One day your life is a sheet of metal. Solid. Permanent. Impervious. The next, it’s a sheet of glass. Fragile. Transparent. Vulnerable. Wide open to that one mother-fucking life-altering event that becomes a hammer and smashes your life into tiny pieces of glass. There you are, staring at the shards. This can’t be my life. Ahhh, but is. You bend your half-self down, run your hands over what’s left of the other half. You scoop them up, hold them in the palm of your hand, lift them to your lips. Compelled by rage, you have the sick and satisfying urge to lick that glass, grind it between your teeth and disappear into nothingness. But you don’t. You can’t. Because. Here. You. Are. You get the dustpan out, sweep your life into a mound of broken pieces, pour ‘em in a Ziploc baggie, and stuff them into your pocket. At least this is what I did when that hammer whirled through the air and hit my life head on.
Eight days before Christmas, 2006, my I’m-all-about-love-and-food-and-family Italian mother called smack in the middle of my busy workday. She wanted to have a nice long chat about the succulent tenderloin she’d ordered for Christmas dinner, and how we’d stuff it with lobster tails and garlic, and what side dishes did I think we should whip up to go along with it. Are you kidding me? I was in my first semester of an MFA program. I was working full time. I had shit to do, Mom. I was BUSY! Christmas was a whole 8 days away. We had PLENTY of time. God, Mom, stop wasting my precious important time talking about meat and bottom-feeding crustaceans.
Shhh…do you feel it coming. That hammer.
If I had known in that one fragile bubble of a moment that my life was going to transform from steel into glass, I would have wrapped my arms around it, clung to it like a raft in the middle of a raging sea. But see…that’s just it. I didn’t know it would be the last conversation I’d have with my mother when she had the ability to string together a coherent sentence. How could I have known? I was that spiritually evolved woman; the social worker who got it. I never took anything for granted. Nothing. Not the air I breathed. Not the food I ate. Not the people I loved. Yup. That was me. I was metal. I had built a rock-solid life that a meteorite couldn’t dent.
Three hours later I felt the crunch under the heels of my boots as I walked over what was left of my life. My mother’s life. My father’s life. My brothers’ lives. I put myself behind the wheel of my car and drove to the ER, where my mother fought for what was left of hers. A massive stroke. One that would leave her with aphasia. One that would leave her with her own pocket full of glass, glistening, sharp memories of who she used be. One that would leave her locked up from the inside out.
Time stopped. I wasn’t too busy anymore. I suspended the MFA program for a semester. I took time off from my busy job. Days became drops of water in the ocean; they became one. No beginning. No End. And I moved through it, carrying my broken pieces of glass around in my pocket as I listened to the snippets of conversation float around my dazed new self. If her brain continues to swell, we’ll have to remove part of her skull. You have to understand, she’ll probably be a vegetable; Do you think we should cancel the tenderloin?; Should we donate her organs?; Is she survives, she won’t be the mother you knew. Voices. Voices. Voices. I wanted to reach down deep in my pocket, find the sharpest jagged piece of glass, run it down my chest, peel the skin back and let my heart scream out: SHUT UP! MY MOTHER IS COMING BACK WHOLE!
After my mother regained consciousness on Christmas Eve, I heard another voice: It’s a true Christmas miracle. My mother woke up, but she was not the same one I’d talked to days earlier. She was not the mother who had birthed, raised, and loved me. She was gone…floated away like dandelion pollen. This would be the first time I’d understand that we are all capable of cradling two emotions against our chest at the same time. Joy that snaps and cracks and lights up your insides like fireworks. Grief that burns through your veins and melts your heart like battery acid. My mother blinked and breathed and knew who I was when I kissed her cheek. My mother ONLY blinked and breathed and knew who I was when I kissed her cheek.
As the days and weeks and months crawled by, Mom and I drilled down through heart and bone to find the courage to take our bags of glass out and show our pieces to each other. We moved them around like a thousand-piece jig saw puzzle, changing the shape and form of our altered life; our relationship. What I’ve found, what I’ve learned, it was never a puzzle at all. Those dazzling colorful pieces of glass were not our broken life. They were an opportunity to create a new dazzling mosaic design of our lives together and apart.
In our different ever-changing beautiful design, I’m never too busy to spend Saturdays with my mother. I don’t dread, but embrace those minutes that tick by while I trim her nails, shave her legs, rub cream over her feet and listen to her moan in delight. I pluck her brows, and apply makeup to her gorgeous Italian skin and take her to lunch. Now, in our new-life design, I’m never too busy to listen to her sweet voice on the phone as I spend twenty minutes attempting to figure out what she’s struggling to communicate. Each and every time, when I get it right, I’m five all over again, reaching my hand into the cool blades of grass, feeling that same awe and thrill of finding my first Easter egg. It never gets old, but we do. We all do. Too old to be carrying around broken pieces of ourselves, or our faulty perception that we were broken in the first place.
If you’re carrying glass around in your pocket, be your bold badass self. Take the baggie out, rip it wide open, spread the pieces out under the sunshine, and create that dazzling mosaic life design just waiting to be discovered. Yes. Perhaps there will be cracks in it, but as Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Let the light in. You’ll be amazed at what you unveil.
Note: I will be posting on Mondays unless I run out of things to say!
38 thoughts on “Glass in My Pocket”
I love how raw, beautiful and personal this is. The courage, commitment and persistent love that it takes to be your mother’s caregiver is an inspiration to us all.
Thank you my friend…you have always been an inspiration to me!
Susan this is beautiful…and a perfect example why you will be a published author some day. Lovely both your words and the journey you have traveled with you Mom.
Thanks Mary…always you’ve supported and believed in me. Thank you for reading and posting.
I love you! This is amazing. Your non-fiction knocks my socks off. What a treat to be able to look forward to reading more each monday. XOXO.
Pretty high compliment coming from one the most gifted writers on the planet! xo
Many of us spend a lot of time building up ourselves into impervious metal selves, but the truth is we can also be like glass in a liquid, solid, malleable state that we can shape into anything we want, and when it gets cracked, shattered, we can apply energy to it to shape something even better out of it.
Peter, I really appreciate these thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to share them.
Wow! Simply amazing and healing for you I’m sure to share. You’re an amazing writer and daughter!!
Thanks, buddy…love you with my whole heart!
Oh my, Oh my- I’m totally at a loss for words. I see my mosaic reflected in your words.
And you are an amazing friend! xo
How devastating and beautiful… You are so strong – and so kind to share this with all of us. xoxo
Oh Pender…thank you for your beautiful spirit and support!
Love it. It’s wonderful that you are able to share and appreciate these moments with your mom now. I used to do my mother’s nails and brows, and set her hair, too. Special times.
it has been such a journey with my mom…and I truly do cherish each moment I have with her. Yes…special times.
Dear Sooz – I love your words, I love your sharing heart. Reading this beautiful essay helped me take a few moments for myself in this day full of TO DO LISTY sorts of things. All while my son watches a zillion hours of dumb TV because he is home sick and I have work to do. I am jumping off the computer right now to go play with my boy. Love…
Susie…thanks for your words…I hope you had a wonderful time with your sweet boy!
Susan, This is beautiful.
The line that made me cry: “It never gets old, but we do. We all do. Too old to be carrying around broken pieces of ourselves, or our faulty perception that we were broken in the first place.”
Thanks, Amy…I cried the whole time I was writing this piece. Thanks for reading. Will see you so so soon! xo
You are amazing. Gifted, thoughtful, heartfelt, artistic…
You are an amazing writer. I can’t WAIT until next Monday! ❤🎶
I LOVE YOU! I think you are one of the most amazing, courageous friends I’ve ever known!
Thank you, Susan, for writing this. You have the ability to articulate what the rest of us feel but cannot put into coherent words. I truly feel that if you can make someone cry, you have done your job as a writer. You have done your job. And you are a Leonard Cohen fan. May you be like him — still writing and touring at 79.
Thank you my writing buddy, my friend! I hope I can still string a sentence together at 79. You’re work always touches me so deeply, too, Nancy.
Susan, what a wonderful spin on such a personal tragedy. I love you and am always amazed and impressed with your ability to transform words into such beauty.
Thank you sister….NEVER could have gotten through it without your love, your support…your angelic self. I love you!
this was utterly spectacular……i look forward to reading more
Oh…thanks mom-in law! I love you!! AND hope we see you soon.
I love you, my sweet cousin! After reading your blog, my heart breaks and is simultaneously filled with joy. Your life and the life of your family was transformed that fateful day yet what you and your beautiful Mother have done with it is significant and incredible. I admire you for your strength, hope and love.
I love you, too cousin…We have such a strong family…and we had all of you to help us through it! You all gave us that hope, strength and courage! The power of love, Julie…I LOVE YOU!
I have known Susan Hathaway since I was 15 years old. I met her when “change” is what I needed the most. I grew up in a world of abuse, negativity and isolation in Pownal, Maine. I had a few key people in my life growing up that, thank god, gave me some hope of a better life and showed me there was a difference other than disfunction. My summers and vacations were spent in Bethel and loving grandparents were the only stability in a home life that was anything but stable.
The only academic mentor growing up in Pownal was one tough English teacher, Mrs. Butler, who recognized my strengths in English and took me under her wing, unlike the other 18 kids I went to school with from K-8 who were academically behind me. She taught me the rules and use of grammar and english writing skills that were the roots to any academic success I had at all.
My parents divorced when I was eleven. I lived with my mother and saw my father on the weekends.
My father died in the fall of 1982, I was a sophomore. I was 15. It was, by far, the worst and best thing that happened to me. It changed my life. Although he was gone, I held onto his dream of me going to college and being the first, from both families, to graduate from college. He shared his love of the outdoors with me and nurtured the country girl into the woman I am today. He was my fun escape from Lawrence Road where I lived with my mother, sister and brother. When I was with him, it was the only time I can really remember acting my age. He died and any child left in me was gone. He has been the “content” in so many aspects of my life…more on that later.
I had already grown up far faster than most of my peers and experienced things like sex, pot, alcohol, that others had not when I arrived at Greely High School as a freshman. I had no protection at home. I was free to roam and I did.
The one positive parent in my life was gone. As a young teen, who had already made some very bad choices, I was not given the opportunities of therapy, sorting through the trauma of loosing a parent, death or dying, nor the help from guidance councilors or family.
But what I did have was my new best friend, Susan Hathaway. I met Susan in the summer before my sophomore year and only weeks before my father’s death in September.
She gave me the gift of writing.
At fifteen, she was already an aspiring writer. She would share her latest poem or short story with me and I would listen. To this day, I can remember sitting in her room, on her bed reading her latest masterpiece. If she could be so good at this writing stuff, couldn’t I?
I, too, picked up the pen and wrote dozens of poems and short stories about the time spent with my father, the emotions and loss I felt over his death and dying. I would write, cry, edit, write, share with Sue, write, cry and work through the pain. It was my only healing process from the loss of my father and the emptiness I felt. It’s amazing to think that her gift as a writer and therapist was already realized then.
The pieces I wrote were my “A’s” in high school english class and later were published in college literary reviews. Yes, I was an English writing major and yes have a B.S. Thanks to Mrs. Butler and Sue. Susan’s inspiration to write carried me through my academic years as an English Writing Major and later into my professional life.
In my adult life, Susan has and continued to inspire me. Her words of encouragement, will and hope have carried me through some very dark places in my life: divorce, car accidents, surgeries, breast cancer, more surgeries, drug and alcohol addiction. That last one is painful to admit, let alone write and share, but it is my truth. Susan has been a constant in my life, when so much externally has not-never giving up on me or allowing me to give up on myself nor my children. Honestly, I may not be here if it weren’t for the love and support and encouragement she gave and the courage I found from her powerful words to pick up the pieces and get my shit together.
I never write anymore, with the one exception of angry emails to my ex-husband which are often read, edited and discussed with Sue prior to sending. My masterpieces! And here I am again, writing. I have never “blogged” before so I’m uncertain if this is the forum to share all of this but I had this realization only weeks ago and have been determined to write it down for all to read it. Susan inspired me to pick up the pen! I give the gift of writing back to her, my friend, my sister.
Susan is an inspiration to all that know her. She has, does and will make changes in people’s lives by the powerful words she writes that touch all those who read them.
My last thought: I wonder where that fifteen year old girl would be now without the gift of writing given to her then?
This is one of the loveliest, sweetest comments I’ve ever received. I know we’ve talked since you left this message…and I never knew this…but I’m so happy, my friend, that you wrote and you shared it with me. I love you. AND you can start writing again any time…pick up a pen. xoxoxox
Buddy, that was just damn beautiful. My heart is touched. Reminds me of the choice I have…to create a magnificent mosaic of all those born shards of my past, my mistakes, my regrets. They are art, and I am grateful. Thank you for being so raw and honest. Love ya!
Thank you, Alssia. I think your posts are damn beautiful, too! You are a beautiful mosaic…plain and simple! xoxoxox
Oh, wow…I am just at a loss for words. I have goosebumps all over. You have an amazing courage ! Your honesty and openness is an inspiration to us all. And your writing is so beautiful! I can’t wait to read more.
Yvon…that’s what your art does to me! Gives me GOOSEBUMPS all OVER!
AND I can’t wait to see more of your ART!
Susan, wow. What a beautifully written piece.
Thanks for the lovely feedback!! I loved your post, too!!