A Jigsaw Puzzle in Three Acts

Act One: How Did HE Know?

While at my 20-year high school reunion I began talking to a guy who had been a rather casual acquaintance…another “S” (at our school, we had to sit in alphabetical order most of the time, and he and I had taken a lot of the same classes). When he asked the fairly standard question, “What do you do?” I began to reply that I was an artist. With this his face shifted into a grand expression of puzzlement, like I was saying something incredibly redundant. He interrupted me saying, “Of course you’re an artist, you were ALWAYS an artist!” Huge question marks, then exclamation points flashed across my mind as he spoke those few words.

How did HE know I was an artist? I didn’t even really know the guy. In that moment a basic myth I had conjured about myself was exposed, then shattered. The thing about myths is that they’re so subtly woven; be it personal or societal, they are mostly unseen, unknown. With my intense reaction to his statement, I realized that I must have thought I was invisible during high school and that no one knew I existed, let alone knew that I was an artist. Then I saw how I must have needed to be in high school; as an ostrich with her head in the sand, feeling so safe and secure where no one could see me; then I laughed out loud.

An entirely different reality appeared, different from the one I remembered, or thought I remembered; so completely different, that I had an odd sensation inside my body like I might fall over. Much of what I had based my identity on had instantly been erased and replaced with an entirely new image so three-dimensional in form, that it carried physical weight: I actually felt off balance.

Act Two: You Knew That Didn’t You?

A month before my 40th high school reunion I received an email from someone that I grew up with, and what a wonderful surprise that was. He lived four houses down the street from me, and we went through elementary, junior high and high school together. He’d just heard a radio interview and when he heard the name, he was pretty sure it was me he’d heard…the Lauren Silver that he’d grown up with on Beeman Avenue. He contacted the show and they passed his letter on to me. We probably hadn’t seen each other for at least 25 years, maybe more – it was so good to hear from him.

He wrote to say that he was thinking about going to the reunion…wondered was I going? We both lived out of state, so it wasn’t a casual decision for either of us. The possibility that he might show up was the third fluttering of synchronistic events that were piling up to get me to go to this crazy reunion (first, I signed up to go to a writing workshop about 150 miles north of Los Angeles, second my Aunt’s 90th birthday party was earlier on the same day as the reunion and just miles away from it, and third…there was a chance that my childhood friend might be there). I gave in, and replied to him that yes………………I was going to go.

Arriving at the reunion I wondered frantically why I had come. Our reunions have always been at the Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City, right around the “corner” from most of the entertainment studios in southern California. The whole scene is completely antithetical to the way I live. A small cabin bordered by some woods, just above the edge of the Puget Sound in Washington State; that’s my style.

He did show up, and the instant I saw him, I was wrapped in some deep, old comfort, a familiarity, and somehow a safety, too. He felt like home, like family. We grew up on a long block that itself was an old-fashioned neighborhood, right in the midst of the craziness of television, recording and movie studios and all the rest that comes in the baggage of “Los Angeles”.

Every once and a while during the reunion we ran into each other amidst the crowd. (Our graduating class was originally 1100 students and even though many did not attend, it was still a lot of people to sort through.) Each time we spotted each other, we’d share a few more memories from Beeman Avenue.

During one round, he reminisced about how he and another neighbor boy used to fight every summer, over who was going to marry me. My face must have reflected quite a confusion or shock because he added, “You knew that, didn’t you? We fought…physically…every summer.” What? No. I didn’t know that. Again, this was such a re-ordering of who I thought I was. They FOUGHT over who was going to marry me? As I re-wrote my childhood in my mind, adding this new information, I had another eerie feeling that every cell in my body was being rearranged.

Act Three: You’re Pretty

Our sweet little grocery store bears a sign over the doorway announcing Indianola Country Store, affectionately known to all of us locals as simply, The Store. We’re a town of maybe 3000 year-round residents and our “downtown” consists of just three small buildings that aren’t homes: The Post Office, The Clubhouse, and, The Store…that’s it.

I walked into The Store one late afternoon and immediately heard a soft, almost whispered, little girl’s voice say, “You’re pretty.” I looked toward where I heard that tiny voice, thinking maybe I imagined it. These days that’s not a common thing to hear. It came from out-of-the-blue, from a stranger, and most especially, it came from a child. As I saw her, as she saw me discover her, as I asked her what she said, she headed toward her mother. She ducked in the way that shy children do, or children who wished they had been shy and not said a word, which was more her case. “What did you say?” I gently asked, still shocked at what I might have heard. At first she did her best to disappear and pretend that no words were spoken. Then she told me that she was not supposed to speak to strangers. Her mother piped up that “they” were learning that “it’s not a good idea to speak to people you don’t know”. Then this sweet angel repeated her words. “I said…you’re pretty.”

Wow. “Out of the mouths of babes” and here comes an almost silent yet enormous and deliciously precious gift, all wrapped up. I do hope I will keep this one tucked away in the pocket of my heart for the rest of my days. So sweet. So sweet. However many days or years I have left, that quiet angelic pronouncement will carry me through all of them, if only I remember to peak into that pocket when I’m needing the reminder.

The Rock That Had a Mind of Its Own

Before I completely released the small rock that fit so nicely in the palm of my hand, somehow I knew it wasn’t heading toward my intended target. I intended to toss it in a gentle arc several feet from a horse that had wandered onto our property, hoping to encourage it to move on, but my hand wouldn’t let go of that rock…not just yet anyway. When it finally escaped my grasp, a gentle toss had become something altogether different. The rock now possessed all of my unexpressed rage and heartbreak and instead of the gentle thud of a small rock bouncing across a few of its relatives, I was about to hear a sound that was anything but gentle. I knew it instantly and couldn’t take it back; it now had a life, a mind, of its own.

The rock was heading straight for the windshield of a car that belonged to my husband’s first wife. It seemed like it took forever to make contact. I knew that once it struck, the windshield would explode into thousands of jagged shards of glass, and I would not be able to say that I was “fine” anymore, which had been my anthem for quite some time. “It”, our living situation, was not “fine”, nor was I, but I saw no way out. The tension of keeping it all inside, of trying so hard, too hard, to swallow a situation that once had had the hope of nourishment, but now was a kind of poison – instantly released when the sound of breaking glass punctured the air along with our small contrived world. The shriek of that windshield exploding, the extended reverberation of fragments of glass sprinkling all over the gravel driveway shook me down to my core. No one said anything. I think we all knew some thing, some way, was over.

“I love what you kids are trying to do…really…but it just WON’T work.” That’s what an attorney had said to me just weeks before the broken windshield. “No, really, it’s going well…it’s just fine.” That’s what I said to him, and I so wanted it to be true, but it wasn’t, and the broken windshield finally illuminated that…at least for me. I carefully explained the entire tangled web, watched his face subtly reflect his admiration for what we were trying to do, along with his empathy: we both heard the river of truth that ran just below the surface. He wasn’t the only one who said it, I’d heard it many times…he just said it so succinctly.

My husband (now former husband) and his first wife had purchased a large piece of land together, and they made an honorable verbal agreement to never divide it. Now both divorced and re-married, neither one of them could afford to buy the other one out. It just so happened that both new couples decided to move out to the property AT THE SAME TIME. AND. There was only one little spot that was both easily accessible by the road, and had enough previously cleared land to be inhabitable in the short term: an old, ramshackle fisherman’s cabin, along with its adjacent clearing for vehicles and boats. “They” settled into the cabin. “We” decided to build a temporary home that would someday become a machine shop and was basically right across the driveway from the cabin. There we were, the four of us, right on top of each other.

The tension had been building, even as I continued to say everything was “fine”. Sometime after my visit with the attorney I found the courage to speak to my husband and made my best attempt to explain to him how trapped I felt, as I’d come to realize that along with my marriage to him, I was also somehow inextricably linked to his first wife, due to their intertwined loyalty to the land. Theoretically, I completely agreed with the promise of leaving the land intact…but where did that leave me?

In what I’m sure was also his best attempt at communication, he told me that making a “homestead” out in the country had been his lifelong dream, and because neither he nor his first wife could buy the other one out, there was nothing to be done. My “problem” with the arrangement was not addressed, and in that moment, I felt myself disappear, shatter and break into a thousand pieces…as the windshield would, a few weeks later. Neither, it seemed, could be repaired. Six months later I would walk away…from our marriage, from our home, from the land.

There were other challenges…and also much great laughter and love. All these years later, what still stands out the most is what it does when we try too hard. It’s different than simply trying hard. If something’s broken when trying hard, it usually can be fixed. Maybe trying too hard always ends in something or someone being shattered, beyond repair.