Putting the Wings Back

Sarah Ermold

Staff Writer

When I was younger, I never understood how someone could love a butterfly. 

They scared me back then. I thought butterflies were just another creepy bug to avoid. I never saw their beauty or their grace; only their horrifying, spindly legs, and something I thought could kill me if it got too close.  

Butterflies have always been a part of my life. On the thousands of coffee cups my family owned, and random figurines placed all over the house, they never seemed to just fly away and stay with a new family. Butterflies were a constant in my life for a long time, but I never appreciated them. I never tried to understand them until much later in my life. 

Now, a butterfly is a symbol of life, of reincarnation, of hope.   

A butterfly is beautiful because in the moment light shines through its wings, it amplifies its trademark colors of oranges, and reds, and brilliant blues. The beauty of their wings is blinding.   

A butterfly is fragile. Its wings are like glass, and if you’re not careful they’ll break, and you’ll be left with nothing but the body. No one wants to be left with a lump of lifeless abdomen. A caterpillar, the body before it is rendered beautiful with their elegant wings.   

Butterflies are the pollinators that give life to flowers. They give hope to us, and this is only amplified by their fragility, and temporary nature. But, as sweet as it is, it’s still heart-breaking to know how easily and thoroughly they can shatter.  

My grandma loved butterflies. It was what she collected and what she lived for.  

When she died, it became my thing. I was drawn to them, as if, suddenly, I had to notice them in all the corners of my house. I felt like if I didn’t love butterflies now, I didn’t love her.   

In my writing, I once described the wings of a butterfly as laced with cigarette smoke. I had commented on the way my grandma loved cigarettes as much as she loved butterflies. I said I felt that she took the orange color out of the wings of a monarch and replaced it with cigarette butts she smoked on the back porch.

She would sit in her chair with her cigarette in one hand, her phone in the other playing a puzzle game. She would hold the cigarette between her fingers and move the pieces around on her phone. Sometimes she’d put the phone down to get a sip of her coffee, but she never put the cigarette down until she was finished. That was her routine, and I watched her do it for years.  

No one seemed to mind the connection, but I felt as if I had effectively ruined butterflies for my entire family and bad mouthed my grandma in an irreversible way. I spoke from my heart, and in the process, I killed a butterfly.   

She always told me when she died, she would come back as a butterfly when I least expected it and check up on me.  

Sometimes I’ll see a butterfly at her headstone when I go to visit her. Its broad, beautiful wings circling the flowers on her headstone with easy, smooth flaps. The butterfly never leaves before me. It always waits until I’m gone, then, I imagine, it flies back to heaven.  

I tell the headstone, and the butterfly watching from on top of it, to tell my grandmother I love her; that I miss her; and that I wish she were still here to hold my hand. 

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