Titles don’t mean anything–except when dating. In which case, I patiently wait for the title “girlfriend” to be bestowed on me, which rarely happens. When it comes to familial relationships, I focus more on the emotional connection rather than the technical title. I come from a large extended family. It’s impossible to know, let alone be close to everyone. Some people are family, a majority are relatives–people I see at weddings and funerals. There are family members, who though they technically have one title, our bond feels like something else. With the absence of my deceased mother, and estrangement of my father, my mother’s older brother and younger sister are like parents to me; a group of cousins are more like my siblings than my actual siblings. For years, my younger brother has called me on Mother’s Day. I couldn’t love my goddaughter any more even if I had birthed her. I have to make mention of the family with whom there are no blood ties, but any outsider looking in would never know the difference.
Last weekend I went home for the first birthday of my cousin’s son. Even with me living in New York and him living in Massachusetts, this kid will for sure grow up calling me Auntie. I make monthly visits to my home state. A few days before the party, another cousin, who also lives in New York, sent me a text asking if I wanted to make the trip with her and her kid. She would drive. I panicked and briefly considered declining. I wondered if the four hour, or possibly longer trip would be awkward. Though she’s my cousin, I don’t know her that well. We see each other here and there with a frequency more than just weddings and funerals–family barbecues, baby shower, and of course we’re Facebook friends. I hadn’t seen her in nearly seven years, maybe eight, during which time she’d been living in Atlanta. That streak was first broken only a few weeks prior when I went to dinner with her, her out-of-town visiting sister and their friends.
After days of texting back and forth to hash out the details of how and when we would depart New York for Boston, we finally had a plan of action. The kids were staying behind; she and I were meeting at the gate at Port Authority after work on a Friday evening. Whoever got there first would hold our place in line. Despite my office being closer to the bus terminal, she arrived first. As I made my way down the snaking line, I walked past her while looking and hoping to see the end of line. I heard a familiar, raspy voice call my name.
We immediately kissed and embraced each other. Then as if it were old hat, we gave the other passengers in line an earful as we exchanged stories and gossip. I felt an instant comfort with her, and I assume, she with me. More than an hour later we were still standing in line trading stories (there had been an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel causing traffic delays). Once we boarded the Greyhound bus, even though she had one of those U-shaped neck pillows and I had a salad, we continued to talk, laugh and share. One lady was annoyed and annoying, as she kept turning to look at us, but we continued our conversation, our voices becoming hoarse. We stopped talking, not because we ran out of things to say, but because our eyes were pleading to be shut. It was past midnight. I had pegged her as a relative, but in that moment we were family.