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You killed a caterpillar once. It sounds silly, saying it now. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t an accident, and it was totally unnecessary. Although it seems common – people kill bugs everyday - it is the first regret that you ever had. You would do anything to have let that caterpillar grow up to be a butterfly, or a moth, or whatever it was supposed to be.
You were only four, maybe five. Your cheeks were pudgy and your hands clammy, and your hair still stick-straight and white-blonde down to your shoulders. You still wanted to be nothing more or less than your big sister when you grew up, and your mother still could not bribe you into wearing a dress.
You had heard your mother say that she was going to a funeral once – she had told you it was a gathering where everyone wears black and remembers someone who died. You’d never been to a funeral before, but it sounded a lot like a birthday party. As for death, all you could think of were the villains in Disney movies; the ones that are slain with great silver swords and fall off of cliffs, never to be seen again.
It was early April, or perhaps late March, just around the time when daffodils begin to open. The grass was a vast expanse of soft emerald blades, highlighted by the fingers of sun. It smelled metallic by the river – the combination of fresh water and mud ripe and mingling with the aroma of cut grass. You were outside with the neighbor boy, already knee-deep in sludge and decaying leaves at the bottom of the pond, sloshing around in search of tadpoles. Your jeans were rolled up above your knees, the hems grazing the water anyway, dark stains creeping up the legs. The bright sun reflected off of the surface, sending thin shafts of light through the water, illuminating the bottom and forcing you to squint your eyes.
“Something’s moving there,” the neighbor boy declared, his pointer finger extended, jabbing in the direction of a series of tiny ripples. You followed them in search of the disturbance. Squirming helplessly on the surface of the murky water was a caterpillar. Its underside, which flipped over periodically, was a dark, slimy-looking black. Its back was thick and furry, a rusty brown aside from the fat black stripe across its middle. The tiny little legs were flailing about, desperately searching for something to latch on to, the miniscule pinchers were opening and closing.
Fascinated, you scooped the little insect into your hand and waded over to the bank. It had flipped itself over and was inching around the palm of your hand, its thick fur matted down with water droplets. It felt strange to have it roving around on your skin – so light that it almost tickled.
“What are you going to do with it?”
Looking down at the caterpillar, quivering in your palm, you were overcome by how tiny it was. In a world where you felt powerless, you could only imagine what it was like for a creature such as this. You were also intrigued by the single stripe, thick and black, that it wore across its middle.
“We’re going to have a funeral for it,” you told the neighbor boy, starting off towards the backyard. Your stubborn, childish mind was set, and you were on the move.
“No!” the boy squeaked, running after you. You were climbing the steps to your back porch now, closing your fingers over the little insect. “I don’t like that idea.”
“Come on,” You insisted. “Haven’t you ever been to a funeral?”
He was silent. “Well I have,” you said, letting your fib sound loud and impressive. When you were little, everything was a competition.
You remember climbing the back deck, using every limb except for the hand that held your passenger. The steps were huge to you then – you couldn’t quite tackle them with only your legs.
“Funerals are fun,” You told him, pinching the caterpillar between two fingers and placing it down on the wood of the back deck. It wasn’t moving around anymore, but just sitting where you’d placed it. “You get to wear black and have a party. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” You were addressing the caterpillar now, which remained still on the back deck. You took its silence as tacit compliance.
A few minutes later, everything was ready. The two of you had scavenged in the mudroom to find a pair of black mittens for him, and a pair of black gloves for you. You both wore black hats – his a woven beanie and yours a baseball cap – black scarves, and black shoes that were too big. You’d picked a handful of your mother’s daises and laid them beside the caterpillar.
The murder weapon was a small nail – bent and coated with freckles of rust. You remember feeling like you shouldn’t have had something so sharp in your small fingers. You had heard somewhere that children shouldn’t play with sharp things.
With the nail, you gently flipped the caterpillar over with ironic care. You took the sharp point of the nail and pushed it into the center of the caterpillar, where the black stripe met its soft belly. The caterpillar didn’t scream – it just twitched hopelessly, oozing a dark fluid into a small splotch on the whitewashed wood. The stain was an ugly, sticky mess. The neighbor boy stood behind you, wringing his shirt out with his hands. You were withdrawing the nail from the wounded insect just as your mother opened the back door.
When your mother saw you holding the nail, it wasn’t long until she realized what you’d done. You’d never seen her act so strangely – she said your name like she was wildly upset with you. What was the matter? You were just having a funeral, Mom. She took the nail from you, and took your arm in her other hand. She ushered the neighbor boy and you inside, where she began to give a lecture on not harming living things.
When the speech was over, the neighbor boy ran home, and you went back outside. You suddenly felt awful for what you had done. You wondered if you should get a Band-Aid, or some Neosporin. At the very least, you knew that you should apologize.
When you crouched beside the overturned caterpillar, you became disgusted by the horrible dark stain beneath it. Looking at it, you thought of your own blood, dark and thick, and found yourself nudging the caterpillar a few inches away so that you wouldn’t have to look at its bodily fluids anymore.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Wooly,” you said quietly, stroking the caterpillar’s belly with one finger. It felt squishy and damp, easily manipulated beneath your fingers. It didn’t click its pinchers, didn’t twitch a leg. It just lay there, exactly as you’d left it.
“It’s okay,” you told the insect, flipping it over with a single finger so that it could walk away. The puncture wound hadn’t pierced all the way through, so when the insect was rolled back over like that, you could pretend the wound didn’t exist. “I’m not going to hurt you again.”
You couldn’t understand why the caterpillar wasn’t moving. You poked it with one finger. Why wasn’t it walking away? You’d taken the nail out, so why wasn’t it breathing? A sickening feeling rose up inside of you, and you jabbed the caterpillar again, trying to urge it to stir. It looked small on the vast expanse of white that was your back porch – an insignificant patch of darkness on the glowing pale paint.
“Wake up!” You cried, stroking it softly now, trying to coax it out of its trance. “Wake up, Wooly!”
Your stomach felt tight, your breaths shallow and short. You went back to poking its underside, trying to pry it from its bad dream.
Silence. Stillness. The caterpillar did not stir again, so you scooped it up and ran back to the pond. If you put it back where you found it, surely it would spring back to life as though none of this had happened. You were sure of it, positive that you could undo the damage that you had done.
You couldn’t picture death. If you closed my eyes, you couldn’t make yourself see nothing. Once your eyelids were tightly shut, you saw swirling blackness, interrupted by bursts of red as light collided with your eyelids. You could hear your heart, loud in your ears, pumping blood through your veins. You could not imagine the silence that would take you if that beating were to stop.
The pond looked different to you now, as you honed in on its muddy banks. Water beetles glided along the surface, not even big enough to wrinkle the peace. The trees cast a dark shade overhead now, and you felt as though thousands of knowing eyes were watching you, judging you from the thicket of the woods. The small weight of the Wooly Mammoth caterpillar felt massive in your hand.
When you dropped the caterpillar’s body onto the surface of the water, a single trio of ripples was born from its fall. You watched as these rings expanded and rolled, all the way into shore, where they broke on the muddy edge and were over with. The caterpillar did not move. Where the water met its body, a fine silver outline was growing, as though its spirit were diffusing into the water, completely still.

As you grew up, you became more acquainted with death. When your grandfather died, you were eight years old. It was the first person you had ever known to die, and all you could picture when you heard that he had passed was that little caterpillar, lifeless and stoic on the surface of your pond. Total stillness, total quiet. Something of an endless sleep. Still, you knew they weren’t the same, humans and caterpillars. You understand now. And no one had stabbed your grandfather with a rusty nail. But all the same, it as though the dark stain on the back porch had seeped into your mind.

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Sapphire1225This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 7, 2012 at 12:00 am
I was spellbound the whole time I was reading this!! You're a great writer! Keep writing! I read a few of your other pieces. They were amazing! You have inspired me to write even more!
random_person said...
Nov. 28, 2011 at 11:56 am

This memoir held me captive as long as I was reading it!  You have a great talent!

                         ~God Bless

Lava said...
Nov. 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm
This was amazing! I loved the way you used "you" instead of "I" although I'm assuming you're talking about yourself. I'm writing a memoir, and I think I might use your technique. Thanks for writing this, it reminded me of when I was little.
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