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Butterfly Obsession

I've wanted to tell this story for quite some time.  Tonight feels like the right time.

When I was on my very last day of Kindergarten, the teachers all took us to an organized field day.  There were different activities we could participate in, from rolling painted marbles around in shoe boxes to make colorful abstract art to bobbing for apples.  Some of the activities took longer than others, so eventually there formed a spot for stalling the students.  I remember clearly as my group reached the "stall for more time" location and the teacher on duty there would have us sit in the Duck-Duck-Goose circle.  When we grew tired of playing that silly game, or when someone decided to throw a fit over being picked one too many times, the game ended and the teacher struggled to come up with a new activity. 

"Ok, Children, I'm going to go around the circle and ask each of you what you want to be when you grow up.  Remember, you can be anything you want to be.  You can be a fireman, a doctor, a lawyer, whatever you like.  I'll start here with you." She pointed to a little girl about twice my size (I was small for my age) with blonde hair.  I'm sure her family would've been proud when she responded that she wanted to be a nurse like her mommy.  The next kid said he wanted to be a fireman, another would be a lawyer.  On and on it went until finally the teacher got to me. 

"And what would you like to be," she asked of me.  I'd thought about it for the entire time I waited on other children to answer.  I knew from the first second she posed the question what my answer would be. 

"A butterfly."

She stared at me, rather shocked.  "You can't be a butterfly."  I stared back at her and began to cry.

"But you said I could be anything!"

"You don't understand," she started to explain.  "I meant as a job.  Would you want to be a doctor or a police officer?"

"No," I wailed.  "I wanna be a butterfly!"

"Ok," she finally relented.  "Maybe someday you can wear a butterfly costume for Halloween and be a butterfly for a day." I was more determined than ever to prove her wrong after that statement.

Years went by where I grew up believing I was ugly, stupid and trapped in a perpetual "awkward stage" I would never outgrow where I looked too much like an aunt my mother didn't like for her to ever be really happy with my appearance.  I grew a thick skin after years of being told how ugly I was when I cried, but never learned how to look anyone in the eye when I shed tears.  My sense of humor developed into a witty sarcasm, often misunderstood but mostly laughed at.  It was one of very few positive attributes I had, according to my parents.  I was proud of that.  Yet I still remained within my protective shell.  My humor was my mask that I had successfully learned to hide behind.  I didn't know what I wanted to be when I became an adult, though I had dreams of being an actress, a model, a writer and an artist.  I knew I wasn't good enough to do any of those things, so they would never be anything more than dreams. 

Then I became a model at 17 years old for a back to school fashion show.  It started a series of events, leading me to miraculous events I never imagined would happen to me.  I became an actress by mistake at 24 years old.  I started to actually sell custom artwork in my early 20's also.  There were only two last childhood dreams to have come true.  I wanted to be a writer and I had to find a way to be a butterfly.  I knew I'd never be a butterfly so that idea just seemed silly, so I focused on being a writer.

Another random series of events led me to flight attendant interviews one day, and much to my own surprise, they hired me.  I'd finally grown out of my awkward stage at some point, and as I stood there looking in the mirror at my new Flight Attendant uniform, I realized I finally had my wings.  I had become that butterfly I told a teacher when I was only 4 that I would someday be.  She didn't believe in me.  Nobody did, really.  Not even me.  But I did it anyway.

A butterfly can not be helped out of is cocoon.  Any that have been helped by having the cocoon opened for them have died with their wings still rumpled around their bodies, stalled out before they ever take flight.  The pressure and stretching of the butterfly wings as it tries to escape the confines of the old comfort zone is what causes their wings to stretch; to grow in strength.  Every trial, every struggle, every pain, every horror and ever nightmare I've survived have caused my wings to grow in strength.  I've become bright, full of color and life, eager to go new places, explore life, laugh and truly live in ways others might never experience or imagine.  I may not have become a tiny insect with iridescent wings, but I certainly became a butterfly. 

Glass Houses

When I was 15 my father returned from the military.  He didn't want to be out of work but wasn't sure how to go about getting another job right away.  One of his retired friends had gotten a job at Sears in the tools department and would brag about the discounts on his Craftsman tools until my father finally decided that's where he would go.  Of course they hired him right away with his stellar military background.  I don't think my mother ever told him what she told me one day, but that's merely a guess since I don't talk to them any longer.  They haven't been a productive part of my life for too many years to count.  She had no friends to talk to - my father had been her whole life since she was 15 years old.  I was barely 15 myself at the time she confided in me, but looking back I realize I should have confronted him.  Someone needed to, and it sure wasn't going to be her.

"Come with me to Sears," she said to me one day when I got home from school.  It was the first half of the school year and I was still a fairly stable student with decent, average grades.  I was never really an A student, but I was bored, and I hated homework and taking notes.  I saw no reason to take notes, even though we were graded on them.  My brain retained the information well enough on its own.  My mother even tested that theory once in the lobby of a dentist office.  She held up slips of paper with x marks all over it for a few seconds and then would ask me to tell her how many marks were on the paper.  I would close my eyes and count what I had seen.  Once for the entire time she tested me did I not have the correct answer, but there were over a dozen marks on the paper and I had been given 3 seconds to look at it.  I didn't need notes to study from, I only needed to look at the information.  I simply needed to read the text book.  During tests, I could even flip to exactly what page the answer to a particular question was on and point to what part of the paragraph I'd seen it in.  I could do this with or without having the book.  I just needed to use my memory and close my eyes.  I had a damn near photographic memory.  What I'd give to have that sort of fantastic visual memory again - or just that vision in general.  (For those who don't know, I have rather severe sun damage to my eyes and my vision is beginning to fail.)

Anyway, I digress.  My mother asked me to go to Sears with her.  I was confused since I hadn't been asked if I'd done my homework yet.  The honest answer at 4pm that day would've been no.  Yet she didn't seem to care about that and I took complete advantage.  I was only so happy to jump into her Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, Limited Edition.  It had a memorable scratch the full length of the side from the two of us taking it 4-wheeling along the river the first month she had it.  I loved that Jeep.  I loved who we had become that year as a family.  I'd talked them into even going to church with me.  I hadn't felt that close to them in years.  The whole way to Sears I reflected on how long it had been since my parents had gone to do something fun without taking me along, like going to dinner or a movie.  It had been months since either of them had screamed at me for something random, or I had been made to feel inferior for whatever reason arose on any given day.  It had been an unusually peaceful few months.  I was a fairly happy kid.  I was having a good childhood right then.

"I think your dad's been cheating on me," my mother blurted out once we turned into the Sears parking lot.  In six words, those few months of random, unusual household peace came tumbling in around me.  Six words became a wrecking ball, destroying those fragile glass walls I'd begun to build around a house of temporary stability.  It was gone.  Everything I had ever known about relationships had been destroyed.  "I don't have any proof," she continued, "but I saw him."

"What do you mean you saw him?"

"You can't say anything.  I mean to anyone.  Ever."  She stopped the Jeep at the far corner of the parking lot.  I knew without asking exactly why we were there.  I waited patiently for her to answer my question. 

"I came to bring him lunch the other day and I saw him walking some lady to her car.  I didn't want to interrupt him while he was working so I just waited.  But then she got into the drivers seat and he was leaned over in her car in the open door for an awfully long time.  I couldn't see exactly what he was doing but it doesn't take a lot of brains to figure it out."  I looked at her fighting back the tears in her eyes.  They had met when my mother was 15 and my dad was 20.  He was her entire adult life and a good chunk of her childhood.  How could he do that to her?  Why would he cheat on someone who had devoted their entire life to him?  But behind the tears, behind the sadness, I saw fear.  What would happen to her life without him?

"What does she drive," I asked.  She didn't have the strength to do this alone, I knew.  She had only had my father to turn to before.  Now that she felt betrayed, she had notbody left but her own 15 year old child. 

"It's a silver 80's Camaro I think.  I was too upset to look too closely.  But we are on a stake out.  You know those mystery shows you like, like Colombo and Murder She Wrote?  I probably shouldn't have told you all of this."  Her dialogue was as scattered as her thoughts.  I felt horrible for my mother.  I wanted so badly to take the pain away from her; to shoulder it all myself.  NOBODY deserved the pain she felt in that moment.

"It's ok, Mom.  I won't tell anyone."

" I know," she smiled through the pain.  "But I don't want this to change how you see your father."

"It wont," I lied.  Any respect he had gained over our few peaceful months at home vanished with the gut punch of a shattered idea - and though they never divorced, I vowed that day to do all I could to make that happen. 

What role models had I been left with?  My mother, cruel with words, was too fearful to stand up for herself against a cheating spouse.  My father, cruel with his hands, was too cowardly to remain faithful.  It was around that time I received the letter from church asking for more money from me.  Faith in my family, faith in my church and faith in myself faltered.  I broke that day, watching my mother trying not to cry, terrified of being without a cheating husband. 

All my life I thought I wanted a relationship like theirs, until that day.  My eyes were opened. Their marriage wasn't built on love, trust and understanding.  It was built on lies, cheating and a fear of life alone.  Yet, more than once, that was exactly what I ended up having for myself.  For years I blamed it on them.  But really, it was all on me.  I was simply emulating the example set before me.  No matter how hard i consciously fought against it, subconsciously I felt it was normal.  That's how life was supposed to be.  If my mother didn't deserve more than that, why should I?

We sat in the Jeep for hours that day.  I never saw that Jeep or my father the same way again. 

I never gained any respect for my father after that.  I don't believe I ever tried or even wanted to.  But no matter how many times they hurt me over the years I held my promised silence.  I was a child as torn as their bond of marriage, because no matter how angry I ever was, I still loved them both.  I still do.  That was the deepest wound dealt that day.  How was a child of 15 supposed to love people who constantly hurt and manipulate the people they were supposed to love?  In many ways I wonder if so many issues I have with them even now stem from that moment. 

I'm breaking my silence only now because I've come to the understanding that this was too much for a 15 year old child to contain, and it never should have been asked in the first place.  I also break my silence now in hopes that, even if I'm not a part of their lives, they may finally open a dialogue about that summer of 1995 so that they might begin healing after 22 years of what has surely been painful for them both.  I wish them well, I wish them luck, and I wish them love. 

Just don't bring me back into the middle of it all again.  It's not the place of your children, no matter their age, to be your marriage counselor.