There are no witnesses. The parking lot is empty but for me, a broken window, and panic.
This isn’t happening. I blink, willing the the scene to disappear. Maybe I’m imagining this.
But my vandalized car is very real. It is 85 degrees and I am shivering in the heat of the morning.
You are in danger, Anxiety tells me, his bony fingers digging into my shoulders as I stand there, frozen.
I do what you are not supposed to do—I grab the handle of the car door and pull it open slowly, the glass crunching beneath my sandals. A fresh shower of glass pummels my feet, the tops of them bare. I jump back. That should have cut you.
At first, I can’t believe my luck. My iPhone is right where I left it when I ran into Starbucks for coffee and a breakfast sandwich.
A woman in her late 60s calls to me, “Dear, did this just happen? Who did this?”
I nod, and as I do, I realize: my weekender bag is gone. Bright pink, roomy, a gift from my mother. Our nanny—whose services are a gift from my husband—is with our kids, and it is Friday, my one day of the week to roll down my windows, drive along the coast, and be free.
In the bag is my laptop, a cosmetic bag filled with makeup, my favorite tankini, and sunscreen.
The shattered glass is turquoise, like the ocean that has been calling to me all morning.
Tempered glass is created from quick, intense heat followed by slow cooling. Heated past its annealing point, around 1,200 degrees, the glass rapidly cools, allowing the center to remain fluid for much longer than the outer surfaces. The tensions formed across the glass make it incredibly strong—so strong it can’t be cut.
Car windows are made from tempered glass as a safety measure. In the case of an emergency—if you should steer your car into a tree, or off a cliff, for instance—the glass would shatter into millions of tiny pieces too small to cause much harm.
I remember learning about safety glass as a child, and I thought how strange it was that someone dreamed up its design. What a marvel, to form something precisely so when it breaks, it can never be put back together.
After making the police report, calling our insurance provider, and canceling the hair appointment I anticipated for weeks, I walk to the grocery store to pick up cleaning supplies.
“Don’t worry about cleaning up,” the police officer told me, but there is glass all over my seat and on the floorboards and even stuck in the window frame. I can’t drive the car like this. I can’t leave. Not until I pick it all up.
Heavy duty garbage bags. A dustpan and broom. Thick rubber gloves. I haul my purchases through the heat of midday and become acutely aware of the looks I receive as I begin to pick up the pieces. Most likely the passersby are curious, yet I register their collective gaze as an accusation. Haven’t they ever seen something break before?
This isn’t my fault—I parked in a well-trafficked parking lot, at 9:30 in the morning—yet Anxiety still has me in his grip. This is why you must never let your guard down.
I grab at the glass with my fingers, which are clumsy and slow in the gloves.
Losing myself came on quick. One moment I was on the threshold of motherhood; the next I was a ring-of-fire survivor, burning with pain and love, breathing in the heady smoke of responsibility.
I think about this as my hands work slowly on the glass. The sun sends drops of sweat down my dress, and my skin remembers my son’s hot body writhing against mine, screaming again at 3 a.m., the air so heavy and thick around us.
This is Fear: this white-hot, primal thing that boils inside me, threatening to pour into my every facet. This is Anxiety, who manically whispers I’ll never be enough, that I won’t be able to keep myself or my children alive.
I know God whispers, too, but it has become so hard to hear him. Anxiety is louder.
I tire of the gloves and begin grabbing at the pieces with my bare hands. I remember this glass isn’t supposed to cut, so I dive in with abandon. Fistfuls of glass are streaming through my fingers as I grab and toss them into the trash bag.
As the sweat gathers at my temples, I can’t decide if I am angry or sad or afraid. Maybe all of the above, but mostly annoyed because today was supposed to be mine.
Just let me be, I think. Why can’t you just let me be?
I try to remember the woman I was before all of this: the woman who didn’t wake with Anxiety sitting on her chest, digging his claws into her skin, whispering they could die.
All I wanted was to escape, just for one day. Now I am stuck tossing glass into the garbage.
This was supposed to be my time. Grab. I was going to write that essay. Toss. I was going to record that makeup tutorial. Grab. I was going to go to the beach. Toss.
I turn my attention to the pieces on the ground, which somehow seem to multiply the longer I stare at them, try to hold them all in my hands. There are just too many pieces.
But I will pick up every one of you, I say silently to the glass like a person who is losing her mind, because I probably am.
My writing. My business. My cute swimsuit that finally fits. Items of reclamation. Pieces of myself I thought I had lost. Gone, gone, gone. My throat closes, eyes burn.
When the sliver no bigger than a hair pierces the skin beneath my nail, I stop.
Once I believed my faith could move mountains. Why will it not move this monster off my chest?
I try to reach across time to that earlier version of myself, the one who laid in bed just a little too long on Saturday mornings, sipping coffee that always stayed hot, running her fingers through her thick and often-washed hair. The one who laughed loudly. The one who went to school and got a job and ran for promotions and was recognized for her skills. The one who believed like a child in a good, good Father.
She stares at me through a trick mirror, warped and cracked.
Fear breathes in my ear: Who are you without her?
Who am I? Someone new. The hammer is heavy in my palm.
I guide the car up the hill, over the broken asphalt and into the rocky lot overlooking the sea. There are no marked stalls—the lot is old and I absently wonder if I am breaking some kind of rule—and I pull into the spot that offers the most generous view. I laugh when I realize I won’t have to roll down my window.
The ocean’s many shades fade into one another, from the turquoise of the shore to the royal blue of the horizon. Here, on this side of the island, the water is fairly shallow, smooth like a mirror, until it rolls itself into waves. They crash, again and again, along the shoreline.
I try to breathe in rhythm with the water, as I have done at the beach since I was a child.
The waves aren’t big, but they are relentless. I am still afraid. Anxiety’s grip is looser now, but he is here with me still, his breath on my neck.
A salty wind blows in from the ocean. My hair dances to a song I can’t quite hear, but I remember.
I am afraid, but I remember, so I am here—shattered glass—ready to create something new from what's been broken.
Guest post written by Erin Curlett. Erin lives with her husband and two boys on the windward side of Oahu. When she’s not in the middle of a toddler dance party or tickle fight, Erin loves to jog by the ocean, read murder mysteries, and write. She is a regular contributor to Military Moms Blog and her writing has also appeared on Mamalode, Scary Mommy, the Good Mother Project, and her personal blog.