“You sound so much alike” was repeated throughout the night. I hadn’t seen my first cousin Damien in years, and as soon as we’re together we wonder why that is. He worked as a chef at many of New York’s Best Of restaurants (and used to bring me many goodies) before following the Philadelphia trend. Now he’s back, the executive chef of Cassis on 14th Street. Yeah, go ahead and twist my arm, getting me to a bistro with French wines, etched glass, and bowls of steamy mussels. Damien and I are a year apart and grew up together, pausing the movie FAME where we thought we could spot a nipple.
When we were young, he tricked me into eating a handful of really hot Chinese chili peppers. I began to cry on the spot. At first he laughed, but when he saw how much pain I was in, he began to cry, too. When I reminded him of the story the other night, he sucked in a whistle like Papoo. When I told him so, he laughed like his sister, who laughs like her mother. We all sound the same.
When we’re together, everything becomes more pronounced, accents and attitude. We speak with our hands and laugh at our own jokes, touching you lightly on the arm. I love being around family because of this; it reminds me that I have one, that I’m part of something, that there are people out there who tell a story the same way I do. Who dance and drink and know how to fucking LIVE. Life is a series of moments, and the ones I hold most dear are spent surrounded by those who know life is lived in these moments and meals.
Damien laughs at me with his mouth open, but it doesn’t really become a laugh until we both open our mouths, then it becomes safe, comfortable, and so real. I feel alive and home. I love how family does that, regresses us to a photograph in our minds, where we’re wearing white leather Nike sneakers with navy blue swooshes, singing together, measuring our heights along the neck of a giraffe measuring stick hanging on my childhood room walls.
I love that someone has known me that long, and in turn, that I know he has a sweet tooth, holds his breath now when he sees a dog, and the first time he made pesto, he didn’t rinse the basil enough, so we basically ate sand over spaghetti. He’s the guy I played tennis with, and when he served, he’d slice the ball. When I couldn’t return it, he’d yell, “Stemmmm.” Then we’d order grape juice and mix it with seltzer, charging it to our parents’ chits at the club.
His mother once told me she was glad we were friends because not a lot of people understand him. I never understood how that was possible. Being around Damien was never work or patience; it was home.