I love my cousin Kyle as I would love a brother, and I trust him more than the man whose job it is to belay me while I am rock climbing. His mouth is the most prominent channel for his emotions, whether through words or movement. When he is angry, he sometimes discharges an impassioned tirade towards his instigator; other times, he simply grinds his teeth and fills his cheeks with air. Pain is instantly recognizable on his face, as is happiness. If he is hurt, he sucks in his lips and hums curses behind his teeth; happy feelings, on the other hand, cause a toothy smile wider than his face should allow, showing snow-white teeth and a solitary dimple.
While the holiday season always brings a joyful smile to Kyle’s face, his emotions tend to morph into less positive ones after a long day of hosting our loud, gregarious family. Giving each other Christmas presents seems to be a passion of our family’s, as it takes up approximately half of the time we spend in each other’s company over the holidays. During the most recent Christmas party, which was held at Kyle’s house, our six-year-old cousin Maia received a pair of purple Heelys from an aunt. Since Kyle and I were the only people in attendance with enough knowledge, strength, and balance to teach Maia how to use them, the responsibility of instructing her fell upon us. Being thirteen and fifteen years old respectively, we were already at the age at which a person is maturing enough to be trusted with young children; Kyle, having especially proven his trustworthiness in the act of supervising our younger cousins, was permitted to bring Maia and me out into the deserted street so that he and I could teach her.
At first, I believed that the most difficult task ahead of us would be helping her balance on her Heelys, but I was mistaken; Kyle spent fifteen minutes weaseling her tiny feet into the snug shoes, all the while grinning optimistically. Once we managed to bring Maia outside, while also helping her balance, the brisk wind and chilling mist reprimanded our jersey-clad bodies for forgetting our coats. As we plodded towards the street, Maia surrendered most of what little she weighed to our forearms to keep herself from falling, making our path down the walk a literal and metaphorical “slippery slope.” It was such slow going that Kyle eventually slung Maia over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and barreled into the street, with me sprinting close on his heels. Exhilarated and cold, the three of us perched on the curb, laughing hysterically and catching our breath. Kyle’s triangular face was beet-red from the cold, but he was still chuckling, with a smile the width of the Times Square Jumbotron. Eventually, we climbed to our feet and helped Maia to the center of the small lane.
In lieu of teaching her as a qualified educator would, Kyle simply held her hand, as did I, while he repeated the mantra that he employed while learning to use Heelys: “Left foot, right foot, left and jump!” This repetitive procedure continued for about half an hour, with occasional pauses for taking pictures. We eventually decided to return, and Kyle, although he was stiff, cold and sore, graciously conceded to carrying Maia back into the warm, cozy house.
Kyle and I both have no siblings, and we have treated each other like brothers since I was born. Two years ago, the loss of my father devastated both our families; Kyle kept me safe and cared for me throughout the harrowing experience. Watching Kyle with my small cousin Maia this Christmas I saw the caring that flows so naturally from him. Like Maia, with Kyle’s help I was able to find a way forward in that dark time, stumbling at first and then starting, hesitantly, to learn to glide.