When I was growing up my best friend also happened to be my first cousin. Convenient little miracle for our mothers, I'd say.
I was two months her elder but she was the leader. I always felt that she was smarter, faster, prettier. I tried to copy her penmanship. I wore the type of clothes she wore. I tried, unsuccessfully, to emulate her too cool for school attitude.
Our friendship was epic. She was the center of my universe. I lived for the summers when we could spend weeks together. Her's was the only phone number I knew for many years.
When she went to prom I curled her hair and zipped her dress as she held her breath. We talked about boys and other teenage stuff, but she was always more interested in adventure. She had an incredibly brave way about her, with a healthy dose of teenage invincibility on the side.
When we were eighteen, she was working for the forest service as a fire fighter. I was in awe of her moxie. Her chutzpah. She did the things I would only dream of doing. She just did them. Like it was nothing. When we were eighteen she went hiking with her brother and in a freak accident she slipped and fell from a cliff. And she was gone.
And I was left behind.
At first, I felt the intense grief you would expect. Shock and grief. After just a little while I started to have intense feelings of embarrassment for still being alive. I felt awkward and ridiculous. I felt ashamed that I was going to college, dating boys, eating ice cream. Being in the presence of her parents was excruciating. I didn't know how to act. I wanted to crawl into a hole.
In the spirit of practicality, my aunt gave me a pair of her daughter's shoes. They were a beautiful pair of boots that I loved. I tried to wear them, but they were a half size too small and after just a little while I realized they were the physical manifestation to how I felt. Like I had no business. Ridiculous. So I put them away in a dark corner of my closet.
Time passed and I got to a point where I could go weeks, sometimes months, without thinking of her. But every now and then I would have a series of dreams that would follow me throughout my days and the old feeling of guilt for still living would be there. This continued throughout my twenties and early thirties.
Then I met Amelie's birth mother. She shared not only the same first name as my cousin, but the same middle name and birth date. She had the same color hair and eyes. And she was also too cool for school. It was uncanny and unnerving and miraculous. I felt that to deny the similarities as anything other than my cousin's hand in my daughter's birth would be a slap in the face to all I hold dear.
After Amelie was born, I felt set free. I felt that I had been given permission to enjoy my life. I haven't had any unnerving dreams for a long time now. Happy childhood memories of our friendship have started to come back to me. Just now, at thirty-seven, I feel that I can celebrate the times we had together instead of focusing on the terrible event of her death.
I wanted to write this down because although I have carried these things deep down in my heart, they have been a part of my life. They have had an effect on who I have become. I feel it is time to let go. The beauty of a butterfly cannot be fully realized if you keep it cupped inside your hands. One must open up and let go and watch it fly so that others can share in the beauty.
I want my children to know the story of how my cousin and best friend helped us become a family.