Live While You're Dying
Andrea, Age 12, Seattle, WA

I was twelve when I realized what it meant to live. My mom sometimes brags to her friends that I learned early but I told her I hadnít really meant to figure it out so soon so she stopped. It was the year my malevolent Aunt Martha came to live with us. She was plump and short but gave the impression of being somehow better than everyone at everything. Her face was stern and strict but her eyes were soft chocolaty brown and sometimes if you looked at her the right way you could see a nice calm woman, but that was very uncommon. When it came to me and my future she was quite pessimistic and I rarely got a chance to find something kind in her.

ďNo niece of mine will go out in public looking like that!Ē she would often comment before we went to town with mother. It was as if I was her constant mortification; her greatest vexation.

About a month after Aunt Martha joined our household, we were told that her daughter, Clarissa, would be joining us. After what our last family member had turned out to be like, I was rather apprehensive about what Clarissa would make me do. My mom told me that my cousin was probably very nice, but she had said that about Aunt Martha so my worries were not assuaged in the least.

My cousin, however, turned out to be quite unlike her mother. I could tell she was nothing like my horribly contemptuous Aunt as soon as I saw her. She was two years older than me but almost a head shorter and she walked with an erratic movement as if she was limping and waddling around at the same time. She had a rather nebulous face which made her look like she never understood what you were saying but didnít really care anyway. Although I didnít know at the time, it was this cousin who would teach me all I needed to know about life.

Over the next few months my cousin and I got in all kinds of trouble. Not big trouble (we didnít do anything blatantly illicit) but just little misdemeanors that we played around with and laughed about. We stayed up late in the tent we set up in the backyard and talked about which actors we thought were cutest and who would we rather date if we got the chance. During the day we played hide and go seek with the neighborhood kids in the tall grass field behind our block and go to the baseball park down the street where we could watch the boys play and cheer them on. Justin Thorne was her favorite and she always cheered the loudest for him.

My Aunt no longer tormented me with her behavior tips and such, in fact she had developed a rather taciturn demeanor which both surprised and delighted me. I often wondered about my Auntís change of heart late at night when Clarissa was already asleep but I never thought too hard about it. Life was too good for something as insignificant as my Auntís new behavior to spoil it. Until, as is known to happen, change came.

I was twelve and three-quarters when my cousin was taken from me. I knew her for 6 months. All that time cancer had been eating her body from the inside out.  Thinking back on it, I should have known. The way her face would sometimes distort into hideous expressions of pain, all the nights that she had decided to go to bed early because she was so exhausted. I was so ignorant.

Years after I asked my mother why she hadnít been hospitalized? Why hadnít they done something to help her? She told me that when my cousin found out about her disease she wanted to spend her last year with her only cousin. So she could teach me what is felt like to liveÖwhile youíre dying.

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