I’m on my parents’ couch, unsmiling and cold. It’s New Year’s Eve, and they’re not home. I decided days before to stay in, kick back, not go to San Jose with them. I begin to regret it because transitions of time, like New Year’s, get my mind jumping. I’m feeling overwhelmed–too small to fill this house. I let my mind wander anyways. It’s dangerous, though. I’ve got Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and bringing myself back to reality is not easy. Reader, I plan to jump into this next time. But I bring this up because you’ve got to understand why I hardly say and feel and believe in my truth. Not going there has cost me a lot.
Within arms reach, cut right, there’s a Scholastic Children’s Dictionary. Green, red, blue, astronaut, frogs, and kids skipping rope, all on the cover. As it often happens, I flash back to a moment. I flash to a moment when my cousin slid this same text in front of me, on a day not unlike this one, uncertain and cold, perhaps New Year’s Eve, years ago in high school. Lately, I’ve revisited this moment a lot, summoning it when I’m alone.
I’ve abandoned much of my past. High school memories and relationships alike. One of the most hurtful, my cousin. I’ve suppressed emotions, only to see them burst out in the most awkward of situations. Watching the New Year’s Day Rose Parade on TV, for example. When I write, I come back to moments that, at first, seemed to have no consequence, but proved to be big moments of transition. Any and every thing is a launchpad to get me feeling. And for the first time, I’m letting my myself go back there. It hurts.
My cousin plopped the dictionary on the couch, the same one I’m sitting on, and said my graffiti tag would become whatever word his finger landed on. He hit the flag of a country I never heard of, but took it on gung-ho. He’s got a scar smack on his wrist, some trademark, a sliver of pink cutting up to his forearm. I stared at it, wondered how he could fall down the stairs. I never asked him such questions.
This is how we chose to exist from that moment on: in hiding, in alleyways, in darkness, in suspicion, in everything but responsibility to ourselves and each other.
We got deep into tagging. Got a big kick out of it. It was addicting. We practiced a lot in black books and, eventually, began repping a crew. Some knuckleheads tried to punk us one day in McDonald’s. Our crew was never one to stir things up, but claiming something in moments of fear and anger makes you feel big. So I did, and almost got us jumped. We laid back for a while after that, but people began to reach out to us. We were something like celebrities. Some real big toughs.
We got caught once, and were chased down the block. My cousin slid under a car. I booked it to the next block. We got out clean, but I still laugh when I pass by that wall, just a few blocks over from my parents’ house. Some of our tags around the neighborhood are still up.
Tagging became our way of talking. Once, he said I didn’t talk enough. Called me out on not being present enough. I got pissed, wondered how we got to that point. I felt I was enough. He got caught up with markers at school soon after. From that moment on, we spiraled into really not talking.
He use to spend the night, sleep on this couch here. Many of my cousins did. But more so my cousin with the web-shooter wrist. His dad passed. And though I hardly talked, expressed any kind of feelings, he told me a lot. He missed his dad and wished emancipation from his mother. He was my brother. And on days like this, we kicked it home alone, pulled a bottle from my dad’s cabinet and drunk ourselves silly. People thought him suspicious. I called him vigilante.
The truth is, I eventually became a foreigner. Perhaps college. Perhaps not being present when he started slipping up. I regretted it a lot when I graduated. How I became all me and abandoned him.
I remember the first time we reconnected after years of no contact. Family organized a reunion. I met him there, about two hours from Culver City. He was excited to give me a ride home. We hadn’t talked in two years. This was my chance to feel, to speak, to repair. And nothing. We listed to the hum of the engine, the whisper of the radio, and stared straight at the red break lights ahead. This is how we chose to exist.
I’m on the couch, and I jump back to the moment I tried calling my cousin. It went straight to voicemail. My intention was to repair the relationship. Get back on track. I visited his pops at the cemetary a while back, and I spoke about how bad I felt. I took it on as a responsibility to make sure he would be okay. I make up a conversation in my head. It’s beautiful the things we say. The truth is, a conversation with my cousin may never happen. We’ve masked up for too long, and it’s hard to undo it.
Reader, if you see my cousin, tell him I said thank you for letting me keep up with him. I think he helped me more than I could ever help him. It hurts.