Dear Cousin

(the one who will likely never speak to me again & vice versa)

Dear Cousin
(the one who will likely never speak to me again & vice versa),

My mom sent you. 

I could tell by the way her fingers moved: the strategic pokes for punctuation, the careful caress of her dainty gold crucifix, the delicate dabs of your salt-stained face. She was preaching something about family and forgiveness. Something about how silence wasn’t the answer. Something about, “we should be sisters.” Something about how, as newly married women, our children should grow up knowing each other. Not like us, whose familial distance only extended once your father passed, leading to decade-long lulls and a brittle reconnection in our early twenties. But, hardly knowing each other aside, we were supposed to be the generation to join forces. Because that’s what families do. They mend the unmendable, patching gaping wounds of trauma, hate, and betrayal with grisly scraps of obligation.  

You nodded, absorbing platitudes that prove prosperous in theory, not practice. Our parents, aunts, uncles often leaving out the “truth” in truth and reconciliation. Just apologize and be done with it. Just forgive and get over it. You’re family, they say. Yet we blatantly see—by who gets invited and who doesn’t, by whose phone calls they pickup or ignore, by who gets help and who gets nothing—who they haven’t forgiven, who they haven’t apologized to. 

Enchanted by the false promise of some whimsical, unconditional relationship, you swallowed your disdain and peered over at me, your cocktail hour hors d'oeuvres growing cold. 

I was hoping you would b-line towards the buffet, but instead, you gently grazed my arm and excused the interruption. You asked if we could talk. I acquiesced, suppressing a deep-negro-spiritual-sigh before wiping the crumbs off my crepe-colored bridesmaid’s dress and following you into the hallway. Actively avoiding my eye contact and hello’s the night before, I couldn’t piece together why you were upset at me. Only seeing each other a total of three times in adulthood and never calling or texting, we technically should’ve been in the cousin honeymoon phase longer. But slights were being tallied on your end, spilling over like the slopping stirs of the bartender’s vodka soda. 

I didn’t come to your graduation; I didn’t invite you to my sister’s fashion show; I had a birthday party and didn’t tell you; I was in your city and didn’t call you. These offenses triggered your abandonment issues, you said, your syllables trembling. I told you I didn’t know my actions affected you in this way and apologized. Ignoring the obvious reality that other cousins could not show up, invite, or call, yet there was particular emphasis on me. I didn’t want you to feel bad, or alone, or abandoned so, I threw a scrap of obligation on a gaping familial wound and invited you to my bachelorette and American wedding—seizing my chance at reconciliation without truth.

In hindsight, our story should’ve ended much sooner than your contentious presence at my bachelorette and way, way before you flew out to our wedding venue and didn’t attend. It should’ve ended in that hallway at our other cousin’s wedding when you finally said what you were scared to say. When you took a thick, shaky breath to collect yourself before confessing that you “unfollowed me on social media.” A confession that, if you knew me, meant less than anything you could possibly confess. I laughed it off and told you I didn’t care, but it showed we have different codes, that we don’t cherish the same things. That maybe all the tallying was telling of more superficial desires. That admittedly, in the end, we were both guilty of ignoring the truth of our incompatibility and operating off shoulds: that we should be sisters when we would never, and have never, been friends.

I scanned a few photos this past weekend, found one of us—the only one I’ve seen. We’re probably around five or six. You’re towering over me, looking stiff and concerned, a baby blue dress edged in lace draping loosely off your frame. I’m in a gold oversized knee-length kaftan looking dazed and confused. Both of our arms hang limply by our sides. There’s no smiles. No playful embrace.

I studied the photo, marveling at how some shit doesn’t change, how most differences remain, how not all family is familiar. 

Those unmendable gaping wounds.


Largely, largely inspired by an essay in my (brilliant) friend Jill Louise Busby’s upcoming book “Unfollow Me: Essays on Complicity.” A collection meant to be sat with and savored. I’m on my second read-through of an advance copy and I can’t stop talking about it.

Buy. This. Book.

You can pre-order here. Out September 7th!