Self

My Cousin Saved My Life — And She Never Knew

Photo: Clarisse Meyer | Unsplash, Ron Lach, Stefano Oppo | Canva
young cousins pinky promise

Marsha was a beautiful girl who had a shining light. She never knew how much I loved her. She never knew that she was why I learned to trust people again. This is her story.

My grandma obtained custody of me when I was three. My mother had abused me so severely that Child Protective Services (CPS) terminated her parental rights. Grandma moved to Texas so she could help her daughter take care of Marsha, who had a terminal illness.

When I moved to Texas, I was a traumatized young child. I didn’t trust anyone. My mother and her husband (a former cop) had abused me severely, not feeding me for days. I had burns all over my body. My hair had to be shaved because it was so matted that no amount of brushing would untangle it.

Grandma told my Aunt Linda that I was not in a good place. When we arrived, she warned everyone to keep their distance and not overwhelm me with hugs and physical touch. Linda agreed and wanted to give me the space to get used to my new surroundings.

Marsha didn’t get the memo. She greeted me with a hug and told me she loved me “to the moon and back.” She said she was sorry that my mommy hurt me. She said that I was her sister now, and no one would ever do that again. At five years old, Marsha was empathic to my situation.

Grandma gasped as she watched Marsha invade my personal space. She looked as if she wanted to intervene but stopped. She noticed I was receptive to Marsha’s touch and words.

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Marsha, who was in a wheelchair, instructed me to take her to her room so I could see my bed. I did as she told me, half-excited about having a big sister.

I was 10 months younger than Marsha. She had a rare neurological disorder that caused her muscles not to communicate with her brain. She was sharp as a whip; nothing was wrong with her mind. It was her body that didn’t want to cooperate. She was wheelchair-bound at the age of 2.

As the months went by, I grew attached to Marsha. She was my whole world. She would talk to me if I didn’t want to. She would sleep with me if I was scared, which happened often. I don’t know if I would have come out of my shell without her.

Nine months after I moved in, we went to Colorado for vacation. She wanted to climb a mountain. No one believed she could do it. She was in a wheelchair, after all. But she knew what she wanted, and she went after it.

We convinced Grandma to let her crawl on the ground. She could crawl using her elbows. She had no use of her legs. Grandma told us to stay in front of the camper while she went to check on Linda at the lake, who was fishing.

While Grandma was gone, Marsha told me we were climbing a mountain. I tried to talk sense into her, but she insisted. She said we could be back before Grandma got back. I agreed.

I stayed by her side as she crawled up the mountain. It was merely a hill, but it felt like Everest to her. She got exhausted right before she got to the top. I grabbed her arms and pulled her to the top. When on the top, she celebrated.

“We did it. Look how far we went. Thank you, Chrissie, for making my dream come true.” From the top of the hill, we saw Grandma in front of the camper. She gasped when she saw us at the top of the hill. She went inside the camper. We panicked at first, thinking she was getting the paddle to give us a spanking. But instead, she grabbed a camera.

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She wanted to take a picture of us on the top. We smiled big for the photo as tears fell down Marsha’s face. Later, Marsha tells me that climbing that mountain was important to her. She said the doctors say that she cannot do everyday things, and this was something they said she would never do. She had to prove them wrong.

At that moment, I realized I could accomplish my dreams. If Marsha could climb a mountain, I could do anything.

Marsha’s health declined over the next few months. She had to get a stomach tube because she couldn’t swallow anymore. Even so, she was such a happy child. She never let me see her upset or scared. She must have felt she had to be brave for me.

My Cousin Saved My Life — And She Never Knew ItMy cousin, Marsha | Photo courtesy of author

On March 2, 1983, the hospice nurse told us Marsha didn’t have much time left. Linda and her husband said their goodbyes. Grandma picked me up from school and told me Marsha was going home to Jesus. She warned me that she may be sleepy and not able to talk.

I walked into the room, and Marsha looked sick. She was frail and barely had her eyes open. Even then, she opened her eyes wide and said, “Chrissie Pants, come here. Lay with me.”

I crawled into the bed. She had an oxygen tent in her bed, so I crawled under it. She grabbed my hand and told me she loved me. She told me I made her life fun and hopes I have a wonderful life. She told me that Jesus told her she was coming home, but she couldn’t go until she knew I would be okay. She didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.

I told her that I loved her. I told her that I didn’t want to say goodbye. Then we both fell asleep holding hands with her head on my shoulder. When I woke up, Marsha was gone.

I felt numb and didn’t know what I should feel. My best friend, sister, and the best human I had ever met was now dead. Home didn’t feel safe anymore. But slowly, home felt better. Marsha died, but she left me a gift. She taught me to love.

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It doesn’t feel like 42 years have gone by. I can still hear her infectious laugh. I still talk to her now and then. There are days that I am angry with God for taking her. She was the one person who understood me. Why would he take that from me?

Marsha’s legacy was love. She taught me to trust others and to love again. She taught me to talk to others and encouraged me to write my stories down at six. She was so proud of me for winning the regional Halloween writing contest for my story. She was confident that I would be a writer one day as I had a way with words.

If Marsha wasn’t there for me back then, I don’t know if I would have healed my heart. She was the best medicine. She was patient with me and never once made me feel like something was wrong with me.

Right before she died, she told me that there was nothing wrong with me. My momma was the one with a problem. She never wanted me to feel like I deserved the abuse I suffered.

I felt compelled to share her story with her death anniversary approaching. I wished she could see how well I turned out. I wished she could see my kids or just call her to chat. In that sense, I feel robbed of having her in my life.

I have no doubts that Marsha saved my life. She taught me to love, respect others, and always believe in myself. I will never forget her; part of that is writing her story.

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Chrissie Massey is a writer who loves to share her life experiences with her readers. She has contributed to Yahoo News, Examiner, Inquisitr, Newsbreak, and Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.