Butterfly

by Brian Campbell
Changeling:The Dreaming

I was once a child of the spring. That time of my life seems so far away now.

When I was a little girl, my mother would let me play in her garden. That, to me, was paradise. The budding roses were my closest friends. I could confide in them. On spring afternoons, I would read stories to the flowerbeds. I didn't know all the words in the books I borrowed from my father's library, but I was able to make up endless flourishes in the tales I told. No matter how elaborate the stories became, the roses would listen in rapt attention. Butterflies hovered nearby to listen, and they would rejoice in the beauty of it all.

Those spring days were the happiest days of my life. Each sunny day was filled with the joy of youth, and my exuberance was such that I felt that I could almost take flight. When a spring breeze would carry through the garden, I remember wishing for wings to carry me off with the wind.

My father always taught me the value of hard work. He wanted his son to be able to provide for his family. I never thought I'd have to learn so much, but he taught me everything I needed to know. In the workshop, we'd work together for hours. The one quality I remember about him was his patience. He could never express how he felt in words, but the fact that he spent so much time teaching me carpentry said more than any words he could have chosen.

He was always methodical about his work. To him, craftsmanship was the most important thing in the world. Learning that took a long time. When I was five, the nails I hammered always went in crooked, and the two-by-fours I cut with my practice saw were never quite straight. He was always patient, nontheless, and he taught me that when you start to build something, you let nothing distract you until you're done.

He'd cautiously measure each piece of wood he'd use. He taught me how to carefully place my pencil marks so that I would never be off by more than a sixteenth of an inch. Woodwork was one of the greatest joys in his life. Each time I look at something I've built with my own two hands, I think of his hands guiding mine.

I was a very impatient young woman. Although I was repeatedly caught and chastised, I couldn't help but sneak out of my bedroom window on warm spring nights. With the stealth of a night animal, I'd climb down the tree beside my window and escape. Barefoot, I'd run endlessly through the moonlight. In the middle of the night, I'd return.

My bedroom was a prison. I'd set my stuffed animals on the windowsill, and they'd watch the moon with me. The light of the moon fell like a lover's kiss on the mountains in the distance, and I longed to walk softly on that gentle ground.

At seventeen, I ran away from home.

I got my first job at the age of sixteen. My father had taught me well. He was a very traditional man - I learned that the man of the family should be able to provide. Because of that, I worked hard to make him proud. I knew that one day, I would have a family of my own, and that my hard work would pay off. Every day after school, I'd go to my job at the lumberyard. Taking inventory wasn't the most exciting job in the world, but I learned to be dependeable. I saved up for my first car - a white 1978 Plymouth. It wasn't anything spectacular, but I had earned it. It was mine.

At the age of eighteen, I packed my high school diploma in my suitcase, loaded my car with everything I needed for my new life, and set off for California.

They found me in the parking lot of a 7-11. The rips, tears, and stains in my clothes made me look more like a feral animal than a seventeen-year-old girl. I had been homeless for many weks, and my dream was slowly turning into a nightmare. Running from one city to the next, my journey had taken me from Albuquerque to Tucson to San Diego and on through Northern California. The money I had stolen from my parents was running out and the trip was slowly destroying me. Bathroom sinks weren't a good substitute for a good shower, and the change I picked up on the streets wasn't enough for decent food.

The three young strangers who found me were wanderers, too, but they had been traveling much longer than I had. If I concentrate hard enough, I can remember their faces.

Jack was tall. He walked with a perpetual slouch, and he was kind. On his back, he wore a denim jacket with a brightly embroidered sunset, but he rarely smiled. Runcible was elooquent, yet sly. He was something of a thief, but he was a sophisticated one. His quick wit was even sharper than his skill at acquiring what we needed, and the songs he sang always made me laugh. The third member of our little clique was a young punk named Arthur. We called him Fishlips. He even had a tattoo of a small fish on the side of his neck. He looked like a lot of the punks I saw back in the early eighties, and he wore his bitterness with pride.

Arthur Fishlips owned a van, a lime-green monstrosity that he cared for like a close friend. We were all close friends. We had to be. We all lived close to the edge, and watching a friend's back is the best way to keep a friendship.

When we finally ran out of gas money, we crashed in a house with a group of college students near a small university in Santa Cruz. Jack, Runcible, and Arthur wanted to rest up for a while. They soon considered the town their home, but to me, my home was always the open road. I saved up some money, and after that, I made sure there was always gasoline in the van. When the spirit took us, we would take a quick trip along the Pacific Coast Highway and sing along with the music on the radio.

My three friends were my spring breeze, and I finally had my wings.

The apartment I saved up for was small, but it was mine. Ten hours a day, I worked at a construction site downtown. At the end of each day, I was exhausted. Each day, I pushed myself and tried to prove my worth. The one thing that kept me going was the thought of my next raise.

Money was tight, but on the weekends, I'd drive down to the beach and take long walks. At night, the swing-set near the beach would rock back and forth in the wind, and the smell of the sea would carry across the land.

One warm summer night, I found her.

Each night, the rest of my little clique would gather around the fireplace. I don't know why. We had performed some sort of ritual there when we first arrived, and we gathered there after each of our road trips. Every night, my friends would argue.

One night, when they started yelling at each other again, I ran out of the house to be alone. Their arguments always seemed so trivial to me; maybe we were just spending too much time together. I think Arthur was jealous that I was spending so much time with Jack. I could always tell Jack's affection for me. He was extremely shy, but his kindness was evident in everything he did. Arthur was always angry, and I think he couldn't understand why I didn't want to spend my time trying to heal his endless bitterness. Runcible never took anything seriously, and you could never quite tell whether anything he said was the truth.

The group was having problems, and I felt the need to break free again.

After wandering down to the oceanside, I found a swing-set by the beach. I ran. It was like I was twelve years old all over again. I wanted to see how high the swings could carry me. As I was carried through the sea breeze, I began to daydream of the swing carrying me out over the sea to a place where I could be alone. Perhaps I could find an island somewhere, a place where I could sort out my feelings. I dreamt of a paradise as real as my mother's garden, and I dreamt of the tropical breeze flowing out to the sea. I closed my eyes.

I slipped.

She was laughing as the swing carried her to impossible heights. It was as if she had no concern for her own safety. She almost seemed to break free of the earth, as though something within her could not be bound by gravity.

I was stunned. She was simply not possible. Her laughter was unreal. I felt envy for the happiness she radiated, and I felt an admiration for the aura of freedom she carried around her. With it came the desire to protect her, to prevent her from getting hurt.

She fell.

I was bleeding into the sand. The scene of the ocean hung oppressively in the air. The pain made me wince, and my skin chaged as I tried to brush the sand off the bloody stains on my cotton dress.

He stopped my hands.

Carefully, he took a handkerchief from his back pocket and tied it around the cut on my arm. Wordlessly, he picked me up and carried me to his car. Methodically, he fetched a first aid kit from the trunk of his car, and he cautiously tended to the cut.

My heart stopped. I looked up sweetly, smiled, and brushed the hair out of his eyes. Then I descended into the deepest, longest kiss I had ever experienced.

Three months later, I woke up in the middle of the night and turned to see her lying beside me. It all seemed so impossible. How could something so wonderful happen to me? She was flighty and unpredictable, irresponsible and unreliable, but every night we slept in the same bed in my cheap apartment. Every morning, my first thought was how lucky I was to wake up next to her.
Each day was bliss. Every action I took each day was out of my love for him. I was obsessed. When I cooked a pot of rice for dinner, I thought of how wonderful our next dinner by candlelight would be. When I sorted his socked from the laundry, I thought of how they would keep his feet warm.

When I washed the sheets, I couldn't stop smiling.

I sometimes thought about my friends back in Santa Cruz, but it became harder to remember their faces as the months went by. On humid summer days, I'd fan myself by the window and look out at the horizon.

I don't know where it went wrong.

Each day, I went off to work. Every day, I was overjoyed to see her at home. It all seemed perfectly natural to me. I would buy her little things to keep her happy. I saved up for a stereo, made a down payment on a television, and walked with her through the shopping mall to pick out things for our apartment. I wanted to provide her with a home that would make her happy.

And every day, she seemed a little more uncomfortable. I still had hopes that things would get better. Why wasn't it working? I thought of my parents, secure in their house in Colorado after thirty years of marriage. Somehow, this just wasn't the same.

We grew cold. We would sit in the same room, trying not to hear each other breath. The candlelit dinners gave way to TV dinners, and the romantic evenings gave way to sitcoms and lassitude.

Ten years later, I sit by the window of the kitchen and look out at the back yard. He spends more and more time away from home. Our first year together seems like another life. The rose garden I planted is struggling to survive. For years, I've tried everything to help them along, but I don't have the green thumb my mother had.

When I look out the window, I have trouble concentrating. It usually isn't very long before the telephone rings or the baby cries. The television drones in the corner to keep away my loneliness.

I never know when he's going to come home. He often stays out late, and I never really know whether or not he's going to come home drunk.

I watch the autumn leaves fall by my window, and I try to remember the faces of old friends.

I've given her everything I can. Even when I tell her I love her, it makes little difference. If I didn't love her, how can she explain all the years I spend saving up for our house? How can she explain everything I've given her? I've done everything my father told me, and I've tried to make my home just like the one my parents had. Nothing makes her happy.

I'm drunk, but I'm warm. I crush the autumn leaves under my feet as I stumble through the night. I don't want to go home.

Jack came to my door last night.

I hadn't seen him in ten years. He walked with the same slouch he always had, and his hair still hung over his eyes. There was something odd about him.

He looked as though he hadn't aged a day.

I offered him a glass of wine and invited him inside. He sat nervously on the couch, as old friends often do when they visit, and he asked me about my life. I told him. When I was a little girl, I dreamt of having a rose garden, but now the roses wouldn't grow. I wanted to live on a tropical island, but the tropical winds never carried me away. I thought I would be happy, but now I have nothing outside my window except piles of dried leaves.

"Why?" I asked him. "Why?"

He answered. Slowly, he walked up to me and ran his hand along my back.

The glass I was holding fell to the floor and shattered. Then my old friend Jack carefully turned around and left the room.

On lonely nights, I lie beside her, but I am alone. In the middle of the night, she gets up and wanders to the window. She goes out into the hallway, away from me. The cold wind blows by my bedroom window, and I fall asleep again.
On lonely nights, when he's sleeping, I wander around the quiet confines of my prison. I'm learning to be silent. When I steal ice cream from the refrigerator in the middle of the night, when I turn down the television and stare into the screen at 3 a.m., when I decide to crawl up into the attic, I walk barefoot on the cold floors, not daring to make a sound.

The attic is a place where I can remember things I've set aside. In the middle of the ngiht, I sit there and let tears roll down my face. I keep boxes of my old possessions int he attic, and when I look at the vestiges of my youth, I remember the past.

One of the treasures I keep is in a long white box. When I need to remember the past, I open the box, unfold the tissue paper, and look inside. The memory of my youth comes back to me. I can remember the faces of my old friends.

Inside the box, two gossamer leaves rest upon the tissue paper like fragile butterflies. They remind me that the wind will never come again. They remind me of the sacrifice I made for my love.

I sit, and I cry, and I look at what is left of my beautiful wings.