You guys were not that cute when you were born.
Cute would be a strong word, the wrong word. You were kind of wrinkly and pointy and underweight and old-men-like. Clearly, not at all your beautifully young peopleness that you are now and will be until you are at least ten, when you might go through that weird pre-adolescent boy thing which lasts until you are about twenty or when you finish high school. You will still be beautiful in your youth, for sure, but maybe not in your skin. You won’t know what I’m saying until years after you’re past the experience. Maybe it won’t happen at all. I have been wrong about lots of things, though you believe everything I say. I adore that.
I say this now because I see these sorts of things. Also, I’m not your parent and so I’m not obliged to say anything to you other than what is unconditionally true and objective…for me. We knew right from the start that you guys would end up making and breaking our hearts. Every day.
Every single day. I’m not anybody’s parent. Maybe you’ll end up hating me. Maybe I’ll end up being mad at you for taking money from your grandmother like one of my other nephews (your second cousin) has done or for smoking cigarettes or pot orwhatever is smokeable when or if you start to do that. Maybe I’ll be uncomfortable at listening to you brag about what is clearly stolen property. One time, this nephew came home from school wearing some orange hunting coat that was way too big, proudly saying that a teacher at school gave it to him. I hated his parents in that moment for sending him to school so poorly dressed that a teacher felt strongly enough to give him a proper coat. That poor boy is lost. Maybe I will help him too. Maybe he will help me. Maybe he has helped me. The last time I saw him I was really worried that he was getting into some jittery, skin crawling drugs. I’m still worried.
You. You guys are okay. Five years later. More than okay, actually. One broken limb. Two whole sets of pointy baby teeth. Three arguments a day, at least. A couple of appointments to observe various behaviors. Some friends intervening. False alarms. Four charming knock knock jokes, one of which goes:
Boo hoo. Why are you crying?
I tell you this particular joke every time I see you. You respond as if you’ve never heard it, and your laugh fills me with with actual joy. Real joy, which, as you know, is my middle name. Literally.
You have a great uncle who died of cancer and anger and another, his younger brother, who loves you to bits. He loves you so much. You like him a lot too, or you seem to because you almost cry laughing every time you see him. Also, he lets you drive his weird lawnmower whenever you visit his house on Dalrymple Road. Those two brothers were best friends. That great-uncle’s eulogy was given by a complete stranger in a suffocating chapel attached to a funeral home run by a guy who was in my grade 10 typing class. This was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I cried forever. So did his five daughters. I wrote him a letter that he never received, and I just couldn’t say yes when his stepdaughter asked me if I wanted it back. I have a lot of guilt about not really knowing him that well. But he really got a kick out of you guys. You liked him too when you were two and half. The guy who runs that funeral home and chapel also buried my father over twenty-five years ago. Small world.
So. For your fifth birthday your mom organizes a massive Lu’au for you and your fraternal twin brother. More than fifty people gather in the neighborhood schoolyard behind your Parkdale row house, which is pink. She made cute flower leis and awesome newspaper grass skirts and hand-sewed a fantastically awesome happy birthday banner with triangles for each letter. Very old-timey and nice. We’re thinking she should go into business selling parties in a box or something like that. She’s very talented, your mom. You must know that. Anyway.
Guests are charming and lovely, but don’t know that you need two of everything because share is not really a word you guys understand. You understand, but you’re not at the application state yet. You know I say this out of love and heartbreak…and some more love. I would say that I’m sorry, but I’m not really. You will get this later, or not. I’m not terribly worried because I know you’ll forgive me.
But you are young and beautiful. And, at the party on the school grounds, when I could see you 100 feet away talking to the group of drug dealers who all know you by name, I laughed out loud. I cried inside. Everyone in your neighborhood knows those guys and is slightly scared of them. The neighbors call the police a few times a week.
You are so beautiful in that fearless moment. Though maybe not fearless because it would never have occurred to you to have fear in the first place. Another pure and bittersweet joy. I will hate when you actually have it, as in the fear.
They usually ignore you, but these guys knew it was your birthday and they were very genuinely nice to you. They’ve known you and your brother since you were born. And yes. I know that you are older by something like nine minutes and a little smaller than your brother, also your best friend. I remember your mom once saying that she’d never tell you guys who was born first. I don’t know how long this lasted because the next thing I knew, you told me all about it.
Five years ago, when you and your brother were a few weeks old, your father, a nice man with salt and pepper hair who puts up with a lot from his inlaws, had one of each of you in his arms. That night, it was humid and Toronto hot and you were wearing cloth diapers way too big for your four-pound, premature, saggy skinned selves. Your father walked over to those same drug dealers, who drive in from wherever they live. And he had the both of you in his arms, actually one of you in each arm. I don’t know how he opened the door to get out. Actually, I have a picture of me holding the two of you just like this. I posted it on Facebook two seconds after it was taken. I must have had thirty comments on it even though I had so few facebook friends at the time that I knew exactly who deleted me and when. Ask your mother about my terribly silly reaction to just this situation.
Bravely, your lovely Buddhist Dad asked if those guys wouldn’t mind keeping the noise down that one night. I was shocked. You didn’t know this, of course, when your five year old self played catch with that motley crew and that pock-marked large red kindergarten dodge ball. The drug dealer who is maybe 23 years old was smirking at you. It bothered me. His smirk bothered me a lot. I was sad for him.
Your mom told me that you had come home a few weeks earlier and that you had told her that you were sad. You were your four year old self and you were sad because your friends were ignoring you. She was sad when she realized that you were talking about the drug dealers. She told you not to worry about such things and that you were loved by your friends. The worry has begun to creep into your life, hasn’t it? When she told me that I had the same reaction as when I saw you talking to those guys on your birthday. It’s beautiful that you love them as friends. We don’t want you to do that when you grow up, but if you do, we will love you anyway. I had a friend who committed suicide a month ago and all of his friends loved him despite his decades of drug abuse and depression and professional dealing. I loved him without really knowing him very well. Drugs, in addition to being illegal, are a very sad business for everyone involved and not. Movies are made about this shit. I mean poop. Terrible. Sorry for that.
I’m telling you now that you are beautiful for loving those boys who hang out, smoke and sell dope in your school’s parking lot every night. You will have those memories, though I hope that they won’t weigh you about your own children or young relatives or friends when you look at them when you’re my age. I hope I’m around to see that too.
Your father gave those schoolyard dealers some of your awesome birthday cake.