Even at the age of ten, it was clear to me that my mother had lost her mind.
For a long time, I blamed the tent. It was medium-sized canvas, dark blue, and I’d just been told my mother and I were going to live in it. My mother did her best to make it sound exciting. She pointed out a corner of it that would be my “room” and sent me back to the trailer to get all my toys.
My father was in the trailer looking miserable. He wasn’t allowed to live in the tent. In fact, he was the reason the tent was propped up at all. Being ten years old, I thought it would be a great idea for all of us to live together in the tent, but my mother made it well known that my father was not invited.
My father would stay in the trailer by himself. There was no other place for him to go. About a year earlier, my mother bought the land where our trailer stood. We lived in Northern California and to me, it felt like she had picked the highest mountain she could find for our family and perched us atop it.
The scenery was beautiful with trees, lakes and little streams where I liked to play with my Barbies. The nearest neighbor was at least a mile away. There were no kids around anywhere, so I made due with books to feel connected to the world.
I was in the fourth grade, but I often didn’t make it to school. Whenever it rained, the road down the mountain would flood. Sometimes it rained for days and even weeks.
One day my mother gave me a blank journal to write in, and the heart of an author was born. I wrote an entire book in those pages called “The Richmonts.” It was about a super-rich family trying to get a bank loan for some reason. After I drew a picture on the cover and wrote the title, I gave the book to my father. He deserved a piece of my heart.
I didn’t think to ask why my dad couldn’t move into the tent. My heart went out to him the way it always did. I was a Daddy’s girl through and through to the dismay of my mother. None of the awful stuff my mom said about him ever stuck in my head. I believed he was the perfect daddy no matter what she told me.
My mother was sick of my father. That was obvious even at my tender age. She rolled her eyes at him and told me the alien in the credits of the Star Trek TV show looked just like him. We barely got an antenna signal, but my mother never missed that show. “Look, there’s your dad,” she’d cackle when the alien was on screen. I knew she wanted me to laugh with her, but my heart hardened more towards her every time she said it.
After I took the last load of my toys over to the tent, my mother came inside and zipped us in most of the way. She set up a small portable grill in our “kitchen.”
“Look,” she said with excitement, “we can even cook dinner in here.”
I watched my mom as she heated up the grill. The tent idea wasn’t as fun as it once seemed. I missed my dad, my bed in the storage part of our trailer, and my dog, Sabrina, who was a beautiful Boxer and the sweetest pet in the world. Was I really going to live my life in a sleeping bag down by the stream I played in?
My mother lit the grill, and within seconds smoke rushed up and filled the entire tent. My mom struggled to find the tent zipper. When she finally found it, we escaped and stood outside by the stream coughing our lungs out.
Once I composed myself, I gathered all the bravery I could muster and told my mother I was going back to the trailer. She stayed out there a little while longer, but she finally accepted defeat and followed me inside.
My father had surgery for cataracts on both eyes a few weeks later. My mother drove us down the mountain to the hospital, and she and I waited until we knew my dad was recovering well. The next day, my mother went into my father’s room by herself. My father told me much later what transpired, although his eyes had been blurry and he couldn’t see her facial expressions.
“Glenna and I are moving to New York to live with my parents,” she said to my father. “What are you going to do?”
My father promised to encourage me to move to New York with my mother. If he didn’t, she made it clear he’d have no place to live and nobody to help him after his surgery. He had no choice but to agree.
I was in my “storage” bed a few weeks later when my parents popped their heads in and said they wanted to talk. They were breaking up. There was no need for divorce since they were never married. My mother was simply moving to New York and taking me with her.
“What about me?” I cried.
Even at the age of ten, I thought the world revolved around me. How dare my parents not even consider me in all their plans?
“You need family,” my father told me. He was the only family I ever needed, the one who loved me unconditionally and played games with me and told silly jokes. I felt dark inside like grieving a death, and I felt resentment toward my mother that never quite went away. Why couldn’t she just love my father the way he wanted?
My mother sold the land and left the trailer and tent on top of the mountain. She also left beautiful Sabrina up there to fend for herself. My dad and I never forgave her for that. My father went to live in a nursing home, still unable to see clearly from the surgery. My young heart was broken beyond repair.
No matter the distance, my father and I had a relationship that transcended miles. My mother’s attempts to make me hate him only made me love him more. Not only did he fight his way back from severe depression over the breakup, but he also followed me to live in New York two years after my mother took me there. When she moved me to Florida a few years later, he followed me there, too.
He wanted to be part of my life despite the odds. For that, I’ll always be grateful. He was my family all by himself, and I couldn’t have loved him more.