When you are the last of five children with a Catholic family background, chances are you’re going to have a lot of nieces and nephews. I have nine, plus six greats ages two to 12. I was only 11 myself when I first became an auntie so many of them feel more like friends, and I can honestly say I like them, not just love them, all.
But I will admit here and now that I have a favorite.
My sister Kathy had four kids, girl boy boy girl. The oldest girl, Stephanie, was born one day before my birthday. My sister was 14 when I was born, I was 14 when Stephanie was born, and funny enough, she was 14 when my son was born. Kismet, right? I thought we’d be so close because as a young teenage girl, I hung on to weird coincidences like that. But then two years later, Kathy had Billy. While I was only 16 at the time, I remember his demeanor being different than other babies and kids. I couldn’t explain it then but I loved him immediately. Two years later to the day, Kathy had Stephen. Another adorable boy. Over the next few years of my teenagedom, I saw the kids during holidays and birthdays and by the time I left for California in 1990, I had six nieces and nephews. My visits after that were only once or twice a year, so my glimpse into their personalities and lives was short, but focused.
One year, before I became pregnant with Jackson, I was back in NH at Kathy’s house for a visit. She’d had another girl by then, Allison, so the house was full of kids and tweens. Billy had gone outside and I followed him out. We had a seat on the stoop next to the garage and I asked him how he was doing. He quietly told me about some drama happening with another kid at school. Billy was clearly a sensitive and intuitive boy, which we now see as superpowers but back then could have seemed threatening to those with an outdated idea of masculinity (shout out to my ex-brother-in-law!) I remember thinking how ill-equipped I was to help him. My instinct was to track the kid down and beat the crap out of him but I could tell by the way Billy was talking that this would only bring him shame. He didn’t want to hurt this kid he just wanted him to stop being such an asshole. So I said, “Ugh, I completely understand,” and put my arm around him for a squeeze. He thanked me, went back inside, and I sat there thinking: Oh my god. I want to be someone’s mom.
Billy died in a dirtbike accident in November of 2001. And his brother Stephen died in a car accident in October of 2009. Those aren’t my stories to tell.
Today is Billy and Stephen’s birthdays. I miss them the way you walk into a room and forget why you walked in there but you know there was a reason and you can’t quite place it and you stand there looking around… waiting for the light to come on in your head and remember but it’s just out of reach. Does that make sense?
Happy birthday, boys. You are loved.