It’s the note that unsettles me most after I wake up in the concrete cubicle with no windows and only one door. I don’t know how long I’ve slept but am still tired. My head throbs a little. My eyes want to close and let me retreat back into dark.
The small bed is hard, with one pillow so measly it’s an insult to sleep. My fleece jacket is rolled up under my neck to provide some support.
I shouldn’t say there were no windows: a screened transom above the door is open and lets in a cacophony of traffic. My glasses are on the nightstand beside me and I feel a sense of relief as I put them on and can begin to focus. Life without my glasses would be impossibly bland, and fearful, as well. Unable to observe, and not knowing what’s around me.
The room is sloppily painted a garish red. The nightstand is just a small, rough and wobbly table. There is a safe bolted to the wall next to the door. My backpack stands in the corner like a small dark green gnome, straps hanging forward like thin arms, the handle on top an arch defining its head.
The note is on the nightstand, under my phone where I would be sure to see it. It’s written on a blank page ripped from my journal, in ink from the pen that sits on top of that leather-bound book where I record my thoughts and feelings and experiences of each day.
That really pisses me off. I don’t rip pages from my journal. I don’t like raggedy edges of paper sticking out from where the beautifully symmetrical sheets merge together. I don’t like the way the tiny torn and uneven tabs mark pages, causing the journal to consistently open to events highlighted only by a need for paper long forgotten.
“Find the butterfly.”
That was the note, and it is scrawled in the middle of the page. By position, three words own the whole precious sheet, and announce they should receive special attention.
That pisses me off too, wasting a whole piece of paper like that for three words. It’s like someone raising their voice to make a point. I didn’t suddenly go deaf, and I could have read the note if it had been written in smaller letters, and on something else so my journal wasn’t sullied.
“Find the butterfly.”
I have no clue what that means. What butterfly? I don’t know or even care anything about butterflies. The note is so cryptic it irritates me. I like things to be more straightforward, more complete, more concrete.
I hated essay questions in school, too. I always had all the facts. Essay questions don’t reward those with facts, they reward interpretation. But there are many possible interpretations for almost anything. How do you decide which one is true?
“Find the butterfly.” The words mock me. The only thing I can even remember about butterflies is the Taoist riddle from Chuang Tzu: “I awoke this morning having dreamt I was a butterfly. But perhaps I am a butterfly, dreaming it is Chuang Tzu.” Clever nonsense.
“Find the butterfly.” What the hell is that supposed to mean?
I hear the clanking of dishes, and laughter that sounds young. I smell coffee, and I live on coffee. My stomach grumbles. I think the throbbing in my head is most likely a lack of caffeine, and I intend to remedy that as soon as I go to the bathroom down the hall, and brush my teeth, and at least make an effort to be presentable to whomever I will run into at breakfast.
It intrigues me that I know where the bathroom is, and the kitchen, but little else. I wonder if I’ve got a fever, or received a bump on the head.
Once as a boy at camp I woke in the middle of the night needing to go to the bathroom. I swung my legs over the edge of my top bunk and got ready to clamber down in the dark. But my feet touched the floor.
I was confused. Had I already just climbed down to the lower bunk? Was somebody sleeping behind me? I didn’t want to feel around back there, so I just got up and went out to pee. When I came back, I climbed back up into my top bunk, but there was somebody there!
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I’m getting into my sleeping bag. What are you doing in my bunk!?” I replied.
“This is my bunk. You fell when climbing up into bed last night and knocked yourself out. We had to get the counselor. He made me sleep up here so you wouldn’t fall out again. Go to sleep.”
It was incredibly disorienting to have no memory of falling, or the bunk change.
It feels like that now. I know where the bathroom is, and the kitchen. I know the horns from cars and roar of trucks and the stench of diesel fumes wafting in over the transom of my room are from the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica.
But that’s all I know. That, and that I am groggy, my head throbs just a little, my passport is locked in the safe beside the door, my backpack stands in the corner, and my soap and toothbrush sit in a plastic bag on the small table that serves as a nightstand, next to my journal, my phone, and the note.
“Find the butterfly.”
All of this is a little unnerving, but nothing unsettles me as much as the realization that the note, which I don’t like very much for a number of reasons, and don’t remember at all, is in my own handwriting.