I can see it.
We’re sitting at a table, with a cheap waterglass and a set of watercolor paints. I’m about to go to a birthday party and I’m probably 4 or 5.
My mother is painting an exquisite butterfly onto the bottom of the waterglass. She says this will be a present for my friend, and when my friend drinks out of the glass, she’ll see the butterfly at the bottom.
I watch my mother with the paintbrush. I marvel at her ability. She shows me the butterfly and explains how this magic will work. I see it all without sound as I watch it now, like watching a movie on a plane without putting on the headset.
I see the question in my mind that I don’t know how to ask. I don’t have the words to say it – I mean I literally don’t – I’m just too young to know how to ask: but what happens when the glass is washed??? What happens to the butterfly?
I see this scene often. The word ‘resourceful’ floats inside my ear. The anxiety of the disappearing butterfly hovers just outside the image.
Over the decades, I try to change the paints, the same way I tried to change the end of “Romeo and Juliet,” to warn the lovers, to caution them, to save them.
I try to imagine that she sprayed the bottom with lacquer. But I know she didn’t.
I try to tell myself they were NOT watercolors. But I know they were.
It never occurred to me ’til this moment that, to her, the impermanence was part of the beauty, or that this wasn’t a work of art – but no different than a cupcake, that could be decorated, eaten and gone forever.
It was only me who experienced it as a masterpiece that should be preserved forever. My mother’s brilliance, her artistry, her resourcefulness — and the way she showed me exactly what she was doing.
And only just this very moment did I realize the image on the butterfly glass was indelible.