I just recently made a long overdue trip back to California to visit family.
During the time, I got to bask in the warmth of my grandmother’s love again. But I was also outraged that my family already had her name carved out in the space next to my grandfather’s tombstone. I couldn’t believe the nonchalant practicality exhibited by some family members.
And I had my heart broken at the sight of my great aunt, who recently had a major stroke. It was gut-wrenching to see a shell of a person with only slight signs of the loving human being that used to be there.
That said, I had been looking forward to the trip as it had been years since I last visited San Francisco.
It had been so long that it was the first time I would be able to go out drinking with my cousin, Jennifer, even though she’s now 25.
It’s scary to think that, since I only see my cousins in 2-3 year increments, I have only seen them about 5 to 10 times in our entire lives. Even on my flight westward, I had mental images of them as preteen brats despite the fact that most of them were in college now.
Jennifer was the one I was especially looking forward to see again. From random updates via my parents, I recently had an epiphany that she and I were very much alike. Looking back, I began to regret how whenever I saw my family, it was inevitable that I would desperately try to spend every minute with her older brother, Will.
Will had always been the kind of guy I wanted to be. Athletic, good-looking, outgoing, self-sufficient and a natural leader. His being the oldest of all the cousins sort of gave him de facto position as the leader of us all, but it was also in his genes. And I was always the loyal follower. He was the brother I never had. He was a cool guy, older than me and willing to hang out with me.
Will also had an incredible talent for mischief which resulted in many of my cousins risking bodily harm and basically doing stupid shit that got us (Will in particular) in trouble with our parents.
The last few trips to San Fran, I noticed that he wasn’t around as much anymore. He had discovered a knack and desire to coach girls volleyball. At the time, I dramatized him as abandoning his role model position in our clan of cousins in order to guide strangers. But I also began to see how our cousins never really saw each other anyway, except for whenever I came into town.
While Will’s absence saddened me, it also gave me the chance to spend more time with Jennifer. It dawned on me that most of my trips, Will was working or out of town anyway, and that I probably spent as much time (or more) with her than with Will. During those days, she and I would watch TV, order pizza, play video games, and go to the mall, all the while I was counting the seconds until Will came home. I never really gave Jenn the time of day. And throughout those times she would be pining desperately to hang out with Will and I, even though we were constantly trying to chase her away.
This particular trip was a turning point in that it was the first time that I was looking forward to spending time with Jenn more than with Will.
Will was unexpectedly around the first night so the three of us plus Will’s girlfriend hit the bars. It was one of the best times I’d had in a long time. We took shots and drank ourselves stupid, and it was very satisfying.
I discovered the joy in partying with my own flesh and blood. Sure I have very close friends who I view as brothers, but this was something that they could never achieve. It felt like a primal connection that, as an only child, I never had before.
And while Will went off to shoot darts with his girlfriend, I sat next to Jenn and had a blast, laughing and talking. Although I was too drunk to remember any of our conversation.
By the end of the night, Jenn had passed out while we were at the drive-thru only stirring enough to plop onto Will’s couch. I managed to joke with Will’s girlfriend, somehow mow down a burger, notice that Will was snoring in his bedroom and finally collapse onto the floor in front of Jenn on the couch.
I woke up to my cell phone at 8 am. It was my mom. She angrily asked where I was. Then worriedly asked if Jenn was with me. Then demanded that I get back because my dad was waiting for me so we could go wine-tasting in Napa. It was 8 am.
I eventually got to spend some time with each of my cousins, even taking out my 15 and 18 year old cousins out bowling, demanding that they stay in their tiaras and dresses. (Not worth getting into the tiaras at this point.)
After all these years, it was nice to really formulate each one of them as an individual. Some were just starting to come out of their shells, and others were still in the awkward, shy teen years. I wish I hadn’t missed out on all the years before.
It turns out that Jenn has a slight interest towards living in New York. Once I found that out, I tried my best to sell her on the greatness of this city. I was excited at the prospect of having her close by. I saw it as an opportunity to get to know someone that I basically consider as my sister.
Alas, it probably won’t happen. She loves California and being close to her parents too much. And her parents would probably hunt me down for convincing her to move away. I almost fell out of their good graces already by getting her to call in sick to work so that we could party more.
I just hope I can keep in touch with her and my other cousins, and that it won’t be another five years until I see them again.