We haven’t met yet, but here is some general information in the meantime which I hope you will find useful: For the duration of your relationship with my father, you will be afforded only my basic courtesy. I will not offer my seal of approval right away, or ever. I will not talk you up when you leave the room. You will be denied all opportunities to prove yourself.

No amount of carefully planned (unforgettable) outings, thoughtfully selected (perfect) gifts, or blind agreement with my every (self-indulgent) position will alter the course of my treatment. To be clear: You will never get the acceptance you will soon find yourself desperately seeking from me.

I’m sure you’ve already noticed just how Apple-of-his-Eye I really am. The Holy Grail in the Stanley Cup he never won. Achilles, dangled from barbed-wire fingers by his heel. His one and only little girl – which means yes, the sun in his universe really does rise and set out of my perfect little ass. Every single day. And the closer you try to get, the hotter your skin will burn.
It won’t take you long to see I don’t think you’re right for him. You’ll tell yourself I’m not going to be a problem, but I’ll start keeping you up at night. My name will ring through your skull like the drone of a dental drill, burrowing cleanly underneath the placid bedrock of your self-confidence.

Before long you’ll realize you hate me, without rational explanation. You’ll barely recognize yourself and question all your motivations. You’ll never understand how I broke in and tossed the closets of your mind like a search warrant, because – let me guess – you have no kids (none of you ever do).

I have two words for you, but I can’t say them to your face: I’m sorry. I’m not doing any of this for kicks, to spite you, or stress you out – even though I could get away with all of that. I assure you I’m not cruel; there’s no pleasure in watching you squirm. It’s just that once upon a time, I fell harder than he did.

Somewhere between tee-ball and tampons we ran out of things to say. A girlfriend was like Google Translate, the jilted conversation began to flow. She was pretty, and super fun, and she got me in ways he never could – because she was female, surely so, but also more my age than his (just like you).

Before her, I had been content with Christmas Eves at our table in Tim Horton’s. But at twelve years old, the sight of her doting on my father made me feel like a child at last. My hungry lungs swelled as I broke the surface of my guilt: that tomorrow morning he’d wake up alone, in an apartment Santa Claus forgot. My shoulders uncurled, I felt the weight shifting off, because I wasn’t the only one who would notice if he stopped being okay.

She was a green line at the bottom of the screen, installing bug fixes and reformatting our corrupted data, rebooting us. The prospect of my father living a “proper” life, like the one I had at home with my mom, was too dazzling to drag my eyes from. My insides lit up like fireworks, the golden kind that keep exploding from themselves long after the initial blast, cascading showers of pixie dust across a New Moon sky.

Then they broke up. A replacement pageant followed, each contestant as lovely as the first. Ever eager to sweep away the terror caused by my initial presence, I purposely opened my heart to each of them right away. I switched out faces and names like spools of thread, weaving a wobbly hopeful hem along my shiny adolescent satin. Maybe this time. Maybe this will be it.

Then they broke up. Finally, the right one came along; I was more certain than ever. They lasted a long time, surpassing any of the others. They lasted long enough for me to admit out loud that it was really going to happen. Like, for real this time, guys. They lasted longer than brunch at a swanky restaurant and a Saturday afternoon shopping spree. Long enough to overhear the names he called her while she tried so hard not to listen and for landmines to start erupting from his phone, sending pulpy pieces of her flying while she pretended she didn’t notice.

They lasted long enough for the music to die out and my brain to throb with the relentless thump of double standards. Long enough for the lights to come on and lay bare her smiling head, speared on a stake of egregious expectations.

They lasted until the wind swirled strong enough to blow the cozy umbrella inside out, blurring adorable into idiot like mascara dribbling to the drain in runny black streaks. Long enough for me to lie awake beside a man of my own, holding a baby girl of my own. That was when the sour thoughts began curdling in my stomach like a night of too much liquor: That my father had already lived the life I wanted for him so badly, until he let it skitter down the street like a crumpled candy wrapper. That a dog with a taste for blood will always try again. That inside the iridescent bubble I’d blown, there was only enough air for one of them to survive. That, predestined as the kiss of Judas, I found myself hoping it would be her. Then they broke up. For the first time, my relief was greater than my grief.

So, with concentrated effort, I’ll be frigid and aloof. I won’t ask how you’re doing, I’ll show no interest in your life. It’s never going to matter how hard you try; it will hurt even more to watch how hard you try. For what it’s worth, I know I would like you if I could just give you a chance. And that’s the insoluble problem that I can only walk away from: I’ll get attached and you’ll be gone, or I’ll get attached and then you’ll stay.

With a fresh perspective, Rayna Malone lends a fearless and inspiring voice to children of divorce everywhere – no matter what their age.