I feel like I should say… something.
Today was the celebration of my cousin’s life. For 25 years I had a cousin I was never supposed to have. I can’t even remember now how we found out but one day we did and it stuck. The best I can remember, our grandpas were cousins. Except mine wasn’t my real grandpa; he was my dad’s step-dad, but he was the grandpa I’d always known so what difference did it make that we didn’t share blood?
I actually got four cousins out of the deal; five, if you count their mom. And I don’t mean to discount any of her siblings in any of this. The boys were enough younger that they didn’t want anything to do with their sisters’ friends, so we were never close. Her sister was one of my best friends for several years and both were 100% my family.
But today, we said, “I’ll see you later,” to the oldest of the four. And I feel like I should say something. Because she and I held three very important things in common: our love of music, our social awareness, and our words. And I feel like I should be using those words to say something.
I don’t know what to say.
The reality is that she and I spent several years apart. Not because of strife or ill-will. Our life paths just sent us in two very different directions for many years. When we came back together, it was so I could color the hair she was going to shave off in a week when she started chemotherapy. My cousin, less than a year older than I am, was dying.
We didn’t talk about it in those terms. She had been diagnosed with a very advanced, very aggressive breast cancer and by the time she started treatment, it had gotten into her bones. But she kicked it. Or thought she had. She was “in remission” when the tumors in her brain sent her into a seizure that would be the beginning of the end.
Today, I heard stories of her dancing through her treatments, joking with the other patients that she could get them dancing too. That is not the story of someone ready to lie down and let cancer beat her.
Even though, eventually, it did.
But she lived, all the way through it. All the way to the end.
I have felt selfish in a lot of this. My thoughts have been of losing my cousin and friend of 25 years and what the world will be like without her. Of her sons and nieces and nephews growing up without her in their lives. Of her never having the chance to see her sons drive or graduate or marry, of never meeting her grandchildren. But in all of that, my thoughts have been of myself.
Of not finding my partner.
Of not being given the same kind of love I put into the universe.
Of never being anyone’s first choice.
Of all the things I want to do that I have been too afraid to do.
Because she wasn’t afraid.
Not even of dying. Not even of leaving her young sons behind. Her sons she named after Nikolai Tesla and Leonard Cohen. Not of being arrested while standing up for what she thought was right. Not of doing it all on her own terms.
And by “it all” I mean life. Everything. Raising her sons, living for her art, standing up for what was right. Everything. She did it all her way.
I’ve always wanted to be that person. I have sparks of that person. I have moments where I am that person. And then my Type A, Scorpio control freak side rears its head again and my brain shouts louder than my heart, proclaiming that job security and food and shelter and my mother’s approval and her family’s approval of her (not of me; as far as they are concerned, I’m 12 and everything I do is a reflection on her) are important things and I can’t just go running off to do whatever my heart wants me to do whenever my heart wants me to do it.
Sometimes my brain is an asshole.
Fear of missing out is not just a social media concept that has come about with the invention of #FOMO. It’s a very real thing and I have it except I also have #FOF – fear of failure. Tell him you love him, the FOMO says. But what if telling him that, ruins our friendship, the FOF counters. Quit your job and move to a new, unfamiliar city, FOMO says. But how will I eat if I can’t find a job, FOF argues. Join a movement, march, protest, stand up for what you believe, FOMO shouts. They’re arresting protestors, FOF sighs in response.
And this is my daily life. And this has always been my life. Sometimes, FOMO wins and things turn out wonderfully and I’m exhilarated and energized and ready to take on the world and FOF is silenced… for a little while. Until the next opportunity to do something outlandish comes along and FOF is ready and this time, FOF wins.
I’m tired of FOF winning all the time but I don’t know, after all of these years, how to stop the cycle.
I’m trying to put together some things for some of the more important people in my life. Letters and lists and wishes. I feel a little macabre. “Hi, my cousin just crossed over to the next life and it has prompted me to tell you a few things I think you should know. Sorry about the timing…” But at the same time, it’s going to sound like that no matter when I do it. At least now there is a discernable trigger.
This has gotten so far from where I started. There were ideas in my head, when I started this, about creative writing classes in high school and about knowing that she was reading my blog, fairly faithfully, right up until the end, and about the times she’d ask all of Facebook for music recommendations, then tell me she was specifically eager to see what I had to offer her. The idea, when I started this, was to talk about her and reflect and remember my cousin and my friend. But the natural flow didn’t take me to those places. It brought me here, where I reflect on the things she was that I aspire to be. And where I say I want to try harder to be those things. For her. And for myself.