Just a slip of paper separated us from blood relation, but as happens we were more alike than blood would have it.  He, a few years older than me, left my life before we could have compared notes. And now, with the lens of memory bringing our times together in sharper focus, it is a wonder to me that our lives crossed in childhood and never again–just the distant communiqué from this relative or that one–and always cryptic, never filled with any substance, never the essence only the facade of truth, “oh he’s moved to _________” or “he died.”

My cousin Bobby was my grandmother’s sister’s daughter’s son, what does that make him? two-, three-, four-times removed and even that may be incorrect; it was explained to me so long ago and mattered so little; that part of the family mythology is long-lost now, there is no one left that speaks the language, but back to Bobby, with his Brenda Vaccaro voice, all whiskey and cigarettes, even as a child, it might have been the Brenda V. voice before there was a Brenda V. voice to imitate.  And of course, we all wanted to sound just like him, his voice sophistication incarnate or so it seemed at the time.

My first cousin, Shirley and I were his marionettes: he would direct and we would act out his ‘plays.’  He seemed to have a knack for theatrical display (clue!) and his bedroom was a stage trunk of props and costumes which we would don and oftentimes with metal roller skates attached to our shoes—if you’re a certain age you’ll remember—with the ever present ‘brand new key’ strung on a shoelace around our neck—we would roll along the paved driveway of their home, the only paved driveway on the block, and play the parts he had written for us, most notably (meaning the one i remember) “Romeo & Juliet.”

For more elaborate productions, we would decamp to my grandmother’s back garden; a mammoth apricot tree with its sweet rotting fruit (more than could ever be jammed and jellied and preserved, so it returned to itself) the backstage wall from which we would make our grand entrances — the trunk of the tree large enough to hide one or two of us while we waited for our cue — and the rose arbor, scented as it was with its lighter-than-air blossoms, pink, white, red, a stage set for scene two; the picnic table a mountain or a balcony to scale and declaim our studied lines—most made up on the fly based on a script loosely defined by Bobby’s story-telling abilities, “…and then they would _____, followed by a sword fight, which leads to _____.”

These memories are just the compilation of two summers (maybe 3) when I would visit my grandmother and next I knew he had moved away to a larger city to live out his life, but which city I do not know and whether he found love and friendship there I have to believe true.   He was generous and gregarious and didn’t seem beset by devils, although now in retrospect, I have to imagine he hid a part of himself, much as I did, from his family and this close church-going community. A side note: he alone of the local family did not attend church — which set him apart and outside what was accepted, but I don’t recall any adult ever admonishing him for his lack of faith, and I don’t recall a father, only his mother, a church member-in-good-standing.  What did he know that we didn’t?

He was felled by that scourge that claimed so many in the 1980s and it is knowing this that makes me wish we had known each other when we were young adults, I believe it would have been a true friendship.(There is another male cousin, also claimed by AIDS, my grandfather’s sister’s son, a lifelong Broadway chorus boy and minor choreographer.  Our story is less pleasant and more complicated and not a subject I want to discuss, yet.)

How to end this then?  Our time together so short and long ago, our adult lives so separate and yet there is still a connection and shared experiences—not only as children, but I must imagine as adults, too, that seem to stitch us together, perhaps a little play-worn, a dangling thread here, a minor tear there, a missing button, a frayed sleeve, but well-loved and when you look at the two of us standing there in front of the apricot tree, we are comrades.



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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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