I heard a voice from the past last Sunday. It was cousin Don. He was the relative with whom I most closely related as we were growing up. I've never been clear exactly how the progression of cousins go, as far as who is removed and how many times and so on, but for me he was my first cousin. We were close in age, and just a short trip up the road to Lafayette. That's where his family had a farm, and that's where we went for Thanksgivings forever. Besides that feast, they would travel down to our house for Christmas where we would return the turkey favor, and in the summer they were good for at least one trip up to our mountain cabin for a weekend of fun and frolic in the hills.
All of this closeness was put to the test one night when it was requested that I spend the night out on the farm. My mind filled with expectations: Riding tractors, milking cows, sleeping in a bunk bed. It could have been the best of times, but amidst the rest of those exciting opportunities came the fear. For all those years, I could never name it, but it was the thing that kept me from spending the night away from home, no matter how familiar of fun the circumstances might have been. When my parents left, and the sun went down, I felt the gnawing in my gut, but tried to put on a brave face. I did not want to disappoint cousin Don. I didn't want to embarrass myself. There was a room full of toys that I had never fully enjoyed in our brief visits before. There were all those laughs still to be had, late into the night.
By bedtime, I was almost ready to jump out of my skin, though I kidded myself that I was putting up a brave front. When the lights went out, I was alone. At least that's how I felt. I couldn't close my eyes. I worked myself up to such a pitch that I found myself in the bathroom, kneeling over the toilet, sure that I was going to heave all that good farm food. But nothing came. I moaned. I cried. I sobbed. Don's parents came and consoled me. They worked with me as best they could. They couldn't understand how this kid who was so gung ho about spending a night on the farm a few hours ago had become such a quivering wreck. Neither could I. Neither could Don.
The hours passed, and when the sun finally returned, I felt no relief. Just the shame of having spent the night tossing and turning, making deals like a man on death row. Here's the best part: Don never said a word about it. Not then. Not now. It was a sad, defining moment for me, but it never came up again. Not for all these years. On Sunday, we talked about his job and his family and my job and my family and all the things we have seen along the way. He told me he still read this blog.
Thanks for reading, Don. Thanks for being my friend.