These days I carry around most of the information in the world in my pocket. Ten years ago I was still thrilled to have my dorm-room connection and a Dell desktop. But a few years before that, I didn’t have anything you could really call the Internet. Instead I had Bruce.
Bruce was my eldest cousin, fifteen years my senior, and I revered him. I was interested in sci-fi and fantasy books; Bruce knew about them. I liked board games; Bruce won them all. He had the sharpest wit I have ever encountered, but he was also unfailingly kind, and I never heard him use it to be cruel to anyone.
That included me, even at my most juvenile and annoying, when he spent a while living in our basement and attending classes at EKU. Remembering those days now, I would have been unable to stand me. Bruce listened, and laughed at my jokes, and gave me things.
That was another thing about him: he was never attached to material possessions, and generous with them almost to the point of carelessness. At one point he gave me what must have been nearly his entire collection of gaming books, obviously something in which he’d invested years and hundreds of dollars. He was offhand about it, as if he’d found an odd thing I might like in his pocket.
I treasured those books. For years I could reliably be found in a corner paging through a banged-up hardback with monsters on the cover, spending far more time reading them than actually playing, and blissful to be doing so. I’m sure I didn’t thank him enough, but I hope he saw how much they meant to me.
But if Bruce helped doom me to geekdom, he also rescued me. I was undersized for a long time, and at one point I lagged so far behind the curve that Mom was consulting growth-specialist doctors. When he heard about that, Bruce took a long look at me, then told me to finish my dinner every night instead of leaving most of it on the plate. I listened, and that was when my growth spurt finally hit.
It shames me to say that Bruce and I drifted apart. He waited most of his life for a kidney transplant, and got one, only to have his body reject it a few years later; his health was never the same after that, and his illness frightened me (I had another male role model who got very sick, you see). We had political differences, and the geographical distance between us grew as well. But his patience, kindness and generosity never changed.
I didn’t find the time to see Bruce on my most recent trip back to Kentucky, a few weeks ago, and I will spend the rest of my life regretting that.
When somebody you love dies you’re supposed to put together all the good words you can about him, and assemble an image for your memory that omits their shortcomings and sharp edges. But I can’t do that, because I see now that I was always the one coming up short. All my memories of my cousin are of a man who was better to me than I ever deserved.
I’m sorry, Bruce. I miss you.