I was 10 years old when I killed my first butterfly.
I’d been out on the balcony, my mother standing overhead wrestling with the hair clippers, when it perched itself on the railing beside me. My mother was occupied, her back turned. So I watched it.
It’s beauty was distracting. Wings of black and blue. So calm and trusting. Perfect. The patchiness of my hair felt, suddenly, unimportant. For a moment.
Black and blue. It was beautiful for that moment. So beautiful, I didn’t want to say goodbye.
I reached for the jar on the table. The peanuts inside spilled out of it without a second thought. I flicked back the lid, and held it close, awkwardly. It accepted my invitation and I closed it in.
It was beautiful, and it was mine.
My mother finished shaving my hair, and smiled at me. She told me I looked beautiful, which was kind. My scalp felt cold in the crisp night air, so I took my jar with me and rushed upstairs. I wanted it to sleep next to me tonight - and it did.
When I was 11, I killed my second butterfly.
Black and yellow. A hot day. A tired day.
I was playing with the hose on the grass. My parents brought out a plastic chair for me, to help with the tired. I’d like to wave the hose back and forth towards the sky, playing with the patterns and the rainbows caused by the mist and water droplets. Like a lasso. As though it was some kind of trick. As though I might join the circus one day. But then I’d feel tired again.
And I remembered I couldn’t join the circus. But I could capture a friend.
Black and yellow. He fluttered his wings, and I held him close. His glass prison sparkled in the sunlight. Beautiful. I kept him beside me through dinner and while I watched TV. He fluttered patiently up until bedtime when we went to bed. The next morning he didn’t wake up either. I started to believe that beauty and I weren’t meant to be friends.
On my 12th birthday, my parents bought me a puppy.
You don’t have to worry. The puppy’s fine.
I wasn’t though. Not when I woke up, nor when I came downstairs. But when I saw her, I felt something. I don’t know what. But then she licked my face and I knew I still wasn’t fine, not really.
My mother suggested we go for a walk, and I hadn’t been sick yet that day. I was worried. It was only the morning. But maybe, I thought.
Then they went without me.
That evening, I named her Snowflake.
Mother said I shouldn’t. That her name didn’t match. She wasn’t white, she’d say.
“You can’t name a black dog Snowflake.”
I could though. Because she was one. Unique. Beautiful. Not what she seemed. Probably. I don’t think anybody is, but not her and definitely not me.
I wasn’t sure if she liked it, but I like to think she did.
She licked my face again, and I felt something.
When I was 13 years and 6 months old, I killed my second butterfly.
Snowflake was there, but she didn’t say anything. She was good like that.
It happened on my run. I liked to go on out in the early mornings. The doctors said I could now, so long as I double knotted my laces. So that’s what I did. My hair, finally long enough to secure, sat just below my shoulders. I tied it back. Snowflake wore her best harness. She smiled at me, though I’m not sure why. I loved her for it though.
When Snowflake and I went running, I liked to play a game.
It was innocent enough. Where there was a leaf, preferably a dry crunchy-looking one, I’d step on it. So simple. That crunch. That feeling.
Snowflake loved the leaves too. Her face, already smiling, would light up in the autumn. She’d dive for the nearest pile if I let her. And so I did. It definitely made me feel something. Something good.
We’d go by the creek by my house. My favourite place. We ran, and we walked, and we ran, and leaves crunched beneath my feet and her paws.
I was flying, as though I were an athlete. For a little while. I saw a leaf. Yellow and brown. It was perfect and dry. Folded partially in a particularly crunchy-looking way. A prime target.
But when I stepped on it there was no crunch.
And when I cried, Snowflake said nothing. She didn’t need to. She was there though. She didn’t care that I’d killed another butterfly.
When I got home, my father told me that it was common for insects to land on the ground before they died. It meant that it was it’s time. It was okay.
I felt a bit better. But then when I Googled it, the internet didn’t seem to know anything on the subject. Odd. It said other things though. Like butterflies sometimes like to land near puddles to take in salt and minerals from the soil. IT also said that male butterflies would use these minerals to create healthy sperm. I stopped reading there. Mostly because of the sperm thing.
I know my father was probably right, because his explanation made sense. We never think about where the dead butterflies go. We never see them, do we? Well, most of us don’t. I’ve seen a couple.
I hoped it was true. Because the important thing was: I wasn’t that girl anymore. I would never kill a butterfly.
When I was 15 years old and 9 months, my mother came to visit me in hospital.
Don’t worry, I’m fine.
There were no dogs allowed in the hospital, but she brought Snowflake anyway. I don’t know how she got away with it. Who she sweet talked or bribed for me. But I didn’t ask.
My mother plopped Snowflake on the bed. She was so small, and excited to see me. I didn’t even mind the jumping, or the licking, or the gentle nibbling at my fingers. I chuckled a bit. I was happy, somehow. It was a nice feeling.
Snowflake rolled on her back. A sign it was time for her hourly belly rub. I admired her. So joyful. So loving. So trusting. So perfect.
My mother ran her fingers through my hair. It was thin now. Uneven. And I minded that, but it was okay.
So we sat in the stillness… the clock ignoring us. Deciding, I suppose, that we were not worth the hassle.
And in spite of everything… in spite of the pain and the guilt, my winglessness and all of the leaves that were in a place that wasn’t there, I was okay. And I felt that thing again, and for sure this time.
Beautiful. Strong. Loved.