It's December 1st. Almost every person I spoke with today mentioned this phenomenon with some sense of foreboding awe - the first day of the last month of the year. There were a few birthdays, the work anniversary of a co-worker, and of course, "Rabbit Rabbit".
For me, the first day of December marks something a bit different. On this day nine years ago, at about the same time of day I am writing this now, I was hauled off in handcuffs to prison. The weather was a bit similar to today's weather. It was dark and raining - actually, it was an all-out winter rain storm, as if the heaven itself was weeping in anguish along with me. I remember it vividly, the day that determined to break me into a million pieces.
Nine years later, here I am, quietly continuing to put the pieces back in place. No one asks me about it and I can't say, "Hey, it's my nine year prison anniversary. I am sort of proud of myself for where I am right now."
No one is going to say, "Congratulations, Melanie. You are doing a really great job."
Quietly, I mark the day in my heart and take inventory of my soul. There are still a lot of pieces of me out of place. Some of the pieces are lost forever and others just don't fit where they used to fit before. At first, I tried to find them all and force them back into the spaces they had occupied before. It didn't work. During the process, I discovered that the pieces of another puzzle had been dumped into the mix. It reminded me of the experience I had as a little child.
When I was about five-years-old I got in trouble one day when my mother decided my room was completely out of control, which it most likely was. The only specifics I recall about the mess were the three Snoopy puzzles which had been purposely dumped out and mixed together. I was particularly good at puzzles and having already successfully completed each one, decided to challenge myself by mixing all three together. When my mother informed me that my room had to be clean before I could play with my Aunt Linda, I knew I had a problem on my hands. There wasn't enough time to finish before she arrived so I shoved the entire puzzle mixture into the deepest reaches of my closet and closed the door with the intention of addressing the issue later. Needless to say, my mother was not impressed when she came to do her inspection. She deemed my actions to be an open act of deliberate disobedience and informed me I was not permitted to leave my room until each of the puzzles had been sorted and put back into their respective boxes. I protested which only resulted being paddled with a wooden spoon until my mother was satisfied I had "learned my lesson".
Defeated, I sat alone in my closet glaring at the 300 pieces which all looked the same but were not the same at all. They shared the same themes, colors, and sizes but not the same boxes. When my Aunt Linda arrived, she pled my case to no avail, and I knew the only escape from my punishment was to solve the puzzles. I wiped away my tears of anger, disappointment, and got to work.
I began with what I knew. I found the flat edges and began building the frames. Once this was finished I began trying to fill in all the empty spaces, searching for what worked, trying to see patterns, shapes, and hints of what the finished product should be. I remember realizing it was going to take too long. I wasn't smart enough and my aunt would have to leave long before I solved the riddle. I pulled my knees into me, dropped my head on them, and sobbed. I had been given a task that was too hard to complete in time to earn the reward - a punishment that seemed to extend far beyond its merit. I had never intended for my puzzle experiment to go so badly. How could I have possibly foreseen this outcome?
In my moment of despair, the door to my bedroom cracked open and my Aunt Linda waved for me to follow her. I told her I couldn't because my mother wouldn't let me but she assured me it would be okay, she wanted to show me something. She reached out her hand then led me to the backyard where she presented me before the biggest double rainbow I had ever seen. It was perfectly magical. I saw my mother glaring from across the yard, but she didn't make me go back to my room until the rainbow had disappeared. I had to go to bed that night without dinner, but I fell asleep with the memory of my aunt holding my hand beneath that rainbow.
Today is December 1, 2015. In many ways, I am still that girl, desperately trying to put the puzzle me back together again. It hasn't been an easy process, but there have been some people in my life, like my Aunt Linda, who take me away from the impossibility for a bit to hold hands and share rainbows. I love them. They aren't so concerned about the pieces that haven't been placed as much as they are with celebrating the pieces of me that do fit.
On December 1, 2006, I was sentenced to prison. Nine years later, here I am.
I am still learning to let the stolen pieces go and to stop forcing the pieces that don't fit anymore. I am still, in many ways, that little girl sobbing in a closet alone with an impossible task ahead of me, but I am also that little girl holding my aunt's hand under a magical rainbow of hope.
Nine years later, this is me - a work in progress - and I'm good with that, for now.