And then, there were four. That is the phrase that flashes in my mind when I consider the group of five that moved as a collective unit my whole childhood. My brother and I and our three cousins rode to school together, ate together, celebrated every birthday and holiday together and spent summers together at the beach. We lived within walking distance of one another our entire childhood and it was wonderful.
As an adult, I realize what a gift that was and how our normal must have been so idyllic to others and I was blissfully unaware. I never was without a playmate, five children within seven years of each other and I was the youngest. I was the target of love and teasing and I lived to shadow these four people who were my universe and as they may recount, I was not always a pleasure. No, I was the typical youngest child, skinny and scrappy, always a bit rumpled and my wide smile and loud voice were hard to ignore. They must have cringed as I chased them down but their love was evident and so, my adoration continued.
Life happened and we got older, one by one each of us moved on. College, boarding school, more college, boarding school and then our idyllic life had ended. It was speckled with divorce and then Adam's illness. He was the ying to my cousin Jason's yang and they were only five months apart and inseparable those last few years. They lived together at college and the cousins that seemed like siblings remained thick as thieves. One day it all changed though and Adam left school and moved far away, his roommate was an intensive care nurse where he remained for 302 days and then, we were four. Just like that, our group was broken and we were left to pick up the pieces for a puzzle that would never be whole again.
We did pick up the pieces, we have and we continue to try. We make an effort to spend time together and we mail packages and we email and text one another. Each summer we carve out a week, our four families, to spend lots of time together. Yes, we schlep kids and coolers, chairs and umbrellas down a long hot path through the dunes and we intermittently sit and swim, lounge in tidal pools, catch fish and decorate drip castles. In those moments, life's ease washes over us and the relationships feel as natural as your hand when it reaches out to ruffle a baby's wispy hair. Our five has ebbed and flowed, two have been lost and thirteen have been added. We started as five and today there are sixteen of us, sixteen people ranging in age from 2 to 47 and our love knows no bounds.
Tomorrow we will add one to our fold. My cousin Jason, who drove my brother to the airport that fall day, is getting married and his joy reflects on us all. I think often of how he felt when he returned to their sunny apartment alone and how deafening the silence must have been. I was no help, drowning myself and it is only now I consider the strength he mustered. How had he managed to go to class and smile while wondering if they would ever again lie on the couch drinking orange juice, recounting their adventures of the previous evening. My heart breaks now for this cousin who has adored me in spite of his pain that has often remained hidden.
Yesterday we sat in a steamy room while our four boys swam and wrestled and threw a football and my heart felt so full that tears sprung as quickly as I could wipe them away. Though we live states away from one another, the young cousins watch their parents and love one another. Despite their differences in age and personality, they value the precious gift of cousins. I am so thankful that though I lost Adam, I had three people to fill the void and as long as they are on this earth, I can count on their presence. It has made all the difference and though his disappearance is never far from our thoughts when we gather, tonight we will toast his memory and the gift of love that we were given and choose to give.