You were my favorite. And I yours. This we both knew. And didn’t hide it.
Do you remember making sure I had two, even three umbrellas in my Shirley Temple so my dolls wouldn’t have to share? I do. You made me feel like a princess.
You don’t know how bouncy I would be at holidays. Not waiting for the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, but for you. The big man with the gentle smile who looked like every drawing I had ever seen of Jesus.
Your hugs smelled of spearmint and cologne. And a hint of smoke. You’d pick me up and swing me around. And I would laugh and laugh.
I eventually got too big to toss in the air. But I would still be anxious for your visits. How we must have looked, the raven haired man with the fair preteen. Heads together over what ever game I wanted to play.
Your fingers showed the first signs. Twisting until they looked like gnarled branches. The limping came later as your knees followed your hands.
Visits were less frequent. And as the years passed there was less man and more bone under your loose shirt. Had I been aware I would have known.
It wasn’t until your secret was found out and the family knew that it made sense. The black in your smile.
Ashamed, you withdrew. I would ask about you. But the family would just shake sad heads and say they hadn’t heard much. So I left it alone. I didn’t try to find you. I left you on the fringes.
I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that the last time I saw you… Was it five years ago? I can’t remember. But I didn’t know it would be the last.
And now it’s too late. You’ve gone to sleep. Never to wake in this world again. And my heart is breaking. Because I didn’t tell you.
I let you die without you knowing that your shame didn’t matter to me. That I loved you anyway. And for that I will never forgive myself.
Sweet dreams, cousin. I am so sorry I was not the kind, gentle princess you always believed me to be.