Dear aunt Margit.

I have began this letter a thousand times. I want to find an opening that really hits home, words that would hit you hard enough to crack you open and let some love in. You always were better at giving than receiving love. And everything else. But those words elude me, I can not find the one deed, the one way you saved us, to exemplify them all.

You met us at the airport. You had driven three hours to get there, you drove three hours to bring us home, even though you had not seen my mother for seven or eight years. You had made the beds and heated the house before our arrival, the house was already clean because you cleaned it regularly, the roof was not leaking because you painted it the year before, the gutters were not leaking because you had them changed. I suppose you did all that for your dead best friend as much as for the niece who had inherited her house, you probably didn’t think much about the niece’s children while dusting and vacuuming the empty house. You probably had no idea that the house, the heat, the clean smelling bed and dustless surfaces were like miracles to me. You could not know how much miracles were needed, how I hated my brother, despised my mother and believed that all happiness had fled my life with my father.

You loved that we lived in the house. Loved the light in the windows and the tracks in the snow. We were refugees, we had fled because we had to and we were not happy about it. Your joy made up for that, you were the «good for something» in our «nothing so bad».

This is a thank-you note.

Thank you for the way you smiled whenever you saw me. Like I brightened up your day.

Thank you for telling me that my brother could not help all the hitting and screaming and braking of beautiful things. For teaching me the word «tilbakestående» literally someone staying behind, for making me understand that it was my job to walk in front, to show him how the world works.

Thank you for teaching me Norwegian before I started school. For relentlessly correcting my grammar and repeating anything I said with a «cute accent» with a laugh that made sure I never forgot the tone of that word again. My teachers didn’t know that I had lived my first six years in England until we started learning English in grade 4 and I surprised them by knowing the language better than they did. I still used it to talk to my father each night.

Thank you for telling my mother I had to learn how to play fotball whether I liked it or not. I didn’t like it, but I became not-hopeless at it. Good enough that the other boys would let me play if there was no other way I could get through recess unnoticed.

Thank you for teaching me what was noticeable. For lifting your eye-brows at my swinging hips and pursing your lips at my hands moving about as if I had no wrists at all. For sharp intakes of breath at my swearing and head-shakes at my girly singing voice. For telling me not to play with girls, not to cry like a girl, not to punch like a girl. For not telling my mother that I threw a punch at you, put my whole body behind it and screamed «that’s how my mom punches capitalist pigs!» I would have been ever so embarrassed had she gotten to know that I missed you completely.

Thank you for telling me that my mother was deluded. That everything she had taught me about capitalist pigs and good comrades were madness. That my father – whom you’d never met – had turned my mother’s head around and destroyed all her good sense. You made me understand that I was still a comrade, I had to stay strong and brave. That you and everyone else in the village were capitalist enemies and that it would be my lot to live amongst you, under cover, pretending to be like you and still never betraying the struggle.

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