Valentines '98... the night where I found myself at a crossroads, a moment of truth... and through the smoke came to my rescue the man I had always looked up to all those years ago. Ever since that fateful night, I've vowed to be a positive influence to my little cousins in the same way he was to me growing up
Growing up I looked up to Vince (my cousin 10 years my senior). He did a lot for me by just being there. Fond childhood memories? Check. Eased some of my growing pains? Check. I wanted to repay that with my cousin, David
In June of '07 David turned 19. Or, as I tease him, 18 going on 30
To say that David is the shy and quiet type is like saying "I stared down the barrel of a great white shark in the wild and barely broke a sweat!" If you didn't talk to him, you wouldn't hear a peep come out of his mouth. If you did talk to him, you'd be lucky to receive a three-word reply, and be even luckier if you actually heard what he mumbled. He's OK around me, but anyone else? Forget about it. And even with me it's pretty bad
I love the kid as though he were my own brother, but it pains me to say what most kids have done by his age he has yet to even sniff. He doesn't know how to drive (let alone taken the test), he's never been employed (let alone apply for a job) and never had a girlfriend (let alone having girl friends). I just worry about him sometimes. It's hard getting him to open up. There are times where, despite my many efforts over the years to help him expand his horizons, I wonder if, as a cousin, could I still do a better job . . . ?
It's no stretch to say that I've always believed in David more than he did himself. Here are several back stories before I get into what transpired on his 19th Birthday...
IN THE BEGINNING
We grew up together. In the late 80s my uncle was living with me and the fam. He got married, his wife moved in and they had a baby in '88. That baby was my cousin David. I remember June 15, 1988 pretty well, considering I was only four (and three quarters) at the time. I was standing against the garage door, watching my mom sweep the dry, poop-brown leaves off the driveway. It was a damp blustery morning. And then came home the little brother I never had. We bonded instantaneously. I still have home videos showcasing David brushing his teeth at 2 years old, with that patented jovial grin of his. He was such a delightful little kid
He loved brushing his teeth, and I loved watching him do it. I've never seen such showmanship! After he brushed, 5 minutes later in his crib he'd tug on my shirt to take him back. Under the cover of darkness, I'd smuggle him off to the bathroom for a second show. I still have a home video where you can see me shoving David -- with all of my 7-year-old strength -- up on to the sink. He bumped his head against the mirror really hard as he fought to stand up on his wobbly legs. Instead of crying, he amusingly stared back at his 2-year-old reflection and, with a gleeful laughter, jubilantly pounded the mirror with his palm. He was a bundle of joy
In the summer of 1991 my brother Kevin and I were playing backyard baseball. I fouled the ball off into the thorn bushes. I was roughly 8 at the time, my brother 10. David was 3 and in the backyard with us fiddling on his brand-new Power Wheels. Kevin and I fought so much as youngsters, physically and verbally, that it's not even funny. Instead of grabbing a stick and poking the tennis ball out of the thorn bush he screamed at me for hitting it there. Of course, as little brothers often do, I had to respond in kind. And my response was not kind! A-ho-ho-hee-hee-ha... ahem. So anyway we were shoving and jostling. And in the middle of this commotion I felt a tap. Kevin and I turned around. And David, with an odd grin plastered across his face, held out the tennis ball to us. We gasped in horror when we saw the thorns had pricked his tiny arm
But judging by his ear-to-ear grin, you'd never think the pain that had to be surging through his little arm bugged him at all. I remember kissing him on the forehead and patting him on the back. What a great kid
Then in the spring of '92 my aunt became pregnant, and my uncle decided the time was perfect to move out and get their own place
Life would never be the same
ROLLER COASTER OF EMOTIONS
I've always wanted to take David on a roller coaster, especially when he was 8 or 9. We went to several amusement parks in the late 90's. Each time I'd convinced him to go on the ride with me. And each time he'd get cold feet at the very last moment. Well, there was this one summer day of '98 I'll never forget. He was 10, I was 15. Once again he agreed in principal. This time around I had a really good feeling he was gonna come through
But would he?
The moment of truth arrived. As we started to walk toward the giant structure his grandmother grabbed him by the wrist and yelled "No, it's dangerous!"
With that, the look of courage and determination in his eyes were swept away with fear and doubt
He never went on that ride
In each person's lifetime, there are critical moments which help determine what kind of person you are, and who you become. Some moments are icebreakers. Others build up, festering in a blind rage until they burst through the seams. Sometimes they're obvious. And other times.... they're so subtle it'd take the knowledge of 50 wise men and a time machine to deconstruct the beast. For David, that sweltering summer day of '98, was one of those days. Of that, I have no doubt
HOT DOGS, AMERICAN PIES AND HAUNTED HOUSES
Relinquishing the dream of the cold-steel wonder that is the roller coaster, I looked to another form of cheap thrill... the haunted house
One of my best childhood memories came on Halloween night of '95. My cousins took me to my first "real" Haunted House and I never looked back. The sights, the sounds, the smells -- ahh. I wanted David to have that experience himself
In '98 he rejected my offer. In '99 he accepted. But first, he wanted to trick or treat around the block. Fair enough. So I took him and his younger sister trick or treating. David and his sister ran from house to house like thieves in the night. In a way they were! Receiving candy for free! Wearing masks! Why, in my day they didn't hand out candy, oh heck no, rather it was rationed paper clips! [Oh stop it -Ed.]
On one house David didn't make out the steps in the darkness and fell. Scraped his knees pretty bad. I took David home, and he never left the house again that night. I was very disappointed. So close, yet so far. But there's always next year, right?
Of course, I said that the year before
And even worse, time was running out. Running out like Bush's term [Er, except that's a damn good thing -Ed.] I went to the haunted house in '95 when I was 12. There's something about going to a haunted house when you're THAT young. When you're easily impressed by the slightest sight gag. When you think about it, 12 is really the last year of your childhood. Before you hit the teens, before you hit junior high with six classes a day, etc.
WELL... in 2000, David was 12..... this was the year to do or die
And miracle of miracles, Halloween 2000 we finally went to that haunted house; just the two of us. This time I made sure that no one, not even his well-intended yet mis-directed grandma, would rob him of this semi-mandatory American childhood experience
I don't care if it's uber dorky, and it probably is... but I proudly carry the ticket around in my wallet wherever I go -- as a reminder of the good guys winning
UPDATE!! *AUGUST 2008*
August 7, 2008, look what I found in his wallet! My bro and I visited David because it had been so long, and while I was in David's room with our family friend Mike, I couldn't help but sneak a peak in David's wallet. Imagine my shock when I saw he had this ticket stub inside! We went to see the opening of Rob Zombie's Halloween last year, and I knew David enjoyed Halloween the franchise, but I had no idea it meant THIS MUCH to him. How ironic that while I keep a Halloween haunted house ticket from 2000 that David and I went to, David keeps a Halloween movie ticket we went to from 2007! Seriously, sometimes life is too weird. Stranger than fiction, oh yeah
Summer of 2004. My other cousins (Vince's side) from time to time would hold family gatherings on Saturdays, and this was one of those jam-packed occasions. I admired Vince growing up. I've always strived to be a great cousin and example for David, like how Vince was to me. So I guess you could say it was pretty ironic any time Vince, David and I found ourselves under the same roof (usually Christmas, a Birthday bash for one of my billion nieces, or commemorating a death anniversary)
My cousins have this huge two-story house -- the perfect place for family reunions and gatherings. Everyone was hanging out downstairs or playing pool in the backyard. David and I were chillaxing upstairs in the den (where the 72-inch screen TV resides, thank you very much). We were playing foozball when he dropped a bombshell outta nowhere
"Steve, I got a D in math for the semester"
All my life I've looked at David as the little brother I never had. And his bold gesture, despite the negative context, made me feel SO proud. For at that very moment I knew, without a shadow of a doubt and for the first time ever, that he saw me as the older brother HE never had
A SLICE OF THE (COLLEGE) LIFE
It was the spring of 2005. There was a big event going on at my University one night. Everyone was welcomed to join the fray in the Student Union. It was a topic about today's youth and the issues of drugs, sex, race, you know, that kind of gig. I asked David to join me. To my surprise he said yes without hesitation
The event was packed with college students, roughly 60 to 75, from every imaginable walk of life. I glanced over at David as we sat down and was very glad he came along to take in this college culture. I wanted to expose him to a slice of college life. He was probably the only high school kid there that night
When they opened the floor up to the people, I was the first student to step up to the podium and talk. As I stood up from my seat David glanced up at me in semi-shock. I'd never told him about my public speaking background before. No doubt the #1 reason I decided to speak that evening was to show David you can do anything when you believe in yourself
Staring out at the on-looking crowd, I tugged on my Jordan skullcap as I began my spiel
"You know, in many cultures, least that I know of, and especially in mine, it's not easy being homosexual. *pause* Not that I am... and not that there's anything wrong with being homosexual"
The room filled with laughter. I saw David cracking up. I think in some way he understood I was doing this for him. His expression said "That's my cousin up there"
(On a side note... of course I had a point to my speech. The usage of comic relief in the intro was to lighten up the mood for a second. I certainly wouldn't do it in a room full of college professors. It's all about reading your audience!)
However, the thrill of the night came later on. We formed groups to talk about our experiences and thoughts on these issues. We sat in a circle and went around. When it came to David, he spoke softly and very shortly, but actually did it with some positive body language for a change. It was a small step in the right direction
When the meeting concluded, David and I talked and joked all the way back to the parking garage. It was a cold and starry night. Just absolutely serene. I was thrilled that I was able to provide David with a small taste of the college atmosphere. Any sort of preparation, no matter how small, is big. Plus he got to see his crazy ole cousin in action =P
Driving David home on the freeway that night, music blaring, I think I did Vince proud
HOT DOGS, AMERICAN PIES AND BASEBALL
July 2005 I took David to his first baseball game. It went to extra innings and ended with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 10th. We had a blast at the park rooting on the home team
HOT DOGS, AMERICAN PIES AND FIREWORKS
4th of July 2006 I took David to one of my favorite spots to watch fireworks. It's on a hill in the eastern side of town. At sunset the view's dead gorgeous
Check out these crazy photo's I snapped that night:
This is just a crazy shot... and I totally dig it!
THE RISE OF DAVID
So we come to June 15, 2007... David's 19th Birthday
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer's opening day. We had caught the first film on opening weekend back in 2005
It was me, David and Mike (a family friend) out to celebrate
Go ahead and drool fellas, that is SO my girl =D
Remember the classic '91 series? Hi-five if you do. Look at my card, I've kept it in pretty good shape since '91
12-card dollar packs, trading with friends at lunch and after school, damn f*cking good times! Ahhh
When we arrived at the theatre it was completely jammed pack! Cute high school girls were all over the place. Given the film, no shocker there
David was sitting on the edge of a row, Mike in the mid -- oh look, here's a pic to make your life easier... and come to think of it, mine as well! *Dr. Hibbert laugh*
But imagine the seats much much better looking!
About 5 minutes before the previews, this one girl the next row over looked back to me
"Hey, are you saving that seat there for a friend?" she pointed to the empty seat that separated me and the cute (but young high school -- jail bait, Steve-o, look out) girl
"Then is it cool if you move over? My two friends are coming soon"
No problem here. David, Mike and I moved over one seat. So now I was sitting next to the cute (but jail bait) girl. I can't say that it hurt my feelings
And then... as I sunk into my chair and chatted with Mike and David, there walked in the two friends the girl had mentioned
As fate would have it, in came these two SMOKIN' hotties right around David's age. I looked at David as one of them sat down beside him and I could sense him doing cartwheels inside... ah indeed, what a stroke of luck for my fine-feathered friend
Are we all caught up now?
Right before the house lights dimmed for the trailers, I caught glimpse of a sly little grin on David's kisser. As the first preview roared over the screen and speakers, I laughed to myself and poked Mike. I gave him the look. He too knew what was going on with David. He discreetly glanced over at David in the darkness and then back to me, returning the "I gotcha" gesture
Sure, nothing came of it, but for 90 minutes at least it was something different and good for David, and that's all I've ever wanted to do for him
After the movie I took David and Mike to a nearby Italian restaurant. David insisted on going to Taco Bell or Wendy's, but those are no places to eat on a Birthday. This Italian restaurant was far from upper class, but at least it had some class
Once seated, I noticed a waitress who looked vaguely familiar. She was serving an old couple the table over. Hmmm, where have I seen this chick before?
This restaurant is family-oriented, so each table is covered by white drawing paper and a set of crayons were sprawled in-between the salt 'n pepper. I took a green crayon and wrote on the sheet "Happy 30th Birthday David!" It's an in-joke between the 3 of us. David and Mike laughed
When our waitress came over to field our orders, she pointed to the crayon scribbling and asked "Whose Birthday is it?" I pointed to David, who made meek eye contact with this attractive mid-20-something Filipino lass
"Well, Happy Birthday, David," she said warmly. He said a quick thank you. "I'll be back with your drinks in a minute. If you need anything else, let me know"
And then the waitress from the other table walked by. I saw her face and it hit me. She looked at me funny, too
"Oh my God, Steve?"
Tiffany was an old family friend I'd spent more than a few Saturday nights with, back in '99 and 2000 along with another family friend, Tim. Back then, our parents met at Tim's house once or twice a month for dancing and drinking. The parents partied downstairs while we did our thing upstairs. Tim and I both openly shared a crush on Tiff. Some nights she was closer to him, other nights closer to me (get your mind out of the gutter). It was a friendly rivalry between he and I (we were really good friends). All in all it was good (mostly) harmless 16-year-old fun
In fact, that hill I took David to... 4th of July 2006... was the same hill in which Tim, Tiff and I spent our 4th of July, 2000. Crazy how things interlace...
Anyhow, Mike and David looked on in a mixture of confusion and wonder as Tiff and I quickly played catch-up. What a freakin' small world! We hadn't seen each other since the summer of 2000... when the parents quietly disbanded their Saturday night dance and drink-athons
So Mike, David and I were eating and talking. Just enjoying life. And that's when it happened
Our waitress came over with a co-worker holding a small fudge cake. Now I know restaurants will do this, but if you understood David's history of luck and the way in general people slighted him, it would shock you MORE to see them bring out the cake than if they DIDN'T
David's expression said it all
"We're going to sing you Happy Birthday... but in Italian!" they ceremoniously declared
And in the corner of my eye I saw Tiff looking on with a smile, the restaurant menu clutched against her chest. *shakes fist* DAMN YOU LUCKY MENU!!! DAAAAAMN YOOOOU!!
[Whose mind is in the gutter now, eh? -Ed.]
Buon compleanno a te Buon compleanno a te Buon compleanno a David Buon compleanno a teeeeeeeeeeee
As they sang, I noted the way they starred merrily into David's eyes, as if he was the most handsome young man they had ever laid their eyes on. I NEVER saw David look any prouder in the 19 years that I'd known him than at that very moment in time. He sat up high, chin held up and beamed ear to ear. Finally, someone other than me, was treating him like he mattered
The rest of the day he was like a new person. I ribbed him about his two new girlfriends. He had this spark in his eyes as he played me back -- I'd NEVER seen this much life and energy radiating from him before. It made me so happy seeing him be so happy
Damn. Looking back, I guess I've done more than my lion's share to help my cousin out. I guess you just always feel like you could do more, ya know? There are many more moments such as him sleeping over for New Years 2005, our trip to Reno in '02, etc. He is truly the little brother I never had
Even if David never breaks out of his shell fully or even partially, I'm happy to know that at least I was able to provide him with some backbone support over the years, and give him a Birthday he won't soon forget. And I'll be there every step of the way he needs me. Like how Vince was to me before he got married and had a daughter
Perhaps one day... David will think of me as I do of Vince, and vow to himself that he'll do to his cousin -- what his cousin did for him
Or -- maybe, just maybe, he already has
And write about it on a gaming site, too =p
Taken with his cell, to the far right you can see my Happy 30th Birthday scribble!