Severed from his childhood friend, a man lives his life without seeing her until. . .
“I want you to know that I will never forget you,” she said, as she walked away. Carol was nine when she left, and I never saw her again, but I thought of her often, the butterfly who took wing and soared into the sky.
Carol and I used to be best friends. We’d sit up in the treehouse, a big old, plastic orange pillow beneath our bottoms, nestled close together in friendship as we stared out at a blue jay squawking at squirrels gathering nuts. Carol and I talked about everything. We laughed and played and dreamed. Carol was friendship, and she wore the footprint by which I will always measure it.
Years passed. I formed other relationships. There were kids who shared the treehouse; there were others who left footprints behind, but none of them shared their stale gingerbread cookies and warm soda with me. None of them changed my measurement of friendship.
Time folds blankets around such memories, softening the pain of loss yet holding the sweetness pressed forever against our chests.
I grew up and left the treehouse of childhood. The city called, and skyscrapers drew my eyes. Being an enterprising man with a tremendous ego, I built up a transportation business handling taxi cabs and small tourist buses. Life was good, and then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Like the leaves in autumn, the colors had changed when I wasn’t looking and had turned ugly brown. I only noticed when they crinkled as I walked, and then it was too late.
In the hospital, the doctor said no more business, no more skyscrapers, no more flitting from one relationship to another. Bedrest. Do you understand the meaning of relaxation to a man who'd rarely slept since he left the treehouse of his youth?
Yet, sometimes life offers no choices. I sold my penthouse, my business, traded that life for what was left of mine, and returned to the country.
Here, the butterflies still flutter in the breezy sunshine. The sun speckles leaves with gold filament, and the blue jay forever scolds at squirrels. In my chair I can look out. It's almost like it was so long ago.
Yesterday my son brought his new wife for a visit. They're both on the fast train, speeding through time. I want to tell my son that there are other routes, but I know he wouldn't listen; I would not have.
The girl’s mother will be stopping by tomorrow night. We'll have dinner together. I look forward to it. I take pleasure in such things now. The cook will prepare a feast, and I shall nibble, but it will be choice nibbling, like stale gingerbread cookies and warm soda – some things you only need to taste in order to cherish.
The bell rings, and I rise. My son scolds just like the blue jay, but I pay him no heed. This is my treehouse. I walk to the door and open it.
The years fall back. I stretch out my hand, but she doesn't take it. Instead she flings herself against me. Of course, we know each other. Engravings on the heart are never forgotten.
And so, just so simply, Carol has returned. The footprint of our relationship is not the same as it was before. Some things have changed. We are older; we have slipped into elderly habits, yet we still hold hands and watch the blue jay scolding squirrels.
But now the butterfly as he flits into the morning sun does not pull our eyes away from each other. Instead, we kiss, and then we snuggle into the ripening of an even deeper friendship.