Puzzle Rules

By Neema Bipin Avashia

My first grade teacher deemed me cognitively disabled because I could not tie my shoes, hold a pencil, cut with scissors, complete puzzles, could not make my Brown skin white, and for 24 years after being in her class, I avoided all fine-motor tasks, so I typed instead of writing by hand, wore slip-ons instead of sneakers, refused to join the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle because my inability to grasp how the sharp and curving blanks and tabs fit together, felt somehow an indictment of my intellect, a failing I was unable to fix, until I met Laura, who gave me a photo puzzle for my birthday but ended up completing it all by herself while I battled strep throat, who then created a second photo puzzle for our surprise wedding ten years later where each guest got a piece and had to work with others to solve the mystery of why we were all gathered, who taught me the rules of puzzling—find all of the edge pieces and build out the frame, then sort and join the remaining pieces by color or pattern, and then, when doing the most complex parts of the puzzle, choose one piece at a time and hunt the board for the blank space that matches each tab shape—rules I didn’t learn growing up in an immigrant home where no one had time for puzzles, and no one knew the rules, either; thus I seek out puzzles now, let my mind go blank as I work on a color or pattern or corner, savor the tiny buzz of satisfaction that comes when I snap a tab into a blank, when I own the rules.



Neema Avashia is a teacher and writer whose book, Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, will be published by WVU Press in 2022.


Photo by Neema Avashia.