No. 98 Jigsaw Puzzle Man

My head was still throbbing when the phone rang the next morning.
“Liz, its’ Barry. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay” I said, then reminded myself of when the girls at the end of boyfriend No. 21 beat me up then apologised cause they’d got the wrong person and I’d said, “that’s okay”,
“Actually, it’s not okay. I was frightened and it’s not fair for you to blame your whole life on what happened to us yonks ago.”
“I’m really sorry, can I make it up to you?”
“I’ll call you when I’m down Rayleigh next.” But I never did.

Minx, Cambridge dictionary – a girl or young woman who knows how to control other people to her advantage

Minx, Oxford dictionary – An impudent, cunning, or boldly flirtatious girl or young woman, ‘you saucy little minx!’

The words stayed in my head which continued to hurt for the next few days.

Jisaw Puzzle Man and I finally met after hours of chatting on the phone, I’d liked his ‘Time Out’ ad and we got on well. Ewart was in his late 30’s, divorced and lived in a tower block in Kennington.  I didn’t fancy him, but as it turned out that didn’t matter, we were happy enough to just enjoy each other’s company. My friend with MS had just moved to Richmond and Shane was going to Australia in a few weeks, I worried about impending loneliness and it was so close to when Ian and I were ending.

“I love therapy” Ewart had said after a discussion about my work.  “I’m at it 5 mornings a week, love it.”
I’d never met anyone in psychoanalysis and hadn’t at that point come across anyone to have had more therapy than me.
“How comes?” I asked. “How could you afford it?” Ewart was unemployed.
“It’s free. I go to the Maudesly. They have trainees there, I’m a Guinea pig. They needed someone reliable to turn up to sessions and I don’t ever let anyone down, ever. It’s part of my problem, I’m a perfectionist, I’m so worried I’ll fail at something I never get anything done.”
Ewart had turned his hand to many things in life, without succeeding, I could see how his marriage had failed, but now, with the help of his analyst, he was determined to complete the cranial-sacral training he’d started the year before.
“I was wondering,” he continued, “I need guinea pigs for my training. Would you be up for it?”
“God yeah, I need to do something new” We agreed on an initial session the following week.

I hadn’t been to Ewart’s flat before, our relationship had developed in cafes and pubs. I walked in through his hallway, on first glance the flat looked a similar layout to mine, but every wall was covered with jigsaw puzzles, hanging from every space, from small large work with small pieces to the classic 1,000 or more pieced puzzles. Castles, cats and quaint English villages, all stuck together and framed with that sick coloured pine.
“Blimey Ewart” I said as he showed me into his therapy room. “You like a good jigsaw then!” This room was also covered in his jigsaw handy work, the theme seemed to be flowers.
“What do you think of the room? I’ve made the living room into a bedsit, I’ve tried to make it look professional, it could do with a lick of paint, gonna do that when I’ve finished my essays, one thing at a time.”
“It’s fine. It’s like my flat, my bedroom is my therapy room. Shall I jump on the couch? Am assuming I keep my clothes on?”
“Yes. Jump on and we’ll get cracking.”
I heaved myself onto the massage table, I’m so tiny but my whole body and head felt heavy. I tried to relax while Ewart paced about the room.
“Everything ok?” I asked, wondering what he was doing, he seemed nervous.
“Yes, yes, I just can’t find my notebook, I need to take down some notes, it’s all for the course.”
“Am I your first guinea pig?”
“No, no, I’ve been practising on other students for the last year, it’s going well, don’t worry.”
I lay with my head on a pillow, in front of me on the wall was a jigsaw of one single rose. The folds of the pink leaves reminded me of the obvious, but this puzzle was different, I could see a tiny bit of dark card near the top of the picture.
“Ewart, there’s a piece missing in that one.” I leaned up and pointed.
“Really?” he seemed surprised but didn’t look to check. He was now sat to my right with his pad. “Everything can’t be perfect” said the perfectionist. Maybe he’d done it deliberately, part of his therapy.

Ewart asked me a series of questions about my health and history. I found myself telling him a lot more than I’d anticipated.
“What was your parent’s relationship like?” he asked.
“Sad, really sad. They’d both had it tough, both were evacuated in the war, my mother had a good time and seemed to prefer her Derbyshire family more than her Essex one, her brother died after WW2 when he got back from serving in Palestine, it broke her heart. My father was abused on a Yorkshire farm, he jokes about it but I know it was horrific, his older sister was evacuated nearby and was eventually allowed to visit him, she called the services and he was taken out and sent to someone in Wiltshire where he had a better time of it. Mum’s first love died in a motorbike accident then her and my Dad got together at the Methodist youth club, Dad jokes, “The youth club was like picking a rugby team at school” and Dad loved rugby, so much so that my sister and I always thought he’d rather have had boys. I never ever saw my parents kiss or hug. My father had affairs, some short, some longstanding. They in their words “rubbed along”. Perhaps I’ve had so many relationships because I refuse to ‘rub along’. ” I laughed. “There’s got to be more, hasn’t there? What do you think Ewart?”
“How do you feel about you parents now?”
“I love them and I do feel sad, but I seem to be able to accept their failings as parents, I’ve moved on from feeling angry. I just feel sad.”
“But you still struggle in relationships”
“Ewart, you’re sounding like Ian, can we get on with the treatment? This isn’t psychoanalysis.” As soon as I said this I realised – of course he’d be interested, of course he’d want to look deeper, he was in analysis himself, he knew the benefit of knowing all this stuff.
“It’s helpful for me to know how to work on you, the questions I ask are guided by you, and what’s on your mind right now. It’s deep stuff, you’ve had a lot of therapy so I can go deeper.”
“That’s cool. Go for it. I’m curious.”
Ewart swiveled his chair behind me and lay his hands gently on my head, I found myself completely relaxing and nearly drifting off to sleep. I don’t know how long he’s hands had been there when I had a flashback, back in Essex, in my room with the twin beds, I’m trying to sleep but I can’t, Dad enters the room, naked, walks down the small isle between the beds and gets in the twin.
I have no recollection of the rest of the session with Ewart, but memories of my father’s intrusion came flooding back. I spoke about the flashback with Ian on our next session, we were ending the following week, I told him everything I’d remembered and he listened.  Why had my parents not known what wasn’t good for me? I knew the answers, how could they possible think of me when they weren’t able to think about their own relationship.  My Dad in the bed, lying next to me wanking, an invasion of my sexual integrity. How did he not think of me, my space?  I didn’t blame my Dad, I just had to feel this pain of my child who wasn’t thought about. I’d found the missing piece of my puzzle and strangely felt a sense of relief.

My Dad loved jigsaw, we used to do them together when I was a child (you may remember my postcard from Spain in No. 4) a 1000 word puzzle would take over the dining table which pissed Mum off. He finally made a board which could be taken on and off the table and placed somewhere else, mid jigsaw.  This irritated her just as much as the dog having to dance around it and get under her feet.
“You will, at some point, think and feel something different.” I remembered Ian’s words very early on in our therapy, I’d left that session with not a clue what he was getting at, so much of what he said went over my head but now I knew exactly what he meant. Everything was different now, everything Ian had said were seeds of hope I would grow, it would take time, but I would do it. Something massive had changed inside of me.

After our final session I went home and sat in my garden and mediated. It was a beautiful sunny day. For the first time in my life I didn’t have the urge to rush out to find a boyfriend, like bulimia, it was a symptom I was shaking off. I was able to sit with myself, with no cigarettes, no alcohol, nothing, just myself and as I absorbed the sun I felt like a new, rich self-esteem had covered me with gold and inside the MS fizzing was fizzing away.
“Reverse it, reverse it, reverse it.” I mediated, visualising every part of my body, everywhere it had expelled pain and dis-ease.  I knew if I wobbled, if the new covering slipped off, it wouldn’t matter, Ian could get it back on, I was seeing him for a follow-up in a month’s time, maybe I could put it back on myself.

Ewart and I became the closest of friends. He passed his course with flying colours and began to do very well as a body therapist. There was never a love interest between us but we did express love as friends, we became very close.

In therapy, when symptoms have finally shifted, there is room for creativity and exploration of something different. Ian had told me about Morley College, an adult education college in Lambeth, I signed up for a Saturday acting course and began meeting all sorts of interesting creative people, a change to hanging out with just therapists. I wasn’t alone anymore, and like buses, it wasn’t long before three offers of a date came at once. I went on to choose what I thought was the best of the three, my choice turned out to be one of my best ever life choices.

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