, trapped in a body he didn’t know what to do with.
But with a shaved head, the energy seemed to flow off the top of it and resist gravity, pouring upwards to the heavens, only to be returned by the trees, by the life hovering over the dark path. All of nature seemed to return it like a sigh, contented, as if they had finally found an outlet, a friend. It all flooded, everything, back into his naked head, filling him with inward glow. I couldn’t help comparing him to the leafless trees that surrounded us — they both had found the soaring art within their grounded forms.
The feet stop, the head regains its balance on stately shoulders as it turns to me.
It was pink after all — a florescent pink energy that oozed between his lips with his voice, blending to make a resonant, heavenly sound. A layer of warmth subdued its tremendous depth, and it was almost like hearing a waterfall from indoors.
With a bit of effort I caught up to him, my trotting not half as graceful or noble as his. In fact, I didn’t appreciate how Matt had effortlessly avoided the dismembered tree trunks on the floor until I tripped over every one of them. And it wasn’t until then that I realized how much of an intruder I was on this undisturbed tree cemetery. We were the prowlers who had once dreamt of an everlasting communion with nature and now stealthily peered over the barrier that separated us from the natural, flowing world of freedom and beautiful simplicity. With our feet resolutely pursuing the trail, we centered ourselves in the natural world, and wholeheartedly believed, for a moment, that we had a right to belong to it.
Whether we were the trespassers, the aliens or not, I was able to catch a glimpse of the world as it was intended to be — the realism thrilled me. In a world of perfect geometric shapes, of painted signs, of bright red automobiles, it was almost a relief to catch the world in disarray, in asymmetry. The trail seemed to want to tell us a story with all its many paw prints, bird calls, and huge daddy long legs crawling under rocks — its moist air and shadowy trails, rocking trees comforting one another in their dark forest community. The whole picture seemed like its own miniature fairytale, untainted by our “improvements” and “progress” throughout the ages, and I believe that Matt and I were in simultaneous awe of it all.
Oh…this Berkshire trail is bursting with magic…in the twitching of the bushes, in the swirling shadows, in the fact that we are living in someone else’s world…to think that we share land with creatures and creations so different from us! Inanimate objects that have so much to teach us, that have adapted to the ways of the world far better than we have, that possess inconceivable wisdom! Objects that are (consciously or unconsciously) all we truly want to be. And we haven’t completely obliterated them yet! We almost, sort of, kind of live harmoniously!
I wasn’t uncomfortable with the silence until I realized it was there. Matt and I had hardly spoken since we started off on the trail, but I suddenly grew very curious to know if he was thinking anything along the lines of what I was.
“Hey Matt…I love you man.” I don’t know, it was the best I could come up with.
“I love you too Ame.” His awkward arm tried to find its way around my shoulder. So little was said, yet it was enough, it was a kinder silence now. Here we were, brother and sister, whimsically walking a grand path to nowhere, overwhelmed and frenetically trying to slice pieces of meaning from all the beauty soaring around us, trying to ground ourselves in a world that we wanted so desperately to belong to. Matt had seemed like such an enigma at home, and now that we had unitedly exposed ourselves to the faceless world of nature, of beauty, we were no longer rivaling siblings but two common truth seekers. And suddenly I understood him a lot better.
It was very bizarre what happened next. The leaves wobbling on branches, the moss gathering in unclaimed territories, the rich browns and the melodious silence, it all seemed so poignant. It was such unperturbed beauty; what it was was a beautiful mess as if some divine energy had a penchant for modern art. And it all manifested in me as a kind of melancholy. The overwhelming scene had softened into wistful thoughts, into a realization that the life we lead as modern humans is something very different from what the earth could have ever intended for us, something very unintentional I would like to think. It’s becoming harder and harder to recognize that we want life like it was — a life that we’ve never experienced, but sensed, and instinctually yearned for with every stroll by a pond, with every deer we see leap across the road. And this instinctual yearning was agonizingly intensified in the midst of the Berkshire natural splendor.
“I don’t think I’m very happy.” New, New Words. We felt their weight together.
“What-do-you-mean?” “I-don’t-know.” He had to know what he meant; he had to feel it too.
Crumble crumble crumble. The obnoxiously crunchy leaves on the trail heightened the tense speechlessness.
“I just feel like…if I were happy then I wouldn’t be thinking about it, right?”
“Hmm.” God I hate when he does that.
We had introduced each other to a very unfamiliar concept and so, quite intrigued, we carried on, marveling, suggesting, denying, our words fading in and out of awareness.
I think I did more things in that week than I did in the whole summer. We hiked eight mountains, saw countless overlooks, played soccer on beaches, slept in his friend’s cabin, saw two Shakespeare plays, got the most amazing view of the mountains and the whole Berkshire layout, had our car break down. Meeting his friends, chasing after the setting sun in his Jeep, watching the sky turn to night in West Stockbridge, having leftover Chinese food for breakfast every morning, my feet turning to jello on the pavement after enduring the Mount Holyoke hike, it was all so wonderfully capricious. But the memory that stands out the clearest is a moment that I gave no thought to while it was actually taking place. Matt and I had wandered down roads paved onto hills in search of a swimming pool and we finally caught it hiding behind a garden gate, guarded by a stern evergreen tree with a robin flitting about its head. The pool was right in the middle of those magical Berkshire Hills, those huge, motherly, majestic hills surrounding Matt and I. It was as if those voluptuous hills had centered themselves towards us and graciously offered us their home, their hospitality, a glimpse of their family. Matt and I sat ourselves down on a grassy hill and were helplessly humbled and awed by the raw enormity of nature, of these hills who seemed to be shelter, parent, and enchantress all in one. What startled us the most was the interplay between the enormous and the miniature; the contrast was mind-blowing. The crows circled around the mountains as though they were dropping their giant friends a visit, and every mountain seemed to gleam, and give their tiny friends the warmest greeting an old friend can give. Big and small seemed to fit for the first time.
My brother Matt is a person, is my friend who sleeps in the room next to mine, in his childhood bed. Like me, he is trying to piece together his own worth from the aimless mission of life. Like me, he is finding solace in happiness in the enchantment of the natural world.