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Alysia Sawchyn


I have never understood the butterfly’s mass appeal. Growing up, girls collected neon folders featuring big-eyed cats and dolphins and horses, the illustrations’ backgrounds littered with sparkling roses and butterflies. Jessica and Elizabeth and Ashton clipped rhinestone wings into their blond French braids and brandished pencils with chunky erasers that did not erase. My dad kept a small framed drawing of a ballerina holding a balloon on the armoire in my parents’ bedroom. The dancer’s skirt and balloon were made from bits of preserved butterfly wings—I knew only because I asked how they glowed so iridescent. Any living specimen I’ve seen, in butterfly gardens, hiking in the woods, floating through a field, still pales in comparison to that memory.

I spent some of my late teens and early twenties in a community that collected crystals for their energy and believed in direct messages from the universe. I learned numerology and smudging and animal signifiers from people who’d lived difficult lives. There was a particular clearing in Brooksville, Florida, where we’d gather a few times a year. Yellow butterflies would flit overhead, regardless of the season, and my friends would claim these were their departed loved ones returned to watch over us.

Butterflies, man. Last month I learned that caterpillars essentially dissolve in their cocoon and then reconstitute themselves into winged things. I’ve thought about it almost every day since. Holometabolism. I’m not sure how missed that lesson in elementary school. My whole life, I have been both lucky and privileged.

Sometimes I think I write because I am afraid of forgetting. Sometimes I think I write because it forces me into a position of sincerity. On any given day I think uncountable contradictory thoughts, I feel spectra of emotion. Which is the most accurate representation? Writing forces me to commit to a static position—holds me to a board beneath glass, at least for a period of time. People are dying. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were reincarnated as butterflies? What stops me from belief? I will pin myself down here: Despite continued mounting evidence of cruelty and tragedy, I am slowly become a more hopeful and gentle person.

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