On Closed Skin and Broken Glass


Yesterday evening, as I made dinner for me and my son, I got sidetracked in my study. So many emails, direct messages. So many broken hearts reaching out to say thank you. Thank you for writing about it. About him. Junot Diaz. He did the same thing to me. Your strength gives me strength.

On the stovetop, broccoli and cauliflower left to steam. Forgotten.

When I write, time disappears. I forget where I am, who I am, what I am – I become Billy Elliott at his audition, I dunno, it’s like I’m ‘lectricity, yeah, ‘lectricity. That is the beauty of the creative thing, and the danger of the creative thing. It’s why I escaped into writing as a damaged child, because I disappeared in it. It’s why that same damage never quite heals enough to allow me to live in this world in a way that remembers the broccoli, and all my relationships are broccoli. Writing is my blessing. Writing is my curse. It isn’t what I do. It’s what I am. When I am writing, I am writing.

I smelled the burning, and snapped to. Stopped typing and scowling and disappearing. Jumped up. Ran to the kitchen to find the clunky metaphor, slung at me by the orishas. Smoke from the pan, all the water gone, everything green turned to oil, turned to coal, turned to curling shadow ghost. I’d shown him the sprouting thing in me, and he’d asked to take a closer look, with his stiff, solitary, blind wet eye.

I grabbed the pan and put it in the sink, ran cold water over it, a desperate attempt to make that fever go down. And the glass top, the glass top that came with the pan, the one meant for cooking, was too hot then, too hot for that water. And it just…shattered.

Thousands of pieces of glass. It was a beautiful thing to see. First the webbed birthing crunch of the cracks, alerting me to spiderspirit. I turned the water off. But it was too late. The damage had been done. Every little piece of the thing, a thing that had seemed so solid when I bought it, recoiled, bunched back, retreated into its shell. A rain of blood diamonds in the sink, and many of them tumbling down into the garbage disposal.

You think a shatter, a thing like that, will be loud. But sometimes when things shatter, they whisper. Sometimes, they say nothing at all. This shatter was near silent. A murmur. A private tap of intimate rain.

I left the stack of salted stars in the sink, to deal with later, it was too much just then. Too much blatant metaphor. Too much risk. Too much perhaps-bleeding, and last night, more than any other, I needed my hands whole. Last night, more than any other, I needed to know I could keeping hanging on. I wanted to keep typing, without pain or bandages. I was done with that. Done.

I made a salad instead.

This morning, I cleaned up the broken glass. I meditated first, and took the proper Buddhist mindset, where any chore, no matter how disgusting or dangerous, done methodically and with loving kindness, can be a teacher.

I stood, feet planted and bare, and considered the shards.

The thing about broken glass is – well. It’s the same as the thing about broken people. You want to fix them. If there is anything orderly in you at all, you want this. And in your eagerness to do this, in your race to perfect, you might move too fast, or squeeze too hard. But you must remember this: The broken glass, as the broken person, will retain its shape no matter what. Your fingers, your palms, those soft and helpful things, these will yield. These will open up. These will bleed.


And so I realized a thing. I could do this. This impossible seeming task – clearing a garbage disposal of hundreds of tiny razorboxes of broken glass. I could do this, if my goal was not to fix the problem quickly, or, indeed, to fix the problem at all or, indeed, to see this as a problem, period. It just was. It was a thing that happened. That’s all.

I could do this only if my goal was to preserve my skin, to go slow.

It took two hours. I plucked them up, tweeze-fingered them with loving care, one at a time, mindful of their shape, size, predicament. I observed without judging. I breathed. I slipped my hand into the gooey knifey dark, and felt for the blades of the machine. I flickered my fingers over the fragments in the hole. I did not grab. I coaxed. I did not clutch or pinch. I brushed. One. By. One.

I dealt with it.

I do not wish to say he is blameless. A grown man that smart, that sensitive (in his own way), surely he knows better than to shatter. And yet, he was broken glass, probably because someone, escaping into something, forgot him, too. I do not seek to make excuses for him. But also, I do not seek to do him harm. Glass never breaks with the intention of cutting skin. Glass is unthinking. Breaking is just what glass does. The skin does not call to be cut, but to help. And there you have it.

It was not our fault. And maybe, in some strange way, it was not his fault either. Maybe the essay about his own abuse was true. Maybe he can be a beautiful writer even if he cuts his stories into the leather of our backs. Maybe Wagner was a great composer and still a Nazi. Maybe I, too, was shattered. Maybe I, too, have cut people with my diamonds. No, not maybe. I have. I know this. And I’m sorry.

And maybe I am too old now to despair when glass breaks. Too old to condemn myself for forgetting what fire and ice can do when placed in certain order. Maybe all I want anymore is the slow soft quiet of my own breath at the tip of my nose. Dinner with my son. A sink that works.

I got every last piece of glass out of that dark and dirty hole.

And not one cut.


15 thoughts on “On Closed Skin and Broken Glass

  1. Pingback: I Tried to Warn You About Junot Diaz – tremenda manguita & other magnetisms

  2. You are amazing, thank you so much for writing this! If nothing else good comes from this whole depressing affair I hope more people discover, like I just have, what a fucking brilliant writer you are.


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