Sheltering in place has enabled me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, jigsaw puzzles. I resisted at first, remembering all the nights I stayed up, long after my kids went to sleep, my husband snored in front of the TV and I pored over the hooks and curves, matched colors of the pieces until I had an almost perfect puzzle done. When one final piece remained to be put in place, I’d nudge Marv from his stupor and say, “You do it.”
He’d gingerly take the remaining curvy, or wedge item, lay it in its proper space, stand back and say, “I really helped you with this.”
Now, with not really so much time on my hands, I thought a jigsaw puzzle would be a good diversion. I ordered a complex one of a thousand pieces from the UCSD Bookstore and went to work. It took about ten days to complete—mostly because I tried to discipline myself to work on it only after dinner and not the whole day—and in the end, the last piece, the final one was missing. A search of the area, under the table, under cabinets, under nearby furniture revealed nothing. Soon I will put away this incomplete puzzle and pass it on to my puzzle-loving grandson.
Thinking about the missing piece has led to reflection about the missing pieces of my life. The biggest void, of course, is my husband of more than fifty years. When he died seven years ago I stoically said, “We said all we had to say” even though it is not entirely true. At night, when I snuggle up with the pillows on his side of the bed, I continue to talk to him, tell him about what’s going on, about our grandchildren, about my travel adventures. Usually, I end with “Goddamn it, why did you have to die, I’m not finished talking to you.”
But that’s not the only missing piece.
Living in the home of my Orthodox Jewish grandparents our family didn’t share feelings. My Zayda, the patriarch yelled at everyone, and my feisty four foot nothing grandmother, who bore him seven children, would stand up to him, shake her finger in the air, wisps of her white bun escaping onto her face, and say, “Shlomo, du bist a naar.” (Shlomo, you are a fool.) Inadvertently bits and pieces of their youthful life in Poland came out in random conversations, but I still do not know why each of them came to the US alone at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Recent searches on Ancestry, Jewish Gen and other sites have not been much help, so the puzzle of my heritage still remains a mystery.
My mother, the fifth of their seven children, and the first daughter, she had an assertive streak. With four older brothers, she had to stand up for herself, and I like to contribute my drive and orneriness to her, which I suspect she tacitly learned from her own mother.
But I can’t leave out my Dad, who died too young in 1966 at age 53. Although not well educated, he was a successful businessman, had a great sense of humor, and didn’t lose his temper, like Mom. So I contribute my sense of humor, my love of cooking and my stocky frame to him. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit his ear for music and still can’t carry a tune. It’s a puzzle as to how my brother inherited this talent.
Sometimes there is some thought to what I missed as a career-driven wife and mother. I didn’t go to even one of my son’s water polo games when he was in high school. I was too busy to drive either of my sons to their respective universities when they entered college. Those are moments never to be regained.
Nor are the moments when I could have paid more attention to my twin daughters who ‘fell through the cracks.’ Sure, I fought for them, to a point. Lucky me, I had a partner who picked up all the pieces, came to all the parent conferences, drove the carpools and let me go my own way with unconditional love.
Now sheltering in place I try to reach out to relatives and friends not heard from in years through e-mail, phone calls, Whatsapp, and thank God for Zoom. It’s impossible to make the puzzle of my life entirely whole, but I can take the jagged edges and try to connect the pieces every now and then so that a fresh image emerges as they come together.