Twelve years ago, my niece E was born. I met her when she was just a few weeks old. I held her in the lobby of the Grand Ole Opry Hotel. Her family lived in the Nashville area and I was visiting from Iowa. My first marriage was ending and the woman I was deeply in love with had ended our secret, six-month affair. Confused doesn’t even begin to cover how I was feeling at that time.
It was winter and my niece was swaddled. I stretched her out on the top of my thighs and stared into her face, trying to soak in her calm. At some point she began to do what sounded like Breath of Fire, a breathing exercise that is at the heart of Kundalini Yoga practice and sounds very much like fast sniffing. It felt like my newborn niece was reminding me to breathe.
I remember visiting another time when she was just a toddler. I might have been her aunt, but to her I was a stranger. I remember trying to talk to her and asking if she wanted to do this thing or that thing. “I say ‘NO!'” she would offer up again and again, crossing her arms and glaring at me. Even though I wasn’t thrilled by her response, I also admired it. She was clear about what she needed–or didn’t need. She wasn’t going to do something out of some sense of obligation.
Again, it felt like she was teaching me.
When my niece was about 5, her parents were divorcing and she and her mom and brother moved to Iowa. While I don’t wish divorce on any family, their move north gave my niece (and nephew) and I the opportunity to really get to know and fall in love with each other.
I moved away from Iowa nearly two years ago. Leaving my niece and nephew behind was one of the toughest parts of that move. I miss celebrating her birthday with her. I imagine she misses that, too. I know she and my nephew were sad to see me divorce their beloved uncle and sadder yet that the home they loved spending so much time in was no more.
I don’t know what my niece knows about my new life. I don’t know if she knows I’m in love with a woman. I suspect my sister/her mother hasn’t told her that yet.
“I don’t understand the whole lesbian sex thing, but I don’t have to,” my sister said when I told her I like women. “But I love and support you. That I can do.”
My sister’s response remains a great gift to me. It was honest–and loving.
I see where my niece gets that from.
Happy birthday, E.