The Butterfly Candle
On our bookshelf sat a tall candle with dozens of butterflies painted inside a sugary glass coating. It added just the right touch in between Mom's biography of Rose Kennedy and the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, which I took out to inspect every Friday night while listening to records. The candle was magic: when Mom fired-up its wick and turned out the lamp, butterflies danced around the room in alighted patterns, with each of us kids dancing around like druids; reaching up to catch each flickering winged apparition.
Those were special times, and stolen from the real life we lived, occurring only when Dad was away at his night job. He didn't know that we watched TV or talked in loud, joyful tones. He was away and we were the mice coming out to play: dance, sing, smile; no beer cans being thrown at the wall; none of us being yanked up by our feet and taunted; no hellfire and brimstone to taint our restless sleep. It was time to be free! And we knew, by the smile on Mom's face, that she wasn't going to tell on us. The butterflies and their beautiful dance were our secret, to be stretched out until the wax burned into nothingness.
One night he came home early, and mad about something one of us had done, grabbed the candle. He held it high, up over his dark, gaunt face that slouched in vengeful thoughts. All us kids, and Mom, stood in the living room watching in horror. Surely no human could be so mean, so awful, as to destroy the only thing we had which brought us joy? I didn't understand then, but understand it now, that there is a wall in every human. Most of us recede to the path of light and good--all in favor of love toward others, especially those close to us. But some people are selfish, greedy, vindictive, righteous in the worst ways. Dad threw the candle against the wall and it shattered into a dozen pieces.
A child can pick up a broken piece of glass and still imagine the butterflies dancing; can feel the texture of sugary glass and still be enchanted. But in the broken pieces, a part of me shattered as well. I saw the jagged scraps lying against our ugly brown carpet, and instantly wanted to glue them back together again. He couldn't do this, he couldn't win! But Mom gathered them up and threw all of it into the kitchen trash. Why fix something that is only going to be broken again? Why bring more pain?
You swallow, and hold in words. You keep your eyes open, but look past that which brings sadness.
But you don't forget.
Marshall's face glowing over the open glass, Cathy's eyes twinkling while grabbing my hand, Mom sitting on the couch, happy. A ceiling that moved and fluttered; too far to reach. Before.