This story is by Mary Elizabeth Byrd and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My father’s mistress died today. She died alone, her brain scrambled from chemotherapy, not having heard my father’s voice in many years. Her Bobby had abandoned her, choosing instead to remarry my mother after chauffeuring her to his house from the airport on her way home from Thailand. My father and his mistress were still together on that ride home from the airport, still in love but living on opposite sides of the country. My mother simply needed a ride, and her ex-husband obliged, as obliging her had been in his blood since he was 17 years old. The mistress continued with her day, firmly secure in my father’s love, not knowing that his love had once again shifted away from her and back to his past. When he picked up my mother, he made a choice and took a different turn than the mistress expected. He remarried my mother that weekend, the mistress none the wiser until she found out from a Facebook post that she was no longer in love, no longer wanted. I imagine her scrolling, dimly registering what she saw, thinking it a prank or a cruel joke that she wasn’t in on. I know that she called my dad, again and again, every day for weeks, her panic rising with every voicemail message left until she knew it was real and that he had left. She kept his guitars and our family dog, holding her little body months later as she gave in to old age. My father didn’t answer a single call, ignored all her emails, and blocked all of her texts until she was forced to give up, moving on with the next best thing and finding an alternative happily ever after. Days turned into weeks, weeks into years until so much time had passed that my father had been remarried to my mother for a decade; half the time that he was married to my mother on their first trip around the sun. The mistress would still make herself known in conversations, especially those between a daughter and her new husband, the story told of the babysitter who became my father’s girlfriend. I would tell the story of how the mistress would wait our table at my father’s restaurant, laughing with my mother, knowing that she would take off her clothes for my father later that night. He simultaneously lived in our house and vacationed at hers for many years, eventually leaving my mother for the mistress. But history and finances would bring him back time and again, and he would ping pong between the two houses for many years before leaving my mother for good. When he left for the last time, my mother stopped sleeping, staying up for days on end, and driving around searching for the mistress. She knew who my dad had left her for, but now where she lived, and would drive herself mad trying to find out. I would have to talk my mother off the edge, convincing her to go home and sleep from 1,000 miles away. My brother and I only spent time with my father and the mistress once, an awkward encounter in her cluttered townhouse. She was the complete opposite of my father: she was a tough soul from Boston who smoked both cigarettes and pot, enjoyed every alcoholic drink, and was a hairdresser severely overweight. She had no kids of her own and showered us with gifts, a shallow attempt to buy our love. Our visit was an overnight stay, drawing out the unease and distrust between us. We tried for my father to have a good time, searching for anything that we had in common. My father was a different person with her than he was with my mom, and I realized that I no longer knew the man that raised me. We didn’t tell my mother where we were, afraid to hurt her feelings or confirm her worst fears: that she wasn’t enough, that she wasn’t wanted, that my father was gone for good, and that we had taken his side. Divorce at any age isn’t fun for a child, but emerging into adulthood watching your parent’s marriage implode is a special type of fun, one that I don’t recommend for anyone. My father continued living with his mistress, and my mother eventually moved on, selling our childhood home and bouncing between states. The first Christmas they were divorced, we spent Christmas Eve with my mother, who left on Christmas Day, trading my brother and me off to my father. On Christmas Day, my father drove down from the mountains where he had been with his mistress, spent an hour with us, and then went on his way. The mistress did not share, and the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. That was the last time I interacted with her, even if it was from afar. We all faked our way through the next couple of years, attempting to maintain the new status quo. Two months before my parents remarried, my mother decided that she would take a trip to Thailand to find herself. Engrossed in my own life, I wasn’t much involved in hers, and I didn’t pay attention to her comings and goings. After I became engaged to my own future ex-husband, I received a series of texts from my aunt, culminating in a picture of my parents exchanging vows for the second time in front of a justice of the peace. While still engaged to his mistress, my father had proposed to my mother, who accepted, and they found themselves again as husband and wife. The mistress too became engaged, as she had found herself a new Bobby, with his own kids and baggage. Her enjoyment of drinks crossed the line into alcoholism around the same time she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She fought as best she could, as her love of booze got the best of her, and her fiancé kicked her out. She was left alone in a trailer on the wrong side of town. The one phone call that my father did answer was from her mother, as she let my father know that his mistress was gone. A choice to return to her was probably always at the back of his mind, but this choice had now been taken from him. And there was my father, phone in hand, stuck between the happily ever after he chose and the one he threw away.