Cous (In Memory of Darrell T. Davis – September 9, 1959- March 22, 2009)
Today would have been my cousin Darrell’s 53rd Birthday. This is a shortened version of a 2,600-word essay I wrote to honor him. I don’t have a photo with me to include, but I’ll try to get one from my storage unit to add later in the week. Don’t forget to tell your cousins that you love them. They won’t be around forever.
Growing up, I never had a brother or a sister, but I had a Cous. Darrell Tyrone Davis lived down the street from me, with my Cousin Kat and her husband Cousin Bill. Like a lot of African American families, the actual configuration of the family tree was unclear, but family was family. Since I was adopted, none of my relatives were related to me by blood anyway, but that never mattered. Cousins were cousins, no matter where they came from or how they got there.
Darrell entered my life when he was three years old. I couldn’t believe my luck — a little cousin to play with! But he was half my age. What was I going to do with a three-year-old? It was hard to accept that Darrell was a lot cuter than I was. With his light skin and curly hair, everyone loved him. In the color-conscious days of the early sixties, he found favor for his looks. By the time he started grade school, every little girl in town had had a crush on him.
To say that I grew up as a spoiled only child was an understatement. I lived in an eight-room house with my mother and father and I had a playroom filled with toys. But Darrell was twice as spoiled as I was. Sometimes he shared his toys and I shared my house, but not always willingly. As a child, I never had a babysitter. If my parents were going somewhere without me, I stayed with Cousin Kat. The reverse was true too. So Darrell and I, two spoiled brats with lots of toys and plenty of attitude, were thrown together whenever our parents needed some alone time. When we were little, I had to make sure Darrell understood the hierarchy – no matter how cute he was, I was the Big Cousin and he was the little cousin.
As he got older, I wasn’t needed to keep him company. By then, he had a lot of friends. I didn’t. At times, I was jealous of my good-looking cousin, who always had a thriving social life and lots of attention from the opposite sex. He remained spoiled, too. His parents bought him whatever he wanted, whether it was new clothes or a new car. By January 1976, both of my parents were deceased and I lived all alone in the house where we played house years earlier. We didn’t hang out as much, but we were there for important events in each other’s lives. I attended his graduation from high school, cheering when he received his diploma. In January 1978, he took me to see Earth, Wind and Fire on the day before my 21st birthday. A few months later, he attended my University of Pittsburgh graduation and the subsequent party. But as we moved through adulthood, our paths rarely crossed.
After I moved to California, I tried to talk to him on the phone at least once a year, usually on his birthday. The last time I saw him was in the early nineties, before Cousin Kat died of Alzheimer’s. A year later, Cousin Bill died of a broken heart and I lost touch with Darrell. Sometimes, I would ask my other cousins about his life.
In February 2009, I found out that he was on Classmates.com. There was a picture of him sitting in a bedroom playing with a dog. My heart warmed at the picture of my little cousin. I wrote him a short note, giving him my e-mail address, as I didn’t have the money to get an upgraded account on Classmates to be able to read messages on the site. But he wrote back to me on Classmates anyway.
On March 22, 2009, my cousin Darrell died, a few months shy of his 50th birthday. Before I went to work one morning, I got e-mail from another cousin informing me of Darrell’s death a month earlier from cancer. When I got to work, I couldn’t see my computer screen through the tears in my eyes. I never got the chance to see and respond to his Classmates message. Part of my childhood was gone, as there was no one left to corroborate the times we shared together, just two spoiled brats with vivid imaginations.
In May 2010, I collected some mementos I had left with my best friend in Pittsburgh. Along with my report cards and scrapbook was Darrell’s senior picture from Canon-McMillan Senior High. I looked at the picture of the young man with the large Afro, huge glasses, gray suit and wide black tie and read the inscription.
To my loving cousin. May we always be very close. I want and wish only the very best for you always. God bless you. Stay cool Cous. P.S. Thanks for all the help.
I ran my hand over the blue ink, which was more than thirty years old. Even though we didn’t stay close, I would like to think that Darrell always knew that I loved him. How could I not? He was family. Cousins were cousins, no matter where they came from or how they got there. But I will never forget the one who called me “Cous.”