Cousin Sarah lives in two houses in Albany. On school days, she goes to the nice square house with the triangle roof, and on weekends and holidays, she goes to the brownstone with four floors. The brownstone with four floors belongs to her daddy’s girlfriend, Iris. Iris has two kids that aren’t Uncle Pablo’s, but it’s okay because Uncle Pablo has four kids that aren’t Iris’. Iris is sweet, but not fake-sweet like the people with the creepy smiles on Disney Channel, real-sweet like a mother. The family likes her, which is good, because they didn’t like Maxine too much. Or Barbara. Or Elizabeth. She’s a keeper, they tell Uncle Pablo. Uncle Pablo smiles.
Sarah’s real mother is named Delilah, and she is a firm believer in what she calls “tough love”. I’m tough on them because I love them, she tells my mother, just a few months before she and Uncle Pablo stopped living together. I didn’t know if I was supposed to call her Aunt Delilah if she wasn’t married to my uncle anymore, so like all the others, I just called her Delilah. I haven’t seen Delilah for a very long time. Mom says that’s what happens.
Before Delilah, Uncle Pablo was with someone called Belinda. They had two kids named John and Malcolm. I like John and Malcolm. I’ve never met Belinda.
Uncle Pablo and Delilah had another kid besides Sarah. His name is Cousin Landon, and he tells funny jokes when he is not in his room shooting people with a little controller.
Cousin Sarah is two years older than me, which means she knows a lot more than I do. She has kissed boys, too, and puts on lots of makeup. She likes to go on facebook and type things with lots of little hearts.
Cousin Sarah is very pretty. Her hair is perfectly straight and blonde, and her teeth never needed braces, and she doesn’t have ugly glasses like me. Even though Mom says that she is at the age when girls get red dots on their foreheads, Sarah doesn’t have any, and despite it, she still draws on her face to make it look better. She colors her lips with red marker and traces her eye with colored pencils while she brushes her eyelids with powder. She only does this when she is visiting, because she says the boys are cuter here in New York. I disagree. I think the boys in fourth grade at my school are disgusting. Sarah laughs and asks about the eighth grade boys, but I say that I don’t know because I don’t talk to them.
Cousin Sarah is a junior cheerleader. She is on a team in Albany, and I ask all the time if they’ve won any games. Sarah rolls her eyes and says that’s not what it’s about. A lot of times she does the dances and splits in front of my family while I sit there and try to think of any talents I have.
Uncle Pablo gives Sarah whatever she wants. When Sarah complains that the drive to New York City is long and boring, he says that Sarah can bring a friend. Suddenly, when Sarah shows up at our door with a girl named Nanette, I have to freeze on the floor next to my window while Sarah and Nanette sleep on my bed. Nanette is a lot like Sarah. They both wear makeup, and are cheerleaders, and have straight blonde hair and no dots on their foreheads.
Why don’t we watch a movie, suggests Mom. Uncle Pablo and Iris sit together on the couch while Mom and Dad are at the other end. Nanette and Sarah sit in the middle, while I am awkwardly on a nearby chair with my little brother in my lap. As the movie plays, I hear beeping sounds and look over to see Nanette and Sarah texting while my parents look on disapprovingly and Uncle Pablo is unperturbed.
Cousin Sarah has a new boyfriend every time I see her. Did I tell you about Brian? She asks me one day. Brian?!? I exclaim. What happened to Max? Max got boring, she says. And acne. In some ways, Sarah is a lot like her father.
Cousin Sarah tells me all the family gossip, because Mom and Dad say it’s not for my ears. She tells me about Cousin Kalidah being in jail, and Uncle Jake getting kicked out by Aunt Zoe. She tells me about Aunt Yvonne’s drug addiction, too, and shows me the little jar in her bedroom when we are there for Rosh Hashanah.
One day, Cousin Sarah comes to visit with Uncle Pablo. Aunt Iris is not with them, and neither is Nanette. I am glad Nanette is gone, but I ask about Aunt Iris. Suddenly, Sarah collapses into my shoulders and I unexpectedly pull her into a hug. Very rarely I cry in front of Cousin Sarah, but never has she cried in front of me.
I hold her close and let her sob, because I know that people don’t like to try to talk through their tears. I will wait to ask her what is wrong, but she doesn’t let me, and immediately says Iris and Uncle Pablo are broken up. I can’t ask why, because I start to cry too. Cry because I will miss Iris’s sweet smile and the way that she was the one for Uncle Pablo. Cry for Cousin Sarah and Cousin Landon and Iris and Uncle Pablo. Cry because it seems that love never lasts. Who will he live with? I ask. At Andy’s house, she says through sobs. Andy is short for Andrea. Oh, I say, because I know what it means, and pull her closer as our sobs echo throughout my room. All I want is a mother, she says, taking sharp intakes of breath. Why can’t I have one? Why? But I do not know the answer, and just hold her close because right now there seems to be nothing better to do.
Age 12, Grade 7
Hunter College High School