Creative Nonfiction by Brandy Renee McCann
I break things. The handle off my favorite coffee mug. The zipper of my fancy purse. I have broken the hearts of people who care about me.
Just last week, while finishing a cup of sleepy tea, I knocked the teapot with my mug. Tink! I looked down and the tip of the spout was missing. It wasn’t on the counter top, nor could I find it on the floor. I got out the flashlight and looked under the stove and cabinets but couldn’t find the tip anywhere. Without the broken piece, I could not repair the spout.
The teapot was one my husband had purchased years ago while traveling, and is a pretty thing—cobalt blue with lithe golden irises painted on the side. My husband who is exacting and careful in all things. Always. I thanked all the powers under the stars that it wasn’t one of the much older teapots he’d inherited from his grandfather.
For several days I hid the break by turning the pot so that the missing tip wasn’t obvious, and cursed myself for not being more careful.
I don’t know where I inherited my tendency to break things. I don’t know where I inherited my own brokenness. I imagine my papaw Charlie—the one from whom I inherited bipolar disorder. It was called manic depression in his day when he traveled six hours from rural West Virginia to Saint Albans Hospital in Radford, Virginia for electroshock therapy.
Interestingly, bipolar disorder cannot be located in the brain. Nor can it be found on any gene. But I am a scientist at heart so I will hold space for the possibility of discovery, for the possibility of a biological explanation.
We know this: trauma is a risk factor for developing bipolar disorder. As is having a first-degree relative. A mother, for example. A mother, who in a fit of religious fervor burnt all your childhood books because they did not edify the spirit. The smoke and ashes of Big Bird, Miss Piggy, and Frog & Toad a sacrifice to the gods of mania. A mother who was the youngest daughter of a man who, from time to time, raged violently at his family. A father who was a son—a toddling boy whose mother had died. Tink! Did our brokenness begin there? When papaw Charlie’s own father drank and beat to excess, until the little boy and his big sister hopped a train and found refuge at an aunt’s boarding house.
They found refuge but the brokenness remained, little bits of glass handed down from one generation to the next. Strange nubs under the surface of my skin.
Finally, my husband noticed the broken teapot. Tink! I apologized, explained what happened, and let my husband’s quiet disappointment bend but not break me. Our kids watched our conversation over bowls of cocoa krispies—out of the sturdy Pyrex bowls I’d inherited from papaw Charlie. I remember him eating oatmeal from them forty years before, when I was a little girl. His black-brown eyes twinkling at me—the same black-brown eyes of my oldest son.
I marvel at the bowls. They have been carried all over the country—from West Virginia to Texas to Vermont and back to Virginia. They’ve been dropped and drummed and banged and rolled, but with all that they’re not missing so much as a chip.