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Dedicated to my nieces Natasha and Anayah. Uncle Joshy loves both of you immensely.

Also dedicated to my older sister Alisha. You’ll never be alone.

(page 1)

It was a moist, cool, rainy September night. I had already gotten my things ready for work tomorrow morning. My professional clothes were recently ironed. You could tell because the top of the bed was still warm to the touch, like a piece of bread, fresh from the bakery on a sunday morning. My lunch was prepared and packed to-go in the refrigerator and my wife and I had just tucked our little one into bed. We were tired from a long day ourselves, you know, with the pandemic and everything. It must have been 10 o’ clock at night when we were startled by a sharp noise coming from my nightstand.

(page 2)

*ring ring* *ring ring*

“I wonder who could be calling me at this time of night” I thought to myself as I woke up startled. “Answer the phone Joshua”, said my wife. “Es probable que es algo importante”. She was right, it could have been something important. I couldn't really argue with that. When I looked down at my phone, the screen read “Alisha Levola”. Alisha is my older sister, by 6 years in fact. I felt a sudden pain in my stomach, as if I felt a punch in my gut. “Why would Alish be calling me so late on a work night?” “Could something be wrong?”

(page 3)

While I’ve become accustomed to my sister calling me every now and then, she usually doesn't call me so late at night. I thought that something seemed off, and it even worried me. I decided to answer the phone. “Hello?” I had said in a worried voice. “Hey Joshua, how are you?” responded Alisha. I could tell from her mellow tone that there didn't seem to be any kind of emergency. “Well………., what’s up?” I asked anxiously. “Ohhhhh, you know, little brother. Just the usual shit.” For a moment I felt relief that things were normal, but then again, “just the usual shit” from my sister would worry any sane person that knew her. We talked about things like work, how my daughter was doing, our love life, and our family. We talked for what seemed like hours. We talked, we yelled, we laughed (hard), and we talked some more.

(page 4)

I was started by the sudden “Cuckoo-Cuckoo-Cuckoo-Cuckoo” of my Cuckoo-Clock that hung in the living room. That paired with the sound of the gears clicking as the bird emerges from the rickety old doors give off a creepy vibe. Alisha must have heard the clock in the background because she then said “Damn Joshua, time flies when you're having fun, don’t it?” I responded with a playful “I suppose it does”. If the bird is chirping, that means we’ve been talking for an hour already.

(page 5)

Then came the realization of why she had called. “So do you remember what day tomorrow is Joshua?”. Tomorrow would be september 4th, the birthday of my first niece, Natasha. “How could I forget? Tomorrow’s Natasha’s 12th birthday.” Although Natasha would be turning 12, the last time we saw her she was probably 8. It's always a rough time of year for everyone, especially my sister. The atmosphere became very tense as neither of us spoke for a good minute or so. I thought to myself, “I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry”, but it was inevitable. Our talking, yelling, and laughing soon turned to tears. We began to cry, together. “I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since I’ve seen my nieces. It feels like just yesterday we were exploring museums and having our weekly sleepovers together” I said with a disappointed tone. “Don’t get me started Joshua, you already know how I must feel” Alisha said with a shaky voice. “They were my damn kids. They’ll always be my kids no matter what”. When Alisha said that I got goosebumps. Hearing her so sad was painful to listen to.

(page 6)

It was dark as we got off the phone. It was pitch black and eerily silent in the living room. All you could hear were the gears of that Kuckoo-clock as time passed by. I began to ponder about what we had talked about. About my nieces. This always makes me feel like my soul is being torn apart, as though someone took a piece of paper and ripped it down the middle. Despite the roller coaster of emotions I was feeling, despite the darkness in which I was living, I saw a light. That light was a beautiful memory. One that I will cherish forever. It was one of the last times that I was able to share with my two nieces. I can recall it almost as though it was yesterday.

(page 7)

It was a brisk Monday winter day in 2015. There was fresh snow on the ground from a snowstorm the night before. The sky had a dead light gray color and it was as silent as a classroom during a math exam. Dead silent. Christmas had already passed and I had spent an amazing weekend with my nieces. “What do you guys wanna do?” I asked happily. “Watch Daniel Tiger! Play soccer! Watch movies!” yelled my nieces, nearly losing their voices. “Do we have anything going on later today?” I thought to myself. I remembered that the day was clear of homework and responsibilities. “Why choose? We have all day!” I said to my nieces. “Yayyyyyyyy” yelled Natasha and Anayah. We watched their favorite tv shows, played indoor soccer, watched movies, talked, and spent quality time together. I thought to myself “too bad this weekend has to end". “I would give anything to spend more time with my nieces”.

(page 8)

*Ding Ding*

I looked down at my phone as it chimed, signaling the arrival of a text message. As I noticed a text from Alisha, my heart began to race. Ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum. Alisha wrote: “Hi Josh, I’m sorry to bother you, but I won’t be able to pick up the girls today. Because of the snow storm, I can’t get a car that can drive through the snow to get them. I’ll see if I can figure something out tomorrow”. I immediately grinned. Not a small half-baked grin. A joyous genuine grin.

(page 9)

Although this was going to make things complicated, my wish had been granted. I immediately phoned my job to let them know what had happened. “Hi Jeff, I’m sorry I wont be able to come in today, I have to take care of my nieces”. Jeff replied “Don’t worry Josh, I’ll get coverage for you” and then he hung up. I guess I was in the clear to spend more time with Natasha and Anayah. I thought to myself “How in god’s green Earth am I going to keep these kids busy today”. The answer should have been obvious in February 2015, go see the Spongebob movie in theatres of course!

(page 10)

“How would you guys like to go see the new Spongebob movie?” I asked calmly. My nieces looked at each other and each grew a grin so big, I thought for sure they were trying to scare me. “I guess I have my answer” I thought to myself as I chuckled. “Let’s go get bundled up girls, It’s so cold outside, you might find Santa Claus and Jack Frost eating ice cream cones”. I was only half kidding. It really was freezing cold outside.

(page 11)

The roads were in miserable condition. It was covered in a vast blanket of soft snow. In fact, it was so white that it almost looked like we were driving on top of clouds. “Uncle Joshy, are we driving in heaven?” I was shocked by the question, but I relaxed when I realized they were thinking about how white the snow was. “No no girls, we're in Hartford, the best place to be”. Of course I was flat out lying, but why not make them feel better? Sometime later, we had arrived at the movie theatre to catch the movie.

(page 12)

As we pulled up, my nieces could hardly contain their excitement. “I can’t wait!” said Natasha. “This is the first time I’m going to the movie theatre!” said Anayah. “If you girls are happy, then of course I’m happy”. I felt honored to be the person to give them their first movie theatre experience. My sister lived a very hard life, and their father was never around. Sometimes I felt like I needed to be the father figure in their life, even though I was their proud uncle. “Let’s go girls, we have a sponge to bob”.

(page 13)

We were greeted by an empty screening room. We had the place to ourselves! “This is crazy uncle Joshy! Where is everyone?”. “Probably at work girls, today is monday and most people go to work today”. My nieces watched the movie and enjoyed every moment of it. Spongebob is something that I always enjoyed, so watching this movie with my nieces meant the world to me, and them.

(page 14)

That was the last memory I shared with my nieces, and is possibly the last memory I will ever have with them. It’s been about 5 years since they’ve been taken into foster care and I’m not sure what they must think. Maybe they think we’ve forgotten about them. I certainly haven't. I think about them constantly. I tried writing letters to their foster family, only to receive nothing in return for years. I thought to myself, “I would give anything to spend more time with my nieces, anything at all”. Natasha and Anayah, I can only hope that one day, we will meet again.


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