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How a Letter From My 6-Year-Old Niece Made Me Feel Seen

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At 6 years old, she became my closest friend and confidante, someone — nearly the only one — I could be myself around without reservations and still be seen as who she felt I was. Inside, she didn’t know I often crumbled, unable to look at myself in the mirror, chastising and criticizing each and every perceived flaw on both my body and within my mind. 

Living inside of my own mind is often isolating and excruciating, fraught with an eating disorder and body dysmorphia, coupled with low self-esteem. However, unbeknownst to me, none of that is apparent to Brielle, my six-year-old niece. Having not seen each other in person for several months, but having kept close through FaceTime, texting and phone calls, we finally reunited, each of us donning our masks and maintaining a social distance one blustery, Sunday afternoon. Excitedly, she chatted away, detailing and describing all of her recent adventures and findings before announcing she needed to quickly run into the house to retrieve something. 

Minutes later, she reemerged with a paper in hand, filled with drawings and stickers, and on the other side, what appeared to be a large amount of writing, maybe a story or poem, I thought. Proudly, she pressed the paper into my hands, “Here, Aunt Melissa, it’s for you, I drew and wrote this for you!” Already touched and filled with love, despite not having read it yet, I began scanning the paper, my face breaking into a smile seeing the images of me and her, and even my dog, Daisy, outside in the sun, enjoying our time together. It was reminiscent of our past times together and ones I hope to emulate as soon as the pandemic blows over.

Turning the paper over, I began digesting her words, shocked at what I read:

“Dear Ant Mlissa you are the best because you make me laf and if I am sad you chirr me up. Love Brielle.”

Front of letter, drawings of the author, her niece and their dog

Back of letter with the niece's note on it

It didn’t take long before my eyes filled with tears, but I carefully brushed them away and focused on telling Brielle how beautiful her drawings and words were and how much they meant to me. Though, I’m not quite sure she really could know just how much they actually did mean to me and all they represented.

As someone who is often alone in my thoughts and without close friendships, it has been years since I’ve really felt “seen.” Reading Brielle’s words to me, I wondered how it was possible I could have the ability to make someone laugh and cheer them up. How did she see something so vastly different than the way I interpret myself? Reflecting on her words, I thought back to our many FaceTime sessions, most of which I was in my pajamas, sans makeup, with messy hair. She never comments on my appearance and only sees me as Aunt Melissa. Her love and affection for me is not measured by my appearance, whether I have blemishes, messy hair or lack an overall “put-together ensemble.”

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Still, I often question how she could see me as she does, someone who can cheer her up and make her laugh, always asking my mom and others, “How?” In reality, maybe there doesn’t need to be an explanation or a reason. Can’t we love without knowing or understanding why? Love can be whatever we make it, or want it to be. We can love something or someone without ever knowing or understanding why. But more importantly, I focus on the notion of letting someone love me, no matter how broken or messy I feel, giving myself permission to feel/internalize the love they show and speak of.

Standing beside Brielle as I took in her words and pictures, I thought back to the times when I cradled her as a baby, when I watched her walk for the first time, and then, as she grew older, danced beside me to songs in the living room. Maybe one day I will tell her that she, too, cheers me up when I’m feeling sad and makes me laugh. Maybe one day I will tell her about the day when I spent most of the morning in bed, riddled with sadness until I received a message from her asking if I wanted to FaceTime and see her in her costume. Maybe one day I will tell her she, unlike so many others, makes me feel seen and gives me a reason to keep trying, to keep going and to believe in much more than the disparaging thoughts about myself in my mind. She teaches me to believe love is not felt because of appearance or gifts, and that love knows no boundaries, no matter how far we are distanced.

Love requires no explanation and it can be given, freely.

Original photo by author

Originally published: December 30, 2020
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