A letter, a confession. Hello, Rachel.
In retrospect, a hiatus was exactly what I needed. I wasn’t happy with anything I had to say; none of it felt meaningful or thought-provoking. So I decided to take a break, throw myself into something else for about a week, and I knew I’d come back full of ideas and ready to tackle the world—in a literary sense, of course.
In the time of absence, I haven’t been away from the computer. In fact, I’ve been answering emails rather regularly. Well, most of them, but I’ll get to that in a moment.Most of this past week I’ve spent working on geek-chick.net, affectionately known as That Other Site I Work On. I just finished making it skinnable and moving the skins code live, even though there’s currently only one skin available.
I’m sad to report that due to the number of bugs, tweaks, random code problems, and general dorkiness on my part, it took me almost a full week to make happen. It wasn’t a fun week, really; my days and nights got shifted a bit, the cats think they’ve been abandoned, the spouse unfed, the herb garden unweeded and unloved…
But the site’s done now, I’ve caught up on my sleep, and all is good.
Except for that one letter, sitting in my inbox from a couple of months ago, waiting to be answered. The crappy thing is that the writer is someone who reads my journal and has a more vested interest in it than most people who read it, and yet I can’t find the words to answer her, so I’m taking a cop-out and answering her publicly at first:
I’ve missed you—in small ways and large ways, and in ways that sometimes leave me with words and in some ways that leave me confused and not knowing where to start. So maybe you can forgive me for taking so long in acknowledging your letter—chalk it up to my being a ‘silly girl’ as my spouse often calls me—and let’s see if maybe we can’t start again, somewhere.
I have a great many cousins. Sixteen first cousins, some of whom are more than a generation older than me; thus, I have twelve first-cousins-once-removed; their children. Two of them are Rachel’s boys.
But the story goes back further than that, to one generation back before Rachel and I, to the day before Christmas Eve, 1943. The Great Depression was over, and while life wasn’t the greatest in the world, it was infinitely better than the previous decade.
Nobody knew my grandmother was carrying twins. That is, until my mother was born, and my grandmother’s doctor apparently said the words, “I think there’s another one in there…” Shortly thereafter, my mother’s younger brother was born. (Fraternal twins, obviously.) They got a head start over most siblings by beginning to butt heads in the womb, as far as I can tell.
Thus we were the children of twins, Rachel and I. I was the younger of my mother’s two children; Rachel was the elder of her father’s two children. My mother had two daughters; Wayne and his wife had a girl and a boy.
We looked nothing alike, Rachel and I—she had dark brown hair and eyes, and skin that tanned easily. I—well, someone decided I needed the strawberry blond hair, blue eyes, and sunburn-prone skin that my mother’s family genes held, recessive, for just the right grandchild.
Rachel’s younger brother, Marcus, was as close to a brother as I ever got, and I loved him like I would have an older brother if I’d had one. Despite the fact that he was about a year younger than I was, I think I looked up to him from the time I was a toddler. When we were children, we were usually to be found as a group—find one of us and you’d find all of us. The fact that his escapades were generally benign probably saved us from a lot of trouble, because I think he could’ve cajoled me into plenty of childhood capers that would have gotten us in serious trouble from our parents.
A few months ago I made a post on domesticat encouraging the ‘lurkers,’ as I call them, to email me and say hello. Rachel emailed me; while I got several letters in response to that post, hers was the only one that actually made me leave the room. Nearly in tears, I might add. Not because I never dreamed that family would ever find my site—I knew that it would, eventually, happen—but because her email reminded me of how much over the past few years I’ve missed her.
My holiday memories almost always include her. In the time that we were kids, and later teenagers, she and Marcus were “us,” when parents and grandparents were “them.” At Christmas, we ate together at the kids’ table in the kitchen, while our parents ate in the dining room. I remember always wondering what they were talking about, but deciding that our playing cards after turkey and telling silly stories was infinitely preferable to whatever they were talking about in the next room.
But the years haven’t changed her any less than they’ve changed me. We’re both married, she and I; she’s out in Florida and has, by all reports, two absolutely adorable boys …
…whom I’ve never met.
Her older son would’ve started kindergarten this year, like my sister’s son. Five years is a long time to be out of someone’s life, especially someone whom you grew up with and whose presence was as expected as air or water.
Life has a way of leading you down different paths than what you expect, though. Marcus was fascinated with the military and fighter jets from the moment he learned of their existence. He enlisted some time ago, completed his service, and—as far as I know—is now out in the private sector again.
After September 11, small events like that took on different meaning. The prospect of military action changes drastically when you think of those men in terms of your cousins, your brothers, your classmates, your friends.
Since that day, I’ve thought about them—Marcus and Rachel both—almost every day. The email from her has been sitting in my inbox, waiting for a reply that, while I didn’t know how to start, I did know how to finish. So perhaps I should jump straight to the end:
“I’ve missed you. I don’t know where to start anymore, because I don’t know what’s happened to you in the past few years, but I realize that I want to know. I don’t have the luxury of a ‘domesticat.net’ on your part to fill me in without my having to ask you directly.
“So tell me about your husband and your kids, where you live, how your parents are doing, where you were on September 11 and how your brother is. I don’t know when you’ll visit Arkansas again and I don’t know when I’ll get out to Florida, so I guess email and pictures will have to do for now.
“Just know this: every day that I’ve not written is a day that I didn’t know how to start the letter. You’re one of a handful of people who knows that the past and the people I talk about on this website are just as real as you are. When I say that over a decade later I’m still pissed as hell about Keith, you know why—because you loved him too. When I describe where I grew up, you remember it too; you know where the Three Ponds are. You remember having to repeatedly rescue Clint’s vehicles from when he went ‘mudding’ in the bottoms on holidays. You know which aunt’s arrival meant that the cousins would conveniently slip out the back door, and you remember making those godawful mud pies in the sand pit.
“So forgive me for being stupid, and forgive me for not saying this to you privately and instead leaving it out for you to read and everyone else to puzzle over. Tell your parents and Marcus I miss them still, and tell your spouse he’d better be good to you—and, better yet, I want to actually meet him someday.
“One of these days I’ll tell your kids in person something they already know—that their mother’s awesome. They won’t know the stories I will, or have some of the goofy pictures I’ve got, but I think they’ll understand. They can think I’m a little weird. After all, everyone needs a dotty aunt with lots of cats! So help me out; give me somewhere to start. I have so many questions to ask; so many things I want to know.