Metamorphosis: A Short Story

27 Nov

like the fox
I run with the hunted
and if im not
the happiest man
on earth
im surely the
luckiest man

The Night Torn Mad With Footsteps, Charles Bukowski

Do you believe in always, the wind
said to the rain
I am too busy with
My flowers to believe, the rain answered.

You Said Is, e.e. cummings


The day my mother died is the day I fell in love with butterflies. It was almost sixty years ago that I found my mother’s body, naked and blue in her bathtub. She died exactly three weeks after my twelfth birthday. It’s frightening how change can quietly sneak up on you and permanently unravel the seams that are holding your life together. The doctors called her death an accidental overdose, but at the time I didn’t understand what that meant. All I knew was that nothing would ever be the same again and just like butterflies my life began to transform.
Grandpa Fred gave me my first nature book when I was ten years old. I was young, exuberant and wanted to conquer the world. He was my best friend and the one who raised me after my mom died. He worked as a photographer for National Geographic for twenty years and even won a Pulitzer Prize for two pictures of wildlife he had taken. One summer he took me with him to the rainforest in the hopes of finding a Blue Morpho butterfly to photograph. They were becoming endangered and he said that something so beautiful needed to be fossilized in time. I didn’t understand the concept of time yet. I thought time was infinite, but to Grandpa Fred, time was sacred and not to be wasted. After searching for the Blue Morpho for four weeks, I was ready to go back home to Brighton, but Grandpa wouldn’t give up so easily. He was unrelenting and fearless so we continued to search deep into the rainforest. The vast jungle was moist and warm and overwhelmingly green. Animals were everywhere and although it was beautiful, it was also frightening, for I never knew when something might creep up on us. It smelled of rain and a moist spring morning and I thought I could see forever on the horizon. I asked Grandpa Fred why it was so important to find this particular butterfly. He told me that the only thing in life that ever stays the same is a photograph and that without photos, many beautiful things disappear, leaving no evidence behind that it once existed. I asked him why things change and he said because they had to. He told me that butterflies weren’t always butterflies and that they had to overcome change in order to become what they are. Six weeks into our trip I laid eyes on my first Blue Morpho butterfly. Its electrifying blue wings pierced my eyes and the 6-inch creature that fluttered so gracefully and effortlessly mesmerized me. In that moment, I decided that I wanted to live like the butterfly: racefully, carefree, and intrepidly accepting change as a way of life.
My mother thought my sudden infatuation with butterflies was adorable so on my twelfth birthday, she had given me the only thing I wanted: a butterfly kit. I was ecstatic and every day when I got home from school, my mom and I would watch the caterpillar make its cocoon and day after day I would wait for the caterpillar to emerge from it’s cocoon. I became enchanted and envious of the caterpillar’s ability to cultivate change in its’ own life. Three weeks later, on the very same day my mother died, the caterpillar emerged from its cocoon as a beautiful Monarch butterfly. It was a day of endings and beginnings. I wondered if the butterfly knew its life had really only just begun and that everything had just changed. I didn’t know mine was only just beginning.
Dad sent me to live with Grandpa Fred three days after mom’s funeral. He said he needed time to process his grief. I guess it took him twenty-eight years because I didn’t see him again until I was forty. Living with Grandpa Fred was any kid’s dream. His old wooden house was located in a cul-de-sac in a small tight-knit Brighton neighborhood. A small man-made lake, full of lily pads and paddleboats was right in Grandpa Fred’s backyard.
When I was fourteen years old, I was sitting on Grandpa’s yellow paddleboat when a cute button nosed girl with brown hair and brown eyes skipped up to me. Her name was Wren. She was wearing a white cotton dress and a yellow bow kept her high ponytail tight on top of her brown curly haired head. I liked the freckles that speckled her cheeks and just as I introduced myself, a butterfly landed on her shoulder. It was a small yellow butterfly with brown-tipped wings. It gently landed on her shoulder, paused momentarily and then fluttered away. I thought it must be a sign that this girl was someone important. She had just moved into the house next door to us with her parents so we began to spend all of our time together. We went fishing out on the lake and had contests of who could hold their breath the longest under water. We camped in our backyards and told ghost stories and I told her about butterflies and how I thought they were the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen. She said she agreed with me that they were beautiful, but she didn’t understand why I loved them so. I explained to her that ever since my mother died, butterflies had been what kept me going. I told her that butterflies reminded me that no matter how bad things got, it was inevitable that they would change. She smiled and told me that she didn’t want anything to change and that she wished we could be friends forever. I wished that too, but I knew forever wasn’t the way of the butterflies and I knew forevers always ended.
Wren and I went through middle school together and then went on to high school. In high school my feelings began to change for her. She had grown into a tall athletic tomboy of a girl who was absolutely beautiful. One day I asked her if she would come with me to The Butterfly Gardens at the Detroit zoo. We drove into the city and strolled through the hot and moist man-made jungle and ooed and awed at the array of butterflies floating around. She asked if I had ever seen anything so beautiful. I said I hadn’t, but looking at her in that moment, I knew that I had. She smiled at me sweetly and I placed my palm against her damp cheek. We kissed in front of all the butterflies and I felt as though everything that had ever happened before in my life was meant to lead me to that very moment where Wren’s lips met mine. We walked along the butterfly pond and I knew she would be the first girl I ever loved, but she wouldn’t be the last. We went on dates to the drive-in theatre where we would make out in the back seat of her black Thunderbird. We swam naked in the lake behind our houses and our bodies danced in the waves of the moon. We rode our bikes into town and watched old home videos at Wren’s house. We always stopped at Greg’s Fudge shop on the outskirts of town and tried as many different types of Fudge that we could. The peppermint chocolate swirl was my favorite, but Wren preferred the peanut butter caramel nut fudge best. We always left feeling sick, but content.
As the years went on, my love for her grew deeper, and I wished my mother had been there to meet her. Time moved quickly when I was young and before I knew it, Wren and I were discussing the future. She told me the future didn’t matter yet, because we still had now. I told her she didn’t understand time and that the future always mattered, because the future had a way of changing things. After graduation, Wren planned on attending Brown University and wanted me to accompany her to Rhode Island and find work. She said it didn’t matter as long as we could still be together. I told her we would talk about it once the summer was over, but I knew I would not be going with her. She had chosen her path and I would choose mine. Our last summer together was full of anticipation and knowing. We dared not waste a single moment together because we both knew this could be the last time.
The first time we made love was under an old oak tree by Bluebird creek. I had taken her there for a picnic to celebrate our third year of dating. I brought along her favorite fudge and a bouquet of yellow sunflowers because I knew they were her favorite. We laughed at the rehashing of our memories of childhood and sat in silence listening to the slow trickle of the creek. As the sun began to set I took her in my arms and gave her a small blue box tied neatly with a pink bow. She slowly removed the bow, smiling, and uncovered the box to find a small silver necklace with a butterfly pendant on it. She smiled because she knew what butterflies meant to me. I took her in my arms and we made love for the first time beneath the old oak tree, with the bluebirds chirping above us, and her silver butterfly pendant hanging loosely from her neck. Passion and longing raced through my veins as I breathed in every inch of her body and entwined it in mine. In that moment we became one.
As the summer came to an end I told Wren I would always love her, but that I could not go with her. She said she both loved and hated me for staying behind. I kissed her for the last time and watched sadly as she boarded the train for Providence. We were eighteen years old and had no idea what our futures held, but one thing I did know was that I would never see her again.
After working odd jobs in the small town of Brighton, Michigan I decided to pack up my things and leave. Wren was gone, Grandpa was always on the road traveling for National Geographic and I was bored with the stale life I had created for myself. I left Grandpa Fred’s house when I was twenty-two. I moved to North Carolina for no particular reason other than I had heard it was beautiful there. I found myself in the small town of Wilmington sitting in a coffee shop, flirting with a beautiful black haired, blue eyed, waitress. She told me her name was Margaret and I told her my name was Tawny. She asked me out for drinks that night and showed up to the bar in a skimpy black tank top and red leather pants. She was beautiful, dark and mysterious and as she sauntered into the bar baring her midriff I knew I was in trouble, for this girl had danger written all over her. I got a job in an old Wilmington textile mill to earn a buck. I found myself a shabby old apartment and moved in with a guy named Jack that I had met at work. We drank beers in the evenings at the local bar in town and spent time with our ladies. We smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey late into the night and we talked about our childhood and our dreams. I said my dream was to change my life before it changed me, just like the butterflies. They didn’t understand what I meant, but I think that’s because they didn’t understand time. Jack’s gal said she wanted to become a teacher and help children who grew up in poor families like she did. Jack said he was happy with his life and he didn’t think too much about dreams. I stayed in Wilmington for almost five years and Margaret began to talk of settling down in a house together. She said the only thing she wanted was me, but I wanted more. I wanted everything. I thought back to days when I was younger and my mother was still alive. We were happy or at least I thought we were and the next thing I knew she was dead. I couldn’t bear the thought of settling into happiness and waiting for it to be ripped to pieces in the blink of an eye. So, the very next day I left my life in Wilmington behind, moving forward in search of the next best thing.
I found a job working at an insect farm in Colorado. It was called The Butterfly Pavilion and I saw it as I was roaring down the highway. I took the first exit I could and talked to the manager about work. He was desperate for extra hands and hired me on the spot. I didn’t get to work with the butterflies much, but at night just after closing I would go and sit in the butterfly habitat and watch them flutter about careless and free and I thought of my childhood back in Brighton and how much I missed it and how much I missed my mom. Then I reminded myself nostalgia was for the weak, the ones who are afraid of change and of the future and of living their lives. I called Grandpa Fred up because I needed to hear his voice, but he didn’t answer. His machine said he was off on a job in The Sahara Desert and would be back in 4 weeks. I thought of contacting my father but we hadn’t spoken since I was sixteen, and I didn’t have his number and I didn’t care enough to search for it.
I worked at The Butterfly Pavilion and learned a lot about different types of insects. I became good friends with my boss. He was a stand up middle-aged man whose wife had died during childbirth. He was left to raise a baby girl all by himself. We became fast friends and some nights we’d just sit out on his old creaky porch and watch the stars light up the sky. I thought how small and insignificant the stars must feel out in the darkness of the night sky and I wondered if most humans felt that same way, too. He’d tell me about his late wife and the story of how they met. I had never heard a man talk about a woman the way he did. He had loved her so purely, intensely and fully. I told him he was a lucky man to have known a love like that. Occasionally, he and I would go out to the town pool hall and play a couple games. One night I met a short little brunette named Laynie, and I thought it was love at first sight. I had never felt an instantaneous spark with someone before and the moment I met her, a complete stranger, somehow felt like coming home. She smelled like winter, but her voice was warm and friendly. I thought I could see summer in her emerald green eyes. We began dating almost immediately and I had never been so infatuated with another human being in my life. She was kind yet firm in her beliefs and she challenged me in ways no other woman ever had. After having known each other for three months, Laynie told me she was pregnant. I was shocked and terrified and yet a strange sensation washed over me and I knew I would cherish this little child. Laynie had a six pound two ounce baby boy and he was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on. Looking into his chocolate brown eyes, I began to wonder where change came from. It seemed as though time moved through my life and altered bits and pieces along the way. When we drove home from the hospital with our newborn son, I remember thinking that everything looked the same. The streets looked the same, the houses looked the same and the people looked the same, but everything had changed. I was a father.
My son, Henri, was almost shy to a fault, but he was funny as hell once you got to know him. I laughed at his hesitation upon meeting new people and how he would slowly peek his head around his mother’s waist unsure if it was safe to come out. I changed his diapers and watched him play with his toy trucks. Laynie and I took him to the city park and pushed him on the swing set and our hearts would melt when he squealed with joy. Watching him in his happiest moments made me realize I had never known what love was until he was born. We had tickle wars and pillow fights and some nights we would let Henri stay up late and we would play board games by candlelight and then watch a movie. I told Henri about caterpillars and how they worked and worked to make their cocoons. I told him how just when they thought their lives were over they became butterflies. He grew to love butterflies, because I did. Sometimes you have to see someone else love something before you can love it too. I guess he saw how much I loved them and my love for them made him want to love them too. As he grew older he wanted to be more and more like me. That terrified me because when I was young, I was stupid and I had never held on to anything important out of fear of losing it. One day, Henri asked why things change, and I chuckled softly remembering the time I asked that very same question to Grandpa Fred. I told him things change because change is the only constant we have in life. He asked how things change and I said things change day-by-day and moment-by-moment.
Time moved through us and we could do nothing to stop it. Laynie and I watched our boy grow up. He had his first girlfriend when he was seventeen. Her name was Isobel and she was a tall lanky blonde with icy blue eyes and pale skin. I watched him try out for the football team only to make it and then get cut before the season began. I watched him grow into a man. Grandpa Fred came around as much as he could to spend time with Henri and I. He showed us pictures of all his photography trips and adventures. Henri said he wanted to be just like Grandpa Fred when he got older and that he wanted to travel the world! I marveled at the fact that I had a son and that I was already middle-aged man. Where does the time go? How eerie and yet exhilarating it is to sit back and wait for change to creep up on your life. Ever since my mom died, I had devoted myself to changing my life before life changed me. My son however, broke this mold when he was born, and for the first time I realized it was good to just let life happen.
My dad had remarried in the time I hadn’t seen or spoken to him and it was upon his new wife’s request that he contacted me. It was awkward when he came to visit, but Grandpa Fred had come along as well to play the part of the buffer. So much time had passed and so much had gone unsaid. Dad brought his new wife Cathy with him when he came to visit and she was a lovely little lady with a short blonde bob, round spectacles and a chipper personality. She was a devout Christian, which was something dad never was in the short period of my life that I actually knew him. We talked about things that didn’t matter: the weather, our families, and our jobs. I had learned that too often in life, the most important things went unspoken. Dad and Henri played catch in the backyard while Laynie and Cathy prepared dinner in our newly renovated kitchen. I could smell the ham stew cooking and I could hear the birds chirping and I could see my father and my son bonding in my back yard. It was a strange sight to behold. Dad and I never talked about mom and why he left me to live with Grandpa Fred. I didn’t think talking about the past was of any importance to my blissful and settled little life. Dad and Cathy left after just spending one night with us. They promised to keep in touch, but I knew better.
Grandpa Fred died when he was eighty-four. His funeral was held at a small chapel in Brighton and all the town folk made an appearance. Wren’s parents were there and they embraced me gently when they saw me. They told me they were sorry for my loss and that Grandpa Fred was a good man. I said that it was okay, because all things change and eventually time takes it all. They patted my arm and told me that Wren wished she could have made it, but that she sent her condolences. They told me Wren was living in New York City with her fiancé and was working with a publishing firm. I thought that was wonderful because Wren deserved the world.
After the funeral, I went back to Grandpa Fred’s house, my childhood home, and sat on a creaky wooden rocking chair staring out at the lake. It seemed like a lifetime ago that I had been a young boy running wild with innocence and joy. I had no worries and no cares and back then I actually believed that dreams could come true. Sitting there looking out on all my childhood memories, I realized just how much time had passed and just how old I had grown. I asked myself why I had ever left Brighton in the first place, because it seemed more beautiful to me than ever before. The small town square was bustling with people on their way to work, shopkeepers waved at passersby from their windows and the old bookstore owner dusted off his aged novels. Young children ran through the streets chasing each other as if they had not a care in the world. How beautiful it was to be young, I thought. The young had no idea how badly they were wasting their youth but such is life, I suppose.
I decided to move back to Brighton and live in Grandpa Fred’s house. Laynie hated the idea and refused to go with me. Since we never married, it wasn’t an issue for me to leave her behind. Love is a strange thing. People fall in love every single day thinking it will last forever, but those same people will live a lifetime falling in and out of relationships thinking each new one is the one that will last. The relationship between me and Laynie had grown cold ever since Henri had gone away to college. I thought the only thing holding us together was the fact that we had Henri, but he was off living his own life now and it was time I lived out the rest of mine on my own terms. Laynie said she didn’t understand why I would go back to the very place I had run away from so many years ago. I told her that sometimes you have to leave something behind so that when you go back to it, you will truly see it for what it is. She said she didn’t understand what I meant and I told her that she didn’t understand the affect of time. Moving back to Brighton, I felt as though I was finally seeing my home for the very first time and what I saw was beautiful.
I had saved up a little bit of money from working at the textile mill and other odd jobs I had worked around town in Colorado. I decided to take some time off of working; I was getting old, after all. I planted a garden in Grandpa Fred’s yard and when the flowers bloomed in the spring, I felt content with the life I had lived. I had a ritual of waking up at sunrise and walking in to town. I would wait for my favorite coffee shop to open and sit for several hours sipping my black coffee and reading the paper. Then I would go to the library and research butterflies and other wildlife and insects and I would begin to plan excursions and journeys that I would never end up taking. Animals had always fascinated me and I probably had Grandpa Fred to thank for that. I had Grandpa Fred to thank for many things.
By wintertime I had grown lonely and decided to adopt a pet from the shelter. I couldn’t decide which dog to bring home with me so I picked out two different ones. I named them Bear and Boo Radley and I soon came to love them as if they were my children. Bear was a brown and white St. Bernard who was a big hunk of love. Boo Radley was a German Sheppard who was smart as hell and always accompanied me in my day-to-day activities. In the evenings we would go out to the lake in the backyard, sit on the dock and listen to the fish jump out of the water. I never thought old age would become so monotonous, so routine, but I think that was the best part. I never had to wonder about where my life was going and if I’d ever find love or be able to pay the bills. My life had been lived and nothing mattered anymore except the smallest, most routine activities that brought me immense joy.
Henri came to visit me as much as he could, but he was busy with his own life. He had graduated from Emerson College in Boston with a liberal arts degree and wanted to become a photographer just like Grandpa Fred. He had been working freelance jobs for several different publishing firms who were in need of photojournalists. We sat in my dimly lit kitchen, drank a couple of beers and talked about his life. He told me he had gone to The Galapagos Islands to take pictures and that three of them had been published. He talked about a girl he had met whom he really enjoyed spending time with and I told him about my garden and my dogs and the books I had been reading. Henri pulled out a small square gift that was wrapped in blue paper and handed it to me. I smiled and excitedly and curiously yanked the wrapping paper off. What lay before my eyes was a photograph that Henri had shot himself. It was a photo of a butterfly just coming out of its cocoon. At the bottom of the photo he had left a small message for me. It read, “ No matter what changes, we will always have butterflies.” Tears welled up in my eyes and the love I had for my boy was overwhelming in that moment. He understood time and this eased my soul, for a man who doesn’t understand time lives a life in fear of change.
Henri and I reminisced on old times back in Colorado with Laynie and I told him that growing old had been a curious experience for me. At first, I wished to be young again, but in time I had come to love old age because it meant that I had truly become who I was meant to be. I explained to Henri that humans and butterflies have much more in common than he might think. I told him both the butterfly and the human have a lifespan that consists of four phases. For a butterfly these stages are: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. For humans, these stages are infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I told him the process is called metamorphosis and that just like butterflies, my transformation in adulthood was finally complete. He smiled and said that he wished he could have already gone through all the stages in life so he could know what he would become. I told him not to rush for he would know soon enough.
As I sit at the desk in my study and write the story of my life for you, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I see my hair, once black, has thinned and grayed. The skin around my eyes sags slightly forming dark bags and my hands are coarse and tough. I’ve got a small gut from drinking too much beer and a bad knee that makes walking into town with Bear and Boo Radley a little more difficult nowadays. I am seventy-two years old now and so much has changed. My bones are brittle and my eyes are going, but none of that matters because I have lived my life, and lived it well. So, I will sit at this desk and continue to write the story of my life. Maybe someone else out there will read it someday and understand life and understand time. Maybe they will understand the beauty of butterflies and the meaning of change. For now all I can do is write and wait. I will wait for the inevitable fate that comes to all those who have lived in time for too long; death. When death comes, I will smile and know that my metamorphosis is finally complete and maybe, just maybe, I will finally know what it feels like to be a butterfly.

My story is the story of an old man named Tawny who is sitting at his desk and reflecting back on his life by writing it down on paper. He tells the story of his childhood and his adolescence as well as adulthood and old age. He is a boy who in enamored and intrigued by butterflies because of how beautiful, graceful and intrepid they are. He believes they have a lot of integrity as creatures and strives to live his life in the same way he sees butterflies. Butterflies are supposed to be a metaphor for how life changes and although butterflies lives are a lot shorter than human lives they do go through similar life stages. Once all of their stages are complete they have completed metamorphosis and have finally become a butterfly just as humans finally become the person they have lived their whole lives trying to become. The purpose of this story is to demonstrate how life changes over time and how we should be accepting and fearless about getting older.


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