Side note: I am extremely close to my mom's side of the family. My grandmother and aunt's are strong, amazing women that I admire so greatly. There are no words to express the love, gratitude and appreciation I have for them. When I was younger, my family and I lived not too close to my relatives. So when it came time to decide what we wanted to do for the summer the answer was pretty clear. My dad would tell us that we could go to Disneyland or some other exciting place we had never been, and my brother and sisters and I would all want to go visit our extended family in the Rio Grande Valley. It was the best time of my life. Spending time with my cousins, playing tag or making up some new club that we could only be a part of. I still look fondly on those memories. One of the people that I was always so anxious to see was my cousin Maribel. This is about her. I love her and miss her still.
Growing up, I was always sure about three things. First, I knew I was loved. Second, God had always been an integral part of my life, even at 14. Last, if she didn’t wake up, a part of me would die with her. The place where laughter and innocence play, and the worries of the world are not allowed.
Now, I stared at her pale, puffed up complexion. She was unrecognizable to the carefree girl I knew before. After all the treatments, and chemotherapy, the only thing that remained the same about her was her eyes, and her spirit. Now both of those were quiet. They had fallen asleep along with her, struggling to wake up. I sat beside her, feeling guilty for being healthy. I couldn’t bear to keep looking, as the lump in my throat was making it more difficult to swallow.
My cousin, Maribel, was my best friend, my other half. We didn’t live in the same town or even the same State, so we would write letters back and forth to each other. She would write about some boy she loved. A different one every letter it seemed like. I, a late bloomer, would write about the pesterings of my younger sister and brother. Dreaming of the day I would be able to write about the boy I would one day marry. During the summers when my family and I would make the 20-hour road trip to see the rest of the Hernandez clan in South Texas, we were inseparable. We would pull up to the quaint yellow house, and I could always count on her to be waiting on the porch with a smile and a hug. The moment she saw our maroon colored van, she flew off the porch, I ripped open the door, and we embraced. She’d grab my hand, interlocking fingers, and we talked, and laughed, picking up right where the letters left off. The couple of weeks we visited were never long enough, but we made the most of it. We shared our hopes, dreams, and wishes. The carefree laughter of those days had since departed. Leaving in its place a cold anticipation, hoping for a happy ending, for her happy ending.
The moment we found out the news, my world fell apart. How could it be true? Maribel just left my house. We just rode our bikes passed my secret crush’s house, that just so happened to be near the 7-11 where we got Flamin’ Hot Cheetohs, Peanut M&M’s, and a Pepsi to wash it all down. But the call changed everything. I still couldn’t believe it. How could it be so? How could my 12 year-old cousin have leukemia.
“She fainted, “ my mom tried to explain, although not much was getting through to me right about then. “Your tía had to take her to the hospital, and they found that her blood was not quite right. Until we find out more, we need to pray and trust in God.”
God? I was so confused with God. That confusion would later turn into anger. Two years after receiving the news, her happy ending seemed to be more of a fairy tale than a reality. Watching her lay silently in the hospital bed broke my heart. Not just for the present, but for her future as well. It made my heart ache to think of how my beautiful cousin would probably not be able to pull all nighters, or go on her first date, or go to prom. I used to believe that things would be back to normal. I was a bit naïve I suppose. Not really understanding her illness or more possibly not wanting to understand.
That gray February day, everyone was gathered, scrunched in the small hospital room. My grandfather’s dancing eyes held tears that he wasn’t ready to let loose quite yet. My grandmother’s lips moving, as the hushed prayers she often recited came out and filled the air. I watched my uncle, Maribel’s father, hunching over her, whispering into her ear. What I will never know. I love you, I’m sure. I’ll miss you, definitely. But the rest was theirs. A private conversation between a father and his princess, whom he would never be allowed the honor to walk down the aisle. My aunt kissed my Maribel’s hand and then turned to hold on to her other two children who were sobbing so loudly near her. Then I saw it. My spot. On Maribel’s left-hand side. My aunt smiled at me through a stream of tears, and nodded her head. Saying it’s okay. Go ahead. So I took my place, I held my cousin’s hand, and the nurse walked in. With such precision and grace she removed the life support machine my cousin had been on since slipping into a comma a little over a week ago. Even then I wanted to yell at everyone. At the nurse for doing what I knew was her job, and at my aunt and uncle for letting her do it. I held on to my cousin’s hand. Fingers intertwined like we always did. I whispered to her how much I loved her, how sorry I was that she was going through this. And with her last struggling breath, I kissed her cheek, and said, “I miss you.”
I am still sure about three things. First, I am and always will be loved very much by the people I hold closest to my still healing heart. Second, God will remain the rock I lean on. He will carry me in His faithful arms through any hardship or tragedy, with hope lighting the way. And last, she looks down on me, and smiles, sometimes even laughs. My guardian angel.