The Things that Broke

A lesson in applied catharsis

Over this weekend, Kelsey and I are moving from our home in Jackson Heights to a new loft apartment in Astoria. We had been in our old place for five years, and while the rent and location were nice, there were a growing number of things we disliked about our apartment. The mail theft, for one, and frequent, persistent bug infestations. I have a thing about bugs in my living space, and our inability to fully, finally exterminate them made the apartment increasingly uncomfortable for me.

Then, with the COVID-19 pandemic, rents fell dramatically. Our own landlord wasn’t even requesting a rent increase for renewal, a sure sign that the market was good for renters. We started looking, and within a few days, found our new home. It is in Astoria, where the plurality of my chosen New York family live, right on the park, with high ceilings and a modern feel. I think we will be very happy here.

We also got lucky with our movers, Moishe’s, the same company I used five years before to move into Jackson Heights. They were friendly, careful, and thorough. They made it easy.

Today is our second day of unpacking, and I have spent it opening bins and sorting the contents into their assigned positions. It is a tedious task, made tolerably pleasant by audiobooks and enthusiasm for this next chapter of life.

At the bottom of one of the last bins, I saw that something was wrong: there were shards in the bottom, which could mean only one thing: an item had broken. It happens all the time, when moving, but this was the first I had seen. I investigated, and became distraught.

Several items had been destroyed, all in the same bin. Some combination of poor packing or rough handling doomed this particular bin’s contents to oblivion. Two of the broken items were of great sentimental value.

The first, largest, and most important was a statue replica, standing about eighteen inches high, of Rodin’s piece “The Eternal Idol.” I have written in these pages about this sculpture before: it belonged to my Grandma Jeanne, and was one of the three items I received after her passing. It depicts a man kneeling before a seated woman, kissing her midsection. It is erotic without being vulgar.

Before she passed, my grandma told me it was called “The Kiss,” but that is a different sculpture, though similar in some respects. This one, far less well-known, was made during Rodin’s work on the Gates of Hell, his sculpted opus, though it was not incorporated into the final piece. I adore it, and associate it with the dignified elegance of my late grandmother. It was so heavy I assumed it was made of solid metal, but beneath the chrome finish is ceramic, and it broke right in half, the woman cleaved at the torso.

When I was young, we would visit my grandmother in California, and she would hide that sculpture, having decided it was too racy for young eyes. When she moved to Lexington, she brought it, along with the rest of her impressive art collection. As I have begun to accumulate my own art, I am always silently comparing my taste to hers, and some part of me hopes she would approve of the ways I decorate my living spaces.

The Rodin sat on my bar, and was set for a place of honor in the new loft. Perhaps it can be restored somewhat, but it will surely show the marks of having been broken. I asked Kelsey to take a stab at fixing it. I don’t think it will ever look like it did before, but I feel that the statue’s story has not yet ended.

The second broken piece is a menorah, made of welded metal on a stone base. It was a gift from my former father-in-law, Scott.

When I became engaged to my first wife, her family split in their reactions. Her folks were long-divorced. Her mom was supportive, and we got along famously. Her dad, however, strongly objected on the basis of my Judaism. He hosted Ashley for a visit shortly after our engagement, and tried to talk her out of it, saying that as a Jew, I was certainly bound for hell, and she should choose a spouse who was at least eligible for admission to heaven. It was hurtful, and I never became close with that side of the family.

Her mothers’ spouse, Scott, was a friendly, skilled, good-hearted man, but nobody would mistake him for woke. He hailed from the Carolinas, and had a large confederate battle flag tattooed on his arm. Nonetheless, he made an extraordinary effort to make me feel not just accepted, but welcomed into the family. At our first Christmas after the wedding, he gave me the menorah, a giant and sturdy candelabra that he had welded from spare parts in his workshop. Every detail was perfect, and it meant so much to me that he would find a way to connect with me as a Jewish person, and give me a gift put together with so much love and consideration.

Even after Ashley and I divorced almost eight years later, I kept the menorah. It was the centerpiece of my Hannukah celebration as recently as three months ago. I am not sure precisely how it broke, but it broke spectacularly, and definitely beyond any opportunity of repair.

When I discovered these items, I felt devastated and my productivity came to a complete halt. After talking through my reactions with Kelsey and my sister, I realized that the reason these items were so special to me is because they remind me of entire stories. They are not objects: they are vehicles for memory. If someone were to remark on the statue, I had a whole story to tell them, about my elegant grandmother. For the menorah, it is one of the few items I kept from my first marriage, and reminds me of a great kindness that resonates even now.

I also realized that telling these stories, putting them in tangible form, would lessen the impact of losing the items themselves. The pieces of ceramic and metal and stone have no special value: it is what they represent. They remind me of special people and bygone times.

It is my hope with this post, I can let my writing, and not the things that broke, serve as a vehicle for these memories.

-AG

Published in: on March 21, 2021 at 6:03 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. I’m literally crying right now (not uncontrollable wails, but a few distinct and much earned and needed tears). For a year of loses and general punishment we’ve all taken, somehow the loss/destruction of these items resonated with me more than I thought it could. Thank you for sharing this story.

    Also, I have no idea how I even came upon your blog – I must have been googling DIY renovation stuff (which has been a large chunk of my time since March 13 2020), opened a tab to your site here, and then must have been distracted for the past several days before coming back here, fully lost as where and why that google path brought me here.


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