My Cousin Rachel is the title of a really famous book by Daphne De Maurier. This novel was on one of the many bookshelves in my parents’ house when I was growing up. I never read it, but it always stuck out because I have a cousin named Rachel. And like the novel, my cousin Rachel’s story is about Italy and love and death and tragedy. (But not murder, so keep your pants on.)
My Cousin Rachel grew up in Bald Knob, Arkansas, just like me and the rest of my kith and kin. She is the second of four children, and if anyone in my family could be considered normal, it’s this girl. But then again, she has a certain flair and is very headstrong. She home schooled her senior year of high school at a time when not many people were doing that in Arkansas, because she’s a little bit of a rebel — whether she’ll admit it or not.
My Cousin Rachel fell in love with and married a hometown boy named Brandon, who was (by then) in the Army, when she was 18. They produced a beautiful daughter named Sydney. This new family from a podunk Arkansas town soon found itself living in Italy, where Brandon was stationed.
My Cousin Rachel was a young wife and mother when her husband had a terrible car accident in Italy that left him virtually incapacitated. Some of Brandon’s injuries were so horrific that the nurses couldn’t stomach tending to him. So this stranger in a strange land changed the dressings on her husband’s wounds when medical professionals wretched behind closed doors.
My Cousin Rachel moved back to the States after Brandon’s medical discharge. I guess that’s how it goes: one day she was living in a cosmopolitan European city among the ruins of an ancient civilization, and the next she was back in Bald Knob, America, meth capital of these United States. But she isn’t one to complain, and she made a life for her disabled husband and young daughter. Soon she was pregnant with her second child.
My Cousin Rachel held it together when the police officer showed up at her door late one night to tell her Brandon had been involved in another terrible car accident. This time, however, he had not survived.
My Cousin Rachel was a widow barely in her second decade of life with a toddler and another one on the way when her husband ceased to be.
My Cousin Rachel birthed her second daughter, Taylor, five months after she buried her husband. She worked her ass off. She ate and slept and went to church and reared her children and laughed and smiled and made hilarious comments and never ever ever one single time expressed anything resembling self pity.
My Cousin Rachel kept her shit together, and I will never understand how.
My Cousin Rachel met a man at a church gathering, and they married a few years ago. Jeremy is a strong, handsome, hard working man who adores her and her daughters. She has since birthed another child, a son named Jacob. They live outside of a small town, surrounded by flora and fauna and a million pets and other assorted wildlife. Her children are polite and well mannered and intelligent, just like their mama.
My Cousin Rachel skims this blog on occasion, so I know she’ll eventually read this. And then I’ll know that she knows that I think she’s amazing.
My Cousin Rachel doesn’t know this, but I admire her more than any other person I know in real life. I could never say that to her in person. It would be awkward for us both, because we were reared in a family predicated on pretense and denial. We’d probably end up avoiding eye contact and making weak jokes, and then we’d spend the next four years pretending like we didn’t know each other at family functions.
My Cousin Rachel is an incredible woman. I hope she knows that, even if I never have the courage to say it to her aloud.