Puzzled

This is Cagney, who is also controlling.

My cat won’t get off my puzzle. It’s like she knows that it’s important to me so she sits on it as if to say I DON’T GIVE A SHIT WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT! But I don’t want to deal with her right now. I just want to finish. I want to get all the pieces in their rightful spots. I want to hear the snap as it fits in perfectly and then I can smooth it over and give it a little tap with my un-manicured fingers. 

It’s month ten of the Coronavirus pandemic. When it started we counted the lockdown the way you do with a new born. By days. Eight days, fifteen days. Then it became weeks. Three weeks. Seven weeks. And now it’s months. And the more we count the more those early days seem so ridiculous. As if we could all agree to not leave our houses and sing songs on our balconies like the Italians did and get this thing under control. I don’t even have a balcony. 

I remember the Thursday after the Friday when everything in the world stopped. I was taking a walk with my husband and I started to cry. I couldn’t do another day of it. Let alone another week. (Ha.) I was hyperventilating. I had to stop and lean over to put my hands on my legs as my sobs rang out through our suburban community. I couldn’t take a deep breath. I immediately thought I had Covid. A thought I’ve had about a thousand times a day since that day. 

It was all so out of my control. Out of my control is not a feeling that I like. I have an intense fear of flying exactly because it is out of my control. This virus has been like being on an overseas flight with a drunk pilot for an eternity. No matter how many plastic cups of shitty wine and bottles of Ativan I go through it does not get better. The plane does not land. 

I have four kids. 16, 13, nine and six. It’s a lot. It’s stupid actually. And it was tough to manage when the world was normal. But now it’s completely untenable. I want them to be able to go to school and have a normal year. They have not. I want them to see their friends. They have not. I want to make it better. I can not. I want them to leave me alone. They do not.

Every day of this I have to remind myself that I can’t solve the problem of my children not learning what they need to learn. Nor can I make the vaccine come any quicker. And most annoyingly I can’t solve the issue of the FUCKING PEOPLE WHO WON’T PUT THEIR MASKS UP OVER THEIR NOSES. IT’S NOT A CHIN GUARD YOU DIPSHITS! 

But I can solve puzzles. And puzzles I have solved. Dozens and dozens of puzzles. I mostly stick with five hundred pieces but lately have been venturing into boxes that hold a thousand little parts of a whole. Astrological cats, dogs with jobs, paint buckets filled with Legos, succulents, New Yorker covers, rainbow ice pops, rainbow buttons, rainbow crystals, rainbow cupcakes, rainbow butterflies, just plain fucking rainbows. I’ve done them all. 

They arrive at the house in Amazon packages and I ignore the fact that I’m making Jeff Bezos even richer than he already is as I tear open the boxes. I pull the plastic off with my teeth and then dump the contents out onto the dining room table. Not worried if I’m taking up too much room or making a mess because the table won’t be hosting any dinner parties for days, weeks, months, years? 

The first step is the organizing. Controlling people like me love to organize, so while there isn’t much challenge to this part, it does feel satisfying to do. I flip all the pieces upright, sort out the edges and then group the rest into piles of similar colors. 

I usually start with the edges but sometimes I find it’s easier to begin with a focal point. If the puzzle has words on it (the New Yorker covers for example) I like to warm up with those. When the words are all broken up into tiny segments, it’s difficult to tell the top of an “R” from the bottom of a “D,” but little by little it all starts to come together. The colors that all looked exactly the same at the beginning start to differentiate themselves and a purple can become tinged with blue, pink or dusty red. The shapes also start to stand out in new ways. Fat little “h”’s with arms or a tall man with a tiny head. The things that I couldn’t see when I launched in slowly but surely come into focus. I wish I could say the same for world we are living in. But those big out of my control pieces have remained as muddled and unclear to me as they did to me on Friday, March 13. 

I do the puzzles alone. The kids know better than to ask me if I want help. I don’t. I want to do it all by myself. So that I can have the feeling of accomplishing something. Anything. They watch their barely holding it together mother sip her wine, sake, martini and slowly achieve her goals. 

This fucking cat though. She just doesn’t get it. ❏

Stacy Traub is a writer/producer ordered to stay at home with a husband, four kids, two cats and two dogs. 

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