Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bug or Butterfly

Thinking myself in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mood, I decided to stop at the store on my way home from work. There are some days when reality is visible only through a haze or hormones and my perception is either very distorted or perfectly clear – I’m not sure which. But it’s suddenly become evident that many facets of my current existence are not at all as I want them to be. I’ve already started fixing it – and it’s not that big a deal – but I stared at the screen of my computer at work, sighed over news that I won't hear about job decisions until after the upcoming conference and glanced at further comments on my paper from Boss, grabbed the latter and walked to my car.

It’s tricky, I decided on the silent drive to my house. I left the radio off and didn’t even scold the other drivers for improper lane usage or insufficient speed. Life sometimes looks like a butterfly and I'm happy to chase it around. Papers to publish, emails to send, jobs to explore, people to meet. Then something shifts and I realize it’s not a butterfly at all, but a big bug. And the bug is partially crushed and this frothy, yellow goo is oozing from the cracks in its shell. And I recoil and think that I don’t want that at all. Then I’m angry – at myself for being stupid and at the big bug for tricking me.

“Ma’am?” A mere wisp of a Southern girl called as she crossed the lane in the parking lot where I was exiting my car. I raised an eyebrow, leaving the rest of my face the resigned pout I’d long since adopted for the day, and waited. “Do you have a cell phone?” At this I looked suspicious and nodded. “I locked my keys in my car and I need to call my boyfriend.”

I nodded and began to paw my wallet aside, searching my purse for the small, silver lump that could transmit her message. “Here you go,” I said, handing it over and I shrugged when I saw that she was twitchy with nerves. But being sad makes me listless so I glanced around the parking lot through the dark lenses of my sunglasses and waited. I noticed she had a butterfly tattooed on her neck and I wondered at the pain that must have been involved in that. Then I shook my head – butterflies are deceptive bastards, I remembered. Just bugs in disguise.

“He’s not home,” she told me and I sighed.

“I have AAA,” I reluctantly replied. “It will take them awhile to get here though.”

“My baby’s in the car!” she said, looking in the back window again. I frowned as my brain snapped to attention and moved to look for myself as she dithered about her next move. I peered through the back window and saw a tiny foot kick at the edge of a deep rear-facing car seat.

“Call the police,” I said, turning to see that she had dialed another number and was waiting.

“I’m sure he’s home,” she told me and I crossed my arms with impatient irritation. She sighed and blinked at me and asked what she should do next.

“Call the police,” I repeated calmly, finally understanding her distress. “It’s all fine – your daughter is OK. But we need to get to her soon, so you’ll call the police and they’ll come let you in the car.”

“I’ll call my boyfriend once –” I interrupted her statement by holding my hand out for the phone.

“Nine one one,” I ordered firmly, keeping my gaze steady and my voice serious and commanding and nodded when she finally dialed. She spoke – giving her location and name and problem and requested someone hurry in a trembling voice. She looked at me with wide eyes when she finished and held my phone out toward me.

I took it and assured her someone would be here soon. She tapped at the back window again and I almost told her the child wasn’t a flipping goldfish. There was no reason to tap at the glass – she needed to get inside.

“Do you think they’ll hurt the car?” she then asked, smoothing her finger worriedly over the new vehicle. At that point I almost asked her to confirm that just about anybody could have kids, regardless of stupidity or selfishness. But I bit back my words and instead offered to wait with her until the police arrived. After she refused three times, I again told her it would all turn out right in the end and walked in the store.

By the time I’d selected soda (Pepsi products were on sale and I do like Diet Pepsi) and bread and plucked a package of oatmeal raisin cookies off the shelf, I glanced out the large front windows to the parking lot and smiled when I saw her speaking to a police officer. I chatted with the boy who checked me out, grinning back at him without intending to when he congratulated me on the excellent price I found on soda. I wandered out to the parking lot, pushing my cart in front of a second police car who was just arriving in time to see the first man start his paperwork after the damsel in distress flitted off to pick up her older daughter from school.

“You can’t even shop in peace,” A woman said to me as she pushed her cart to the corral.

“Pardon?” I asked as I tugged upward on the trunk and began to move cases of soda from cart to car.

“She was just shopping,” the woman waved her hand toward the police cars that had stopped together to confer, “and they gave her a ticket!”

“No, no,” I corrected her politely and shook my head for emphasis. “She locked her keys in the car and her baby was inside. The police came when she called so they could open her door.”

“Oh,” she said, visibly surprised, and glanced back at the police. I looked too, returning the gesture when one of the men waved, and realized that sometimes what first looks like a big bug turns out to be a butterfly after all.

“Everything’s fine,” I told her and smiled indulgently when she opened her door and told her companion that the police were actually doing something nice.

Good blog story, I decided. But I baked the cookies anyway.


Psycgirl said...

That's exactly how I feel about academia Katie - sometimes its a butterfly, and other times a bug that has tricked me. I'm sometimes dismayed at how quickly I can go back and forth though... makes me wonder if I am really cut out for this. Wouldn't it be a butterfly all the time, if I was?

rpg said...


Glad you were there.

Glad to see the police doing something useful. 'Nice' if you like (as opposed to the guys here who wave loaded pistols at aboriginal elders).

Brigindo said...

Yes a very good blog story.

But psycgirl I have to disagree, just because it sometimes looks like a bug doesn't mean you're not cut out for it. Sometimes anything in life can look like a bug.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Good story! And interesting comments, to boot!

Propter Doc said...

No no no! Grad students are caterpillars, thesis writing and defense is chrysalis/cocoon, then eventually after a bit of incubation we get to find out whether we're moths or butterflys. And whether our wings work if we dry for long enough in the sun before trying to fly, or if we're destined to be attracted then repelled by brighlights, or spend our day drinking nectar from beautiful flowers. I understand that some PhD Moths spend their lives eating holes in carpets, clothes and curtains but we wont think to much of that.

Locks said...

i think my life is a cockroach....

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