Catching Butterflies – A Short Story About Being Yourself
There is a story behind my writing this short story, but I won’t share it unless you ask me in person. What I will say is that this was the first short story in my life that I wrote with ease. It broke some mental barrier that I had put up and I was able to write without feeling an awkward and anxious agony, like I was trying to paint with my feet. This story did it. I thank it, and I thank you for reading it.
I knew it was the wrong decision when I saw the butterfly.
It was dirt brown and amber, and fluttered an inch away from my face. If I had grabbed the thing I imagine it would have fit neatly in my palm. Instead I simply let it fly past, passively observing it as it flew from my left to my right, then into the bushes where it disappeared.
With it gone I had to focus again on my dad and his friends as they played basketball at our local park. No, that’s not true at all. I wasn’t really focused on their game, but my anxiety about being next up to play. I didn’t play sports – I still don’t – but my father brought me along. In his words, “I just think you need to move your body a little more.” There was no meanness in his words, but they hurt nonetheless. I was standing on the sidelines of our local park’s basketball court out of guilt for being a quiet boy who watched life from his bedroom window and drew pictures of trees and hummingbirds. I was standing there because I told my dad I would play, but when I saw that butterfly I knew I made the wrong decision.
My uncle Frank – who wasn’t really my uncle – came off the court with his cousin – who wasn’t given any pseudo family designation. It was the first time I met him, but after talking with the kid for a combined amount of three minutes I didn’t like him. At least not well enough to remember his name.
He was as tall as me, but without the gangly awkwardness I acquired since beginning puberty. He was agile on the court, and the way he handled the ball made it seem as if it were attached to his hand by an invisible rubber string. That was all I needed to not like him.
Uncle Frank gave me a light pat on the back as he headed for the wooden benches behind me. His cousin followed and gave me a casual nod as they both sat and sweated. Whether it was true or not, I felt them mocking me. With that in mind I lumbered onto the court to play with my father against his two friends.
My dad gave me a warm smile as I stood next to him, and opposite Jim and Ryan. I smiled back, though I wished I was sitting down on the nearby grass, watching that butterfly.
They passed the ball to my father who tried taking it further in court. Ryan was bigger than dad and was blocking him pretty well. With his back to Ryan Dad backed up to push him off, twisted to his right a little, then quickly to his left side while turning his whole body around as well. He switched the hand that was dribbling the ball and ran pass Ryan, who was big, but apparently slow too. Getting to the hoop he jumped up and let the ball roll off his fingers and into the hoop. The whole thing lasted about nine seconds, and seemed to impress no one but me. My eyes opened a little wider.
Dad said, “Daniel, check them the ball.” Barely familiar with the language of the sport I grabbed the ball, inferred what was meant, and passed it to Jim. Jim went to my right and I found myself flaying my arms, madly trying to stop him from throwing the ball, or running past me. I hit him on the cheek and after an initial “ow!” he just laughed and said, “D, be careful. I wanna keep my eyes inside my face.” He then backed away from me and threw the ball directly into the hoop. I heard that swoosh sound people talk about.
The next fifteen minutes were more of the same. At one point I had the ball and tried to get a shot. I missed of course, but Jim and Ryan let me rebound. I tried three more times and didn’t once hit even the rim of the basket. I tried to stop them from scoring and failed. I tried to score myself and failed. I tried not to black out from all the running that my body wasn’t used to. Only in that did I succeed. Eventually we lost ten to four.
Uncle Frank’s nameless cousin replaced me in the next game. Me and Frank both sat on the bench and I watched my father play. Aside from the fact that the kid was white, he seemed to match my father better than I could.
Uncle Frank said, “If your father wants to play again, let him. My energy for this shit ran out about twenty minutes ago.”
My father continued to play as I looked on, right beside Frank. I already embarrassed myself – and almost blinded a man – so instead of feeling nervous I just looked at them play the game.
I’d never seen my dad play any sport before. I had seen him in our basement gym; I had seen him running; I seen a few trophies in our living room. I had never really witnessed him play though. He was amazing, and I watched with all the attention I would’ve given that butterfly had I been told earlier that I could’ve walked away from the game to stare away at whatever.
When they were done my dad pulled Uncle Frank up from the bench and said with a laugh, “get your white ass up there.” He sat in Frank’s spot and smiled at me. “How do you think it went?” I looked down with a smile and replied, “I think I need more practice.”
“Do you want to practice more?”
“Well, you were great up there.”
“That was me. I asked about you son. Do you wanna practice more?”
I looked him in the eyes and said, “Probably not. I don’t think I, you know, get into stuff like this.”
Dad put his arm around my neck, pulled me closer and kissed the top of my head. The sweat from his chin dripped onto my nose, but I didn’t mind.
“That’s alright. Listen, why don’t you sit it out for the day. Enjoy the park. We’ll be here for a while longer.”
When I got up Frank called time out, and with heavy gasps called my Dad up to replace him. Dad did just that as I walked away to find something else with wings. I turned around when I heard a swoosh from the net. I wasn’t sure who scored, but I walked back to the bench to see the rest of the game.
I pulled out my sketch book and flipped through pictures of trees to get to a blank sheet. It was hard trying to draw them all while as they moved, but I was comfortable where I was, and I had the rest of the day to get it right.