Reflecting On My Cousin Before Drugs Took Over Her Life

One decision can change the entire course of your life and in turn all the lives around you. Time is relentless. It will stampede over you if you stand still. We were born 10 months apart; now I am a whole 10 years older.
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March 6, 2016

My cousin turns 29 today.

We're 10 months apart.

Being the "older one" is fun. I learned to drive before my cousin. I turned 18 and was able to vote before my cousin. I had a better curfew than my cousin, much to her dismay. I graduated high school before my cousin. I turned 21 before my cousin. I graduated college, finished graduate school, and got my first full-time job before my cousin. I got married before my cousin. I turned 29, and will turn 30, before my cousin.

Alicia and Jessica Cook in New York City

My cousin turns 29 today.

Though I am older, she is always teaching me things. She introduced me to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Broadway. The first time I bought a CD from Virgin Records in New York City, it was with her. My dad introduced me to sushi, but the first time I had sushi out with friends, it was with her. The first time I had my makeup done, it was by her.

My cousin turns 29 today.

It's nice growing up with someone. I remember when we were little and sledding down her steep front lawn. She stopped and picked up her father's snow shovel and began to dig. "I'm digging to China!" she yelled from the bottom of the hill. I hopped on my sled and flew down, right as she was swinging the shovel over her shoulder. The shovel hit me directly in my left eye - she almost knocked me out cold and I had a black eye for a week.

I remember when she first drove herself to my house after getting her license. I hopped in the passenger seat and we drove off. She was driving so slow -- way below the limit. I told her to pick up the pace, that the speed limit was 40 miles per hour. She laughed. Every road by her home was 25 miles per hour so she thought it was the same everywhere.

I remember when she got her first moving violation ticket. She was caught in a parking lot pulling through spaces. I learned it was illegal because of that ticket she received. I still pull through spaces and that memory creeps into my mind every time. I smile. It's just her luck to get a ticket for something like that. I've done it countless times with no repercussions.

My cousin turns 29 today.

She believes in the afterlife. When we were teenagers, we would play with my Ouija board, hoping to conjure the spirits of Elvis Presley and Judy Garland. On more than one occasion, we joined forces against my little sister and fixed the board so it gave the impression it was moving on its own. My sister would run away screaming and we would laugh.

Jessica Cook Making a Birthday Wish Alongside Kellie Cook

My cousin turns 29 today.

We have so much in common. From our taste in music to our love of poetry.

We both know how to play the piano. Before we became "too cool," every Christmas morning we would share a piano bench and play Christmas music duets for our family.

Jessica and Alicia Cook, Christmas Day 1995

We both love making believe and are artistic by nature. We couldn't wait to grow up and get our own places. We would move blankets and pillows into the bathtub at her parents and pretend it was a studio apartment in the City.

We both love making homemade presents. One year, she made this ridiculous scrapbook for her older sister on her birthday. It was mostly mocking how old she was, but it was hysterical.

We both love these things called "buffalo fries." They are basically French fries smothered in buffalo sauce. The last time we got them, she asked the server to make them "extra spicy." We couldn't even eat them they were so hot.

My cousin turns 29 today.

And honestly, I was really angry with her for most of my early twenties. She knows it too. I didn't agree with her choices. I didn't understand her actions most days. I loved her anyway. Our most recent conversation ended well enough. We were arguing a bit. I was in my white bathrobe and she kept telling me to get dressed. I didn't want to, but we hugged and when she was heading out the door she yelled back to me, "See ya later, Cuz!"

I'm sure I will.

Jessica and Alicia Cook, Early 2000's

My cousin turns 29 today.

I remember her 21st birthday. We all raised our shot glasses up and yelled, "Cheers!" Even the elephant in the room wished her a happy birthday. I grinned and the alcohol burned my stomach.

My cousin turns 29 today.

She loves Mugsy -- this sad looking stuffed puppy. One time, Mugsy was destroyed and she spent all day sewing him back up - good as new. She still sleeps with Mugsy. Every single night.

My cousin turns 29 today.

She died at 19.

One decision can change the entire course of your life and in turn all the lives around you. Time is relentless. It will stampede over you if you stand still. We were born 10 months apart; now I am a whole 10 years older.

My cousin turns 29 today.

I don't like using past tense.

So I won't. Ever.

Happy birthday, Jessica.


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This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at