When it IS broke…
Many years ago—I think it was just before Ray and I moved in together (thus, years before Ray got sick, years before the chemo, years before he died)—I called Ray to confirm when we were next getting together.
He was crying.
It took a few minutes to get the story out of him. He’d been on his way out of a store, and he stopped to hold the door open for someone. Another person ran by on the sidewalk, bumping into Ray and knocking his shopping bag to the ground, which was followed immediately by the sound of breaking glass.
Ray had just purchased some sort of glass sculpture. I don’t know what it was of. All Ray would tell me that it was “beautiful, just beautiful.” But it had been smashed to a million pieces, he said.
I asked him what store it had been, so I could go buy him another one. But that just set him off worse, because it had been a present for me. He repeated how beautiful it was, and that he couldn’t afford to buy another one, and the person who had caused it to be smashed hadn’t even stopped to say he was sorry.
Nothing I could say or do made him feel better. And there was nothing anyone could do at that point. If we were living in a Lifetime movie, maybe the person who had knocked the bag from his hands and kept running, waving dismissively when Ray called out, would have encountered us again, and there would have been some kind of amends making.
But we don’t live in Lifetime movies. Sometimes bad things happen, and we just have to live with them. Ray got over it. Life went on.
I was reminded about that incident this week when I found another present from him broken.
I don’t know how it happened, for certain, and probably never will.
It begins a few weeks back when we were having a mini heat wave. We’d had enough hot days (for our climate) in a row that we’d decided to put the window fans up. During the summer we have mounted window fans running in the kitchen, the computer room, and the bedroom. Depending on which side of the house and what time of day it is, they’ll be either blowing fresh air in, or blowing hot air out.
So the second day the fans were going, I found a print on the floor. It’s a large piece of art our friend, Sky, made a few years ago. It’s a reclining courtesan in a green and blue kimono. It isn’t mounted in a heavy frame, it’s just matted. It’s 18 inches by 22 inches, so it isn’t a huge life-size portrait, but it’s large.
It hangs in our bedroom on the south wall. After I confirmed that Michael hadn’t taken it down for some reason, I decided that it must have been knocked down by the wind. We had fans in the window on a thermostat, and we’d forgotten to turn off the standing fan when we left for work in the morning. It had been a little windy that day. I figured there must have been some inopportune gusts of wind that knocked it off.
Never mind that it is nowhere close to the window, and other similarly lightweight pieces are hanging on the wall Closer to the fan. I figured either the wind angle had been just right, or because all of the other simply matted pieces are smaller—they hadn’t had enough surface area to catch enough wind force to bring them down.
Then this week, I found something else on the floor. In exactly the same spot the picture had landed. A resin “sculpture,” about 10 inches tall, which had been on a shelf about a foot below the picture.
Ray had given me the sculpture about a year after we moved in together. It’s an odd thing: a fairy tale castle built impossibly on a pair of rock spires coming up out of the ocean. At the time Ray gave it to me, I think he said that it reminded him of something I’d written. I didn’t remember writing about that sort of castle, but I write both sci fi and fantasy, and I tended to talk to him a lot about ideas I hadn’t yet turned into a story, so maybe it was something in one of those.
But this gets us to the part of the earlier incident that I could never tell him. Ray and I had very different tastes in decorating. We both tended to like very different kinds of kitsch (and yeah, sometimes my tastes are extremely kitschy). So when he said the glass sculpture which I never got to see was “beautiful,” I knew that there was more than a slim chance that I might have thought it hideous.
This resin thing isn’t hideous, but it’s not the sort of thing I would have ever bought myself. Even for only a quarter at a garage sale. So, even with his explanation that it reminded him of something I wrote, I didn’t quite understand why he thought I would like it.
I’m quite certain some of the things I gave him elicited the same reaction. Sometimes you think someone will like something, and you’re just completely wrong.
I haven’t kept every knick knack and tchotchke Ray ever got me. His family members asked me for some of them to remember him by. I gave a few others away to friends who expressed an interest. One particular friend, Kats, suggested when I was agonizing, about a year after Ray died, over a bunch of things that I really didn’t like but couldn’t bear to just toss, that I mail them to her (since she’s as much of a packrat as I am). She said she would find them good homes. We both knew that she would probably toss most of them, and that she was prepared to lie to me if need be about how she’d kept them all. But sometimes you need a little help deluding yourself when you’re being irrational.
This castle, though, I kept. I can’t really say why, because I don’t like it for itself. Neither do I dislike it. It’s just every time I look at it, I think of Ray trying to explain to me how it reminded him of stuff I wrote. Ultimately, it reminds me of the journey we both went through trying to learn to understand each other better.
So when I found it on the floor, broken in several places, I was more than a bit annoyed. Also, confused. I had an explanation for the picture falling down two weeks ago. This was something else. It’s too heavy to have been blown over, at least inside the house. The only other thing I found disturbed was a small plush Tigger that had been near it on the shelf. And one of the fragments that broke off was embedded, at a really weird angle, into the wooden bedstead. If it fell off the shelf, bouncing off the bedstead is almost a certainty, but it just looked odd.
We don’t live in a house, but rather a triplex. On the other side of that wall is the neighbor’s kitchen. A previous tenant had a tendency to slam the cupboards a lot, and sometimes it would make the pictures shake on our side. I haven’t heard anything like that with the couple that have lived there the last few years, but if it’s happening at a time of day when we’re not around, I wouldn’t hear it, would I?
It would be simple enough to glue the castle back together if I could find all the pieces, but I can’t. On the other hand, it’s just a silly tchotchke which, truth be told, I haven’t looked at at all in the last several years except when I decide to clean up that end of the bedroom. It’s just a thing, not a person. I should just get over it and move on.
And I will. But I don’t have to like it.