I remember when you held me as a child, I could feel the maternal warmth radiating from me as you cradled me like your own. You used to tell me that I was one of the two people you loved most in the world-the other being my cousin- and how you made me feel wanted and loved. I grew up in a carwreck of a childhood, abandoned by my mother and abused by my fathers wife, the stepmum. You tried to help me escape but then my dad turned against you and his family, because that woman poisoned him against the people that mattered the most. You never gave up on me though, no matter what they said or did you would be the first person to look out for me and love me like your own daughter. I grew up loathing who I was and was never proud of what I had become , at least not at first. I was taught to not appreciate the girl who looked back at me in the mirror and when I saw my parents in my own reflection I cringed. Not because I didn’t love them, I did, but because it was a reminder of a past too painful to acknowledge. I was six years old when I was abused, an age where I should have been playing with dolls and seeing the world through rose tinted glasses. Not an age where I would be too frightened to go home, where the only place I would feel safe was at school, away from the abuse. Even though I could not see you often, I could feel your calming presence during the most moments.
When she raised a hand to threaten me, when she cussed and called me names, your voice would be there telling me to be strong and get through the abuse. She used to tell me that noone loved me, that I was ugly and call me all the names under the sun. When people used to tell me I was beautiful, when guys told me that they loved me, I never believed them. Even to this day, the concept of love is foreign but the one person that I trust with all my heart is you, my aunty. Because when you tell me I am beautiful I know you believe it and when you say how proud of me you are, it is your words that mean the most to me. Growing up you know I lashed out at the people I loved, I was foolish and afraid, I didn’t know how to love again. My parents, they broke my heart and when they broke my heart I grew paranoid and suspicious. You have always been the one person that I could count on and I am proud to call you my mother. You know that even when I went to care aged 10, social services found my biological mother but since then she has been an erratic presence. Over the years my mum did some bad things and I know I did too, but the one person who never left my side was you.
You are strong and brave, when you were diagnosed with my cancer I couldn’t breathe. In that moment I felt like my whole world was gone and I felt like time was like sand, slipping through my fingers. The one person I loved the most, battling an illness that could change everything. I wasn’t prepared to lose you, not a chance but honestly I wish I had been with you more during the diagnosis, I wish I could have held your hand and promised to be there waiting on the other side. But you did it, you never gave up fighting and you survived. It broke me to see how you had become a shell of your former self, but still you were alive and I thanked the heavens that you were still here. It sounds selfish almost, wishing that you could make it even though I knew, could see how much pain you were in but I didn’t want to lose you, I knew that now was not your time. I remember you telling me, a year later after you had been given the all clear that you were prepared to die, that if it was your destiny, you would be sad but you would welcome it with open arms. When others see death and run, you welcome it with open arms, know that it is just a chapter in life- that is true bravery.
You survived two broken relationships and taught me that it is okay to be single and when others looked at me, expecting me to enter another doomed relationship, I would quote you, who had been single for twenty years and was just ‘fine’ with it. You showed me how to be an independent woman and challenged the notion that success is accredited through ‘who you know’. Instead you were the one who gave me the drive and passion to succeed and never once unlike others did you question my ambitions, did you judge success through how ‘much money I would be making. You raised my cousin as a single woman and you went through hell and back, even before he was born. It is not my story to tell but I admire how you didn’t let your past define you, you said we have to look ahead and to the future. In some ways being able to be open with my past is something I learnt from you and you are the one person who I know will tell me the ‘truth’ even if I don’t want to hear it.
As a child I was bullied and gradually overtime the side effects of the abusive childhood and teenage years had a toll on my mental health. I was afraid to acknowledge it at first, hell I didn’t even realize how bad it was until I came to uni and when I told you, you didn’t understand at first. I found it hard to tell you how I was feeling because you would tell me ‘to stop being negative’. I thought you weren’t listening but then I saw you were teaching me the biggest life lesson at all. It was not that you didn’t want to acknowledge that I had depression and anxiety but it was more that you were teaching me to appreciate what was there right in front of me. Like you said ‘ some people have had a better life than you and others have had worse. At the end of the day there is always going to be someone ‘worse off’ than you, so instead of feeling sorry for yourself be grateful for what you do have. Before it is taken from you and it’s too late. When you got sick and needed treatment, you told me that you were going through depression too but then you found something-and I quote ‘amazing’ and that was your faith. You became a born again ‘Christian’ and tried teaching me to be more open to religion. Of course it will make you laugh reading this, because every time you even mentioned it I would roll my ‘eyes’ and say that I am not religious but I saw how happy it made you and that was all that mattered.
We might not agree on everything all the time, we might argue and get frustrated with each other but I want you to know this. I don’t need a guy to make me happy, I don’t need cards and gifts to tell me I am special. Because I have you, my aunty who tells me I am special everyday and that is the greatest love of all.
Do You Have Someone Who You See As An ‘Alternative Valentine’ Too?
P.S My Aunty is camera shy, I wish I had photos I could use to show you how beautiful this woman really is!
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