When I was little–like “grass stains on your knees and fruit punch ring around your mouth” little–I killed something joyful. It happened near the forsythia bush where we played baseball, where I once whacked my cousin in the mouth with a line drive. That wasn’t on purpose, but this was.
There was one of those white butterflies darting all over with its wings vibrating back and forth at the speed of a nervous breakdown. I know now that they’re called cabbage whites. The Latin name is Pieris rapae and its conservation status is listed as “of least concern.” It was tapping me like a toddler would if they wanted something–over and over, unrelenting.
I caught it; I cupped it in my hands as if it were an egg or a small flower and peeked through my fingers just to be sure. It felt like hundreds of eyelashes fanning my palms. It was fragile like some glass figurine your grandma keeps in a locked curio. It was beautiful and full of frenetic joy, and because it was beautiful, I wanted to understand how it worked. What did its body feel like? What is needed to flap a wing? What are you supposed to do with something wonderful and weird?
I pulled it apart. I started with its white, papery wings. I ripped one, and it looked like a piece of a peony petal. And then I couldn’t stop myself. I ripped them all off raggedly and let pieces float down to the grass. There were no clean incisions. The fluttering stopped. I poked at the abdomen and discovered that its body was the consistency of earwax. When I was done I dropped its remains on the ground. I didn’t know whether or not you give things like that a proper burial. I still don’t know.
My mom called me in for lunch and I ran with my hands covered in the residue of the cabbage white’s wings.
“I killed something,” I told her.
“What was it?” she asked.
She said nothing. Her frosted blonde hair bobbed as she scrubbed the dishes. The suds were white and foamy like the wings.
“Am I bad?” I asked.
“What? No, of course not,” she said. “You’re the best little girl in the whole world.” And then she whirled around and gave me a kiss on the top of my head. Some of the dishwater dripped on my arm and it felt like rain.
The way I remember it the sky was grey. Some thunder might have clapped. Or maybe that’s the feeling you get when you’re afraid you’ve cursed yourself. When you’ve done something you don’t know how to apologize for. Whenever something bad happens, I think of the cabbage white. My palm itches with its flitting.