This Isn’t What I Wished For
As a kid, I didn’t really enjoy church that much. I often found the service boring or over my head, and it really ate into my Sunday when I could otherwise be at home, playing with friends or watching football. Though, to be fair, there was much about it that I enjoyed. Maybe I didn’t want to enjoy church, but whatever. When you’re in those situations, you find whatever small enjoyment you can, and the bulk of my enjoyment came from my friends and family.
Each week, I sat with my cousins. We were stationed right up front so that we could see various parents up in the choir loft. Not only did this give us a good view, but because of the layout of the church, it gave many people a good view of us.
I was not always a model congregant, especially when I was sitting with one cousin in particular… and I was always sitting with him. We would chat, talking about TV shows and funny things that had happened that week. We’d laugh far more than anyone was supposed to, and we were regularly shushed (and sometimes separated) by parents. Week by week, these antics helped to bring us closer together.
Growing up, I didn’t know how atypical my relationship with my cousin was. We saw each other most every week at church. We spent just about all holidays together, visited for many birthdays, and spent many summer days and nights together at our shared cottage or in each other’s backyards. I don’t think any of my friends were as close to their cousins as I was to mine. I was not able to realize it, but I was quite blessed by this arrangement.
But I’ll admit I didn’t always appreciate my cousin.
A little context: I’m the youngest of two, with a sister about three years older. My cousin was the youngest of three with two older sisters. Of the five of us, I was the second youngest, a little more than two years older than my cousin. As happens with kids, I didn’t always appreciate a younger tag-along. I didn’t get to be as independent as I wanted to be, and two years would regularly seem a wide chasm in age.
So, yeah, I wasn’t always as nice to him as I should have been.
After a while, though, that didn’t really matter. We continued to grow up together and eventually became close friends on top of being cousins. We lived on different sides of the city, but that gap was easily bridged once we could both drive. We’d each take turns tagging along with the other’s group of friends—to the extent that I spent one summer hanging out with his friends just about every day. I was affectionately known as Cousin Jon to everyone.
It was a weird mix, at times. I didn’t completely fit in with his friends, and he didn’t completely fit in with mine, but we all got along, and I grew rather close to a few of his friends. It worked out well for him, too. One of his first serious girlfriends he met through me and my (soon-to-be-ex-) girlfriend. (Yeah, that got a little awkward.)
Our relationship had grown past the (sometimes boring) Sunday mornings at church to hanging out at bars and parties—the typical 20-something social life. But no matter how much we aged, we were still always those two kids sitting in that pew, sometimes (read: often) stifling laughter.
And so it was on December 24, 2002. My mother was in the ICU and my sister and father decided to skip church that Christmas Eve, hoping to avoid the avalanche of well-wishers that would no doubt befall them. Attending less regularly those days, I wasn’t too worried about that and decided I wanted and needed to go.
So there we were, again, at a late night candle-light service offering up hushed comments and inappropriate laughter as we celebrated the coming of Christmas.
My wife was sitting a few rows behind us. I didn’t know her at the time, but she and my cousin were friends. She spent much of the service looking at our backs hunched over and shivering in quiet laughter. She came up to my cousin to chat after the service. The three of us chatted for an hour or so, getting kicked out of the church around 1:30 am.
Six months later I’d be at a party at my cousin’s apartment and I’d meet her again. In about three months, we were engaged.
My cousin and I each got married in 2005. His son was born in early 2008 and my eldest daughter followed a couple of months later. Things were certainly setting up for our lives to once again be intertwined, but despite everything we’d been through—and the many times we had floated into each other’s life shortly after floating out—things just haven’t worked out.
It’s easy to say that life happens. I’ve grown apart from friends before. Many of my close friends I see far too infrequently… actually, that’s the case with all my close friends. Thankfully, email, text messages and Facebook keep us all minimally connected until we can get together again. The friendships remain strong.
But life doesn’t always just happen. Issues arise and circumstances can take us in directions we would never want to go. My cousin and I have gone in separate directions. It’s not really our choice and it’s nothing either of us caused, but it’s the way things have worked out. I haven’t seen him since Easter. I don’t appear to have any up-to-date contact information for him, just a string of unanswered texts.
There is no blame in all this, and no anger, just memories and sadness. I’m sad that the memories of our past may be the only future we have together.
Reading Tod’s inaugural post on family and the love between cousins—a love that never forgets—I thought of my cousin and the love we have had.
And I worry that, soon, I will forget. Or he will.