As I sit in the park outside my office, the Hudson river crawls slowly south. The surface is dimpled by boats and ferries pollinating various piers and marinas with people and things. The water glistens and gleams as it catches the sun, and with it memories flash into my mind. Summer sunsets spent running along the west side highway that turned into darkness during the fall. Drives to the Hoboken office along the river’s snowy banks, icebergs floating reluctantly with the current. An office boat tour I planned that occurred during a hurricane – a Hudson River highlight I’ll never forget. We raced around the river in the rain, soaked to the bone but having the time of our lives.
As my eyes drift higher, the freedom tower shoots up from the southern tip of Manhattan like a spear, the surrounding buildings fanning out like a permanent encampment below. Looking to my left, structures begin to shrink, and I mentally catalogue the neighborhoods as my head turns north. FiDi, Battery Park, TriBeCa. Familiar spots standout, each one similarly tagged with a corresponding experience I shared with someone at sometime. Not every memory elicited by the view is particularly good, but with the city and water stretched out before me, I see bits and pieces of the past 10 years come together like a puzzle, one that’s been done many times before.
I imagine the edges and corners of the box that would house my life’s puzzle are worn—I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s tape on one side keeping the lid together. If I were to dump out the pieces of my life in Manhattan, there’d certainly be some missing from the pile. There are those nights I don’t remember and days with people I’d like to forget. But like any puzzle that remains in one’s possession for long enough, missing pieces somehow find their way back to the fold. Memories are like that. The ones you shove away are the ones that you need most—they connect the puzzle pieces that came together easily after you began. So, I let the buildings and sounds take me back.
Exactly one year ago today, I wrote that while sitting outside my office in Hoboken. Ironically I’ve done more puzzles in the twelve months since than I had in my entire 32 years prior. This newfound affinity (thank you, mother) for puzzling has offered a unique perspective on the theoretical puzzle of my life. What it might feel like. What shapes the pieces might be and what ones might be missing. Puzzle pieces are never really lost, after all, and often the missing pieces come back when you least expect it… and I mean that literally.
My first pandemic puzzle. Boston, Winter 2020.
But one question still eluded me… when all the pieces were finally put together, would I like the picture? Would anyone else like it? As the metaphor puzzles my mind, I’m caught between what’s real and tangible and what I hope and dream to be. Right now, it feels as though my life’s puzzle might be a map, and this year I’m missing more pieces than I’d like.
What if I want it to be a painting, like my favorite Christmas puzzle? With scenes and people and life so vivid you can warm your hands over its yuletide splendor. What if I want horses in a scene or two? Can I pick the glimpses that others will piece together to understand my years here? Can I pick the friends and family I want painted into the landscape of my life? What if, like those lost pieces, they too vanished from sight at one time or another?
Finally, tonight, I realize I’m the puzzler, the painter, the artist, and the director. The tattered box that holds me protected my memories for 33 years. Now it’s my turn. My puzzle. I want horses and I want my heather, I want my family and all my favorite Christmases, I want that magical day in central park with canned red wine, and I want to follow the map of my life’s happiness until all the pieces find their place.
999 pieces brought to you by pinot noir and quarantine. Don’t worry, I found the last piece. Boston, Winter 2020.