Two weeks ago today, I walked into work determined to make it a better week than the previous one. It was “do over week.” That evening, as I was on a run after work, I got a phone call that stopped me in my tracks, and I knew do over week was over and the days that followed would be very different than I imagined.
Two weeks ago today, we lost a family member all too soon. My cousin Ryan and his wife Amber were in a car on the highway in Texas on one of his business trips, when a freak accident happened and took Amber’s life. She was 31 years old. As my mom relayed the news to me over the phone three thousand miles away, I knew that both of us wanted nothing more than to hop on a plane that second and head to Louisiana to be with our family.
Then and there, all I could do was head back to the office, get my bags, and head home. I knew then and there that if Mom couldn’t make the trip, that I would represent and go to our family. Family comes first. Work, friends, anything else…it was all a blur for the next three days until I was on an airplane back home.
I have a huge extended family. Ryan is one of my twenty-two cousins, and his father, my uncle Timmy, is one of my favorite people in the whole world. Although I had only met Amber a couple of times, and unfortunately was unable to make her and Ryan’s wedding several years ago, as a Roussel, I knew that just being there to hug my family and show my support was enough. In our family, no matter how big we get, no matter what is going on, we step up, and we show up. Mom ended up not going, because just a few days later she was headed to Houston to be with my aunt, who is being treated for cancer at a hospital there. She was showing up there, I was showing up for the rest of the family. That’s what we do.
Eleven years ago today, I started the morning as Jenna Rochelle Brignac. By the afternoon, I was Jenna Rochelle Sauber. I didn’t get married (I was in high school), and I didn’t enter the witness protection program.
I gained my independence, this day before our country’s Independence Day. I had one of my first big steps in a journey to Be Fearless — I chose to make legal a relationship that had started about 11 years before, when my mom married the man who had become my father in every sense of the word.
In my family, we call it my “other” birthday, our anniversary, and my day of independence. We used to celebrate it with cookie cake. Today, I just call my dad, who lives on the other coast, and we talk, and we smile over the phone at this wonderful bond we’ve worked hard to create over the last 22 years.
Anyone that knows me knows how much I value my family. As an only child, I’m very close to my parents, and as the only “only” in my huge family, I was very close to my cousins growing up, and to all of my aunts and uncles. Moving away from my home state of Louisiana at a young age made it hard to stay close over the years, so I cherish every phone call, email, or visit with my relatives. I was fortunate enough to see both an uncle and an aunt this weekend in DC when they were passing through on business, and of course, there is always some reminiscing.
People who know me also know how much I love my Cajun heritage: with that comes our love of gathering over food, especially boiled seafood. So with that being said, at the risk of embarrassment, I’m going to share a story that I wrote in high school about one of my fondest memories growing up with my family in Louisiana — hanging out at my aunt’s camp on the lake and having a crab boil. The story itself doesn’t represent one particular day, but is more of a conglomeration of memories from over the years. It remains one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written, and when I do get together with my family for a crab or crawfish boil, I’m in my element, and at my happiest. So, please enjoy this little piece of me… lagniappe:
Cajuns, Crabs, and Comfort
I was on my way home from a friend’s one afternoon, and I was in one of those nostalgic moods, the kind where everything suddenly seems dreamy and sad and I kept thinking about my innocent days as a child. Going forty-five on the road just before my neighborhood, I passed the familiar building which always has the two jet-skis parked out front. Usually I just think, “Oh, I wish I had a jet ski,” and drive on. This time was different. It brought me back to a place I used to go: a place of happiness, of family, and of love.
“Who wants crabs?” Aunt Denny’s rhetorical question rings out from inside the screened porch. Would anyone in this family ever not want crabs?