The pictures that make up this puzzle


Maryann Warren

My Nana Ingrid and I on the dock, me desperate to be as flawlessly cool as her.

Anyone in my extensive family can attest to the fact that, as a child, I was completely unhinged. From a young age, I found that song and dance were the best coping mechanisms for my budding anxiety, and I tried to work these attributes into everything I did. Though my dancing was merely violent jumping and my singing just yelling, they served as distractions from the world around me. 

On top of this, I was raised in an environment where these actions were not merely accepted; they were encouraged. I am the baby in my family by a vast number of years, meaning that by the time I hit my imaginative phase, that of my cousins and siblings was long over. However, this never stopped them from pulling me up onto their shoulders and parading me around.

Though my childhood played out with such vivacity and curiosity, there are large chunks of it that I have forgotten entirely. Everything that happened over five years ago plays out like a completed puzzle in my memory, except half the pieces appear in color, while the others are seemingly black and white. 

The woman who taught me that nectar lay past the Honeysuckle petals and that seagulls hold meaning and purpose, even if they only have one leg.”

Instead of bandaging this broken mural, I find myself flipping through photo albums in an attempt to shade in the missing pieces. Though no voices penetrate the pictures and the colors come off less vibrant than I remember, photographs from the summer of 2009 fill the gaps in my clustered childhood. 

This was one of the many summers spent on Long Beach Island, a seaside section of the Jersey Shore where we would stay with my grandparents. They owned a home in Harvey Cedars, which my uncle aptly deemed the “snobbish” shore experience. Yet, though my times by the sea were slightly sheltered, they also radiate nostalgic bliss. 

The images of pebbled driveways and days at the beach hold the keys to finely painted boxes that have been locked for too long, these troves containing eclectic knick-knacks kept by the woman who could find a use for everything. The woman who would throw aside anything for the cultivation of the imagination, especially in her grandchildren. The woman who taught me that nectar lay past the Honeysuckle petals and that seagulls hold meaning and purpose, even if they only have one leg.

For all the fragments of her that have passed down to me, there is still so little of her in my memory. She glides through events like a shadowy figure, bringing with her a sense of warmth juxtaposed with despair. This was not her nor my doing either; it is just the way things ended up. I was still little until quite recently, and quite recently, she left me forever. 

Yet—while looking through the digital copies of photos I wish so much to hold in my hand— I slowly realized that Ingrid is the one that’s coloring in my pieces. No matter how long it has been since I have seen her face, she will always be the one adding tincture to my fanciful mind. 

She will always be the figure smiling back at me through the picture frame.