For as long as I can remember she has been there. My first friend, two years, eleven days my senior. My September, sapphire, Virgo cousin. Always beautiful, more kind than anyone else in the room, drawing a crowd with her contagious laugh and megawatt smile. I idolized her from the moment I arrived.
For the first part of our childhood, we grew up next door, exactly one house away from each another. For decades we shared the same last name and the challenge of explaining how our Italian fathers have a very English last name. To this day, we look more alike than any of our other relatives or sisters. More than one person has told me they think my older daughter looks like her. A compliment that reminds me of the joy I felt as a child when people thought we were sisters.
Together, we learned how to make twelve-hour spaghetti sauce without a recipe, or gravy as Granny Liz would say. We make the same homemade meatballs that require three different types of meat, still long for the paper thin spinach ravioli only Gran could make (although Valerie does a pretty close second), and are transported back to our childhood with a glass bottle of coca-cola waiting for our arrival.
We spent summers at the swim club, lounging in lawn chairs, listening to the music of the 80’s while the sun tea brewed in the back yard. We wore Ocean Pacific shorts, Sunshine House t-shirts, and flipped the collars on our Lacoste polo shirts. We had the same allergies and needed identical prescriptions. We had the same painful bones jetting out the back of our feet, requiring the same unusual surgery in our teens.
When it came time for high school, Sue made sure I was ready. Ready to make the cheerleading squad, parallel park, and still have time for a morning coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. I was a quick study learning how to expertly apply mascara, eyeliner, and bubblegum flavored Kissing Potion lip gloss. Sometimes on Friday nights, I would be invited out with her and her friends. Required to sit on two large phone books, designed to make me look taller, I remained in the back of the car and was strictly forbidden to speak to any boys. We cruised around Towson, like gilded queens on chariots, getting milkshakes, and ending the evening deliriously happy at the Rock and Bowl.
She is there, in nearly every corner of my blissfully happy childhood. Together sharing holidays and vacations, joy and laughter, coffee and conversation. When it was our turn to be a bride, we were one another’s bridesmaids. And as you may imagine she was there for me in the dark days of death. When I doubted both my will and ability to raise two young children as a widow, she championed me. Her familiar voice reassuring me, believing in me, encouraging me, in a way that only those with a shared history can do.
Today is cause for celebration as this wonderful woman, my cousin, celebrates her birthday. A special birthday that marks the passage of time, one I cannot quite fathom. Those of us blessed with the good fortune to call her family and friend are the ones that have been given the most glorious of gifts, having Suzanne in our lives.
Happy Birthday Suzy! I No matter how much time passes, or miles come between us, I will always admire you, feel my heart swell with pride when people ask if we are sisters, and look forward to the next time we are together again. I love you as only a cousin can.