You released a butterfly today. One of those orange-and-black ones, that you can send away for when you buy a little pop-up enclosure. Your little sister cried when it flew away. You just watched it, though–remembering that documentary you watched a few months ago, about how inefficient their little wings are, how fragile they are. How they shouldn’t have even survived the millions of years it took to create them.
Fifteen Minutes Later:
Five houses down, your butterfly lands on a milkweed plant. A cat sees the butterfly and begins to stalk the intruder. The butterfly does not notice, does not care, does not understand. The cat leaps, falls short, crunches the adjacent plants underfoot. An elderly lady–the homeowner–sees the incident, and limps out to shoo it away. It runs away at her shout, and she goes inside again, feeling dizzy.
One Hour Later:
It was a heart attack; her body lays in her favorite armchair.
Two Days Later:
Her son arrives at her house, carrying a bouquet of flowers and a card; a late Mother’s Day present. He knocks once, and when she doesn’t answer, he lets himself in with the emergency keys, hiding under the door mat. The smell of death meets him at the door. When he gets to the sitting room, he screams.
Three Days Later:
There is a funeral, and he cries. His brother does not–his bony face and shaking hands prove that he’s turned to other methods to survive.
Four Months Later:
His wife knows about the drugs; she didn’t know about the affair or the debt. She quietly prepares the papers for a divorce, wondering how her oldest will handle it. He’s only six.
One Week Later:
The papers are signed, the divorce finalized. Her ex-husband didn’t seem to care, but her son did. He cried all day, after she got home and explained what happened, why he needs to help her pack up, they’re going to move away. Far, far away.
One Day Later:
She gets a phone call; her husband died of an overdose. Would she like to see the body, to say goodbye? She declines, clutching the steering wheel of her station wagon, eyes on the road. She doesn’t want to go back. She’s afraid that if she does, she won’t be able to leave again.
Five Minutes Later:
A silver minivan swerves across the median, in and out of lanes. It finally settles on a target: her car. The whole world slows down, and she prays to a god she’s not sure is listening. Please let her baby be alright. Please let her baby be alright.
Six Hours Later:
She dies in the ICU–organ shearing and head trauma. Her son survives. He doesn’t understand why the ladies wearing the colorful shirts won’t tell him what happened, but he knows that something is wrong when a woman in a suit sits down next to him and tells him there was a car crash, that four people died, that his mother was one of them.
Three Months Later:
Foster care—a family of three biological children, and at least two more kids just like him, but completely different. Instead of ragged scars tracing his face, arms, back, he has thin surgical incisions. Instead of rambunctious screaming, he is mute. The family isn’t sure what happened, but they wait it out.
One Month Later:
He is not alright. It’s back to another family, the day before his birthday. He’s not sure what’s happening. They stopped explaining things to him after the first week.
Two Weeks Later:
He speaks. They submit the adoption papers. He knows that the lady who says, “I’m going to be your mother,” isn’t speaking the truth, but he doesn’t know why. Maybe the process is more complicated than he thought? Sometimes he hears her say things like “autism” and “retarded.” He’s only seven. He doesn’t understand. Not in the way that they want him to.
Seven Years Later:
The obituaries say that a fifteen year boy with more run-ins with the law than can be counted on both hands committed suicide. They do not say how much his not-mother cried, or how his not-father found him, purple-faced and stiff, in the closet in the morning in a desperate game of hide-and-seek that will haunt him for years.
Six Months Later:
It’s brain cancer, the doctor says. He has six months to live, maybe. He feels betrayed—his body is literally killing him. She feels like her world is falling apart. Two people in one year? Her father always said that life was unfair, but she never knew how dirty god was willing to play.
Seven Weeks Later:
The doctor was wrong, but she has no time to be angry between the beeping of machines and tears rolling down her cheeks. They both hope for the best when he rolls into surgery, but they both know it isn’t going to happen.
Two Weeks Later:
He’s nothing but a body, now, brain eaten into slush by its own body. She’s too tired to cry. Is this how every one of her stories must end? The question is irrelevant, now, as she walks out of the hospital.