I had a long talk on the phone last night with my cousin Jennifer. Jennifer’s four years younger than I am, and her mother was my mother’s older sister. Every time there was a crisis in our childhoods, and there were plenty, we were shipped off to our Aunt Lynn’s house, so in a lot of ways Jennifer and I were raised almost more like siblings than like cousins.
I have a very clear memory of Patrick and I, having been dropped off one snowy night by someone who had agreed to drive us from where? Our Dad’s house? Our Mom’s? I remember them being people our mother knew, but not well. At any rate, they dropped Patrick and me off, and it was snowing — big fat Wisconsin snowflakes, and we were standing at Lynn’s back door in the light of the headlights while they waited for us to get inside. We were outside, in the illuminated snowflakes, with our little-kid suitcases, standing on Lynn’s back deck. It was always kind of like that.
And then when I was nineteen, and Jennifer was fifteen, Lynn drank herself to death. It was one of the things we talked about last night on the phone. “You guys were always there,” Jennifer said. “And then Mom died and you were all just gone.” I told her how hard it had been — none of us liked her father (who brought his girlfriend to the funeral for the wife he wasn’t separated from) — and they were just kids, and we were all so heartbroken that to even think about going up to that house, that house that had been our safe place, without Lynn in it, and with those three bereft kids and their awful father, well, none of us could face it. We talked, Jennifer and I, about how mad we still are at her mother for killing herself like that, about how she was the one who was supposed to take care of all of us. Lynn died 22 years ago and it was like it happened last week. Jennifer’s oldest daughter is 13 now, and Jennifer knows it’s going to be weird when she, in essence, outlives her own mother. She knows too that she probably hangs onto her girls too close, that in some very real ways she needs them to make her the mother she didn’t have.
And we talked about losing Patrick, and the aftermath of that, and how strange it’s been. It’s one of the incomprehensible things about life. The people we love die, and they’re just gone, and they don’t come back.
But, on the other hand, Jennifer’s in Arizona now, and we’re old enough to call eachother and finally talk about the stuff that we couldn’t talk about when she was fifteen and I was nineteen because we were really just heartbroken kids. We made it, somehow. We grew up. We’re mostly okay.