Friday, December 21, 2012

Guest Post: Our Cousin, Emily

So this weekend is our family Christmas on my mom's side. This is the first year of my entire life that I won't be attending.

My mom is one of seven kids. Those seven kids and their lovely spouses have produced over 20 cousins. Within those, there are several sets of sisters. And I just... can't. This week has been incredibly difficult.  Christmas in general was always Jenna and my thing.  I'll elaborate more in another post if I get time up in Madison, but the short explanation is that I just can't be around that many sisters at once right now. I can't be a large group of my family when I still have no idea whether I want everyone to act like nothing happened, or to treat me like something happened. I'm setting myself up to get hurt by something or other no matter what anyone says or does. And I just... can't. Maybe next year.

I hope that they'll understand. I'm sure that they will.  They're pretty great like that.

So today I'm posting something that one of our cousins, Emily Bisbach, sent to me shortly after we lost Jenna.  With all the stress of the holidays, I'm afraid I have to keep this intro a bit short, but this wonderful guest post speaks very well for itself.  Thank you, Emily.  This was so beautifully written.  I hope I'll se you guys next year.

Until then, I hope you'll all drop me a line when you're in my neck of the woods.  Love you all.

Emily, Chelsey, and Jordan are unfortunately not pictured, but definitely there in spirit...

Jenna: A Cousin's Perspective
By Emily Bisbach

If you knew Jenna, then you've probably heard about her extended family on her mom's side at least a few times. Maybe she's told you about her grandma's Heroin Dance. Maybe she talked about how there is nothing louder than the combined laughter - no, cackling - of her mom's sisters. Or maybe she mentioned that she is one of about a hundred cousins. I'm one of those many cousins, and these are some of my favorite memories with Jenna.

Cassie, Jenna, Chloe, and Emily
Some of my earliest memories with Jenna are from my childhood and the time we spent on Grandma's farm. Me, Jenna, and two of our other cousins, Chloe and Cassie, all lived relatively close to Grandma's, and our moms would take special trips to the farm just so we could ride in the truck or explore the creek. It was always such an adventure trying to cross the creek, explore the woods, or hop a fence into a pasture full of cows. It's hard to remember specifics from so long ago, but I do recall a day spent on the farm that ended in Jenna and I convincing our mothers to let me stay overnight at Jenna's old house all the way back in Madison. This involved our moms driving us from Montfort to Madison, and them my mom going back to Jefferson and then back to Madison the next day to pick me up. But it was well worth it: Jenna and I were determined to pull an all-nighter (such a lofty goal when you're 8 and 9 years old!!!!) I remember finally falling asleep around 5 am, despite the gallons of caffeinated soda and sugary Skittles in our stomachs.

Another of my favorite childhood memories with Jenna is from a trip our families took together when we were 12-13ish. We stayed at the Roarks' condo and I remember thinking that it was so cool. We were inseparable on that trip. I remember a day spent at the beach, just sitting in the ocean and letting the waves push us around… until someone yelled, "STINGRAY!" and we bolted from the water, half laughing, half completely freaked out. I remember going to Busch Gardens and climbing on the enormous vine trees despite the signs that clearly asked us to "Stay off!" We rode one of the roller coasters so many times that eventually, as the park was closing, the guy operating it just let us stay on multiple times in a row. We got to pet a sloth which I was completely grossed out by, but of course, Jenna loved it. And finally, a completely random memory from the trip: Jenna and I walking out of a restaurant, talking about what kind of makeup we would wear once we got into high school. For some reason, I distinctly remember this conversation:

Me: "I'm not sure what I'll do. I don't want to be one of those girls who puts on too much makeup."
Jenna: "Eww, me neither. I think I'll just do mascara, a little bit of blush, and some lipgloss."
Me: "Yeah, me too. The same thing."

The funny thing is, I can hardly think of a time that I ever saw Jenna with any makeup on at all, and of course, she was still gorgeous.

But that was something I always noticed about her - she didn't have to force anything or try too hard. I think I always kind of admired her for that. Okay, okay, I'll be honest here… when I was younger - you know, in those preteen years - I was just plain jealous. I'm only a year younger than Jenna, but when that year separates a teenager from a twelve year old, it seems like alot. Jenna always had the coolest clothes at our family gatherings and meanwhile, I was still wearing bib overalls from OshKosh Bigosh. Jenna had her ears pierced multiple times in high school, and I could barely convince my mom to let me get mine done once. Jenna had a perfect, gorgeous smile and meanwhile, I was just getting my braces put on (although to be fair, I know that she also endured years of awful braces to get those beautiful teeth). Anyway, to me, she was always the coolest cousin. Us girls used to bring boxes of clothes to Grandma's house to trade and pass around, and I'll never forget the grey tennis skirt with silk trim and a matching tank that I got from Jenna. I remember thinking it was the best, trendiest thing ever, because it had been hers.

As we got older, though, it became pretty obvious that Jenna wasn't the kind of girl who was cool and beautiful and flaunted it. She just… was. And that's what I think my most lasting memory of Jenna will be. She just had a very casual and effortless way about her. She always came across as outgoing, caring, and completely hilarious, and you can bet she would have had the same shining personality with or without cute clothes or straight teeth. To be completely cliche, she really was beautiful inside and out.

As time has gone on, running around Grandma's farm with the other cousins and playing in the ocean in Florida has been replaced with sitting around the table exchanging stories about our college experiences and making fun of our mothers, although - dare I say it - we've all started to become more and more like them with each year. Eeek! But sadly, as we've gotten older, having everyone together at each holiday has become increasingly difficult. The last time I saw Jenna was at Thanksgiving last year. It was your typical Bowers gathering: the moms were laughing hysterically in the kitchen, the dads were watching football in semi-awkwardness, and us cousins filled all of the random gaps in between wherever there were open chairs. We took bets on whether Grandma would wear turquoise or pink at Christmas, caught up on each others lives, and ate way too much.

When the Roarks left, Jenna and I waved goodbye and said, "See you at Christmas!" But neither of us were able to make it to Christmas that year… damn you, finals!! If I had known that that Thanksgiving would be the last time I would see Jenna, I wouldn't have just waved goodbye. I would have sat down with her, Chloe, and Cassie so that we could re-live any and every memory that we could remember with each other. I would have told her everything that I thought was so amazing about her, and maybe I'd admit that I used to be secretly jealous. She probably would have just laughed We'd all sit around reminiscing for so long that we'd have to convince our mothers to let us stay overnight with each other just like when we were younger. But when she'd finally have to leave, I would give her a huge hug and I'd tell her I love her.

I can't explain how sad it will be for us girl cousins to be without Jenna from now on. But I know that the last thing she'd want is for us to sit around at at the holidays missing her and being all depressed about it. In fact, I know she'll be pretty pissed if she floats on by to check on us and doesn't see us screaming about the Packers, imitating our mothers, or talking about how awesome Grandma is. I'm sure we will talk about her, too. But we won't dwell on how terrible it is that she's not with us. We'll talk about the fun we all had growing up as a kind of second family over the years, and the house will still be full of laughter. We might not be able to hear it, but I know she'll be laughing with us.

My face: "Do you SEE how gorgeous my cousins and sister are?  I don't know why I even bother..."

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