I was either sixteen or seventeen when I dreamed of my biological paternal grandparents whom I had not seen since I was a young child. Days later I journeyed by bicycle to Stoney Creek and triggered a strange and joyful sequence of familial reunions.
Uncle Dave, just ten years my senior, had married a woman with two kids from a former, troubled, relationship. Terri was my age and Steven, just a year younger I think. While everyone in the extended family treated me with tremendous kindness, almost made a celebrity of me, it was Dave’s immediate family that I forged the strongest connection with, probably for the obvious reason that they were more in touch with teen culture. The other cousins were all younger.
Terri, Steven and I became instant friends. I slept over with them on more than one occasion. I attended my first rock concert with them. I even deep-kissed a girl for the first time in their presence; an event that no doubt bolstered my reputation, misguidedly so, in the eyes of Steven who was a prodigious stud at fifteen. They were wildly gregarious, more so than any of my current high school friends, and they treated my shyness with a good-natured, almost naive respect. “Mellow,” they called me, and, “laid back.” They seemed as pleasantly intrigued with my differentness as I was with theirs. They introduced me to new crowds and new behaviors and in hindsight I can see that my own process of emerging from shyness; one component of a dual coming-out, took root in this friendship.
Terri, in particular, was guileless and cheerful in her manner and would probe without reservation into whatever subject suddenly interested her. It is much to her credit that I felt so comfortable around her, despite my normal reticence, that I was happy to engage in any of her questions about my life, experiences or opinions.
This friendship did not thrive for a long time though. Seventeen is a volatile age and we three were headed in very different directions; Terry to early motherhood and myself toward an alternative lifestyle – so they called it. Steven was so friendly and so generous in his own way, that all the stories of his juvenile delinquency seemed a joke to me. Surely he was done with all that. But I was naive at the time. I hadn't yet realized that criminality was far from the absurdities portrayed by Death Wish flicks and the like. I didn't realize that our struggle to thrive within the umbrella of the law, with all of its shadows and secrets and compromised ethics, is not so different from the alternative; the struggle to thrive outside of the law, under a different set of codes. So it was a shock to me when my new cousin, immediately dear to me, vanished into that world; a world I have only come to begin to understand three years ago, upon employment with Corrections Canada and subsequent volunteer work with troubled men.
Terri and I crossed paths infrequently over the last 27 years and her cheerfulness was a delight each time. We always mouthed intentions to get together some time but we never did. It was always something that sounded great but was never a priority; like so many other great things in life that are easy to put off for the sake of more critical affairs. What a mistake, I realize.
I was deep into the Liberal Theologian’s struggle with breast cancer and the more dire emergent cancer, when I learned that Terri was in the same boat; breast cancer running from bad to worse.
One week after L.T.’s passing I forced myself to attend the funeral, and was glad I did, and then I set my thoughts on Terri. I needed to visit her. I needed to talk to her about our old teen friendship and how awesome it was for me and what it meant to me. Yes, just as soon as I get a little time off from work.
But of course she couldn't wait that long. My opportunity to inject a few joyful moments into her deeply difficult experience has expired.
My dear Aunt Karen, and to some near degree if not the same, my Uncle Dave, have had their second of two children slip through their fingers in one way or another. This is crushing to me emotionally. It is an unbearable contemplation; parents losing children. At L.T.’s funeral I did not face her parents. I knew there was no way I could do that without falling apart in front of them and I knew they wouldn't want to witness that.
But I have wanted very much to see my uncle and aunt for a long time now. I haven’t seen them really, since Biodad’s funeral, another blunder of mine; another total absence from a person’s final stage of life.
For the same reason as L.T.’s parents, I dread facing my uncle and aunt, but more so: I want to see them. I don’t want to lose them from my life. So I will try to see them and I will try to be strong as a rock.