Wednesday, October 25, 2006


You keep your keys in the bowl, your breath mints, a few marbles of which you are fond. One is crystal clear, another is the same shade as the scant perfect moments of dusk.

There are things in the bowl that have no apparent significance, but you keep them just the same: a tiny wooden cube, inside of which a moving ball is carved, a set of mini tools that fit into a leather pouch the size of a pack of Doublemint. Smooth pebbles, a slice of petrified wood that, when held to the light, reveals rings that belie the age of the tree to which it once belonged.

You occasionally inspect the contents of the bowl and consider throwing out the miscellany, but you never do. You finger a glass drink stirrer fashioned with a Lilliputian flamingo on top, a ticket stub from a Watkins Glenn car race, and a cork festooned with ballpoint markings, the initials of all who imbibed during that particular celebration. What was it? A graduation? The day you moved into your house? Your wedding?

It doesn't matter. It was a day when the people to whom you were connected joined in the moment and their energies formed a confluence. The resulting river was strong and flowing. And finite.

Finite is a word you think you understand.

The bowl sits on a perfectly competent surface. The surface is a lie. You have no reason to distrust the surface and no reason to trust it. You take the surface for granted.

"For granted" is a phrase you think you understand.

The bowl itself is made from clay. Undecipherable markings snake around the exterior of the bowl. They are red and yellow and blue. There are dots and squiggles, straight lines and circles. The markings make no sense, although you can't imagine the bowl without them.

The bowl is mortal. You know this like you know your arms end with the two fragile and complex tools that are your hands. It is a simple fact--yet another thing you think you understand.

You wake. You retrieve your keys from the bowl. You fumble through that which you consider obsolete while swearing under your breath. To the bowl, you add things which you consider pertinent. You eat. You sleep. You breathe. You wake to fumble through the bowl once again.

You step through each 24-hour gift. At one pinpoint in time, you are engaged with the cleansing of a delicate glass. A terrible crash upsets the ether that surrounds you. It is the sound of irrevocable damage. You drop the crystal goblet in response. It shatters, an aftershock. In an instant, you are disarmed and helpless. Your innocence falls away.

The crystal glass, once beautiful, is now a dangerous pile of ruins on the floor next to the bowl. What caused the bowl to fall is unimportant, a mere detail. With disbelief, you watch the liquid of a plastic snowdome, inside of which Niagara Falls was frozen, bleed onto a dog-eared business card.

I will fix this, you think. I will fix all of this.

But the marble that shines the color of dusk is rolling into an impossible crevice. The disc of petrified wood has shattered into a hopeless puzzle. You pick up one of the pieces; it slices the pad of your finger. Drops of your blood stain the tiny leather tool case. The little flamingo is amputated from his swizzle stick, which is broken in two. Your keys are a jumble in the center of it all. You sweep the detritus together with your hands.

You sit on the ground, bewildered, at this corner in time. From now on, all things will be categorized as either before or after this moment. The pieces of the bowl, the edges of which are chipped and jagged, are all around you. The painted design, now disfigured into a tragic mosaic, makes perfect sense to you only after it is destroyed. You don't understand. You do understand. Your stomach constricts into a frozen ball.

You bleed and bleed and bleed.

On October 25, 2002, my father died suddenly from an aortic dissection while undergoing emergency open-heart surgery.

In the aftermath, the grief over my brother's 1994 suicide resurfaced. Terrible legal troubles within my family ensued. The days were black as ink. The stuff of my life was strewn about me.

Somehow, I swam through the ink. I collected the broken pieces. I rounded the corner.

To prove it, I started these pages one year ago today.

My name is Erin O'Brien. I am alive.

* * *

A photo of John and Dad and me, circa 1981.

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