My sister and I drove for an hour, talking about life all the while—what she knew, what I knew, what we neither of us knew—and time was rushing past. These backroads were just how I remembered them this time of year...curving, colored with golden amber leaves and a deep clinging green that glowed in the golden hour, thick on the hills and fields that hugged the sides of the narrow lane. Always the same. I could have found my way in my sleep.

Our youngest cousin pulled up behind our car on a black motorcycle, following close as we neared the turnoff to the house. We waved, but he was deep in thought with an uncharacteristically serious expression on his face. He followed us down the mile-long gravel road to the house, then snapped from his reverie as we parked under the tree and he pulled in behind, grinning at us in recognition.

I can’t believe how tall he is now.

There were pumpkins lining the benches in front of the craftsman ranch house, and two dogs guarding the doorway. We passed through to a flurry of hellos and hugs on the other side and breathed in the aromas of fresh baked bread and cinnamon rolls.

This place is always home. I didn't realize quite how much I'd missed it.

My little cousin of 22 rushes up to hug me, her husband not far behind. They are glowing. It makes me happy to see it. My aunt calls out from the kitchen, “Is that my Rie?” and I turn the corner to see her up to her forearms in flour tossing handfuls of homemade noodles. She greets me warmly, “Heh-llo, my niece!” and drops them with a little cloud of dust to hug me close. My uncle is stirring wassail at the stove and grins mischievously, reaching out an arm to hug me, already busy cracking jokes and making me smile.

There was a beautiful newborn there tonight—the son of my eldest cousin. He and I talked about his graduate-level research project on stress-coping between genders, while I watched his wife swaying back and forth with their baby. It was so surreal. I thought about when my cousin was still in high school and gave me his room for four months when I got really sick at the University and came to live with them. I remembered back further when he was a child and could give you the scientific names for any dinosaur you could think of and many you’d never heard of in your life. I remembered how serious he used to be—how he used to practice reading jokes from a book, and then look at you searchingly with a deadpan expression after the punchline, to analyze whether or not you found the joke funny. Now he’s studying equine-assisted therapy, trying to find ways to help traumatized people heal. Now he's a husband.  And a father. 

And my lovely middle cousin...teaching a classroom of children and already coming up on her one year wedding anniversary. I used to carry her around everywhere and make her wear hats with me, back in the day when we looked like sisters and had matching pink, lemon-print rompers. She had this squeaky little voice back then, and when we’d ride in Grandpa’s pickup truck to feed the cows she’d break out into song with a confident twang—I...I, I am a maaaaan of constant sorrow! I’ve seen troooooouble all my daaaay—and make us laugh until we couldn’t breathe. That is still her favorite thing, to make people laugh. Now a teacher. Now married, and significantly better at cooking and adulting than I am. 

It’s been a year and a half since I've seen them.
It feels like forever.
It feels like yesterday.

We carved pumpkins, and I met my youngest cousin’s beautiful girlfriend and her family for the first time. He and she are so in love. I guess he’s old enough to fall in love now...but how? Soon the pumpkins are finished—a cyclops, a deathly hallows, a Chevy sign, a “Merry Christmas,” a ghost, and we’re all taking pictures with them and each other.

I'm adjusting the focus of my camera when the room gets strangely quiet. My family is never quiet...there are usually three boisterous stories going at the same time and peals of laughter in response, but all I hear is a camera nearby clicking frantically. I look up, and my youngest cousin is down on one knee before his girlfriend, holding a ring. They aren’t speaking, just beaming. They are in their own world, soaking in their happiness and this moment and all the moments that brought them here, smiling too much to get the words out. She nods finally, and he rises and folds her into his arms, and the room surrounds them, and everyone begins talking and laughing at once.

My sister is across from me, her eyes are huge like mine, trying to absorb the enormity of what just happened.

The ring is beautiful. The couple is glowing, floating. It doesn’t feel possible to me—all of the life that has passed to lead to this. I remember my youngest cousin when he was small when we were buddies watching fireworks on the beach, digging holes and couches in the sand...when I looked out for him to make sure he didn’t get trampled by cows or lost at the farm. I remember playing paintball with him when he was older—him teaching me how to shoot, how to run the four-wheeler...later watching him rebuild a car, and weld, and raise his animals...

And now, here he was. So handsome. So grown. Working on a degree in Biology. About to start a new life with the girl he loved. And still...the same. The same good-natured glint in his hazel eyes when he smiles and makes us smile.

These beautiful souls. This beautiful world. This constant overlapping of seasons. What has ended for me has begun for another, and happiness and adventure are always just around the corner for each of us—as we live, and love, and break, and breathe, and heal, and live, and love again.

Time is standing still. And Time is rushing on.

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