I lived with my maternal grandparents, mom, aunts, uncle and cousins until I was ten years old. I grew up around a lot of noise. In my formative years my understanding of life and love was through the lens of my family experience. There’s a group of people in my life that my heart gets full from every time I think of them. We grew up together. Most of us lived in the same house for a while. We fought, we played together, we taught each other how to ride bikes, do cartwheels and more. They were my first friends. Part of my love story. My cousins.

Although I am an only child I have a large extended family. My mom is one of nine. I was born on my aunt Tracy’s birthday, eight hours before my cousin Octavia was born. So, I share my birthday with two other people in my family. It’s inevitable right? It’s a big family. 

My relationship with my cousins is the longest and consistent friendships in my life. I didn’t think of it that way before. It was through them (my family in general) that I understand unconditional love. Let me explain. I was a pain in the ass as a child. I teased a lot. I was sassy with a lot of mouth. A little weird, I was flower child, I liked to lay in the grass and stare at the sky. I loved to read and questioned everything. My teasing and disrespectfulness didn’t last long, thankfully. As we got older I went off into my own world but our bond remains.

There is no way for me to sum up all of the memories we shared growing up together. Lots of laughs and surprisingly I remember very few tears, except when we were in trouble. One of the most pivotal times in my life was when I moved out of my grandparents house after my mom got married. While I still went to my grandparents everyday during the week for school I didn’t get to spend as much time with my cousins. It was hard for me initially, I went from a house full of people to just my mom, stepfather and me. I remember sneaking to call my Grandfather on Saturdays to tell him I was lonely. Thankfully I was still able to continue to create bonds with them. And to this day we try to set aside time for cousins day or cousins weekend, at least the girls do.

What my cousins don’t know is that one of the reasons I strive to be better and do better in life is for them. They mean a lot to me. They were the first ones to see the best and worst in me. I shared my secrets with them.

I’m planning to write a letter to the people I love while I’m on my love journey and so I’m starting with my first cousins. Being vulnerable is a hard place to be in but when it comes to my cousins it’s a little easier.  

We aren’t that family that says I love you to each other but it doesn’t always need to be said to be understood. Today, I’m going to say it. Here’s my love letter to all of you in birth order.

Domita (Mimi)- When did we grow up? You are a mom with four children. As the oldest (although I always thought I was) you were our guard with a quick temper. I thought you were crazy at times. You’ve always had my back though, thank you. I still find myself keeping things from you so that you wouldn’t get upset and want to go after someone. Remember our last cousin’s day out when the waiter was very rude to me? I tried keeping it from you (and Sharicka) because I know better. I now understand your love more than you may realize. And yes, we fought a lot as kids but we also had a lot of fun. I remember when we were very young you were rushed to the hospital. I just wanted you to come home so that we could play together again. You dreamed of being a model and I always believed that you would be. In my mind you are. I love you.

Troiano (Troy)- I am proud of you. You’ve been through a lot yet you keep going. I remember when we worked on your college application, I was so happy. You and I bonded over the love we have for Granddaddy and the impact he had on our lives. I missed you when you couldn’t be around for awhile. I felt a sadness and pain that I never told you about. I just wanted to know you were okay. You and Kesha always had us. Thank you for your friendship and love. I’m here, always. I love you.

Octavia (Tavy)- My birthday twin and mom of three beautiful children. We were inseparable as young girls. I always wanted you around especially when I moved. I am protective of you and it’s to a fault sometimes, I know. You were a constant from day one (literally). We share a lot of memories. Although, we don’t talk often and live hours away from each other, you have always had a piece of my heart. When you hurt, I hurt. When you are happy, I am happy. No matter the distance or time lapse if you call I will come running. I love you.

Terrisha (Reisha)- Our free spirit. You are unapologetically who you are and that’s so awesome. I love laughing with you. Growing up with you was fun. I used to worry that because you were so nice some guy would run all over you until, I saw you handle your business, after that I had no worries. I like that you are the same no matter what. I wish we all could be half as cool as you. Keep doing a good job with your three beautiful children. I love you.

Marshay (Shay)- Goodness, what can I say about Shay. The ladies have always loved you. You were grown before I was. It was because of you that I started liking Go-Go music. Life has gotten rough for you at times but I hope for the brightest of days ahead. You’ve had to deal with the death of your daughter which none of us will ever understand the pain you and her mom had to endure. I see your heart, you love the best way you know how. I don’t get to see you much but I’m always hoping for the best. I love you and your children.

(Camilla) Keeshia- We may not be close but there is no love lost. There are so many of us that naturally we are closer to some more than others. It may have seemed like you and Troy were all you had but please know, you had the rest of us too. It is good to see you happy and in love. I love you and your kids.

Charnita (Nita)- The quiet one, kind of. It’s always the quiet ones…ha! We share a lot of laughs. I know I can say whatever around you. You are the only one that can say you’ve worked with the professional Charmaine for a few years. It was sweet seeing you everyday during that time. I look forward to the random check-ins and you laughing at my ridiculousness. If others could hear the many ways you call me Flanagan because of what has come out of my mouth, hilarious. You are a sweet person (a little feisty), like your mom. Always know I got your back. Keep those two little boys straight. I love you.

Sharicka (Rick)- Although you have other siblings, you are my sister too. Most people know that you don’t play and will turn a place out if messed with; yet at the same time you are a sweetheart. I appreciate all the talks we’ve had and the laughs we share. I know Travon and Jazmin are your babies but they are mine too, thank you for sharing them with me. There’s nothing I won’t do for you all. I love you.

Noel (Well)- Where’s Noel? I find myself asking that a lot. Whenever I get to see or spend time with you it’s has always been nice. You are one hard working man. Growing up you kept it real with all of us. You are very sweet to send well wishes on my birthday every year. I love you and your baby girl.

Edwin (EJ/E)- We spent a lot of time together growing up. I messed with you a lot, I’m sorry, it was because I loved you so much. When I didn’t have a place to live your parents let me live with you all and you didn’t complain about sharing a room with Mitchell. Thank you for loving me. You told me you missed me when I moved out but I’m pretty sure I missed you and Mitchy more. Be careful E and try texting or calling me back sooner. I love you.

Carlos (Los)- I know you are not mean and that you love me, I know it. Once I started driving I took you and Chauncey with me all the time. People would laugh at you because you always frowned your face up and would shake your fist at them for no reason. I’m glad you grew out of that. You are one cool 20 something. I love you Los. By the way, I do have your number and you better not change it.

Chauncey (Chaunce)- Who doesn’t love Chauncey? I mean he’s like the coolest and very responsible. I know I’ve said it before but I am proud of you. It means a lot that we keep in touch. You may not remember this but Granddaddy used to make us come to his bedroom and pray before bed. Because it was too many of us he would only ask God to keep you, Carlos and Vermitra safe. We laughed at that every night, mainly because he didn’t know how to say Vermitra’s name. You are definitely one of Grandma’s favorites too by the way (Carlos, Mitch, EJ and Travon too) and we understand. Keep going Chaunce, you have a lot more in you. I love you.

Vermitra (Vee/Boo)- You have always been mature and responsible. Whenever you ask for us to meet up because you need advice, I walk away proud of you of the woman you have become. You have a level head, you work hard and you love wise. I don’t think you need my advice, you are doing a great job. I know you are in your mid-20s now but you will always be my Boo. You need me, I’m there. I love you.

Mitchell (Mitch)- The youngest, yet more grown than we are. You will always be my Mitchy. You have been yourself with me and I appreciate that. It’s been a joy watching you grow up. I loved seeing you every day when we lived together. Thanks for checking in on me with random phone calls or text messages, it always makes my day or as our great-grandma Booth would say, “It does my heart good”. It’s hard to believe that you will be graduating college soon. Mitchy, you can do anything you want to. Go be great King. I love you.

We’ve come a long way from running around on 8 acres of land, playing in the barn and coming up with dance routines in the yard. Life sure does fly by, it was just yesterday we were kids. Let’s keep holding on to not just the memories but each other. Thank you for loving me unconditionally. Peace and love y’all.

“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”  -Rumi


Charmaine (Maine/Mainey)