The glass crunches beneath my feet, thousands of tiny shards piercing my skin, leaving a trail of crimson footprints in my wake. I am running, racing for help, my two-year-old son in my arms, whimpering quietly. A woman sees me and screams, her face recoiling. I don’t know it at the time, I can’t feel it, but a large fragment of glass is protruding from my face, inches from my eye. We flag down a car, shouting “hospital, hospital”. The driver does the best that he can, careening through the chaotic streets like a mad man, but there is glass, so much glass. The roads have become torrents of glass, resembling the rupture of ice sheets on a frozen river. The driver deftly manoeuvres around the worst of it, avoiding punctured tires. We make it to the hospital. It is too late.
The flying glass was the first thing I saw when the Port of Beirut exploded, decimating an entire city. The shattering glass, hurtling towards us like icy daggers, came before any sound. Within an instant glass filled my body – my face, arms, hands and legs, riddled with shards. The sound followed a split second later, a sonic boom.
The deathly quiet pierced moments later by the screaming of my son Isaac. Just one piece of glass had hit Isaac. In the heart.
It was enough.
One piece of glass, no bigger than the palm of my hand, and our whole world changed. A piece of glass that my body could have absorbed, but was too much for his tiny frame, his tiny organs.
Glass rained down on the city of Beirut that 4th of August like a hailstorm of glistening blades. 7,000 tonnes of glass in and around the city shattered in an instant. Razor sharp diamonds shredded furniture. Finely ground glass powder coated everything in sight with a chalky film. Piercing slivers found their way into every nook and cranny, between the pages of books, the folds of clothes, the fur of teddy bears. Ubiquitous in its intrusion. A gleaming symbol of death.
The sickening sound of shattered glass beneath our feet became the soundtrack of the city for weeks. Glass crunched under car tires and clinked as piles of it were swept up by tireless volunteers. Mounds of glass sprouted along the streets of the once beautiful city like a malignant cancer, choking its host.
Just one of those pieces hit Isaac, one piece no bigger than my palm. With that one piece, my insides, like the glass of Beirut, shattered into millions of pieces. I am now a hollow shell. Scarred on the outside, empty on the inside, my feet filled with broken glass that rattles when I walk. I am broken. Death is the shattering, cracking of glass. The shattering of glass all over Beirut, taking with it my little boy. The cracking of my insides, killing me from within.
They say with time, things will get better, or at least easier. Across Beirut, volunteers are replacing broken windows and doors, and turning the mountains of discarded shards into art, a desperate attempt to create some beauty from the destruction. I suppose as the years progress, I too may start to piece the glass – my insides – back together again. But here is the thing about glass, once it is broken – not just broken but shattered – you can never put it back together perfectly. There will always be tiny cracks where the fragments don’t quite fit together properly, holes where a piece cannot be found, jagged edges protruding, ready to gouge the skin of anyone who gets too close. The impurities make it more fragile. Stress points develop, making it more susceptible to breaking once again. And so, without Isaac, that will be me. One day I may put myself together again to somewhat resemble the person I once was, but it will not be beautiful. There will always be cracks, holes and rough, painful edges. It will be a fragile existence. One knock and I will crumble.
Without Isaac, I will never be whole again.