My cousin Jill likes to tell me and anyone else who will listen about how I used to torture her when we were little and spent summers together at our cottage in Winnipeg Beach.
Apparently — and I remember none of this — I used to devise quizzes for her, and then tie her up or tickle her or imprison her or fart on her head or something if she got the answers wrong. She acts out these stories in great detail for my benefit, for my kids’, her kids’, I’m not sure: me at seven demanding, “Name the four seasons!”
Her, age four, forgetting spring.
“What are we sitting on?” I kept asking, bouncing on the bed, making the springs squeak. “What’s inside the bed? What are we sitting on?”
She didn’t know, didn’t know, desperately didn’t know and I was thrillingly relentless, tickle-attacking her for her faults.
If don’t remember the particular incident, I do remember what it was like to be simultaneously annoyed and flattered by her constant attention, the way she followed me around like a puppy and how I could get her to do anything. I remember a summer home thick with children, the easy and immediate (and sometimes grating) intimacy between all of us and our collective parents.
(But torture? If you want torture, how about the time my brother dipped Jill’s thumb in hot sauce in a sadistic attempt to get her to stop sucking it? Or the time I dropped my cousin Jason’s goldfish into a sink of hot water — totally by accident, I swear?)
Jill’s constant retelling of the story used to confuse me: was she mad? Had the incident traumatized her unduly? Had I somehow betrayed her? Did I need to make amends?
“It’s weird,” I once said to Rob, after introducing him to her and sitting through another iteration.
“I think she does it to show she has a history with you,” says Rob.
And I was momentarily stunned. I never thought of that.
But I think of it now, think of it after returning from a weekend away and watching my boys with their own cousins, who live now on three different continents and whom we see sporadically. But there’s still that easy intimacy, the way they gather and play and curl up together and are parented collectively and spontaneously by whomever happens to be around. I love how quick and strong the bond is, how it holds between months and miles. One day, if we’re all lucky, I’ll hear them tell their own stories about each other, demonstrating their shared and thrilling and relentless history.