Why My Dead Cousin Matters

When Kathy and I were kids we had nick names for each other and if no one knew our nickname we would respond with, "My name is Pudding-Tang ask me again and I'll tell you the same." It drove our mothers crazy, especially since our mothers were already declared mentally ill.

Most people know the outcome of our story but they don't know the color between the black and white facts of it all. Which is why I started to write Sunny Lane my original screenplay. I wanted others to see that beyond the trauma, abuse, and chaos of it all, We remained giggly pulling pranks on one another and used each others shoulders for strength when we needed it. We had a secret life living it out in the open and no one even knew.


We were blood sisters from the cross we pricked our fingers with that came off of the collar our religious foster mom hand sewed. We were outlaw graffiti artists from the mud pies we threw against the wall creating mud art. We were our own celebrities being sentenced to new foster homes and judged for the fame our mothers and our files created for us, labeling us as children that had trash for parents therefore we were trash too. We were constantly trying to keep up and change with the rules and guidelines of each foster home we went to, but it became too much and soon the labeling would become our identity and it would separate us into two lives even though our blood was mixed and our stories were the same.


After my third failed adoption foster care never came looking for me even though I was right under their noses the whole time. I slept in my car and couch surfed other pads, I lived with a teacher that took care of me for awhile, I lived with a friend and her family until my late night dip in peanut butter left fingerprint oil stains on their wall, I even lived with a nice family that seemed great until the call came that Kathy had been found dead. The father of the house said that I shouldn't be there, I was trouble and trash and it was time for me to go. I walked the neighborhood screaming and breathing deeply like a wild animal who had just experienced pain for the first time, but nobody knew me or cared. I was just the crazy kid that no one wanted.


I remember sitting by the garbage on the side of the memorial home watching all of the social workers, foster parents, and biological family walk the parking lot talking nonsense on how they couldn't understand that this happened to such a beautiful girl that was also a teen mother. How could she be raped and murdered left on the side of the road covered in pine needles? I was left to grieve on the corner curb with no one even seeing me or wondering if I was ok. It didn't hit me until years later that the social workers including my own family had already lost the link between two cousins that were separated years before. My cousin was the last person in the blood line that knew and loved me deeply. My social workers had already forgotten me. I was alive but I was dead.

As for my cousin, they had no clue that this happened to Kathy because no one paid true attention or gave love to her freely with no strings attached. By the time anyone tried to do so it was already too late for her, she had been damaged in the heart and brain by severe trauma and couldn't see the fog that blocked her horizon, making it hard for anyone to help her see past it. It made me sick how they could talk openly on their shock. Not any of them looked at the problem or how it could have happened. Her trauma and the lack of training on how to take care of a child with trauma was missing, but the most important thing that was missing was love and stability.


At the funeral, Kathy's foster mom gave me a letter that Kathy saved from me. It had my blood stain in the corner of the letter reminding her that we were blood sisters and to hold on to because we just lost our grandfather to throat cancer. It literally crushed my soul to see the letter with my blood that had dried brown on it. I ran to the closest pay phone I could find. I needed to talk to someone. So I called my last failed adoptive family and told the "mother" what had happened. She said she didn't have time to talk they were having a party and that I should have expected this to happen to Kathy because that is the kind of life she had lead. No one not even the loving and adoring adoptive family had open arms to the trauma and labeling. This is a tragedy that needs to change.


I lost everything that year. My adoptive family and my cousin but I still went to back to high school after the Christmas break.  No one knew I had just watched my cousins ashes thrown into a six inch hole in the ground. I didn't say a word. I graduated high school that year all on my own.


Kathy would have been 33 this month. Actually today is her birthday. As the years go by the numbers start to fade. Just like who Kathy was seems to fade. They built a brand new community over the ground her body was found on. She became invisible and the love and the life that she exuded is now kept between a few people that knew her the most and still celebrate her during special occasions.


My cousin matters because she did nothing wrong and her life ended way too early. Trauma informed care must continue developing. Compassion and empathy for others needs to escalate. We can't turn our eyes to society and blame them or expect them to make the change. The change is within us. We need to love endlessly.


We need to keep sharing stories and creating art with them that better society. Stories raise awareness and also cause emotions that resonate within us. If a story touches you deeply because you resonate with it, you are more likely to do something about it.


Our story is no different from anyone else's pain. But the resiliency, the love and the will to survive made us special in our own way. I loved and I still love that girl. I miss her the most and I will do whatever it takes to get our story out there. I believe in it and I live through it everyday.


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