It started in a bar on second street in Long Beach, California. She was panting over her salted margarita after dancing her heart away to Madonna and The B-52's. He spied her as soon as she walked in, and before you knew it, my parents were engaged. They spent their days traveling and their nights giggling together as they watched Bevis and Butthead for the thousandth time. They were both normally free birds—not typically the types to settle down with a few kids in matching sweaters for their annual Christmas cards. It was a regular night in, for the two. He paced back and forth, going to the bathroom, coming back, and repeating. When my bold mother asked what was going on, he said "I wanna marry you, okay?!" No grandiose gesture, no surplus of rose petals, no fluff. It was true love.
Fast forward to years later: if it was true love, then why was I dancing with my uncle at the father-daughter dances. If that spark they felt in that bar was real, why was my mother the one giving me the final look of approval before I went on my way? If she "really did love him," why did my father spend his days couch surfing and wandering the streets before he passed that cold December day 6 years ago? It's because she tried, and the inevitable outcome prevailed: a relationship is not rehab.
Criticism and outrage can be expected when a couple in the public eye splits, especially if they are as adored as the now late Mac Miller and Ariana Grande were. The most important note to recognize though is we spend every day listening to their music, keeping up with their lives, and idolizing from afar, we only know what we are allowed to witness. Miller was losing his battle with addiction. We knew of his struggles because he communicated them to us so poetically in his work. He created something so beautiful out of his addiction that it blinded us to the ugliness of substance dependency. Before any commentary can be concluded on these two individuals, we must understand that while we may feel we know them inside and out, we only know a fraction of their lives.
When the news broke that the Swimming rapper passed away at only 26 years old, my body immediately felt numb. My legs weakened, my heart dropped, and my eyes inevitably welled with tears. I never went to his shows. I loved a handful of his songs, but the majority, I never heard. I appreciated him as an artist, but I would not call myself a huge fan. I cried hard because I felt as though I knew the MC through my own father.
Addictions are perplexing. How can you love someone that scares you, abandons you, and teaches you the truth depth of what it means to have trust issues from the young age of nine? When facing a loved one with addiction, you realize your love for them allows you to look past their demons. It is almost as if they are wearing a mask. My mother and I loved my father so much, and still do dearly. Every Thanksgiving, I cry thinking about the fact that I spent that holiday with family, while he spent it dying in a hospital and yet, we had no idea. For all my life, I loved my dad with my entire being, but just as my mom did, I picked up the phone and told him I could never see him again.
So, that's it? We just gave up on him? We recognized that as much as we loved my father, his addiction was too powerful for us to combat. It took me years to understand why my mother did what she needed to do, but after years of heartache, I understood. I realized that if any single person could have been "enough" to cure him, it would have been me. He's dead now. One of the most difficult things for me to overcome in my life was the constant flooding of "what if's?" What if I tried harder? What if the woman I am now could have done something? It took about a decade, but I finally realized the only person who can cure an addiction is the addict themselves.
I write this in defense of Ariana Grande, not because I love her music or am biased because she's a woman, just like me. In Ariana Grande, I see my mother. When the news broke about Ariana Grande and Mac Miller splitting up, a wave of outrage and criticism towards the "Thank U, Next" singer overcame platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. One Miller fan tweeted,
"Mac Miller Totaling his G wagon and getting a DUI after Ariana Grande dumped him for another dude after he poured his heart out on a ten song album to her called the divine feminine is just the most heartbreaking thing happening in Hollywood" -@FlintElijah
This tweet was the last straw for Grande. In response to this claim she tweeted a screenshot of an iPhone note stating,
"how absurd that you minimize female self-respect and self-worth by saying someone should stay in a toxic relationship because he wrote an album about them, which btw isn't the case (just Cinderella is ab me). [...] I have care for him and tried to support his sobriety & prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming / blaming women for a man's inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem." -@ArianaGrande.
Many people that have not had the heartbreaking misfortune to have a loved one fall victim to addiction would not understand Grande's choice to leave Miller. After reading Grande's statement, I supported her without a shadow of a doubt. Because I watched my mother be the woman Ariana Grande is criticized for not being. My mother looked my father's demon in the eyes and sealed their "I dos" with a kiss. She did what every Miller fan wanted Grande to do, she stayed with him and committed her life to fixing him. My mother trying to cure my father's alcoholism is the foundation of my creation. I am here because she tried with all her might. I can't ride a bike at 20 years old. I can't walk down the aisle with my father. I can't catch a ball. I can't drive stick. I can't because relationships are not rehab. I can't because my mom tried, but she was destined to lose. Though I love and appreciate my mother for trying so hard with my father, I would not wish the years of distress and trauma she endured on anyone else.
Ariana Grande's statement hit home for me. Everything she stated in that tweet is everything my mother and I felt when we came to the gut-wrenching realization that we could no longer be a part of my father's life. Since reading that tweet, I have felt the utmost respect for Grande. It takes strength to to be with an addict, but it takes even more to walk away from one. Following their split, Ariana Grande moved on and quickly became engaged to Pete Davidson. I understand that she moved on. My mother moved on. As members of the audience, we must recognize that there is more than what meets the public eye. I do not know everything about Ariana. I am not as big of a fan of Mac as you are. But if there is one thing my creation and family trauma has taught me, it's that relationships are not rehab. It is food for thought that is difficult to digest, but no one could cure Mac. He was truly cursed with demons he did not deserve. As fans, your love could not cure him. As a lover, Ariana could not cure him. As one single human being doing all he could, Mac could not cure him.
In terms of mental health as a whole, we have this funny reflex of searching for a single source of blame. Depression is because you're "sad" about your "break-up," and so on. In this sense, we as an audience were so broken about Mac, we looked to Ariana Grande to feel like we could make sense of all of this. Every headline about Mac was followed up by Grande's name. Headlines even went as far as referring to the rapper as "Ariana Grande's Ex-Boyfriend." Fans were outraged by this wave of publicity for Grande and since, have been criticizing her for utilizing this tragic event to boost record sales and fame. While this may seem like a celebrity news story everyone is just too invested in, it speaks volumes to how we handle mental health as a whole.
While the world harassed Ariana Grande for leaving Mac, no one bothered to question his experience with rehabilitation services. I wish my mother loving my father would have done the trick. If anyone understands how you feel as an upset fan, it's me. Grief changes us. Ariana Grande was closer to Mac than any of us. Just as Mac wrote about his addiction, Grande is utilizing her gift of music to honor her late love. Stepping away from an addict is not a choice of giving up, it is a decision made for the best interest of both of you. Their relationship could not serve as rehab, but their relationship was real.