I didn’t want to share my father.
When my dad first mentioned Priscilla, I’m ashamed to say that my claws came out. Before then, I was sixteen years old and the center of my father’s life.
“I can’t wait for you to meet her,” he told me excitedly.
They were together for a month before I found out about it. When I came to visit him in his room at the motel he worked at, she was waiting there with a big smile on her face. She confessed to being nervous about our meeting. I was even more nervous. Who was this woman that stole my father’s heart, and why was she sucking up to me for approval? It was then that I realized I had power over both of them. One word spoken from my jealous heart could strain their relationship forever. I nodded and smiled politely and hid my ammunition, yet kept it ready to use at any time.
It was always me and my dad for as long as I could remember. He traveled across the country twice just to be near me, once from California to New York and then from New York to Florida to the dismay of my mother. She was well aware that my father and I had a bond that couldn’t be broken.
By contrast, my relationship with my mother was terrible. I couldn’t forgive her for drinking, yelling, neglecting me and putting me in danger. There was the time she drove the wrong way over the bridge at the intercoastal waterway in Pompano Beach. I screamed my head off as she hastily turned around and went the correct way before we had a head-on collision. She was drunk and scared me. She also made me furious. She was an absentee parent, and I laughed in her face whenever she tried to “lay down the law.” She didn’t have the first idea of how to raise a teenager, and both of us knew it.
My father was my sanctuary. Spending weekends at the motel with him made up for all the turmoil with my mother. We’d walk to the nearest convenient store and load up on junk food to take back to his room. Sometimes he took me to the mall where he always bought me something special. We played cards for hours and chatted about life. My father had a difficult past, but he always told me the truth about it. I didn’t hold it against him. Instead, I appreciated his honesty and the deep talks we had.
I pictured my father as a man who didn’t have a life except when I came to visit him. It never occurred to me that he wanted more, specifically a woman to love and build a life with. When that day came with Priscilla, it broke my teenage heart that my dad could love somebody more than me. Priscilla was my rival as far as I was concerned, and I wouldn’t let her get close to me as punishment.
Priscilla confided in me when my dad left the room. “Can I tell you something? I think I’m in love with your daddy. Is that okay?”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I just nodded my head slightly and changed the subject.
“I could really use a cigarette,” I said.
My father didn’t know I smoked occasionally. I was only sixteen years old and didn’t want to disappoint him. Both Priscilla and my dad smoked, and I thought she might slip me a cigarette or something.
“Let me take care of it,” she said with a sweet and caring smile.
When my dad returned to the room, Priscilla started asking him questions.
“What would you do if Glenna smoked pot?” she asked him.
My dad thought for a minute. “Well, I’d be really upset.”
Priscilla glanced in my direction. “Okay, what would you do if Glenna smoked cigarettes?”
“Well, I wouldn’t be happy, but I smoke and wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I’d probably hand her one.”
As if on cue, I stretched my hand out toward my dad. He took a cigarette from his pack and placed it in my palm. It wasn’t exactly Father Knows Best, but the fact that Priscilla made it happen wasn’t lost on me. If I wasn’t so jealous of her, maybe we could someday be friends.
My father told me two weeks later over the phone that they were getting married. It seemed sudden to me, but my father had been alone so long I’m sure he didn’t want to wait. Priscilla wanted me to be the flower girl in their wedding, but I thought it was babyish and that she should consider herself lucky I was going at all. She wasn’t a friend. She was the woman who stole my father from me. She would be the one he played cards with, and he and I would never get to have deep conversations anymore without her being there.
Dad and Priscilla got married at a fancy hotel. My father’s older friend, Ray, got me drunk before the ceremony. Ray was a creep, but if he wanted to provide me with alcohol at age sixteen, I wouldn’t stop him. The day was stressful enough for me. Once I was sufficiency buzzed, I ditched Ray when it was time and walked my father down the aisle to his bride. The pictures that came later would provide evidence of my drunkenness. When Priscilla hugged me, I wished her well and slobbered all over her. She asked me to call her my “second mother.” I agreed but knew I’d never do it. I barely even referred to my own mother as “mother.”
At the end of the night, everyone went out to the hotel lobby where there was a grand piano. My father sat down, Priscilla at his side, and played a whole range of love songs. His piano playing was beautiful as always, except this time it wasn’t for my benefit. I knew I was being selfish, but I couldn’t stop. Things would never be the same. I’d been replaced, not as a wife but as my father’s main confidant. He was the parent who was there for me and supported me, and the thought of letting that go was scary.
Shortly after the wedding, my father got fired from the motel he’d worked at for ten years. Apparently, the owner told him there wasn’t room for a husband and wife team, just my dad by himself. My father and Priscilla moved to another motel as caretakers, but it was significantly farther away, and my mother was not willing to drive me there. Considering how little my dad was calling me during that time, I thought he probably didn’t care, anyway. I was angry with Priscilla for existing and for changing our lives the way she had. My dad was gone from my life, and it was her fault.
A few months passed, and then my mother woke me up early one late summer morning to tell me Priscilla died unexpectedly. She said Priscilla had a heart attack in the middle of the night, but by the time the ambulance came she was already dead. She told me my father called her in hysterics and asked her to let me know.
“Can we go up there?” I asked my mom.
“Yes,” she answered. “I’ll take you right now.”
I was quiet on the hour-long drive to the motel my father and Priscilla worked at. My mom always thought my dad was worthless, and I didn’t feel comfortable about letting my sadness show. When we arrived, we walked together to my father’s apartment, and I rushed inside to look for him. Other people were there, friends of my dad and Priscilla, who tried to greet me as I entered, but I didn’t have time for small talk. I needed to see my dad.
He was sitting on the edge of the bed. His head was down, and I couldn’t see his face. When he finally looked up at me, I saw a man completely beaten down. He had happiness in the palm of his hand, but now it had slipped away and left him empty and alone. When I sat down next to him, he didn’t seem to realize I was there.
“I’m so sorry, Dad,” I whispered as I put an arm around him.
My father really looked at me then, and his eyes flooded with tears. I was the only one left in the world who understood him because of the cruel world that took away his wife. I wished she was there in that room with her bright blue eyes and contagious smile. In that moment, I finally realized how much he loved her. She’d loved him back, and that was the cruelest part of all. There were people in the world who never felt that kind of connection. I know my father considered himself blessed to find Priscilla, but where was God in all of this? It was something my dad struggled with going forward, a God loving enough to give him Priscilla but uncaring enough to yank her away.
I would have given anything for Priscilla to still be alive, even if it meant my dad didn’t call me as much anymore. That was the extent of how much I loved him. As time passed and he began to heal, it always seemed like she was there and yet absent when I spent time with my dad. Priscilla changed him for better and worse. As much as I tried to help him, I couldn’t fill the hole in my father’s heart that Priscilla left behind. Part of him would always love her, and it almost seemed fitting to leave a space for her in our lives.
My father died in 2006. I visited him in the hospital right after he had open heart surgery along with the blood clot that would eventually kill him. He was delirious from the anesthesia and making no sense when he talked. The nurse assured me it was temporary and he’d be back to his old self.
“My wife is here,” my father told the nurse, pointing at me. “I want to go home with my wife.”
I didn’t correct him, hoping it comforted him to think Priscilla was by his side. His face was peaceful and relaxed when he finally went home to her a few days later, and I’m sure she was waiting for him with that wonderful smile of hers. Sometimes I imagine them both looking over me now, and it’s there that I find solace.