The light from the television cradled his body, electric blue dancing in his eyes, a cool shadow on the other side of the bed. He rolled around, heavy with worry, his head thick with layers of confusion. A glimpse of a laugh, the rush of lapping it up, the memory of leaving. Crashing into him and forcing him to roll over to find a way to rest.
Beneath our bodies, we are constantly putting together a jigsaw puzzle of our portraits. Some of us are fortunate enough to find our own pieces while others need help from outside sources. People come to assist us in the form of friends, family, and lovers. They can often point out the parts that are hiding right under our noses.
And sometimes we take pieces from their puzzle to try to fit them into ours, thus changing the puzzle, thus changing our portrait. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The piece gets stuck and we end up carrying it around with us, even after the person in prior possession of that piece peaces out. The puzzle grows in complexity with all the extraneous parts, making it even harder to form a coherent picture. And when someone new comes along, they have to sort through all the clutter to help us assemble ourselves again. It gets messy and complicated and time-consuming. Some people come with a lot more pieces than others, and some with many more missing parts.
At the precipice of dreams, a hand brushed against his nose. A subtle stroke that stole his sleep. Constantly swiping back and forth, a ghost that gutted him slowly. A thief in the night, an omen of bad luck, proof that God hated him. Each imagined scenario avalanched his peace of mind, his desire to move on, his plea to just forget.
“That was the easy part,” he thought to himself. “The mouth conforms to shape and size and silence. Anyone can figure out the physical. But what lies beyond the bend? What compels someone to desire, devour, then desecrate someone else?”
It’s a balance of working at that puzzle without feeling the pressure to complete it. Because maybe the puzzle is never really complete. And maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a lifelong exchange of pieces between partners, constantly fitting and subtracting, giving and acquiring. The portrait always changes, shifting with our choices, growing as we do, damaged as we are, and falling apart as we come undone.
His eyes finally fell down. Time tripped up the ghost. The words that poured from his fingers told him he would endure. It was the effort of living, the trials of falling, the grace of patience that showed him he had a lot to learn about people and intimacy, fear and greed, boundaries and the boundless hope that still resided in him. For his puzzle, while not nearly complete, was not frayed at the edges or bent in the corners. It wasn’t so much that his pieces had been handled with care. They simply hadn’t been handled at all. But they were just as good as anyone else’s and worth working on. There was potential in those pieces.
But can’t you still enjoy the picture that’s being formed even if there are a few vacant spaces? Maybe that’s the most difficult part. We want the end result, the complete picture. But how often do we stop to appreciate the progress we’ve already made? When he looked at his portrait, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. It had changed. A few fingers were missing, a part of his left cheek, but while his eyes were closed, both his arms were outstretched. And there was the faintest hint of a smile. Like he was ready.
It was a nice thought but he wondered if he would ever find himself worthy of continuing his puzzle. Was it possible that the empty space between those arms could one day be filled? That his eyes could be opened to all the joy that life could bring? Yes. It was easy to say. Everyone deserves love, right? He could say he was worth it. And maybe someone would one day come along to convince him. But people came and went. He needed to know it for himself. He just couldn’t see how he could. It was a lesson that could take a lifetime to learn.
Maybe the steepest learning curve of all.