I don’t know how love works. I should. I’m old enough to have learned a few things. But there is no logic with love, no reason, no formula. It just happens.
Euan, my grandson, is six years old. (Six-and-a-half, he would say). He lives in Manhattan. He has cousins, aunts, and uncles, and he has friends his age, friends who live near him. And yet it is his 15-year-old cousin, Adam, who lives 218 miles away, whom Euan has dubbed “my special guy.” Whom Euan loves.
No one remembers when Euan first called Adam his special guy. In photos taken a few years ago, I see Euan looking up at Adam. I see what I think is the beginning of wonderment. “When can we see my special guy, Mom?” “I made this for my special guy,” “Will my special guy be there?” Euan has said all these things.
He leaps out of the car, every time his father and his family come to visit. He races through the garage, barrels into the kitchen, runs up the stairs and into every bedroom in search of Adam. The few times we have had to tell him that Adam isn’t home, he’s at school, he’s at a friend’s, Euan’s shoulders slumped and his bottom lip trembled.
But then in an hour or two, when Adam arrives. “Sorry I’m late, little buddy!” all becomes right with the world.
Euan doesn’t see his special guy a lot: Two or three days in the summer, maybe. Thanksgiving, some years. A week in the winter. And yet he beelines his way to him. Hugs him. Looks up to him. Sits next to him. Follows him. Imitates him. Adores him.
“Will you play with me?” Euan asks. And Adam does. He plays Fish and Monopoly. He sets up the Slip and Slide in the summer, walks him to the corner store winter, summer, spring, and fall. And he lets Euan pretend.
My aunt Lorraine was my special guy. I didn’t call her this, but that’s what she was. She was 12 when I was born, my mother’s baby sister.
She would come to visit us in the project where we lived, brightening the drab place just by her being. I was three and four and five and would sit by the kitchen window, my face pressed against the pane, waiting for her to round the corner. Would she be wearing her school uniform this day? Or her navy skirt? Or her black pedal pushers? Would she have her homework in her school bag? Or a Golden book that she would read to me?
She painted my nails red, to match hers. I loved her red nails and her smooth, Snow White skin and her thick, dark hair. Sometimes she’d dab a little of her lipstick on my lips and tell me I looked beautiful. I didn’t. But she made me feel beautiful.
She had a crush on a boy who worked at Woolworth’s in Central Square. His name was Joe. We called him Joe the key man. I was six then. Lorraine (I never called her Aunt Lorraine) bought me ice cream and let me spin on the swirly stools while she talked to Joe. One day he gave her a key. She said it was a key to his heart. I didn’t understand. Lorraine said I would some day.
The nights I stayed over at my grandmother’s, she would make me grilled cheese. And let me snuggle next to her on the couch when we watched TV. She didn’t mind that I wriggled. She never minded anything I did.
I watch Euan with Adam. Adam doesn’t mind that Euan wriggles or that he cheats at Monopoly. Or that Euan is his shadow. I see the love between the two of them. I see the adoring and the adored.
“My special guy,” Euan says. And we, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, smile every time. Because Euan is so earnest. And because really, isn’t this a perfect name? Isn’t this exactly what Adam does? Makes Euan feel special?
My son-in-law, Dave, remembers his cousin, Rick. “He was my special guy,” he says. “I followed him everywhere.” My daughter-in-law, Tania, remembers her “beloved cousin, Hugh. Everywhere he went, I went.” Around the table we go, remembering.
I don’t know how love works. What I do know is that it does.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at email@example.com.