Butterfly season will soon be here and I will again become a mid-wife in helping monarch butterflies come into the world. In March, I was notified that my essay, My Friend Crumpy, was a top ten finalist in the Wild Atlantic Writers essay contest. I had become so smitten with a particular butterfly, I had to express my love to him after he died. For over twenty years in New Hampshire, I’ve kept a backyard nature journal to record wildlife. Once we had over sixteen species of butterflies in our yard, but in the last few years, they’ve dwindled to four or five. The pandemic was the perfect time to focus on raising butterflies! And I believe that everything one needs to know about life is in the life of a butterfly.
It was one butterfly who came out of his chrysalis with a crumpled wing that stole my heart. He could only fly short distances, but mostly he flopped to the ground, stunned. And so we became friends and would whirl around the yard together, him clutching my shoulder or hand.
My Friend Crumpy
I gently cup your fluttering being in my hands and remember first kisses sweet and delicate. I hold you longer than I should, opening my fingers slightly so you can breathe, not wanting you to leave. Memories of my unborn baby touching the soul of me. Memories of passion erupting like a giant moon flower, too tender and secret for the sun. I widen my fingers for more air and remember dancing. From heart to tummy to feet, there are memories of wings.
I open my hands so you can fly to Sky Mother who is swathed in a blue robe. You don’t reach her arms and tumble down beside me. Are you not ready to fly? I scoop you into my hands and feel your longing and my own.
I place you in the cage with a Mason jar full of nectar-filled flowers and you nestle into a fragrant Buddleja bloom. It is then I note your left wing is slightly crumpled and your thorax favors that wing and isn’t straight. You’re a male monarch with two distinct black marks on your wings and when you cling to the side of the cage and practice folding and unfolding your dark orange wings, I am smitten. For two weeks, after your brothers and sisters leave, it’s just you and me.
We frolic together on these halcyon days. I tell you that you can fly and your polka dotted head moves side to side, answering no. Your tiny feet grasp my finger and tighten on my skin, fearful and eager. We move around the yard, me waving my arm up and down, your wings opening and shutting. You want this! I want this! How long has it been? The pandemic cloisters me from clasping hands in waltz and reels, hips tightening against the world. I favor my left, too, Crumpy. You drink deeply the nectar from the flowers I place you on, your magical proboscis unfurling. One day, I set you on a large white hydrangea bloom and you mistake it for a cloud and lift your wings in anticipation, pirouette, and land on my chest. You crawl up to my shoulder and sit dazed. I whisper again that you can fly. I can, too, Crumpy. And then I feel the breath of your wings on my neck and you are gone. High over the fence, as high as other butterflies fly.
When I find you sitting in the grass, I lift you up and your feet cling to my shoulder. I’m proud of you, Crumpy. You turn your head to my cheek and uncurl your proboscis. My first real butterfly kiss.
Later, I find you on the bottom of the cage, your wings spread out majestically in death. I see no crumple, only beauty. My right atrium flutters in sorrow.
The next day, while in an antique store and thinking about you, I find a silk monarch butterfly cape, the only one in a store that sells antiques, not capes…