A Caterpillar’s Broken Dream

Little fanfare is given to the caterpillar, a glorified worm, for all intents and purposes. At worst, merely a symbol of pestilence–which all things were a symbol of now. Yet when forced to recognize the caterpillar’s existence, one realizes that its clinical description alone–“larva of a butterfly”–is enough to make one want to forget it, if not first retch ever so slightly at the image conjured when hearing the word “larva.” Still, this isn’t the reason why prim and easily irritable Nathalie felt suddenly compelled to aggress against a passing caterpillar that happened to get in her way as she was typing an important text on her phone. The caterpillar seemed to descend from nowhere, as though plopping down from the sky specifically to bother her. To get in the way of what she needed to do, which was, in this case, cruelly break up with her boyfriend of two years in a way that almost made leaving a seven-word Post-It note in the middle of the night seem kinder than a vitriolic missive typed out first in the Notes so as to ensure there were no garden variety spelling or grammar errors that he could come back at her with (such as the standard *you’re).

Its eruciform body shape (something “immature” insects are known for) was repugnant to her, made her think of her own not-in-its-best-shape figure at the moment as she sucked back another glass of beer to numb the pain that itself had become a form of numbness. Its languid way of walking on all those legs that still couldn’t seem to carry it very far. So she swatted it in a thoughtless rage like anyone in her frustrated mental state might have. She didn’t think it would die like that, so gruesomely. For right as she flicked at it, an unkempt bearded man who was visibly perspiring amid his XXXL black t-shirt and green cargo shorts, sat down exactly on its landing point, smashing it to a flattened smithereen spewing guts of broken promise that would now never belong to a butterfly.

Nathalie gasped, setting her phone down on the table in shock. The man, who assumed he had caused her offense with his general being and/or odor, sneered at her, “You got a fucking problem?” Nathalie could barely find the words to inform him that he had sat on a caterpillar. It sounded so zany, in a sense. Like something that would happen to Lewis Carroll’s famous heroine. “I, um. No. I just think that you might have sat on a caterpillar.”

He looked at her with mistrust in his eyes before slowly raising his posterior to find that, yes, in fact, the innards of the ill-fated pest were spread all over the back of his shorts, along with the smashed husk of the caterpillar itself. A caterpillar was all husk, accustomed to literally bursting out of its skin rather than conceding to remain stagnant in one state of being. He appeared only mildly disgusted, further dishonoring the caterpillar’s memory by wiping it away with a crumpled receipt he pulled out of his pocket, wetting it with the beer he was drinking to lend further disgrace to the former larva.

Nathalie looked away from him as he thanked her for informing him of what his bull-like sitdown had wrought. She was responsible for the death of a being’s growth. Of allowing it to reach its full and destined potential. In a way, she suddenly apprehended, that is what she was doing to her boyfriend, Vaughn, in trying to keep him with her. In constantly derailing his plans to leave for another city, one that would actually make him happy as opposed to weigh him down with the false promises of “success” (a term so misdefined in the twenty-first century that it’s no wonder we’re all a little bit like that smashed caterpillar, emotionally speaking). She kept finding ways to delay what he wanted, to leave–so that he could grow into something else, something better. Because to gain new experiences is always to make one better, even when it’s at the cost of leaving those who have been loyal to you behind. Just as a caterpillar must abandon the very tree branch that offered it a place to hang its skin–for that is, in the end, all a caterpillar is: all skin, no personality–so, too, must a man do the same to a woman that housed him with her good will, obsequiousness and, oh yes, vagina.

When Nathalie explained the guilt she felt to a friend that met up with her at the bar about thirty minutes later, she kicked into the pedantic mode that having gone to NYU entails. “Caterpillars are ‘feeders’ and ‘agricultural pests.’ All they do is destroy. I mean, there’s a reason why they’re depicted in the Bible as being a part of plagues–in the same league as locusts. Or why Shakespeare wagged his tongue at them with the line, they are “the caterpillars of the commonwealth,/which I have sworn to weed and pluck away.” They get overglamorized because of what they can become, but, in the end, maybe you did this neighborhood a favor. Got rid of one more taker.”

While impressed with her erudite justification for a senseless death, Nathalie didn’t think that was the case. She knew that she had stunted one entity’s progress, and she suddenly realized she wasn’t going to try to do it to another. The venomous note she had started composing to Vaughn remained as a draft in her phone. She never finished it, nor did she ever bother speaking to Vaughn again (who was, apparently, not at all averse to this action, or inaction), finally reconciling that it was best to set him free. For all men were caterpillars in relationships, more likely to become butterflies in a state of singledom for awhile before eventually landing on a nubile flower that could appreciate their more refined incarnation. Most species of caterpillars will shed their bodies four to five times as they grow; the same could be said of a man, leaving one manifestation of the “self” behind in favor of greener, lusher territory when the (in his mind) appropriate prompt for transformation occurs.

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