Cecily Brown

The Case of the Missing Pieces

By Staff Writer Marie D. Jones

I loved Nancy Drew novels as a kid. I had most of them, and the ones I didn’t, I checked out of the local library as often as they would allow me to. I loved reading about how resourceful and clever Nancy was, finding little clues, answering difficult riddles, and linking overall patterns that everyone else around her missed, and how all the pieces fell into place to solve the puzzle, and the mystery.

During the Covid lockdown, I rediscovered my love of jigsaw puzzles. After a long day of writing, putting a puzzle together required a strange kind of focus that was both soothing and pleasurable, with the end result of a dopamine hit from completing “the bigger picture.” I loved puzzles as a kid, and during my pregnancy, puzzles kept me sane and distracted from the anxiety and worry over whether I would be a good mother or get my kid killed by accidentally dropping him on his head as a newborn.

I buy a lot of puzzles, always new, always the same visual theme. Americana. I love the colorful depictions of days gone by, the folkloric feel of an America that was simpler, with less distractions. My favorites are those by Jane Wooster Scott and Charles Wysocki, two masters at capturing the flavor of small-town Americana.

But here’s the thing, the last seven puzzles I’ve purchased have all been missing a piece. One lousy little piece that keeps me from a sense of completion and the feel-good hormonal hit I have come to crave. A corner piece. A middle piece.

One. Lousy. Fucking. Piece.

I have gone back to review my orders. Yes, they were all sold as new. No, they were not all from the same seller. Yes, they offered me a refund when I made a complaint. Yes, the boxes all came sealed and the pieces in a closed plastic bag.

One. Lousy. Fucking. Piece.

I would search high and low, thinking perhaps I had accidentally dropped it on the floor, or my dog ate it (she does not eat puzzle pieces) or it got stuck under the box lid or the ceiling fan blew it behind the treadmill. Never found any of the missing pieces. Not one.

Around the seventh puzzle, it dawned on me. This is not about a missing puzzle piece. This is about something else. It’s symbolic…of a missing piece in my life. I know this on a gut level. I know this on an intuitive level. But it’s a lot easier to believe the damn puzzle sellers are involved in a huge conspiracy to drive puzzlers crazy by leaving a piece out of the box. It’s a global plot, surely. It’s nefarious and evil. Worse than the New World Order.

Except it isn’t true. Those pieces are missing for a reason. They say the Universe, God, Spirit or whatever you call it tries to send you messages quietly and gently at first. If you don’t listen the first two times, a bit louder the third, then a little louder the fourth. Around the fifth time, the still, small voice within becomes a two-by-four slammed against your head.

Missing pieces.

During the lockdown, I had so much time to think about my life. Approaching my big 6-0 birthday, I’ve felt the need to completely revamp my goals and how I spend my time, and with whom. I made career changes and looked hard at my lousy health and why I felt so tired and run down, and I purchased some programs to deal with my co-dependency and emotional blocks to weight loss and everything else. I had been losing puzzle pieces but putting on a lot of weight, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

That’s when it hit me.

The weight I was slowly gaining was covering up fear. Fear of pursuing the missing piece to my life. Fear of fully expressing who I was. Fear of being the real me. Fear of having a relationship again. My sex addiction was in the past, I was proudly over seven years sober, but obviously, avoiding relationships entirely was not, and is not, the same as recovery. One missing piece was found.

The weight was a shield from the possible pain of abandonment, but also a desperate attempt to be seen in a world I felt so invisible to. I was using it for that dual purpose as a form of self-sabotage. One missing piece was found.

I wanted to have someone in my life, a best friend and lover, a companion and partner, especially now that my son was becoming an adult and would soon fly from the nest. It had always been he and I, as I raised him through incredible struggles and challenges. He’d be finding his own way soon, and I had to find mine. First, I had to get over the fear of losing my identity as a mom.

One missing piece was found.

I wanted love but love never was very good to me. I had to go back to my inner child and parent her all over and let her know it was safe to love and to be loved and to put yourself out there.

One missing piece was found.

After being canceled, blocked, censored, and banned for speaking my mind on social media, and being shunned by friends and family who didn’t like when I had my own opinions that differed from theirs, I realized the only thing that mattered was my own authenticity and integrity.

One missing piece was found.

I still have a few missing pieces to find to complete the bigger picture. I know they are not somewhere under a couch or on the floor behind the treadmill. My dog didn’t eat them. I still plan to buy more puzzles and if they, too, are missing a piece, I will know the meaning behind it.

I know where they are. And I know how to find them now. Like Nancy Drew, I’m on the case.

One piece at a time.

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