My grandparents have been married for over 70 years. Technically, my grandpa (or Gong-Gong) passed away about 24 years ago, but they’re still married. I’ve encouraged her to hit up the geriatric dating scene. But, “Gong-Gong and I will reunite in the after life,” Po-Po insists. Theirs was true love. Not the foggy-brained, dewy eyed, passionate kind of love that dissolves into deceitful, late night Tinder rabbit holes, but a partnership that’s weathered life’s unexpected tragedies. Shortly after Gong-Gong’s death, I awoke to Po-Po weeping in the corner of her bedroom. I felt it necessary to console her as best as a six year old possibly could. By asking a ton of questions. “What’s wrong, Po-Po?” I asked.
“Nothing. I’m just sad. But it’ll be ok,” Po-Po responded, trying to stifle her tears. The sun was rising and a soft glow crept through the window blinds. Her eyes looked so heartbreakingly sad.
But I obnoxiously pressed on. “What are you thinking about?”
“Oh, just about your Gong-Gong. I’m thinking about how we had no choice but to leave our families in China during the war. Just the two of us in Taiwan. He was the only family I had.”
With that, she put me back to bed. And slept next to me. Po-Po wasn’t much of a hugger back in the day, but we cuddled that night. Over the years, Po-Po has taken widowhood in stride. She’s taken Eat Pray Love excursions around the world, alone. Her new favorite pastime is hitting the slot machines at the casinos. She’s at peace with the idea of death, I think. She knows she’s got family waiting for her on the other side.
Marital bliss wasn’t exactly in the cards for my own parents. They were faced with their own hardships, while not exactly war, but the stuff good soap operas are made of: infidelity, alcoholism, and explosive arguments. After my parents separated, Po-Po would encourage my mom to work things out. Naturally, I resented her cup-half-full approach.
“But why Po-Po? Has he not done enough damage to our family already?” I’d protest. Her rationale – “He’s still your father. Plus, they’ve come this far in their relationship. They have you. Anyway, what’s he doing for Thanksgiving?” I scoffed at what I dismissed as old-fashioned backwardness. Had my mother not endured enough? Staying equalled weakness. Leaving meant freedom. I vowed always to leave a bad situation and not look back. Make like a tree. And leave.
The dissolution of my parents’ marriage fed into my misgivings about love relationships. In a relationship, I’m the one who runs away. This applies to most things in my life. When things get tough, I put on my tough girl face and peace out.
But recently, I was in a romantic predicament that challenged my previous notion of what it means to be strong, and what it means to have a choice. I never thought I’d choose to stay. Never having understood why Po-Po would want my parents to reconcile, I realized, when faced with my own tough decisions, that she was viewing the situation through her own lens. She and Gong-Gong had no choice but to make the most of what they had, which was each other. Meanwhile, my mom also did the best she could. She fell in love with a smooth talkin’, mapo cookin’, leather jacket-wearin’ Chinese lothario. Then they had a kid (me). She wasn’t weak for staying. She was strong for choosing to stay. And even stronger when she decided finally, to leave.
“You know, I’m pretty happy I married your dad,” my mom mentioned to me recently, to my disbelief. “We had you.” Damn. Choices.