The morning of the party surprised us. Temperatures in the sixties with an imperceptible humidity. Not a cloud in sight. It promised to be as beautiful as one could hope for, especially in Houston. Amplifying this, a chrysalis that had been hanging like mistletoe over our front door now seemed ready to break free. Watching pupas evolve is something we’ve grown accustomed to here. They begin as a muted jade shell with flecks of gold, sort of like little Fabergé eggs. But as they mature, that color fades into a translucence with wings visible against a paper-thin skin. This particular pupa was all wings.
We decided to introduce this future monarch to the arriving guests at the Celebration of Life event we were hosting. It had been a year since cancer took Linda’s life and with Covid on the decline, her widower Damon felt it was finally time to give her the memorial she deserved.
The guests arrived from Boulder, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. Friends from childhood. Former co-workers. Linda’s Little Sister and so many more. The front room swelled with unmasked bodies, all vaccinated and newly-boostered. A collective sigh in the name of actual hugs and visible smiles, just as she would have wanted. After all, Linda always loved a good party.
There were speeches and there was cake. And there was the pupa dangling over the front entrance. We pointed to the diaphanous shell swaying in the breeze as the guests entered. They all agreed: the timing and placement seem too serendipitous to be ignored. The future butterfly was named Linda.
She didn’t emerge during the party, though. Or that night or the next day. It happened on a Tuesday, three days later. These hatchings normally take hours. But shortly after an afternoon check, we found the once colorful shell vacated, its white casing torn open like the hatched egg it was. We assumed she had just been overeager to start her nectar Mecca.
The reality proved less joyful. Later that evening I found a broken butterfly squirming on the porch underneath the casing that still bobbed in the door frame. Her wings had failed to develop. One was bent into a fold. The other wiggled intermittently. When I tapped an antenna, she shifted as if to say, “Help me.”
We filled a vase with milkweed, pentas and other flowers, and then placed her atop a Mexican sunflower. She wobbled a bit at first (one of her legs had either fallen off or never formed) but once in position, she jabbed the proboscis into the flower’s nectar-filled center. It looked like a straw in a cocktail. We watched that apparatus then coil into a spiral and disappear into her mouth. This, we learned, is how butterflies eat.
Linda, the butterfly, now resides in a shallow bowl filled with flowers mere inches from my desktop computer. We work together. Me typing, her squirming. She can’t balance very well with bent wings and a missing leg, so it’s often necessary to prop her up on a flower. It’s been like this for twelve days (!!).
Sometimes we take the dish outside for sunshine. Steph often carries her in her palm while she picks flowers. “Do pentas sound good today?” Sometimes we (meaning me) fly the bowl around the room like an airplane. “See, you’re flying!”
And when she gets too still, I tap the antenna, as if to say: How are you? Yes, I talk to her. Not entirely sure if any of this makes any sense, but here we are.
The lifespan of a monarch is anywhere from two to six weeks. I’m giving this another few days, tops. But who knows? Maybe we can keep her going longer. Either way, it’s been a joy just getting her this far.
Epilogue: On the morning of day 23 she stopped squirming. We will miss her very much. RIP beautiful butterfly friend.