Abans de la vida – before life
Dim lamplight reflected off the gently rippling puddles and splashed glowing pools against the crumbling cement of the sidewalk. In the darkness, murmurs of activity could still be heard from within the quasi-dilapidated homes lining the street. The neighborhood was presently reconvening from each of the resident’s individual events of the day, and unknowingly readying itself to welcome a new visitor into its simple but open arms.
The rattling movements of a bus alerted the vacant sidewalks and front yards to the approach of a flashing city bus, and a squeaking, exhausted release of air signaled its arrival at the near-to-collapsing bus stop sign. One passenger descended the set of steps carrying all of her earthly possessions in a large, dark suitcase, a hand-me-down backpack, and a creased cardboard box adorned in copious Sharpie doodles.
In her hand, she clutched a water-damaged piece of lined notebook paper with an address scrawled across it in smearing ink:
2337 Shenandoah Dr. NE
Powder blue clapboard siding with chipping black trim around the smoggy windows and once-white lacy Victorian gable trim over the door; it was the third house on the left. A forest of overgrown flowers and weeds spread out from the sides and back of the house completing the picture of neglect.
The girl climbed the dirty front stoop, dragging her cumbersome collection of possessions behind her, and put the antiquated, rusting door knocker to use it hadn’t seen in nearly two years. Contrary to what an outsider may predict, a figure quickly appeared behind the screen and beckoned the girl inside, assisting her with the luggage.
The home that received her was hospitable to its fullest capacity, but it could have been an elaborate estate and it would have made no difference at all.
On the right wall of the house, a solitary milkweed plant had taken up residence among the myriad of dissimilar incredibly useless weeds, and on one of it’s ridged green leaves, a diminutive egg had found a temporary home.
The mother, an angel draped in ribbons of orange and black and embellished with pearls of pure white, hovered above her creation. The moonlight cast it’s luminescence across the leaf in a shimmering trail, and she felt the pain of abandonment deep within her soul. The sharp guilt played the strings of her heart, pinning her to the moment—hovering and useless.
As her final gift to the entity she was forced to leave behind, she whispered the stories of generations past over it. She told tales of life served towards a purpose, work towards a vital goal. She recounted the adventures and migrations of their ancestors and painted pictures of the open expanses and flowery fields they’d once visited.
And as she turned away and forced herself to forgo a single, detrimental glimpse backward, she breathed one last promise over the life she’d created: purpose.
Vida sense propòsit – life without purpose
On the fifth day since Athena’s arrival at 2337 Shenandoah Dr., she spotted a caterpillar on the windowsill. She wedged the window open with a considerable amount of effort and placed her finger next to the caterpillar. It quickly backtracked, inching away as quickly as its day-old self could manage, but after coming to the conclusion that she had no intention of causing it harm, it made its acquaintance with Athena’s slender pointer finger.
It was one of her first interactions with the world outside her aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom—now her room, she supposed—since she’d arrived five days ago. And it wasn’t entirely awful. To be fair, it was a caterpillar—a gorgeous one at that.
She recognized it’s uniform yellow, white, and black stripes as defining characteristics of a Monarch caterpillar. Resting her head against her free palm, she bent closer to it.
“Hi,” she whispered. “I’m Athena. And I’m alone.”
There was no response, of course. But it felt good to let the words meet the world. The cacophony of emotion that spilled from her and into the confines of the spare room needed some respite, some release from this stuffy prison.
Gently nudging the caterpillar with her finger, she continued talking. “I don’t think I want to be alone. I’m still not sure though. Are you alone? Oh my god. I’m going crazy. You’re a caterpillar. Why am I asking you questions?”
Silence again as she let her mind catch up before forging onward in this bizarre, one-sided conversation.
“Yeah, I guess I’m going completely insane. But if I’m mentally unstable enough, they won’t want me to leave this room. I think I could make a pretty good life for myself as a social recluse. This room isn’t too bad. And I have this window, for moments like this. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Frank are bringing me plenty to eat and drink. Yeah, I totally think I could make it like this.”
Pause. And it dawned on her the preposterous nature of every word she had just spewed in the wake of her vocal disuse.
“Yikes, I’ve been in here for five days, and I’m alreadygoing insane. Who am I kidding? I won’t last a month in here alone. Unfortunately, that means we’re back to the drawing board.” Her voice dropped to a soft tone of wondering. “What am I going to do?”
She quickly proceeded back to the nonsensical rambling, determining it was what her overpopulated brain needed right now.
“I’m assuming you’re alone as well. I just kind of get that from you. Maybe we’re the same. We’re both alone. And I bet you don’t have parents either.” The laugh that bubbled up from her throat caused a deep, sharp pain in her gut. “Ok, too soon I guess. But I bet you don’t. You’re motherless too, aren’t you? It sucks.”
“It really, really sucks.” Once again, as had happened time and time again over the last five days, she couldn’t suppress the tsunami of tears that fought its way towards the surface. She slammed the window shut and turned away, sinking to the ground with her back against the wall.
She was truly confident things would never get easier. And now she’d scared the stupid caterpillar off.
But when she peeked out the window a few days later, it was waiting on the sill for her.
“You’re back!” she cried, joy-based adrenaline allowing her to easily throw the window open. “I didn’t scare you off. Do you want an update? I’ll assume you do, since you’re back and all. I went to the grocery store with Aunt Jessie. I hated it. It reminded me of going grocery shopping with Mum, and— Oh. This was a bad idea.”
She ground the heels of her hands into her eyes, forcefully requiring the tears to stay in. When she pulled her hands away, stars and fog clouded her vision, and it took her a moment to blink it all away.
“Ok, I’m back. And we are not doing that again. I absolutely despise crying now, and I won’t do it again. So back to my update, Aunt Jessie and Uncle Frank are trying to get me to leave this room more often; I can tell they’re very worried. So I watched some movies with them, ate dinner together, you know. All the things that convince them I’m not going completely mental. Which of course I am. But they don’t need to know that.”
Athena extended her finger to the caterpillar as she talked, delighted when it began embarking on a mission over her knuckles.
“Overall, spending time with them has made me realize that I am done being sad about this whole situation. I’m going to find the small things to be happy about and just stop being sad. Speaking of small things, we watched The Avengers last night, and I’ve decided one of those small things to be happy about is Tony Stark. He’s completely broken, but just pushes on anyway, and I think there’s something to be said for that. Alright, I’m done. I’m sure you have somewhere to be. Goodbye. Goodbye for good if I don’t see you again.”
The truth was, the caterpillar had absolutely nowhere else to be at this present point in time, or any point in time for that matter. And she would definitely see him again, considering he had no more salient engagements than to rest on her windowsill and be the canvas for her anarchic collection of thoughts.
So he returned again and again—day after day—always ready to listen; her babble was the perfect concoction to erase the affliction of his own predicament for a bit, which, of course, was that he had absolutely zero notion of who he was, who he was supposed to be, and what his purpose in life was. And aside from having nothing better to do and enjoying the melody of her fluctuating tone of voice, he sensed a certain connection to her.
Her speculations were correct; he was alone and motherless. So they were a little bit the same. Floundering, desperately searching for a meaning to life that might not exist at all. She’d been privy to that meaning once, but tragedy had stolen it from her, along with everything she held dear. He’d never been a coveted proprietor of that sacrosanct knowledge; he didn’t even know what he was searching for—he just knew he was searching.
Some intuition told him he was working toward an ultimate goal—a stopping point if not an end. But without knowing the details of that critical point, he was just a caterpillar, aimlessly repeating the same pedestrian routine.
There was something more. He had no recollection of his mother, no recollection of life before he woke up on that parakeet green leaf, disoriented and alone. But somehow, somewhere, he’d heard the stories that fueled his continuance in this purposeless existence.
They were stories of generations before him who’d spent the days of their prime traveling the great expanse of oceans and earth beyond this weed-infested yard. They were stories of phenomenal, incomparable beauty emitted from the most radiant of sunsets and the most encompassing of landscapes. Some great journey had occurred and would occur again, and he wanted it to be him more than anything.
Maybe that journey was his purpose. Maybe this was just the beginning, just a way to spend the days of his youth. He assured himself it was entirely normal to feel so lost to himself at this stage of life. And he had to believe there was something more because if there wasn’t, he couldn’t be unwavering in his decision to continue repeating this monotonous regimen.
Anyway, he kept returning to that windowsill with an obsequious resolve. For the time being, while he waited to discover the real reason for his existence, he could listen to her sing her thoughts onto the window ledge.
One day, nearly two weeks after he first made his presence known on that frail windowsill, when he appeared outside the smudged window panes, Athena pushed open the window and bent down to see him—as she always did—and there were tears streaked across her cheeks in violent, jagged lines.
“I can’t do it.” She greeted him with a broken whisper, fighting back a tidal wave of tears. “I just can’t anymore. I’m trying so hard; I really am. But it’s so hard. I just– I just want to talk to her. To tell her that I– I miss her.”
And she broke. Her soul shattered, her resolve crumbled.
She stood up, holding her hands over her mouth as if to hold the gasping sobs back. When she knelt back down again, the tears were still streaming down her face.
“I’m sorry. You don’t want to see this. I said I was going to stop being sad, and here I am, a complete mess. Ugh. I hate this. I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m just… sadness. That’s all I am anymore.”
She was resigned to the fact, despite the enormous quantity of pain it was responsible for.
“I don’t want to talk about me anymore. How are you? I hope you’re doing ok. I hope you know who you are.”
“I hope you’re happy with your life. I hope you know what you’re destined for. Do you? You’re going to be really beautiful. I wish I could be there to see it, but I’m sure you’ll go somewhere else. I wish I could be like you.”
He was sure she didn’t mean that. But in a way she was. And soon, he would retreat to his cocoon, to become something new, while she created her own cocoon—a cocoon of blankets and quilts and as much comfort from the pain as she could manage.
It was easier than facing the swords and the shields and the angry pain behind the mask.
Esdevenir nou – becoming new
Mellow sunlight peeked through the soft white fabric of the comforter over her head. Squinting her eyes against it, Athena resolutely turned towards the wall, solidified in her decision to stay here forever.
Her head throbbed from the thunderstorm of tears that had lulled her to sleep the night before, and the present moment felt like a dream. Wrapped in cottony clouds and threads of sunlight, she was the focal point of an angelic picture, but her existence felt more comparable to a dark smudge across a surreal painting.
Cocooned in sadness, and denial, and flocculent mounds of blankets that resembled the rolling hills of the winter’s first snow, she couldn’t find the strength to believe that she was being made new. The agony of loss threaded itself through the tapestry of her soul, becoming more than just a part of her—becoming the only part of herself she could see.
This cocoon did not feel revitalizing; it did not feel like a new beginning. It felt like the end, like the rest of her life would be this painful—this agonizing. For the moment—and maybe forever, it seemed to her—this cocoon was one of pain.
Outside the bedroom window, the caterpillar’s chrysalis had taken up residence. It was painted in fresh seafoam green, and drops of dew adorned its surface. Had Athena broken the confines of her own chrysalis and surveyed the world outside her window, she would have seen that the caterpillar had not, in fact, left her. Perhaps she would have felt comfort in knowing she wasn’t entirely alone.
Within his cocoon, the caterpillar did not know much at all—there was little comfort to be found. He could hardly say that he wasn’t alone; Athena was so far away in every aspect.
He could’ve used the comfort of companionship had she been willing to offer it. His entire body—his whole existence—was being broken down and reformed into he-didn’t-know-what, but it hurt. And that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that with every second that passed, he seemed to be losing more and more of the memories that sustained him.
He’d thought it was bad not knowing who he was supposed to be—not knowing his purpose. But as it turned out, it was infinitely worse to watch what little awareness he had slip through his fingers while he tried in vain to steal it back.
They weren’t alone in their chrysalides, but they felt as though they were the only people to ever exist in this state. Till the end of time, they would bear the scars of aching, fracturing loneliness. But at least they would bear those scars together.