Once, I’ve found a pupa of a butterfly. Actually, it was my mom—the cocoon fell from a branch of blackcurrant where she was collecting the berries, and she brought it to me, without taking her heavy gardening gloves off. It was the middle of September, the time of falling leaves and stupid wool clothes, always two sizes wrong and smelling like dust in the attic.
The pupa was brown, slightly iridescent, delightfully heavy. Her bottom half could move, bending under the tiny plates — she would wiggle it from side to side if you’d poke her with a finger, like a tail of an irritated cat. Her upper half was clad in a solid, smooth piece of armor, with gentle imprints of nascent wings inside of it.
I was nine. She was my treasure. I put her in a glass jar and filled it with leaves and flowers, so if the butterfly was to emerge at any time, she had her breakfast ready. But the time was passing by, flowers were withering, the winds grew colder, and the pupa would do nothing but wriggling her tail.
I was born in a place where it’s freezing for half a year. I knew that the only way for these creatures to survive the winter was to tuck in somewhere safe and unfreeze when the spring comes. I put her on the ground in our backyard and covered her with the glass jar — so the snow won’t squish her, birds won’t eat her, and I could find her when it’s warm again.
The backyard snow wouldn’t melt till April. I’ve been waiting. I’ve been seeing the cocoon in my dreams. When the jar finally emerged from the snow, it was lying on its side, and my heart sunk: someone must have found my pupa before me, someone must have done something horrible with it. But when I dug around a little, I found her. She was still there — brown, glossy, heavy, and as she warmed up under the sun, she wriggled.
At first, I was carrying her jar, filled once again with fresh leaves and flowers, anywhere I’d go, afraid to lose even a second of the magic metamorphosis.
Then I was checking on it, once or twice a day.
Then I’d come to change the withered flowers once a few days, poking her to see if she was still alive.
She was there, sleek and thick as a bullet, heavy as the mystery of life itself, wriggling angrily, solidly determined to never change.
Eventually, I got bored with her. I tried to attach her back to her branch using paper glue and a thread, but she kept falling off — and after several tries, I just left her there, in the grass underneath blackcurrant bush.
In real life, stories rarely get closure. I’m still wondering what this creature really was and what happened to it, almost two decades later.
These days, I examine my face in the mirror every morning, vigilant for new wrinkles, for new signs of age. I wonder what would it feel like to refuse this process altogether, to freeze in between the stages of life. To check out, hiding under some heavy armor.
I wonder what would it feel like to always be a promise, never a result. To always be that teenager with bright eyes and rare gifts. To show only the imprints of your wings and let everyone guess the shape, the size, and the color.
Maybe it was some sort of a dragon butterfly — you know, like the mythical Chinese dragon that spends a thousand years as an egg, a thousand years as a sea snake, and in a couple more thousands of years it turns into a majestic, flying fire beast. Maybe her time just didn’t come yet. Only after our world dissolves in a massive nuclear explosion, she will rise up in the sky, spread her neon wings over the earth, and start a new race of the world’s masters.
Maybe the cold had damaged her permanently. Some kinds of cold can do that — they enter your bones and make a home there, leaving you to shiver even under the most generous of sunlights. It’s hard to engage in a magnificent metamorphosis when you carry this kind of cold inside.
Maybe she was eaten by a crow. These birds would eat anything.
I know I should treasure the fact that I was allowed to grow up. So many life forms never have. And I know that we are made differently from lizards, insects, or plants— our bodies don’t allow us to second guess, to wait for the best possible moment to hatch and bloom. We are different. Never a natural, always trying: in lush jungles, in snowy deserts, in steel-covered cities.
And maybe I won’t be a nature’s wonder, but I’m the one who gets to collect its wonders in my memory.
And I get to tell others about them.