My So-Called Cousin

Cousin

A notification dinged at me. The head bubble of a tan, middle-aged man with a gray mustache. Thinking nothing of it, I sipped creamy, chocolate-infused coffee while I continued to check Facebook on my Android in the morning.

I called this person my cousin since I was in grade school, but we weren’t actually cousins. He was my oldest brother’s friend. Him, his brother, sister, and mother lived with us in Lake Worth, Florida for a little while when they were going through hard times.

My so-called cousin and oldest brother used to DJ at the local roller skating rink, The Palace, in Lantana, Florida, down the street from the airport where the alleged 9-11 terrorists trained. They’d spin all the best freestyle and electro songs. It was the late 80s, early 90s.

I’d skate on beat in forward and backward circles on the waxed floor to Shannon, Stevie B., and Lisa Lisa. Afrika Bambaataa, Nucleus, and Art of Noise.

I’d always request “Time After Time” by Timmy T and the occasional Madonna.

My Hypercolor shirt would glow under the black lights. So would my fluorescent socks.

I’d roll up to the DJ booth on the neon commercial carpet that was flat enough to still skate on, just at a slower pace. I’d always have a rotating girlfriend with me, who’d inevitably crush on both my brother and cousin.

“Your brother looks like Jordan Knight,” they’d all say with heart-shaped eyes.

I’d roll mine, smack chewing gum, and pop a bubble in the face of whichever girl stood there. My attitude—coolness I emulated from my DJ relatives wearing airbrushed jeans—went from the wheels of my skates to the crescent of my waved bangs. At least it did in my mind.

Once I hit middle school, I went to The Palace for a new reason—LSD. The music and the lights to a tween high on acid equaled endless entertainment. My brother no longer DJ’d there, but I’d still see my cousin once in a while. Never did I find out if he knew I was tripping balls.

Years passed, and I moved all over the country, from Portland to Pittsburgh. I went back home to Palm Beach County from 2005-2009. That’s when I ran into my cousin again.

My full-body tattoo stood out among the other airbrushed strippers at Platinum Nightclub in Lantana. There’s not much of an alternative scene in the sex industry there. It’s a completely different game in South Florida. This place was one of the seemingly nicer clubs in the area, although it ended up getting shut down after a successful prostitution sting. I knew it!

I danced on stage. Gave the last show of the night. I stood near the door and bar, which was the biggest section of stage. The rest of it stretched out like a catwalk toward the end of the room.

I climbed the pole, posed, and kicked one leg out, then slid down. Did a flip on the ground and arose to see my cousin talking to another stripper.

Looking back, he did gawk at me then. My instinctual repulsion had me preoccupied with grabbing my clothes, so I hadn’t registered his googly eyes. But I can see them wiggle back at me now.

I pressed my clothes against my bare skin to cover myself as fast as possible. Told him to wait for me to get dressed as I ran to the dressing room.

I returned, fully clothed, and caught up with my cousin. We hugged. I was happy to see him, but still uneasy with embarrassment because we’re family. He sensed it.

“I’ve been working in strip clubs for years,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

So I don’t. Never did because he never made it weird.

He’s been on my Facebook friends list for a while, at least a couple of years. We message each other occasionally, sometimes leave comments. Nothing abnormal.

The first message said, “Psst.”

I read it and ignored it because I didn’t see it as important. I continued browsing Classical Art Memes and Joan Cornellà art.

His Bernie Lomax avatar popped up again. I opened it.

It’s a bird’s eye view of his half-limp, untrimmed, bulbous wang, unfurled from his boxer briefs.

“WTF,” I typed. “Don’t ever talk to me again.”

He not only made it weird now, he made it absolutely revolting.

“Sorry, wrong Jamie,” he sent, misspelling my name. Then he proceeded to tell me it wasn’t a big deal since he’s seen me naked.

“Go fuck yourself,” I sent.

He told me he could if he wanted to because it’s long enough.

I immediately deleted everything and blocked him in utter disgust. I then turned tragedy into art and told the story on Facebook. My younger sisters, who are twins, wrote me individually telling me they knew it was him. I called my mother, and she said, “He’s a sleazebag. He’s worked in strip clubs for a long time.”

“Mom, I’ve worked in strip clubs before,” I said.

“I didn’t mean that, you’re right, that’s not why he’s a creep, but he is a creep,” she said.

How is it that I’m the last woman in my immediate family to know my so-called cousin is now a full-blown freakazoid? Thanks for the memo, loves.

Over time, heavy drinking, that South Florida dirty-dirt, and desperate loneliness created an incestuous dick-pic sender. Facebook and the internet lubricated his ego just enough to snap and send.

Maybe one day he’ll feel bad and apologize. Until then, I won’t be calling him my cousin anymore.

This essay originally appeared in Exotic Magazine, July 2017.

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