When I was a child, I was quite lonely. I would spend hours in my bedroom playing with Barbie dolls or making my own tea parties with my favorite doll and stuffed bears. I know that image is probably a lot cuter in your mind than it was in reality, but that’s okay.
Run with it.
My grandmother was a tea leaf reader. She would use loose leaf tea and when you reached the bottom of the warm, soothing drink, she would take your cup from you and peer into the bottom. Sometimes she saw images, and sometimes she didn’t. I often wonder if she could actually read anything from them, or if she just did it to humor me.
Anyhow, she gave my mother one of her favorite tea cups, as a gift. It was absolutely beautiful and had no place in the disaster household we lived in. My mom quickly took it from her mother and placed it high on top of the broken cabinets, that hung in our kitchen. It was literally the prettiest thing in the kitchen.
It was so delicate, and smooth, and covered with miniature roses. I loved it, and I wanted to play tea party with it. My mother always said, “Nope”.
I think I was around 5 years old at the time, and was living with monsters in my house. I hated our home, and felt stressed out all the time by my parent’s moods. When they got into a fight, it would become violent and I would hide in my room. Sometimes my mother would ask me the next day if I had heard the argument and I would always lie and say, “no”.
She would usually spend a few of the following days trying to make me feel better, by playing cards with me or making me something to eat. She would tell me that she wants to run away and jokingly ask me if I would go with her. As an adult, I believe she should have left back then. But she didn’t,
One morning I woke to find my mother seated at the kitchen table. Her eye was swollen shut and black. She held a small plastic bag of ice on it as she smoked her cigarette and sipped her coffee. She faked a smile and asked me if I wanted breakfast. I sat with her for a moment and stared at her, wondering how her eye turned so black but too afraid to ask. It was Saturday and she asked me if I wanted to have a tea party later.
Then she said something that still gives me chills, “You can use Grandma’s special cup if you want”.
I beamed-ear to ear and hugged her with a thank you.
I stacked up a few chairs so I could climb up onto the cluttered counter. I used the shelves to step on, inside the cabinets, as if they were my ladder. “I will get it, mommy. See? I can climb up here”. I could see the look in her other eye as she feared I would drop her cup, or break the shelves.
“Get down from there! That’s dangerous!” She could hardly watch as I scaled the cluttered shelves, and took the priceless cup off the top of the cupboards. I gently placed it down on the counter and hopped down, proud as hell, of my accomplishment. She grinned at me, half surprised and promised we would have tea that afternoon.
That afternoon, she came into my messy bedroom and sat among my toys for tea service. I used water instead of hot tea, and my mom, still looking sore and exhausted, sipped away, trying to look comfortable. She didn’t fake it very well, but I enjoyed having her to myself so much, that I kept making her drink what I poured.
After about an hour or so, she got up to leave my room. She said she had to go lie down because her head hurt. I didn’t want her to leave, so I grabbed onto her legs and sobbed, “Please stay, mommy. I love having you for tea.”
Growing impatient with my whining, she shoved me off of her, pushing me back into the table of tea. I scrambled to find my footing, but the floor was so cluttered, that I kept stumbling, before I finally fell, taking her precious tea cup with me.
We both looked in horror as it lay on my linoleum floor, in pieces.
My mother’s automatic reaction was to slap me across the back of my head, making me feel like my brain bounced from side to side. I saw stars around my head, as she yelled at me, “Jeezuz Christ! You are always so clumsy! This is why I can never have nice things!” She stormed out of my room, slamming the door, leaving me with the broken pieces.
I wanted to yell after her, that “I am a nice thing”. Instead, I sobbed and carefully picked up the pieces, putting them in a shoe box.
I’m That Broken Cup
I found some glue in my father’s toolbox, and hid in my bedroom, carefully mending the pieces of the cup together. It was much like a puzzle, and I was lucky to have found all of the pieces. It wasn’t perfect, but I managed to put it back together.
That is my life, in a nutshell.
As an infant, I was precious and seen as beautiful. My grandmother always said I was the sweetest, easiest baby she had ever seen. She and I always had a tight bond.
But as a child, I became shattered. My home life was hell. My upbringing was a nightmare and the things that I tolerated literally broke me apart. I developed PTSD and severe depression and high anxiety before I was even a teenager. Of course those things were never diagnosed back then, but I know that I lived with them.
As a teenager, I tried to fix my life. The glue didn’t hold though, and I broke again and again.
As an adult, I am now the repaired cup. I have worked damn hard to put those pieces back together, just so I can hold my own. I may leak a little, and I have weak spots that could easily be broken again, but I can hold warmth, love and light within me-even if it leaks out my cracks on occasion.
I have layers and layers of glue that I have applied, over the years, or that others have applied, to give me strength. The glue tries to hide the scars, but they are always there-underneath it all. And that’s okay. I have learned from those scars. Every time I feel like I am becoming fragile or weak again, I have the love of my partner and my daughter to put me back together again.
Just like that cup, my life is precious.
Unlike that cup, I will NOT be put on a shelf out of everyone’s reach. I will not be saved for a special occasion. nor will I be forgotten and lost, about among the clutter. I want to be treated just like the other “cups” and live in the moment- even if there is a risk of being cracked or chipped. That’s called life.
I am here to help you hold your love and warmth inside of you, and the leaks through my cracks will show you that I am human. I like to think that the cracks, that have been glued and sealed up, time and time again, are there to allow light inside me-not to let the darkness seep out.
Years later, I sat with my grandmother, sipping tea at her kitchen table. I had never told her about her special cup that was badly broken and glued. You couldn’t tell that the cup was damaged, sitting back in its high place on top of mother’s cabinets. It looked “normal” and unbroken (just like me). Once you looked at it, and held it in your hand, you could see the dark lines from the cracks. You could feel how its integrity was marred from the damage. But, from a distance, it just looked like a regular cup.
Finally I found the courage to tell her. “Grandma. I have something to tell you”. I was almost 13 when I finally spilled my guts to her.
She peered over her teacup at me and raised her graying eyebrow, “Yes, dear? Sounds serious”.
I swallowed hard and looked at the table, rather than her sober face when I spoke. I cleared my throat. “Well, do you remember that special cup you gave mother when I was little? I broke it.” Tears welled behind my hazel eyes and slid down my cheeks as I flashed back to that day.
Grandma sat silently for a moment and then rose from her chair, without saying a word. I feared that I hurt her and she couldn’t look at me anymore.
Instead, she went to her kitchen cabinet and opened it up. On the top shelf, she had an entire set of the same pattern of that special cup. She had sugar bowls, saucers, plates, more cups, and even a teapot, all in that pattern! I don’t know why I had never seen them before.
She pulled a teacup off the shelf and brought it to the table. “Here, sweetie, You can take this one home, for your very own”.
Stunned, I looked at the perfect cup on the table in front of me. “Grandma! It’s the cup! Mommy will be so happy!”
Grandma shook her head violently, “No, dear. This cup is yours. Take it and put it somewhere special, so you can enjoy it. Use it, and think of me when you sip tea from it”
I asked, “Where did you get these dishes, Grandma? They are so pretty and special”.
She laughed and patted my shoulder, before she reached for a piece of paper that she had cut from a newspaper. She handed it to me, “They are free when you buy groceries at the supermarket. You just need to bring in these coupons”.
I still laugh at that story.
It is really too bad that my mother went through life, thinking that she “never had anything nice”.
All she has is a broken, leaky cup, who has been repaired but will always have cracks and leaks.
If she could only see the beauty in that shattered teacup
I still have my Grandmother’s cup in regular circulation. It sits in my cupboard and when I need a soothing tea, it is the one I reach for. Of course, I am very cautious not to break it, as she is long gone, and so are her dishes, so I baby it. But, somehow, I know, even if it shattered on my kitchen floor, I would put it back together. Just as I did with my life.