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The Thing About a Butterfly

by Elias Attea  

I had met Jaiden.  At nearly 8:15 in the morning, I was assigned as a Kindergarten substitute to be his personal buddy that day in class.  And at 8:15 in the morning Jaiden’s classroom was in its usual state of calamity.  It was a Friday, a full moon. I should have known some chaos would ensue. Because at my old school, Wednesdays would begin the crescendo of chaos: appropriately, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday became recognized by the acronym, WTF.  Like clockwork, the children poured into the classroom with their snotty hands and drool-stained faces.  Their gleeful and voluminous squealing quickly transmuted into aggressive protest.  Soon, in an act of resistance, students prepared a slew of questions to expose as many secrets as possible of their oppressors. Questions like, about how many Pokémon have I collected, if the lead teacher is my mommy or wife, and if I wanted to come over after school to play.  I wasn’t playing along and refused to let myself become distracted.  Besides, once Jaiden walked in quiet and confused, acting as if he had never been in this classroom before, all my attention would soon be occupied. 

After the first child starting screaming, I traced around the room to find a set of malevolent smiling eyes. The lead teacher, with her not-so-surprised eyebrows, indicated to me that, he, is Jaiden.   I didn’t so much as introduce myself to Jaiden as much as Jaiden just ran straight into me without saying his name.  He, dawning a grey-speckled t-shirt with a large colorful embossed butterfly, became wonderfully enlivened after our collision.  Me, wearing all too nice of slacks for a Kindergarten classroom, found deescalating his mania a challenge.  In this violently animated state he refrained from verbally articulating any of his thoughts or sentiments; words, after all, could not keep up with the haste of Jaiden’s manic agility. 

I suppose every classroom has at least one child like Jaiden: overloaded by the amount of visual stimulation, running frantically, as if in a half-feral state of desperation, down the school hallway. But Jaiden did fine about the day, in his own way, until the class was at lunch when he, for reason of an unexpected explosive episode, was not present to participate. Instead, I was sitting with Jaiden outside of the cafeteria holding onto his body, practically in restraint (as instructed), to calm him down.  I withstood his persistent protest as he squirmed, squealed, groaned and rattled. Eventually, his body gave up.  He stopped writhing in my arms.  I thought he was calm until I looked down to notice a heartbeat racing, eyes wide open, and a motionless body—he was a mouse in shock.

I wondered then if this is what disassociation looks like in third-person, when the soul of the body so badly wants to reject life. I’d like to make a comedic position on cafeteria food exciting this child to a point of revulsion; but no, his chocolate milk was just like it always was: cold, stale, possibly not from an actual cow. As I held Jaiden’s body captive in a compassionate cradle made by my arms and a head that leaned in, I shook in shock when I smelled beer on him—the kid's only five.   His head cocked to meet my eyes at my moment of alarm. Head turned like an owl, eyes alert yet looking pathetic.  He didn’t stare long. It was as if he had something to say that he couldn’t articulate with his limited vocabulary; not that Jaiden talked much anyway. But he spoke with his eyes and I could read his thoughts, exhausted and in misery, as if to say, "Kid, you have no idea how bad it can get."  No longer was he a mouse in shock, but as he went limp and taciturn, he was a child collapsing under the defeat of his immense lassitude. 

I could tell he had been fighting to get out since the day he was born. I can tell that there wasn't just a child in him. It was as if there was this aged individual, imprisoned in some karmic lesson, placed back in the body of a child and sent to recognize the lessons he or she failed to address in a past life. Whatever defiant being churned in Jaiden, his body was certainly a cage and its teaching was taken as nothing less than torture.

My attention wasn’t fixed long. As I felt Jaiden’s heartbeat coming to a steady calm, I noticed my own pulse erupt again as two young men were screaming at each other down the hall.  From the way their bodies boldly defied the orderly quiet of a florescent-lit school, from the way their voices cracked the locks to open every classroom door, they must have not just been fighting over some petty matter.  In their spat, the two of them turned and caught me watching. I, at the end of the hall, Jaiden and his butterfly t-shirt still collapsed in my hands, only caught contact for a moment.  I witnessed two young men who yearned, and were certainly ready, to emerge like butterflies, but had got caught up in their shelling, afraid to leave what kept them feeling secure.

I know young men can grow up to be wonderful people, I do; but young men can also become stuck in their chrysalis, too. Those emerging butterflies don’t really die in there, nor do they suffocate; only, as they dissolve into this mystic matter, they become shapeless and unsure inside their protection: never quite understanding themselves, who they are, against the world.  It is as if every young man knows, that if those shells were to crack open now, all those soft parts, the parts of themselves that were still uncertain, would pour out onto the floor. I wanted to tell them that the thing about the chrysalis is that it is motionless and static. And somehow it stays secure though vulnerably unguarded, suspended from a twig.  But without knowing beyond themselves, these young men must think the world is truly as dark as it seems from inside that shell.

What could I do?  I looked down to see Jaiden who was resuming his breathing, slow but heavy.  Though his body was still and melted into my hold, his body was gradually becoming aware of where it still lied, tense and afraid between him and this world. When he stirred, I decided to loosen my hold. Why fight it, I wondered? It seems to take more energy to break open than to allow oneself to be opened. Unfortunately, that sense of being held captive in the body tends to lead to a sense of desperation; and more to the point, there’s no sense in getting in between dogs at fight.  All I could think of was that single moment when my eyes met with each young man. A sense of shock and fear flared out from all of us, as if in that vulnerable moment there was terrible familiar recognition of being helplessly trapped in our bodies. 


Elias Attea (they/them) was born during a New York New Moon on one of the coldest periods in Buffalo, New York’s history, or so  the legend goes.  Though a Yankee in heart, Attea crawled six-hundred miles as a baby to arrive and endure Tennessee’s hot, humid southern sunshine.  For whatever reason, Attea now resides and works as an apprentice at a quiet farm-school in Northern New Mexico, shoveling snow, shit, and soil whilst working on their practice as an educator and writer (it somehow pays the bills).

As for their writing, Attea fashions otherworldly knowledge and an occasionally fantastical aesthetic into their recent work. Much of this writing focuses on healing, wonder, and growth through the attention to what is seen in the mirroring of their surrounding environment and the natural world.

Elias Attea has had their work featured and published both in print and on-line.  Peach Magazine, Seed Broadcast Magazine, and BlazeVox’s My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry has featured their pieces Find Attea’s weekly musings of the world through their flimsy and often-duct taped blog, In Search of Every Horizon's Sun.


these bones whisper

these bones whisper