I gave a toast, you know. I had poured my heart out that very day and justified why I could not utter my brother's name at the wedding of my cousin and then I did exactly that. My voice broke and softened but I stood in front of the microphone, safe with my two sister cousins and I spoke. I mixed humor and loss and the overwhelming story of love which had blanketed me.
The dread of my own actions had secured my plan of silence, perhaps I could muster a smile and a raised glass but that was all. My brother had been gone for twenty five years and yet, family gatherings shrunk the years into milliseconds and his death felt as raw as the afternoon I ran on foot from the hospital, the sting of death too vibrant to remain. A coward, I ran and ran from that cold room but could not escape the feeling of drowning.
My strategy of silence stirred feelings of unsureness as the afternoon wore on and I considered my silence may appear too choreographed and be too deafening. That alternative filled me with a sense of regret which I tried to stifle unsuccessfully and by the end of the lovely dinner, I had acquiesced to the gentle prodding of my two cousins, his sisters. I have always been a talker and my written words today are offered for the word at large, but I had rarely shared my feeling aloud much less to a tent full of expectant faces, eager to dance and laugh.
We moved as a unit, my two sister cousins and I, and I spoke first. I shared my role of the should have been sister who was actually a cousin. Due to the torture I had endured for being the youngest of five, I could certainly claim younger sister status, the due of which I felt rightfully entitled.
And so, I began my tale. It had been almost thirty years prior, but the memory was as clear as the water of an early morning wave in August. I was twelve years old and one day at school, it happened. The IT was something all girls remember and my occasion required a call home, a change of clothes and an unexpected afternoon spent with my mother.
I implored her to not tell my dad and this thought causes me to smile now, of course she would share this rite of passage with the father that adored me. At the time though, I was terribly serious and expected no less than what I had demanded. Evidently she had not kept her word as my secret escaped and came to light that very evening as we gathered for a birthday celebration.
My toast was the story of the cousin, now groom, who had offered his own toast to me, some thirty years prior. At his sister's birthday dinner, he laid his fork beside his plate and looked up at me from across the table and two seats down and said calmly with a hint of a smile, "Adrian, I hear you became a woman today." I know I screeched a guttural wail and yelled at my mother as I pushed back my chair and fled. I feel sure I headed home, three houses over, as I don't remember remaining in the house. I could not have bore the feeling of my self on a pedestal and for such a personal reason.
The horror of that day was dulled to a fond memory over the years and one that though I didn't share, I had certainly chuckled to myself over the event. As the youngest of five, I was always the subject of some sort of perceived wrongdoing and certainly it was a just punishment for the loud little girl eager to reveal her older brother and three cousins' most intimate secrets.
The response of the wedding attendees was perfect, the family and friends that had gathered laughed, and my dear cousin joined in, though mildly embarrassed. To me, exactly the way a good toast should be accepted. I could have stopped there and would have been remembered as the funny younger cousin but I had placed the number five on the table in the beginning of my speech and surely the well educated crowd would have done the math and gotten to four. Adam's absence deserved more than an innocent passing query and so, I continued, my vow of transparency could not be adhered to when it felt safe or convenient.
I shared that my place in the remaining group of four had been a lifeline and the three cousins had embraced me when my own brother's life ended so many years ago. I was included as one of them and the power of their love had saved me often and they had made sure to not let me get away. Certainly my perceived solitude would have been unbearable without the cousins who spent the night on Christmas Eve, traveled on vacations, lived with me in the summers, visited me at college, included me in graduations, weddings, and baptisms.
The love that had enveloped me my whole life and particularly the last 25 years came rushing by me and roared in my ears and strangled my voice. I had never been left all alone after all and it was because these three cousins had offered themselves to me time and time again. The brother was lost but there were these who had voluntarily filled in and it would not have always been easy. Families sucked up free time but they had made a place for me and its' permanence had endured and now my own children and husband had been freely welcomed into the fold.
I think there must be no greater love than this and so, I thanked them. Adam would have been proud and the acknowledgement meant that his own life had not just vanished that hot summer day but was being woven into the hearts and minds of those we encountered. His is a story worth remembering and I would not be the one remembered as letting it slip by, unspoken. The pain remnant of hardship would not win this time and the difficult words of love would prevail.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13