April 4, 2014 by Melanie L.
My best friend, Ali, and I were close but never, ever mushy. After she passed away at age 34, following a valiant battle with cancer, I felt guilty that I had never been able to tell her how I truly felt about her. So, I set about writing an open love letter to her that I posted to Facebook on what would have been her 36th birthday and again on my new blog.
I felt much better, not just because I had gotten some closure, but also because the love I had put out there wound its way back to me in the form of supportive comments from our friends and family.
One response, however, caught me off guard. My cousin, Cari, was moved enough by my letter to Ali that Cari texted me, “Okay, so now I have tears running down my face after reading your open love letter to Ali . . . . When we’re really old and I die before you, please write something beautiful about me. I hope I one day have amazing qualities like Ali did.”
But, Cari already does. She has amazing qualities, qualities that make her beautiful and unique and that have inspired me and challenged me, changed me for the better. Yet, my response to her text included this little gem, “stop being so morbid!” Why? Shouldn’t she hear all about how much I love her, too? And, not just with ethereal ears at some far-distant future, but, now. Today. Besides, I’m intimately familiar with how very short life can be. So, this is for Cari because I love her, too, and because she needs to know it. Oh, and also, because I could die first.
Ironically enough, it was actually at a funeral that my beautiful fr-ousin-ship (copyright!) with Cari began. It was the funeral of our great-aunt, who passed in 1990. To be clear, we have, obviously, been cousins since birth (my birth – since she is six ½ weeks older), but for reasons I don’t fully understand and for which would require a separate blog entry, we did not meet until we arrived at the aforementioned shiva house with our respective families, at age thirteen. (Oy, I need an intervention on the legalese.)
We bonded, instantly. We are each other’s only same-age, same-sex (first or second) cousin. In fairness, my sister, Missy, is only eighteen months younger, but at age thirteen, that little one-and-a-half-year gap might as well have been a canyon, not to mention the gap to cousin Stacy, which is more than double that amount. Back then, Cari and I had deep conversations. (“You’re so pretty.” “No, you’re so pretty!” “No, you are!”) We challenged each other to try new things. (“Who taught you how to smoke a cigarette? That’s not how you do it!”) We marveled at haute couture. (“Check out my new Z. Cavaricci’s!”) Actually, that one was all her. I just marveled at how she, a teenager!, carried herself with such perky aplomb. And her hair! I was fascinated by her big, blonde, telephone-cord curls! Okay, so our early friendship may have been built upon a vacuous foundation, but slowly, over the course of the next two decades, we fortified that foundation, and we now boast a rich, robust friendship unmatched by any other relationship I have with any other human being, even if we go long months without connecting.
But, back when I was thirteen, not unlike many teens, I was so full of self-doubt and low self-esteem. By way of example, I remember at some point around that time, Addidas sneakers were very popluar. When my mom took me shoe shopping, she saw me eyeing up the black and white stripe beauties and saw the longing twinkle in my eye. My mom bought them for me, but I never wore them. I believed not that popularity could be attained by wearing the sneakers, but rather that only popular kids were entitled to wear them. If I wore them, I would just be made fun of for trying too hard. Or so I thought.
On the other hand, Cari has always been so full of confidence and joie de vivre, she had an immense group of friends to show for it. Yet, she enjoyed my company. She was and remains accepting of all people. I was no exception. She introduced me to all of her friends, took me to parties, and to school events, introduced me to my first crush (I wonder what happened to him? I bet he’s married to some super-hottie with two beautiful kids. Or maybe he’s just still playing with Legos. But, I digress.) Suddenly, my (imagined) reputation as a wallflower disappeared. She opened up my world, made it fun, fast and pretty, and gave me the boost of confidence I so desperately needed during those tumultuous teen years. She helped me forge a path to confidence and self-acceptance that would carry me forward over the course of the next decade and a half.
During that time, we each got married, lost relatives, had kids, enjoyed happy moments, endured painful ones until, one day, I noticed that my self-worth was lost, buried in the crevice of my marital couch, under a pile of harsh words and oozing with norovirus – a seriously reprehensible contagion one should avoid. At. All. Costs. On that miserable day, I prayed countless times to the porcelain god, asking for help to care for my two toddlers. And though help did come, it arrived on the wings of the words “selfish” and “lazy.”
Once I felt well again in body, I sought help in spirit. I called Cari. To this day, I’m not sure she knows how much she helped. (Also, shout out to her best friend Allison!) Cari helped me look for my self-worth. She dusted it, cleaned it and put it back on me. She encouraged me to reclaim my life. She painted a picture of my future, vibrant with the colors of freedom and happiness, and some cute new furniture, of course! It took a while for the artwork to set but, today, it hangs over my doorstep, a reminder of how much I love my dear “frousin” Cari.