A mania for glass shards

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

I do not have the fire-starting desire called pyromania. That is a kind of common enthusiasm one reads about periodically in the newspapers. My mania is fracto speculomania — a word I made up. It means, loosely, an enthusiasm (that’s the mania part) for broken glass (fracto speculo).

I break glass and mirrors. I do it so often one would think I really did have an enthusiasm for it. Unlike the pyro- kind of mania, my brand is purely accidental. (If you’re one who believes nothing is an accident, don’t talk to me. I can’t countenance a notion that by default would indicate I was crazy.) I break a certain number of glasses in a week. During my life I have dropped three thermometers, all of which hit just right (just wrong?) and littered the floor with the dangerous glass and mercury.

I can walk barefoot nowhere in my all-wood-floor house because of once-upon-a-time broken juice glasses, mirrors, art glass, a couple of porcelain bowls and a wine glass or two. When you drop glass on a hard surface, it shatters and spreads across a room like water. For months I find a recognizable piece of a glass rim behind a couch leg, a part of a bowl hanging at the bottom of a curtain, tiny splinters alongside the front of the fridge.

In the bedroom I can’t just hop out of bed and run to the bathroom; I have to put on slippers for fear of the stray mirror shards (one full mirror, one hand mirror and one dresser mirror that wasn’t attached but leaning against a wall in an interior décor mode). In the bathroom itself, I’ve dropped so many jars and bottles, broken them in so many dozens of pieces never recovered by broom or vacuum that I probably could have fashioned a mosaic in front of the sink.

The kitchen is the scene of most breakage. Were it all piled up, it would look like someone wanted into my kitchen badly enough to break all my windows with baseball bats.

My maternal grandmother was likewise afflicted. Breaking glass is an annoying dysfunction and I wonder what Grandma Grace made of it.

She was an archetypal fracto speculomaniac, a glass breaker of massive proportions. Juice glasses were her medium. My memory is not of the juice glass breaking, however, but of walking uptown with Grandma to buy new juice glasses. This was a common occurrence, and I wouldn’t doubt that there was talk around the dime store of Grace Aubry’s juice glass mania. Little did they know that the mania wasn’t really in the collecting but in the breaking.

She let me pick out pretty little glasses with oranges on them, or red, yellow and orange stripes or sometimes orange blossoms. “Now, don’t tell your grandfather,” she’d say, as if he ever gave a thought to the changing design on the glasses. [Note: juice glasses are not nearly as charming as they once were. In fact, I haven’t seen a juice glass for some time. Most of my friends drink their juice out of Manhattan glasses.]

Just the other day, a painting of mine fell off its wall four feet to the floor. As I recognized the meaning of the crash bang from the other room I really didn’t want to go in to see how many minute pieces a 3 x 2 plate glass had turned into. The weirdest thing — the painting hit the floor, the glass stuck itself into the wood about half an inch deep and was quivering on its corner as I rounded the living room into the scene of . . . NO broken glass! I’m still dumbstruck by the phenomenon of no breakage. The painting itself took some scrapes and dings, and it rests behind the couch awaiting repair; the glass remains stuck in the floor leaning slightly toward the wall. It’s too heavy for me to get a grip on it to pull it out of its divot, so it’s acting like an objet d’art until someone brawny comes along to dislodge it for me.

I lived in a very dry climate — Nevada — for a while. In the extremely low humidity glue dried up and disappeared, leaving chairs with splayed legs and art frames splitting at the corners. I lost a few glassed frames there . . . as well as a guest who sat on a chair and in huge surprise landed on the floor.

I now live in a damp clime, and although my dining room chairs carry the weight, my paintings are still falling off the walls, usually breaking the glass — and sometimes even the plexiglass. An ancient oval frame that once held a mirror (it broke) and then a family photo covered by glass, fell off the wall when I slammed the door the other morning. The glass skittered everywhere, the frame broke in three places and the dear photo from 1965 when my now-50-year-old son was not yet one year old and his parents just 22 (no wrinkles, perfect hair; as we aged and the picture didn’t, I began calling it “Plastic Couple and Child”) ripped in half. And another piece of glass in my house rearranged its molecules.

What all this breaking up means is inconsequential in the scheme of things. It makes a HAZMAT zone of my house. I have to wear shoes at all times. I usually forget to inform visiting guests about the dangers lurking; this makes me feel guilty in that after-the-fact kind of way. Bloody feet in the middle of the night just because you have to go to the bathroom sounds more like a war zone than a vacation.

There is no real point to this story, just passing on a weird aspect of my life. I’m sure you have them, things that happen much too often to you and are much too mystifying, if not downright stupid.

And so it goes, as reporter Linda Ellerbee used to say, and so it goes.


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