The long-lost cousin surprise
When I was a kid, my best friend was a boy called Scott.
From the age of about 4 on, we did almost everything together: riding bikes, fishing, hunting for bugs and bats, building forts in the huge field behind his house, and constructing elaborate bear traps. (The only — and best, and cutest — prey we ever caught was his little sister Sue, who stood patiently, if mildly outraged, in the 12-inch-deep hole we’d cleverly covered with sticks and pine needles, and waited for us to pounce on her.)
I was at Scott’s house almost constantly. He lived around the corner from me (his family still lives in the same house), and not only was his back yard the gateway to The Field, with its bugs, bats, rocks, trees, and endless hideouts, but his house had the coolest basement playroom I had ever seen: there was a playhouse that his dad had constructed (and in which poor long-suffering Susy was apparently tied up by Scott & his brother Mike more than once, netting her a lifelong fear of enclosed spaces — and of little boys armed with skipping ropes, I presume); there were fish tanks and books and rock polishing machines and tools and electronic things and toys and stuffies, and every board game known to humanity.
His mum also made the best meals and snacks: coloured popcorn swimming in butter, cookies, and bologna and mustard sandwiches that I would still kill for. More than once she turned a blind eye on Scott’s and my weird antics — trapping wasps in bubble gum and tormenting them to death with magnifying glasses in the hot sun, putting her Anne Murray record on 78rpm and then doing the “worm dance” in her living room to the sped-up version of “Snowbird”, and leaving Oreo cookies in the sun for the afternoon to see if the filling would expand. (It would. Delicious.)
On summer evenings, I would look up from dinner at my own (much, much less fun) house and see Scott and his younger brother Michael on their bikes, patiently waiting on my lawn for me to finish eating and join them. First stop was usually the corner store for candy, after which we’d go see what the local bully (a kid I’ll call “Stinson” because that was his name) was up to, or round up more kids for a neighbourhood-wide game of hide and seek that would go on till dark.
In a world where boy/girl friendships are viewed with a mix of hope and suspicion, it was assumed by all and sundry that Scott and I would marry. We discussed this one day, in fact, when we were 9 or 10 years old, and decided that while neither of us was really the marrying type, we would buy a house together and live in our individual halves: he would have his own messy half, I would have my own surreally tidy half, and we would each have our own laboratories, of course. We would meet on the veranda for meals and discussions, and possibly to peg crab-apples at the neighbours where circumstances warranted.
When we turned 13, though (Scott’s and my birthdays are 2 weeks apart), things came to an abrupt halt: my mum, who was fast losing her battle with mental illness, celebrated my entry into adolescence by proclaiming that all males were essentially rapists and forbidding me to play with, or even talk to, Scott ever again.
It must be clarified here that this had nothing whatsoever to do with Scott, who is about the least rapey human being you’d ever want to meet, and everything to do with my mother and the demons flitting about in her head. (Far be it from me to cast aspersions on people who live with mental illness; however, growing up at the mercy of a mentally ill parent is something else entirely. Most of my adolescence is a blur. I spent some time in a group home. ‘Nuff said.)
And for all intents and purposes, that was the end of that. Although I still thought of Scott every day, I wanted to put as much distance between me and my childhood and the city where I grew up as I possibly could. I bailed off to university and didn’t look back.
Except I did…
Fast forward a tiny bit now to me at age 21, when I met my birth mother (I’m adopted). We exchanged information and photos, and since we live in different countries and have little in common other than blood, we keep in touch mainly via the occasional phone call.
Fast forward a second time to summer 2011, when I joined Facebook. Among the folks who found me there was a guy named Chris whom I’d known in high school, although not well. He was in Scott’s circle of friends, and not mine — and you can see where this is going, can’t you?
Chris arranged a get-together with Scott and me and another friend in my old hometown (where Scott still lives), and it was like Scotty and I had never been apart. He walked into the restaurant and I almost knocked over my chair jumping up to greet him. He gives excellent bear hugs. It was one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me. We were both older and bigger, and a bit more wrinkly about the jowls, but essentially nothing had changed. There may have been a fart joke or two at dinner.
I had some ‘splainin’ to do, however, about my absence. More than half a lifetime’s absence. I ‘splained. He understood, and I think it helped him to know that it was nothing he’d done. (This tore my heart out… it still does.)
But in many ways it was like no time had passed at all: since then, we’ve met a couple of times a month, typically. We go on day trips to used bookstores, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and various model airplane shops and shows. Last summer we went to Point Pelee together to see the monarch butterfly migration, and this spring we went to Tobermory. We text each other most evenings to discuss Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or whatever. It is an utterly platonic friendship — still unusual between men and women, granted — and it works. And how.
So this should be where my happy story ends, right?
About 10 weeks ago, I called my birth mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. During the call, I mentioned that I’d been to see Scott and his parents, and mentioned their last name: “I stayed at Mr and Mrs A’s house…”.
“Hang on a second — what was that name again?” my birth mother interrupted me.
I told her again. She said, “Do they have a relative called Linda?”
I texted Scott and his dad. The answer was immediate: Yes, they do.
And long (really long) story short, it turns out Scott and I are cousins.
Yep. Fancy that.
It’s taken a bit of getting used to. Although not as much as you’d think; it’s not like meeting strangers. His family are good people — very generous and low-key and welcoming (and also, his parents have this awesome cat called Lex) — and, well, it’s nice. It’s all still very fresh for me, and I still feel a bit dazed when I think about it all. I didn’t grow up with any sense of “family” or belonging at all, so using the f-word (the nice one) is going to take some time.
The hardest part? Catching myself saying “I was talking with my friend Scott” and subbing in the word “cousin.”My friend Ted suggested the word “frousin,” and I think I’ll try that for a while.
Here’s to friendship. And family.