Feb 3, 2006

My parents called at 9pm. That means only one thing for such early-to-bed, early-to-rise folks: death.

My cousin, Ryan. 26. The 6’5’’ giant who met me with a bear hug at Panama City airport, shouting “what is up with that pussy you married?”

I’d last seen him 15 years ago. He’d remained a scrawny swamp kid in my mind, Leonardo di Caprio circa This Boy’s Life ... brushed golden by the Florida panhandle. Now he was burly, garnished with tattoos, a former Navy diver. He called me a Yankee do-gooder wuss. I called him a closet Democrat. We laughed a lot.

He dipped and twirled me swing-dancing, despite the cane from his last cancer operation, which replaced his humerus with a titanium rod. We ended the night in a liquor-store bar with a drive-up window, his diver friends “bulldogging” to keep me safe, unmolested, in Ms Newby’s dive. His brother and I carried Ryan from the car at dawn, then dragged this 235-pound muscle-slab back into the yard, so he could pee au natural.

His vomit was girly pink from all the tropical punch. Chemo does that.

He married six months before the end. And turned back to his art, neglected in the living-large, Hemingway years of rowdy diving and fishing.

I almost booked tickets south yesterday. We all thought months remained.

I didn’t know Ryan McCleskey well. But he taught me to comb our dying grandmother’s hair, how to pimp roll on a cane and make jokes that push back the shadows, if only briefly.

So I’m crying a bit tonight. But I’m also laughing, because I wouldn’t stop at the strip club so he could “give those poor, poor women CPR. They need help! I’m an EMT, you know.”

And because I’ve shot Russian rifles in the bayou. And caught snakes with a forked stick. And eaten hash browns in a shiny leather booth with my boisterous, beautiful cousin.

Ryan. Thank you.


  1. Anonymous12:54 PM

    We often talked about that trip. We wanted to show you the ways of the darkside.

  2. And boy howdy, did you succeed!


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