After I returned, one of my younger cousins would make routine stops unannounced to check in on me.
Again, it was likely by instruction from my mother. I treated his visits as a basis for understanding how much time had gone by, not just for what he chose to share with me but for what I tried to remember of him before I had left. He was a child at the time, which in our shared family conjures a sort of stodginess in imagining, the deference and the rituals and such. This was certainly true of him as well. But I felt with more frequency that he was not unlike me, some such awareness of just how things came to be and why. How much I weighed in my mind the possibility that he could have just as likely turned down my mother's requests to supervise me. Whenever I opened the door to my apartment to let him in, I felt that there was nothing more palpable than noting how much I could not remember him from before as he slipped past the threshold.
In the beginning, he tiptoed around the subject — who I was with all those years, what I was doing to support myself. I spent a day leaned against the door jamb explaining all of this to him, just as I did with my mother. He listened without much surprise, all the while fidgeting with a matchbook as if to keep his hands occupied.
At one point I paused in speaking for a few seconds to look over at my cat who was in turn looking at my cousin's hands for the matchbook like it was a strange toy. I thought absurdly for a brief second that the young man in front of me was some useful decoy for my family and not actually the baby cousin from my youth.
If you were here I would have spent the rest of my narration bloviating about more of my own imagined scenarios, that I was experiencing some metaphysical defect of the real, that perhaps even the cat was aware of some inside knowledge from even before I brought her with me back to New York.
He must have taken this moment of me looking away as a sign to start talking about himself. He told me of what he was studying, at which university, his friends, a recent trip to Hartford. I asked him like questions, and he seemed to appreciate it the more I listened, him leaning back in the cushioned seat to turn his gaze upward, tending toward some imaginative aspect of his life that I realized was what bound us together.