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The bright, bold colors of a butterfly catches the eyes of children and they leap and bound, following the magnificent creature on its journey until it flutters away into the air, leaving the children on the ground behind. Wishfully, they imagine flying away with the butterfly to the top of the world, leaving the pain and suffering of their westward journey behind.
They clutch a rag doll, a worn out toy truck. The children follow their family as they set out to California in search of a new life. Bored, they sleep in back of the trucks under makeshift tents: boxes draped with tattered blankets. And the truck creeps and bumps along the interstates to the west.
In their heads they each dream of the same: mountains blooming with candy and rivers streaming of chocolate. Toys of every different shape and color scattered everywhere. Together, the children play in the wonders of their dreamlands. Their eyes shut and in a state of unconsciousness as they block out all reality and slumber with the comforting thoughts of hope and promise.
The children sit, quietly. They stare blindly out into the vast unknown, watching the scenery as they crawl along the highway. In some areas, dirt stretches on for miles, resembling the homeland they left behind, a sea of dust and drought, deprived of the majesty of color. They watch the highway, the matted asphalt sprinkled with weeds and worn down by the tires of those who have traveled its realms before. They inhale the stale smell of dirt, and it burns their noses. The trucks pull off the road. In the highlight of the day they stop at a lonely gas station and feel blessed to sip from the cool water spigot before they disembark yet again down the long stretch of gravel and tar. Back east, water was taken for granted. Back East, they longed for a piece of candy, an extra piece of pie. Now, they long for those days again.
I’m hungry. You’re hungry? We’re all hungry. The dinner rations are too meager for even a child’s tiny stomachs to be filled. Constantly they feel the nagging pains. Constantly, the hunger drills in their abdomens. And so they lie, sweltering in the sun above the car, envisioning a feast of long craved for meat, juicy and tender, accompanied by fruits and vegetables and potatoes steaming with freshness. They can faintly taste the food on their tongue, memories of the smells of cooking meat, fresh bread vaguely cross their minds. The children know all too well their dinner that night would not be as luscious. Only cold, stale biscuits and watered down broth was left to supplement the family.
The parents feel a sense of failure as they watch the heavy eyelids of their children, their cheekbones caved in and the ribs of the tiny ones protruding through the skin. Why are we here? They resent ever leaving their farm at all, although they know no prosperity lay back in the East. They look to the West for hope and for a future for their kids. They look to the West as a fresh start. They cling to the hopes and dreams they imagine late at night, on the brim of slumber; they cling to the naivety they see in their children’s eyes and long to go back to the days of parental sheltering.
The glorious day arrives that a family looks out at the horizon to see the land of California. The children sense the excitement of the accomplishment and are revived in the new energy in their kin. Oh, how the kids long to play again, how they long to stretch their legs and run carefree through the valleys, to have a permanent home and a bed of their own, to have friends to uncover mischief with. They can hardly sit still as the car pulls into camp. The rustic, low maintenance camps, with the promise of work. The camps are built up to promise a new life, a life of prosperity and knowledge. And the families believe these promises. Blindly, they believe what they hear but have yet to witness.
This is all a false hope. Too good to be true. The thought never once crossed the family’s mind that work would provide a meager amount of food on the table. And the children once again, fall in spirits. They recall all that California had promised: work, wealth, happiness. They recall all they had envisioned about the new land, lush trees, neighborhoods of friends and family living together. New technologies they’ve never seen or even dreamed of back East.
The children witness death. They witness men overworking to provide for his family weak with fatigue. They witness dehydration and illnesses they had always been sheltered from before. There is no shelter now. The children discover the world outside parental blocking. Exposed. Naked to the truth that lay outside the walls of their farm in the East. The wounds left not bandaged. And the children lie in bed, late at night, and weep.
The children sit on the roof of the car and look out onto the horizon. Watching the sunset was a favorite pastime back on the farm in the east. Here, the sun peeks over the mountains yonder and winks. As though promising to be back out tomorrow, it hovers over the hills and valleys. The children sit and wonder. After everything they’ve been through on the journey, will there even be a tomorrow?
The children look up. They find themselves staring into the eyes of their mother. Their mother, the woman who has struggled to provide food and water. Their mother, damned with the burden of keeping the family floating above water. The mother gazes back into the eyes of her child and sees the world of hurt and pain witnessed. All that the child has seen in a short life span, in the eyes of a young life. Tears well up, as deep inside, the mother realizes the children are no longer naÃ¯ve, but rather exposed and hurting. And as the butterfly is whisked away in a breeze, the children’s innocence is lost.