When it came in the mail, we couldn’t believe the sight at our doorstep. It was a giant box the size of a cooler, and weighed 28 pounds. After ripping open the box like it was Christmas, we started on the first of four bags of 6,000 puzzle pieces. There were pieces everywhere! Pieces on our dining room table, pieces on serving trays, and pieces on two extra tables that our small living room had to accommodate. I had stumbled across something that caught my attention. It was huge, it was spectacular, and it was something I had never seen before. It was a 24,000 piece puzzle, duly titled “Life: The Greatest Challenge.” Feeling spontaneous, I convinced my father to order it.
We had finished the edges of the first section when my neighbor, Webster, came over. “Whoa, what’s that!?” he said. I gave him the details, seeing that this puzzle had sparked his interest. He came over the next day, when my father had enlisted him in our army of puzzlers. We worked countless hours every day for the next two months of summer, and slowly each of the four sections started to fill in.
There are giraffes, seals, and puffer fish. Leo and Scorpio live in the night sky, while a lighthouse guides the many sailors home. Dolphins play and the ‘majestic eagle’ soars above. Everyone is heading in the same direction, but I don’t know where. Perhaps that is one of the many mysteries of the puzzle, and even life itself.
During construction, there were many times we wanted to quit. The first section has a school of clownfish, teasing us. The night sky in the second section was also excruciating, but the most difficult part of the puzzle was last: The Lost City of Atlantis. Over 2,500 pieces of the same shade of blue pushed us to our limits. The puzzle was daunting us; the battle became personal.
Through all this, I was prone to “puzzler’s elbow,” which is achieved when you get puzzle piece indents on your elbows from leaning on the puzzle. While we were sorting through the pieces my mom stumbled across a couple of pieces that were still connected because they hadn’t been cut all the way through and said, “It breaks my heart to separate these pieces.” Quick to reply, I comforted her saying “You will have the joy of putting them back together.” It’s true; I was beginning to enjoy my new relationship with the puzzle. Although there were times of struggle, the puzzle never failed to make our time enjoyable. I completed a whole fleet of hot air balloons in a day, while Webster finished half the animal kingdom. His signature piece was a giant eagle. My mother was the queen of the sea, while my father was the ruler of the night sky.
During the countless hours we spent puzzling, we learned a lot about each other. I never noticed the little quirks we all have about ourselves. Webster would talk to himself, and while this initially got on my nerves, I learned to accept that it was just what he did. My dad would mutter a description each puzzle piece he was looking for. I constantly heard “It’s a shorty with a small dipple.” This code is a foreign language to anyone not educated in “puzzle talk.” My mom would stand, while the rest of us sat in our comfortable rolling “puzzle chairs,” eating our designated “puzzling chips.”
While listening to “puzzling music,” I liked to dance along, while my mom preferred to sing. One of my fondest memories involves listening to the B-52’s “Rock Lobster” with my parents at 10:00 at night, at the maximum. We performed, “In walks the jellyfish! Uhhhhhhhhh.”
After two months of tedious work, we were almost done with the puzzle. It was a Friday night, we were on the last stretch of puzzle. It was a feeding frenzy to the finish, and when there were four pieces left, we each grabbed a piece and paused. We were almost done. On the count of three we placed our pieces in harmony. The puzzle was finished.
This puzzle has taught me a lot about myself, which I didn’t expect. I learned that I am extremely stubborn. I wanted to give up on the puzzle so many times, but I wouldn’t allow it; what would it say about my character if I couldn’t finish what I started? To me, this puzzle represents the journey that life takes us through, and the struggles we will face. I am still swimming with the clown fish in the first quadrant, but eventually I will be flying in the hot air balloon that is life.