Sunday, June 20, 2010

An All Too Obvious Metaphor

This morning I sat down to re-assemble a jigsaw puzzle...of me and my husband Mark putting in the final piece of another puzzle. (Mark's wee nephew Milo was looking on from the side.)

In June 2007, my mother-in-law, Helen, had brought together her three sons with two spouses, one long-term boyfriend, and three grandsons to a big house on Kiawah Island, South Carolina, to commemorate her sixtieth birthday.

I found a puzzle in the house and obsessively spent a couple of hours a day, over 3 or 4 days, putting it together. The others would walk through and comment as they passed by or wandered onto the porch, while I stayed dedicated to my self-imposed task. (I like to finish something once I start.) Mark has helped from time-to-time and Milo had often come in and stared on rapt. Someone took a photo to memorialize the finishing it. So we all got into the picture.

That Christmas Helen had the photo made into a puzzle, which has sat on our dining table in the box, unopened ever since.

Today I scattered the little pieces on the table and started to put it together. "Oh," I thought, "I'll work on this for an hour or so and leave it off." Of course, I'm not that person so I spent the next several hours putting the pieces together.
Separating the edge pieces from the others. I started with the most recognizable parts - which were Mark and my smiling faces. Milo came together in fits and spurts. Other parts of the picture began to emerge unexpectedly - like the puzzle within the puzzle. Edges of some pieces would give clues to their destination because they contained the hard outline of some object - a chair, a table.

After putting together the middle and center, the outer edges challenged me. The detail in the photo was fuzzy and the colors and shapes simliar. Then my friend John called to catch up and make plans to meet later today. As I listened to him I still scanned the pieces looking for something to come into recognition. As occasional but close friends do, he asked about the state of my marriage. "It's good. Solid. Sometimes stale. I tend to focus on what needs to be fixed - in any circumstance - so I have to remind myself that a stable, happy relationship is a good one; especially a marriage that is almost five years old."
Our cat - Mills - walked across the table, threatening to disturb the unassigned pieces. He was quite likely to nudge bits onto the floor. I picked him up and tossed him away. He returned to the table top so picked him up and set him further away. All the while John listened to me curse the cat - "goddammit Mills!" - as the cat squawked back at me. I said goodbye to John and Mills left me in peace.
I returned to the gaps in the picture and the scattered, unintelligible pieces. I stared at some and then the fuzzy details started to make sense; not entirely but enough to try them out with the grain in the wall that would line up a row or gradation in color and light that made a piece of the puzzle more appropriate to one place than another.
Flashes of success were followed periods of staring and seeing nothing. Sometimes I would take a bit and try it here-and-there and - not often - it would snap into place. I finished the last area - of blurry grasses and leaves in a sprint. With fewer pieces to consider each one found its logical spot quickly and in a neat succession.
The picture of two smiling men - married - and a little boy looking on had been reconstituted.

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