Ways of looking at the pieces / by Christina Rosalie

The past few days have been piled with small fragments. Tesserae. A jigsaw puzzle in a box. The deadline for the house is rapidly approaching: five weeks until our lease is up here. Five weeks to do: drywall mudding, paint, floors, kitchen, and both bathrooms.

My mother is here for a visit, and seeing her come towards me from across the wide foyer of the airport, I felt a lurch of familiarity and distance all at once. Her shoulders felt small when we hugged—smaller than the shoulders I perpetually remember from my childhood. It always takes us a few days to synchronize, our interpretations of each other always slightly off at first encounter.

Sitting on stools at the kitchen island we sweet mandarins and talk about her past, my childhood, our futures. Words that keep coming up: comparison, criticism, home, happiness, choice. Hearing her describe the threads of her biography (misplaced affection, intense shyness, an affair, a baby, and then she married my father: a man she hardly knew, but whose ideals she loved) makes me feel a bit like I’m a bird trying to swim in the lake of her perception.

She’s brought good chocolate: hazelnut and currant, and I nibble on it, hardly able to fathom the gap in perceiving that spreads out between us. But we find much to laugh at together, and she makes incredible food.

The second day of her visit she stays with Bean, while DH and I hang drywall for hours. We work at first like giddy high school sweethearts, saying goofy things, laughing, so happy to be together. Then we grow steady, a rhythm evolving. Our movements become synchronized: each moving one step ahead of the other, our actions overlapping only when necessary (to hold each piece of gypsum up; to wield the drill, dimpling screws into its papered surface.)

When I come home for dinner, my mother has done the incredible: the house is clean, Bean has been fed fresh cooked squash with brown rice, and all the laundry is done. To me this is an incredible feat. Most days the house limps by, in a state of constant neglect. The laundry is the worst of it, and my best friend knows me well enough to say, “Oh god, you must be really stressed,” after checking on the status of our clean towel supply--- and finding none.

DH and I are a team with housework as with other things. We clean together, cook together, and neglect housework together. But we are also lucky that neither of us have particularly high standards of clean, or else we'd drive each other mad. My mother on the other hand: the domestic superwoman. I murmur my thanks between bites of succulent herbed chicken.

She doesn’t see her strengths: afraid to trust in her own innate power, she is terrified of finding a ‘real’ job. Work. Of creating a home that no longer has, for her, its customary center (my father). After Bean is in bed we try to talk about this. Try, though the words feel like they are weighted differently: meaning one thing to her, and another to me.

And then DH calls with low blood sugar, feeling off. Exhausted maybe, or worse, possibly. He’s type 1 diabetic, and every time he calls to tell me that his blood sugar is going low it feels like I’ve swallowed Draino and it’s making it’s way down my limbs, melting them. He doesn’t feel okay by the time he makes it home. The test strips read one thing but his body another, and he’s shaking (fear? or something worse?), so we go to the emergency room.

After a few hours everything returns to normal (we think he accidentally took extra units of insulin at dinner), and we are tear-drenched and grateful when we hear the first raw cries of a newborn baby entering the world a few doors away.

It shakes us up, in a good way. Sometimes this is needed. When working on a jigsaw you can look, and look, and look and not find the piece you need until you shake the box and let the pieces fall anew, and there it is. For us, this reminder: life is precious, sweet, and fleeting. No house, no deadline worth its loss. Stress, like a tangle of barbed wire, needs to be coiled and set aside.

So today we played. A late breakfast (omlets, jammy toast, iced lattes), and then went to a home expo where Bean batted at balloons and DH oogled viking ranges and slate roofing. Tonight, just the two of us got to take a walk along the empty streets of the city under one umbrella, our feet and knees freckled with raindrops, our bodies touching.