Brown Butterflies

I’ve been thinking lately about the different stages of life and how it feels like they sneak up on us, but upon closer examination, we sort of knew the changes were coming long before they came. But still they blindside us on some idle Tuesday when we feel wholly unprepared to take anymore shit from that particular Tuesday. They smack us on the hand, or the head, or if we are lucky, on the rear, and they shake us into a violent spiral of self-loathing and pitiful dread. And just like that, the person we thought we were is gone, and this new person has emerged. It’s sort of scary and weird and totally, totally jacked up.

I was complaining about this aloud to my husband last night. I complain to him a lot, especially on days when I have been complaining to myself aloud and my self hasn’t been able to come up with any answers. My husband, you see, is a saint of a different kind. He is patient with me. He listens to me while he rubs my feet or my back. He doesn’t get angry at me, unless I am down on myself and then he tells me to treat myself better. He even pretends like he doesn’t hear me talking to myself in the shower, or the bathroom, or the closet, or the kitchen, least I think of myself as crazy. He just listens and tries to help.

So there I was trying to explain to him that I don’t feel like any particular kind of “me” anymore, because the last set of changes in my life really did me in and I am super scared of the next change. He looked confused. I reasoned that approximately every three years I change. I go through a complete metamorphosis, sort of like a caterpillar, but instead of turning into a beautiful butterfly who flies through the rain forest, I get stuck being a brown butterfly. Not that being a brown butterfly is bad, it’s just that brown butterflies always seem to have short, tumultuous lives inside one of those manufactured rainforests at a children’s museum. Red butterflies with yellow and purple markings sail through the humid air of Ecuador, racing each other, making children stand in awe, and women look to the skies, close their eyes, and imagine a world unlike their own. Brown butterflies end up getting sat on by an oxygen-tank-wielding grandpa who was dumped in the “rainforest” because he couldn’t keep up with the toddlers and someone said, “You know what, I bet Dad would enjoy the butterflies.”

Again, there is nothing wrong with brown butterflies, they are just “eh” and “eh” is how I have come to see this “Missy”. The one right here, right now, in this present position in life. I’m not alone, I know that. My friend just asked me this morning, in a desperate voice in search of relief, “What the hell is in retrograde right now?” Eh.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. The “winter blues” is very real. Maybe because my whole life is in this sort of holding pattern that I have never been in before, and it is forcing me to work with and against questions that I just do not have answers for. It sucks, truly, but I am also grateful for so much. This leaves me feeling, well, eh.

I’ve been really fixated on these shifts of time lately. I remember visiting a butterfly “sanctuary” when Jackson was a toddler. (I’m using quotes for sanctuary because, uh, there is no real reason to have a butterfly sanctuary, other than to breed butterflies for human viewing in an enclosed space, yeah, I’m weird about animals in captivity.) But still it was kind of neat to see that many butterflies in one place. That is also where I learned, or maybe relearned, that butterflies have an incredibly complicated life cycle, and an incredibly short life span. Adult butterflies only live for weeks.

I started thinking about the stages of the butterfly, and of course to the stages of my own life, and I became really attune to the changes that have happened every three years or so. There seems to be a pattern. Like it takes three years for me to make any real progress. Or to make any big change. Or to even deal with simple things. I’m a slow learner I suppose. But, I’ve been able to trace my changes back as far as thirteen years, and it is a weird, ugly road.

Thirteen years ago I became a fiancée. I changed from just a girlfriend to someone who needed to start planning for a life together with this man that I loved, in a very pointed and serious way. Planning for the future was a BIG change for sixteen years ago Missy, whose only real job was to have fun. I bartended on weekends, spent money like an Arabic Sheik, and occasionally danced on tables, if the bar (more importantly the music) allowed.

Three years later I became a mother to a happy, healthy baby boy. If you don’t think parenthood pulls you into a new version of yourself, think again. And while you are at it, that isn’t just the “baby blues”. Get yourself to your doctor and say yes to the Wellbutrin with the side of Xanax, then figure out whether your body can tolerate both pills and a glass of wine each night at ten p.m. while you binge watch Netflix and secretly eat candy from the floor on the side of your bed that can’t be seen from the hallway.

Becoming a mommy was the biggest wake-up call I had ever had. Until three years later, when I became a mommy to an unhealthy, dead baby girl. Whoa. Another Missy came along. This Missy was sad most of the time. She struggled to conjure up new ideas. She regretted most of the decisions that brought her to that point. She blamed herself for much more than was her fault. She worried what this new mommy was doing to this little boy, who was tottering behind her everywhere she went.

Three years later I was no longer a mommy with a little boy tottering along behind. I became a kindergarten mom. That freaked me out so much, that in the same breath I became a grad student with two part-time jobs, and a myriad of obligations just to try to deal with the horrible quiet in my house. But, I settled nicely into that routine for, you guessed it, three years. Then last year, everything changed again. I graduated, stopped working, moved to the city, had a hysterectomy (changing both my attitude toward the future and my actual body), and I started to devote more time to myself than ever before. And I know this all seems great, and trust me it is, but sometimes the lack of things, things to learn, things to do, things to accomplish, makes me feel, well, eh. Because even though Missy keeps changing, there are some things that don’t change.

Missy has always been kind, empathetic, and open-minded. But Missy has also always been reactive, anxious, and diffident. Always. Through each set of changes. Through each three-year block. And those are the sort of things that don’t just go away with time. They also make changing and growing and being at the sort of crossroads that I am in now, hard to get through.

So now here I am. In what I am calling the “Eh Stage”. The “Eh Missy”. This Missy is not the most fun to be around, I’m really sorry you guys. This Missy likes to sleep longer, likes to dawdle over what to cook for dinner or what kind of scarf to buy. This Missy loathes small talk and would rather just sit silently, in her own mind, while others jabber around her, then get caught up in the middle of it. Content to do so. This Missy thinks slower, even slower than high school Missy who was always a little, tiny bit high, and certainly never understand chemistry.

But, like most things in life, it isn’t all bad. This Missy doesn’t shy away from waxing political, or making some waves in an attempt to better things for others. This Missy is finally able to admit that she needs to “think on things” before she can add value to the conversation. This Missy listens with her whole heart when someone needs an ear, she doesn’t let her mind race frantically to all her problems and responsibilities and just nod her head along occasionally. And like usual, some days are better than others.

Maybe this “Eh” stage is something you are going through too? And maybe it is because life has taken its toll on you. Maybe you find yourself in a rusty patch. Maybe the political world makes you want to vomit. Maybe you are almost 40 and freaking out (WE ALL DO, RIGHT?!) Maybe, probably, it is just a stage. A phase of life. Maybe today you feel like a brown butterfly. But maybe tomorrow you will end up all red and yellow and purple, and soaring through the humid, lovely air of Ecuador. Because really, it’s all so very temporary.

M.

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