4 min

Ah, family

Kissing your cousins

Credit: Xtra West files

Whenever I go to Toronto I get to stay with one of my favourite cousins.

I have 36, and counting, and mostly I love them all, but I really dig my cousin Trish. She’s my second cousin really, her dad is my dad’s mother’s brother, or her dad and my grandmother are siblings, whichever way it makes sense to those of you with small, two dimensional families.

The way I understand things, you don’t have third cousins in two-dimensional families. Or maybe you do, but you just don’t know who they are. But with my blood, we know. We write Christmas cards. We fight, and gossip and bitch and laugh and help each other out. We pass cars on to the younger generations. We hire the drunk or down-and-out or recently divorced among our ranks to build a fence or paint the garage, to give them a little mad money, my grandmother called it, and so now the whole family says it, and then we gossip and bitch and fight about it all.

On a good day, you can feel surrounded by children, kin, unconditional love and acceptance, and excellent comfort food. On a bad day you can feel like you’re trapped in a David Lynch-y/Beverly Hillbilly-ish/Kafkaesque bad-coffee induced nightmare where the cops, lawyers and the judge and jury all look vaguely like you, and the neighbours are watching you being led away in restraints. The news cameras are rolling, and it’s all being broadcast live, via your aunties on the telephone.

Ah, family.

But I love my cousin Trish. She is a puppeteer, and a mask-maker, and a wanton woman. She never married, and bore no children. She is an artiste, and has travelled almost the world over. She has honey spoons from France and tells stories about rolling hash one-handed in one palm, standing up like they do in bars in Barcelona, and she used to work for Jim Henson. She owns the most excellent brick house in Toronto, with honeysuckle and wisteria and a swing chair.

When I stay there I get to stay in her fully detached studio, with skylights and vines around the windows and raccoons on the roof. I sleep like a teenager back there, surrounded by shelves of half-painted masks and puppet parts. She makes fresh croissant in the mornings and has a stainless steel cappuccino machine. Her mother, the wife of my Great Uncle Bob or Trish’s dad, whichever makes sense to you, was a concert pianist. Trish is from the Leeper side, her mother Spanish on her mother’s side, and the cultured half of my family. Her brothers are violinists and interior designers and portrait painters.

I am from the Yukon branch, the Irishmen, the welders and mechanics and camp cooks, my mother the child of a typesetter and a drunk. The not-so-cultured side of the family. We are all Catholics, obviously.

Which brings me to my lovely third cousin Celeste, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting for the first time this week. Her father, my second cousin, or Trish’s brother, Cyril, the portrait painter, has kept Celeste rather under his wing for the last 21 years.

Celeste has been up in a small town north of Toronto playing classical piano for 10 hours a day, up until two weeks ago. She is in the big city now, living with her wanton aunt. Meeting her cousin the queer writer. She has never had a job or a serious boyfriend. She still goes to latin mass every week, when Cyril and his wife drive down from their small town to take her to church. Celeste is in Toronto because she has repetitive strain injury from piano and needs to be closer to an acupuncturist. Lucky for the rest of us.

I guess I have always been a dirty pervert, as I have always been slightly attracted to the thought of kissing my cousins. Even though I have never done it, I have always been sort of turned on by the thought, probably because it is dirty and wrong and against God’s Law. Which is why I am exactly the type of cousin that third cousin Cyril would rather not have introduced to his gorgeous, radiant and unsullied youngest daughter, Celeste. Especially since Celeste’s older sister was married and pregnant by 19. Ah, family.

I fall instantly in old-fashioned Victorian love with my third cousin Celeste. She is funny and sweet and so excited to be out of her dad’s house and living with her wanton aunt in the Big Smoke. I can’t help it, I sing Catholic Girls by Frank Zappa to her. She blushes in the most beguiling of ways.

I discuss my theory with Trish as we make salad alone in her perfect kitchen with a fireplace. Celeste is in the bathroom. She spends a lot of time in the bathroom. I have a theory about cousins, I tell her. I think the whole societal taboo thing we have going regarding the kissing of one’s cousins is a completely heterosexual construction. It makes sound genetic sense to avoid your opposite sex relatives, but what could God possibly see wrong in kissing your third cousin who is of the um, basically same gender as you?

Trish agrees, which is one of the many reasons she is one of my favourite cousins. She takes the cinnamon buns out of the oven and pours tea. There are fresh flowers on the table. It is two minutes to 10 in the morning. The rest of the girls will be here any minute.

The door opens and in come Trish’s army of mask painters. All blonde, all beautiful, all under the age of 23. One is an actor, one an artist, one a nanny from Romania. Rough life for me in the studio; if I sleep in I am awoken by a posse of gorgeous babes on their way to work. I love my cousin Trish.

They like to be called “the girls”, but you will be hit with a paint brush if you call them chicks. Their favourite show is Sex and the City.

They each fancy they are like one of the characters. Celeste comes down in her new jeans. The decibel level in the room reaches even new heights as they all tell her what a fabulous ass she has, and then scream in laughter as they notice Celeste’s white cotton granny underwear bulging in a roll above the waistline of her J-Lo pants.

“Girlfriend, you got to get you some thongs,” says Candace, miming Miruna’s Romanian accent.

Cyril is going to freak, I think to myself, when he gets the bill for his daughter my third cousin’s new pair of jeans that barely cover the crack of her thong-covered ass. He is going to have a Catholic-father induced kind of aneurysm. He’ll blame it all on his sister, my second cousin, the wanton woman, and me, the lesbian deviant writer, his third cousin. The granddaughter of his Aunt Pat, the one who married beneath her. See what happens?

Ah, family.