The butterflies began to show, began to be remembered, just as you were disappearing from me. I imagine that you were somehow developing in my mind without me ever knowing it, until you were a whole thing without a face, but I could somehow see you. You, a tall man with curly dark brown hair, leaning against the counter of some future kitchen I have yet to see. You’d be wearing a vest with dark brown slacks and Oxfords. I could tell that you were polite and kind, because I wanted you to be. So, I thought I would go find you in this more reachable world. Because of the number of people that might exist, you must be out there, even if it is just a fragment of you within some other person. Otherwise, there would be no purpose to you being here, in my head, perched on a recliner, reading a book, memorizing quotes to read to me when time is at its softest.
I downloaded my first dating app in the middle of the night when I was desperate to look for you. There were only three pictures of myself and I could not help but wonder if you were more real than I even was; because there didn’t seem to be much grounding me in this reality. But, there were those three pictures, moments in which I remembered to capture space, my existence. Among them, only one where a person could see my eyes in the distance. Those pictures, they were of some girl who I hadn’t quite acquainted myself with yet. She seemed nice, pretty enough, and she had such a big smile. I smiled at myself in the mirror. It seemed smaller than in the pictures and I wondered if that had something to do with the camera lenses that seem to alter reality. Attempts at describing myself in the bio were a near failure, as all I knew of myself was of my quietness and a tendency to disappear, though I’m right there, standing, however it may be in an empty space replaced by thoughts. My mind, adrift in some alternate reality. Instead, I described the girl in the pictures, with that smile, with eyes closed against the sun despite sunglasses on her face. She seemed as though she loved life, was wholly in love with it and she’d go anywhere as long as someone came along. A girl of adventure and whispers of wonder. She was not quiet when she was in love, with the flowers picked for her, or the ideas of the universe and world that bounced in her head, beating against her skull to come out. She was not quiet. In fact, talking is all she wanted to do, and swing. If she ever found a swing, she would go upon it and pump her legs until the tip of her nose was facing the sky. She was a girl alive. And I almost put that line in there, because it is one you’d appreciate. You’d ask, If she is a girl alive, then who are you?
Swiping was the hardest part. It seemed that each man who appeared on my screen looked the same. They all were the same in a way, as they just weren’t you. I’d take a chance on some man who had that curly hair, or glasses because it made me think of you. If they at all mentioned a love of poetry, or reading, I’d take a chance. And it went like that until the feed started over and I saw the same faces as I began with. Hours had passed, and my eyes were burning from staring at my screen. I had a few matches waiting in anticipation – or maybe I thought they were because that seemed to be what you would do, wait in anticipation. You would see that girl and be curious about the swings, the books she read, and the universes she made up in her head. I saw the matches and they all looked the same, despite their various bios, hair colors, and skin colors, and whatever else differentiates people as uniquely their own. I started a conversation with one who I thought was most you. After sending a picture of this person to my friend, she sent back a question mark, saying how this man could not possibly be my type. No, he doesn’t look like you, but I can feel he would have his feet propped up on a rainstorm of a Sunday with a mug of tea in his hand. Chamomile, as if he’d need more than the lulling sounds of rain and thunder to put him to sleep. He’d fight sleep and in the midst of yawns he’d talk about Sartre or Orwell or why the universe is so dark and not set alight by the surrounding stars and that beautiful sun. That’s all he might say, the sun.
Hey there! How are you?
What is something you’re obsessed with?
i play call of duty a lot
I’m obsessed with how we are never really touching anything. We think we might be sitting atop of our beds or chairs, but we are really floating upon the clouds of electrons, never quite touching, but repelling one another. It means that, in a way, we are flying. People are always wanting to fly and have no idea how they do.
I’ve always thought that. How we would be falling
through everything if that weren’t the case.
What are you afraid of?
Sometimes, I think I am a cruel person. The way I leave these people, who perhaps had the best intentions, as texts on a thrown away screen. Sometimes, I think I am a ghost. The way I only find purchase in reality when it is through pixels and electric signals. But even there I disappear, pretending I had never existed. I think about those people, wondering if I had caused some sort of pain in my disappearing act. It is just so clear when they are not you. And I would go to sleep with the heaviness of chamomile tea coating my throat. All the while wondering where you are.
The first butterfly came after I deleted the app, giving up on my search for you through pixels. I can only think that I had seen a butterfly that next day. It would not be honest if I suggest that I really saw it, consuming its image, colors, and its very existence. But I do remember seeing the shadow of a butterfly on the deck as I was lying out staring up to the sky. I was thinking of you and where I might find you in the world. I thought of bookstores and the library, walks alone in the park, or readings. I reconciled with the thought that I would not find you through the phone, because you just might not own one, and how you would say that you would send me a letter, and I’d write my address down on the corner of an empty page of my notebook that I carry with me all the time. I would anticipate that letter because how exhilarating, how slow and calm the development of a relationship through letters. I would want to throw away my own phone, seeing how foolish it would be to have it when I would have you and these letters. The first letter would come, flying in only a few days after our meeting, as if the moment you got home you began to write it, or perhaps even in my presence as we spoke of the male gaze in horror movies. The butterfly, the shadow must have stayed during these thoughts, pumping its wings in hopes to retrieve my attention.
I can’t remember ever seeing a butterfly before then or at least not for quite some time. They weren’t ever something that I would seek out, as something was always strange about them. I could never distract myself with the beauty of their colorful wings, but instead I held a focus on their snaking veins through their wings, their sticking thread legs and eyes filled with a hundred more eyes. You must know, butterflies are attracted to blood. Their wings are perhaps meant to be as alluring as the light at the end of an anglerfish. They tout pleasantness only to hide from us their deviance. Butterflies, they sent chills through me when I was younger, and I must have shelved their existence elsewhere in my head, so that I might never have to consider them again. Though I imagine now that those veins are mere secrets that keep their wings together and they kiss blood like how we might wrap our mouths around pricked fingers or kiss the top of flesh colored band-aids.
I found myself searching for you at an author’s event held at my library that following weekend. There was hardly a crowd, and most of them were older people, plus a younger boy who seemed to be there for his mother, who was presenting. A woman who was likely in her forties sat next to me in this event. She held out her hand, which was soft and warm. She seemed to be someone who smiled a lot as crow’s feet reached from her eyes and the edges of her lips. From her, I smelled the scent of jasmine and wondered what scent people might smell from me. My favorite is rose, lemons, and vanilla. But my perfume smelled like the woods, a mask for the girl in those pictures, the one with the too big smile. The woman began to talk to me, somehow interested in my uninteresting life. She asked me what I liked to read, and I was intrigued because there is a world of an answer. I obliged her, and brought the conversation to Min Jin Lee, Han Kang, Fyodor Dostoevesky and Mikhail Lermontov. She frowned, looking at me carefully as if she were trying to capture my image and with each attempt it slipped from her. She seemed to not want to forget this moment, admitting that she didn’t read such things at my age. It was in that moment, as I was considering how beautiful the honesty of this woman was, that I forgot about you. When the event ended, I wanted to apologize to you and clarify that I did in fact come for you. On the walk home, I was not scared of the dark, for I was walking with you and we were quiet. I love the silences between us, this simple existing.
There was a dinner in the following weeks where I thought I had found you. My friend, who was so displeased by my findings through online dating, decided to set me up with a friend of a friend. There was an unmatchable excitement, a fear that sent tremors through my body. I was not so much interested in the dinner as I was in the conversation that I hoped we would have. He was an interesting man, one who seemed to love to laugh as he never stopped smiling from the moment we met at the restaurant. There seemed to be a laugh at the top of his throat with every word he said, waiting to come out. Now that I think about it, I don’t think it was normal to have been so absorbed in what was going on everywhere else during that dinner. See, I could tell you about the woman who sat at the table beside us as he was telling me about his job. His eyes held onto mine while also taking in my black dress and tight curled hair. He looked upon me, the candles in the middle of the table somehow leaning more towards me, illuminating what couldn’t be captured in the pictures. I remember wanting to blow the candles out. And I still remember where he worked. In truth, I cannot remember his exact words in describing his work. But I do remember that woman, who had bright red lipstick on her lips and sleeping eyes. They were open, and painted pink, but she seemed to be dozing in her conversation with an older man that might have been her father. I attempted to lean in and decipher what they were saying, but the low hum of the restaurant held too many vibrations to understand their words. She flipped her long brown hair over her shoulder every moment as though it was a tick. It looked as though she did not want to be there, and I could relate to that, as the humming of the man in front of me brought my attention back to him.
“What are you obsessed with?” I asked him and he stopped smiling, which was a first. I wondered if his cheeks hurt from being in that trance for so long. I was hopeful at his response as he scraped his fingers through his goatee, looking off into the lights with glowing eyes. He put his finger in the air, raising his eyebrows and the corner of his mouth like he developed the grandest idea.
“Handkerchiefs.” I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued and so I beckoned him to continue with his answer. “We should bring back handkerchiefs because it is the most romantic gesture a man could do.” I asked him why and he considered this, but then answered that it was what women needed, more men with handkerchiefs. I imagine that you would have given an answer somehow knowing the whole history of handkerchiefs and how you were in love with the stitching as if each piece of fabric held its own individual story. You would be picturing the ghost hands that threaded the decals and stitching. He didn’t ask me in return what I was obsessed with and moved on to talk about the various ways in which one folds a handkerchief. I feigned interest, watching the girl and her father get up and leave, their table neat with the plates piled together and glasses placed on top of one another. When we left, I mimicked them, but Mr. Handkerchief said that these people must earn their paycheck.
I was almost free of him when we got into the parking lot, but he was going on about how great of a time he had. I thought that that was quite the lie, as I did not give him much ammunition to have fun for the night. Then he thought it would be wise to come close, allowing me to spot a dry tear out of the corner of his eye that somehow made me even more disgusted by him. Butterflies are attracted to tears too, and sweat. When he put his face against mine, I let him, holding down the food in my stomach, concluding unequivocally that there would be no second date. As I made my way to the car, I happened upon the woman who was sitting beside us, and she gave a tired wave and I waved back. On the side of her leg that was hidden under the table before, there was the tattoo of a small butterfly stretched out. But I must have ignored it because I did not remember seeing it until the next time I saw one, and thought how entrancing the number three was.
My friend invited me to a pride parade a few months later, after further failings in my search for you. I resolved myself to the fact that for a while, you might have to exist in my head. I didn’t tell anyone about you, even as my friend held a brush to my cheeks, painting colors with glitter within them. I couldn’t quite grasp her excitement as she rolled socks up to her shins with those same colors. She even toppled her boyfriend to the ground, sat on top of him, and painted the colors on his cheeks as well. Your image began to scream at me then. Though I still could not see your face, I saw those colors on your cheeks. I saw how you would carry me on your shoulders, and we would march, taking in those colors and the joy. We would laugh, but all the while I would wonder where the bravery comes from. The bravery to wear those colors and bear an authenticity unmatched by these mask wielders.
But on this day, it was my friend being carried by her world, and I hovered in the crowd, being carried by strangers. Maybe you were there, but it would not have mattered as a woman wearing a bathing suit and roller blades flew towards me, floating. She held in her hand pinwheels and butterflies. I smiled at the distraction as she lifted them, beckoning me to take one of the colorful objects. I reached for the pinwheel, always amazed at how they spun, creating more colors in the wind. She must have mistaken my reaching, as she passed me a yellow butterfly with an attachment that made the wings flap. I held the stick in my hands and moved the contraption up and down as the woman raced to the next person. I remember looking for her in the crowd again, considering where she came from and where she went. I hadn’t taken the time to capture her face, only what she was wearing and how she held those butterflies and pinwheels of varying colors. The butterfly looked at me with small rolling eyes and a cartoon smile. My stomach turned, processing the food I had eaten that mixed with the alcohol I consumed. I found myself sitting on the curb, breathing careful breaths so to control the turning in my stomach.
Somehow my colorlessness was spotted from the crowd, as a presence seated itself beside me, a warmth. I opened my eyes to a girl who had an impossible smile, her face painted in those colors. She frowned at the thing in my hand and I lifted it to her face, maneuvering the contraption so the butterfly wings moved up and down. She laughed and asked if I’d be okay. I nodded and I don’t remember you coming to mind.
“What is something you’re obsessed with?” I asked. She had not told me her name, but that seemed unimportant as I fished for some story, something to ground me in this present. She looked back, nose pointed to the sky, and smiled.
“The color blue,” she said. I looked at her, wondering what she meant. Her face appeared to me, clear, memorable as her words came out, “I mean, look at the sky and the ocean. Like, from space. We see the earth is mostly blue because of the ocean. But the blue from the ocean is a reflection from the sky. Doesn’t that just mean that from space, we’re looking at the sky? And I just think that it’s beautiful. Someone saw the sky, saw the ocean, which is just a reflection of the sky, and decided to put it in everything. And naturally, it’s in the rainbows made of rain, in the flowers, and in life, and even in our eyes. I don’t know, I just love the color blue.” She took her water bottle and poured some water in her cupped hand. She then maneuvered her hand in a way that allowed the sky to reflect in the water. “See?” I nodded in simple wonder, watching a cloud appear in her hand. The water fell out of her crevices and she playfully flicked her fingers in my direction, so that the sky was dripping from my face. “What about you?”
“I’m obsessed with how we are never really touching anything…” I said. Sometimes, when I speak, I am afraid that I am saying too much. And in the middle of a thought, I will stop, wanting to take back my words as I perceive the sudden disinterest of my thoughts from the listener. But her eyes settled on mine and I couldn’t maintain contact as I lost attention to the pains in my stomach, focusing on where my eyes were landing. I finished my spiel and she put her hand on top of my head.
“So, I’m not really touching you,” I nodded, flapping the butterfly’s wings as my hands forgot what they were intended to do. She looked up as a man approached her, lifting her arms and standing into his embrace. The girl with the sky in her hands took a disposed marker and scrawled her number on my hand, explaining that she was new to the city, and needed some friends. I would never call her though I wanted to, but I took the butterfly that day, now sitting yellow wings open, taped to my mirror, and I took the memory of how beautiful blue is.
Now there is you and there is me and we are going on a final walk together months later. I hadn’t forgotten you but have resolved something about you within myself. As we are walking, I have to confess something. I have to confess how I cannot see your face, a creation, an imagined essence of perfection. I can only see those curls and those moments, like now when we are walking or reading together. I can picture the things that you would say and the things that you love, like vanilla scented candles and matches that fill the table with ash. I must confess that I’ve never wanted you to touch me. I never considered how you might hold my hand or how there might come a time where we would breathe the same breath. With you, there are no butterflies. Not even in their simplest form, stamped against that woman’s leg, in her memory, in the beauty of the color blue. Those butterflies, not thoughts to be held in the head, but excitements which have found their way into my heart and my stomach. Before, I had never seen them, or felt them, or held them, the butterflies. But now they are bursting from my being. At night, I do not go to sleep by the blue light of my phone. At night, I dream of the butterflies. They stick to the windows of my eyes. They make their way into my mind and I draw out pictures, imaginary lands of them. Me, floating away on them. I seek them, and I see them touch me, their eyes so close to mine, their bodies on top of my own, their licking of my blood as their wings beat in time with the beat of my heart. I think about how butterflies have always existed, but I never saw them because they never really had any meaning, but now I’m remembering them because blue is such a beautiful color and butterfly wings are thin with secrets. And so, we must stop now. Stop walking so I may ask you a question.
“What is something you are obsessed with?” You turn to me, faceless, far away. You never meant to look upon me. The butterflies come as you open your lips. They push themselves out of your not-there mouth and cover your face. I find myself afraid of them, afraid of how they cover you, seeming to consume a wholeness of you that I did not memorize yet. But as they flap their wings, as the words fall from your lips, from their butterfly wings, there is a familiarity and I know what you will say. I know that after you say it, you will somehow be gone from me even though it was always my hands meant to write those letters. Still, I want to cover that butterfly winged mouth of yours, so you do not dare say the words, but you’re already saying them, as if in apology, as if having been programmed. I snatch at you as if I might miss you, my hands falling through the heartbeats, the butterflies, everything.
I’m obsessed with how we are never really touching.