I remember meeting A. for the first time when I was not-quite-three years old. Although he’s my first cousin, he’s only two years younger than my father, which would have made A. twenty-two, then. There was something dangerous and a little sad about him, it seemed to me from hushed conversations I’d overheard. But he wasn’t dangerous himself: He was a sweet boy who’d done dangerous things. (Drugs, and jail time for said drugs, I would later learn.) Blue eyes blazing, he came to visit our aunt’s apartment, wearing a pin-striped suit with a pastel-colored shirt, shiny black Stacy Adams shoes, very short, gold-burnished hair, and sideburns. He practically crackled, he was so phenomenally exciting.
I have a vague recollection of being introduced to him, of his being sweet to me, of sitting in my aunt’s living room and listening to what, in retrospect, must have been a whole lot of unsolicited advice from people who were only slightly older than he was.
What I recall with utmost clarity is the photograph.
It was time for us to go, and I desperately wanted not to be separated from A. I recall big feelings that protested going home, and the certainty that I had no way to get the feelings out of my chest and into words that would make sense to the grown-ups. And then my mother said she wanted to take a picture of me with A. We stood near the top of the stairway that led to our aunt’s door, and my mother went down onto the patio below. She told me to stand a little closer to A., for which I was glad. He put his hand down, gently, flat onto my head, and I remember feeling like there wasn’t enough room in my body for all the crazy joy that flooded me. And I knew later I’d be able to look at the photo and remember.
(A. remains a badass.)