We'd FaceTime every few days and sometimes I'd have to get off the phone early because I was too emotional, because I missed her so damn much. And though she was barely two and a half, I know it affected her too. I'd see her get sad and refuse to say goodbye. My sister would tell me that Sadie would remark that she was sad Auntie lived in California now.
It got better, as things do, and the less I felt sad about it, the guiltier I felt. I hated missing her little milestones.
When I came home to visit in May, she was a new kid. Hypertalkative, a little bit clingier to Kristie, and so, very, very funny. Silly. She made up songs about her surroundings, about robots and superheros and princesses. She had blossomed while I was gone.
In July, I came back to New Jersey for good. And then my body deteriorated in a way it had not ever done before. It scared me, and it scared my family.
My sister started taking Sadie to visit me in the hospital. I spent most of July at two different hospitals, and Kristie, pregnant, would drive to see me. (Because she is the best.)
When I got home, I had work to do and Sadie was excited to help me. We set up her gymnastics mat and I got the big exercise ball and she used her volleyball. "Am I doing it right, Auntie?" she'd ask.
Yeah, kid. You're just fine.
Here's my annual love letter to my best girl.
Sadie, you're three now. You love school and tea sets and tools and fixing stuff. You question everything, bargain with me mercilessly over chicken nuggets, and tease me. You love New York City. You talk about New York City all the time, and you ask when we're going again, and when we can take the train, and when we can see the dinosaurs. When we went to NY in May, you whispered "This is so awesome" as we left the Museum of Natural History.
Dude, YOU are so awesome.
Thank you for insisting you help me check my blood sugar, for checking my heart beat with your toy stethoscope and beatboxing as you do so because that's what you believe hearts sound like. Thanks for only wanting to listen to music on the record player, because it makes me feel I'm doing my part to raise a music snob.
I don't know if you know, kid, but I was deflated this summer. I was so close to giving up. I had never had to wheel around in a wheelchair, or need help showering or going to the bathroom. (Potty buddies!) I'd never been so weak that I could not sit up without assistance. Somehow you knew how to cope with these things better than I ever could.
You pushed me to make my recovery into a game, and wheeling around the house with you as you giggled in my lap took my focus off of my pain. I don't think I'll ever forget your insistence on pushing my chair through the hospital hallways. I want to help Auntie, you said. And boy, did you.
It was during all those lonely nights in the hospital that I was worried my world would collapse around me, that everything would become colorless again. For me, you are hope. You are, like our girl Emily D said, the thing with feathers. I can't help but watch you soar, and it makes me so damn happy to see.
You'll always be my first niece, the first true love of my life. We're going places, kid. I'm so glad to have you along for the ride.
I love you forever,