Butterfly: My Daughter’s “Diffwent Mom”

I’ve written previously in “Like Space Mother, Like Daughter” about how my little girl surprised me with her claim she had a “diffwent mom” before me. I have since learned more details.

pretty-butterflyHer name is Butterfly, she has purple hair and wears skirts. She is married to Brian and they live somewhere cold (I asked her to show me on a map and she pointed to Alaska). Her siblings are baby twin sisters named Bella and Rosy, and a baby brother named Junior. Brian likes to fish and they eat what he brings home. My daughter says she was seven years old when she lived with them. She doesn’t know why she had to leave and live with me. She claims to love me and Butterfly the same.

I find it fascinating that Diffwent Mom’s name is Butterfly. The spiritual and symbolic significance impresses me, as many people believe butterflies represent the soul, and are a powerful symbol of endurance, change, transformation and resilience. The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is one of confusion and struggle before the creature emerges from the isolation of its chrysalis a more beautiful, enlightened, and less fearful version of itself.butterfly-chrysalis

The butterfly is a good allegory for recovery of any kind — from loss, grief or illness — all of which I know too well. You probably do too. A lot of people know what it’s like to go through a process of self-isolation and emerge braver and stronger.

I feel badly for Butterfly, if she truly exists somewhere she’s mourning her loss. She doesn’t know how much our little girl is loved and adored. She can’t see that she’s happy and glowing. I relate to her struggle, because I wonder about my deceased son every day. I wonder if his soul was returned somewhere in the world, being loved while he talks about his Diffwent Mom with brown hair who likes to wear flannels, whom he slightly remembers and hopefully misses. If this scenario is possible, I’d wish he’d still love me the same as his present mom.

I want Butterfly to know that I understand, and she doesn’t have to worry because I’m loving our girl enough for both of us. If I could write Butterfly a letter, I’d tell her she did a good job fostering our girl’s exuberant and silly soul which arrived intact, along with her big personality and feelings. She came with an overflowing capacity to charm and spread love, which fills my heart with joy every day.

My daughter talks about Diffwent Mom and “baby bwaddah and sistahs” several times a day. I think she was a protective and doting big sister because now she frequently wants to give them her leftover food, outgrown clothes and baby toys. She talks about their favorite foods, activities and colors. I’m fascinated by her stories, especially the details, like Junior won’t eat macaroni and cheese but her sisters love it. Her sisters have brown hair but Junior has no hair (“but him still cute”).

purple-butterfly-transparentI’m oddly comforted when she talks about life with Butterfly. It gives me hope that maybe our souls, no matter where they travel in the world, never forget love. If that’s true, then my son will never forget me. My daughter’s fantastic tale about a possible past life makes me believe my deceased son could still remember me. His Butterfly.

Our Mitsubishi

So I’ve been super busy and I’m a little late catching  up on This is Us

I didn’t cry when Jack Pearson rescued his family from the fire. I didn’t cry when he went back into the burning house to save the dog and a pillowcase filled with memories. I didn’t cry when Rebecca crumpled into a heap when she saw Jack died alone from a heart attack in his hospital bed. I didn’t even cry at his funeral.

I’d say I held it together pretty well during the the most traumatic episode of This Is Us. Until…

That damn scene in the car salesman’s office. Someone please explain to me why I fell into breathless sobs during a scene about a car?

But it’s not a scene about a car. It’s a scene about everything…

As soon as Randall spilled the soda all over the back seat and Jack turned around to glare at him my eyes welled up, but it was Jack’s voice-over that got me crying. The notion that every stain, every scratch on the family car is a “battle scar.”  I get this, because so much of family life is a battle — small ones usually, but sometimes the battles are huge and they leave scars on our flesh, fabric or fender.

boy-driving-carFor years our family lived in a huge sprawling city and so much of our lives wound up happening in our car. That car — a 2002 silver Mitsubishi Montero Sport — carried us through fifteen years of everyday errands and epic, cross-country road trips — oh, the amazing road trips! The spills and throw up and sand and mud and crumbs and stains! Plus the life moments and great conversations and arguments and plans!

That silver Mitsubishi Montero Sport was the first new car we ever bought. We needed a car larger than my Corolla SR-5 after the birth of our son. We needed something with a functional back seat. I remember being pregnant and waiting at a red light, looking at all the large SUVs that surrounded me. I thought, my little car can get swallowed by one of these things. I wanted something safer. In the words of Jack Pearson, I wanted us to be okay.

The plan was I’d keep the car sixteen years and then give it to our son. Sometime during the car’s fifteenth year, after it outlived our son for five years, I accidentally drove it going 5mph into a pole in the parking lot at Kohl’s. Nobody was hurt but the front end caved in. Our insurance company said the car wasn’t worth much (to them) and totaled it out.

My husband wondered if I hit the pole accidentally on purpose. (No.) He asked if I realized we were getting close to the time we said we’d give it to our son (I did.) He wanted me to get my eyes checked. (I didn’t.)

But maybe there is such a thing as accidentally on purpose.

Every once in a while in family life something comes up that marks the end of an era — a birth, death, graduation or moving houses. In a smaller way, even changing cars. Jack Pearson tells the car salesman that the Wagoneer he’s about to buy will someday tell his family’s story just by looking at it. I get this — we had a whole story planned for our Mitsubishi — but it never happened. Our car’s intended story never came to be.

I hate change. It’s exhausting. Our bodies age and change. Our hair grows and thins. Our clothes fade and fray. Our relationships…well, don’t get me started, those constantly change. Our family changes, and this is the hardest one for me to get used to. I miss the past before all the changes happened. I miss my parents. I miss my son. I miss the way things used to be.

Maybe, at some level, it’s possible I wanted to end an era. How could our Mitsubishi outlive our son? Maybe, at some level, I didn’t care that my attention was focused on looking across the parking lot for the exit rather than seeing what was looming immediately in front of me. One rule of Karma is there are no accidents, but don’t tell that to my insurance adjuster.

broken-heart

I understand what it’s like to want to be okay. At first it seems like a mediocre goal — one even I can reach. But it’s not easy. I should know. I’ve been trying to be okay for years and I’m not there yet.

Could it be possible I slow-crashed my car to get closer to being okay? Sure, there are easier, smarter and better ways to change cars.

But like I said, it’s not really about the car.

 

The Pineapple Tree

palm-tree-clip-art-thumbThere’s a fat, squat palm tree that looks like a giant pineapple in the courtyard of the elementary school that my oldest son attended for most of his short life. He loved that tree. He ran endless laps around it to burn off his exuberant energy. He climbed up the knotty pieces that jutted out from its sides until a teacher chased him down. He balance walked all over the display of rocks set around the tree, and sometimes he simply stood beneath it and stared up at its miraculous starburst formation and let the golden sun shoot through the empty spaces and illuminate his curious face.

People took note of how much he loved that tree and started calling it “XX’s tree.” Kids told each other to meet at “XX’s tree” to play tag, and of course my son would play too. When we moved away I wondered if they’d still call the tree by his name. A few months after we moved, my son was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. We received a lot of support from my son’s teachers at his old school — XX had the gift of charm and was easy to fall in love with and hard to forget.

After he passed away I ordered a memorial plaque and the aide from his kindergarten class oversaw its installation. I was sent pictures from thousands of miles away. I’m told my son’s friends arranged rocks around the base of the stake for decoration and protection. I was deeply touched by everyone’s expression of love for my son.

Those friends moved on to Junior High and then High School. The kindergarten aide retired. After a while, only three of his teachers remained. The school changed Principals. The building underwent improvements. Years went by before I returned for a visit, and when I did I dropped by to finally see the plaque.

But it was gone.school-kids-schoolhouse

It was after school when I snuck onto campus and the office was closed. I called the next day and left a detailed message for the Principal. She didn’t return my call. I called and spoke to the office secretary again. The Principal again didn’t return my call. Finally, she told me she’s never seen the plaque and never heard of my son. She’d ask around, but it’s likely gone.

One time when I was in the fifth grade the boy who lived across the street punched me in the stomach and literally knocked the breath out of me, so I know what it feels like to not be able to breath. The feeling I had when I hung up the phone was similar — fast, shocking and unexpected — my breath was gone.

Nobody wants their child forgotten. Nobody wants the memory of their child disrespected, especially in a place that gave him so much pleasure. My son was a friend to everyone who met him. He loved his school and felt love from his teachers.

bandaged-heartI needed to find out what happened.

I flew home and waited. A month later I sent an e-mail. Finally seven days later (after a follow-up asking if she received my e-mail) the Principal finally responded.  She said she asked around and nobody knows what happened. Sorry, she said, she tried her best. I got the feeling she wanted me and the whole uncomfortable and inconvenient business about a plaque for a dead child she never knew to simply go away.

But I wasn’t going to go away.

I followed up and urged her to look in closets, boxes, cabinets, everywhere. I figured someone wrapped it up and put it somewhere during the improvements, and with all the staff changes it simply got misplaced. I figured it was somewhere and it could be found if someone looked for it. If I lived closer than 2,000 miles I’d do it myself. I offered to send friends to look, but she didn’t want that.

She did everything she could, she said. I told her — I understand it didn’t go missing on her watch, but it’s kinda her watch now and it falls to her to find it. She said she didn’t see it that way.

I get it that after my son died the world had the audacity to keep spinning. I get it that nobody probably meant to throw away a memorial plaque for my dead son. It’s likely missing because of thoughtlessness. But it’s a thoughtlessness that feels cruel.

boy-jumping-clip-artIf I close my eyes I can see my son’s pineapple tree. It was our meeting spot at the end of the school day. I’d park down the block and walk over to look for his shiny dark hair among the blush of boys, and finally spot him dancing and running around the giant base of his tree. I’d catch his bluish-greenish eyes that changed color depending on the color of the shirt he wore. My heart skipped a beat every time.

And I’d pause to catch my breath at the sight of my beautiful little boy.