A Puzzle

So. I finished this puzzle. It’s Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria which happens to be one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. It’s 2000 pieces, so I guess that in itself is an accomplishment, but finishing this puzzle has been like getting to Mordor and back.

I started this puzzle when I went home at Christmas. I used to do puzzles as a way to escape within the house. I knew if I sat at the kitchen table and did a puzzle everyone would mostly leave me alone. I remembered past Christmases where my dad would come sit down and try to talk to me about stuff I didn’t want to talk about and I would give him the minimum interaction required, acting like I was completely engrossed in the puzzle.

The bigger and more difficult the puzzle, the better. It meant it would take me longer to complete and it would give me an excuse to not engage. Well, this year I didn’t have to worry about my dad trying to talk to me, because he had passed away the previous Spring. So I sat there and worked on this puzzle. I tried not to look at the chair my dad used to sit in when he tried to talk to me. I attempted not to drown in regret .

My brother put a TV on the table so I would have company. I was able to binge watch Dr. Who and work on this puzzle. I did this day and night until it was time for me to go back to Chicago, but try as I might I didn’t finish it. I was only 80% done. I ended up sadly breaking the puzzle apart and putting it back in the box and brought it home with me to Chicago.

I started to get superstitious, well that and I have an undiagnosed propensity for compulsion. I started thinking that my life would suck until I completed this damn puzzle. 2017 was bound to be as awful as 2016, unless I could conquer this. So I started putting it together again. I spread it out on my coffee table and worked on it while my roommate was out of town. I had finished Dr. Who at my mom’s house, so I started over and binge-watched the whole series again. I worked on the puzzle day and night. There was nothing fun about putting the puzzle together. I felt like I had to. I had to finish it. I was a failure if I didn’t, but try as I might I couldn’t finish the puzzle before my roommate got home. It was 80% done again.

I couldn’t leave the puzzle on the table because the living room was a disaster. In my obsession to complete this puzzle I had moved every single lamp in the apartment into the living room to construct the perfect jigsaw puzzle-constructing lighting. My roommate is a very neat person and I knew this crazy puzzle-constructing secret lab that I had created wasn’t going to fly.

I decided to move the puzzle into my bedroom so I could finish it in the privacy of my room. This is not the kind of jigsaw puzzle that stays together when you pick it up. It’s a thicker one, so it falls apart instantly. I flattened a couple of boxes and taped them together. I SLOWLY and VERY carefully nudged the puzzle onto my flattened boxes. The puzzle kept falling apart so this was very slow work. It took me over an hour to get the entire puzzle on the flattened boxes, but I did it!

I gingerly carried my contraption holding the precious puzzle to my bedroom, but the boxes were too wide to fit through my door. I tilted it ever so slightly to fit through the door and half the puzzle fell off and broke completely apart. Sobbing, I saved as much of the puzzle as I could and placed the flattened boxes holding it on the floor. The rest of the pieces I angrily tossed back into my puzzle box, and threw it next to the puzzle.

By this point I had finished Dr. Who again, so I started it again and I got in my bed and I pretty much stayed there for a month. I went to a temp job 1-2 times a week, I  half-heartedly went on appointments for my theatre company, but if I wasn’t there, I was in bed trying to disappear. I watched as depression piled on top of the puzzle. I threw laundry on top of it and paperwork and books until there was a mound there so big that you couldn’t even see a 3′ by 5′ puzzle underneath it.

As always happens, one day I woke up and felt slightly better. I was able to make myself breakfast and get a couple chores done. Action begets action, so of course small tasks grew until I was able to do more things. My theatre company went into high gear, and I had to snap out of it whether I liked it or not. I got a new day job that I enjoy going to. I somehow made all my deadlines and fulfilled all my obligations and one day I woke up and felt the healthiest I had in a long time.

Even though the fog in my brain had cleared, I was still sleeping in the bedroom of a depressed person. So a couple days ago I decided that the time had come. I started cleaning my room until the puzzle was uncovered. And then I sat down and finished the puzzle. I found myself overcome with emotion a few times remembering my dad, remembering the family trip to Germany where I had seen Neuschwanstein castle in person. I finished the puzzle in half the time it took the other two times.

As you can imagine, from moving it 3 times and it falling numerous times, it is missing a piece. It isn’t perfect, but it is finished. And I have kept the promise I made to myself. The promise that I can finish things that I’ve started. The promise that I would take better care of myself this year. The promise that I would figure out how to keep living and not just surviving. The promise that I could dig my way out of my despair. It’s a stupid puzzle, but it represents so much more, and now my year can begin.

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