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!