Although my depression started after my mom’s death, it was not fueled by grief. My mom and I were never close, although I was closer to her than my other relatives. What activated my depression was the realization that my mom’s life had been unfulfilled for her. As I stood amid the few people who came to my mom’s funeral, I could recall only a few moments when she was happy. Instead of pity, my heart filled with fear that I would end up like her, living a despondent life that was futile and unhappy.
My earliest memory is one of my parents fighting. They stood in the diagonal corners of the dining room screaming at each other.
“I can’t trust you to do anything” my dad roars, “you’re completely worthless.”
“And all you ever do is insult me.”
“I ask you to do one thing and you screw it up.”
“I break a dish, and you act like I burned down the house.”
“It’s a miracle that hasn’t happened yet.”
My parents continue screaming at each other, while Mark and I sit on the couch, holding our hands against our ears.
My dad is against physical violence. Growing up, Mark and I were the only children of our generation who did not get spanked. However, my father is a veteran of verbal violence. His words are bullets, and he always fires them with precise range, hitting Mom, Mark, and I in our most vulnerable places, and leaving scars that last longer than physical ones. During my childhood, my mom used to fight back with guns of her own, although her ammunition was less painful and precise. As I got older, my mom stopped fighting back, and when my father started his verbal abuse, she would hide behind a worn out shield, waiting for the attack to be over.
My parents got married when my mom was eighteen, and my dad was twenty-eight. He was already working as a doctor, and a couple of years after the marriage, my mom got a job as a paralegal. My mom gave birth to Mark when she was nineteen, and I was born two years later. It was no secret who wore the pants in my family. My dad made all the decisions, and my mom never opposed them, no matter how unfair or unjust they were. I remember on prom night my dad enforced an 11 pm curfew, even though the dance started at 10 pm. I remember pleading with my mom to take my side, but she just replied wearily “your father knows best.”
My dad was a strict parent, although with Mark the rules were laxer, and he was more willing to bend them. I had homework time, phone time, and a ridiculously early curfew. If I broke the rules, my punishment always included at least a month of house arrest. If Mark caught me breaking a rule, he would exaggerate the story to my dad, and would not be satisfied until I was severely disciplined. I always resented my brother’s actions, because unlike my dad who truly believed his rules would benefit me in the future, my brother’s strictness came from malice.
The day I left for college, my parents had driven me to the airport, and my dad was giving me plenty of last-minute advice. “There is no such thing as studying too much, don’t party, don’t trust men, don’t drink, don’t eat too much or you’ll get the freshman fifteen, and get plenty of sleep. Don’t become an insomniac like your mom.” “Mom is an insomniac?” I asked surprised. “Yeah, your mom doesn’t sleep most nights. That’s how I knew you never snuck out of the house, because every night she’d wake up around three, and couldn’t go back to sleep until the sun came out.” I remembered all the times I’d come home at four in the morning, although I tried to do it quietly, I made enough noise for an awake person to hear. I looked in the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of my mom’s face, and I’m not sure what I wanted to see there, but her face only showed the expected sadness of a mother about to become an owner of an empty nest. I wished I could thank her for never turning me in, but my mom and I did not have that kind of relationship.
My mom’s life was a complete mystery to me. It’s not that I was particularly fluent in my dad’s life, but I knew certain facts. Although my dad rarely talked about the past, sometimes little tidbits would slip out. I knew my dad had been in boy scouts, I knew he had the same best friend since he was six, I knew various stories from his days in medical school, and I knew my dad collected rocks as a kid. From my grandparents I knew that my dad had wrecked his first car after only a month of driving it, that he had been scared to death of Santa, and before my mom he dated a red-headed lawyer for two years. However; when it came to my mom’s life, I knew nothing. I didn’t know any of my mom’s relatives, I didn’t know where she had gone to school or who her friends were before my dad, I had no idea how my parents met or when my dad popped the question, and I often felt that mom’s life began the day she married my dad. Whenever I asked my mom about her life, she always told me to leave her alone. “Stop pestering your mother”, my dad would always add. During the few moments in my life when Mark and I got along, I asked him if he didn’t think it’s strange that we knew nothing about our mom. “Yeah, it’s a little strange, but why do you care so much. The past is the past, it doesn’t matter.”
When I was ten, I spent hours pestering my grandma for information about my other grandparents, and finally she informed me that my mom had been in and out of foster homes since she was twelve.” Your mom had a really bad life before she met your dad, it’s a good thing Jake married her and rescued her from it.” That had been all the information I had been able to get out of her, but the way she emphasized my dad rescuing my mom, led me to a better understanding of my dad’s treatment towards her.
When I was fifteen we moved to a new house, and for the first couple of weeks it had been cluttered with boxes. One day I noticed a doll in a funky rainbow dress sticking out of a cardboard box. I walked over to examine it, and I found the box to be filled with objects I’ve never seen. There was a little wooden jewelry box, a Beatles t-shirt, a small bag of different colored seashells, and at the bottom was a thick black leather book. I opened the book, and the first page had a photo of three fifteen year old girls posing in fancy dresses. As I got a closer look at the photo, I realized the girl in the middle was my mom. I slowly turned the page, only to find another photo of my mom, this time she was in a back yard playing with a dog. I continued turning each page, while cautiously eyeing my mom, who sat on the couch watching TV. I was afraid she would notice me glimpsing through her scrapbook, and that she would take away my treasure. Each page filled me with more exhilaration, as I leafed though the moments of her life. The photos in the book included a photo of her standing next to a little blonde boy, a photo of her leaning against a tree, numerous baby photos, a photo of her standing next an old lady, and an eighth grade class picture. As exciting as it had been to look through my mom’s scrapbook, I realized that this book resembled a foreign film without subtitles, because none of the photos had any captions under them. Finally I reached the last page, but there was no photo on it. Instead there were twenty rose petals taped down in no particular design. My curiosity got the best of me, and I walked over to my mom and asked “what’s this?” My mom looked at what I was holding and replied “you’ve never seen rose petals before”, her voice was sarcastic, but her tone was kind.
“Did dad give these to you?”
“Than, who did?”
“Nobody important, just a friend.” My mom turned her attention back to the TV, but she was smiling and her eyes were sparkling.
My mom died of an aneurism in her sleep. At her funeral I stood amid the flowers, and I remembered the rose petals. I imagined her getting the bouquet of roses, taking the most beautiful and radiant rose, and giving it an early death to preserve it for eternity. Sometimes I imagine another scenario, where my mom keeps all the roses in the vase, watching them wilt with time, and when only one rose remains, that’s the one she puts in her scrapbook. No matter which method she chose, I enjoy imagining that the rose she picked, was more superior to other roses.
I also enjoy envisaging the person who gave her this rose. I like to pretend that he had been her soul mate, but life separated them. Perhaps he had to leave on a secret mission to Africa to save children, and my mom thought he was dead, so she ended up marrying my dad. Perhaps he did die, and my mom secretly mourned the loss of her soul mate. Perhaps, and this is my least favorite scenario, they broke up because of some foolish reasons, and my mom spent her life regretting it.
Of course there is a chance that all my scenarios are wrong. The rose could have been given to her by a girlfriend or an insignificant date, and she just happened to save it in the scrapbook because she thought it was pretty. But I like to imagine that it was given to her by someone special, because I want to believe that somewhere in her bad life, there had been a person that made her blissful.