Yellow Butterfly

Yellow Butterfly

Yellow Butterfly

From the third-floor French doors I watch a pair of yellow butterflies chase each other around a summer breeze and think to myself, one of them could be my father. Returning as a butterfly to show me he’s free, finally, from the encumbrances of life. And look, he’s found a companion much more suited to him than my mother ever was.

They dodge and weave in the sunlight. I think they’re teasing each other. Or dancing, perhaps. They appear so carefree, I’m certain they’re laughing. That is, of course, if butterflies are capable of laughter.

That’s how I want to think of my father. That he’s free. That he’s loved. That he found someone who appreciates him for him. Who gets his jokes and his dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Someone who values how brilliant and quick-witted he is. How wise and well read. He had many tried-and-true quips to cover every occasion. I can still hear him say, “Don’t grab. Look what your mother got,” or “A fool’s born every minute and they marry two at a time.”

As we got older my brothers and I referred to our mother as “Killjoy.” Her instinctive response to any request we made was “no.” If we were having fun, laughing together, teasing each other, or cutting up, she’d put a stop to it. How dare we be happy for even a second?

Dad, on the other hand, knew how to enjoy himself and somehow managed it despite being married to her. Granted, his good times usually involved lots of beer or whiskey.

My storyteller father wrote stories when he was younger and even tried submitting them to publishers. He stopped though, he told me once, after she threw his old typewriter into the trash.

Maybe he tells stories and discusses the books he’s read with his buttercup-colored companion. Maybe they have long talks about philosophy and politics and religion.

What could he talk to my mother about? What did she ever have to say to him? That he needed him to change the lightbulb in the bathroom? She might have asked if he wanted another piece of pie.

I watch the pair flit back and forth, up and down, until they float out of sight, and I think to myself, Dad is happy.

The next day the two of them return. I’m sure Dad is showing off. Is he trying to explain to me what heaven is like? That once there you’re no longer held down by the pettiness, the stupidity, the fear, or the consequences of a wrong choice. In heaven, you’re loved. You’re with someone who understands you. Someone who appreciates you. Someone who looks at you and sees perfection. And with that knowledge, you soar. Up toward the sun and down again in a graceful swoop toward the deep green grass.

In heaven no one is there with lips thinned, saying, “You’re not going to wear that shirt, are you?” No one offers him chicken poached in canned cream of mushroom soup, even though he can no longer eat, and he probably wondered why, after over fifty years together, she doesn’t know that he never liked chicken.

Even though he held her hand and begged with his eyes for her to understand, she frowned in exasperation, took the rejected meal, and stomped back to the kitchen. Once again, he’d disappointed her, but I hope he was too sick to care. All he wanted was relief from the pain. Release from this life.

Memories must have run over him and through him and I wonder if he came close to drowning in them. He whispered to me once, “It all went by so fast.”

He was born during the Great Depression, the eldest of five. His parents eked out an existence as farmers. He learned to drive on a Model T and had his first bowl of beer at the age of ten. Poor as they were, his stories about walking to school barefoot in the snow and uphill both ways might be true.

I imagine his days in the Navy raced by. World War II. An aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Struck by kamikazes—twice. Fellow sailors died. But he went on to marry. Work. Have children. Retire. He did everything her way. And drank through it all.

Maybe that was the only way he survived. By blotting out the disappointing reality. The chill of rejection. The feelings of failure.

A functioning alcoholic. That’s what they call it now. He always had a job. If he got fired from one, he found something new. Somewhere else. Repeatedly apologized to his family for dragging them all over the country. He thought that’s what tore them apart. But now he knows it was him. The booze he chose over them.

He did the best he could. Despite all his flaws, his kids loved him. So did she. So, she claimed. But I never quite believed it. I wonder if he did. I think she loved the version of him she thought she was marrying. And he loved that version of her the same. What a surprise life had in store for them. Neither were what they seemed. What they represented themselves to be. They thought they’d solve each other’s problems. Instead, they carried those around and created new problems together.

But I know the sadness is behind him now. He doesn’t miss earthly things. He found true love. But sometimes he likes to swing back by along with the love he always wanted, to tell me I’m here. Beyond your reach right now, but I’m here. See me? I look like a yellow butterfly and my companion is love.

Know that I love you. I’m leaving now. But I’ll stop by again. I’ll be here when you need me. Say, “Hi, Dad,” when I flutter by and let the breeze dry your tears.         (992 Words)

©2024 Barbara Meyers

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I wrote a version of this several years ago in my journal shortly after my father passed away and I saw two yellow butterflies flitting outside just as I described and I thought maybe it was my dad and a companion. I’ve looked for that journal entry since but haven’t found it. But every time I see a yellow butterfly, I think it’s my dad stopping by to say hi.

I submitted the above to Florida Writers Association’s 2024 anthology Collection for the theme “Metamorphosis” as creative non-fiction. It was turned down.

I hope you enjoy it.