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The Shipwreck Rose: Smash Up

Thu, 01/12/2023 - 10:01

Things keep breaking. In 2023, the infant year, I’ve accidentally dropped and smashed these things already:

One butterscotch-colored mixing bowl that belonged to my great-grandmother Huntting and slipped to the floor in the pantry as I was making batter for Yorkshire puddings; one etched pink-glass champagne flute that shattered in the sink on New Year’s morning (not a family heirloom, but part of a prized antique set of six purchased at the Bargain Box); one favorite Christmas ornament — a gigantic blown-glass spinning top as big as a grapefruit — that fell to the floor as we peevishly took down decorations on New Year’s afternoon; one green-ivy salad plate from the 1940s, among the few surviving pieces from my grandmother Jeannette’s everyday dining set; the heavy lid of a mid-Victorian cheese dish; and one Challinor milk-glass cake stand, circa 1910, painted with wildflowers, that was knocked over as we were polishing off the last of the Christmas fruit cake. All busted and gone.

I also, for the very first time in my life, was involved in a wee bit of a car crash. If you must know. And it was entirely my own fault! Almost entirely my own fault, anyway. It happened on the rainy evening of Jan. 1 — the same day as the champagne glass and the Christmas ornament — as I was heading out to pick up my daughter from a friend’s house and made the bad split-second decision to attempt a left-hand turn onto Main Street at an intersection where sightlines are blocked by parked cars. I drove right into the rear end of a passing Jeep. No one was hurt, thank the Lawrd, and the Jeep only had a scratch, but my bumper kind of, like, bounced right off the body of my Honda.

I’ve never had so much as a moving violation before, and although the “thank God it wasn’t worse” feeling was strong, I was perturbed that my perfect driving record had been broken. For a solid week, indulging in a bit of latent hypochondria, I worried that it all might be a symptom of something medical: Had my typically sharp motor reflexes been slowed by the post-Covid brain fog? I had Covid at Thanksgiving, with the main symptoms having been a mental vagueness and slight confusion. Covid seemed to target my brain, rather than my lungs. Are decreased reflexes a symptom of long Covid? (This is a rhetorical question. Don’t write letters to the editor. I can ask my G.P.)

Or was the smashing up more to do with some sort of metaphysical “out with the old and in with the new”? I am going with out-with-the-old.

I don’t believe in the Universe sending personalized messages — whether through table-rapping, astrological signals, or an omen, a crow alighting on a tree, a shooting star — but I do think the Universe has been telling me something. This, the Universe says, is the year to break old habits and smash old patterns. The Universe is beckoning me, to the sound of crashing crockery and smashing thermoplastic.

For a loather of routine, I’m pretty good at falling into ruts. What I mean by this is that I do not like doing the same thing over and over again. I don’t even like bedtime — that supposedly delicious time of night when the clock chimes (again, as it always does) and you pull your cozy down duvet up to your chin and shut your eyes (again, as you always do) — because I don’t like repetition. I experience bedtime as the very definition of “tedium,” in an existential sort of way. I’m so against routine and the humdrum that, in restaurants, I put off choosing from the menu until the waiter is actually standing there above me with the pen hovering over the order pad because, if I decide what to eat at the very last second, it’s almost like getting a surprise when the coq au vin arrives at the table. But despite my characteristic craving for novelty, my days have become quite rote.

And this is why the very first thing I did in 2023, to shake myself out of my old habits and patterns, was to spend the last scrap of a pandemic-era airline credit on JetBlue — an airfare credit set to expire on Jan. 13 — on a round-trip ticket to Great Britain. Solo, without my kids.


So here I am, right now, on a south-bound train out of London’s Victoria Station, sitting in a brightly lighted carriage, whizzing through the rain on my way to see my old friend John David, a Cambridge professor, in Brighton, England. I’ve never been to Brighton before, and the terminus of the Brighton Main Line has five acres of glass.

Here I am, now, typing my weekly newspaper column on the fifth floor of a Georgian building with a beautiful belvedere — I’ve just learned what a belvedere is — on Chichester Terrace, Brighton, sitting at a desk by a window that looks out over a very gray and wind-whipped English Channel, just east of the Brighton Pier. Surprise!

We’re leaving the apartment now to buy souvenirs for my children. Teddy, who has become a tea drinker in emulation of his dad, will get a new brand of organic Fair Trade English breakfast tea in a funny British box. Nettie will get scented body spray from Boots the Chemist. We have to wear raincoats because the weather is fierce. I’ll see you next week.


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