Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Looking Back, Reaching Out

My cousin is getting married in just a couple days. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the marriages of people I'm close to: I'm always excited for the couple and their new life together, but I'm also a bit sad for me. Change is hard, even good change, and even though I'm married myself, I mourn the loss of care-free years past and the inevitable shifting of priorities and relationships.

My cousin is halfway between me and my sister in age, and the three of us played princesses as children and stayed up all night giggling as teenagers.

When I was young, we donned my mom's old prom dresses and paraded through our grandma's beautiful house, lounging sophisticatedly (or so we imagined) on the elegant couches in her formal living room. We stood over the heating vents on the floor, the warm air filling our voluminous skirts and billowing them out around us. We did our best to dodge our little brothers who were invariably playing pirates, sword fighting with empty wrapping paper rolls, and protecting us, their lady-loves. We sneaked Hershey's Kisses from Grandma's large bowl on the coffee table and hid behind the furniture as we ate them, stuffing the balled-up silver wrappers under the couch (when my grandma had to sell her grand house, she found the large stash of foil when the couches were moved, bringing a laugh during a sad time). 

My uncle would play "Shark" with us in the family room, chasing us around on his hands and knees as we sought sanctuary on various pieces of furniture. We shrieked when he pulled us to the floor. My aunt spent hours painting our nails and teasing our hair into intricate braids and exotic hairstyles. 

My cousin introduced me to Harry Potter in high school. We were lying in slumber-party state on the floor of my grandma's living room, reading by weak light. Since I am a book hijacker, I started reading the magical beginnings of the first Harry Potter book over her [admittedly slightly irritated] shoulder, and I got hooked. I begged for the Harry Potter books for Christmas and devoured all three over the break.

One night in our later teen years, my sister, my cousin, and I stayed up into the deep hours of the night obsessively watching Pride and Prejudice (you know, the five-hour BBC one) and Wives and Daughters while playing distracted games of Hand and Foot and Progressive Rummy. We all got several joker canastas apiece by way of begging and blackmailing each other to "please, don't go out!" As the night progressed, we took turns taking snoozes as exhaustion swallowed us, and my cousin's confused but earnest dialogues when she woke, her mind caught somewhere in the middle of dreams and reality, made for one of the single most hilarious inside joke had-to-be-there moments of my life. 

In college, I met up with my cousin several times at BYU. We made dinner together and met for lunch on campus. On occasion we watched movies or exercised together. Always, we laughed together. 

My cousin is absolutely lovely. She has impeccable taste in everything and is unfailingly, sometimes even obnoxiously, kind. She has a rare tenacity when it comes to achieving goals. Her manner is genteel, but her laugh is unexpectedly unrestrained and boisterous. She is at once goofy and reserved, driven and scattered (have I mentioned she can belch the alphabet? So gross, but so cool). She is meticulously organized and methodical, but she combines responsibility and spontaneity in a way that imbues her life, and the lives of those around her, with verve. I smile as I write this, because thinking about her makes me happy.

I haven't spoken to my cousin in over seven years. While I understand some of the reasons that her family chose to sever ties with all of the extended family, the completeness of it and the duration of it continues to break my heart. There are no Christmas cards, no birthday calls, no condolences given when loved ones die, no joy shared when babies are born or missionaries are sent off or marriages are entered. I have run the gamut of emotions, from hurt to angry to disconsolate to bereft, and I still, even now, notice myself pendulating between them all. Most days, I find time has leached my anger to a paler, more brittle substance, creating cracks where wistfulness, nostalgia, and even hope burn through. 

I wonder sometimes if she ever thinks of us, if she or her family would be surprised to know how often we speak of them fondly, how much they are still missed, still remembered. 

I don't know if this closed door is barred for her. The more time that passes, the more I doubt there will ever be a phone call or an email or a facebook friend reinstatement. 

But if, in a moment of yearning, she or her family ever--days, months, or years down the road--draws the lock, opens the door, even looks through the keyhole, they will see us standing there, smiling, open armed. (We might be crying, too, because we're totally like that.) Regardless of what's to come or what's past, we are and always will be family. Though there is a consciously created chasm between us, the sea of pain and misunderstanding that once filled it is displaced more and more each year by love. The fissure may never go away, but I believe we can build a bridge.

Still my cousin, still my friend. Merriest of Christmases, most joyous of felicitations, best of wishes.

7 comments:

  1. How heartbreaking. I can't imagine anyone wanting to cut you and your family out. You know I thoroughly enjoy you, and I've met your immediate family a few times and didn't find anything wanting. Sorry for this hole in your heart.

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  2. This made me so sad. Never give up hope! It sounds like you were too close to ever be forever apart.

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  3. When I think of one of the most important things our Saviors lives and loves to do is this: restore. He is the restorer and can fix even the most beyond repair, broken things, families, feelings, pasts. I don't know if it's God's will to restore this pain in this life or the next, but I feel that amends will someday be made. Family stuff is so hard. I can't think of more complex, complicated, challenging relationships than the ones I'm bound to by blood. Most importantly, I believe you've handled this whole experience with an immense amount of grace. I know you love your cousin and have tried diligently to reach out and mend fences. That's a beautiful quality in a person.

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    1. Thank you, Katie--you are so kind. It has taken me years to get to this point.

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  4. "Savior," not "Saviors"... I don't buy into that concept of multiple Christs, ha! ;)

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  5. Thank you all. The situation is truly tragic in myriad ways. I think the finality of it hit me when another uncle died last year and the news passed unacknowledged by my cousin and her family. If they wouldn't reach out in that situation, I find it hard to believe there will ever be reconciliation. It is hard on me; it is harder on my mom and her siblings and my grandparents. All I really want is for her to know that if she ever changes her mind, we'll still be here.

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