The Whole Image

My husband got me into a new game. A puzzle where you have to figure out the image based on nothing but number clues along the top and side of a blank square. Empty rows & columns, and you only get three mistakes before you have to restart (four if you’re willing to watch a commercial).

It’s a game of patience, of looking at the numbers and seeing what they can tell you. Slowly chipping away, even if it means agonizing over the numbers only to fill in exactly one block.

I avoided it at first. Numbers get jumbled in my head. Math made me cry in frustration until I abandoned the subject entirely. But like so many other things that make me want to run, I stepped forward into it, if only to say I can.

I’m not great at it. The numbers still get jumbled and I’ll make a move assuming I saw one number when it was something else. And sometimes I stare at the tiles, unsure what my next move is going to be.

“This puzzle is giving me nothing,” I’ve said a few times to my husband, more times than I should.

“Well, tell me about that row,” is all he’ll say, and point to a spot on my screen. He knows the answer and isn’t giving it to me. He wants me to find it on my own. Teach a man to fish instead of giving it to him, in a sense.

And it’s a quick lesson with the fishing line. I figure something out on that row, and then another, and then another. And suddenly the entire puzzle is figured out. Suddenly a bunch of white tiles is now a mosaic. A flower, a sunrise, the pyramids. Chaos and confusion evolved into beauty.

“It was a calculated risk, but man I’m bad at math.”

“No it wasn’t,” my husband corrects. “It was a calculated risk, but you did the math right. You knew exactly each way the situation could’ve gone. You’re not bad at math just because a negative result happened.”

We’re driving through the Midwest after a soul-draining week — yet another tumult in the soul, another moment I had to stand toe to toe with a few demons I wished were quieter housemates. Another chapter in this overhaul from the last few months.

All this inner growth is goddamn exhausting.

I sigh out the uncertainty. I’ve been here before. In fact, exactly the year before, give or take a week. It’s almost like the fall is has become a type of clearing out ever since my father passed. A wildfire that sweeps through forests like kindling.

I’m focusing on the positive. I’m finding my voice. I’ve let toxic or unfair situations fester before. It’s what got me into such a confrontation last year, anyway. Because I couldn’t just stand my ground, even though I knew it would’ve meant walking away. Little did I understand, then, the power in deciding when you make those steps.

It comes on the heels of a more innocuous, albeit just as clearing out situation — the same way that, last year, a more innocuous, albeit just as clearing situation came just before the confrontation. And just like last year, it leaves an unsettling feeling.

“But it’s okay,” I say on the drive, my eyes on the road in front of me. “I’m at peace with it.”

But back home in the northeast, I sigh heavily again. So much is in limbo. Things happening in 2020 that I can only wait for in 2019. The moving parts are making me dizzy. There are more things in the air and it’s all can do not to snatch them out and call them mine, albeit it prematurely. After getting comfortably complacent for years, so much is unknown.

Only, no. There has been no real complacency. This time last year I was staring down the barrel of uncertainty, like the fall before, like the fall before, and the fall before that, and the one before that. There’s a reason I feel fall always feels like a clearing out. A clearing out that feels like loss at first. But it always proved to be the right decision. It always worked out.

And that’s what I focus on. Everything will work out. It always does. I learned a long time ago that it will feel like life is shoving you to the ground when in fact you were dodging a bullet.

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I like the numbers game because you never know when a chip here and there will cause the entire sheet of ice to break.

I like the satisfaction of things falling into place, after staring at the great unknown, telling the powers that be, “You’re giving me nothing.” — when, in reality, they have given me plenty. It’s just a matter of looking at the signs and asking yourself, “Tell me about what you see.”

When I started, I assumed I’d be stuck on easy mode forever. I graduated to intermediate, and then swore I’d only do the hard mode puzzles with my husband to guide me through.

And, for the first few, he does: a few evenings on the couch, my iPad between us, him asking me to tell him about this row, that column, when to change orientation and what to look out for. He’s not really guiding me through so much as he’s teaching me how to think so I can guide myself.

Soon enough, I’m doing the hard puzzles on my own. Asking myself the same questions. Messing up, mixing up numbers in my head, but eventually getting the puzzle, even if I have to watch a commercial to get that extra chance.

It’s a lesson in patience. A lesson in sitting with the unknown and recognizing you don’t have the whole picture yet. In just thinking aloud, “what are you trying to tell me?” and deduce from there. In recognizing that you don’t have to solve the whole thing just yet — just chip away, tile by tile, step by step, until eventually the ice breaks and everything falls into place.

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Fall

It’s an album I haven’t listened to in ages, and their recent concert had inspired me to dig it back up.

The intro does something to my soul. There’s a stirring, a recollection of the past, that I can’t put my finger on. As the boyband singers croon, I’m transported — but I don’t know where.

It becomes the most fascinating walk down memory lane. I play the intro over, and over again. It’s nighttime. That much I know. There’s a rumble underneath me and I eventually deduce that I’m in a car. And I’m the one driving. And I feel peace, like I’m about to embark on something. But where am I? Where am I going? Why is this song placing me in this unknown car? I’m here by sight and by feel and nothing else to connect me.

I slowly piece it back together. It’s 2008. I’m learning stick shift, albeit it by myself. It’s my mom’s car, but my father had given me a quick lesson before leaving me to it. I’m leaving my parents’ house to drive around the neighborhood, to get comfortable with manual transmission.

It’s 2008 and the album just came out and I bought it on CD and I have it in the CD player. It’s my soundtrack as I shift from first, to second, to third, my left foot clumsily at the clutch. I remember clear skies and quiet nights and the Backstreet Boys slowly singing out, “Last night I saw the fireworks, the kind of pain that never hurts...”

How peculiar, how unnerving, how amazing, to have such a deep memory encapsulated in a song — and to not fully remember the moment, to have it only stored as the night air and an engine’s rumble and a serene sense of calm as the night unfolds before you.

Continue reading “Fall”

Forty-Eight, Again

(For Part One.)

An old classmate gave this advice: mourn the first anniversary, but stop keeping track after that.

Granted, he went back on his own advice a year or so later, but I still gave it weight. And I tried it myself. And, just like him, I faltered by the second anniversary. It’s just too big of a mile marker. It’s the notch you count the rings of the tree against.

When you lose your father, no matter what the relationship was, there is a distinct line drawn. A before and an after. And one can’t help but measure the distance between them and that line. Continue reading “Forty-Eight, Again”

Slow is a Good Look

Fort Lauderdale, in some ways, feels like homecoming.

It’s only my fourth time here, but perhaps it’s in the same way just a few trips to the midwest can create a homebase. Sometimes your soul just knows what and where (or who) home is, where it can rest its head in the tumult of the world.

But it’s also my fourth time here, and that would usually get me antsy. I’ve already been here. Let’s see what a new town is like, new state, new country. There’s too vast of a world to tread the same soil multiple times. It’s an insatiable wanderlust that I’ve been trying to reckon with, try to balance out, try to calm down and smooth over. 

Yes, it’s a vast world, but what parts of it will really soak in if your eyes are constantly on the horizon, the next bend in the road.

I was the one to suggest it. Come down to Florida for our annual vacation in June. Come to the very spot that introduced Florida to me in the first place, introduced me to a version of the Atlantic that wasn’t always cold, beaches that weren’t filled with rocks. It was partly pragmatic, partly a tradeoff (how many vacations of ours have been adventure packed, even the so-called low-key ones?), but largely a practice in slowing down. I don’t have to constantly be darting all over the map. It’s still a foreign concept to me, but sometimes homecomings can feed the soul, too. Continue reading “Slow is a Good Look”

Cleanse

The sun is out and I can barely stay inside.

Let’s go on a hike. Or a run. Or a walk. And a drive. Maybe just sit on porch and take in the breeze through the trees as the neighbor’s cat rubs up against my legs and hisses at my own cats indoors.

If I’m inside, every shade is up, every window opened. If I forget to close them, I wake up with the sun, regardless as to what time I got to sleep, as if my own circadian rhythm is going, “How dare you stay asleep when the world around you has awoke?”

The power of the sunlight drifts into the night, and the warm air and a bonfire are plenty substitute for a noonday sun. I still feel the energy, as if skin pinkened by the flames is the same as skin warming under the sun.

I try my best to mitigate how the winter’s weather affects me, but beautiful days remind me that it works in the opposite direction, too. I don’t realize how much energy I can have until the literal fog is lifted. The fog and the rain and the mist and the cold, dreary air. Continue reading “Cleanse”

Slog

It’s the slog runs that are the important runs.

That’s what I try to tell myself on a miserable Monday morning, lacing up my shoes, running around my neighborhood yet again because the trails are iced over, because I don’t have time to drive somewhere new.

The easy runs, the simple runs, they’re maintenance. It’s the slog runs that matter. The ones that are dreadful, the ones where all you can think about is the end. How you run when it’s a chore defines the kind of runner you are.

Slog runs are important runs. And every run these days has been feeling like a slog. Between injury and illness, I haven’t been able to train, and I feel like I’m starting from scratch over, and over, and over again.

It makes me wonder if there’ll ever be a time when I’m not returning to the start. If there will ever be a time when I can get past all this and really progress forward. Continue reading “Slog”