When we were little, my cousin and I dressed up in starchy holiday dresses and tried to sit still for formal meals at our grandparents' dining room table before begging to escape, hand in hand, to the cool, dank basement that drew us in with its ping pong table and wooden blocks and TV.
One summer when I was about twelve, my family visited her family at their farm. During the days, we crept around her barn and fields, whispering rhymes and nicknames to the cows- "Let's sneak a peek at Teeka-Teek!" - before running away and laughing ridiculously hard. At night, we lay on the floor of her room and drew pictures in our spiral bound notebooks; hers detailed portraits with dimension and perspective and detail, mine doodles and stick figures.
Another summer, she taught me to play a card game she called Egyptian Rat Screw (my apologies to all Egyptians) and we played endless rounds of it at our family's lake house, sitting on squeaky, rusted metal beds, listening to rain pound on the roof over our heads.
Three years ago, we spent a week together in Yosemite on a big family trip. Z was just a year old and had major stranger anxiety. But she loved my cousin, who gave her just the right mix of respectful distance and luring enthusiasm. Z ran right up to her, which surprised all of us, my cousin most of all.
The last time I saw her, I told her I loved her and hugged her tight.
I first met my father-in-law when he and my mother-in-law were flying through the Bay Area and had a long layover. CG really wanted us to meet, which meant something significant to all of us. They were both so welcoming; his mother smiled warmly at me, his father clapped me on the back and hugged me tight. Meeting his parents solidified what I was already feeling: CG is a great person. I want to marry this man.
One holiday when CG and I were engaged, his whole family was in Arizona and I asked to see any and all family photos. (What can I say, I'm obsessed with photos). They brought out several slide carriages and we all sat around a darkened room, watching my husband's 70's childhood projected onto a white wall. They all ribbed each other about bell bottoms and knee socks and lapel sizes. I was nervous but wanted to fit in with this quick-witted, sarcastic family. So when a close-up picture of my future father-in-law popped up, complete with wide lapel, poufy 70's hair and gold-rimmed glasses that caught the sunlight just so, I hooted out my own contribution: "Just look at your GLASSES!" and waited an all-too-quiet moment before nervously glancing over to see his reaction.
There he sat, a bemused, forgiving smile on his face. Also on his face? THOSE SAME GLASSES.
(SHOOT ME NOW AND THEN OPEN UP GROUND AND SWALLOW ME WHOLE.)
I stammered an apology, I think. His kids laughed lightly and moved on while I melted into a puddle.
It was still burning a hole in my stomach a few months later when my in-laws came to visit us. The visit was the same as always, my father-in-law quietly emptied the dishwasher and folded the laundry before I could even knew it needed to be done. The one big difference: he had new rimless glasses on his sweet face.
In his hospital room this last week, my sister-in-law posted a photo of my father-in-law and Z in which he's wearing Z's dress-up tutu on his head like a crown. Apparently it made quite an impression on the medical staff, one of whom remarked: "You can tell he's a great grandfather and man if he's willing to wear a tutu, especially like that."
When last I wrote, I was supposed to go to my cousin's memorial service. But then my husband got a phone call. The kind of phone call you always think is so far down the road. Until it comes.
CG was with his father when he died. He is still in Arizona now, of course, with his siblings and their spouses and my mother-in-law, sifting through the practical details and the overwhelming grief. And I am here, of course, wiping bottoms and reading board books and crying in the bathroom for exactly 23 minutes while Caillou's whiny voice drones on in the living room. My girls need me here and my girls can't be there right now as the family deals with the many heavy details.
We will travel to Arizona this coming weekend to celebrate his life; the girls, especially Z who dearly misses her Papa, need to be there. We hope to find a babysitter for at least E though so that I can grieve and support and remember too. Because there is just so much grieving and supporting and remembering to be done. And it's just so hard to do when you're a mama to two little ones.