It has been ten years Kevin. It is time. I am ready to tell my story….our story.
It was the weekend. My Mom decided to visit her sister. I was about 6 or 7 years old at this point. My father had just died about a year or so ago. I was an ultimate Daddy’s girl when my father was alive. My Dad was my world, my happy place, my safe place. His death froze me. It imprisoned me in another world that no one could seem to break through. My child-like spirit had been utterly annihilated. All that was left was a protective love for my mother, my sister and a small, shriveled husk of what I used to be. My mind knew another blow would be fatal to what was left of me. It had to protect me. My mind had created an impenetrable force field around me. No one could get past it. Everyone tried, they even sought out counseling, therapy, and church for me. I had also been engulfed by a thick haze of depression that made everything seem dream-like. I was barely holding on, but my force field would keep me safe. No one could hurt me inside of it.
We got out of the car at my Aunt’s house. My Mother went to catch up with her sister. She smiled at me, and said, “ Go play Shina.” Forcing a smile, I walked into the backyard. There was a creek back there. I walked toward the sound of the water. My cousins and their friends were playing in the creek. I stopped at the edge of the creek bed. Through the foggy dream-like haze, I saw a boy. He looked up at me and said, “Well, are you going to come in?” I shook my head no in fear and disinterest. The boy was tall and lanky. He had dark, messy hair and a huge toothy grin. He was standing barefoot in the creek. He had been catching crawfish. After shaking my head no to the boy. He cocked his head to the side and looked at me curiously. “Why?” he asked. I replied in a tiny voice, “ What if I fall in?” He looked at me and chuckled a throaty laugh. “Taw-shina, I won’t let you fall. I will hold your hand and if you fall I will catch you.”
I hesitated and looked at him apprehensively. The shriveled husk of my self, inside my protective force field, shook with fear and kept me standing still in protest. Then, for the first time, something crazy happened. A pink, warm hand shot through the layers of haze and sadness. I stared at it as if it was a strange invader. “How was he? Who was this?!…wha?!….um?” My protective bubble asked. I looked up at the tall, lanky boy with his sly, welcoming grin and smiled back. I took a breath then took hold of his hand and said, “ Okay, but don’t let me fall.” He replied, “ I won’t let you fall, I promise.” He spent the afternoon teaching me to catch crawfish, toads, tadpoles, and best of all, how to smile again. He had no idea at that time, that very moment, his words had brought me back to the living.
From that day forward, he became my world, my strength, and my safety. It is interesting how a plant, withered and dead can slowly be brought back to life with just a little bit of water and sunlight. It is also interesting how once that plant’s water and sunlight are taken away, how quickly it will wither once more. He was my water. He was my sunlight.
Over the next few years, family get-togethers were like Christmas mornings for me. I would get ready and sit at the window waiting for the family to come over. If we were going to someone’s house for a family party, I would stare anxiously out the window of the car as we drove there. I was so excited that I probably appeared to my parents as if I were a dog eagerly waiting to play outside or go for a walk in the park! I would be bouncing with anticipation. I was going to see Kevin!! Every time I saw him that frail husk inside of me would plump up a bit more. That dying shell, my spirit, started to mend and grow. He was the only one who could get in. He was healing me, and he didn’t even know it.
One day at my great grandma’s house, we walked in and were saying our hellos. I found myself looking past them all, I was looking for him. Where was Kevin? There he is! I saw him by the apple trees. He was in a rotten apple fight with my other boy cousins and his brother. I ran over to them. I was too nervous to say hello or shout out his name, so I sat near my girl cousins a few feet from the apple fight. The fight started to die down, and the boys walked over laughing, threatening to throw rotten apples at us. We shrieked, and my girl cousins jeered back at them.
As the boys walked over, Kevin spotted me. I smiled at him. He came over to me. My protective force field instantly started to freak out. “Ahh!…stop!” It had said, “No!…wha..what are you doing?! You stay away from her!” It had no power against him. He swooped me right up and swung me around above his head like a rag doll. He spun me in a circle and said, “Well, hello beautiful!” I giggled and squealed. He put me back down and walked off. I beamed, glowed even. I couldn’t stop smiling. My defensive wall was defenseless against him. It was not happy. “How did he do that?” It grumbled and vibrated. “Who is this guy!” I perked up, held my head up high and chirped confidently, “He is my cousin, my cousin Kevin and you can’t keep him out! He beat you! So there!” Then, I laughed, ran to play with my cousins and to find Kevin again.
My memories of Kevin from those years are filled with so much joy and laughter. The night he and his brother camped in my backyard playing dungeons and dragons. The days of catching toads, bugs and anything else he could teach me to catch. Him watching Conan the Barbarian in his silly inflatable armchair. He was always getting scolded for beating his younger brother Brad while pretending to be Conan or teasing his little sister Shannon. He would make these goofy voices and chase us around with those plastic alligator and dinosaur heads. You know, the ones on sticks that you could make their mouths move? If you are an 80’s baby, you will know what I am referring to. He loved showing me his room and telling me about all the movies he liked, the music he listened to, and the games he was playing at the time. He made me feel so loved, so needed.
He was older, and I knew he had other cool friends and his own life, but when I was with him, he made me feel like I was the only person in the room. I had no idea why? I was just a silly shy girl. I was scared of everything and boring in comparison to him. I had no idea why he loved me, but I didn’t care. I soaked it up with every cell in my body. I was able to feel love again for the first time since my father died. I felt beautiful and strong all because he was able to get through my force field that fateful day. He was the coolest person in the world to me. I looked up to him.
One day the family came over to our new house in Walnutport for a get-together. A few years had gone by at this point, and I was a bit older, about middle school age. The Walnutport house was on a dead end street with lots of trees and a huge backyard. It was beautiful. We had a tall tree in the front yard that had a tire swing on it. I remember helping my parents get ready for the party thinking I am going to see Kevin today! I was so excited! As family started rolling in one after the other, I watched and waited. No Kevin yet. I began to mope about making small talk with the rest of my family. I was talking to one of my cousins and remember trying to focus on what she was talking about because all I could think about was the fact that Kevin wasn’t there yet. Maybe he wasn’t coming? Eventually, he arrived.
As he got out of the car my mouth dropped open a bit. Woa! What happened to that skinny, lanky, little boy I knew as my cousin? It had only been a few months!? A year maybe? He had gotten taller and much bigger! He smiled the sly toothy grin that he always smiled. Ah, there we go, that is the Kevin I know, I told myself as I smiled. He was talking to family and slowly moving in my direction. Hm? Maybe now that he is bigger and older he will forget about me? I mean, I am just a silly little girl right? Perhaps he is too cool for me now? He glanced in my direction and shouted. “Ooooh!!! A tire swing!!!” and bolted straight for it. Yep, he didn’t even see me. I was just a dull, little girl to him.
As he started running toward the tire swing, I realized I was directly in the path of it and went to move out of his way, when he stopped abruptly, snatched me up and swung me around in a circle and said: “ Hello beautiful!” He put me down and gave me the biggest hug. He squeezed me so tight that I thought I was going to break in half! He didn’t forget me! He wasn’t too cool for me! I smiled up at him, and the grey haze around me started to clear a bit more. He hopped on the swing and started playing with my cousins and I. He was always making all of us laugh! He had no idea that we all looked up to him and how much he held us all together. Maybe he did know?
He was swinging around on the tire swing and started to sing “I wanna hold your haaaa-aaand” by the Beatles and started reaching out for our hands. He would grab our hands, and when he caught us, we would have to run with him as he swung.
At one point he grabbed my hand and instead of running I tripped and skidded on my knee. I dropped down to examine the damage. I had had a gross wart on my knee and the rock I hit on the ground had lopped it right off. It was bleeding so much! I started to tear up as the pain of the brush burn started to kick in. Kevin jumped off of the tire swing and ran over to me. “Are you ok?” he asked. I looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. He took my knee into his hands, looked at it and said, “Your all right, it’s not that bad. We will go get you cleaned up, and you will see.” He reached his hand out to me to help me up. He looked at me and whispered, “Be a tough girl though, don’t let them see you cry. Never let them see you cry.” I wasn’t tough! What was he thinking!? I was just a scared little girl! I looked into his bright eyes and big smile again and said “Okay.” I stood up and sniffled my tears away. I pulled back my shoulders, puffed up my chest, lifted my head high and walked to the house with him.
People asked if I was okay. My Mom asked if I was okay. I responded to all of them with a voice I didn’t even recognize. It was loud, boisterous and confident. “Yep, I am fine. I am tough!.” I said to them. I felt tough. I felt like a superhero standing next to him. Kevin said to be tough, and if he told me to be tough than I was going to be the toughest girl around! He gave me an approving nod that melted my heart and went back out to play with our cousins.
I grew that day, I got stronger, more brave, because of him. I felt like I could do anything and was tougher than anyone. There was no more haze. My protective force field remained but flickered like a bad light bulb. My defensive walls were crumbling. I didn’t need them anymore. I had Kevin. Kevin loved me. Kevin thought I was beautiful. Kevin made me tough. I was okay. As long as I had Kevin I would be okay.
To be continued….
Part 2- Teenage angst
*** A special thank you to those who have sent me pictures from Kevin’s childhood days and to his Brother and Sister for giving me courage I needed to write this piece.***