Metals are great conductors, capable of being molded into different shapes and wires, and tend to exist in a solid state in room temperature. Elementary concepts.
The real magic begins when you combine metals with other elements, creating alloys. Alloys are stronger, more lightweight, and are even capable of taking on new physical properties.
Over bites of warm arepas and cups of steamed milk and chocolate, I was introduced to a branch of alloys capable of "memory”. My overly-enthusiastic friend could barely keep down bites of his brunch, as he testified to the existence of such alloys. Leo and his wife, Lolo, had just attended a lecture, as a part of their honeymoon no less, where they witnessed a live demonstration of this astounding scientific phenomenon, and were eager evangelists. They pulled up a YouTube video, and watched in anticipation for my reaction, chairs pulled up close to the edge of the table.
We watched as a delicate spring made of nickel-titanium alloy returned to its original shape after being exposed to direct heat from a common hair dryer. Leo excitedly explained that shape memory alloys (SMAs) are capable of changing shape when altered to specific temperatures. When cooled, SMAs are perfectly malleable and can be shaped like any other metal. But heated, they are able to independently return to their original preset mold. SMAs are capable of “memory” due to their versatile crystalline structure, which clings to a set configuration that become ingrained on an atomic level.
Much like SMAs, traditions are carried on through memory making, memory retaining, and the passing down of inherent characteristics, crossing generations and traversing time. Traditions are set into us at an early stage of our lives, and sometimes, we spend a lifetime battling them. The women in my life are bound to persistent traditions- traditions that have the strength to bind, trap, and clasp them tight to the preset ideas of yore.
After recent excavations into the stories of mother’s youth, I’ve learned that our chemical compositions are markedly similar as well. We’re both drawn to people, to creative activities, to expression, and to exploration.
As a young woman, my mother, the youngest child, was given more liberty to try out her passions and interests. She dabbled in photography, poetry and writing stories, privileges that were foreign to her older sister. My mother dreamt of freedom and choices, of a world beyond the bounds of her life living in an apartment with her parents in Taipei. My mother recounts memories of her deep desire to leave her parent’s suffocating hold when she was younger, and how she welcomed the opportunity to marry my father and move to the United States. What she could never imagine, was the harshness in which she was treated by my paternal grandparents and the cage in which a traditional marriage kept her helpless.
The way I understand it:
Growing up, I saw these dynamics dominate and mold my mother. My mother should defer to the demands of my father and grandparents, and was expected to take on the work that they relegated to her, even with her physical disability. For over twenty-five years, my mother was subject to humiliation and a slew of verbal and physical punishments that bore traces of abuse for what my grandparents found to be her shortcomings, or for the parenting flaws that manifested in the action and choices of my siblings and I.
When I think of the fluidity and ease behind my decisions- to leave, to pursue, to try new things, I think often of my mother, of the mold she’s locked into, of her inability to escape her pre-set conditions. Sometimes, I wonder if she would ever leave. This past year, we spoke frankly about her situation. She called again, in tears, recounting every raised tone, of every dreaded moment of continued cohabitation with my grandparents, of feeling unsupported by my father. I repeated the same set of advice, reminding her of her love for teaching and connecting with new people, normalizing any desires to move out and start a new life. And just like our previous conversations, she spoke of leaving, of breaking from the mold that was so ingrained into her essence, but I could sense the fear in her voice.
“But what kind of mother would I be? What kind of wife?”
She is a metal, full of possibility. With married elements, she is an alloy, restrained by the preset mold of mother, of wife.