Matt’s Story

Matt’s Story

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Matt’s Story

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.

Leo Tolstoy

I was grieving. I was grieving because recently my doctor told me I had multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable disease that can wreak havoc with the central nervous system. But I couldn’t only grieve for myself. My good friend, Matt Bennett, had just died.

The phone rang at seven o’clock Saturday morning.

Matt’s father, Jesse, spoke quietly, “We lost Matt in the middle of the night.” Matt had been, and always will be, my role model. He was a lion of courage. I met him when he was 13 when I was asked to cover his story by my newspaper, a Los Angeles daily. Matt had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a fatal cancer that would eventually course its way from his stomach through his entire body.

It wasn’t a story a newspaper normally covered, but what intrigued us was that Matt wouldn’t quit his baseball league. He just kept playing ball, struggling along despite his pain, still filled with a sense of humor. He was a large boy. His own mother called him an ox, and when I first met him he gleefully whipped off his baseball cap to proudly show me his bald head after chemotherapy.

He was one of a kind, our Matt. Here I was a reporter, but I couldn’t help getting close to this family. I lost all sense of objectivity. Forget it. There was so much love between Matt and his mother, Billie, you could feel its intensity when you walked into their house—or wherever they were together. She left her job and cared for Matt every day of his life, including the times he decided to try the next experimental drug and she heard him screaming in pain from the next room.

“There’s still hope, Mom,” he always told her.

His story is one of courage because he never gave up. I knew Matt for three years, from age 13 to 16. I was there when he graduated from junior high school, and I wrote a story about it. I visited him at home and at the hospital. When it was apparent that I myself was ill, Matt was there for me. He wanted to come to the hospital and hold my hand while I went through tests. He explained it pretty much like: “I’ve been there. I understand. I’ve done all that.”

One evening toward the end of his life, I went with my husband to visit Matt at the hospital. He was watching his favorite team, the Oakland A’s, and his favorite player, Mark McGwire. (McGwire did take the time to meet Matt, for which his family is eternally grateful.) That was odd, because Matt couldn’t really see the television. He was going blind from the cancer, but you would never know it. He commented on every play and told us how proud he was of McGwire.

The next moment was one of the most powerful in my life. Matt turned, looked at me as though he could see me and announced in the crowded room: “Diana, I love you.” I was amazed that a 16-year-old boy could say that, and at that moment I realized he had changed from a boy into a man. I loved Matt. Forget journalism. Forget the rule that reporters are supposed to be objective. When you meet someone like Matt, there’s no such thing. There’s only love. I hugged him good-bye and said I’d be back.

Before I could, the phone call came. My husband clutched me in his arms and held me while I cried.

Later that day we went to the florist to send the family a plant. I was shaking when we walked in and felt like collapsing.

I gave the florist the address, and she asked me for the phone number.

“I don’t have it with me,” I said.

“Well, I can’t send it without the number,” she explained politely. “We have to make sure they’re home to receive it.”

Now I panicked. “Call information,” I responded, but I knew in my heart that the Bennetts weren’t listed. The florist called as we stood there, tension filling the air. I began to feel really sick.

As my husband and I watched her on the phone, we saw a strange look come over her face. The look was so peculiar and she was actually engaging in a conversation with the operator. When the florist got off the phone, she looked at us in stunned surprise and said: “They aren’t listed. But the operator is their next-door neighbor. She promised to make sure they received the plant.”

The moment was quiet. We all looked at each other.

Immediately, I calmed down because I knew somehow Matt was still with me, trying to keep me calm. Three years later, he is still with me—at least in my heart. I keep his photo with me in my bedroom. When I’m sick and miserable, I think: “How would Matt handle this?”

Diana L. Chapman

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