I have a cousin … step-cousin, really. Justin. He’s the son of my uncle’s second wife. I think he’s about thirty years old or so now.
I didn’t really know Justin when he was growing up. I can remember Justin at one family Christmas when the entire extended family would still gather together. After that, my parents started doing their own thing at Christmas time, since their kids were growing up, getting married and having kids of our own. I probably saw Justin a handful of times throughout the years after that. And then my uncle and Justin’s mom divorced.
The next time I saw Justin was four years ago when my uncle died. He was living with my uncle (who I also didn’t see often) and was estranged from his mom by that time. I was a little shocked to see how Justin had grown up. To put it mildly, he looked like he was no stranger to trouble. We were all gathered at my uncle’s home that day as the paramedics were taking him to the hospital. He was in the last stages of illness and we all knew he probably only had days to live. Justin was moving about the house. He looked like he was packing things. I guess he knew he couldn’t continue to live at the house after my uncle was gone. He was trying to look tough, but I could see he was struggling to face what was happening. He went outside and started up the lawn mower as my uncle was wheeled out of the house on a gurney.
I didn’t know Justin at all anymore, but I felt sorry for him. No one in the family knew him anymore and maybe everyone was a little scared of him. He couldn’t lean on his mom for support. And his step-dad was dying. After the ambulance left, Justin stood on the deck looking lost. I scribbled my phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it to him. I told him to call me if he needed anything. I was a little afraid that he might call; afraid I would be nowhere near able to give him anything he might need or want. He never called. I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I was a little relieved.
Then, maybe a year ago, I stumbled across Justin on Faceb00k. I friend requested him and he accepted. We messaged a bit and he shared a little bit about his life. He had hopes at that time of making a life with a girl he was dating. He liked her child and thought they could be a family. I gathered he didn’t have much and was left to wonder how he supported himself. Didn’t really want to know, really.
Over the past year, I’ve noticed Justin’s Faceb00k posts. Sometimes I can’t respond to what he’s said because he’s posted something too vulgar or violent. Times like those, I think maybe I should disconnect our FB friendship. He lives in a different world. Then another day, he’ll post something about getting sober, becoming a better person, being the kind of person who can be involved in his kids’ lives. (I guess he has kids!) Times like these, I leave him a supportive comment and feel bad about the times I’ve thought about disconnecting.
I’ve since learned that Justin’s relationship with his mom (if you can call it a relationship) is very volatile. I know and love his mom, though I haven’t had much contact with her since the divorce. I don’t know her the way Justin describes her, but there seems to be nothing left between them. One day on Faceb00k, Justin posted a status update asking for a “mom.” Someone to check in with him for a few months and help him be accountable. I thought about offering, then for some reason, I didn’t. His life is so different from the one I live. I don’t know if anyone volunteered. I told myself I did the right thing. I alternately told myself that I was a coward.
Recently, I commented on one of Justin’s more vulnerable, yet positive status updates. It was something about wanting to be in his kids’ lives but nobody wanting him to be there. He thanked me for my words. He said something about feeling bad that his mom had written him off. As much as I know he thinks he hates her, he clearly mourns the loss of her. I felt compelled to send him a private message. I told him to hang in there and keep moving in a positive direction. I told him that it meant a lot to me that he was with my uncle during those last months and weeks when he was dying. I told him that I worried about him and wanted him to have the good life he was trying to achieve. I said I’d like to hear about his kids.
Justin replied and said that he wanted to tell me about his kids. He also said he thought he should tell me about himself. In person. And did I want to meet for coffee soon? I said I would, even though I’ve worried about what we’ll have to say to each other. We don’t really know each other and a part of me is afraid that I’ll give the impression I can offer him more than I’m capable of. I don’t think he drives. I don’t think he has a “real” job, and I’m not entirely sure he’s always got a place to sleep at night. Maybe more so, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make a difference and I’ll just be one more disappointment in his life. Then again, maybe there’s a real friendship in our future.