A TINY PIECE OF GLASS
In the upper left corner of her forehead is a line of red in what looks like a small cut that she got recently. It is actually avery old wound from 40 years ago when she was just 18 years old. In 1978 she had a Volkswagen Beetle convertible. Red with a black top. It was her pride and joy. Her three younger sisters admired that car, and she was the coolest because she drove it. Then she wrecked it. The car was totaled and she ended up in the hospital with a broken femur. A metal rod was put into her leg and she mended quite well. Shards of glass cut a few scars across her forehead, but not enough to mar her beauty. The car was unsalvageable.
To this day, she has the metal rod in her leg. It is a physical reminder of that accident, and of the damage that has lasted all these years. I often think about the course of her life over the forty years since then and I always link that accident as the start of it all, although she was probably damaged long before that. But for me, that accident was symbolic. I may never know if she was under the influence when she crashed her VW, but the next time my sister had a car wreck, about 7 or 8 years later, I know for a fact she was wasted.
It was on New Year’s Eve and we had both been at a party. I saw her car (actually, her roommate’s BMW) wrapped around a telphone pole as I was headed home. I pulled her out of that situation before the police arrived so that she wouldn’t spend the night in jail. Bringing her home, I listened as she broke the news to her roommate that she had totaled her car. Still inebriated (or was she just indignant?) she was unapologetic about wrecking the car, so her roommate, Kathy, jumped on her. My knee-jerk reaction was to save her ass once again. I pulled the justifiably angry roommate off of her, too forcibly, it would seem. I tossed Kathy across a wooden chair and she fell to the floor. I apologized to Kathy the next day. “Animal instinct to protect your sister”, she offered, accepting my apology.
The way I figure it, I saved my sister’s ass twice that night. Once from the police and once from an ass-whooping by her roommate. I wonder if I did her a favor, or if she would have been better off facing the music. Too many people have pulled her out of situations she’s gotten herself into, and have saved her from facing the music.
Her life has been a succession of wrecks. Not only car wrecks. Just wrecks in general. Damage trailing her like a wake. It was that way even before that first car accident. Damage to physical property. Accidents have a way of happening at her hands. It drove our mother crazy. Things were broken, burned, ruined, or just missing. And it was always her fault. At least, she was sure Mama always blamed her, but the truth was that she usually was the cause. Rather than own up to it, she’d hide it. It’s not that our mother would punish her. It’s just that she couldn’t take the criticism. She was a walking disaster going back to childhood, and it followed her throughout her life.
In one week staying with me in a brief moment of sobriety recently, she broke a new ceramic dish I had just bought. I didn’t even get it home before it was broken. She burned a dishcloth. Melted it, actually. And broke the switch on my table lamp. But these are just material things and they are not important. I cannot say anything about them because that is how she has been since early childhood. A train wreck. For me, the material possessions mean nothing. For others whose prized possessions she has stolden, lost or broken, the hurt runs deeper.
More important to me is her own fragility and not the fragility of material things. She is a delicate creature of greatness and beauty. If her crime is selfishness, it is sometimes offset by her nature of sweet affection towards those she loves. She loves and appreciates her family and friends with a depth that is sincere, until it is time to feed her own addictions. Then her brain disconnects from her actions and the pain she inflicts on herself and on those who love her. The addiction takes precedence over all.
She is perhaps one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. At the same time, her selfishness knows no bounds. This contradiction manifested itself in childhood. As a child, I saw her as both adversary and protector at the same time. She herself could unleash unholy hell upon her younger sisters, but she was also very protective of her siblings against the dangerous and abusive wrath of our father. If she were not so damaged herself, you couldn’t imagine the loads of good she could unleash on the world.
The damage – who knows when that first manifested? When our parents split up? Or long before that? That damage is what she has played out on herself over these last four decades. But after four long decades of inflicting an inordinate amount of pain on herself and on her family, there is a ray of hope. The light is back in her eyes. The beauty is creeping back onto a face that has aged beyond its years. The tiny piece of glass that was lodged into her forehead forty years ago when she wrecked that VW convertible is slowly emerging.
They say that our bodies will reject a foreign object. It may take years, but the body will push it out, forcing it ever closer and closer to the surface until the foreign object emerges. That tiny piece of glass is coming out of her head. It is a good sign. As the glass works its way to the surface, every day her eyes are brighter, and her head a bit clearer. Every day is one more day of sobriety. I don’t know what happened this time to make her want to be sober. But one day she woke up and realized her fragility and knew that if she continued, she’d end up dead. So she saved her own life. She came to her family, who want nothing more from her than for her to be well.
I could fill a dozen warehouses with broken, burned, ruined, lost and stolen items that are in the wake of her path. I’d sacrifice a thousand warehouses more of stuff to save her life.
The broken glass is coming out.