When I was a kid, I had some "cousins" who lived up in the Idaho region. They were the children of my mom's best childhood friend, my Aunt Janie. We weren't really related by blood, but they were still my "cousins". Family is like that, you know? Bonds of blood or affection become indistinguishable over time.
One summer, I drove up north my grandparents and we visited them for a while. After weeks in an RV with two old people, I was relieved to have kids my own age to play with. We spent time at the lake, hung out, played, picked berries. One of those cousins was a girl just my age and so we were completely inseparable. Then there was The Little Brother/Younger Cousin, a blond kid who'd follow us around and want to play with us. We spent a lot of time evading him, though I (being an only child) was secretly thrilled with the idea of a younger kid tagging along.
Years passed and I didn't see them again. My grandparents and my mother kept in touch with the family of course, but we "cousins" were all busy growing up, living our own lives and making families of our own. I'd hear about them at family dinners, get the latest gossip from my mom, see the pictures on my grandpa's shelf and that was pretty much enough.
Last year, exactly a year ago actually - on May 12th, I got a call from my mom, letting me know that my cousin, that little blond kid from Idaho, Jeffrey had been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. I hadn't even known he was in Iraq.
I am not going to go into how I feel about this war or the fact that it took his life. I will say that I think he was a really phenomenal person for joining the National Guard. He wanted to help the people in his community, he wanted to give something back to a country that he loved, and he kept a commitment and a promise, even though it meant going far away from his home, his family and the people he loved. Even though it came at great personal risk and ultimately cost him his life.
I never got to see the man that he grew up to be. He will forever be frozen in my mind as a little blond kid who laughed a lot, one far away summer in Idaho. I regret that I never got to see him again and I'm sad that he's gone.