Friday, July 15, 2011

The Butterfly

This has been a bad week for death, or rather, a good week for  a Death with a sick sense of humor.  Two of my past tenants have died, neither of natural causes.  Mr. Hunt, 73, drowned in a fishing pond when his boat capsized and he couldn't get out of the water before help arrived.  And Bach Vo, 50-something, was stung by bees so severely when making repairs on his new mobile home that he collapsed on the ground trying to get help, and also died.  Both these deaths were bizarre, but Bach's reminded me of an incident some 40 years ago.

I was a young wife, driving down the highway with my visiting teenage sister, when she started motioning wildly while trying to speak.  She couldn't describe what she was looking at:  a butterfly had gotten wrapped around our car antenna, and the car's speed prevented it from getting free.  When she was finally able to explain it, I quickly pulled the car onto the side of the highway, whereupon the butterfly promptly fell to the ground.  We both got out, and my sister, tending towards teenage melodrama, began petting and encouraging it, saying "You can do it.  Come on, little butterfly, get up and fly". Well, unbelievably, the butterfly actually started moving, then lifted off the ground, a little wobbly at first, but finally flew normally across the highway -- where it was hit by a tractor-trailer coming in the opposite direction!

Bach's life reminded me of that butterfly.  He came to the U.S. with the first wave of refugees commonly known as the Vietnamese Boat People, a harsh beginning to life in a new country.  He lived alone, cocooned in my apartment for about 15 years.  Then, returning from a visit to Viet Nam, he brought back a wife.  Life was undeniably good.  He quit smoking, their apartment was aired and cleaned, he looked healthy and happy.  A few more years passed, and recently he told me they'd bought a mobile home in a local park and would be moving out.  I was happy for him.  It was only about a month after moving that Bach was repairing something in the ceiling of his new home when the bees attacked him.

On the occasion of the butterfly's temporary escape and subsequent untimely demise, we stood by the side of the road, both laughing at the absurdity and crying for the butterfly.  This time there'll be no laughing.