Tonight at midnight, it is three months since my cousin Anne phoned me with the terrible news first that Chris was missing, and then that he had been killed. I have known that I wanted to contribute to this wonderful Remembering Chris Stevens site since it launched. Until now, I haven’t been able to bring myself to write. But three months is long enough to delay, and too long to have not had Chris with us. Every day is ever-more “too long.”
Chris is my first cousin…literally. When I wasn’t even four months old he was born to my mother’s only sister. Chris and I were pseudo-siblings from our very beginnings, before our actual brothers and sisters were born. Our mothers are very close. Our dads were always friends , even after both of our sets of parents divorced. My brothers Wint and Matt and I lived for the weekends and holidays when we would go to “Chris-‘n’-Anne’s” and then “Chris-n-Anne-n-Tom’s,” or they to our house, or best of all, we would all meet in Nevada City and Grass Valley to visit our grandparents, enjoy the old fashioned small town life and 4th of July parades, swim in the Yuba River, and run wild, playing until nightfall, as baby boomers could do. Later, our little sisters Camila and Hilary would join us, or enjoy reunions of their own through our dads’ and amazing stepmoms’ friendships. We would fight against the time when our parents would say we had to leave, yelling, “Nooooo!!!” and hiding out in each other’s family cars to try to sneak home with the departing cousins. Anne would sing the Beatles’, “Hello, hello! I don’t know why you say goodbye I say hello!” as we drove away.
Chris and my relationship had its early boy-girl strains: Love and hugs, alternating with him pulling out great handfuls of my hair when we were very young; performances with our siblings as fellow cast or band members; Chris commanding his personal army of Tom, Wint and Matt to attack “the girls” (eeeuw!)— me and Anne—and our counterattacks. But we were always the “oldests” and were responsible for our siblings. We would lead the walks into Nevada City across the Pine Street Bridge to look for rocks at “The Rock Shop” for his collection. We would plan the games. We would plan our teams’ strategies for the annual “Turkey Bowl” Thanksgiving Day football games. We played together on family camping and hiking trips, tennis games at Uncle Jan and Karen’s place in Davis, or on Pajaro Dunes vacations. We shared shock and grief when my dad cooked up a “pet” Dungeness crab Chris had found on an Oregon beach on one of our camping trips, and the parents enjoyed it with some nice white wine.
When we were older, our relationship became one of special friendship. Chris started at UC Berkeley in my sophomore year. My AGD sorority sisters delighted in his great personality and good looks. I enjoyed his interesting and talented ATO friends. When we didn’t want to deal with relationship complications, we could do things with each other: all the fun of a good date, none of the drama! I remember when we were given tickets to the San Francisco Opera by one of our parents and we borrowed my dad’s convertible sports car, got all dressed up, and pretended we were in a James Bond movie as we zipped across the Bay Bridge singing the Bond theme song and spy-lurking, hugging walls, and ducking behind trees, as we made our way across Civic Center plaza to the Opera House.
I could trust Chris completely; he had my back and I had his. We had known each other for our whole lives. We shared a family culture and history. We could laugh and be silly, or be serious and talk about both of our interests in international policy. We were so happy when both of us ended up after graduate school in Washington DC, launching careers in international trade. We helped co- host and hostess for one another when necessary. And we talked about our hopes, dreams, and concerns. It was just understood, as it is with all of us Stevens/Reynolds siblings, that we were and would always be there for one another.
As so many postings on this site affirm, Chris had the great gift of truly being with whomever he was with. He delighted fully in each person and in each experience. Yet, I believe there was nothing like the special, relaxed, happy way that he delighted in being with his family, especially as he spent more time abroad in his diplomatic career. He would come home for every family occasion that he could. And, as his sister Anne said at one of this fall’s memorial events, we would all say with great anticipation, “Chris is coming!” He made it more fun. More special.
Chris was profoundly loyal and invested in the treasure of time with family, not just in collective gatherings, but one on one. As many friends as he had to see on his return visits to the Bay Area, he would take time for long talks with my dad, a Stanford economist and Latin Americanist who heartily encouraged Chris to follow his bliss and calling to the Near East. He made a point of coming to visit my dad and stepmom in my father’s final months of life, and supported us all with his loving concern after our dad’s death. He would visit my mother and stepdad and have leisurely lunches and stimulating conversations with them. He would take time to visit my brother’s new home, and hold the new baby(ies). He came all the way out by plane and train to the far reaches of northern New Mexico to attend my wedding, and give a loving, funny, deeply personal toast —then, drive my Subaru full of unfinished champagne back to Albuquerque and nearly drive off the road in an adrenalized fright when he heard “gunfire” pepper the car….”Terrorists in northern New Mexico?!?” When he smelled the champagne and saw the spray, he knew he had another wild adventure story to share with us all. The altitude had caused the champagne corks to pop!
We each lost a parent in the past few years and mourned together. We shared concerns about our remaining parents. We shared eldest siblings’ deep pride in our “little” brothers’ and sisters’/cousins’ impressive accomplishments. Without drama, without fanfare, with just a deep understanding that comes from shared lives, we just knew the other was there: that our families would always be there for each other. And so we have been, this long, sad, autumn of 2012.
I remember dancing wildly with Chris. I remember singing silly songs together. I remember fighting, and laughing and playing together. I remember Chris telling me, with as much passion and yearning as I think I had ever seen him express, how he felt called to make his life’s work in the Near and Middle East, but felt some responsibility to try a sensible career in international law. I remember cheering him on when he made the switch and entered the diplomatic corps. I remember long conversations over fine meals and wine. I remember talking policy and career strategies together. I remember him telling me how he smiled and loved the image when I told him I envisioned our parents Clark and Karen toasting him in heaven with champagne when he was appointed and confirmed as US Ambassador to Libya. I remember us sharing his great sense of honor and pride to serve under such brilliant Secretaries of State and the first black President of the United States, representing our country in the region he so loved. I remember him welcoming us with such joy when members of the family would visit him in his various posts – delighting in introducing us to the rich cultures he so admired. I remember him admitting that the more he travelled, the less relaxed he was on the airplanes. I remember him acknowledging the dangers of his circumstances, and admitting that he didn’t at all like the sense of threat to safety and freedom, but that the meaning and pleasure in his work more than compensated. I remember him taking my son under his wing and mentoring him and encouraging him, showing him the halls of judicial and legislative power, and monuments to great men, in Washington, DC. I remember wild and woolly instrumental jam sessions at our grandparents’ house, with the whole family playing raucously, wearing strange hats (because that’s what this family does!). I remember sharing our 50th birthday cakes at his surprise party. I remember Chris as the one person who lived in parallel every part of my life’s time line, and who I thought would be on the track next to me out until the distant future.
As we come close to Christmas and my birthday, when I and our whole family would be assured of a wonderful, attentive, loving phone call, or a face-to-face visit, I remember how much I love Chris and miss him — my more-than-cousin.