Holy crap. If my mom never left my dad when I was 3-years-old, I would’ve been inhaling second hand smoke every day of my childhood. My dad is, or actually was, a smoker. I think he quit a few years ago. I’m not sure. Anyway, my dad was one of those chain smokers who smoked to the point where his lips were permanently discolored. I remember after every custodial visit, my hair, my body, my clothes would all wreak of smoke. It was the most disgusting thing. I wouldn’t know how I’d deal with that if it was a part of my current every day. To this day, I won’t be your friend if I know you are a smoker.
Not only was he a smoker, he also gambled. A lot. To the point where he was losing most of my family’s savings. I recall from the few occasions that my sister and I would visit our dad, he’d bring us to gambling halls. We’d be bored so we’d use the mahjong tiles as blocks to build castles and houses and villages and make up stories for the worlds we created while our dad ignored us to play with the other adults. If my mom never left my dad, I’d have to assume a poker face and not cringe every time friends ask me to play cards or mahjong.
Not only was he a smoker and a gambler, but he was also an abusive husband. He’d come home after a long day of losing money from gambling and beat my mom till her face and body was black and blue. I was too young to remember those incidents, but I’d hear stories from my older sister and other family members. My mom never spoke about it. I do have fuzzy memories of one night, though. My sister and I were woken up by a loud noise from the kitchen. My sister forbade me to leave our bedroom and we just hugged each other and cried, not knowing what to do. Our bedroom had a window that faced the street and I remember seeing a blur of flashing red lights. Maybe they weren’t red, but they were definitely flashing. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that my mom had probably called the cops on my dad. If my mom never left my dad, I probably would’ve witnessed some of those beatings and be able to remember them.
I would’ve grown up in a totally different home. In my sister life, my mom would’ve been wearing sunglasses all the time to cover her black eyes. Social workers would’ve been trying to reach out to her and I’d remember them as aunties and uncles who gave out candies and stickers.
In my sister life, my sister and I would’ve banded together and used every ounce of our energy to help protect our mom and convince her to leave. For some reason, she’d still decide to stay, and I’d continue having a depressing childhood.
I never would have been able to live my own life. All of my life choices would’ve been tainted by the responsibility I felt towards making sure my mom was safe. My dreams and aspirations would’ve been different. I would’ve chosen a profession that was lucrative so that I could buy a new home for just me, my sister and my mom. Instead, I’m an artist who just moved to California, knowing my mom is safe and well in New York. This is a path I would not have had the privilege to explore in my sister life.