My uncle, Bookem, who got remarried a couple of weeks back has two kids. His son, SkinnyBumpLip hereafter shortened to SBL, and his daughter, Beck, are 4 and 6 years younger than me respectively. They grew up in a little red Cape one street over from the house my sister's and I lived in.
When we were very young, my sisters, cousins and I all spent a lot of time together. We spent weekends with my grandparents at their camp in the mountains playing carrom until our knuckles throbbed, climbing into the old rope swing that hung from the tree along the rock wall that once held the lake and watching hummingbirds flit back and forth to the feeder from the musty old couches on the back porch. We fought over the twin beds and read This Happened to Me in every edition of Bampa's Outdoor Life magazines. We saw the mountaintops with aunts and uncles and there's an incident involving a transparent green visor and a bee that still pains SBL to this day. We went sledding down the hill in the front of my grandparents house on the Snurfers, ice skated on the reservoir and picked mayflowers in Ham's field on Easter.
When I was about 10 Jo, their mom, made a religious conversion that threw shockwaves through my family. My grandparents were particularly rocked by the news that she was no longer going to be Catholic like the rest of us. At the time, I had no idea what it meant to not be Catholic. I didn't view people by their choices of faith. I knew that all of my friends and family all went to the same kind of Church that I did and had no comprehension that anything else out there existed. Not until the announcement. And, the announcement was "big" for level of Catholicism my family practiced. She had become a Jehovah's Witness.
When Jo switched gears she brought SBL and Beck with her to the new services and they stopped attending Catholic-based celebrations. There had been a handful of years just after the conversion when the "kids" still joined us at Christmas or Easter but eventually even that stopped. After what I'm sure must have been several heated discussions between he and Jo, Bookem gradually gave up trying because the bottom line is that the differing view would eventually take it's toll on the kids hardest and he loved them so deeply that he would never hurt them in that way.
Unfortunately for us, the cousins, the chasm created by Jo's very personal decision was near impossible to bridge. The camp in the mountains was sold and although our family continued to gather and spend time together, it was now primarily at the holidays. As unintentional as it was, we the kids were a tremendous casualty in the middle of the spiritual conflict between the adults. There became fewer and fewer occasions for us to hang out until eventually, we just didn't see each other at all anymore even though they still lived one street over.
Years have ticked by now and SBL and Beck have moved clear across the country, literally. They grew up minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and are now settled minutes from the Pacific. To me though, they don't seem any further away then they have for the past 25 years.
Last month for Bookem's wedding, they flew home for the celebration. They were both as beautiful as I remember them. The six cousins, Tall Boy and SBL's wife were all seated at the same table and throughout the meal we made our way past the nervousness to the point of being able to joke and reminisce again which was, by far, the best part of the day aside from gaining the most incredible woman as my new aunt.
Later at the after party, SBL sidled up to me and wrapped his arm around my neck with a smile and said that he missed me, missed "us". Then he added something that was both heartbreaking and poignantly spot on. He said that he felt like he didn't know me. That he knew me "before", in the past, but that he didn't now and that he hoped that some how, some way, that would change.
For me, it's still not about faith, religion, beliefs or mileage. Never has been. I miss them as members of my family. As a makers of memories. As a tellers of history. Our history essentially stopped when I was 10, he was 6 and she was 4. I miss them and hurt for the chances we were never able to have all these years. Woven in that painful place is the realization and acceptance that none of this was anyone's malicious doing. Not their mom, their dad, or anyone else in our typically complex yet incredibly loving family. It's just what happened, what resulted, from decisions made so incredibly long ago. I don't know that we'll ever be able to create new memories in a way that replicates the path our relationships were on before it all but at least now the chasm is connected if only at it's shortest span.