It Only Hurt a Little

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The lush green summer leaves rustled in a gentle breeze as my family and I basked in our backyard. This, in itself, was a feat of mastery—an event as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker sighting—so I was determined to savor every second.

“You know, Phil,” my mother’s voice droned in between sips of homemade lemonade. “You know,” she repeated, hesitating long enough to swirl the liquid in her glass with her straw so that the ice cubes clinked against the sides of the glass. ”Mr. Gregor’s chickens got through the back fence again the other day. Maybe you should—”

He was out of his chair and on her in a second. His face dripping, his body rejecting the rich life energy of summer by expelling it as sweat.

“Maybe I should what?” he demanded.

Then his hands were on her, gripping her shoulders. I tried to keep looking, to catalog this behavior as something I would remember as abusive as an adult, so I could avoid it.

But as his knuckles whitened and as he shook her so hard that the aluminum feet of her lounge chair wobbled, as she cried, “Phil! Stop! You’re hurting me!” all I saw was green as I buried my face in the grass, looking for something, anything, to block out their violent actions.

I clapped my hands over my ears and focused on the blades of grass. The ground behind me, where my parents were fighting, rumbled. My father must have toppled my mother’s chair. But I didn’t look back. I just looked deeper and deeper, searching for the smallest detail, the tiniest speck of evidence that the gorgeous summer day was bigger than my parents’ constant battling.

And then I saw it. Crystalline, glistening in the dappled sunlight, it hung from six hair-thin appendages on a single blade of grass. It was a perfectly formed shell in the shape of a fly. Beautiful, balanced, perfect, yet no longer needed by the fly. I moved closer, my breath moving the grass stem, making the discarded skin dance.

I don’t know how long I stayed there, but the next thing I knew, my mother stumbled over me, grumbling, “Watch where you’re going!” as she held one hand to her nose. I stared after her, open mouthed, as a drop of blood fell into the grass.

My father trotted after her, like an unruly dog caught stealing from the garbage can, glancing left and right across our narrow backyard to see if the neighbors had witnessed the fight. Too late, as always, he realized his rage was as fragile and transparent as the discarded fly skin.

“C’mon, Betty,” he implored, his brown eyes leaking all over his face. ”You’re making way too much of this. It only hurt a little.”

They always managed to tear my attention away from the bigger world. But the bigger world always remained, waiting for me to return.

After the back door slammed behind them, I turned back to the blades of grass, searching for the transparent perfection of the fly exoskeleton. After searching for several minutes, I found it, its clear surface spattered with blood from my mother’s nose. 

I knew my parents were unaware that the fly skeleton even existed. I knew they were trapped in their own world and that this fight, at least, was between them and hadn’t involved me. But I cried, my tears washing away the blood so that I could see the tiny slit in the transparent skin.

The minuscule crack that proved that the fly had broken free. I realized that my parents’ violent world was more easily cracked than they wanted to believe. And I decided that even if my parents never chose to slice through the membrane confining them to their endless cycles, that I would. And when I did, I would emerge as the fly had: transformed and ready to fly.


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