Clean up, move on

By Mir
January 28, 2013

By all accounts, 2013 is so far turning out a lot better than 2012. Of course, the bar was set pretty low, but still. I know January 1st is arbitrary as Markers Of Life is concerned. That didn’t stop Otto and me from looking forward to that flip of the calendar page as if our lives depended on it. And with nearly 1/12 of this year behind us, we remain hopeful that this year is Better.

And it is. We are all trucking along in our various paths towards some kind of normalcy. The days of Constant High Alert, Holy Shit The Sky Continues To Fall are over. Maybe.

What I am learning about myself is that I have mastered the art of faking it until I make it, and also that time is helping me learn the fine art of compartmentalization. I used to be a perpetual waterfall of emotions, unable to separate out the current moment from the hundred (thousand) that came before, forever trying to suss out the appropriate emotional state for THIS moment without the baggage of the rest.

The old me—the one who sees metaphors and portents in even the most mundane happenings—is mostly mellowed, breathing deeply, following a routine that works, and not thinking too hard about sticky things like feelings. New me is more pragmatic. More accepting. I like this, but it still takes a significant portion of my energy to be this way, and there are moments when my old emotional-okay-FINE-completely-irrational self bursts through.

Last night I made dinner and called my boys into the kitchen and went to the cupboard for bowls. Our dishes are plain white, heavy, and unremarkable. Sturdy. I like this set a lot, even though there’s nothing special about it. Anyway. I grabbed three bowls from the cupboard with my left hand—the one that now sports a steel plate—and I really don’t know exactly what happened. It could be that three bowls in the way I was gripping them was simply too much for me to hold onto under any circumstance, because the bowls are heavy. It could be that my left hand is still not back to full strength. Or it could be that I was distracted and just miscalculated my grip. Whatever it was, it resulted in the bottom bowl of the stack slipping from my grasp.

These dishes have been dropped and bumped countless times over many years, and at last look I had exactly one plate with a tiny chip in it. They can withstand a lot. But in this instance, there was a pile of recently-washed cookware drying on the counter, and the bowl fell and hit both a frying pan edge and the insert for one of my crock pots, and then—in a word—exploded.

Otto and Monkey and I all froze in our tracks, our ears still ringing from the initial crash and then the pinging and skittering of a hundred shards flying all over the kitchen.

“It’s okay,” I said, calmly, reflexively. Monkey was upset. I continued, “Don’t walk over here. It’s fine, we’ll clean it up, we have other bowls. No big deal.”

“Can you get another one just like that one?” my son asked. Things must stay the same, you know. Change is bad; loss is worse.

“Oh, I don’t know, honey, maybe,” I answered, while I slowly picked up the largest fragments. “But it doesn’t matter, we have plenty of bowls. More than we need.” This is true, by the way. A broken bowl is not a catastrophe.

I continued to pick up the larger pieces, while Otto vacuumed the floor. Then I took the hand vac and vacuumed shards off the counter. We kept moving things and finding pieces in weird locations—behind the tea canister (all the way across the room), stuck to the hand towels, in the sink. Eventually we called it good and went and had dinner, but of course we found pieces later on, after. And just before we sat down to eat, I discovered a a perfect slice across the tip of my right thumb. Shallow, like a paper cut. It didn’t even bleed until I poked it, and even then, the tiny drop that squeezed out was reluctant. But you know what it’s like to have a cut across a fingertip; I keep feeling it, an unfamiliar and unwelcome sensation where it doesn’t belong.

The bowl was all it took; for the rest of the evening, all of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been so practical and organized about pushing away lately seeped out, maybe in lieu of any real blood from that stupid cut. By the time we went to bed, poor Otto lay on the pillow next to mine, forced to listen to a variety of angst-laden rambles punctuated by words like “always” and “never” and the occasional angry swipe at my leaky eyes.

Today I’m caught somewhere between last night’s fears and this morning’s recommitment to forward motion and acceptance sprinkled with optimism. My thumb still stings a little. But I don’t want to be the person who continues to agonize over one broken bowl when there are still eleven perfectly serviceable and whole ones right there in the cabinet. I know this.

It turns out that cleaning up—even when it involves some injury—is the easy part.


  1. jodifur

    I don’t know if you really want the SAME EXACT BOWLS but if you do, I highly recommend Shipping can be kind of high, and I know you are allergic to paying for shipping. But when you are in a bind and you’ve lost all but 3 of the teaspoons of your wedding silver (cough, not that that um, happened to me, they always have everything.)

  2. parodie

    Oh Mir. I can relate – to the shock of unexpected emotional whiplash, and to the leaky eyes that accompany it – and I sorry you’re still healing, and sorry that healing is such hard work. You are so strong, so brave, and you just keep on keepin’ on. Here’s to remembering that there are lots of bowls…

  3. Bob

    I (and I suspect Otto) am glad that you talk to Otto about it. He needs and deserves to know what is going on with you. And – with 2 to share the weight, the burden seems less. My wife keeps things bottled inside and only talks about it later when she’s sorted it out. More so now than before, I think, because I’m only home 2 nights out of 7.

  4. Sharon

    I cringed when the story started because I knew what what coming. I’ve done the same thing and lamented the loss for far longer than was reasonable. I know from experience that it takes a long time to change patterns. Under stress our inclination is to return to what feels familiar. The good news is that when we change over time we incorporate what we’re learning and it becomes part of who we are. Healing is a process that continues over our lifetime.

  5. Christine

    For what it’s worth, my MIL doesn’t break dishes on purpose (that I know of, anyway), but she views it as some sort of blessing–an opportunity to release negative emotions. Sort of a small, manageable event of violence and loss. She says it clears the air. However, she also doesn’t seem as fond of her dishes as I generally am of mine, so… But I have come to feel that way when Ikea glasses break, for example. It’s a little bit freeing?

  6. Corey

    You know how “they” say you shouldn’t pray for patience because then you’ll get trials that test your patience? Like you need to exercise your patience muscle? Maybe you’ve been exercising your “moving on” muscles; I’m picturing a unicycle, umbrella, tight rope, and perhaps heavy things to juggle. But it takes only a tiny, unexpected event to upset the balance–after all, you’d be able to brace for a huge one that you could see coming, right? So, you’ve got all of this exercise, and you’ll recover that balance despite a little jostle to your equilibrium.

  7. Stephanie Stenner

    Just like most marital (and other) arguments…the clean up of the bowl is not the undercurrent, but the catalyst which brings out whatever is simmering under the surface. I admire your determination to stay the “new” Mir. But, don’t beat yourself up when the “old” Mir comes through. She’s a part of who you are too. Hang in there! :)

  8. Summer

    So the bowls broke when they hit the crock pot liner, but the crock itself remained intact, right? That alone is cause for celebration. Bowls are easy to replace, but those crock pot liners are not. They’re expensive, if you’re lucky enough to find one that fits properly. A broken crock can easily mean that you have to give up the whole device! And that is a very sad thing.

  9. Korinthia

    I hate that ‘last straw’ kind of moment that causes the dam to burst. (I’m hoping mixed metaphors make you laugh, see?)

    Feel better soon.

  10. Jean

    I would cry over the bowl. And it would roll into everything else that was bad in my life. I get it (((HUGS))) and you’ve been through a ton. Hang in there.

  11. Liza

    *hugs* Hang in there, keep practicing doing things the way you want to do them, and forgive yourself for being human and imperfect when the practice doesn’t go as well as you want it to go.

  12. Teacher girl

    I can certainly never say that I have had a year like yours, but as trauma and emotional upset are not a game of oneupsmanship, I can say that it has been the hardest six months of my life. This post resonates so much with me, as I am in the post-cleaning stge as well and am finding it not as done as I thought it would be. I keep waiting for when I will mourn what might have been and what is now, as I just want to move forward, but instead I move forward with no sense if when the healing will really be over. There is no easy finality to dealing with unexpected, unwelcome, unfair change. I don’t like that. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone in the process.

  13. Sarah

    I get it. After reading that, I’m kinda wishing I could break something, just to have the excuse to let go even a little bit. Here’s hoping 2013 stays angst-free.

  14. Kate

    Think of the money you saved on counseling! This one bowl gave its life (?) so you could get out some emotional stuff! And Otto deserves a night on the town for the pillow talk! I’m hoping for good days for you, pretty Mir!!

  15. Margaret

    Amen, Sister!

  16. suburbancorrespondent

    It’s so much easier to cry over something tangible, in my opinion. With the other stuff, where the heck do you even start?

  17. Vera

    For what’s its worth, in Jewish tradition, broken glasses and plates are meant to chase the bad spirits out of the house. In my klutzy family my mother says no spirit has a chance!

  18. Najla Speaks

    Keep pushing and all that you desire to change within your life and your circumstance will transpire..

  19. kapgar

    Oh Mir, so sorry you got bowled over!
    I think it’s easier to pick up the pieces when broken crockery that sets you off than when it’s something bigger. Also, you are allowed to lose it occasionally – you deal with a lot all the time (even when it’s not as crappy as 2013)!

  20. amy

    It’s what makes you human. That things still are there, in your mind, and your heart. It’s a hard balance between becoming totally detached or being completely overwhelmed, emotionally.

  21. Lucinda

    We are our own worst critic. When we grow and stretch and change, regardless of why, But if we fall back into old habits and patterns, if even only for a moment, we question all the growth we have made. At least I do. I’ve learned over the years to try to step out of myself occasionally and see myself as others do. It’s pretty freeing because I usually realize I’m far more amazing than I give myself credit for. I’d be willing to bet those around you marvel at the way you have handled this incredibly difficult year and admire you for the growth you have made. You may have agonized at one time, but there is a definite change that come through in your writing now. You are moving forward.

    As for Otto, well, if he’s like my husband, he’s probably grateful that you let him in and allow him to comfort you. I know my husband likes to fix problems and if he can’t fix them, he at least likes to be my strong shoulder. Plus, being vulnerable at times can be just as beautiful as being strong.

  22. Lynda M O

    Ya, all that was said in the comments above makes jolly good sense; it’s been a year from hell for you and

    still you rise…

  23. Brigitte

    That thumb cut was allowing some of the repressed stuff to leak out! I totally get it, but I’m also happy you managed not to rebreak your hand. Imagine having to tell the doctor that, you’d be barred from kitchen crockery and tools forever!

  24. Brigid

    You have some pretty wise friends up there. ^ I kinda feel like I just had a counseling session of my own. Maybe there’s a good idiom in there about little slivers of the past showing themselves as we heal. Just enough to remind you how strong you are, even when you feel like you’re faking it.

  25. Arnebya

    I was so ready. I was so ready for 2013 to swoop in and magically wipe the slate of 2012’s bitchassness away. I knew I wasn’t dealing and I knew it would take one tiny thing and then bam! gotta deal. I’m sorry that it happened this way for you too but more than that, I am glad that you have Otto to listen to you when the words need to tumble just as hard as that bowl.

  26. Amy

    This post is just one of the big examples of why I love you so much. Your writing is so open and honest. Even when you’re going through absolute crap, you don’t sugar coat it and act like everything is fine. Being able to show weakness is such a strength, especially as a woman.

    Also, re: bowls smashing into a million pieces: I used to have this awesome glass mixing bowl and one day I took it out of the cabinet and it smashed into a million pieces in my hand. I don’t even know how it happened, it just shattered. I found pieces of it in random places months later.

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