I raised these butterflies, if by “raised” you mean paid for them, and carried them processionally around the arc of desks in my classroom, so each student could see them.
See? Mariposa. Mariposa. (For the Spanish speakers.)
Then I had seven painted lady butterflies in a cylindrical mesh cage.
Honestly I was surprised they became butterflies, too. My expectations are at a low ebb.
It hit me like a ton of bricks that the butterflies wanted to fly.
Oh damnit, I thought. I have to let them. I have to free them.
My classroom windows open to the length of a Crayola marker, which we use to keep them propped. Almost all my books are paperback, I realized.
I unzipped the butterfly habitat and set it next to the open window. I was going to have an emotional experience. My last class of the day had been so excitable I gave up on reading Romeo & Juliet and handed out random books. They quieted and got to work. I didn’t need to get angry. They just weren’t in the right space to read that day, and I was tired. I recalibrated. Romeo & Juliet would go on.
I sat with the butterflies. The air was cool. It didn’t seem like California out there. It wasn’t.
I sat and looked at them. Through the mesh, their beauty could get lost.
Finally one walked to toward the window.
As nothing happened, the bravest butterfly sat there with the wind ruffling his wings.
And sat there and sat there.
I lay my head on my arms on the windowsill and watched.
It felt so good to do nothing.
I had begun afraid of losing them, feeling the classic signals of loss, wanting to grab, keep.
Six of them stayed put, and one of them thought about leaving. They’d been mailed, jostled, stared at, transformed, broken out, and settled quietly in a still home.
Finally the one jumped out there like a kamikaze pilot and went flip flopping on his way. There are no trees or buildings for a ways, so I could see him go, go, go. He started small, right by my nose, and then got tinier and tinier.
The next day, a student wanted to “let them go.” We watched and watched. A student blew on them. They stayed and stayed until just one more jumped.
There were four left. I took them home for the weekend.
When I got home, I put them on the porch, thinking it would be nice for them to get some fresh air and sun.
Then I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until 9 the next morning. (This is how your public school teachers are. Sleeping 14 hours.)
With a start, I realized I had heard big wind in the night, and I ran out to see if my butterflies were frozen or blown away.
They were in their habitat. And still.
I took them into my bathroom. They warmed. They started stretching their antennae around.
This morning I unzipped them, set them next to the flowers I planted. These are flowers. Check them out. I left them there, unzipped.
Maybe they will go? I wouldn’t?