it must have been a wednesday or a thursday...they are my softest days, when my mind is free from the baited expectations of friday or saturday, the uncertainty of sunday, wariness of monday, bleariness of tuesday. i had been thinking about the way hope and despair come and go. here, then gone. the way butterflies do. the thought came to land on my shoulder that day, and before i could write about it, it had already fluttered away. the thought of a butterfly is a butterfly itself.
every april, i am bitten by the sun on its first blazing afternoon. this time it was a sunday. and today, tuesday, i feel the heat on my chest and look down to see it glaring right back at me, scorched and stinging. it's an angry color. but i know that in a few days it will give way to tan. in summer i am the color of cardboard—an unsavory description, i know. but i like it. and i think i need that initial burn, as if to say, remember, the burn of emotion is both momentous and momentary.
have you ever seen a butterfly land on the ground? i have never. they perch on narrow leaves or flimsy branches that hang from the furthest tips of trees or on the bare arms of someone—a girl, never a boy—sitting very still, maybe in a park on a blanket under the sun. they flit their wings in slow motion a time or two, briefly, and suddenly they gain momentum and are off again. they seem directionless, uncertain, sensitive. me too, sometimes.
it was thursday, a few weeks ago. one of those nights when a beer or two are enough to slow my swirling thoughts, enough so sleep comes easily. the tv was still on and the time said 3:36 when i awoke to my dogs barking, as they sometimes do in the middle of the night. and joker, who almost never barks at all, was barking the loudest. the three of them ran back and forth from my bed to my office, then back to the window beside my bed, sniffing at the windowsill so loudly and persistently that i remember thinking it was odd. when their paws and snouts eventually pushed aside the mini blind, the nothing that is usually out there was replaced by a man. standing there, looking in at me. and all the things i should have done in that moment, i didn't do. and the way my dogs have always made me feel safe disappeared in an instant.
he stood for forever. or minutes. sometimes the two are one in the same. i waited in the doorway, watching his shadow against the blinds, moving to the left, then disappearing. the police came and went, unconcerned. a man at a window is nothing new. and i keep telling myself that maybe i should think of it that way...except to do so would be to tame my thoughts, which i have always allowed to run free. it's better that way.
you are strong. you've done so many things, all by yourself. don't let this break you. that's what mom said the first night i spent alone after it happened, when i woke up in a panic at 3:30 am. but i'm tired of being strong. i said it aloud, and she let me say it, and neither of us believed it, because it isn't true at all. except in the moment, emotion is momentous. then the moment is gone. like butterflies.
in the past few weeks i have slept well, away from worry and windows. waiting for it to feel right to be back in my own bed, alone. in the midst of all my travels to and from couches and unfamiliar beds, on one of those nights i kissed a friend. i didn't intend it. all i really wanted was sleep, though the possibility of kisses floated around all night among winks and crooked smiles and body language. just for fun, i thought. but when the night had stretched so long that my eyes were struggling to stay open, he suddenly reached over. oh. well, why not. i have known many kisses born of proximity and not passion. they are stillborn. dead before they begin. dead kisses are never to be mourned. the only ones worth mourning are the kisses you're afraid you may never have again. the kind that begin in your belly and rise up to flutter from your lips. the kind that come and go. the way butterflies do. and the only thing you know for sure is the uncertainty with which you believe that maybe, possibly, one day, one of those kisses will be like the monarch butterfly, the fourth generation of which survives longer than all the rest.