I have a cousin that is just nine days older than me. He is one of my favorite people in the world. Growing up, we had many overlapping childhood experiences. His birthday parties would happen just a weeks before mine. His mother would rent the recreation center in the Soundview projects in the Bronx, us kids would run around and play hide and seek and pin the tail on the donkey at the parties, we never really danced. Too young, it didn’t seem interesting. At my birthday parties, my parents would invite everyone to our home in South Ozone Park, Queens. Kicking and popping the dozens of scattered all around inside and outside of the house, we would laugh and play hot potato and musical chairs. Both parties were fun and Manny and I were merry.
When it wasn’t our birthdays, we still saw each other regularly. Manny is on my Puerto Rican side of the family; the heart and soul of my Puerto Rican side is the matriarch, my grand mother. In the summers, my grandma would have have massive pool parties in the house in Castle Hill. My cousins and I would frolic and jump and swim around in the pool. The cloudless summer sky would be blue while the Sun’s rays beamed down on us and made the surface of the pool water glitter from different angles. The delicious aroma of barbecue chicken and burgers filled the air. My Tio Nelson flipped the meat on the weathered and old grill; thick pockets of white smoke flowed out into the air. My Tio Santos would blast salsa and merengue from the stereo. I loved hearing the rhythms of the music, I don’t know why, but even then it felt like family, love and home. I used to bring toy sharks, pirates and ships with us into the water. My cousin and I would play different scenarios where the pirates would become stranded in the middle of the ocean while the ships sank. Confined to just a small life boat, the survivors would cram inside and drift around aimlessly, clinging on for some miraculous rescue or chance landing at nearby island. While this was going on, the sharks would ram the boat trying to capsize it or even leap out of the water and a snatch crew member up in their massive jaws. We’d also play tag, Marco Polo and volleyball in the pool. We raced quite often- I always lost those, not because I am a bad swimmer by any means, they were just always faster. And we’d all compete with each other to see who could hold their breath under the water the longest.
After swimming, we’d hop out and enjoy the barbecue, sitting in plastic chairs on the grass in the backyard and eating hot dogs and burgers off of paper plates. After we ate, we’ll go inside and take a shower to wash the chlorine off us. We’d spend the whole of the rest of night playing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time” or “Street Fighter II” on the Super Nintendo. Those were great times.
Manny and I also had numerous random playtimes when our mothers brought us both over to visit our grandma. One of my favorite memories with him was when we played “Predator” when we were younger. We both saw the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and were fascinated by the invisible cloaked alien creature that preyed on people in the jungle. In the game we played, we both acted out being human soldiers in the “jungle” (Tio Santos’ room). I remember it fondly because Manny and I had to use our imagination together to make it work. The Predator is nearly invisible, and we had no one to play him, so we both had to imagine hearing and reacting to the same thing when ever we “spotted” Predator. I let the Predator kill me within just a few minutes of playing the game. I shouted out something along the like of “There he is!” and pretended that the Predator aimed at me with the three laser dots from its shoulder plasma cannon and blew me away. In a flash, I fell and just sat there limp against the wall in my Tio’s room. Manny looked at me expecting me to get up- say that the Predator missed or merely grazed me or something, but I wouldn’t indulge him. I broke character, announced that I was dead and immediately went back to playing dead, my eyes and laughing as he now had to battle the Predator all on his own (I think I understood from an early age that character deaths make good story).
When we were nine, Manny and his parents moved to Puerto Rico. His father Joe had retired and he and my Titi Iris bought a house on the island and wanted to enjoy their retirement there. Immediately my cousin Manny was gone.
Every year since then, Manny and his parents would come back up to visit at least once in the year; either in the winter to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s or in the summer to go to amusement parks, the beach and huge, and massively fun, family reunions at Bear Mountain. They’d usually stay for a whole month, so we had plenty of time to see them. The two moments that strike me as the funniest from when he stayed over my house during these vacations were first when we defended ourselves from alien abduction and second, when I locked him out my room. With the alien abduction scenario, I had just spent the day watching a tv show about aliens, I think it was “Sightings.” On the show, real life people we claiming to have had encounters of the fourth kind. Aliens rolled up in their space ships, lit the whole fucking house up in their lights and then descended down in these beams, floated, walked to the foot of the bed and creepily stared at the terrified humans with their big ole eyes. They then took the humans aboard their ship and stuck things in ’em… I was fucking scared. Carried away with my youthful imagination, I used to see or feel the presence of aliens all the time; like I would be watching tv on the sofa and imagine that from out of nowhere, an alien head would pop out and stare at me through the living room window. I also saw the long lanky alien limbs in the shadows of the trees in the backyard; the subtle movement of the wind not helping stop the creep factor. It was fucking scary. I confided these fears to my cousin. We decided if the aliens came, we were not going to go down (or up?) without a fight.
Manny and I both slept on my bed when he came over, so this is where we fortified ourselves. During the night, when my parents and older sisters were asleep of course, I devised that we should do something that I saw on tv. We went and grabbed a huge bag of potato chips from downstairs in the kitchen and then opened the bag and scattered the chips all over the dining room floor, the stairs up to second floor, and second floor hallway leading up to my room. The logic was that if aliens did come into the house, they would step on the chips and Manny and I would hear the crunching noise and know when the aliens were outside my door.
For when the aliens did get to the door, we devised combat weapons. Or first weapon was actually spray deodorant. I theorized that the large creepy round eyes of our enemy was their greatest weakness; we would spray the aerosol directly into their eyes as they entered my room, painfully blinding and disorienting them. With our melee weapons, my cousin and I would follow up the attack. The first melee weapon we had was a pair of really sharp scissors; we would stab the aliens right in the eye with these. Our second melee weapon was more unorthodox. Lacking another sharp object, I concluded a bludgeoning weapon would have to suffice. I had a lot of toys laying around my room. Manny and I emptied out one of my book bags and began to stuff the toys inside. Spawn, Batman, Wolverine, the Undertaker, they all went inside the bag. It was made quite heavy. Loosening the straps completely, we gave the toy filled bag a long swinging motion. Holding the straps and swinging the bag over our heads before each blow, we hoped the weight of the toys inside and speed of how fast we were swinging would deliver a concussive blow; similar to that of a medieval ball and chain. Manny and I grabbed our weapons and sat on my bed with the door locked; listening, waiting for any lights to appear from the sky or for the subtle crunch of chips from downstairs, we stayed up all night. We did not allow ourselves to sleep until the sun began to rise; the terrifying dark skies retreating to a luminous summer day.
A few summers after that, when Manny was staying over again, I locked him out of my room. We were both downstairs, he was in the front room playing “Army Men” on the computer while I was watching tv and eating ice cream in the living room. It was late and everyone else was sleeping. Now did I mention I had just discovered masturbation that year? Getting that tingling feeling, I decided it was time for me to take my leave. I finished the ice cream, told Manny good night, went upstairs, locked the door behind me and had a night of exploratory fun…
My sister woke up the next day and said she found Manny sleeping on the sofa, his head reclined and his face pointed straight up to the ceiling. She saw an empty carton next to him and said she thought he had od’ed on ice cream. She woke him up and asked him why he was sleeping on the sofa. He said “Suresh locked me out.” I just told them I had locked the door by accident before I went to sleep. I think they still buy that.
Our teenage years is when the disparity between Manny and I really began. In our childhood, we were equals. Neither of us had more experience or wisdom than the other. My family stayed in New York. I finished high school, got my first job and dated my first girl friend here. Conversely, Manny finished high school in PR, but never did the other two; and this is where the disparity begins. I love my cousin; he is my favorite and I confide to and am closer to him than any other, but he is stuck in some bizarre form of arrested development. He is great, but his life style is that of a preteen.
Manny is a fully functional adult. He has no learning disabilities or psychiatric condition to qualify himself has disabled. He can learn and work just as well as you or I. But for some reason, he would prefer not to; Bartleby, the cousin. Besides graduating high school, he has not taken any other steps toward adulthood. He does not feel the need nor drive. His father, my uncle Joe, is a Korean War veteran. Joe died several years ago, but I think the family still gets some kind of veteran’s assistance from him.
I was a homebody in high school and passed most of my time playing video games, Manny and I had this very much in common. We would play the newest video games all the time and have long conversations on the phone about our favorite parts of the story and of different plot twists. I would also tell him about the most recent World War II books I read, telling him all about the different battles and tactics that prevailed. It was great having a listening ear. But as time went on, and I began to speak more about girlfriends or the difficulties at work or in college, I realized the conversations became more and more one sided. I was the speaker, Manny the listening ear. I was living my life; working, going to school, dating, moving out of my parent’s house, drinking, smoking weed, partying. I was living life. After he graduated high school, Manny just ah.. ahhhhhhh played videogames.
Now, we’re both 26. Manny never worked a day in his life and never been on a date. I’m really not trying to sound condescending or make it sound like I have all the answers or tell someone how to live their life, but real talk: Manny lives like a loser. He spends most of his days playing video games for several hours, takes a break to watch tv, calls people, eats, shits, and then goes back to gaming till he falls asleep and beings it all over again tomorrow. For someone to be 26 and have so little planning ahead for their future or so little drive is pathetic. He has no foresight. I ask him what career he wants to have, he says something in gaming; I ask him what specifically in gaming he’d like to do, vaguely hints at graphics; I ask him when is he going to start to go to school for it, he says he does not know. This has been going on for years.
My cousin, his sister, Maria offered to hook him up with a job sweeping trains for the PATH system in New Jersey earlier this year. Maria would even allow Manny to live with her until he gets on his feet if he took the job. It pays $35,000 a year with medical and dental benefits. He said no. Imagine the first job you ever had paying you $35,000 and insuring you! And you refuse it!- Dude, you’re 26 with no work experience or advanced education and your sister could hook you up with this job that pays you $35,000 a year and you say no?! What other prospects are out there for you? It’s not like you have anything else going on at the moment. You just sit at home and play video games and watch tv.
Today, November 16th, 2013, was my friend’s funeral at 3pm. He was just 31 when he passed. My Titi Iris is in her sixties. Death can take any one of us when we least expect it and my titi, even though I love her so, is not going to live forever. I worry about what would become of Manny when she dies. He is utterly dependent on her. For him not to make logical connections that he needs to take charge of his own life baffles me. I’ve tried bringing this up to him on the phone. His brothers and sister have too. I have no idea what my Titi Iris’ stance is on this; she is the one enabling him and also all of her other children live on their own and are quite successful, but she seems not to be pushing Manny- no idea why. I revere her too much to dare ask.
I love my cousin, usually when we speak on the phone, we talk about videogames and tv shows. We love Mass Effect, Fallout, professional wrestling and The Walking Dead. Those conversations are great. I love my cousin and am so happy I have someone to share my interest in; but whenever I bring the convo to his future, he just shares vague thoughts about what he’d like to do. I haven’t always had my shit together (coasted around aimlessly for a few years while I was torn about joining the army and also stayed in a deadend job delivering mail until I figured out what I really wanted to do) so I could relate to trying to figure everything out- but I made sure I was at least doing something while I got it together. I told Manny about my tentative first steps and how I made it to where I am now and he just loses all enthusiasm in the conversation and would go quiet until we change the topic.
Today, I called him after my friend’s funeral and was speaking about this essay I have to write for class to get workshopped (I was originally thinking about writing about my friend’s death) when he gradually moved the conversation to his Xbox 360 not being able to connect to one of his controllers and how he called some company to see if they could fix it for him. If only he would show such initiative to his future. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since my friend died. He was only 31, his life was over before he had the chance to do a lot of the things he wanted to achieve. I’m afraid Manny is just letting life pass him by. For all my gentle suggestions that he move to New York, move in with me even, start school or start working, I’ve never once told him that he’s living like a loser. I’m afraid it would crush him or make him hate me, but it is the truth (shout out to Daniel). I’ve tried bringing it up every other way, suppose its time to not hold back.