Seven years ago today, I lost three members of my family - my cousins John (20 yrs old) & Kevin (15 years old), and my Uncle Tommy. I'm not going to go into the painful details of their deaths, but I will say that my uncle took the lives of my cousins and then his own. It is a sad, tragic story that's left everyone in my family with a heavy heart.
What I am trying to steer my thoughts towards on this day are the sweet memories I have of my childhood adventures with my cousin John.
My parents are both the oldest in their families, and had me at rather young ages (my mom was 20 & my dad 25.) This means that I am the oldest cousin on both sides of the family by many years. I even have a little 5 year old cousin as of now. This all contributed to me being a weird, nerdy, sensitive, and lonely little kid.
John was my only cousin relatively close in age at just over two years younger than me. We both had lazy eyes and subsequent eye patches and miniature glasses as tiny three year olds. We both were total gawky nerds - creative, smart, introverted, in love with comics and video games and Jurassic Park.
Some of my fondest memories of our adventures together are from a summer vacation spent at my aunt and uncle's beach house in Brigantine, where we'd go buckwild in the pool, hang out on the beach, and play Mortal Kombat when it rained. John taught me all the best moves for Mortal Kombat, and soon his characters were getting their butts whipped by my Liu Kang's relentless assault of flips and fireballs.
We'd watch Jurassic Park over and over again, very much relating to the two kids who are the main characters. John really looked exactly like Tim, and even though I wasn't a blonde like Lex, I shared her fiery spirit and big-sister attitude. We'd then pore over our Dino-themed books and research the more realistic facts about when those huge unimaginable creatures ruled the Earth.
Another cherished memory is when our whole family spent a weekend in Spring Lake, NJ to celebrate one of our younger uncle's wedding. We took over this usually quaint peaceful Victorian B&B and let loose as Frazzas do best. John and I were hopped up on bag after bag of Tropical Skittles, and he was always sweet enough to give me all of his watermelon-flavored ones, as he knew they were my favorite. (Looking back its very likely that I perhaps forcefully demanded he give me all his watermelon Skittles, and John being generous and knowing what's good for him, obliged without protest.)
The night before the wedding, we all loaded into a rickety little school bus my uncle had rented to take everyone to the boardwalk. The bus was filled with all the cousins, plus my Dad, who has the ability to get kids riled up in a split second. We were dancing, screaming, singing, and clapping, and the melee caused the little bus to rock from side to side. John was always right by my side amidst all of our family's chaos and adventure. We had a blast that night, and the skeeball competition between the two of us was brutal.
Sadly, when I was 14 and John was 12, [updated - edited] our families encountered some distance. I feel I have the right to my own feelings about this, but out of not wanting unnecessary further pain and drama, I will not expand any further on it.
I rarely saw John over the next four years, and it made me sad, of course, but I was busy being a teenager and getting into punk and anarchism and feminism and veganism etc. My dad managed to maintain a relationship with Kevin, John, and my uncle, going to basketball and baseball games together regularly. Finally, the drama subsided a bit, and I attended John's high school graduation BBQ with my dad and sister. I was shocked to see how my little gangly cousin had grown into like a real (almost) grown up guy.
At that BBQ, John and I got the chance to catch up. Hanging out with John and his friends on the back patio ended up being easy and fun and not very awkward at all. Despite the years that had gone by, John and I were still super comfortable and joke-y with each other and clearly still shared many close bonds. We realized we were into a lot of the same things - comics/graphic novels, pop punk, Jimmy Eat World, pirates, history, and more. It was so exciting and meaningful that we both grew into proud glasses-wearing nerds independently of each other. We talked about how we should hang out sometime, just the two of us, but never managed to make it happen. I was occupied with my new life in Philly and John was just starting college in Northern NJ. That was one of the last times I saw John and Kevin.
On July 10th, 2006, I lost an uncle and two cousins. But I lost more than that. I lost my friend, my oldest friend really, and I lost the chance to grow into even-more-grown-up glasses-wearing proud nerds with him.