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Butterflies and Unicorns
The sun hides between the trees, bathing the world a soft red glow. The moon faint in the sky, waiting, yet ready to make its appearance as soon as the last of the sun’s rays fade into the darkness. Even as nature prepares for sleep, a whole new world awakes. The crickets’ song fills the night, adding to the orchestra of birds, and completing the symphony of summer. The spectacular green grass is both soft and prickly and it tickles between my toes. A giggle. A laugh. A squeal. A snarl. I throw back my mane, thrust out my head and charge my imaginary enemy.
“It’s time for bed!” my mother calls me in, but I only answer to the call of the wild. I am a unicorn. I am magic. I am suddenly filled with an abundance of confidence. I return to my game, using my strength to help me fight off the evil creatures that plague my mythical world.
The sun has long since set upon my childhood. What a sad thing to realize. But I know this is true, because no longer am I able to lose myself in my imagination. As I venture into my adulthood, I am loosing the ability to simply set myself free. Self-consciousness, how I wish I didn’t understand that term…
A flash of color catches my attention. A child’s curiosity is unending, and mine was more insatiable then most. I followed the color. The butterfly’s delicate yellow wings fluttered, propelling the butterfly from dandelion to dandelion. As the butterfly flitted from flower to flower, cottony seeds were sent flying on the wind and into the neighbor’s yard. The dandelion’s seeds soared, finding yet another place to begin their hostile take over.
I stalked that butterfly. I held my eyes wide open, making them follow the butterfly’s every movement. I watched every flap of its wing, paying attention to even the smallest flutter. As a watched my prey I changed from a unicorn into a predator. I became a kitten, patiently waiting and watching, intent only on the hunt. And then I struck!
Defying all odd, I managed to catch the butterfly. I cupped it in my hands, like a thirsty man in the desert would cup a glass of water. The butterfly’s wings were no longer yellow, they were gold. That is how important that butterfly had become to me. I was a symbol of my pride, and of my accomplishments. I stroked the luxurious yellow wings, and the urge to show off my prize. I raced across the yard.
“Suzy! Suzy! Look! I caught a butterfly!” I thrust the creature into her face, and saw her eyes go wide in amazement. She too stroked the wings. She marveled in the softness, and the remarkableness of being able to touch such a delicate being. Suzy’s awe was just too much for words. But my desire to be praised was not satisfied by her wordlessness. I wanted her to be gushing with enthusiasm, praising my skills and prowess. So I rushed over to my mom, tending her window boxes. The flowers that occupied those boxes were almost as fickle as my butterfly; sometimes they grew and flowered and blossomed to the fullest extent, and sometimes I wasn’t sure if what lived in those boxes were alive at all.
“Mommy! Mommy! Look! I caught a butterfly!” I thrust the creature into her face, and watched a slightly amused smile form across it.
“Wow! Rebecca. That is quite an accomplishment. Now why don’t you let that poor thing go,” she said, gently but firmly.
“Why,” I whined. “I want to keep it. Can I keep it?” I asked eagerly.
“No bugs in the house.”
“Its not a bug, it’s a butterfly,” I explained patiently.
I pouted, and dragged by feet in disappointment as I walked away. But the summer night was still too lovely, and if I put up too much of a fight, she might remember and send me off to bed. I opened my cupped hands, ready to let my beautiful butterfly go.
Its wings fluttered. But it still rested in my hands. It seemed unwilling to fly free.
“Go little butterfly. Go!” I whispered. But its wings once so powerful and strong, only fluttered weakly. Something deep inside me saddened to see something once so majestic, struggle to lift itself.
“Why don’t you fly away,” I asked the little butterfly. Minutes ago it had struggled in my hands, and it had taken any chance to free itself. I picked it up and placed it on a blade of grass. I stared long and hard at my butterfly, but the only movement I saw it make was a slight twitch of its wings. The last bits of sun faded into the darkness, as I walked inside. A tear streaked down my cheek, as I realized no longer would those soft luscious wings allow the butterfly to flit and flutter, and fly. I felt in ache in my heart about the death of my beautiful butterfly. Greif was what I was experiencing, but my child self was only puzzled and confused. The death of the little butterfly was too much for a 6 year old to understand. Children are immortal, like my unicorns, and grief and death do not exist in their world.
Years later I discovered that the oils from human hands make it impossible for butterflies to fly. My ignorance and innocence made it impossible for me not to touch the butterfly. To me it was just a little puppy, it wanted to be petted. As I reflect upon these memories, I see myself as a 6 year old girl, picking up my beautiful little butterfly. I look back, and scream, “NO! NO! Let it be, let it be free.” Somehow I wish that little girl could hear me. So that her first experience with death would not have come so soon. The death of my little butterfly was never significant. The memory was always filled with pride, joy and a sense of accomplishment; it was tainted with only the barest hint of sadness. But now, looking back, I realize it was my first glimpse into the grownup world: a world full of death, and completely empty of unicorns.