Pieces of the Puzzle
By Correspondent Briallyn M. in Canada
–It’s been a crazy three years. Three years ago, at the age of just-turned-seventeen, I decided that it was time for me to leave the farming village where I grew up. I wasn’t entirely sure what “leaving” would entail – I knew I wanted to travel, and knew I wanted a higher education – but most importantly, I wanted to know that I could come back home.
What I’ve learned since is how much the leaving changes you. I will never forget how strange it was to come home that first summer. All of my friends had remained home, and had spent the year adding postscripts to our intertwining stories. While they welcomed me back with hugs and laughter, I was suddenly on the outside of all the inside jokes and all of the stories told in overlapping voices.
I think that it was about then that I began to think of the five of us as puzzle pieces. After all, there is no denying that we all have our own shapes – our own hopes, dreams and personalities. When we were growing up together, it was actually impossible to tell where one of us left off and the others began. Our names were constantly linked, and we never did anything on our own.
After I left, though, my “spot” in the puzzle wasn’t left for me. While I was out exploring and “finding myself”, my friends continued to grow closer and grow together; forging new bonds to strengthen the hole I’d left in our puzzle. I’d love to blame them for this, but it’s human nature. We try to fill in the holes, and patch the emptiness. I would have done the same if I were in their shoes.
That was the first year. The second year saw us spread across the country – communicating via video chat and text messages whenever we could. As hard as we tried to replace our face-to-face conversations with technology, we were never quite able to recapture the magic that occurred while sitting around my kitchen counter until the early hours of the morning. We had thought that returning would fix everything – that now that we had all had our own lives, we had evened the field, and fitting together would be easier than ever. We were wrong.
It is so lonely when you’re surrounded by the people you love, and you don’t recognize any of them.
All of our shapes had changed that year, and though we tried and tried to put ourselves back together into the puzzle we had once been, our new incompatibilities and vulnerabilities, as well as an overwhelming desire to prove to each other just how different we were now, made that option an impossibility. I am so thankful for our shared dedication to our friendship – through sheer effort we managed to force ourselves back together into a brand-new mosaic of brand-new people.
Year Three. The year we thought we had it all figured out, everything went wrong. One of the five of us was forcibly removed from our puzzle. To this day, we don’t know if it was at her desire, or our insistence – but it instantly removed any of our remaining pretence that we could just “go back” to those carefree days of growing up together.
This could have destroyed the rest of us, but instead it made us stronger. Grief allowed us to let down the defences we’d erected in an attempt to distinguish us as individuals. With all barriers down, we saw each other again, and we merged back together in a design all our own.
I’m hesitant to say that we have this figured out. As far as I can tell, this rhythm of short visits during the holidays – two or three of us meeting whenever we can – is our new normal. I wish I could say that this is what I want – that this makes me happy – that this is what our new, adult selves need.
Despite all of this though, despite all the wonderful and terrible changes, and the incredible adults I’ve watched my friends become, I would go back. Not to re-live our adventures permanently – I would never take away everything we’ve all worked to achieve over the last three years.
Instead, I think I would go back, and I would watch. I would stand in the background, and just savour all of the ordinary every-day moments – the inside jokes that are now completely forgotten, the way that we’d sit with limbs overlapping, the little reassurances that were passed in intricately-folded notes when they were most needed. I would collect these, and I would savour them – because my little-girl self forgot to.
I can’t even remember, now, what our pieces of the puzzle used to look like. It’s scary to have lost those earlier incarnations of the people I love most. I know that this is how growing-up works, and I know that we’re hardly the first group of people to have faced this kind of uncertain future… we aren’t as unique as I like to pretend we are.
It’s with bright eyes that we stand together and face the future – permanently linked by the claims that each of us has on the others’ hearts. Our shared past isn’t what defines us anymore, but it is part of what formed us, and I don’t think that there’s any other past I’d want instead of my past a piece of this puzzle.
Briallyn is a Canadian student who collects memories in shoeboxes the way other people collect shells. An idealist with a practical bent, she keeps hoping this growing-up stage is all just a dream.