Grandpa’s Mug

In Life on July 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Maybe, sometimes, falling apart is the best we can do.

I fell apart once, five years ago, the summer after my freshman year at college.  I came home, unpacked my bags, and crawled into bed.

It had been building for some time.  Throughout previous years, I had become increasingly nervous talking in groups, expressing myself, and generally being around people.  I was still performing and debating, dancing frenetically and bathing in the end of childhood (a long one that still shows up on my shores in low tide).  I don’t know why I started to feel so anxious.  I am not a particularly shy person.  I thrive off of others, need others to surround me and catcall and whollop and whisper in aid as I explore myself and the world.

But that summer, talking to a family friend one night, I panicked; I felt trapped and nervous and I was so mortified of how it showed.  The world had put a spotlight on my shaky voice and tremorous chin.  And I thought the best way to overcome it was to punish it out of me.

So when I crawled into bed and woke up feeling awful every day (what are our days when the night cannot erase all sorrow?), I felt this drastic disconnect with whom I had been and whom I now saw in the mirror.

I write about my pain because even in the midst of it, I clung to the writer in me.  I found whatever identity I had that could create and told myself I could use the pain to someday make something good.  I couldn’t, I really couldn’t, see myself ever feeling good again, but I told myself the little lies.  They were pretty.  And they weren’t lies.

I realize now, I didn’t need to be a writer to find something rewarding in struggling.  I didn’t need to be anything but what I am and always have been.  A person.  “We are all people,” goes the Sesame Street refrain.  It seems funny to echo something so obvious, but isn’t it the obvious stuff we end up taking for granted?

We are people.  We are here to share with each other, so that is why I share now.  What we create from pain is a time machine to the edges of the beds of our former selves; there we lie and here we sit, leaning over to caress our heavy heads, offering ourselves the loving and understanding of which we felt so unworthy.  I feel no shame, but only tenderness for this delicate glass bird of my history.  It allows me to pluck it down from some far branches of my tree (and not all days, some days it squawks right near my ear).  Whatever the distance, it allows me to take it out and show it to you.

I write this note with a few people in mind.  And you are people I love so much and want to be happy.  It’s easy to hate you for your unhappiness, your weakness, your most delicate aspects.  I am tempted to do so.  But I must remember the care I needed to learn to lavish upon myself.  It was harder, yet ultimately more rewarding to be kind to myself.  For, lacking empathy only perpetuated pain.  I see now that responding harshly to my problem was what perpetuated and even created it.  Let us remain our best selves when we are at our worst.  Let us love ourselves for our faults.  Let us understand that there is nothing as easy as an end.

Maybe, sometimes, falling apart is the best we can do.  “If it breaks, we’ll have the pieces.”*

*I stood over my grandfather’s old mug some years ago, washing it in the kitchen sink.  He was gone, but when I closed my eyes, I could see him sitting at the table, fingers looped carelessly around the handle, milky eyes and bushy eyebrows zeroed in on the morning paper.  In the kitchen of my college apartment, Alex and Kate are in another room, and I am standing at the end of our senior year together over this mug that I had packed and held on my lap and moved up the very first day.  I never said anything, but I almost forbid them from using it; that first day, I brought it out to show them, to admonish before any cracks had been made.  But these are girls I love, so grandpa’s mug got to know their hands, too.  And now, months later it was still with us, bathing in soap, until right then, like a gasp or a warm cloak or however the truth feels when it throws out all the metaphors and meager approximations we spend years chasing it with so that it may finally assume us as we have tried to assume it, I knew:

“if it breaks, we’ll have the pieces”

When all I had were these foreign, splintered, unhappy pieces of myself, I spent a summer searching for super glue.  And I continue to paste the new mosaic – pieces of glass birds and wildflowers and honking buildings and unseen stars – where they belong.


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