My mother grew up while her mother battled depression. There was constant fighting, yelling, crying and self-loathing. Her mother so desperately wanted to be better but didn’t even know what was wrong.
And through it all, she saw her father by her mother’s side. She saw a man so enamored with his wife he would do anything to help her.
And she saw them overcome.
You see, my grandfather has always been deeply, madly, truly in love with my grandmother. When they were teenagers, he would call her just to show her songs on the radio he liked. He didn’t have much to say, was never really one for conversation, but he wanted to be around her whenever he could.
When he realized that he wasn’t just drinking “sometimes,” and that it made his beloved uncomfortable, he stopped. When he went to college and learned English, all he would think about was providing for her and their kids.
And when she was diagnosed with clinical depression, he went to the public library and read as many books as he could about depression so he could be a better husband for her. He would tell her later that he was trying his best to understand, and that he would do anything for her.
My mother grew up watching these two people, each with their own flaws, learning how to grow with each other. Even though there were so many chances to grow apart and harbor resentment, they never did. My grandfather never stopped looking at her with hearts in his eyes, and my grandmother never let anyone speak ill about her husband.
When I hear stories of my mother as a teenager, after growing up in this household full of triumph and love, it feels like I’m being told about an entirely different person. The stories sound closer to fiction than fact.
My mother got tattoos behind her parents back. A treble clef on her toe, theater masks on her pelvis and a dolphin on her hip before she was caught; they were symbols of her passion. She had piercings and went to parties, snuck out of the house and lived as if there was no tomorrow.
My mother once kissed her boyfriend after he smoked a cigarette and broke up with him right after because she hated the way he tasted so much. She told him never to kiss her after smoking, and when he disregarded that she never spoke to him again.
My father is not like my grandfather. There is no exceptional romance story for him to boast about. There’s hardly anything for him to boast about at all. In all honesty, I think my mother would have bullied my father in high school.
When I look at my father, I don’t see a man that’s called his wife just to play her songs. I don’t see a man that would change his way of life for her. I don’t even see a man that would care to learn about the things my mother struggles with.
When I look at him, I see a man who called the dolphin tattoo on my mother’s hip ugly so many times that she went into a tattoo parlor and had it changed. I see a man that has turned my mother from a loud and unapologetic woman into a mouse. I see the reason why hearing about my mother’s teenage years is so foreign.
And I see my mother, and I wonder what she could have been had she not settled for my father.