Memories of my cousin Patrick

My cousins, from left to right, Andrea, Kaylie, Jacob, and Patrick.

I can’t remember if it was 1992 or 1993, but I had traveled back to New York from Lincoln, Nebraska, to visit my family. I had called ahead of time and asked my Aunt Elaine if she would cut my hair. Most of my haircuts as a child were done by her.

I used to keep my hair short and had the same cut often. I knew Aunt Elaine. I knew she wouldn’t mess up my hair. “Just do it the same way,” was all I asked.

On this trip home, my hair was long. I didn’t like it. I wanted the haircut I always had. Some folks in college dared me to not cut my hair. Nearly two years had gone by. My hair was halfway down my back. I cried every day as I tried to comb the snarls out of my curly hair.

When I arrived at Aunt Elaine’s house, she said something to the effect of “boy you weren’t kidding about your hair.” When the hair near the tip of my ears can be tucked behind my ears, it’s time to get a haircut. It’s always my signal except for this one time.

I washed my hair and sat down on the stool in the kitchen. Aunt Elaine wrapped a towel around my neck and torso and went to get something else she needed to complete the task at hand. My cousin, Patrick, had come home and came over to say hello.

“You don’t look right,” he said.

I smiled and told him that’s why I was here. No one in my family had ever seen me with long hair. To the best of my knowledge, there are no photographs of this time either. Patrick chatted with me, asking the usual, how long are you home for, how’s things in Nebraska, etc.

He walked behind me to see how much my hair had grown. He and I were the only ones in the family with curly hair. Patrick’s hair was always curlier than mine.

My grandmother, myself, and Patrick were also the only lefties in the family. Whenever there was a family gathering, the three of us were sat next to each other at the dinner table. After I got married, my husband joined the string of lefties on one side of the table.

“Damn, this really doesn’t look right,” he said. “Let me help.”

In less than a second, he grabbed my hair around the back of my neck with his right hand, and cut off everything below my neck. I stared at Aunt Elaine with a slightly freaked out look on my face, but she quickly reassured me everything was fine and I’d have the haircut I wanted.

Patrick walked back around to my front, stared at me for a second and said, “There’s the Rene I remember.”

As a kid everyone called me Rene, pronounced rheee-knee. As I grew older, everyone except Patrick and Uncle Dick stopped using it. It’s a nickname only family get to use.

Patrick disappeared into the living room to finish reading a book. Nearly every time I saw him as an adult, he was reading a book.

One year, I went camping with Aunt Elaine, Uncle Mike, Patrick, and his sister, Andrea. We were on a playground and I was pushing Patrick on a swing. I was maybe 11 years old, which would have made him about five. On one push, he went up into the air and slipped off the swing. I tried as hard as I could to catch him before he hit the ground.

My hands cupped around his head, but I wasn’t strong enough to stop the fall. The dirt in the swing set area was only an inch or so thick. It was concrete underneath. Patrick cracked his head open. There was blood everywhere. Andrea, who is a year older than Patrick, asked what she should do.

“Go tell Mommy and Daddy and I’ll meet them in the middle,” I said. Andrea ran as fast as she could toward Aunt Elaine and Uncle Mike’s campsite. Patrick was awake, crying, and talking to me. I kept telling him he was going to be all right, but the words were more for me than for for him.

Blood poured through my fingers. I applied as much pressure as my little hands could muster. I scooped Patrick into my arms. I placed his head near my right shoulder and tried to use my right hand as best as I could to stop bleeding. I stood up. Then, I began walking.

Time slows down when you are in a crisis situation. It felt like I walked miles, when it was really only a two- or three-minute walk back to the campsite. We took Patrick to the hospital. I don’t remember how many stitches he got, but it was a lot.

As an adult, Patrick often kept his head closely shaved. He would tease me from time to time and show me the scar on his head. He would tell me, in jest, he had to keep his head shaved because hair wouldn’t grow in that spot and he looked funny if had hair. I would tell him he looked funny anyway.

He never blamed me for what happened. When we were both in our thirties, I told him how sorry I was and I should have been more responsible.

“It was an accident,” he said. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

I don’t know why Patrick was with me at the Nicholson’s School of Dance. I remember my sister was having her dance lesson and we were bored. We walked down the street and under the bridge to play for a while. We were playing at the edge of the stream, which runs beneath the bridge, when we heard meowing.

The mews didn’t seem to be the usual meows you heard from a cat. Patrick and I spent a couple of minutes looking for the source of the meows. We found a ginger kitten in the nearby tall grass. The pads on his feet were burned and he sounded like he was in pain.

The kitten let me pick him up and hold him on his back. I gently petted him.

“Do you think we can keep him?” Patrick said.

“Of course we can,” I said. “Gram will let us.”

I didn’t know if it was true. Patrick and I returned to Nicholson’s with the cat and waited for my sister’s lesson to be over. When Gram came to pick us up, I explained what had happened and how we found this cat. She agreed, at first, to at least take him to the vet to see if he would live. Gram said he was “awfully small.” She also noted his whiskers were burned off.

We later found out some asshole had a house full of cats and decided to burn the house to the ground. As far as we know, the kitten was the only one to survive. We eventually kept the kitten. Aunt Julie named him Tigger.

I had planned a trip to New York to visit the family in 2021. Covid travel restrictions prevented it from happening. Paul and I hope to go in 2024 or 2025. I visited for five days 2017. It was all the time off I had and I wasn’t able to see everyone. The last time I saw Patrick was at Gram’s funeral in 2011.

On May 5, 2023, I was awakened to my phone ringing. I looked at the phone. Mom was calling. I wondered why. She knew I was asleep. I saw I had a text. It was from my cousin, Kaylie. It was a long text. I read the words and immediately knew why my mom was calling. I didn’t answer fast enough, but called her back a few seconds later.

Patrick didn’t come home from work. Uncle Mike went to check on him. Patrick was already cold.

I didn’t know what to say.

I can count the number of times I’ve seen my mom cry. This was the first time I heard it.

Kaylie texted, “I don’t tell you enough, I love you!” She didn’t need to tell me, but I understand and read the urgency in her words. We texted back and forth for the next couple of days.

It was well after 9 p.m., in New York when I got off the phone with Mom. I’d make my calls first thing in the morning as everyone was likely already in bed.

I called Aunt Elaine. After trying to find the right words all night, I didn’t know what to say. I blathered on about something foolish I’m sure. I just didn’t know what to say.

I called Andrea and left a message. I still didn’t know what to say.

Patrick’s funeral was held on May 12, 2023. I couldn’t get the time off work to fly back to New York to attend. Kaylie said it was okay. Everyone understood. Mom said it was a nice funeral and she gave me as much of a play-by-play as she could, pausing several times to choke back the tears.

Today is May 25, 2023. It’s Patrick’s birthday. He would have been 47 years old.

What I wouldn’t give to have him cut my hair or hear him call my name again.

And I still don’t know what to say.


Christian Nationalism in America


My thoughts on the local paper


  1. Lane

    Precious memories

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your cousin. I’m in tears reading it, Irene.

    I’ve learned that when someone dies, it doesn’t really matter what words you say to their family and friends, just that you say anything acknowledges the loss and that’s what they’ll remember. At least that’s what I remember about both my parents passing.

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