Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My cousin Agnes

My cousin, I'll call her Agnes, traveled across the country to help my family settle into our new digs in Washington State. We did our own cross-country trip, once nearly meeting up with Agnes at the Grand Canyon, except she was visiting the North Rim and we were on the South Rim. We pretended to wave to each other from one side to the other. Turns out she blindly followed her GPS and was on the South Rim!

Though we didn't bump into each other at that National Park, we did follow each others' travels on Instagram. Me with my three kids posed and posted. Agnes with her good friend snapped silly pictures and wrote sillier captions. I was no match for her, and I'm totally okay with that--she's cute and sassy, snarky and self-deprecating in the funniest of ways. She can go from tank top hiker to red lips hot mama so fast it makes my head spin. The fact that she posed in bad cheerleader poses across the country in historic places, national parks, and in front of state signs particularly cracked me up.

We're a decade apart, Agnes and I, but the cousins in our family have always been tight. When Agnes was barely eating solid food, my sister and cousin and I would feed her Sour Patch Kids to watch Agnes scrunch her face and stick out her tongue out of shock for the strange flavor. The three of us would howl with laughter, then hug Agnes tight. Once my sister told her that if she walked on the floor of our great-aunt's musty-smelling, haunted-feeling apartment, the floor would cave in. She cried when that aunt asked her to come sit on her lap, a trip that would require her to walk across the floor. Again, we howled at the joke, but loved Agnes all the more because she believed us.

Still, I hadn't realized how much respect I'd feel for her by the end of our month together. Agnes came up with a simple but powerful saying in her 29th year: say YES! She was a fantastic example to my kids in her approach to new things, of which there were many for my crew. She said YES! to new gyms, YES! to new workouts, YES! to new food, YES! new places to swim (like the cold Puget Sound in our backyard), YES! to new adventures of every and any size. Her enthusiasm for life was as contagious as her laugh, and my kids and I soaked up the time with her, appreciating every minute. Agnes taught us car games and we all experimented with the crazy stuff you can distort yourself into on SnapChat (is that even one word? Clearly I do not have an account!).

There was another side of Agnes that my kids didn't see--the thoughtful, openly confused, but still very hopeful young woman still searching for her home. She and I drank craft beer and local wines each night, watching the sun sink slowly down over the Olympics out our window, talking about how difficult life can be--scratch that. How difficult life IS, regardless of what you're doing and what particular road you're on.

We are both children of divorce; we spoke openly about how difficult it is creating a relationship that lasts when your parents set a poor example of marriage. We both stumbled into wealth, sharing in lifestyles others earned but we play in; we spoke candidly about how awkward this is, how guilty we sometimes feel, how responsible we feel to improve others' lives because we've got it easy--too easy, we both feel. We sat down at that table at dusk but sat chatting until we sat in the pitch dark. I felt so lucky to have her there, in my kitchen. And in my life.

Once, while walking in and out of the cutest shops you can imagine in our new little town in Washington, Agnes pointed to something with her left hand. I caught sight of her wrist. I grabbed it, and gently pointed to the lines I saw on the inside of her arm.

"What's this, A?" I asked, hoping I didn't already know the answer.

But I did.

"Cuttings," she said quietly. Honestly. Bravely.

We both gulped. Tears sprang to my eyes and I didn't know what to say.

"Ten years ago, when I was 19, I remember a friend of mine asking me where I thought I'd be when I was 30. I shrugged and thought to myself, 'I don't know if I'm going to even be alive,' " she quietly admitted to me.

I was completely speechless.

This wonderful woman, this person you should hope above hope becomes your child's teacher some day, didn't care enough to live? My mind was suddenly a tornado of thoughts, and with each added thought my brain was swirling faster and faster. When did she do this to herself? Where was I? Why weren't her other cousins and I there for her? How could someone this wonderful think she was so not wonderful?

"I'm so glad you're here," I said, through tears.

And I am. I can't take back the fact that I didn't know how much she struggled ten years ago, but I will say this: Agnes has one of the best spirits on this Earth. She's full of zest and hope and love and wonderfulness and funny jokes and if I tried really, really hard one day I might be a fraction of how amazing she is. She's still figuring things out, but I am so grateful that I'm a little closer to her and am so humbled by the thought of other people I love dearly not thinking they are worth as much as they are.


  1. What a lovely tribute to your love for your cousin. There is so much we don't know about those we love.

  2. So may people hide their pain behind their glorious personalities.Thanks for your courage in writing this - it may well be what someone else needs to see in order to help another.

  3. Oh, thank you for sharing this piece. We so often don't know the struggles people have gone through to be who they are.