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“Marisol, come inside. Now,” my nanny, Hanna, scolded me from the front porch. She, too, was mad at my dad. Not just because he’d loaded up his Jaguar convertible with suitcases without offering me so much as an explanation, but because in leaving my mother, he was also leaving her, and she’d had big plans on being the new Mrs. Vargas.
Too bad for Hanna. My father had bigger plans. And those plans didn’t include his self-obsessed wife, the nanny he’d been boinking for a year, or his daughter.
“No!” I bellowed—I was a screamer, a trait nobody who knew me enjoyed—running down the stairs to the circle drive in front of our palatial house. My father was just starting the engine on his dark green car. “Daddy, wait!”
He either didn’t hear over the sound of purring motor, or he was ignoring me He slid his aviator sunglasses onto his tanned face with the casual ease of a man leaving to play golf with his buddies. Except that he was abandoning his family for a life of less responsibility and more excitement in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The car started to roll forward, and I pawed at the shiny green metal with my hands. “No! Daddy, no!” I cried, stumbling in my bare feet. The cement was hot in the southern California sun, and it burned my soles. “Wait!”
He hit the brakes, and the jaguar screeched to a halt. “Marisol? What the hell are you doing?”
“We haven’t played with the kitty yet.” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand, and limped to the driver’s side. “You said we’d play with her. You promised.”
My father took his sunglasses off and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “No. I said you could play with her. You, Marisol. I’ve got to go”
He’d not yet said so, but I knew he was leaving for good. “Take me with you,” I begged. “I’ll bring the kitty, and we can all go on vacation.”
“I’m not going on vacation.” His mouth pulled into a line. “And you’re not coming with me.”
Tears rolled down my face, and my nose was running. But I didn’t care. “Why not?”
“Because your place is here with your mother.” He glanced in the rear view mirror. “She needs you. She’s sad.”
My mother wasn’t home. She’d gone to a spa for the weekend with her friend, and I’d heard her telling Hanna she’d never been happier. “She’s not sad, Daddy. But she’ll be mad when she comes home and finds out you left.”
Even at seven years old, I’d been acutely aware that my mother had better things to do than raise a child. Especially one who’d given her stretch marks that had to be surgically corrected. That’s why Hanna was there to take care of me.
“Come back inside,” I pleaded, tugging on the door handle. It was locked. “We can play with the kitty, and then you and Hanna can go swimming in the hot tub again. I’ll be a good girl, and go watch TV.”
My dad winced. “I don’t want to swim with Hanna anymore.”
I looked over my shoulder at my nanny, who was glowering at him with her arms folded across her chest. “Then you can give her the day off, Daddy. Come back inside. We still need to name the kitty. I vote Puffy. Or Sparkles. What do you want to call her?”
He laughed, and for a millisecond, I thought things were looking up.
“Freedom.” He slid the glasses back onto his face. “I want to call her Freedom.”
“That’s a silly name, Daddy.” I smiled, even though I could feel something bad looming. “Can you come inside now? P-please?”
He shook his head. “No, baby. Not this time.”
“Can I go with you?” My voice got higher. “I can pack super fast.”
“They don’t let kids come to Fort Lauderdale, Marisol.” His voice was low, resigned. And I knew his mind was made up. “It’s a grown up city.”
I thought about what it would be like when Mom got home, and it was just her and me in the giant house. She was going to be annoyed with me, so much more so than she already was. The only time we were ever together was when we had company over and I needed to come down in a pretty dress for everyone to see. At least when my dad was around, he noticed me. Sure, most of the time, it was to tell me not to leave my toys around, or that I needed to be quiet because I was giving him a splitting headache. But being noticed and getting hollered at was way better than being ignored all the time.
“I don’t want to be alone.” It was all I could think of to say. “If you leave, nobody will talk to me.”
“Go let Hanna take care of you. She’ll make you some chocolate milk.” Dad threw a glance in his rearview mirror. “I gave her a big, fat bonus check, so she’s not going anywhere.”
“I gotta go, Marisol.” He put the jaguar in gear. “Back away from the car.”
“Please don’t go.” I wept, snot creeping out of my nose. “Please don’t leave me.”
He grimaced at me. “Pull yourself together. You’re face is a mess.”
“I love you, Daddy.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I felt embarrassed. We didn’t talk like that in our family. Mushiness like that only existed on television shows like the one mom used to be on. Squaring my shoulders, I said it again. “I said, I love you, Daddy.”
He sighed. It was a long, drawn-out, irritated sigh that was almost drowned out by the purring car engine. I waited for him to say it back. For my dad to tell me that he loved me too, and that he would send for me as soon as he got settled in Florida. Maybe even a kiss or a hug, to top things off.
But alas…Carlos Vargas didn’t do emotion.
“Go tell Hanna to wipe your face, Marisol. Nobody wants to look at an ugly little girl with snot on her face.”
And with that, he peeled away from me, spitting a hot burst of exhaust out of the tailpipe, and leaving me standing in the sun alone.
I stood there crying for what felt like forever. Hanna didn’t come to get me, or to wipe my face or make me chocolate milk like my dad had promised. I stood there until my mother’s car rolled into the driveway, and she emerged looking refreshed and shiny from her time at the spa. She’d taken me by the hand and walked me into the house, through the living room, and into the oversized kitchen, where I’d promptly been passed off on Imogene, the cook. Hanna gave her notice later that night, and I’d gotten a new nanny, Sara, the next day.
Freedom and I spent all of our time together after that, clear until I ran off to college in Washington state, where I’d not been allowed pets in University housing. By that time, Freedom was arthritic and barely mobile, which is why she’d drowned when she’d been pushed into the pool water with the end of a ladder.
I’d cried for days.
It was only the second time since my dad left.