A few months ago my partner and I bought a puzzle. We were in a bookstore stocking up on novels and she turned to me and said that she’d love to buy a puzzle and spend some time sitting down as a couple and putting it together. Ecstatic just to be spending time with her, I agreed, and we brought home one thousand little cardboard shapes that when aligned together in the correct sequence would show a view of the Amalfi coastline. I thought it would be easy. And that it would be fun. But while she could effortlessly match pieces together and allow the picture to take shape, I struggled horribly just to find two interconnected pieces, swore a lot, and eventually gave up.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but that puzzle wasn’t just a way for us to spend time together, it was a symbol that represented my life, who I was, who I am supposed to be, and just how much I love the girl who sat patiently with me while I steamed with frustration at my inability to perform the most simplistic of tasks.
Agh. I need to stop for a second, and just get something off of my chest… Before I go any further I just want to acknowledge that what I am about to say is going to hurt so fucking much. By the end of this post I’ll be an emotional wreck. I’m about to tell you that I screwed up. Bad. And that I’m a fake. Because despite all of the pretentious bullshit that I post on this site, I’ve only just figured out who it is that I really am, and it took losing the woman that I want to spend my life with to realise that.
For twenty-seven years I have been trying to piece together the puzzle of Chris Nicholas. During that time I have been sitting in the darkness of my bedroom staring down at thousands of little cardboard shapes spread across the floor that define who I am, struggling to make sense of how they all fit together. I have been a son, a brother, a writer, a friend, a student, work colleague, and so much else. Yet I have never really understood how one piece of my life was supposed to fit into the next.
And then I met Sofie. I met this beautiful woman who was so much smarter than I could ever be. And before I even asked for her help, she came into my bedroom, switched on the light and sat down opposite me and helped me to start sorting through the little pieces of me that were scattered across the floor. I watched in amazement as she found pieces of who I am that were connected, and slotted them together, slowly allowing a picture of my life to take shape.
It took a long time; two years in fact for her and I to work together and take the little cardboard shapes and put them together, but as each piece fell into place I began to recognize the picture that was taking shape. It wasn’t really the image that I had imagined, but who was I to question the universe and the way that my life was destined to unfold?
I saw a wolf, bearing its fangs, with what looked like the world clutched between its paws. It looked strong; fearsome even, and I saw Sofie standing beside him with a look of astonishment on her face. As I looked at the picture positioned between us on the floor, something inside of me changed and I became the beast that I saw staring up at me from the half completed puzzle. I saw a monster, and I became him. And I have never fucked up so badly in my life.
I started to call myself a wolf; and I became headstrong and stubborn. I saw the world held within the paws of the beast inside the puzzle, and I tried to follow suit. I pursued my writing with reckless abandon, amassing an audience and producing a lot of self-indulgent bullshit. And all the while, Sofie watched me with a slightly bemused look, and kept putting together pieces of my puzzle as though she didn’t understand what I had become, or why I seemed so angry.
Then, just over a month ago she left. She told me that she was tired, and that I had let her down. So she stood up, and walked out of my life, taking a single piece of the puzzle we had worked so hard to create with her. I cried a lot that day. And I’ve cried every day since. Because when she left I stood up and I shifted myself into her place, and looked down at the puzzle of my life from where she had been sitting and realized that we had created an ambigram; an image that when looked upon from different angles shows an entirely different picture.
Sofie wasn’t putting together a puzzle of a wolf, or a world eater, and we were never putting together my puzzle; it was ours. From where she had been sitting the image that stared up at her wasn’t of a vicious beast bearing its fangs; it was me: Chris Nicholas, down on one knee with a smile of pure joy spread across my face. In my hands was a box, not the world, and inside of that box was a piece of jewelry designed to be worn on her finger that said “I want to spend my life with you.” From this angle she didn’t look bemused, astonished, or afraid. She was happy, and her lips were pursed together as though she was about to make this version of me the happiest man in the world by uttering one simple word.
From where she had been sitting, our puzzle was complete; except for the final piece that she had taken with her. I had spent two years looking at what we were creating from the wrong angle, and while she was piecing together an image of a future filled with happiness, my own stupidity made me believe that in order to provide for her I needed to embrace the devil inside of me.
For the past month I have spent my time sitting in the spot where Sofie used to sit, staring down at the image of her and I with a huge smile spread across my face, and tears streaming down my cheeks. It’s a beautiful image, and one that makes my heart flutter. When I close my eyes and imagine the future it looks just like the image in the puzzle of us, and knowing that is so bitter-sweet. Sofie is the only woman I will ever write about; the only woman whose achievements I will ever celebrate as greater than my own; and the only woman that I would ever want to love and spend my entire life with.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to see her again, but I hope and I pray every day that eventually our worlds will collide one more time and she can come and sit down on the floor beside me and place the final piece of our puzzle; the one that represents my heart, into the image of her and I. If that day never arrives… Well, at least I can say that I spent two wonderful years with the woman that I love more than anything. The memories that we created together will last a lifetime, and the love that I have for her will continue long after she has forgotten about the time we spent piecing together the puzzle of our lives.
Now that I have seen life from the other side of the ambigram, I know that I don’t want to be the devil anymore. I want to be the man in the picture that Sofie has always been able to see. The hopelessly devoted romantic, down on his knee, allowing himself to be totally vulnerable in front of the woman that he loves more than he has ever loved writing, or anything else. I screwed up because my perspectives were all wrong; I was never meant to be a wolf, I was only ever meant to be a man, and a lover to the most incredible woman that I have ever met.
I’m writing this to say that I’m letting go of the love of my life for a little while. Because as cliche as it sounds, sometimes when you love something (or someone) you have to set it free. But there will not be a day that passes where I don’t look at the almost completed puzzle of us and whisper a silent prayer that she comes back and we finish what we started together. I have never wanted anything like I want a life with her; and I have never been so willing to be vulnerable and unafraid to embrace who I am. In the past month I have realised how wonderful my life is, and how hopelessly in love I am. For the first time in my life I know exactly who I am, and exactly who I want to devote my life to. And while letting go hurts like hell, I have never been more proud the man that I have become, or more determined to be the person that I should have always been.