I used to have boxes and boxes of jigsaw puzzles. I was an addict. I would sit in my chair in front of the TV, with a piece of cardboard on my lap, and sift through the puzzle pieces; sorting shapes and colors, and finding patterns in the chaos. I used the box tops from discarded puzzles to help me sort puzzle pieces into categories, and I would “watch” TV for hours, with the comforting voices going on in the background as most of my attention was focused on fitting the pieces together.
My standard jigsaw puzzles are the 1000 piece puzzles. I used to have some 750s but they went too fast. Anything bigger than 1000 pieces, though, ends up being too big for my puzzle board.
The jigsaw puzzles were an obsession, but a calming one. I never glued them to a backing and framed them on the walls. In fact, I especially liked dismantling and redoing the same puzzles, time after time, seeing how much faster I could do it as I learned the particular code of each puzzle.
Each puzzle maker has a different idea about the thickness and stiffness of the puzzle pieces, the sizes and shapes, the complexity of the color. Being able to differentiate between three shades of light blue was satisfying. And I think this accomplished something. I think it helped me rewire my brain, but I can’t prove that.
I started doing jigsaw puzzles in my late teens. I vaguely remember a picture of Golden Retriever puppies and a barrel of apples. I would put a puzzle board down on the floor of my bedroom and stay up all night, sorting pieces and putting things together, instead of sleeping. It was a step up from coloring books, which I had dabbled in for a while too.
My dog at the time, Dina, was not a fan of the puzzles. She would walk through the open boxes of puzzle pieces and turn them over “accidentally.” If she was really annoyed, or maybe lonely, she would stretch out on top of the puzzle and ask for scratchies. She didn’t understand why I was up all night, but she liked the company. Often, she would fall asleep on my bed while I sat on the floor, watching CNN and doing puzzles.
Once we moved to the other apartment in my early twenties, I didn’t have a TV in my bedroom anymore. We watched TV together in our tiny living room, me and Mom and Dina. I couldn’t fit the puzzle board on the floor anymore, and there was certainly no room for a puzzle table in there, so I balanced the board on my lap.
Dina was only a lap dog when there was thunder and lightning. The rest of the time she would stretch out on the floor, hanging her head into the hallway for extra room. The only time she disrupted the puzzles was when I stored the board on a shelf under the TV, and she knocked it with her hip as she passed by.
She seemed to understand my need for the puzzles. As long as I remembered to take her out for walks, very long walks, my puzzle time was okay with her. And it was better than fidgeting with scissors, which I also did when I needed something to do with my hands; inevitably, I mishandled the scissors (tiny silver nail scissors, but still) and they flew across the room, dangerously close to her head.
When Cricket came along, she wanted to help with the puzzles. I could no longer rest the open box tops on the floor or on a chair, or else she would slap them with her paw and turn the whole box over, or she would chew the side of the box until the pieces leaked out from the corner, or she would just jump up on my lap and push everything else to the floor in a rage. Laps belong to Cricket. She was even more insistent on that when she was little. She thought I should spend three hours scratching her instead of doing puzzles or anything else. She was jealous and impatient, and if I stuck to my plans, she would sit on Grandma’s lap and glare at me.
I always think of the Curious George story where the doctor takes an x-ray and finds the wooden puzzle piece inside of the monkey. I’m sure Cricket has swallowed a few puzzle pieces over the years but they are small and made of paper and she probably pooped them out easily enough.
I’ve been struggling with my eyesight lately. The eye doctor diagnosed me with Convergence Insufficiency that she thinks resulted from whatever neurological problems I’ve been having recently. I’ve always struggled somewhat with computer screens and 3D movies and fast food menu boards, but now I see faces doubled or moving around inexplicably and I struggle to read text on a screen.
I started doing jigsaw puzzles again recently, maybe to fight against the blurriness and double vision, or maybe just to return to the company of an old friend. When I take out the puzzle board, Butterfly sits in front of the puzzle and waits, assuming there is hidden food on the board, and if she waits long enough she will get some. Eventually she gives up, and stretches out on the floor next to Cricket, and they both listen to the tap tap of puzzle pieces on the board and fall contentedly to sleep.