Jason is my first cousin on my mom's side; son of my aunt Wendie Marlais--my mom's sister--and her husband, Jay. Now, every family is different -- some consider cousins to be more in the category of 'distant family,' but I think that depends on your family.
See, in my family, our cousins were not unlike siblings. Many of us were born in or around the same town, we spent several holidays and birthdays with each other throughout the year, my parents and aunts and uncles would oft babysit one another's children, etc. In other words, we weren't all so distant at all.
Even when my family isolated themselves in Los Banos, California, our cousins on both sides of the family were frequent visitors. And when they would visit, it would be as if time had never passed.
Jason, most certainly, was a brother to me growing up. Learning of his recent passing, I was shocked. It was like a limb was suddenly removed from my body; I'm in shock and numb.
Jason was not your run-of-the-mill guy; Jason had an unwavering love for family and a bottomless hunger to make people smile. In his last days, even, he'd made it a point to drive around the west coast and visit everyone he could in an attempt to bring family closer together, and just be with those he cared about most.
With all this news, the tears, and the pain my family and I feel from this loss, I thought it'd be fun to share some stories that are on the lighter-hearted side.
So, here are some short, fun, light-hearted stories and fond memories I have with my cousin
South Park was born and at peak popularity when I was in elementary school. All the kids talked about it. Even during school elections, one kids catchphrase "Vote for me, because [insert name of other child running for school office] killed Kenny"
I, having been raised in an extremely strict religious household, was not allowed to watch such cartoons. In fact, I had heard about southpark but never really understood what it was, other than some popular cartoon.
One day, Jason came with his family to stay a few days at our house. Jason would always have toys, movies, games, etc., to play with. So it was always exciting to see him when I was little, because you never knew what was in store.
Anyway, Jason comes to me with his bag and says, "Hey David, do you wanna watch something cool?!"
"YEAH!" I exclaim.
Quicky we run upstairs to the closest VCR and TV. Jason then pulls out of his bag a VHS tape with the words, "Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" written on it.
"Wanna watch South Park?" he asks with a massive grin on his face. "It's funny, I swear, let's put it on!"
Suddenly, my mom enters the room. Apparently she followed us up, perhaps knowing we'd be doing something we shouldn't. "Put what on?" she asks.
I froze; I knew I wasn't allowed to watch south park but I didn't want to snitch. :) But, Jason was different than me; he would rise to the occasion to get his way.
"It's a cartoon!" he said.
"A cartoon? Let me see," my mom responds as she grabs the box from his hands.
"It's for kids and it's really funny and there's nothing bad in it. It's just a silly cartoon, aunt Vicki."
"I don't know, it says 'Uncut' here. And it has an R rating. Are you sure this is fore kids?"
"YES! I swear!"
Jason's brilliant lie did not work. However, we both laughed as my mom left the room with the VHS tape in her hand.
When I was 5, I saw my first episode of Dragon Ball Z at my uncle's house. It was the only cartoon on TV that day, so I watched it. I was captivated, but I had no clue what I was watching. Here's this guy with crazy hair and a tail...ok he's got a bald friend and a son...oh and he's fighting a big bald guy and a little guy, both with tails. Woah big explosions! Screaming! Action! Pew pew! And it's a MARATHON?! Woah!
So much was going on for my 5 year old brain to process. All I did was sit in front of the old tube screen and watch for hours until someone literally came and pulled me away.
I was too young to really recall the name of the show at the time, but it wasn't long after this I had gotten together with my cousin and he asked if I wanted to watch his favorite show.
He turns on the TV, and low and behold, the same exact episode of that same exact show I had watched on my own was on TV again.
"OH!" I shouted with excitement "I've seen this before! What is this?"
"Dragon Ball Z" he said with a big grin and eyes unwaivering from the action on the screen. And it was that day I learned about anime and what Dragon Ball Z was; little did I know that it was something I would grow to love for the rest of my life.
As time would pass, and we would see each other, we'd make it a point to watch a DBZ movie, or play some random Dragon Ball playstation game, where I would ALWAYS lose.
But if you know me, and how huge anime and Dragon Ball are in my life, well you have Jason to thank for that.
Before Jason got into cars, he was passionate about art. Specifically, manga artwork. As a Dragon Ball fan, he spent a lot of time sketching DBZ fan art. He had sent me a drawing over the mail in a big yellow envelope. It was a side-profile picture of Goku staring down at Freiza.
My mom had called my aunt Wendie to let her know the drawings came and how great they were -- and they were. The drawing was amazing, in fact.
Etched by hand with a pencil on 8.5"x11" printer paper. Each stone in the ground hand drawn and shaded. Backlighting, shading, emotion, personality, all reflecting without a single visible eraser mark. I was dumbfounded and amazed.
I had to try. :)
It was from that point I spent the next 5 years avidly drawing. I had some good work in there myself, but as hard as I tried and as much as I practiced, I could never reach the quality of work Jason did at such a young age.
When I was 8 years old, my family left the Silicon Valley to live in Los Banos, CA. This was right before the new millenium, and not long before the housing crisis. People were leaving the bay area in favor of commuting and purchasing a more affordable home. Where homes in San Jose were $1m-$2m, homes in Los Banos were ~$200k-$300k.
My parents hopped on the bandwagon and bought a beautiful 3 bedroom, 3 1/2 bathroom home. Each bedroom had its own full-sized bathroom with a tub, toilet, shower, cabinets, and sink. The model of the home was originally supposed to be a 4 bedroom, where one bedroom shared a bathroom with another. But the wall that seperated that room from the master bedroom was never built, making for a MASSIVE master bedroom, and private bathrooms for each room.
One night some year or two after moving to Los Banos, California, Jason's family came for a visit and stayed a few nights. My room had a bunk-bed at the time, and he got top bunk.
My mom came and said goodnight to us, and left a pseudo-nightlight on by turning on the bathroom light, but closing its door, before exiting the room, closing the door behind her.
It remains quiet for a couple moments, until Jason breaks the silence.
"Can I...ask you something?
"Ok but you gotta promise you won't laugh at me"
immediately laughs "Ok!"
"Is there someone behind the door?"
"No, my mom just closed it"
"Yeah, it's ok."
A popping noise comes from the bathroom.
"OK THEN WHAT WAS THAT?!" Jason exclaims as he sits up in his bed.
"It's ok, it's just the walls."
"How does a wall make noise? That doesn't make any sense"
"Sometimes when it's hotter or colder, the space around the nails in the wall get bigger and smaller, and the movement makes the walls pop" I said, repeating something my parents told me once. Which was true, more or less.
"Are you sure?"
"Ok", Jason says, as we both lie down and try to sleep. I felt some pride being able to bring my older cousin a little comfort, and relief the problem was resolved.
"Ok--there's definitely someone there"
Growing up, Jason was like a brother to me. We were completely opposite but so alike in many ways. Music, anime, gaming, art, all things we shared interest in.
And yet, like I said, we were opposite in many ways--almost the inverse of each other in personality. When I was shy, he was outgoing; when I was a little church boy, he was watching South Park; while I was eager to stay home and learn to code, he was quick to drive and drive quick; while I'd be afraid to speak, he'd be the loudest voice in the room.
But the thing that always stood out to me, throughout the years, is his desire to see people happy. As kids, he did everything he could to make people laugh. Maybe he'd pull a childish prank, or tell a joke--hell, it may not have even been funny--but he'd give you this big open-mouth grin which would build into laughter so contagious, it didn't matter. As long as he made you smile, nothing else mattered.
Even into adulthood, when we talked, he always talked about others--their accomplishments, successes, stories-- and how important family was to him. In fact, one of the last facebook messages from him I have literally was a conversation about loving family, and being together.
So much of who I am is the direct result of growing up with him in my life. Knowing he is gone is just an unbelievable shock to my being. I will cherish each and every laugh, smile, practical joke, drawing shared, Pokémon card game, dbz movie marathon, Playstation game, every crazy fast drive blasting 80s rock, every holiday when at least one of us would get into some kind of trouble...all of it.
I have never known anyone like you, Jason Marlais, and never will. Miss you. Rest in peace.