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.
YES to this one, D. Strikes deep. Absolutely beautiful.
Thank you Trista. It was an impulse post. Right in the middle of writing about something I’m struggling with on a Facebook forum, I mentioned that my mother was a K123 teacher and this image appeared again. It’s a frequent visitor. But this time I started describing the scene. Two familiar questions in the slowly ruminating cud-chew of my mind started adding enzymes of understanding to each other:
– Why is this image so important to me? Why is it so vivid and persistent in my imagination?
– What is it about the quality of resourcefulness that’s so deeply emotional and passionate for me?
Ha! Time for a glass of water, methinks!