Cousin #5

The energetic personality comes through in her stream-of-consciousness emails and texts, which bring to mind ee cummings on ecstasy. One missive that I received from her read, “fear not! all is sugar and spice how are you!”

Somehow, between my obsessive-compulsive ying and her haphazard yang, we understand each other.

Cousin #5 just moved to Hawaii mere days ago. It’s a daring decision that marks not only a new chapter of her life, but the farthest westward expansion of our family.

Some might think it’s reckless to move to an expensive state in the midst of a recession, without a job no less. But Cousin #5 has a vision. She will not be denied.

Now, it’s true that over the years, her goals have changed and morphed as rapidly as her outward persona. For example, since her teen years, Cousin #5 has gone by three or four different variations on her name, each one lasting no more than a few years. I’ve lost track of which moniker she prefers at the moment (I actually think I’m one behind).

Similarly, her appearance, over the last decade or so, has gone from brightly attired raver girl to some kind of pseudo-sultana, Indian princess concept. Along the way, she ditched the leather jacket and bandana that made her look, in her words, “like a big dyke.” I believe there was also a neo-grunge phase in there somewhere that brought to mind a cute Latina lumberjack. Currently, she looks more like a hip grad student.

Despite her ever-changing image, her true personality has remained intact. She is the most extroverted member of the family, and her affection and enthusiasm for people is unstoppable. When greeting others, for example, she does not simply issue a hug or flash a pleasant smile. Cousin #5 lets loose with a shaking, high-energy embrace and sincere joy that implies she has been waiting her entire life for you to arrive just now.

As my wife says, “The woman is made of love.” And in the opinion of Cousin #3 (her sister), Cousin #5 “would take a bullet for any one of us. What a maniac.”

Befitting a person who is often upbeat, she usually looks happy and/or surprised, as if life itself is delighting her. However, if someone pisses her off or some unpleasant fact perturbs her, she scowls like an annoyed child who has been grounded once too often. At that point, she might spit out a quick “Dude!” that indicates her frustration.

She focuses this dark side (which all of us have, no matter how optimistic) into displays of fearlessness. It was evident when she was a toddler, when a family outing to a scenic overlook took on a thrilling aspect as Cousin #5 joyously approached a steep drop. Her mother (Aunt #1) had to rush to catch up to her.

Cousin #5’s need to rebel was also clear as a teenager, when she scandalized the priest at Christmas midnight mass by accepting the wafer with a Gene Simmons-style waggle of her fresh tongue-piercing. It was, as she revealed later, the sole reason she went up for communion.

Christmas is more likely, however, to bring her usual affection and good cheer to the forefront. This is, after all, the woman who painstakingly created individualized photo albums for members of the family, with shots culled from our highlights and misadventures, and presented them as gifts. In our family, this remains the Christmas present to end all Christmas presents.

Thinking of others has always been her tendency. She spent days in post-Katrina New Orleans, helping to tear down waterlogged houses. And her fresh college degree is oriented toward helping children.

Now her journey takes her to Hawaii. She and her husband, a great guy who is as mellow as she is exuberant, will pursue their dream. It may be a while before I see her again, but I know there will be no problem staying in touch. In fact, at some point, I’m sure I’ll receive a message from her like this one, which I got a few years ago:

“I love you i love our family [what i really consider a real family) and thank u, i know you will always be there for us i hope you know the same goes for you yes.”

I could not have said it better myself.



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June 2009
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