Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cousins

As a small child I remember being baffled by her girly demeanor. Growing up next door to a house full of boys, I was a combination of awkward bookworm and tomboy so I imagine she was just as baffled by me too.

Her mother dressed her in fashionable dresses, leaving her waist length brown hair loose and lovely, while my mother stuffed me into overalls and cut my frizzy bangs at an awkward angle. When I went over to play there were tea parties instead of teepees made of sticks and dress up games instead of chase. She had shelf upon shelf of Barbies, all in their original boxes, and when I tried to play with them I was reprimanded. She was prissy and I was rough, as different as two little girls could possibly be, yet every time we had to be parted we cried and begged our parents for just a little more time.

At the age of twelve we got what we asked for, but in the worst possible way. Her parents were in a boating accident – her father killed on impact and her mother in a coma with severe brain trauma. She and her brother moved in with our Papa, right next door to me.

I remember fighting my way through the adults until they allowed me to sit next to her at her father’s funeral. I clutched her hand and looked straight ahead. And when the minister finished a monologue with “for all the Days of Our Lives”, we looked at each other, unable to stop the grins and tiny giggles that escaped simultaneously. It was our favorite soap opera, we watched it with our moms all the time, but we knew how much her father had hated it.

I was so excited when she started attending my school. We didn’t have any classes together, but we saw each other at lunch, recess and of course every day at home.

But it soon became apparent that our differences, however easy to work around when we hadn’t seen each other daily at home, weren’t so easy to ignore anymore. She became part of the popular crowd and I took a backseat, watching from the sidelines as she crooked her finger and got all the things most young girls are interested in – the good looking boyfriend, being a member of the cheerleading squad, and being invited to all the coolest events and parties.

I was jealous and resentful that she walked in and things seemed to fall into her lap, but I kept that to myself and I felt guilty for even feeling that way. Her father was gone and her mother was the child rather than the parent, living next door with a nurse maid. How could I possibly begrudge her the attention? She deserved to be happy and enjoy life as much as possible.

But my feelings of discontent grew as, little by little, she developed a habit of putting me down in front of other people. She would have her friends spend the night and I would be there, sitting on the edges, only included as an afterthought or a joke. I would go home crying, devastated about the way I was treated, but too afraid to stand up for myself for fear of losing the good parts of our relationship.

And there were a lot of good parts. When we were alone or just with family, we were the best of friends. We had sleepovers and inside jokes. She comforted me when my dad went on drunken rampages and I comforted her when she was depressed about her family. And the summers were the best – spending every day in our bathing suits with our other cousins, swimming and tubing, riding our bikes barefoot in the hot afternoons, picking handfuls of honeysuckle and exploring every inch of the woods around our houses. She played a major part in a lot of my fondest childhood memories.

Then, when we were 15 and 16, in the summer of 2001, our cousin Ben died in a Jet Ski accident. And we turned to each other first. I was home alone with my sister, doing chores as quickly as possible so we could go swimming, and she was just down the hill at her house, vegging and waiting on us to finish. We each got a call about the accident from someone different, but at the same time. After I hung up I took off running through the house and out the backdoor, across the porch and down the stairs, shouting her name...and she was doing the same. We met with a crash in the grass a few yards from my house and held on.

Later we prayed on our knees and I’ve never begged God for anything as hard, before or since, as I did that day in the hour after receiving the news of the crash, waiting to find out if he survived. And when he didn’t, I became something she was already well on her way to becoming – reckless.

The three of us had been born three months apart – her birthday was in March, mine in June, and Ben’s in October – and though he was the baby, I’d been the only one to really hold back on the partying, only occasionally indulging in smoking or drinking. But soon after his death I was sneaking out of the house with her, getting high most days and drunk every weekend.

She still treated me badly at school sometimes, and even at home if the neighbor girls were around, but the closest I ever got to confronting her then was a letter that she shrugged off. Because of Ben, my fear of confrontation had turned into my fear of losing her...and I was willing to be occasionally miserable in order to keep us close. I made every concession I could and when it sometimes became too much, I avoided her for a week or two to get my head on straight, always eventually giving in. After all, we’d been through so much together.

People began to notice how unbalanced our relationship had become, namely my mother, and started badgering me about standing up to her, about taking instead of always giving. Instead I continued to run when she called and I let all the resentment, all the hurt and anger continue to build up.

After we graduated and went our separate ways, it got a little easier. We still saw each other often, but not every day. In the past my attitude with her had been largely submissive, obviously, but because of the stuff I was going through, every little thing set me off. Combined with all those stored up years of fat jokes and nerd jokes, it turned me into almost as big a bitch as she was. She was thinner and had better hair, but I was witty and well read. I took every opportunity to make her look like an idiot, but with a smile on my face and more cunning than she’d ever managed to use when insulting me in public. And for a long time I was satisfied with that, with what I thought of as subtle retribution.

Over the next few years I still gave far more of myself than I thought was fair, but I’ve always been sort of a masochist. Then (I believe) the addition of being a parent stole the last shred of patience I had for the old games. I finally began to let her know that I thought she was ungrateful and took advantage of me (albeit often with my help), but instead of a reaction I expected (anger, sadness or denial), she practically laughed in my face. That, and an upsetting diatribe about what a shitty mother I was, ended it. I turned my back, ignored her calls, and went on my way.

In the long stretch of months that we didn’t speak, I had plenty of time to think about our situation. I admitted my areas of wrong doing (to myself, and later to her), but I still felt good about my decision to cut off contact. At first I felt healthier, and generally happier, without the added drama.

But soon I missed her to the point of nearly caving and calling. I missed the stories that only we shared, the laughter and all night gab sessions. She’d always been the first person I told everything to and though I knew I needed the space I’d created, it hurt.

It was nearly two years ago that, after months and months of silence, we had our first adult discussion about why things were the way they were. She was living with her then boyfriend and, for reasons that had nothing to do with me, was alienated from the majority of our family. I’d been the last one to cut off contact and the last one she’d expected it from. As I sat there on the couch I could literally see the toll it had taken on her and it shocked me. For the first time since I wrote her that letter in my childish, bubbly script, I told her how I really felt...about everything. And she listened without a trace of a smirk or hint of a laugh.

We were up all night and well into the morning, crying and confessing, hugging and promising. Underneath all the negativity that surrounded our relationship, we’d always loved each other.

And over the past year we’ve really worked at changing the way we interact. I’ve become more assertive and outspoken with her...and she’s curbed her temper, become more thoughtful. But it’s a process and, though she’ll always be my family and I’ll always love her, there’s a scar there. I knew we could never go back to being those two little girls, arguing over which game to play and nothing else, but I hoped we’d still fight tooth and nail to stay together, just like they did. I hoped we’d still go to each other first when shit went down.

I hoped, but until this past Monday, I really wasn’t sure.

*****

I woke at 5:15 to the radio alarm playing Lady Gaga and the phone bleeping and flashing red. I switched off the music, reached for the phone and turned over on my back, squinting at the bright screen. Three missed calls, all within the last 10 minutes, were from her.

And then I saw the text message, sent a mere three minutes before: “He shot his self in the face beside me. Help.” I jumped up and fumbled for my glasses, putting them on to make sure I’d read it correctly. Unfortunately, I had.

I hit redial and she answered immediately, sobbing and managing to tell me that she was going to the hospital; he was still alive. “I’m on my way”, I said. “I’ll meet you there.” The moment we hung up I ran around my room tugging on clothes. I grabbed my purse, slipped my feet into flip flops, alerted my mom and ran out the door.

It takes an hour to get there in good weather, but it was freezing and pouring down rain that morning. And while I navigated the dark, wet roads at a pace I wouldn’t normally, I thought about what I’d say to her. Even without knowing all the details I was horrified. I wasn’t thinking about him at all – I didn’t wonder why or how. I liked him alright, but I’d only met him a few times and he was still just the boyfriend to me. All I could think was, “After everything she’s been through...dear god, I can’t even begin to imagine...I’ve got to get there.”

Arriving at the hospital, I parked and ran through the rain, cursing my flip flops and lack of umbrella. My glasses fogged as I sloshed through the lobby, wet pants legs clung to my ankles and dripping hair was plastered to my neck. I rode the elevator alone to the third floor, getting out in front of another, nearly empty, lobby.

We saw each other at the same time. She was sitting in a chair next to two women and as I moved toward her she stood up and took a step, clearly unable to do more. But we crashed into each other with the same force that we had on that summer day ten years ago.

I held her thin, shaking frame tightly, until her knees started to buckle. Then we sat and I held her over the armrest, noticing that the two women she’d been sitting beside were staring. The one closest to us introduced herself awkwardly over my cousin’s crying. It was his mother. “I’m glad you’re here for her”, she said.

After a few minutes I was able to let go and she began to tell me the story. The more she spoke, the sicker I felt. She’d told me before that he had anger and depression issues, had threatened to kill his self before, but the way she’d relayed it made it sound like it was all in the past. Apparently things were strained and he “flipped out” too often. She’d always been able to calm him and talk him down before, but not this time.

And still, after I knew the details, I couldn’t think about him and his issues. I didn’t think about how I’d laughed with him at the wedding the weekend before, how young he was or about what a blow it was for his family. All that would come later. What I couldn’t stop thinking about was how close she came to being killed, how horrific it must have been to witness such a thing and how maybe, if I’d been talking to her more often, she would have told me everything from the beginning and I could have helped her get out of the situation.

After speaking with his mother, it was decided that I would take her back to their neighborhood to get her dogs safely put away. She has two Great Danes that she loves more than anything and they were scared and alone. She immediately agreed and we left.

I didn’t think we were going into his house where it happened because the dogs were at his mother’s right around the corner, but she said she needed her keys. I was hesitant, but I couldn’t let her go alone so I followed her into the entryway. While she went to the bathroom immediately inside the front door, I stood in the foyer. I stared at a cell phone lying halfway open on the carpet, surrounded by broken glass and shredded items, and shuddered.

When she came out we decided to get some of her clothes so we wouldn’t have to come back, but that required us going through the master bath and into the closet, where he’d done it. I’ve always been an extremely squeamish person, covering my eyes during anything bloody on TV and occasionally vomiting when around bodily fluids, so she told me I didn’t have to go in there...that she’d already seen the worst. But again, I couldn’t let her do that alone.

I cannot go into detail, but it was the most grisly thing I’ve ever seen in my life. She was unable to go all the way in after all and I had to make my way around the closet, picking things that were clean and holding my breath. I steeled myself and thought of nothing but getting her out immediately. It wasn’t until she was settled back at the hospital that I made my way to the bathroom and was sick.

All day we sat and waited, alternately speaking to friends and family as they found out and called to check on her. She broke down every once in awhile, finally passing out from a pill and exhaustion for about half an hour.

He made it through surgery, but was still critical. His parents were able to see him for a moment late that afternoon and they allowed her to go in too. She wouldn’t leave the hospital until she’d seen him anyway, and when she came out she nearly collapsed. I said “enough”, and took her home with me.

*****

These past few days have been exhausting, emotionally and physically. She’s getting a little better each day and truthfully, I’m in awe over her ability to keep going. He’s as stable as he can be at the moment and won’t be awake this week so she’s staying away from the hospital for now. Yesterday she saw a trauma therapist and it went well. She’s still staying at my house and between our family, his family, and their friends, there’s someone with her all the time. I’ve been managing the phone calls, the insurance information and anything else that crops up. Making sure she eats and rests.

I’ve been silently struggling a bit, trying to comfort her and keep things together. It’s a repetitive, draining task and I’ve never had to deal with anything quite this difficult before. But I love her and I’m going to keep helping her and listening, distracting her and making her laugh. And though I’d never wish this tragedy on anyone, ever, positive things have happened as a result. She’s getting therapy, which we’ve been trying to get her to do for a long time. Bridges are being mended. He’s going to get the help he needs.

And I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that we’re going to be ok. Because when everything fell apart she dialed my number...and I fought my way there, without hesitation, to hold her hand.

54 comments:

Sally-Sal said...

This was one of the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, yet hopeful things you have ever written.

You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for, so much braver, and the quality of your heart simply astounds me.

You shine so damn bright, even in the worst circumstances. You hold on, you're the rock. You know you're amazing, right?

Ed said...

WOW.

I've known sisters who weren't as close.

Sending strength your way.

Thug in a Cocktail Dress said...

Masterfully written again...you are such a beautiful writer.
you define the characters with such pose and composition.
We've all had one of these friends. I cannot wait each week for you to post another blog...you have a niche for writing.

Nari said...

I know I don't really know you but, my God, I am just so proud of you!

Heather Rahn said...

OH wow. I am so sorry for all that is going on and I hope everything works out for the best. Be proud of yourself for being there when it matters most and putting your differences aside. That takes strength.

Kristine said...

Oh my word....
I can't even imagine what you have been going through.
Sending hugs your way....

JUST ME said...

That was so beautiful - and tragic in the least romantic way possible.

There's a reason we write - to empty ourselves out while making sure we never forget. I think you're doing a big thing here, by recording life as it goes by like this. It's important.

You heart is ginormous.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Holy crap. That was a great entry but what a traumatic thing to go through for both of you. And you're a good friend absolutely. And she knows it. Maybe it is true that out of every dark, vile situation, something positive can come.

T. Roger Thomas said...

Well told

Judearoo said...

God Ally, I hardly know what to say.

This was so honest and raw, just bursting with love and fierce protectiveness.

Thinking of you, hon. x

Mollie said...

I think you're a better person than I. Definitely bigger hearted at the least.

Baglady said...

Amazing story. When you tweeted what he had done I assumed he hadn't made it. I am not sure which is worse.

Sending positive vibes, for what little they're worth. I am glad that she has someone like you to hold her hand and be there for here. You're a rock, Aly.

Pam Strickland said...

I know what it's like to have a cousin or a friend be cruel to you and hurt you so bad you have to distance yourself from them. I also know how much you miss them, even if they do hurt you. It's important to meet each other on equal ground. God, I am so sorry to hear about your cousin's boyfriend trying to commit suicide. I lost a cousin to suicide, also. I hope that he recovers and your cousin gets the help she needs to deal with her issues of loss. Good luck to you too. You are an amazing woman to put your life "out there".

Adventure Spot said...

My heart goes out to your cousin and you. Seriously it is no fun dealing with someone who is like that, trust me I have had first hand experience but your cousin will get through this. You don't even realize how much a simple hug or smile probably means to her right now. I am so proud of you for being there for her like that when she needed you most. Seriously that's how family should be always there for each other no matter what happened in the past ..

dys·func·tion said...

Holy crap.

I'll be thinking of you this week.

I hope everything turns out well for you and your cousin. This has got to be brutal.

And I can't imagine what awaited you in the bedroom. Shock.

Danger Boy said...

Absolutely amazing. I am glad she has such a rock to lean on. I wish you strength to keep being that rock.

Eric said...

Very well told.

But situations like this tick me off. I feel sorry for your cousin that this self absorbed guy didn't think about the impact to everyone else. Or maybe he did, and that makes it worse. Call me hard hearted, but people who kill themselves are cowards in my opinion.

JJadziaDax said...

You always have the most beautiful posts. I am very sorry for your cousin and the guy. You are a damn good friend. Though I would go, I don't imagine there is any one who would call me for that. Good luck with it all :-/

sAm said...

Thoughts and prayers are sent your way - for your cousin, you, all family involved, and the boyfriend. I hope you know how awesome you are...you are an inspiration.

tennysoneehemingway said...

Wow.

You know when people say they wish they had stuff to write about?

I hope I never have to write something like that.

Ever.

Just breathtaking.

Amazing.

David Henderson said...

Lady, you ARE a writer.

Best wishes.

BTW: you can self publish (particularly ebooks or on Amazon). I for one would buy it.

Robbie Grey said...

You've spoken to the power of blood. I repeatedly say blood is funny fucking thing.

Amazing and terrifying. You have my well wishes through this. That's the best I can give.

Amanda G. said...

Wow. I can't imagine. I wish I had something powerful and witty to say, but I don't. I'm sorry for this tragic story but it is something powerful and meaningful that is happening in your life right now and you have communicated it beautifully. The power of family, the beauty of a lifelong bond?..I don't know what this all means, but I'll be trying to figure it out and I will be thinking about you and your family lots...

Mandy said...

*Praying*

Shruthi said...

I read all your other posts and I forget that sometimes there are posts like these too. Posts that make you think about your own relationships and wonder if you're doing anything right.

You're truly amazing and thank you for sharing.

Steam Me Up, Kid said...

My thoughts are with you, both of you. How awful, just awful. I'm really sorry, Aly.

Mr London Street said...

A piece like this is very hard to comment on. What you’ve described is awful, and I can’t even begin to imagine what any of that must be like. I think it’s to your credit that you drew a veil over some of the details, while leaving us in absolutely no doubt about how horrible it was. Your family does sound touched by far more than its fair share of tragedy, and I hope that everybody gets the healing they need. I can’t imagine how it must feel to do what your cousin’s boyfriend did, and that very fact makes me feel compassion for him (for all of you, really) rather than judgment.

Now to the bit that feels a little inappropriate; I think of all your posts so far, this might be your masterpiece. I wish you had only had to write the first section of it, and even if you had and had stopped there it would have been one of the best things you have written. But the whole thing is just a terrific piece of writing – the clever ways that you link the present and the past, the way you write about the bonds in your family, and the superb ending (see? you can do endings).

Sorry – I don’t comment on your posts as often as I should, and when I do they are far too long, but if I know you at all I know that you would want this post to be judged as a piece of writing rather than a way of getting things out of your system, and as a piece of writing it succeeds magnificently. If you think saying so is in poor taste, obviously I won’t be offended if you don’t publish this comment.

Penny Dreadful said...

Crikey. This was draining to read. but I couldn't stop. I didn't even have time to read this morning but you hooked me. Hope you are your cousin are doing ok, a big hug from me to both of you x

bikinfool said...

Sweet Jesus. You both have so much inner strength. Get yourself some rest soon, huh? This has GOT to be exhausting . . .

Nicole said...

You're a brilliant writer. You have an incredibly lopsided serving of tragedy and emotional unrest, but what you've done with it, how you've used it in your writing, is admirable, provocative, important.

I'm sorry about your pain and your struggles. Just very, very sorry.

BugginWord said...

Jesus. Jee. Zus.

I need a pill and a nap after that. That would be hard to read even if you weren't such a brilliant writer. But lady, I was walking those halls with you. Terrified. So in the moment.

And I'm sorry. For you and your cousin. Hugs.

Ms. Salti said...

Wow. Just wow. Not only is that such a heart-wrenching story, it was one of the most captivatingly (is that an actual word) written things I've EVER read. You have a gift, girl. An amazing gift. Thank you for sharing such a tender part of yourself with us. I'm sending hugs and good vibes your way. You two will end up on the other side of this and be stronger than you ever thought possible!

Happy Frog and I said...

I want to comment but as often happens I just don't have the right words. You on the other hand are an amazing writer and have been and are going through so much. I think MLS has said it all really.

Maryx said...

I agree with Mr London Street as well. You're a magnificent woman, and so strong it's inspiring.

*HUGS*

Take care of yourself too hey. And good luck to you and your family. I know it's useless words, but I wish I could help. Urgh.

Jyotsna Yedem said...

I suppose we find out who we love and need at the worst of times. I'm so sorry that this happened and that you and your cousin are going through this. To be able to see a silver lining in all of this is quite amazing in itself. I do hope that all your scars heal as soon as possible.

Sharon Longworth said...

I really don't know how to comment on this in any way that is meaningful. You write beautifully and sensitively about a subject that is heart-breaking and in doing that you show yourself to be a very fine person.
I'm glad I know you.

Justlittlecajunme said...

Since I am reading this on April Fool's Day, I was hoping it was a joke. I still cried and thought how silly I was not even knowing you or her.

I truly believe everything happens for a reason. THis shows how great of a person you are being there for your cousin and friend.

God blessed your cousin with having you in her life and being there for her through thick and thin.

Sorry about the boyfriend, I hope he comes through.

My prayers to you, your cousin/friend, the boyfriend and your families. HUGS

Justlittlecajunme said...

Since I am reading this on April Fool's Day, I was hoping it was a joke. I still cried and thought how silly I was not even knowing you or her.

I truly believe everything happens for a reason. THis shows how great of a person you are being there for your cousin and friend.

God blessed your cousin with having you in her life and being there for her through thick and thin.

Sorry about the boyfriend, I hope he comes through.

My prayers to you, your cousin/friend, the boyfriend and your families. HUGS

...with ♥, Amber said...

I couldn't stop reading this. My heart is aching. You are a very good person for being there. Everyone deserves a friend like you. Keep your chin up.

Pam said...

This post was personal for me. My friend of more than 40 years and I had a similar experience...her mom died of cancer when she was 16 and her father, a retired Lt. Colonel, a year later. She and her two sisters came to live with us. We also had asituation that caused division but we also found our way back to one another...we are also Days of our Lives fans and whenever we hear the phrase " Days of our lives," we chuckle too. So, I understood how the words brought levity to a sad circumstance. Great post.

BrightenedBoy said...

It is so good of you to put aside your injury and embrace this cousin in her time of need.

Many people, myself included, would struggle to muster such grace.

The Reckmonster said...

I think you captured the essence of this trauma (and backstory) with superb grace. I wish it wasn't a story that you had to tell - but it was done with as much finesse as anyone could hope to have when writing about something like this. Best wishes for your family.

"M" said...

I'm so sorry that your family has had to deal with such a trauma, and I thank you for sharing it with the blogging world.

caterpillar said...

A very very touching post....and I strongly believe along with you that things will be ok...you guys are lucky to have each other to go to...

Library girl said...

So often the hardest pieces to write are the best because you gave us everything; you shared your emotions with us all. That is a true writers' gift and thank you for allowing us in.
As is always the case with blogging, isn't it nice to know you have so many people all over the world who genuinely care for you? It's great that you're taking care of your cousin but make sure you take care of you too.

Ally said...

What an amazing post. I'm crying. I'm gasping. Hanging on to your every word. Your friend is blessed to have you in her life (and I never use that word). I'm just sitting here breathless. Sorry if this sounds so dramatic. It's just the true reactions your post conjured up.

Eeshie said...

Oh, my God. This post....was just so amazing!

I'd be really, truly honored if you'd look at my blog.

My God. I'm siting here all out of breath from reading this. You're so...amazing...

*Gets that glassy look on her face*

neve said...

Wow. I have no words. Anything I would want to say is swallowed up by the incredible journey you just took me on. Mere words pale in comparison. I'm so sad for what you have been through, and what she has been through and continues to go through. You are an incredibly gifted writer, thank you for sharing this. I will be back.

Alice said...

Oh...honey -hugs-
I don't know what to write but I feel I should say something, to try and send what little comfort someone you don't know can...

Yet again I am astounded by your strength and ability to see the possitives even in the most horrific of situations!

With all my love and hopes for the best

Bth said...

You have been ever so strong and I hope you feel proud of yourself for the way you have coped. After reading this, I know I do. I think this is the most heart-wrenching, strong and powerful piece you've written. I know your cousin will get through this terrible time, if she has someone who loves her like you do.

Mollie said...

If you'd like a classy ribbon-y award, come by and copy/paste from my blog. No need to thank me. OR even comply.

Rusty Hoe said...

Oh Aly I'm so so sorry for what you and your cousin have been dealing with. It seems wrong to say it was beautifully written given the subject matter, but it truly was. Big hugs.

Kimmie said...

There was a reason you two made amends when you did. I'm not a religious person, but someone knew it needed to happen.

I was crying before I ever realized it while I was reading this post. I'll keep both you and your cousin in my thoughts.

Ag said...

You seem to be strong, I am praying for you!!! You'll make it through.