One last gloomy entry

We went to Cassie's memorial this evening. It was long, full of crying and a few good chuckles, and very moving. I didn't know her well, but because I am a new member of this gigantic family, I felt honored to be a part of it. So, since we were speaking of remembrances this evening, here are mine. When I heard that my mother had a long-lost sister who was living in Portland too, I was completely taken off my guard. Our family is what one refers to as "nuclear," a small pod-like group with very few extended members who take part in the dailies. Aunts and uncles have never played a part in our lives, grandparents were the people who sent five bucks at Christmas, and my brother, as dear as he is to me now, was so much younger than myself that we didn't really "grow up" together.

This entre into a new, bustling family was a little scary. My aunt eased us in to it, knowing that to introduce us all too quickly might be overwhelming, so I met a cousin here, a cousin there, until they threw a big ol' bash one Sunday afternoon.

My husband, mother and I showed up to the "meet the newbies" wingding a little cowed. But they were all (probably thirty of them) so warm and boisterous, lively and vivacious that their spirit was positively infectious. Even though we probably hung on the wall a bit, I immediately felt their warmth and unquestioning acceptance of us into the brood. They probably looked at each other when they heard there were more relatives and said, "scoot over, we have to make more room," adjusted and went on with things as normal. We were a little bit more reticent, but my cousins and aunt are so inviting that it's impossible to not feel completely welcome.

Returning the favor, my mom threw a house-warming party and invited the family. All my cousins showed up, and in the corner sitting on the stairs was a rather quiet girl, my cousin's daughter Cassie. I had heard about her from my various new relations, and wanted to talk to her: something about her reminded me of me when I was her age. She was quiet but observant, scanning the room as if she were conducting a study. I sat down and asked her about herself. She told me that she was a student at a community college; high school hadn't suited her (boy could I relate) and she decided to skip it and move on. She was friendly and shy, but funny and sharp as a tack, and I warmed to her immediately. She seemed to observe the world with a sharp acuity, tucking away the experiences for some thesis or master work that was developing. We spoke for a while, and I carried the thought of her around: she was so similar to me when I was 18, I felt instantly protective. I wanted to save her from my own mistakes, recognizing the absurdity of the notion, but desiring it none-the-less.

I sought her out at other events, but we never talked as much. She always hung on the edge of the big to-do's, eyes like a hawk, watching.

Tonight, at the memorial, I discovered that she was a dyed-in-the-wool feminist, environmentalist, dog-lover, and writer. She had registered to vote as soon as she turned 18, affiliated herself with the Green Party, and was sorry that she couldn't vote in the 2002 election in November. She loved anthropology, and was interested in mythology. Her family was from a long line of blue collar labor movement activists, and she was following in their stead.

When I heard these things, spread out over the two hours of remembrances, I could feel her so close to my heart. But also slipping away.

At the end of the evening, I had a chance to speak to her mother, my cousin. We had chatted about things that Cassie had done, anti-establishment to the core, impish, funny and altogether cheeky. She regaled us with amusing stories. I told her that we were so glad to have met them, that we were happy to have had the chance to get to know them. I said, "I'm sorry that we haven't been around very long, but we're so grateful to be a part of this now." She pulled on my sleeve and said, "Cassie felt that way about you. She said, 'why couldn't she have been around earlier?' She wanted you around."

The feeling was mutual. I didn't know her well, but I knew her like a sister. My cousin gave me a great gift tonight, completely unlooked for. I haven't known this family well in the past, but I love them well now, and my interest and instant compassion for Cassie was surprising and a little odd to me, even that first day sitting on the stairs. But when Kip told me that she felt a similar bond, it was a precious gift, unasked for and unexpected.

I will cherish it.

Dear Cassie,

When we meet next time around, we'll have a nice chat about lefties and the labor movement. We'll talk about environmental action, grass-roots movements, and the absurdity of voting even though we cast a ballot every election. We'll drink a spot of wine, and laugh about dogs. Possibly chat about boys, although as you knew early on they're more or less a lost cause. And I'll try to be around for the rest of the crew, even though I wasn't there for you. My deepest affection.

Love, your sympatico sister and uppity-broad cousin.