Last week, I received a phone call from one of my cousins.

“Could you tell me where I can walk my dogs in D.C.?” she asked.

This was a really odd question given that she lives on Long Island.

“Uhm, you can walk them anywhere there’s grass. There aren’t any real rules -- just pick up after them.”

“Well, could you recommend a specific place?” she persisted.

At that point, I began to notice the sounds of cars whizzing down the street behind her. In fact, those cars sounded oddly similar to the cars I could hear through the open living room window.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m right in front of your building.”

Sometimes strange shit just happens. A cousin shows up at your doorstep with her dogs to inform you that her sister is moving to your town because she starts a new job on Tuesday. She wants your advice on housing, neighborhoods, where to park the car. She’s come all the way from the Long Island to help her sister get settled. You barely know either cousin at all.

And the next thing you know, your cousin can’t find an apartment. And out of a sense of family duty you never knew you had, you offer your cousin your spare bedroom. Suddenly you and your wife have a roommate.

This happened to me last week.

Family is such a strange thing. Growing up, I had sporadic but substantial contact with my father’s side. But my mother’s side was more mysterious. I scarcely ever saw them. So having one of my cousins from that side living with me is almost akin to having a stranger living with me. But I suppose she’s not a stranger, anymore.

Pantaliamon was talking to her last night and it came out that I was the cousin she knew best -- which made me feel sad, because I didn’t feel like I knew her at all. What’s more, I argued with her about politics this morning (she’s a Texas-born Republican, I’m a Washington Democrat), and now I’m weighed down by guilt that I was committing terrible violence on the level of kicking a puppy or dropping a baby out a second story window.

And then later, I find myself making a special trip home to the apartment to make sure she found a parking space.

Is this what family feels like?