by Forest Peyton
Over the last year, I’ve become transfixed on my slowly fading memory. I often wonder about all of the things I’ve forgotten for good. And that’s the thing about forgetting; I’ll never really know what those were. My memory has gotten so bad, I wonder if I just never do anything. I don’t think that’s true, but it’s becoming hard to disprove it. There is, however, a small but comforting part of this gradual amnesia. Whenever something shitty yet mundane happens I’ll think to myself, “Oh, well at least there’s no way this makes the cut.” Well guess what? This time it did.
I, like most people, have a soft spot in my heart for animals. Everyone loves dogs and/or cats but I feel like we’ve kind of tainted them at this point. They’re animals but they’re part of the human world. They have personalities and everything. Personalities are both the best and worst parts of people. When I think about animals, I think about the ones that still live in a separate world from us. They just kind of do their jobs. They are what they were programmed to be, and we don’t interfere with that, yet it all still works out. And I think that’s great. Human interference is such a destructive force and it’s ruined the natural world, and I feel so bad about it all of the time and I’m just going to start the story now.
Last year, in Millennium Park, I was lugging around all of my dumb feelings and insecurities. And I stumbled upon a spiderweb, where a big scary spider lived. In the spiderweb, there were these two beautiful butterflies. They were held captive by the big scary spider’s web. One of the butterflies was already long gone. They were just hanging from a string of web. Their wings pointed to the ground and they softly spun. The other butterfly was frantically fighting for its life. With only one thin string connecting it to the web it struggled violently to escape and it always looked like it was just about to accomplish that feat. It would fly a few inches, then get pulled back, then it would bounce and fly again, and bounce again. It was a chaotic mess. Each new bounce seemed like it would be the one. But it never was.
And then there was me. I was drinking an iced coffee. That’s right. After years and years of burning my mouth twice a day on the drug juice that makes me want to do stuff, I finally started demanding that they cram a bunch of ice into it, even though that yields significantly less coffee per cup. Iced coffee is coffee with training wheels and I’m embarrassed at how huge a part of my life it’s become.
The other important part of this is that I believe I was wearing a backwards hat. You know, like an idiot. And I’m monitoring the spiderweb situation. If I’m not mistaken this was during what I think of as “the skin era” where I had recently learned that all of our skin is just dead cells, which led me to learn that all of our hair is just dead cells, which made me kind of rediscover that our teeth are just bones, so every time I saw someone smile I was just so overly conscious about the fact that they’re a spooky skeleton covered in death, and that was when I got really good at making eye contact with people, which used to be really hard for me, but it’s important because if you think about it, all of our faces are just death plus eyes and when someone smiles it’s a reminder that on a long enough timeline we’re all just skeletons. So, I would look into people’s eyes and that’s considered polite, and I never really understood why, until this era, because to me looking into someone’s eyes is so shockingly personal, like I don’t think I’ve earned that with most people, which by the way eye contact is considered an act of aggression with several species of monkeys and bears and especially leopards, (didn’t research this, just already knew it) and I totally understand how they see it that way, but since this era, I’ve noticed that now I kind of think it’s rude when people don’t look at me in my eyes, because it’s like, “excuse me I’m up here please ignore all of the death and decay everywhere else currently visible to you on my body.” And I feel like as soon as I finished growing up I began growing down into the ground and all of my consciousness is just this weird anomaly in the larger timeline of my body. All this to say I was not a really strong candidate to make any tough decisions during this part of my life.
I watched this butterfly struggle for some time. Kind of a long time actually. I was completely frozen. Perhaps more frozen than the slowly melting ice cubes that kept my coffee from hurting me yet again. I distinctly remember a feeling in the pit of my stomach that signified that I had finally graduated from bearing witness to being an accomplice.
This butterfly didn’t deserve to be in the web. It wasn’t paying some karmic debt to the universe. That’s not how butterflies work. It doesn’t have a personality. It’s just a butterfly. It was simply doing it’s job, spreading pollen from flower to flower (I might be thinking of bees here) and now it’s caught in this real-life nightmare. It must have been so bewildered to find itself longing for the boring but safe days of the cocoon. It watched as it’s friend (possibly lover) slowly gave up, resigned to its permanent fate. And even after witnessing that devastation it had the mental stamina to fight on, and fight harder, and I bet it looked for anything to stand in contrast to the godless shitty world that it had come to know, anything to prove that good can still win, or even exists. And it looked out it saw only me.
Iced coffee. Backwards hat. Scared of his own skin. Me.
I awoke from my stupor and sprang into action. I used a pen and a notebook to try to sever the line of web that anchored down the butterfly. It was a lot harder than I anticipated. I closed the string into the book and twisted it. I made accidental contact with the butterfly several times. It may have thought I was attacking it. I imagine the butterfly was very unclear on what was going on between the two of us. This was taking a long time. Usually when I’m this humiliated it’s because someone else saw me do whatever the humiliating act was. Not this time. This time I was by myself. Well, by myself in terms of people. But then I broke the string.
I was so desperate for this moment that I had envisioned a very specific sequence of events that would take place after I freed the butterfly from its capture. I thought I would effortlessly cut the string and the butterfly would slingshot out high into the sky, like it was not a butterfly but some sort of bird of prey. And then it would return and land on my nose and flap its wings slowly as if to say, “Thank you for saving my life.” As if to say, “Don’t worry about how long this took you.” As if to say, “You, Forest, are redeemed.” And then it would go back to pollinating those flowers, and raise a family. And it would tell this story often. And it’s children would repeat it to their children. Because in my daydreams, I’m a hero.
But instead, it just kind of crashed into the ground and flopped around like a fish for a bit. I was probably too late. Maybe it was just exhausted and it rested then flew away later, and all of the rest of that stuff still happened. Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s much more likely that it was just mortally wounded. So, I watched it for a little while. Very unsure of what this all means.
Then I looked back at the web. And there was the spider. And I really felt like it was looking at me like “Yo what the hell are you doing? That butterfly was mine, I really needed that!” I never really considered the spider’s take on all of this. I guess the reason is because butterflies are prettier? I’m shallow. I wear backwards hats. I know that I would have even stopped if those butterflies were still caterpillars.
Spiders can have several hundred children at a time. And based on literally no evidence, whenever I recall this story, I truly in my heart believe not only that the spider had hundreds of helpless children, but that two butterflies would have been the exact perfect portion to feed them all. But me and my feelings fucked it up for the whole family, and the elder spider had to pick its favorite half of all of its children and feed only them. That fateful day, was the last day, that the spider could tell the innocent lie, that it loved all of its children equally.
As I sat on the train back home I wondered how long it would take me to forget about this event. It hasn’t happened yet. I still remember. I still think about it a lot. I think about this more than I think about a third of the members of my family. At a certain point, if it takes you too long to make the right decision, you shouldn’t get credit for making it. But that assumes that there’s a right decision to be made. I used to look at every dilemma as having a right and wrong answer. I don’t think I believe that anymore. I think often times both answers are wrong, but it’s about what kind of mistake you’re okay with making.
About the Author
Forest Scott Peyton is a writer, comedian, and former Florida man who recently completed his MFA-W from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He’s also the host/director of the After Dark Show at the iO Theater in Chicago, IL. He was once praised as “a complete enigma,” in notes he stole from his psychiatrist in 2014.