Tuesday, September 09, 2003

mi extended familia

c and i went to visit my grandmother in urbana-champaign a few weekends ago. it's always nice to get out there because my grandmother lives with one of my favorite cousins who is married to a cuban guy who is just a sweetheart. i kinda feel bad for them because it's almost like they got married and then boom my grandmother came to stay with them and never left. but the husband seems to adore her, which is great. i on the other hand, tend to keep my distance from her. not because i don't care or don't love her, but because everytime i call or go to visit, i have to deal with this huge guilt trip about why i haven't called sooner or why i'm only visiting for one day and not the whole weekend. not to mention she goes on and on about how this may be the last time i see her because she thinks she's going to die soon. depressing. yes. but she's been saying this for the last 5 years. true, she's not the healthiest person in the world at her age but to have to listen to someone talk about their death is morbid to say the least. add to that her constant questioning as to why i'm not married yet, as she obviously believed me when i told her that c is just my "roommate". she went on to say that i shouldn't wait too long before getting married because "there's a lot of fun to be had with your husband, but if you're too old then it's not fun anymore". little does she know that i've had fun, more fun, and then some! hehehe. she's so precious..

but it was nice to see them all, if only for a short period of time. they have a cute little house with a huge back yard where they grow everything from tomatoes to green chillis and even cucumbers! and c loves their dog (since i won't let her get one.. hehe). as with all grandmothers, mine refused to let us leave without cooking a huge meal, bengali style of course. it was delicious. mmm.. m! c wasn't as impressed but that's because she has american tastebuds that just don't agree with my own spicy-curry-eating-lip-smacking tastebuds. wow. all that flavor took me back to the days when we all used to live in bangladesh and grandma used to cook all her special recipes upon request. those definitely were the days.

the day after we got back from champaign, i found out my other cousin (the champaign cousin's brother) who lives in miami was coming into chicago to drop off his 9 year old son (i'll just refer to him as "the kid") back to his ex-wife after a month long vacation (they got divorced about 4 years ago). my cousin was 20 when he had the kid, the ex-wife was 19 and they both lived in chicago. she got pregnant, they got married, moved to miami with my cousin's parents, raised the kid and then one day, 6 years later, the ex-wife took the kid to chicago to visit her mother and they never went back to miami. my cousin was shattered. he tried really really hard to get her back. i'm not totally sure what made her leave him so i won't even bother speculating, but i do know that my cousin loved her to death. i don't think he ever imagined in his wildest dreams that she would just up and leave like that.

so now my cousin gets to see his kid once or twice a year and has to physically come to chicago to pick him up and drop him off. i usually see them about once a year or more when i go to miami, but this time around the experience was very different.

the night before my cousin left i took him, his son and c out to dinner for some chinese food. this kid is so smart and so funny and just plain entertaining! i've always liked him as a baby, but i had no idea he'd grown into having such a fabulous personality! he even talked politics (albeit somewhat incoherently, but can you blame a 9 year old?!!) and pretty much dominated most of our conversations with his witty remarks or scientific observations of how the same glass can make different sounds depending on the amount of water in it! wow. i grew to re-adore him all over again.

but pretty soon the conversation shifted to the fact that my cousin was leaving the next day. and that's when things got really sad. the kid asked his dad this question (yes, in front of c and i): "dad, if mom wanted you back, would you come back?". now, i should share with you a little history here before i get into the dynamics of such a powerful question. after the ex-wife upped and left my cousin, he tried really hard to get her back. he quit one of his jobs (apparently one of her complaints was that he was never around because he was working 2 jobs.. umm.. hello.. to feed your ass, i'm sure!?) and tried to get his act together financially. he asked her several times to come back and this basically went on for about 2 years. well in the span of those two years, his ex-wife met and had a baby with some guy and they all live together in her mother's white trash house (literally, if you ever saw the place those are the exact words that would come to mind). and that's when my cousin realized it was all over. there was no going back.

so now.. how does a father answer a question like that? you could tell that the kid was just looking for some hope.. some kind of string to hold on to for future reference so that maybe one day they could all be a family again. you should've heard this kid.. it was like listening to a grown man talking. unfortunately his question ended up being somewhat of an ultimatum. he quietly but powerfully threatened to leave the restaurant alone if he didn't get a straight answer. all he was looking for was a yes or a no. it didn't matter that we all at different points during the conversation, chimed in about how it was an unfair question and that it wasn't just a black or white situation. there was plenty of gray in the mix. but he didn't want to hear it. he just wanted a yes or a no. it was the hardest thing i've ever had to witness. it was heart wrenching. i thought i was gonna start crying! but i held it together and tried to help my cousin out by saying stuff like "you're dad really tried to make things work, but after a certain point you just have to move on, you can't hold on to the past forever.. blah blah blah" but the kid just looked at me as if i didn't understand the question and said "yeah, i know all that but i just want to know.. IF my mom wanted him back, would he come back and make us a family again!". i didn't know what to say at that point and i think my cousin was just frustrated to the point where he just had to tell the truth, and he did. he said "no. i'm sorry but it's too late for your mom to change her mind. i've moved on with my life and she's obviously moved on with hers. so, no. i don't think we could ever get back together again".

sure enough, a big tear started streaming down the kid's face and c and i and my cousin just looked at each other with the most helpless expressions on our faces. when it set in that he'd never be able to live with his mom and dad under the same roof, the kid went on to say very tearfully that he wished he could live in miami for 6 months and in chicago for 6 months but of course we had to tell him that he would suffer in school if he tried to do that and that school is really important. my cousin also told him that when he gets a little older, he can make up his own mind as to whether or not he'll live with mom or dad, but for now, he has to be with mom.

and that's when it occurred to me that the least i could do for the kid was to try to see him as often as possible and help him get out of that damn house once in a while. so last sunday c and i took him to the arcade to play video games and afterwards we went back to our place and played monopoly. i forgot how much energy 9 year olds have but i really did enjoy the time we spent together. i hope he did. and i hope i'll have the opportunity to be there for him whenever he needs me. i gave him all my phone numbers and asked that he call me at least once a week. what more can i really do?