Note: All names have been changed.
I have listened to a lot of stories about the Dude’s siblings. He has four but he mostly talks about Cassie. He told me how she was a good sister to him. How she helped him when he needed it. How she backed him up when he needed it. He told me how she was so smart and talkative and lively and how her personality could fill a room and how she was impossible to ignore, even if occasionally he wanted to.
On the way to Calgary we stopped in Oklahoma. I met Cassie, and her husband, Tom. I met their son, the handsome Todd, and his lovely wife, Lisa, and their beautiful girls, Lizzy and Madison. I met Cassie and Tom’s daughter, the beautiful Missy, and her awesome kids, Alissa and Hunter. [This family is, and I’m not kidding, like a TV family. The kids are well behaved and gorgeous and listen to their parents and have beautiful manners and talk to adults as if they were adults themselves. (OK, maybe the two-year-old didn’t carry on adult convo, but she had good manners.) (Hunter: I’m not including you in the “kids.” You, Killer, are head and shoulders above the other persons-of-your-age I have met. May you long rock on.)]
I watched and listened to Missy interacting with her kids and seeing how much she really seemed to LIKE them, and how they liked her. (What is, “T-Dog?” I think that is what y’all said.) They talked like friends, but they obviously respected her as mom. I watched the 17-year-old Hunter love on his grandma and order dinner for her. (A gentleman, that one. Good job, Missy.) I watched Lisa and Todd play with and comfort their girls. I watched Tom pay attention to his grandkids and pet on them. I watched these people talk to the Dude like it was just yesterday that they had seen him, not years ago. I listened and watched and saw a beautiful, amazing, unique family.
I also listened and watched as Cassie told a story, and then listened and watched as she told the story again, and then again. I listened to this family tell the Dude how much Cassie has changed in three years, and how much she had declined in the last six months. I listened as the family asked, “Where is Grandma,” and looked around, everyone quiet, tense, aware.
While the Dude talked to the family, I looked at the family pictures and there was Cassie, the vibrant, bright-eyed woman I’d heard about. I saw her engaged with the camera. I saw a fierce intelligence and independence, and maybe a bit of stubbornness. I saw her eyes reflected in the grandkids. I watched the Dude’s composure falter. I watched Alissa ask Missy a question. I watched Missy tell Alissa that there were no guarantees in this world. Alissa is gorgeous, and smart, and wise beyond her years but she is also only 10.
I don’t know when we will be back this way but I hope to meet this family again. I don’t think Cassie will remember us, though. Cassie is 63, younger than my beloved momma, and three years ago was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. It is genetic. It is fucking cruel.
There are no guarantees.