Thursday, April 26, 2012
Of Butterflies and Notes from Home by Rochelle Robinson
I have a special relationship with the state of North Carolina. I was born there, my brother died there, and my father is buried there. Eight months before my brother died, I had gone to see him for a little visit. I hadn't really known my father, as he and my mother divorced when I was a baby and I was kept from him like a little pawn in a power struggle with my mom he had no chance of winning. I asked my brother if while I was there, we could take a day to drive out to where my dad is buried so that I could say hello. It was a beautiful clear morning, and I climbed on the back of my brother's Harley Davidson (the one he died on) and we set off for my little sentimental journey. I asked him to make one stop for me, so that I could buy some flowers. I never show up anywhere empty-handed. We stopped at a florist and I bought what I could afford...three lavender-colored roses. They had the richest, deepest, most lovely scent and that, and their unusual color is the reason I chose them. My brother and I started down Highway 17. And I can't explain this to this day, but I fell asleep on the back of this giant, noisy bike with my head on my brother's back and clutching my father's roses. I have no actual memory of Highway 17. Highway 17 is, oddly, where my brother was riding when he was killed some months later. We arrived at this cemetary and my brother woke me up. He had been out to see my dad many times, of course, and so he knew right where to go. We walked out to the area and my brother points and says "there he is" and I approached him with a shyness totally out of character for me. There was this sort of bronze-colored plaque with his name, and some dates, and I said "hey there daddy" and then obligingly said hello to his neighbors on both sides. My brother told me then how he had brought his baby daughter out here once, that she had been crying and making a fuss, and he sat her down on her grandfather's grave and she quieted down immediately and started to coo and giggle. That would be my dad. I do believe that children are closer to this sort of thing, comforted by it, in large part because they were citizens of Heaven not all that long before and it probably doesn't feel all funky and sad to them. My brother said, "I'll leave you two alone" and he walked away to go wait for me where the Harley was parked. I stood there for a second, not knowing exactly what to say or what to do. I laid the roses down just under his headstone and awkwardly said "I got you these", then I sat down crosslegged on his grave and looked around. This place was huge. I wondered how I would have felt to have to be surrounded by this many strangers for all of eternity. Highway 17 was behind me, and the other three sides were woods. I could see my brother standing over by his bike, but not facing me, like he was wanting to make sure he wasn't violating my privacy or something. I could see a caretaker far up and off to the right, with his truck parked near where he was working. And that was it. Except for my brother and the caretaker (and all those other folks resting there), I was alone with my father. At that time in my life I was studying Taoism, and thought it might be a peaceful and wise thing to maybe try and meditate there. My heart was making an awful lot of noise in my chest and I think I thought it might calm me down. Plus it worked for my baby niece. So I closed my eyes, and centered myself. I don't know precisely how much time passed, but something must've rung a little bell in me and I opened my eyes. I immediately focused in on something coming directly at me from the woods ahead. I couldn't tell what it was, but it was making a bee-line for me, and I wouldn't take my eyes off it. As it got a little closer, I could see it was a butterfly. As it got closer still, I could see it was the exact color of the roses I laid at my father's grave. And hand to God, through this giant expanse of cemetary, this little lavender-colored butterfly came out of the woods, crossed all that space, and landed right on the tip of my nose. It sat there, calmly flitting it's wings...and I sat there, feeling like I might have a heart attack any second now. My feelings were mostly OHMYGODWHATTHEHELLOHJESUSOHGOD, and then it flew away. I kissed my father's headstone, and bolted for the safety of my big brother. I didn't tell him about the butterfly. We got back on the bike and made the ride home. He played some Stevie Ray Vaughn and I fried him some chicken and we didn't discuss much at all. I couldn't stop thinking about it though, and at one point during that evening I looked across the room at my brother and caught him staring at me. I said WHAT and he just winked at me. Eight months later he was gone. The day of his memorial service I was standing in my mother's garden, watering her flowers for her. Thinking so strongly about my brother, and the last time I saw him. God as my witness, at that moment, a little white butterfly landed on my shoulder.