My dear niece,
Tomorrow is your 21st birthday. You arrived three days before my own 21st birthday all those years ago. I'd selfishly wished for you to stay where you were for a few more days so that we could have been linked forever by our special day. I remember the day you were born, not quite as though it was yesterday but it certainly doesn't feel as though this many years have passed. Your mother had been in labour for over 24 hours before you finally arrived and the grapes I'd bought for her on the way to the hospital never made it to the delivery suite. You were small and quiet when I met you, so light I hardly felt I had anything in my arms. I cried when I held you because I loved you so completely. At the same time I missed my mother so much I thought my heart might explode with pain. You were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my entire life and to this day I have yet to experience that same feeling of pure joy.
You were the first baby in the family for many years. Everyone trooped up to the hospital to see you, hold you, marvel at your tiny fingers and toes. You were given your late grandmothers name for your middle name. Her father, your great grandfather, was quietly delighted. He died some six months after you were born and you were brought to the house after the funeral. I remember holding you and feeling sorry that you would never know him.
I left the country for the first time when you were two years old. I returned when you were three. You were still tiny, curly haired and serious looking. I fell in love with you all over again. I suppose if I'm honest you were a like a practice daughter for me, practice for a child it seems I'll never have. Family members commented on the resemblence and indeed photos of you at the age of three look similar to photos of me. Small, curly haired girls staring at the lens, a generation apart.
You were joined by a younger brother three years later and I would take you both out on day trips to all the usual places. You behaved on the Tube, did a small amount of pestering in shops and always seemed reluctant to go home.
I left again when you were almost ten. Your father drove me to the airport, I was surprised to see the whole family in the car. It was a difficult journey from Leytonstone to Heathrow. You were quiet in the car, I put it down to the fact that it was very early in the morning but when you cried at the airport I wanted to change my mind and stay with you. I didn't. I made the choice to change my life and move 12,000 miles away from all my friends and family.
Sometimes I regret that decision. Sometimes, but not often. Sometimes I wonder how things might have turned out if I'd taken that other job offer and stayed in sunny E11. But two years in Australia turned into a decade and in the time that I've been living here you and your brother have grown up and grown into people that I don't know. Is that my fault? I suppose so. You know I've tried to stay in touch, find out what you're doing, what you like, what you don't like, what you want to do with your life, what you had for dinner, what you bought at the shops last week. We made a few attempts but sadly we're left with what we have, which isn't a lot.
In the last couple of years our relationship has deteriorated to an all time low. I still don't understand why you felt the need to fall out with me over my changing my surname some two years before you were born. I explained that it was done to incorporate the surname of your late grandmother and your late great grandfather but you still interpreted it as being a slight on my father. Personally, I don't give a monkeys what you think about that subject. I'm still rankled at the way you addressed me thoughout the whole matter. I look back at the breathtakingly rude way you wrote to me - at me, it felt like - and the way that you rebuffed my attempts at acknowledging your feelings and extending the olive branch. Six months later and you deleted me as a Facebook friend. Whilst that seems such a small thing to some I saw it as a deliberate way of cutting me out of your life. I was saddened but not entirely surprised and had absolutely no desire to contact you to discuss it.
So, here we are. I'm just your fathers sister who lives in Australia. It's not the relationship I envisioned when you were put into my arms 21 years ago. We don't exchange emails or texts. I'm irrelevant to your life. That makes me sad but that's just the way things are. It's also made me examine the relationship I have with my own aunts and realise that I probably haven't been the niece they wanted either.
I wonder if you'll look back one day and wish things had been different. I wonder if you'll ever make an effort to get to know me for yourself instead of listening to various family members giving you their rather colourful opinions. I wonder if I'll still be there if you decide to do that.
Your birth remains one of the most amazing events of my life. I miss you. I wish you a long and happy life with many wonderful experiences.
Happy birthday, pet.
Anthony Bourdain's macaroni cheese
4 weeks ago