I trained for five months for the Just ‘Cause walk. I spent hours and hours on a treadmill thinking about my cousin and what I could say about him when the time came. 800 miles later the walk is over and I am still speechless. And yet. Words must be said. Eloquent, beautiful, poetic? Hardly. But, I have to say something. How could I not? He was my closest cousin. We had a special bond so I ask again, how could I not? I’m still working on it.
When we were kids we were fascinated by death. We would crouch over a less than alive bird or rat and wonder how “it” happened. We’d poke at the unfortunate beast with a stick and will it to move, want it to strike back, magically come back to life. It never did.
When we were kids we had a bet. He was convinced he would die first. He considered himself reckless and wild at 13. I was confident I would be the chosen one. I thought I had the advantage. My nickname was “Depressed.” How could I lose? We set a wager. The stakes were high.
The day I tried to cheat with a bottle of extra strength pain medication my cousin shoved his fist down my throat, forcing every pill back out. He stole a bottle of vegetable oil and behind the general store made me drink the entire thing. As I sat in the rain-soaked mud and puked my guts out he held my hair, stroked my back, and cursed at me with such profound profanity I started to laugh. I didn’t know anyone could cuss like that without taking a breath or stopping the stream. In the mess of mud and slimy vomit, snot and salty tears we held each other and laughed like lunatics.
Dear Cousin, I think of that day and sometimes believe I should have won that bet. But, I didn’t. You have always protected me from myself. You have always looked after me with a fierce love I barely understood. I didn’t win that death bet. You did. It’s time for me to pay up. It’s with a heavy heart that I owe you five Bazooka Joes, one Orange Crush and one Wasse’s hotdog, loaded.