Wings of Doubt
Being an amateur lepidopterist, I have always considered butterflies to be amazing creatures. Besides their obvious beauty, I’ve often been mesmerized by how they gracefully flutter and float through the air as though they were simply taking a walk in a lovely garden. I don’t profess to be an expert, I’m not in many things, but butterflies have always held my fascination ever since I was a young boy growing up in Northern California. I would watch as hundreds, if not thousands, of these marvelous insects would descend into my backyard. As children we, of course, chased them, caught them, studied them, but always let them go back to the freedom of the air.
I had a rather successful career as a CPA for a firm outside of San Francisco in a small town named Corte Madera. But I could never get away from the idea of traveling up and down the coast, or inland for that matter, to study these flying wonders. I’m not saying it cost me a marriage, I wasn’t that obsessed, but my first wife would complain that I spent more time chasing those damn bugs than paying attention to her. I wasn’t sure what she meant since the amount of time she sat in front of the various mirrors in our house should have squelched the idea that no one was paying attention to her. The most important person in her world was always staring back at her.
She wasn’t exactly a monster but often behaved like one with her hitting, screaming, and breaking anything of value near her and very often I believed she would have broken me if she had the chance. She did try a few times. We had two small daughters who had to listen their mother berate, threaten and then finally divorce me. As was her narcissistic character, she seduced my darlings who barely spoke to me after the divorce which cost me a fortune in finances as well as a broken heart. She called me a monster in court but who would turn their children against the other parent so gleefully? Only a monster or some other evil entity would even consider doing such a thing. As one psychologist, and there were many during the years of court fights, told me – she had no care of the damage to the children but only proving to herself that it was you that caused the great chasm while punishing me, and was willing to sacrifice her own children much like the painting Saturno by Goya.
He may have had a point, though I was never a fan of the 19th century Spanish painter. I didn’t like the idea of guys painting pictures of a parent eating his own children. It was sort of creepy.
Whatever my sin was, she never told me. I suppose working hard to ensure my family had everything they needed, everything they wanted. She wanted more money, I worked longer hours; I worked longer hours, and she complained I wasn’t there to help with the kids. I couldn’t win. Perhaps my enthusiasm for studying butterflies may have been a contributor. Perhaps it was the fact that the more hours I worked, the more money she spent. Who knows and who will ever know the real reason, and I doubt reason had much to do with it.
So, the marriage ended.
For my redemption, and in this I am truly a believer, I met the woman of my dreams five years later. Not one for the soul mate statements but Lara probably fit that mold better than anyone else on this planet of seven billion humans.
We were married and spent the next fifteen years in each other’s arms never once fighting, feeling sorry for ourselves, or those other rather boring tales couples tell you about their marriages which sound disastrous.
She even joined me on my butterfly adventures in and around the giant Redwoods and beyond. She was marvelous, but the one hideous thing about our marriage was the fact we had not met earlier. How often I had dreamed of meeting her on the Island of Oahu where she had grown up with her parents and siblings.
The tales she told me about the beaches and such made me almost envious, and we visited often but it still couldn’t turn back the hands of time.
Then, there was the butterfly effect, the theory surrounding how the gentle flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South Africa can cause a hurricane in the North Atlantic. It makes many scientists scoff with disbelief but being one who believes things happen because of a host of other factors, I never scoffed at the concept. There’s no arguing that butterflies had their effect on me.
Besides, didn’t Jacques Hadamord discuss this very thing in 1898? And Pierre Duhem followed up with more research in 1908? Even the great American writer Ray Bradbury wrote a short story in 1952 which later became a film, A Sound of Thunder, based on this very concept. My goodness, the chaos theory was up and around before Hadamord came up with his and they were all as interconnected as everything can be in both time and distance.
Who was I, a simple Certified Public Accountant, to contest these minds?
It proved to be true when I was killed in a car accident after I had just exited the Golden Gate Bridge coming from San Francisco on my way home to my wonderful and loving wife Lara on a rather rainy Christmas Eve. An errant, foolish driver decided that he wanted my lane even though at the current time I was occupying it. A side swipe from his Dodge Ram pick-up truck sent my much smaller BMW careening into the center divider on the roadway and then catapulting over into the oncoming traffic.
Luckily, I was the only fatality.
There was no Tom Sawyer moment here, watching my own funeral, but simply death and a bit of apprehension leading me down what seemed like a long tunnel. I am, was, faithful, but believed I didn’t have to attend a church to know my God. The same God, I also believed, we all share except for those who profess being atheists. Never did understand them but that’s not where this story goes.
There was pain, darkness, and then relief as I opened my eyes and instead of seeing the pearly gates of Heaven or God-forbid the other location I had often heard about in my childhood, I was simply standing on a white beach facing the rolling waves.
I determined it was winter by the location of the sun in the sky, and suddenly I started hearing voices around me and within seconds realized I was standing on a beach with dozens of people lying on beach towels. The smell of sun tan lotion and coconut oil drifted into my nostrils and I suddenly took a deep breath and enjoyed being alive.
Alive or dead didn’t matter at that moment – it was a lovely beach.
I slowly looked down at my legs. They were sticking out of a pair of shorts while my feet were in a pair of canvas boat shoes and a Tori Richard aloha shirt was clinging to my chest and back. A few moments ago I had been wearing a very natty blue-striped suit which was the standard uniform in the world of a successful CPA.
I felt really comfortable standing there on that sand and suddenly it hit me.
The butterfly effect.
Perhaps, I hadn’t really died but had been given a second chance at life. Of course, I calmed myself and then started walking to the cement path just west of where I was standing and recognized the place immediately.
Even in winter it seemed like summer on Queen’s Beach in Waikiki.
Lara and I had been there dozens of times during our marriage.
We had loved to stroll holding hands and poking gentle fun of the tourists. Not a nice thing to do perhaps, but without pointing fingers, we would observe a bulky tourist and think, “You’re too fat to wear that!” It was simply quiet murmurings into each other’s ears and low laughter.
How I missed her, but could this be the chance I had always wanted? The chance to punch time in the face and go back in the past to meet my true love before another had wasted my years.
I was almost giddy walking by the small restaurants where we had eaten and the shops Lara would drag me into to look at this or that. Not that I ever really minded. Those memories were welling up inside me as I walked yard upon yard wondering beyond wondering what year I had suddenly found myself. Could I be that lucky?
Nonchalantly, I looked in a tourist gift shop at a calendar with different sharks for each month and felt my knees, sticking out of the shorts, go weak. It was exactly the year in which I had met my first wife and fourteen before I had the fortune of meeting Lara. Turning from the calendar I quickly scanned a mirror used for checking out how one looked in sunglasses and then stopped and really stared.
I was young again, and quite handsome, if I do say so myself, with a full head of dark hair and no lines etching my face like a clay model. I never had much of an ego but looking at yourself that much younger does something to you.
Moving out of the store and back on to the boardwalk, I steadied my pace and started scanning for familiar faces. Of course, my Lara was beautiful in the years we were together but time had edged us on and now I had to see if I could imagine what she may have looked like at such a younger age.
This was my chance to meet her and start over. Or, this could be Heaven.
Calculating in my small but active brain over the numerous photographs she had shared with me, I knew I would instantly recognize her at any time and since I was thrust back in to the past she must be around one of these corners. It had to be.
Dozens and dozens of people walked by me and I studied every young woman but never felt that tug at the heart that I knew would be there when I spotted her.
An hour or two passed and I started to feel helpless to the point I sat down on a bench across from Waikiki Beach in the shade of a giant banyan tree to ponder my next steps. What was I to do? I couldn’t just drive to her house, or any of the places she worked. I didn’t have intimate knowledge of the addresses or locales and knew the only thing I could do was sit and wait.
How was I supposed to approach her?
“Hi, you don’t know me, but we’ll be married a dozen or more years from now and I wanted to get an earlier start.”
I would be arrested and held in a Honolulu jail until transported to the loony bin.
Then it hit me sitting on that bench. The chemistry will be there when I approached as though asking for directions and one thing would lead to the other. I had seen it played out in so many Hollywood films. It couldn’t fail.
I began to feel enthusiastic again, when suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lara across the street walking purposefully toward a small market.
She was gorgeous. A younger version of my spouse, or I suppose my widow, but stunning all the same.
I had to meet her and somehow convince her we were meant to spend eternity together and I knew something about eternity now.
Getting off that bench took a moment as I suddenly got cold feet. How does a man approach his future wife years earlier when they weren’t supposed to meet until years later?
I was unsure but got the courage to stand up, walk to the curb and look both ways, as I was taught, before crossing the street.
One of the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen was the Painted Lady, Vanessa Cardui, when we had visited Hawaii years ago. With its mostly orange color and black spotted wings, I had always loved the sight of this creature, and I never got tired of watching the graceful movements of the insect.
One of those spotted Painted Ladies just happened to come into view as I stepped into the street in front of one the local bus lines that crisscrossed the island.
The only memory I have is hearing a young woman scream.
I wonder if it was Lara.