I love my cousins. All of them.
Growing up, my older brothers and I were complete opposites. They were social, fun, and rebellious while I was shy, boring, and compliant. So much in fact, that my aunts and uncles would ask me to baby sit my cousins while they went out to run errands. I didn’t mind. I was happy that someone trusted me enough to let me take care of their children. I made sure my cousins watched appropriate shows on T.V., ate enough food, and stayed out of trouble. I was only five years older, but I felt like an adult. They would tell me when they were having a bad day and I would try my best to let them know that everything would be okay. I made sure they felt protected under my watch. I was with them during the good times and the bad. They became the brothers that I never had as a child. They grew into responsible teenagers in front of my eyes, and that’s something I’m very proud of witnessing.
But this post is dedicated to a very special cousin of mine. Miguel.
Ever since I can remember, this cousin of mine has had a very difficult life. His mom passed away when he was around eight years old. I remember that day. And how everyone in my house cried. And mourned. And cried some more. I can’t imagine the feeling of losing a mother. But he continued on. He got retained from the third grade because he stayed a little longer in Mexico for his mother’s funeral. He had to make new friends and watched his other cousins celebrate school achievements a year ahead of him. Although he always struggled with school, he kept on trying. At the age of fifteen, his dad got deported back to Mexico. I can’t imagine what was going through his head when he found out, but again he kept going. He kept going after his two surgeries for his bad ankles, when he stayed in the hospital for weeks because he was malnourished, or when people constantly teased him because they never considered to be smart.
I doubt he even cares. See, my cousin has family that loves him. And I think that’s what keeps him going. During family events he shares his stories and tells jokes that make everybody in the room laugh. He is as care free as can be and everyone loves him. So we were surprised when we heard what happened a few months ago.
I was with my best friend in San Francisco when my little brother called me. I thought it was strange. My brother never called me. He asked if I was sitting down and I assured him that I was. His voice sounded different. As if he had just finished crying. He told me that he didn’t want to worry me, but that he was at the hospital with the family. I was confused, so I asked what was wrong. He didn’t say anything. He began crying. I had never heard my little brother cry so hard before. It was painful. Again, I asked what was wrong. A few seconds went by then I heard him say, “they shot Miguel.” I don’t remember much after that. I remember my best friend walking me out to the car because I couldn’t stop crying. I remember talking to my family on my phone, asking how my cousin was doing, and crying some more. I remember crying myself to sleep around three in the morning.
I went to visit him when I returned from San Francisco around midnight. There were around ten or so people in the room visiting him. My cousins said that the night before around twenty people showed up. He was lying there on his bed. He couldn’t talk and he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open. Finally, he looked up and saw me. I didn’t know what to say to him. He stared, smiled, and gave me a thumps up. I tried my best not to cry. I smiled and gave a thumps up as well.
The doctor told us the bullet hit near his spine. A few centimeters in a different direction and my cousin could have been paralyzed.
Over the next few weeks, my family visited him at the hospital. A few of my cousins slept over on their days off work. He was able to go home three weeks later, but had a hard time walking and talking. He lost fifteen pounds from all the surgeries and had to drop out of school for the semester. He stopped working also. His life completely changed, but his personality stayed the same.
A few weeks ago, I took him out to eat. He couldn’t remember getting shot, but he did remember waking up in the hospital and seeing his family. He was thankful and happy to see us. We continued talking about life and his future. And all of a sudden I saw him as the five year old kid that I used to baby sit. And just like that, I was taking care of him again. And I realized just how short our lives can really be.
Like always, he keeps telling us jokes, makes us laugh, and continues to smile through every obstacle. I really don’t know how he does it. He’s got the spirit of a champ. But I guess that’s something nobody can take away from him.