Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Bittersweet Tale of the Jelly Bean Puzzle

If you are my Facebook friend, you have no doubt heard much about the jelly bean puzzle.  It has sort of consumed my life in a way, and it's brought up a lot of emotions that are ... well, quite frankly, difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, Belle started going through this puzzle phase.  Basically, she did every single puzzle we had in the house (virtually all of them fairly simple ... they're all Disney Princess and Fancy Nancy children's puzzles).

It struck a chord with me, to say the least.  See, I used to love doing puzzles.  It was one of my absolute favorite activities.

The problem is, it was an activity that I shared with my stepfather.  I would start doing a puzzle on the dining room table, and he would grouse at me about it, then the next thing I knew, he would be helping me with it.  We would have epic puzzle events, and on more than one occasion we would glue and frame the end result (we took on some tough ones).

Sometimes it would take us days to get through puzzles.  A lot of the time, we worked on the current puzzle together.  Sometimes, he'd get home from work and I'd have made a ton of progress.  Often, I'd get home from school and find that he'd gotten huge sections done.  If we were stymied, we'd work together.

I haven't done a puzzle since my stepdad's death in 2004.

While I love both my mother and my father very much, there were complexities that did not exactly allow us to have the best of relationships.

My mother suffers from hypothyroidism, and before she was diagnosed and began medication ... well, walking on eggshells is the best way I can think of to describe it.  You never knew what would set her off, and she caused deeper scars with words than I can express.  I also tended to get the brunt of it, for reasons that are skeletons in my family closet.

The same can be said of why my (and my siblings') relationship with my father is so complicated.  It is not my intent to air dirty laundry, particularly laundry that dates back to when I was a sixth grader.  Life goes on.

And I am the first to admit that I was not an easy child, an easy teen, or, for a long time, an easy adult.

Which is why my stepdad was so important to me.  He accepted me the way I was, held me accountable for my actions without being cruel and abusive, and did not allow me to take myself too seriously.  He also buffered my often-acrimonious relationship with my mother and allowed us to appreciate and even come to like each other (you can love without liking, and I think my mother and I had that dynamic for quite a long time).

When he passed, I descended into a depression so deep that I wasn't even aware of it.  I had never been able to depend on anyone or anything until my stepdad came into the picture, and losing him left me so lost and adrift that I couldn't even verbalize it.  Trying to support my mom without letting her know how lost I was also presented a challenge.

My mother and stepfather were truly, madly, and deeply in love, and I cannot imagine the pain she suffered, then and now.  My own loss, deep as it was, pales next to what my mother has gone through since the lung cancer death sentence came down.    

Ironically, it was Pythagorus' fall into mental illness and alcoholism that snapped me out of my own multi-year zombie state of loss and pain.  Someone had to be strong for the kids ... after all, hadn't that been what my stepdad had done for me?  He would have been disgusted, utterly appalled, by Pythagorus' actions, would have felt unspeakable disdain for the man who had shaken to the core the lives of his beloved granddaughters, and I didn't want to be in the category of people who would disappoint my stepdad in any way.  

As I pulled myself out of the mess my life had someone become, it was my stepdad's face that I kept in front of me.  It was his strength that got me through, and I came to terms with his death in the process, strange as that sounds.

I've come quite far away from the who puzzle thing ...

When Belle got on her puzzle kick, I decided that I would get a more challenging puzzle that she and I could do together, that it would be a way for us to bond the way that my stepdad and I had.

However, I clearly got a little overzealous with my choice of puzzle--a 1,000 piece monster made entirely of various colors of jelly beans.

Suffice it to say, I'm out of practice vis a vis the wild world of jigsaw puzzles, and Belle quickly found that this was a different kind of thing altogether and lost interest.

Progress has definitely been made ...

There is lots of work left to do, however, and it is a bittersweet experience for me.

Part of me keeps hoping that my stepdad will show up, because this was our absolutely favorite kind of puzzle--quite a challenge, and one that can be worked on a little bit at a time.

I'm just feeling like I'm not up to the task all by myself, and like I said, Belle bailed.

I'm going to keep on trucking, though.  Even if it takes me a month, I am going to get this stupid puzzle finished.  And then I am going to glue it and frame it and keep it for always, because even though it didn't necessarily allow Belle and I to bond in the way I'd hoped, it's given me back a little bit more of my stepdad ... in a healthy and not-depressed way, if that makes sense.

I am deeply happy working on this puzzle even while I'm incredibly sad.  Does that make any sense?

So anyway, that's the story of why the jelly bean puzzle that I've been bemoaning on Facebook is more than just a puzzle ...


Note: School starts for me on Friday (I know, I can't believe it, either), which is also the day that Addie leaves for college.  I am going to be pretty busy (and strung out) the next week or so, but I have some great guest posts lined up--one from my favorite student of all time, one from my good buddy Martin over at From Sand to Glass, and one from a friend of Henry's who's become my good friend too over Facebook (don't you love technology?).  I hope you'll enjoy all of them (I think they're pretty amazing :-)), and if you're interested in writing a guest post, drop me an e-mail.

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