When she was five, she peeled away the tissue paper, and could feel the power of the package. The dress was a sleeveless powder blue with wisps of white in the fabric and the most intricate butterfly buttons.
“If you are ever frightened, you can close your eyes and the butterflies will fly you away. When you feel safe again, they will bring you home” grandma whispered in her ear. “I think you should wear it to your first day of kindergarten.”
The girl smiled and nodded her agreement. The dread of the approaching first day melting away like a dream after waking. She ran to her bedroom to try it on and when she came out, she stood in the sunlight with her arms out wide, closed her eyes and flew.
When she was six, the moving van showed up one morning and the dress came out again. She hugged her friend a final goodbye, tears streaming down their faces and she stood tall thumbing a butterfly button until she could breathe again. Grandma took her hand when she floated back down, smoothed her hair and led her to the car.
During that year, she clutched it on a sweltering morning when her dog passed away, layered in under a sweater and leggings when she needed to get stitches in her chin on a snowy night and when Mr. Bunny’s arm ripped off falling in the newly fallen, muddy leaves. The dress soothed her unrest.
When she was eight, it could no longer be squeezed into and her mom tried to place it in the donation bin. She pleaded that she would lose the ability to fly, so mom relented and let her keep the treasure. She placed it in a box under her bed, not bearing the idea of parting with such a special piece of her. It kept her safe, grounded, and strong.
When she was ten, her sister was sick. Not a cold, not the flu, but very sick. She was in the hospital and lost all her hair. The bones protruding under her eyes with a ghostly white complexion made her scary to look at, but under all the gloom, she was still her sister. When mom said she might not come home, she ran to her bedroom, took out the box and delicately cut the string on one of the butterfly buttons. When she was allowed to go to the hospital, she secretly placed the button into her sister’s hand and told her to fly away from the sickness. Her sister, though sleeping, listened and came back home 3 weeks later.
When she was fourteen, her grandmother died soundly while asleep one night. She neatly folded the dress and placed it into her backpack. When she said her goodbye, she cut another delicate string and placed the butterfly button in the coffin. “In case you are frightened and don’t know the way, it will fly you to heaven,” she whispered in the silence and felt adequate with her goodbye. More lonely than she had ever felt before, she wordlessly went back to her family to mentally sort her heartache.
When she was twenty-two, he gave her a black eye. It was not the first and deep in her heart, she knew it would not be the last. Three years and most had been full of sorrow, but she hid it so well. That night, putting the dress in her suitcase, she finally flew away from the apartment and her wings never faltered.
When she was twenty-seven, she was upside down in her friend’s car. Her head felt like a thousand nails were hammered in at once. She tried to shake the driver awake. She peered in the backseat to see her friend sobbing with her arm at a strange angle. She clumsily felt around the roof for her bag, tore open the zipper with the contents spilling out and clutched the dress. Befuddled, she ripped off 2 more buttons and disjointedly placed one in the driver’s pocket and the other in her friend’s dangling arm. She whispered, “It will make you fly” before blackness overtook her.
When she was twenty-seven, twenty-eight and twenty-nine, she was cautious. She stayed in the house with the blinds drawn, only leaving to go to work and physical therapy. Friends tried to intervene, but the morose monster inside of her kept hold of her limbs and dragged her down. Though her body built up stronger, her mind stayed in a dark cloud with little light shining through. There was only one left. If it was lost, how would she find her way? How could she help others if she herself were helpless?
When she was thirty, she had enough. When she jumped out of the plane, she realized the dress was still in her bag, not on her person. She screamed and then laughed when the parachute came up. Looking out on the purples and blues in the horizon, she kept her eyes wide open absorbing the beauty of the flight. When she touched down, the tandem instructor unclicked her harness, smiled and said, “I’m off in an hour. You want to get a drink.” Endorphins already running through her, she excitedly responded yes.
When she was thirty-two, she put on the sparkling white dress with overflowing tulle and radiated down the aisle. The man waiting at the end let out a short gasp and beamed as she slowly stepped more into view. They joined hands with a firm grasp not wanting to let the other one go while stating their vows. As they walked out the church, the butterflies released encased them as they raised their arms to the cheers. Once in the limo, she peered out the window at a lone butterfly sitting on the window and knew the strength inside of her.
When her daughter was five, she went into kindergarten wearing the powder blue dress with wisps of white in the fabric and the most intricate butterfly button keeping the top closed, the empty spaces now filled with small pearlized hearts. Her daughter waved goodbye after kissing her cheek, “I’m going to have so much fun, mommy.” With jittery excitement, she watched her daughter go off on her own, closed her eyes and stood in the sunlight. While butterflies may help you fly away, the love in the memento is what keeps you strong and who needs a button when you already know how to fly.