The earliest memory I have is of the day you left. I was four.
It was nearly five years later before I saw you again. You never stayed long on the days you did show up. I don’t remember many of those days. But I do remember the days you weren’t there.
When I was nine, we were going to spend the weekend together. You went out to the bar and left me with a babysitter instead.
When I was 10, you were supposed to pick me up from my softball game. You never came.
At 11, you told me your fiance didn’t want me to come over.
You didn’t call me for three years.
At 14, you said you’d come to my eighth grade graduation because I was speaking. You didn’t show up.
After I turned 18, I moved into your house with the hopes that we could repair our broken relationship.
You went back on the road and I lived alone.
After I turned 21, I invited you to my wedding thinking you would be there like you were for your two other children. You chose not to come.
There’s a story I was told, one that I vaguely remember as a little girl.
We were at my stepdad’s house, and I knocked over my cup of milk on the table. Immediately, I burst into tears. When he asked my mom why I was crying over spilled milk, she said it was because you would have yelled at me for making a mess.
Still, I spent 20 years hoping and wishing that you would love me the way I deserved. I wasted two decades dreaming of a life that included you. I pushed my stepdad away, scared that a relationship with him would ruin any chance at one with you.
But I should have known better.
The times you thought you were fulfilling your duties were simply instances in which you attempted to buy my love. But a daughter’s love is more valuable than that. I gave it to the man who earned it, one who didn’t try to buy my love but was there when you weren’t.
When you didn’t pick me up from my softball game, he drove me home. Each time you left me staring out the front door waiting for you to pull into the driveway, he was there. Every time you stood me up, he was the one who watched my heart break.
During the years you never saw me, he took care of me every day.
He showed up to my eighth grade graduation. And he watched me walk across the stage when I graduated high school with honors. He taught me how to shoot a gun and how to bait a hook. And he drove me across the country for my first semester of college and told me he was proud of me. He walked me down the aisle and tells me he loves me every time I see him.
Last year was the most difficult year of my life.
You wouldn’t know anything about it because it’s been two years since we spoke last. I sank into a depression so deep, I never thought I would be able to climb out. He was the one who helped me find the strength to fight.
I could go on. I could tell you everything he’s done that you should’ve. And I could hurt you the way you hurt me every single day of my life since you left.
But I won’t.
Just as you don’t deserve my love, you don’t deserve any other piece of me. I will no longer allow you to hurt me by not being there, because this time you won’t be there by my choice.
I was a freshman in high school when I chose to spend my entire spring break with you. Every night, you chose alcohol over me. I sat at the house alone. Grandma had passed earlier that year; Grandpa was in Michigan. When we ran out of milk, and you promised to stop for some on your way home. At 2 a.m. you stumbled through the door drunk, and I pretended to be asleep when you came in to tell me goodnight with poison on your breath. In the morning, I poured a bowl of cereal.
You forgot the milk.