One day after New Year’s, one of my little cousins contacted me out of the blue and asked what we were doing. I say “little,” but she’s in her twenties and quite tall. Her ADHD sister is just into drinking age and as their mom says, “works a million jobs.”
I also say “little” since most of my first cousins are around my age, middle age… the sag-starting era when then there’s almost nothing left that’s perky or buoyant and its all downhill from here. These were the last of the first cousins and they are closer in age to our children than to us.
I babysat the older one when I was still a teenager during the summer while their mom ran around and did her high profile corporate thing. Their dad is the one who is my blood relation and I probably would have traded him for their mom in a second if that were possible. He died a few years after my mom did.
He was a phenomenal cook and really a genius. We have a lot of high IQ’s (his was in the mid-160’s) in our genetic line, but the ability to apply this to something substantial or fulfilling seems to elude most of us. I include myself in that. He especially was mostly a financial drifter. Before he met their mom, I don’t remember him ever having a consistent address, job or phone number.
I do remember the “work camp” gran took us to every Saturday afternoon for a few months to bring him a picnic basket and have lunch with him. He wore a jumpsuit like everyone else, their “uniform,” but wasn’t allowed to leave the premises. I might have been about ten at the time but I do remember the razor-wire fence. I asked a lot of questions and didn’t get a lot of answers. It was the most permanent address I’d ever known him to have and I’m not sure when it finally dawned on me, years later, it was a prison.
He also lacked a lot of impulse control. He was never motivated by greed so much as curiosity. The type who would break into a school and steal shit, just to see if they could, or steal a car and go on a joy ride only to get bored and move on to something else, never remembering where he left it behind. He had a lot of run-ins with the law in his youth, and it ended up haunting him into adulthood.
His eldest kid, half-sister to the two little ones, is three months younger than I am and looks more like my mother than I ever have (I unfortunately got the Grand genes).
Her young mom was about seventeen when she was born, did the best she could, but smoking pot and teaching your kid how as a bonding experience isn’t exactly what I’d call an ideal environment for a child. Combine that with the impulse control of your father, and it was a recipe for disaster.
It’s weird, but I always felt like if I’d not been around, she might have had a better chance because maybe Grand could have taken her in instead. But then, I’m not exactly sure my childhood was better, so much as just different. I was raised by a crazy person, her mom was young and broke. It’s kind of a toss up. Personally, I would have given anything to have had my mom instead. So maybe I have this all wrong.
Her dad, my uncle, wasn’t much a part of the picture. Even when his eldest would come to visit, she stayed with gran and me. She might have lunch or dinner with him once or twice, or have an afternoon, maybe once overnight, but for the most part, he was a ghost.
When my cousin, who I will dub Knievel, was around, I knew we were both going to get in a lot of trouble. I just hoped to the keep out of the law side of trouble, though we brushed against that one too.
For some reason, I could never deny her wishes, I remember arguing logic with her many times, but I also remembering doing whatever it was I didn’t want to do anyway. I have never been prone to any kind of peer pressure, in school or otherwise, but my cousin could make me cave like a souffle during a stampede.
I smoked pot the first time at fourteen from the pressure of said cousin. I remember how terrifying some of the shit we pulled was and sometimes, the rush of it. I could never, ever be like that my entire life, I would have caused myself a heart attack before college, but it broke my safety shell in a ton of other more beneficial ways in my interactions with other people.
Maybe her and her dad were seeking the high of it. Maybe life is just too dull and muffled for some and they don’t know a better way to seek out any kind of sensation. I can’t imagine feeling like life on its own just wasn’t enough or I just wasn’t able to make contact with it as everyone else seemed to. She grew out of it eventually, well mostly, but not before paying a price that will stay with her forever.
I hate to put it this way as well, but she was a terrific liar. She could talk herself out of a speeding ticket in no time, and probably convince them to give her a siren led escort to her destination. She could wile her way into any place with a simple hair toss and a few words. She is the kind of person who could spin and weave a tale that would put you in the midst of an epic adventure. If she was the one recanting the Lord of the Rings, she’d make you believe it all happened in downtown New York ten years prior. Or yesterday.
To this day, I tell her she should write, and keep writing. She laughs, perhaps from lack of self-confidence or she really just finds the idea amusing, but I cannot imagine not being one of her biggest fans if she’d just try.
Her dad… Her dad met what would become the mom of my little cousins and became the dad Knievel always wanted, deserved and never, ever had. He was doting, carted them around, was proud and attending, showed up, bucked up, and grew the fuck up…but by then his eldest was long grown up. He wasn’t picture perfect, but he was a lot more than he had ever been before.
Ever have times when you feel guilty for something that has nothing to do with you?
I felt guilty for being his blood family.
I felt guilty for being born.
I felt guilty even though I had a mom just like him. Absent.
I felt guilty because she didn’t have what she should have had from either of her parents.
My aunt was the exact opposite of what fairy tales lead you to believe. She wanted her new stepdaughter around, often. She tried her best to glue back all the broken bits of what gran had destroyed. If there was a center of gravity by which my familial remnants orbited, my aunt would have been it.
I watched as Knievel tried so hard to both rail against this new element, and simultaneously try to embrace it. She was getting real face time with her dad for the first time in her life, but only by the influence of someone that wasn’t her. My aunt was just impossible to hate, my cousin was truly loved and for the first time in her life, spoiled by her. This didn’t change when my little cousins came along, perhaps the demands for her presence were even more. It’s got to be a turmoil of mixed emotions. That feeling of being an outsider, of feeling like you’re intruding, even if you’re being emphatically welcomed.
You weren’t wanted by the ones you wanted before, why is it different now? Why wasn’t she enough to at least be around some?
Now that he has passed, my aunt has still not changed, still tries so hard to stay connected to her stepdaughter, sometimes she’s successful, sometimes not.
I wonder how much things might have been different had my uncle said he was sorry about anything, even once.