Fixing the Broken

by Rachel Creager Ireland

I knew it would be our last Christmas here, so I pared down the decorations and mementos so that I wouldn’t have to go through them all again before we move. I dug up boxes of ornaments and lights from various disused motel rooms where they’d been put away. I tested strings of lights and donated the ones that worked, I carefully chose which decorations were meaningful to one or more of us in the family, and ruthlessly got rid of the rest. What I saved, I packed as compactly as I could, so we won’t have to move more than one bin.

Every year I make a point of storing all the Christmas things together, but somehow there are always other boxes—even some empty ones— in different places, that I find years later when I’m looking for something else. Some of my favorite ornaments I haven’t seen in so long, I wonder if I dreamed their existence. But moving time is getting closer than ever, so this week I forced myself to go into a room full of junk and take out some boxes for sorting. And there it was, underneath a couple boxes of decorations I didn’t remember we’d ever had, the lost box of tree ornaments. It was labeled, “Christmas ornaments ’06/ Don’t lose.”

box of ornaments

There was also a bundle of tissue. Whatever was inside was surely highly fragile, as it was wrapped in layer after layer which I had to unwind one at a time. It turned out to be a primitive ceramic nativity. My mother-in-law must have given it to us, as she has one like it, from one of those non-profit organizations that employ impoverished people making crafty stuff for the relatively wealthy. I’m always a bit hesitant to get too religious about Christmas, and this thing had been packed away so long that surely it has no particular meaning or sentimental value to any of us. It would be easy to get rid of.

Nestled in the hollow was another tissue bundle. When I finally got it unwrapped, it turned out it was protecting the chunks that broke off the main piece, when, presumably, somebody dropped it. It appeared fixable. Someone had wrapped all the pieces together with great care, and stored them for a day when they could be repaired.

The obvious question is, why not just glue it, instead of making all that effort to save it for later? And the reason is that I was incapable of fixing things then. Much more vividly than these objects, I remember the utter despair I felt as I dragged myself up out of postpartum depression. In winter of 2006 I had a two-year-old, and was newly pregnant and terrified that I would have to recover from a surgical birth with a newborn and a toddler to care for. I was afraid the depression would win this time around. I had no money or insurance and, outside of my immediate family, all my friends were impossibly distant. The unexpected surgical birth had shaken my confidence, and I was unable to make decisions or take on even minor responsibilities. I felt too fragile and broken to fix myself, much less anything else.

But I did fix myself. Very slowly I made connections, I found tools, I found my voice. I started doing things I knew I couldn’t, and succeeded at some of them. I learned to manage my mental state. I rebuilt my shattered self-confidence, stronger than ever. I survived.

Now the two-year-old is fourteen, and the shrimp that was floating in my belly in 2006 is taller than I am. She will soon be twelve. As we prepare to move on to our next stage, I have found and repaired other things, and made new ones out of old things. I fixed this one in about three minutes.

It was almost as if I had some tiny bit of hope, twelve years ago, in my depression: that some day I would be better. Like a letter to my future self, I saved this broken item as best I could, for the time when I would be a person who could fix it. And now I am, so I think I will keep this one as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ll find space in the bin for one more item.

Ceramic nativity-2