Grandmother believed in Quan Yin, a Chinese goddess of mercy often associated with compassion and kindness. She was deeply believed in Quan Yin, and all she prayed for was we as a family would be in good health. I often think my grandmother deserved a gold medal for her true love. Her educational level was like a fifth grader but she never gave up on keep learning. She studied on her own for writing most of the Chinese characters and can read a newspaper. Cantonese wasn’t her native language but she self-taught that and speak fluently. When I was in kindergarten I taught her English alphabet and simple words. We learned together and had fun. She would put the pronunciations of the English words in Chinese next to it and memorized them. She understands simple phrases like ‘How are you?’ or ‘Thank you’. I was so amazed by she kept on trying and never gave up attitude. She influenced me to become a person who would not give up in any tough situations. Grandmother is the humblest person I’ve ever known; it feels like she would take all these negative energies within and transform them into positive true love to share. I feel so lucky that she was in part of my life growing up. I have a special spot in my heart just for her.
Grandmother loved planting flower and especially Matthiola incana in purple color. I remembered her joyful peaceful smile when her flowers are blooming every spring. She loved nurturing flowers and treated brother and I like the most precious jewels.
We weren’t special snowflakes though; we tried to be normal when we grew up. I was putting a lot of pressure on my own to make sure nobody knows the truth. Mother and dad divorced when I was two. The first memory I recall is the question of ‘do you want to follow dad or follow mom?’ Grandmother kept asking my two-year-old self repeatedly. The court trial lasted for a while, and I imagined I was prepared to face the court one day and tell the truth. I ended up figuring it all out. I will choose my only and older brother to follow. He can play with me, eat snacks together, and can draw pretty anime characters. I was so young, but I remember the first choice I made ever in my life.
There used to be four of us living together, the grandmother from my dad’s side, mother, dad, older brother and me. I didn’t know much about why our mother left us one night and never came back; until I was a young adult, around 18 years old, brother tired of me keep asking the same old question and thought I am old enough to handle the truth of why they divorced. I was never ready. Thirty years passed by, this truth became a little blackhole I kept within and still makes me sad time to time.
After mother left us, my older brother was seven, and I was two. I didn’t know much about how brutal the truth was or how much suffering from my father and grandmother in mental illness. Just like many other 1% of the family who lived with mental illness in Hong Kong, China. We were taboo to talk about our family’s mental illness to other people and kept it to ourselves. Luckily we have the grandmother who took us in and supported each other. She became our mother figure. Grandmother’s kindness ended up giving me the strength to grow up to become a tough girl who has soft kindness heart, as she wanted me to be.
The childhood world I have was relativity small. It was just 4 of us, dad, grandmother, brother and I. No more and no less. I am grateful that we survived. First, there were no relatives care about us or visit us after they found out my dad and grandmother suffered from schizophrenia. We were the ‘messed-up family’ and the relatives knew the mental disorder so they all decided to cut the thread. The reality was brutal. I felt horrible and often curse them to go to hell in my heart when I was little.
Moreover, I went to private grade school and often got bullied because my parents divorced. In Hong Kong 1980s, divorce is a taboo to talk about, don’t even think about spoke about mental illness publicly. I had that black veil named mental disorder covered on my body and suffered within silently. People scared of us when one time I told one classmate the truth and he told his parents and that was the last time he spoke to me. Neighbor hates us and teachers didn’t want to deal with the troubled student. As soon as I didn’t make a scene at school I survived well but my heart, my inner self often holds the anger toward the cold society I once part of.
Mother didn’t show up often to visit us, I was ‘motherless’, someone from school once nicked name me. That triggered the anger within me so I pushed him to ground, and saying ‘how rude you are’. Ended up dad and I sitting in front of my third-grade teacher, I was in deep trouble and being accused I started a fight. In front of my teacher, Dad has to admit that our family is falling apart for a while now. Then I realized what I’ve done to my dad, SHIT! Dad’s dignity shattered and this time it was my fault!
Dad was damn right, ‘lie about your mother and the divorce was the way to survive so nobody knows your weakness —your family background.’ I shattered dad’s dignity and I knew it must be super painful for him to admit the truth to my teacher.
We walked home without a word.