Hasta pronto, mi primo.

My cousin Werner passed away yesterday.I can’t believe how much it hurts.Werner and I were inseparable for the first seven years of my life, while I lived in Cuba. Every weekend, our mothers, who were first cousins, sent us to the home of their aunts Aurora and Quelita, who’d never married or had children of their own. These beautiful, loving, selfless and unforgettable women treated us like gods and spoiled us without reservation. They encouraged us to play, to explore, to listen and speak freely… to thrive… and we had a childhood that was nothing short of magical. We played with marbles and jacks. We had tiny baby chicks that inconveniently grew into big, bad-tempered chickens. We played doctor. We wore funny hats and cardboard tiaras. We sneaked cigarettes and gorged on home-made ice cream.He said I bossed him around. Could be. He was the first boy to kiss me on the lips. It was probably my idea.When he and his brother Conrado started learning archery, he stopped me from holding Conrado’s target.I was a bit of an idiot.He loved me anyway.And then Castro came, and my parents brought me to the US. Werner’s parents stayed in Havana.We never wrote or anything… I found letter writing onerous, and would only write to Quelita and my grandfather, usually at my mother’s insistence. Their news of Werner grew less and less detailed as we got older. He had become a very handsome boy. He was a champion fencer. He was a model. He was passionate about the ballet. And then my mother died and it became agony to speak or write to Quelita, so the influx of information ended.How many years passed?I don’t know. At least twenty. Maybe twenty-five.All I know is that one day I was thinking about him, and decided to Google him.And I found him. Werner Walther Luhrsen Sorondo. There couldn’t be another person on the planet with that name.He was living in Colombia, teaching economics at the University of Cali, and on the staff at Incolballet, a prominent dance company.I emailed him at the University, not knowing whether he would reply.He did, almost instantly. His reply was full of love and acceptance; he wanted to know where I was, who I’d married, where I worked, whether I was happy.He also said he’d never thought of me as a cousin, but as a sister.My Werner.We stayed in touch by email, and then by social media.Then, about five years ago, he had a chance to spend a day in New York.We arranged to meet in the lobby of the hotel where he was staying, right across the street from Penn Station.I walked in… no longer a bright, energetic toddler, but a tired, obese middle-aged woman walking with a cane.And I saw him walking toward me… no longer a red-headed urchin, but the spitting image of my beloved grandfather.We hugged… and hugged… and hugged…We talked as though we’d seen each other yesterday.We grabbed a seat on a double-decker tourist bus and proceeded to ride all over Manhattan, seeing nothing but each other and speaking only of ourselves, our families, our childhoods, the loved ones who were gone, the way our fates had overridden our dreams. We had Chinese, we shopped for shoes, we went into the Waldorf and photographed each other pretending to be grand, and then we went to the Met to see Giselle. When it was time for me to get on the train back to New Jersey, we pledged to see each other soon. He’d return to the States; I would visit Colombia.We’d see each other soon.Except we didn’t.And now we won’t.There’s no one else who shares my earliest memories.No one who put up with me as a bossy kid, and still cares for me as an oft-defeated old lady.No one whose red hair was still evident to me, even when masked by a thick white mane.I got the news on Facebook.It was hard to focus on anything I looked at for quite a while.Then, out of habit, I closed Facebook and opened my Scrabble app.My first seven tiles spelled out COUSINS.They should have spelled SIBLINGS…We were soul mates.

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