“Do you have any Advil?”
My sister’s eyes widen, telling me more than she’s telling the rest of the table: an onslaught of cramps, the debilitating back pain that comes once a month. I nod and reach into my purse, pulling out the shiny, circular pill container. I pop it open and she takes two of the small pink pills.
The Friday night crowd at our local steakhouse is fairly minimal. Couples and families lean into each other in the dimly lit restaurant, offering each other sips of drinks and bites of meat and potatoes. The eight of us are at a long rectangular table in the center of the room, probably talking a little louder than most would prefer, but it’s not often we’re all in town or free on the same night.
It is “cousin weekend”, a new tradition we started that brings a handful of our family together. In some ways, it still feels strange to be out and about, all together, without our parents. Not that long ago, we were scooting ourselves into booths for birthdays, squishing our small bodies between our parents, and then passing them the bill. Now we are all adults, with friendships built not only on blood relation but on concerted efforts to get to know and spend time with one another. We have plans all weekend, and are already chatting about what we can do next time—preferably when the weather is a little warmer and there’s not so much wind.
The waiter comes around collecting plates and asks if we want a dessert menu.
“I mean, it can’t help to look,” my sister’s husband says, and I nod in agreement.
My sister Natalee leans into him, her eyes tired and her face a little pale. I ask if the Advil helped and she tilts her hand back and forth, as if to say, kind of.
“You get cramps this bad every month?” my cousin Amanda asks, holding her daughter on her lap as she colors on the kid’s activity sheet provided by the restaurant.
Natalee nods. “Every month.”
The women at the table nod empathetically, while the men perhaps listen, perhaps glaze over for a minute or two. We talk a little bit about our individual experiences, each of us nodding in understanding. When there is an opening, I contribute my own.
“For me it’s not so much cramps as it is the feeling that the world is ending and everyone hates me.”
I deliver it like the punchline of a biting joke, hoping the humor masks some of the pain and fear. It garners a few laughs, and makes me feel good. But then Amanda puts her hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” she says genuinely, “that’s hard.”
It hits me somewhere deep inside and I’m almost afraid to look at her.
“Next time,” my cousin Taryn says from the other side of me, “just remember that everyone at this table loves you.”
Both of them speak with a light and casual tone, allowing me to hide the deep emotional impact that makes me want to cry.
We order a chocolate brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and take turns bringing heaping spoonful’s to our respective plates. When the waiter comes by with our check, he also lets us know they are a few minutes out from closing.
We gather our things and pat our stomachs, then wander out into the cold February air. We all hug, some of us saying, “see you tomorrow” and others saying, “see you soon!” I get in my car to drive home and hear the words echoing in my head.
Everyone at this table loves you.
For me, it will work better than Advil.
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