When my partner Pat went into the hospital for an extended stay, leading to the end of his life, my favorite cousin flew in from Texas to comfort me. It's not easy for me to ask for help, but when Kathy offered to visit, I couldn't eke out my usual, "No, I'm OK."
Kathy's mere presence held me up in her light and warmth at a time when almost nothing else could have. There's something extraordinarily special about knowing someone your entire life and loving them unconditionally. My cousin is a more like my sister—without all the lingering childhood resentments.
After Pat passed away, Kathy suggested we take a trip–just the two of us–as if she were reading my mind (which she could do). It'd been a horrific year for both of us and we hadn't traveled alone in decades. Our last road trip was when Bonnie Raitt released "Nick of Time," which we repeatedly shoved into my Nissan's cassette player and sung to until Bonnie called and asked us to stop.
We were pretty inseparable until I was 13, when her family moved from New Jersey to Texas. It was cruel and devastating for us both, like losing a body part. We've always stayed in touch, but not on a weekly or even monthly basis. Sometimes a year would get away from us. We had a lot of catching up to do and plenty of reminiscing.
Kathy and I could've had fun going to Camden, N.J., but she suggested we drive up the northern coast of California and Oregon. The trip went from a long weekend to nine days as we ogled spots up the coast from our laptops. Over the phone, we relished the thought of our greedy, extended week–no spouses, children or brothers. It would just be a chorus of two–singing the melodies of our past and songs of our future. We mutually agreed that it would be a healing trip.
The first motel we checked into was just north of Mendocino, and had gasp-worthy views of scattered rock formations that looked like they'd been plopped there by a sculptor. We breathed it all in and began to unpack. Within minutes, we both unbelievably pulled out the exact same pair of jeans from the same online outlet. Then we both unpacked Frye boots, smiling knowingly at one another. When I whipped out a blouse I had brought specifically for her, she said, "No, thanks, I already have that."
How is that even possible? Social genetics don't lie or cheat and, although we share a slight resemblance, our personalities and tastes were always perfectly matched.
It took us less than a day before we settled into our familiar childhood routine. Although she's younger (which she never lets me forget), she's a teacher to me in many ways. Of course, when we were younger, I was older (which I never let her forget) and I was her teacher. The yin-yang in our relationship has always been our bond, along with our laughter. My god, our laughter. We'd burst into song with the nudge of a lyric, we'd recite skits we'd written when we were 12, laughing until it hurt.
When we headed toward the Redwoods, my grief and then hers (she'd recently lost her mother) began to make its way into the conversation. We cried and walked through the mystical fog, which seemed to hold the redwood trees together, filling each other in on the high and low points of the past several years.
Kathy understood how huge my loss was, how cheated I felt that I couldn't grow old with Pat and of course, I shared her sadness of losing her mom to Alzheimers. One night, Kathy confided that she keeps picking up the phone to call her mother, and I said, "YES!" We then mourned other departed relatives and childhood friends. We cried some more and held each other tight.
There was one day when we found ourselves sitting atop the canopy of the Redwoods, which we'd gotten to by gondola. We looked out over the enormous misty trees with the slate blue Pacific in the background and were just in awe. After a meditative silence, we grabbed a bench and talked, and talked and talked, and I'm not sure how long we were there because it was like time had stopped. As we descended to the base, the fog had lifted and the sun filled us up with light.
We drove into Oregon through hailstorms, snowstorms and a rainbow. We walked, shopped and finished each other's sentences, completing conversations begun in 1972, 2006 and the day before. We spoke of our lifelong insecurities and gave each other advice, which was alarmingly similar. We told each other how beautiful we were, something neither of us really believes at our cores. We laughed at our mutual reluctance to get "in" a photo and ruin the picturesque beauty of the landscape, vowing that before we parted ways, we'd put on makeup and pose.
We sent photos home so our siblings would be envious. Kathy said, "It's not enough that I'm having a fabulous time; everyone else has to be jealous!" I laughed, remembering dozens of times one of us said something like that over the years. I knew in my heart that she was kidding … but not really.
When we hit Portland, near the end of the trip, it was pouring rain and we took cover in a pub to grab lunch. There was an old-fashioned photo booth sitting there, the kind that we had posed in numerous times at the mall, taking what were the original selfies. There's a picture of us from the late '60s that's so beautiful and joyful, and we immediately decided to re-create it. The photo booth now costs ten times what it did way back when, but not much else had changed. We both brushed our hair vigorously, dabbed on some quick makeup and smiled hopefully at the eye line in the booth, each telling the other how pretty she looked.