The Butterfly Children
I’d never heard of the butterfly children before I had one. Sometimes the angels descend with trumpets and announce the fruit of your womb and such. Sometimes it’s far more subtle.
The baby arrived too early, a tiny larva so delicate you could hold her in your hand. Skin like a September peach. Inside a glass chrysalis, half in the dream world, always. Alone.
Thank you for saving me she said when she was old enough, a shy strawberry speaking words from the other side. But then she got the sad sickness. She must have known what was coming. A pupa with so many legs eating to satiate a pain that would never subside. At the time I called it moody. At the time I called it a phase.
People think of a cocoon as something peaceful, a sweet little bag of silk, a quiet transformation behind closed doors. Maybe that’s how it is for some, but all I know is the winds picked up to hurricane level, garbage cans flying around like cannon fire, and all I could do was take cover, grab my non-butterfly children and hide them behind a parked car to shield them from the flying debris. I tried to watch your transformation, I wanted to bear witness so that you wouldn’t have to be alone again, but I had to look away—your face ransacked, wings ripping through that delicate peach skin. If I told you spears of light stabbed the sky would you believe me? Don’t look I yelled to myself. For fuck’s sake that’s your baby but don’t look!
And after the winds died down I found her wet, tired. Crying. Her peach skin had become diaphanous wings like the most delicate stained glass, her eyes like spun sugar. I thought I would be beautiful, she said. Who will ever love me like this?
The butterfly children are born twice. Once to you, and once away from you. They all have their own trajectory—and if you try to stop it both child and story will abandon you. The butterfly children come to break our hearts, break them open. You cannot stop the metamorphosis. You can only get out of the way.
Once when my child was little we traveled high into the mountains of Mexico to witness the seventh generation of monarch butterflies complete their sacred migration. Inside the temple of the forest, millions of wings flutter open and closed in strange rhythm. Open. Close. Open. Close. Living wings covering every trunk like a velvet bark, the forest floor littered with soft, dead bodies and tissue paper wings. In the silence of the forest, as the butterflies alighted on my child’s nose and ears with their strange legs and eyelash kisses—I should have known then, shouldn’t I?
The butterfly becomes a butterfly only after crisis. After a transformation so violent and profound most of us would never bother. When the butterfly child has reached the threshold you are forced to watch your baby, dragged away. You do not get to say goodbye. What remains is beautiful and strange. The butterfly finds its way into glorious adulthood, lands like good luck on the noses of babies and puppies. Majestic and magnificent, it never speaks of what happened before. But you know. You hold that story inside of you. You stop yourself from saying: you stole my baby! to this glorious creature. Because sometimes you can still see the shy larva’s face buried in there, smiling, now always smiling.