I’m just back from a weekend in Memphis to celebrate the marriage of my cousin Kat, and Peter, who—until I got the wedding invitation—I thought was already Kat’s husband. Our family’s defiance of labels is deserving of a longer post; having just deleted an attempt, I can only say I hope someday to be up to the task.
I hope that someday I can write properly about my Memphis family. About Harry, my father’s much-younger brother, and his wife Beverly, who tried so hard to fill the void when my father died when I was four and my brother two, who welcomed my new dad, immediately calling him brother-in-law, who buried their months-old son and then divorced, two years and a new baby later when Harry came out as gay.
About Bill—who met Beverly, raising four children on her own when he himself was a divorced father of three daughters—soon marrying her and adopting her youngest. About their love for each other and their children generating bonds that transcended blood and engendered devotion so deep that “step-” became a modifier used only when necessary for clarification or documentation.
I want to write about how, without a drop connecting them, my mother and step-father and Bev and Bill became closer than blood, traveling the country and the world together on a perpetual adventure, meeting for an SEC football game as enthusiastically as a European opera tour. About how, even after my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer they traveled until he couldn’t, and how Bev and Bill and Bev’s children gathered with us for his last birthday party and then, six months later, for his funeral.
It was only when my cousin Leigh Ellen died early last year that I got to know Bill’s three daughters. I had met Kat previously, but she and Lisa and Laura were all at Leigh’s funeral, demonstrating a closeness to my Memphis cousins of which I had been unaware. We kept in touch on Facebook and promised to get together.
Less than 18 months later we did, when Beverly died unexpectedly and we gathered again for her funeral—her granddaughter Alex’s slideshow capturing the most transcendent moments of Bev’s life with Bill and their children and grandchildren.
When Kat called me a few weeks later inviting me to what she described as a small family wedding I was surprised—not only because I assumed she and Peter, together more than 10 years, were already married—but because my relationship with Bill’s daughters was so new that I was surprised Kat would consider me family.
The wedding was perfect and lovely, and as I looked around the chapel—at Kat and Peter, Peter’s mother, Bill, Bill’s ex-wife and her husband and their son, Leigh Ellen’s daughter and her father, my cousins and their children and their children’s children, and my mom—I realized that, although a year and a-half ago I was meeting some of them for the first time, every person in the room was family. And someday I will write about how family can feel at once expansive and exclusive, and how good it felt that our newly-extended family was finally gathering in happiness.