A kid always looks up to her older cousins. You, Jeff, Meredith, Todd… You were all worthy of that adoration, even if you liked to tease me every chance you got. I remember talking to you in Doug and Sandy’s front yard so many years ago—probably thirty, if I admit my age. You laughed at the way I said your name, with two syllables instead of one.
“Mahk,” you said.
“Mah-eek,” I replied.
So I liked diphthongs, even at the age of five. You never let me forget it.
We all used to go to the beach every summer. We’d load up the cars with everyone in tow: Grandmother, Kay, your mom and Bob, Jeff, Doug and Debbie, Darren, my sister, Matt and Brit, my parents. Vacation was a family affair, and the memories live on, even if the group trips didn’t.
I remember how you and Doug made me laugh until I shot my drink out my nose every time. I wasn’t afraid to be loud around you. I wasn’t afraid to be silly around you. With you, I could be myself and accept the teasing because you made me feel like I belonged.
You and Jeff introduced me to Star Wars. I hated it. Thought it was the most boring movie ever made. I love it now, but I never told you. I never told you that every time I watch it, I think of you and Jeff. I always will.
My first time fishing was with you and Shae. I don’t even know if Edgar and Wilma’s pond had fish in it. Probably not, or I never would have gone swimming there. Still, you baited my hook and showed me how to cast the line. I don’t remember how to do it anymore, but I do remember how patient you were.
Even as a kid, I knew what you and Shae had was special. I remember thinking you’d get married someday. I remember thinking you’d picked a really good one, because I could be myself around her, too. You must have been high school sweethearts, but I was too young to recognize the rarity of your relationship. All I knew was that your love was real, and she was beautiful, and you were lucky.
You left behind two beautiful girls—smart, clever, funny, just like their mom and dad. I don’t know them as well as I knew you, but I know they’re special. I know they’re strong.
I’m thankful for one thing above all others this year: that I knew you. That I was blessed enough to call you family. That I’ll remember your huge, infectious laugh. As long as we hold these things in our hearts, you’ll be with us forever.