Cousins: No Closer Connection

cousin-sayingsI should probably preface this post with the fact that this is a very personal commentary and if you want to stop reading now, I will totally understand.  This topic is completely out of the realm of politics, sports or any other topics that I have touch on in the past.  I just need to get this out, in a cathartic sense because I just really can’t keep it in any longer.

Growing up I was blessed with 23 first cousins, six on one side and seventeen on the other.  With that many cousins, I really didn’t have a need for friends because I already had 23 of them.  My childhood memories are filled with times with my cousins.  Family events, holidays or just a summer picnic at a local park.  Still today, decades later, I am still very close with the overwhelming majority of them.  With many of them, we’re still making memories even as we have grown up and started families of our own.  Their kids and mine are best of friends.  It is beautiful to see.

There is one though, that I can no longer make memories with.  We lost him in an accident last year and it was a loss so deep and profound it is still an open wound. There are still tears, there are still flashes of old memories that come crashing back that are followed by an outburst of tears much like the tears that were shed when the news came some 16 months ago.  Ricky was one of those people that you just felt blessed knowing and even more so having the privilege to call family.  He had one of those larger-than-life personalities that made connections with people that left an impression that you always carried with you.  People like him are rare and nothing short of a treasure.

I was blessed to be his big cousin by some 14 years.  To say I adored that little boy would be an understatement.   We lived an hour or so away from each other so whenever there was an opportunity to spend time with him, I would jump at it – he and I just had a connection.  One of the fondest memories I have of him, is when I was in college and he was about five – he would wake me up early on Saturdays when he was visiting and we would make cereal and sit on the living room floor together and watch cartoons.  There I was in my twenties, often hung over and there was no place I would rather be than sitting there on the floor with Ricky.

I would look over at him and find him staring back at me with the biggest smile and those dimples of his – just looking back at me with so much love – it still brings me to tears just thinking about it. This freeze-framed memory is simply burned in my memory. There was just something magical about the time we spent together.  Even when his dad took a job that brought them out of the country for a few years, and I moved out of state, that connection was still as strong as ever.

Until the moment we lost Ricky, the most difficult time in my life was the loss of our grandmother some 23 years ago.  I loved my grandmother more than anyone else in this world, she wasn’t just my grandmother, she was my friend.  The day of her funeral, after the services were over at the cemetery I just couldn’t leave her side.  The rest of the family had walked away and started getting into their cars but I just couldn’t leave her alone.  That is all I kept thinking, “We can’t just leave her here alone.”  Two uncles tried to get me to leave her side, my dad and mom as well and finally someone asked Ricky to try to come get me.

He came to my side, saw my tears, and without a word,  just held out his hand for me to go with him.  I look at him and took his hand and we walked in silence holding hands back to the rest of our family.

He was 12.

The boy from that day grew into a man much like the 12 year-old version of himself.  He just knew instinctively what to say and do in situations where others would be unsure of their next move.  It was one of his many gifts.

Sadly, as with many families, when there is a death, there are harsh words over materialistic things and then hurt feelings and in the worst cases, family stops talking to each other.  This was the case for Ricky and I and for over a decade we were keep apart.  My cousins and I became collateral damage.  I actually had to do an internet search to see photos of him in college to see what he looked like. Looking back, how pathetic is this simple act? Thankfully he played sports in college so I was able to find him with little effort and was brought to tears to see him.

Finally, at a family wedding, we were all together in the same room for the first time since we said goodbye to my grandmother.  Time had healed some wounds and we were able to at least be sociable as a family and have fun together again.  Ricky and I picked right up where we left off and while the boy had become a man he still remembered our Saturday morning cartoons and the closeness we shared.  It was as if the time apart had been weeks instead of years.

I was so happy to have him back in my life, for him to meet my children and for them to get to know him on their own terms.  They, of course, took to him in a heart beat and quickly found out just how amazing he was.  Sadly, that was short-lived.

A family divorce caused similar issues that plagued us when my grandmother passed away.  Thankfully, this time, we were adults and living on our own and could stay in touch through social media and phone calls.  Yet, when he was in town, he was forbidden to see me.  To “keep the peace” we obliged because if the wrong person found out that certain cousins saw the others, it would be hell for him.

Ricky’s death hurt more than losing my grandmother.  Why?  Because with Grandma, she was sick and we knew here time was finite.  Ricky’s death was so much more horrific because his life had just started, it was so unexpected and for me personally, I had hoped that with time, we could have the kind of relationship we were supposed to have once the aftermath of the divorce wore off.

I harbor so much resentment and loathing for the one person who insisted that my cousins and I be pawns in this game that no one was ever going to win.  We were never part of each other’ special moments, graduations, weddings, new additions to the family – all the moments that are supposed to be shared as a family were the very moments that we were cheated out of.

Recently, Ricky was recognized posthumously at his alma mater and we were thankfully part of the weekend of events yet I am again filled with anger and resentment for all that I missed out on in his life and now, there will never be an opportunity to recoup, to rebuild or reconnect.  All I have are fragmented memories, anger and regret … but I will always have Saturday cartoons.  No one can take them away from me – they are mine and mine alone.