As It Had Been Before

As It Had Been Before by Haley Sandlow - Photo by Zoe Oppenheimer

I squeezed my eyes shut and tensed my shoulders before the crash ended, as if when I opened my eyes again there wouldn’t be a mug lying shattered in pieces on the faded kitchen tiles. As if when I opened my eyes, Dad wouldn’t be standing in the midst of the shards of the mug we bought him for his birthday years ago, standing with his hands curled around a cylindrical space of air like he was still holding it. Standing with his mouth opening and closing, silent, and stone-still.

I stood up from my place at the kitchen table, slamming my math textbook closed. “Dad!” He was always the first to grab a rag and a knife to clean my spilled milk out of the cracks in the table, the first to snatch a Band-aid out of the cabinet when I cut myself, the first to direct everybody to put on their shoes, grabbing the vacuum cleaner to clean up a broken glass. His instinct was instant, he jumped to action before the milk spilled, before the elbow scraped, before the glass shattered. Then he’d crack a joke, kiss me on the forehead, and everything would go back to the way it had been before.

And yet he just stood there, unmoving, staring at the broken pottery and Earl Grey tea bag scattered off to the side.

I ran around the table, away from the mess, to the garage. I slipped on my sneakers and grabbed his sandals, tossing them in front of Dad’s bare feet. With his sandals on, Dad shuffled to the kitchen table and sat, watching me. His eyes looked glazed over, he shook slightly like the still-whistling kettle that rattled on the stove.

I knew to grab a paper bag, to pick up the larger pieces first. It was the mug with the pink seahorse on it, followed by dozens of baby seahorses in a soft ocean scene. I loved that mug.

I knew where the vacuum cleaner was, and to vacuum more of the ground than where I saw shards were splayed. The memory of the crash echoed in my head, layered with the panicked, screaming kettle. I turned off the stove.

With the vacuum put away and the paper bag in the trash, I sat down next to Dad. He had his head in his hands. For the first time, I noticed gray hairs creeping up the back of his neck. The veins on his forearms protruded blue from his skin.

“Dad, are you ok?”

He inhaled, then smiled, skin folding into crinkles by his eyes and mouth. His eyes glimmered behind his rimless glasses, two smoothed shards of glass. “Yes, I’m all right. I don’t know what just happened, I just, I felt like I couldn’t…couldn’t move for a minute there. I’m all right now, sweetie. Thanks for cleaning up. When I tell your mother you actually cleaned something, she’ll be shocked!”

He kissed me on the forehead. I hugged him.

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” he whispered.

It was quiet again, without the sound of the crash echoing in my ears. The kitchen was spotless, as it had been before. As it had been before, minus a seahorse mug.

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Haley Sandlow is a senior at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois. She is the opinions editor at her school newspaper, a member of her school's gymnastics and track teams, and a participant in her school's theater program. She loves journalistic and creative writing, drinking coffee, and watching The Office.
Accompanying photo: “Splash Study” by Zoe Oppenheimer