My boyfriend, Chris, helped me wrestle the table into the 14 foot UHaul truck parked on that narrow side street in Flatbush. It was winter 1985. My grandfather, Isaac, had died leaving the contents of his apartment to my sister and me. Chris rented the truck, drove the truck, parked the truck (no mean feat in wintry Brooklyn streets), and helped me fill the truck, emptying an apartment that had been home to my dad growing up.
We wrapped the glass tabletop in a moving blanket that Chris had thought to bring, and stood it up vertically. The truck was packed. We drove back to the house we shared with 6 other college students and staff, and loaded the 6 piece bedroom set, armchairs, lamps, artwork, and cabinets into our shared rooms. I was 19 years old and utterly overwhelmed.
Chris and I weren’t ready to be a couple, and we split up a few months after that cold day in Brooklyn. I cannot think of a better person to share this memory with: no one could have helped more, treated me with greater kindness, or seamlessly and gracefully handled all the details that needed handling. He was only about 21 or 22, but he took on that day with the deftness and maturity of a much older man. A kind and strong man I still love and respect.
In the years since, I moved countless times. Married, divorced, evicted, purchased a house, sold it, moved in with Tom, and moved again from the house he owned to the yellow shack. Most of the furniture I moved that day with Chris was lost, some stolen, some just … gone. But miraculously the table and a few other items – an armchair, a clock, a framed print – survived.
Three and a half decades after Grandpa’s death, the table had found its place: beloved and used in the home Tom and I designed and built together here on the mountain. That it survived this long was astonishing. Glass breaks. Glass plus an average of 4.37 large and indelicate dogs for almost 2 decades… it’s uncanny.
Yesterday I dragged a big box marked “Heather’s dresser top items” over to the couch and unpacked it. I was looking for a specific piece of artwork Tom gave me, and suspected it was in this box. It wasn’t. My armadillo collection was. My stuffed animals were. Some candle holders, a turned wooden chalice, a rather dusty collection of bracket fungus, a porcelain rose… but no art. Shaking off the nostalgia, I stood up. A softball-sized rock tumbled out of my lap and hit the table, smashing the glass top.
I froze. Tom leaped to his feet. Peeka freaked out and bit Tom (Just a panicked nip in the ass.). The glass didn’t scatter too badly. We got it cleaned up in good order.
The rock is a memory from another boyfriend, also, coincidentally enough, named Chris. I was with him when I picked up the rock in the early 2000s, a memento from a special place I loved to hike. I should not have taken it. I should have left it there for others to enjoy, for invertebrates to live under, for the cold clear stream to wash clean each day. I should not have listened to this Chris, as he encouraged me to take the rock. I should not have been with this Chris at all, as he was not a good person, not a good man, not strong or kind or honest.
I threw my bracket fungus collection out into the garden. I threw the rock into the pond. I don’t need to hold onto it any longer.
Two Chrisses, two memories, and one broken piece of glass, and one very empty living room.
The thing is, I’ve been living around that coffee table for decades. I’ve been protecting it, preserving it, honoring it, tethered to it, and bearing the weight of its care for decades. I wouldn’t – couldn’t – ever choose to not own it, not use it, not show it off. It is beautiful – the glass sat atop metal brackets over an intricately-carved rosewood base. The party line is that my grandmother “made” it although I am not sure what this means — perhaps selected the components? But even more than being lovely to behold, the longer I had it, the heavier it became. The more amazing its survival, and its story, and the more imperative I continue to honor both.
My first words upon seeing the destruction? “I’m so glad it was me. I’m glad I did it.” And then, after the emergency of cleaning up broken glass faded, I smiled. I sat back and enjoyed the view. The living room is empty. Open space. I love open space. I felt relief. Release. I am released from that burden of care. I am released from a have to. The next thing I said to Tom? “Now you can build us a coffee table. I know you want to.” Of course he wants to. Of course he will. And of course I will love it.
I can get another piece of glass. We could put the room back the way it was, fix the table and continue the legacy. I don’t want to. That would squander this opportunity. The finality of brokenness feels good. Positive. Light, like a weight has been lifted. Almost like a cosmic jest – the worst thing possible, the thing I valiantly strived to prevent has happened… and it’s great. It’s awesome. No no no, I tell Tom. Don’t fix it. Don’t mess with the exquisite finality and the open space where all that history and responsibility sat. Let me feel this for a while.
My role in our family is to fix the broken spirits, hearts, and bodies. I don’t do stuff: tables and phones and automotive are solidly Tom’s department. I do behavior and health – mental and physical – for me and the dogs and to the degree Tom permits it – him too.
Brody’s health has declined significantly this year, as the poor guy has been plagued by progressive orthopedic issues and a nagging cough. I’ve been unable to help him, and have failed thus far at relieving his discomfort. Come to think of it, me too. Frozen shoulder limitations are now in year two, and I am slowly coming to terms with being the new owner of a chronic and untreatable illness. Lifestyle changes are shorthand for live with it. I hate the phrase “coming to terms,” but I’m so far from acceptance I can’t even spot it on the horizon.
I fix living beings. I address problems. I find ways to overcome, heal, and move forward. These are my hallmarks, my calling cards. Simply accepting … that’s an alien concept. And yet, despite all my protestations to the contrary, sure seems like that’s what I need to do. Accept what’s broken. Live with it, or without it, as the case may be. Accommodate.
Maybe one day, when we finish the upstairs, the table will find a new home in a reading nook or guest bedroom. We definitely won’t get rid of it. We will wait, and find the next right spot for it and enjoy it all over again… one day. But not now. Now, accepting that it’s broken, and living with the feeling that it’s irreparable feels right. That feels helpful, symbolic, and appropriate. Sometimes the feelings are more important than the facts. I could get another piece of glass, but it will never be the same. Accepting that it’s broken, that I can’t fix it, and that it will never be the same feels like the work I need to do now.