He was the first boy I ever loved, my cousin Randy.
Our mothers were sisters and close, and we’d been close since I don’t even remember, since I was born. I can still see us in the pool one hot California summer day, I was maybe seven, he nine years old when Randy said he’d learned that in Hawaii, cousins could marry, so that was our answer: when we grew up we’d go to Hawaii where cousins could marry and we’d never have to be apart.
Even then, something told me he would never marry a girl, but I went along with his idea, unable to explain what I didn’t understand, what he probably didn’t understand about himself, then.
As teenagers, we spent summer afternoons on the beach together, smoking and gossiping. We had always been a little different from the rest of the family, both a little bookish. He’d been the family star in school, all advanced classes, a grade skipped, his stellar performance the one to which my own record was unfavorably compared. He was saddened by this both because my mother used him as a cudgel against me, and that I wouldn’t work just a little harder to shut her up.
Randy introduced me to the Eagles’ Hotel California, Linda Ronstadt, Queen and Freddie Mercury. He took me to my first concert, Arrowsmith, and batted away the handsy bouncer patting me down a little too carefully, preserving both my honor and the bag of weed I’d carried in for us. He persuaded my mother to allow me to go with him and friends to the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and taught me the Time Warp ahead of time, so I’d be ready.
Once, completely unable to deal with my mother, I ran away from home for about five minutes. My mom called Randy to come bring me home. She knew there was no other person who could persuade me. That was the night he told me he was Gay. I said, I know. I kept the secret as long as he needed me to, much to our extended family’s outrage. They thought they could change or rescue him; I knew there was nothing wrong with him.
Randy walked me down the aisle when I married the first time, my daddy having died the year before. He moved to Chicago. A mutual acquaintance saw him some years later, said he wasn’t in a good way. He lost a partner to AIDS, in the hellish early days when people were abandoned. I didn’t know how to help.
When my mother died, I was an unmitigated asshole, frankly, insisting that at long last everyone would hear my version of our family life, and they would understand what a monster she had been. It was the only version of my mother I tolerated from anyone, completely oblivious to the fact that while my mother was indeed quite monstrous to me, she was also a loving sister and aunt, a good friend and neighbor, and a generous person. Randy had loved my mother, so he drifted from me and my insistence on my version of my mother being the only one.
Almost twenty-three years ago, he died. His partner followed a year later. Amazing what one can find out on them Interwebnets and the social security death index. All those years I wondered where he was, if I’d ever find him, he was quite easily found. And I never knew.
Did he miss me as I missed him? Was he angry with me? Hurt? Disappointed? I’ll never know. I know only that he had love in his life when he died, someone who loved him and now rests with him. That will have to suffice, but my heart isn’t having it so just yet.