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She didn’t used to be this way, you know. Her happiness didn’t always depend on a boy. She didn’t used to need someone else’s assurance that she was pretty. She never used to sit in her room and cry because she was “in love.”
I remember when she used to be carefree and happy. We both were, back when the world was bigger and the sun sparkled. Back when all the space we needed was found at Grandma’s house. “Best Cousins Forever,” we said, but things were simpler then—the smaller things the most memorable.
I remember we used to jump in the leaves and have leaf fights in Grandma’s backyard. I always surrendered first and Grandma would call us inside for hot chocolate—six marshmallows and extra whipped cream. Then we colored pictures and hung them up on the “frigeter.” She always stayed in the lines and made everything the right color. My pictures were chaotic and had purple grass and green suns.
In the summer, we used to put a sprinkler under Grandma’s trampoline and eat popsicles. She always got a cherry one, mine was always root beer. Then we broke them in half and traded so that we could try both. I ate mine in bites as fast as I could but she always carefully licked them and somehow never got her hands sticky.
We once made a snowman that was as tall as both of us put together. We couldn’t find a carrot for its nose, so we used a plastic water bottle instead. She colored it orange to make it more real. It stayed there for two weeks and I cried when it melted. She didn’t. She said there was no point in crying over something that’s already gone. She was seven years old.
When I was in second grade, Mom and Dad announced that we were moving. I called her and we cried over the phone together. In the first few months that I lived in Kansas, we wrote letters back and forth and sent pictures. Then the divorce happened and she stopped sending letters. I didn’t blame her. Mom said that she was just “having a hard time right now” and we should remember her and her family in our prayers.
Her dad moved out and the family was in turmoil. With no source of income, her mom had no choice but to pack up her daughter and two sons and move in with Grandma and Grandpa. Her oldest brother was angry all the time and after graduating high school—and punching through several walls—he joined the air force. Her mom went back to school and we all hoped that their family could put itself back together and be happy again.
Unfortunately, things don’t always get better just because you want them to. Her mom went through stages of depression and even checked herself into a mental hospital for a period of time. Her other brother got caught up with the wrong group of friends and was caught and arrested for using meth. And as much as I wished for her to remain untouched, the fire that had consumed the rest of her family eventually devoured her as well.
When I moved back from Kansas, I didn’t visit Grandma’s house as much anymore. It wasn’t the safe haven it used to be, with all of the heartache that had moved in with her family.
She wasn’t the same either. I tried to reconnect with her but the rift between us was too deep and wide to overcome. We’d both changed in those two years and we weren’t the same little girls we used to be. I was too naïve for her. She did things that made me wonder what happened to that little girl who stood next to me and decorated gingerbread houses each Christmas.
Conversation between us was forced and awkward, and only made the division between us greater. We only saw each other at family gatherings and suffered through those with painted-on smiles. We both pretended things were still the same but we both knew they weren’t. I missed the days when we had treasure hunts and played Office and made snow angels. I wondered if she did too.
I watched her ruin her life and could do nothing about it. I watched her push all of her friends away for one boy. I watched her give everything to him. I watched her sacrifice her grades, her freedom and her values. My heart broke for her but still I could do nothing.
Now I watch her lie on my bed with puffy eyes and a red nose. She tells me how he doesn’t love her anymore. She tells me how lost she feels. I want to remind her of those words she spoke to me ten years ago, there’s no point in crying over something that’s already gone. But I don’t.
She tells me I’m the only person she can talk to because everyone else in the world has turned their back on her. I choke back the words that come to my mind, Aren’t you the one who turned your back on them?
As I stand here listening to her, I do the only thing I can think of. I go upstairs, get two popsicles—one cherry, one root beer—and bring them down. Handing one to her I smile mournfully and say the only thing I can.
“Best Cousins Forever.”