In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. - Wikipedia
“Stop it! You’re going to kill us! Stop driving so fast!” she protested.
“No comprende.” he mouthed mockingly, his hand cupping his right ear.
“You’re making me nervous.“
“Well, isn’t that the point?” he mouthed, grinning.
"You’re such a child, ” she surrendered quietly. Leaning her head back against the seat, she closed her eyes, “Can you at least put the top up?”
“I haven’t gotten it fixed.”
He pressed his foot down further on the accelerator, passing a station wagon on a curve.
“Idiot kid!” I heard my father mutter as the corvair convertible flashed past us. ”What did you say, Daddy?” I questioned from the backseat. “Nothing” he replied, as he switched on the radio. The music of Jewel Akens singing “The Birds and the Bees” filled our car. My sister, Lizzy and I started singing along. The noise woke Spot, our black and white Spaniel, who had been curled up behind the backseat sleeping. I could still see the white convertible in front of us, but it was traveling very fast.
He reached under her neck, pulling the lose knot of her scarf, freeing her auburn hair. She turned toward him angrily, his face mocking horror and surprise. The wind seized her headscarf, pulling it from his fingers and giving it a life of its own. She grabbed for it, but like a butterfly it drifted out into the troposphere. She slapped him hard across the face. His look of shock and hurt melted her anger. She suppressed the grin attempting to form on her lips. He looked like a little boy, she thought. His mischief was one of the things she loved about him. She began to laugh and he started laughing. He pulled her toward him.
My sister and I hit face first into the back of the front seat as the Buick station wagon’s breaks squealed. Something had blown onto the windshield. Something from the sky. My father gasped and jerked the steering wheel, as if trying to avoid it. One of the back tires hit something. He tried to regain control of the car by spinning the steering wheel counter clockwise. Lizzy, only twenty-two months older that I, pulled me into her. Spot was startled by the sound of screeching rubber. He jumped from the back of the car and fell onto us, scratching my eyelid and cheek in the process. I grabbed him. As we skidded sideways, in what felt like an eternity, Petula Clark sang, “Downtown”. The scarf finally slid off the windshield, making it possible for my father to seize control of the car. He steered our car onto the grassy shoulder of the road. He jumped out of the driver’s side and opened the back door of the car. "Are you two all right?“ he asked, placing his hands on Sister’s face. Lizzy’s nose was bleeding. I could taste blood in my mouth. After checking on me, he turned. Pivoting his athletic frame, he sat down on the seat and planted his feet into the dry weed. He rubbed his face and leaned his head out of the car. "The back tire blew out,” he mumbled. Half turning his head, he quietly commanded, ”John, climb up on my back.”.
“Why?” I asked defensively, “Where are we going?”
“I can’t change the tire, the shoulder of the road is too soft. We’ve got to walk to the gas station we passed a while back.”
“I’m not going, Daddy. I want to wait in the car.”, I pleaded.
“Listen to me, I’m not leaving you in the car by yourself.”, he grimaced.
I clambered onto my father’s back as he asked, but with hesitation. I didn’t want to leave the car. I was badly shaken and the station wagon was the safest place to me. Being born into a big family, this car had always been a haven for me. A place to hide, I would sometimes go out onto the carport and quietly scramble into the Buick. I’d lie down in the back seat. It was a quiet world unto its own, my world, away from the noises of a big family, my mother and father’s arguments. It was my special place. I would listen to the ticking of the dash clock and its special “click” every 30 seconds. No, I figured the car was the best place for me, especially since my dog was going to stay here. Spot knew something was wrong. He was panting excitedly and whimpering. Big trucks whizzed closely by and the car would shudder every time one passed us. I didn’t want my dog on the road with us, but I was worried for him. ”I’m going to stay here with Spot,” I pronounced. Daddy said, “He’ll be fine.” My seven year old sister got out of the station wagon and took hold of my father’s hand as he locked the car. Spot, seeing that he was going to be left behind went wild panting and barking. I started struggling to get down. “Let me down!” I whined. But Daddy tightened his grip and I knew to stop. Lizzy was solemn like Daddy. His suntanned hand gripped her small one firmly, but the grass was slippery under her Mary Jane shoes. She moved in toward his leg for support, smearing blood against his pants leg. I looked back. Our car was growing smaller and smaller, and I could still make out Spot’s agitation, helplessly peering out of the windshield. With all the commotion we hadn’t notice the dark clouds collecting in the sky. I felt raindrops. The sky opened up.
I wake up and walk through a dark cold. It is delicious. This Sunday morning, late February now and I know these days of cool repose are numbered. My forty-nine year old brain has been in meditation all night and is fresh with the experience of dream. I switch on the electrified gasolier in the family room of the old house, looking for my sweatshirt. The dim overhead light makes the room ghostly and uninviting. The roses on the coffee table have withered, and the heart shaped candy box lies on the game table with lid askew.
My father died this month two years ago. It was a morning, not unlike this one. Jack and I woke to the sound of my cell phone….
“John?” A Southern female voice asked.
“Yes,“ I say.
“It’s Sue. Your daddy passed away this morning.”
“He passed away? How is Mom?”
“We’ll be down as soon as we can get there,” I stumble. ”Oh. Sue, have you called the girls?”
“No,” she says.
“I’ll call them, thank you.”
I first call my sister closest in age to me, Patricia Elizabeth. She takes the news very stoically. I then call my sister, Susan. Mary Ann, my oldest sister has spent the night with her.
“Yeah?” she replies sleepily.
“I hate to tell you this, but Dad died this morning.”
“What’s wrong?” I hear Mary Ann’s anxious voice ask in sleepy disbelief.
“It’s John,” Susan sobs, “Daddy died.”
“What?” Mary Ann panicks. ”Oh, no… no.”
The memory of those calls still sting my heart…..
The funeral visitation was nourishing. I saw family friends and distant relatives whom I haven’t seen in years. My little brother set up a Powerpoint slideshow with photos of my dad through all the stages of his life. My dad as a baby. Dad and Uncle George as children. Dad and Mom on their wedding day. It was wonderful. I was tired when I left the funeral home and headed up Interstate 75. I was glad to be getting away from it all. On my way home from the visitation, I experienced a true visitation. With no expectation, my father came to me. I am blessed, period. My dad suffered from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In the last few months before he died he started calling me George, confusing me with his brother. Dad’s physical and mental health had deteriorated so much in the last couple of years. But now he is whole and happy. I would wait to relate this to my mother when the time was right. She had been a rock through the whole exercise. I won’t forget sitting in the dining room as the crooked funeral home director tallied up the duplicitous charges on his calculator. Putting on his performance as statistician to bring some kind of authentication to the multiple bogus charges. One learns to let go of expectations in people and events when you reach a certain age. At least I feel the lucky ones do. You also learn at a certain age to pick your battles. You won’t make a fuss, because it would be inappropriate. The current preacher of the church where my father was deacon for many of the forty-three years my family worshipped there walks into the dining room to offer his condolences…. the first time he’s been in our home since my father took ill two years ago. The room is quiet, except for the funeral director’s adding machine. He awkwardly introduces himself. My mother doesn’t look up, but replies, "I know who you are.”. Exit, preacher. The man giving the sermon at my dad’s funeral was a family friend that I’d known most of my life. To call his eulogy and orchestration at the funeral of my father adequate would be kind. But life goes on for the living. I spent the following months wearing an old pair of my father’s Levi’s and his short sleeve oxford shirts. It wasn’t an intentional decision, but I guess it was my therapy.
I let my dogs out the backdoor and go into the pantry. Plugging in the coffee maker, I see that Jack had set the machine up last night, so it begins to gurgle and trickle into the pot. I get the Turquoise Florentine coffee mugs out of the cabinet, putting half-n-half and Splenda into the cups, more of the sweet stuff into mine. I then go back into the den and turn off the overhead and switch on lamps. I hear the coffee finally hissing that it is done and the Cuisinart beeps. I pour myself a cup and walk outside. Priceless and Darby are at the far end of the garden sniffing, clouds of condensation rising in the air from their warm breaths. The sky is cerulean and is dotted with small caliginous clouds. Two flocks of Canada geese, one behind the other, cross the sky. It is a beautiful moment. I smell the heady paperwhites that are scattered by the steps, and wonder how the hooded monk daffodils can meditate in their company. The Camellia japonica Mathonia ‘Purple Dawn’ that reminds me of my mother, is in full bloom. The flowering Quince is blooming too, and the fragrant Viburnum X Carlcephalum by the side door is heavily budded. The coffee tastes good on this cold morning. I hear the creak of the door and Jack steps out with his steaming cup. He sits beside me.
“Why did you get up so early?”
“I woke up from a dream.”
“Dad, I replied It seemed so real…. like it wasn’t a dream.”
“Maybe it wasn’t.”
“You mean like a parallel life?” I smile, looking at him.
“You mean am I butterfly or am I John?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.“ He laughs. "It was your dream.”
- John Robert Myers
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Chuang Chou. Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Chuang Chou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between me and the butterfly there must be a difference. This is an instance of transformation.
March 21, 2016