This blog exists in large part because I’ve always wanted to write this post. It’s important to me. And because it’s important, I’ve always held off writing because I find it incredibly difficult to say what I want when I’m talking about something that means so much. In this case it’s not a something I want to talk about, rather a someone, and so it takes on that much more meaning.
Eight years ago my niece Emma was born. My first memory of her is actually of a picture my brother in law brought out to the family sitting in the waiting room. Emma was tiny, blonde, and the “cry face” she was making in the picture was the spitting image of my sister, Lauren. Seeing those genes passed down so visibly hit me in a way I would have never expected. Those were the genes my grandma gave my mom, my mom gave my sister, and now my sister passed on to Emma. It’s such a basic idea we all know happens when babies are born, but seeing that connection through time really struck me in a profound way. For a second it made me feel like I could almost touch my mom. All I wanted was to be that little girl’s friend.
Leading up to her birth the depression I had been dealing with that year (or decade) was coming to a pinnacle. I had no clue what I was doing with myself. I hated work. I hated my relationship at the time. I hated not being near my family. I hated being near my family. There was a constant feeling of wasted time. Nothing felt real and I never got the sense that I was building towards anything. It was all just an endless cycle of doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff. But for the first few months of Emma’s life I buried those feelings the best I could and made as many trips home as I possibly could to see her.
I can’t remember exactly how far into Emma’s first year it was (my ability to gauge time was and is absolutely destroyed thanks to whatever magic the depression did to my head), but at a certain point I stopped going home altogether. I couldn’t muster the energy to get in the car and drive for 3.5 hours. I would have rather sat in my apartment by myself doing nothing. My sister would send messages telling me about Emma learning to do this or that, and while it would make me feel a little guilty to miss out, the guilt was never enough to get me moving.
One day after roughly a half of a year passed without going home I finally made a visit. When I got home I walked into the kitchen where my Dad, sister, brother in law, and Emma were waiting on me to arrive. Before I stopped coming around Emma and I started to become friends. She wasn’t to the point where she talked much but I could make her laugh and I liked that. If I wanted to hold her, she always let me. But during the six months that had passed I grew a beard. When I bent down to pick Emma up for a hug she recoiled and grabbed on to her mom’s leg and started to cry. She didn’t recognize me.
That was the first time I ever made Emma sad. I hated seeing her cry because of me. Babies cry all the time over just about anything, but I knew that this time it was my fault because I hadn’t been around. It hurt. And while hurting isn’t the feeling I was hoping for it was the first time I felt anything other than the blah and bleak that was depression. And that made me happy. Years of feeling like garbage were truly upended that quick. It felt like the Grinch with his heart growing three sizes. At that point I silently made a promise to myself and Emma that I would never go that long without seeing her again. I decided that when we were together we were going to make each other laugh and to this day we haven’t stopped.
The love I have for Emma is different than the love I have for anyone else. She takes me out of myself just by being her. When she smiles, I smile. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t been able to force a laugh for a week, around her it’s an involuntary reaction. I’m thankful for her all the time because she gave me a chance to feel. And I honestly believe that if it weren’t for that day in my Dad’s kitchen I wouldn’t be writing this post across the couch from my wife.
My sister always tells Emma that she’s going to move mountains. I don’t doubt it. Because even when she was as little as one year old her spirit was strong enough to pick me up and carry me over one of the tallest mountains I’ve ever had to climb. When nothing else could move me, Emma did.
Who knows when Emma will read this but whenever that day comes I want her to know that she means more to me than anyone can imagine. Everything good in my life that has happened the past few years comes right back to her.
Happy Birthday, Emu. I love you.