Today is an anniversary. Three years ago today, I lost my cousin Chris and my aunt Valerie to an act of violence. It feels so strange to me that I am now older than my big cousin Chris. It should have taken longer for me to get to be older than he will ever be. I'm sure that I will feel the same way in a couple of decades when I am older than my aunt Valerie will ever be.
These were relatives who were not a part of my day-to-day life, although they both had been when I was growing up. It sometimes seems strange how much I miss them. I didn't spend a great deal of time thinking about them while I was living my life and they were living theirs. Now, it's almost every day that I think about them. I think I see Chris in the shape of a waiter's head, or hear his voice in a stranger's drawl. I dream that Valerie is still alive, and that it has all been some terrible mistake. I wish I could have let them know just how beloved they were before it was too late.
No one knows exactly what happened on the terrible day that they died. I believe what I choose to believe, because it is what I can live with. I'm okay with that definition of truth. But there are some things I do know are true:
Though Chris was troubled, he was also incredibly loving. He was my childhood tormentor, and yet he would defend me to the teeth against anyone else. He was the instigator among us three cousins--he had the cockymamie schemes for building slip-n-slides out of black roofing plastic (which was as hot as hell--so we made a wading pool with it instead, and flooded the basement). He was the one who came up with spy games and pretending the carpet was lava games. He was fun and funny. That is how I remember him.
Valerie had a tough life, but she was fiercely loyal and loving. No one cared more for family than she did. She had humor and passion and intelligence. In her bathroom, there was a print of a young man and a young woman standing in a field of yellow flowers. No matter where she lived, that hung in her bathroom. There was always a paperback novel lying face-down to hold its place on the counter underneath the yellow flower print--the book was usually a fantasy or a romance novel. Underneath Valerie's practicality was a core of romance. That is how I remember her.
LO's middle name will be Chaim. It means life in Hebrew, and we chose it to honor Chris's life. If LO were a girl, she would have a first name that begins with the letter V. I wish that Chris and Valerie could know LO and vice versa. I wish that August 2 were just another day. I wish Chris could teach LO how to get from the kitchen, through the dining room and into the living room without touching the molten lava on the floor. I wish Valerie could help LO understand that even when life deals lousy cards, romance is worth believing in. I am afraid that I will not do as good a job, being a second-hand teacher.