Butterfly Confessions
By Ellen K. McMahill
Published by PublishAmerica Inc. 
December 2001; 1-588-51540-0; 132 pages

Read Book Synopsis

Read Excerpt

Butterfly Confessions by Ellen K. McMahillChapter 1

October 15, Friday, 1999

I'm beginning this journal today because I can feel something changing in and around me as if a dream were becoming real, or maybe that's just what I want. I want a lot of things to happen and have been meditating about them for a long time. It seems like forever. I have been healing I guess. The divorce three years ago wasn't easy. It was an earthquake in my life, but that's what I wanted, something to shake me up, change me from the person I had become into something more me. I knew I wasn't myself, but I didn't know how to change.

This journal is a record of what unfolds as I let myself consciously step into uncertainty, knowing I can never return to this person I am now or to this reality that I perceive at this moment. I can only hope that the ride won't be too extreme, but I can feel wildness seeping in. Things I can't imagine now are trying to nudge me into different perceptions. I'm holding back, but I can feel myself about to let go and give in. I worry about where I'm going with these feelings, about what will happen to Jade, my seventeen year old son, and Rose, my fifteen year old daughter, if I go too far, about whether or not I can still be a good mother and explore who I really am in ways that might not be acceptable.

November 5, Friday, 1999
Jade asked if they could smoke pot out on the porch tonight. He said it was the weekend and since we've been talking about his pot smoking this week and how he only smokes on the weekend, would it be all right. His eyes tried to charm me and they did. I said it would be all right, but it bothered me. On the other hand, I'm so tired of hiding from the truth and so tired of Jade lying to me about what he does with his friends at night. I'd rather know the truth and learn to deal with it. He and Vern and his friend Sam were so happy to be able to smoke in the open with me knowing what they were doing. They kept laughing and talking about the beauty of it and how glorious it was to not have to hide their main activity in life. I was glad I said yes, but wondered if it was the right thing to do. Am I being a good mother?

I worry about what I am allowing, worry that I'll let things go too far, worry that if I let Jade steer his own course, he'll get lost in a hurricane and end up on the bottom of some unknown sea. But it's clear I can't force him to do anything now without a battle. And who would that serve? He is as determined to follow his own path as I am. I can't object to that and know that natural consequences will hook him into recognition of where he is headed. I just hope I don't get sucked too deeply into his illusion.

November 7, Sunday, 1999
Jade and I had a long talk this afternoon. We sat outside on the porch while he confessed to all the drugs and alcohol adventures he has had in the last year and more. I listened wondering how his body is still so healthy. It seems that the summer after eighth grade when he would go over to his friend Alice's house, he had been doing all kinds of drugs and drinking all kinds of alcohol. Five or six friends would come over every weekend and smoke pot or take LSD sometimes, or drink vodka, rum, tequila and beer or take rolls, basically ecstasy with other drugs like heroin and mescaline thrown in, but taken to feel happy or at least high, distorting reality for a few hours, or other drugs I don't even know about. And now I know they are not in the minority. He told me that the time he cut his foot at a friend's swimming pool that past summer, he had been very drunk. He said he had also thrown up that night and had sworn off alcohol, which he had stuck to. He said pot and LSD were all he wanted to use now.

Drugs, legal and illegal, are pervasive because they are so easy, at first anyway. They change our reality without us having to do anything except take a pill or smoke an herb. They don't require anything for access except money and the choice to take a risk. Actually buying illegal drugs is high adventure, an escape from boredom in more than one way. They call their dealer or someone willing to sell them some pot or other drug they might have, make an agreement to meet somewhere and take off into the night to pick it up, listening to music and looking out for cops.


As I listened to Jade I was glad he was telling me all his secrets, but I was afraid for him too. His dad's and several members of our families desire for obliterating the present with a brain blanket of drugs and alcohol sent off little signals of alarm in me. If I was not aware that we all have to follow our own path, I would never have listened to him, or I would have been figuring out what rehab program I could get him into as soon as possible. But, that wasn't what I was thinking because I know we never change unless we decide to do the changing for our selves. You cannot change anyone. It's pointless to try. You can only change yourself. So, I decided to find a way to look at Jade without judgment and make sure he kept talking to me. I know from past experience that when the talking stops, the relationship stops.

After Jade was finished with his stories about the year before, I told him I was concerned about his brain cells being subdued so often and asked him to think about what he was possibly doing to himself. He said he knew what he was doing. I nodded, and thought about all I have been through, each time thinking I knew what I was doing and now knowing that I never really know what I'm doing though I'm doing the best I can at each moment.

I feel like I'm being a bad mother in some ways not being able to control this drug taking, but he was doing all these things before he told me and I didn't know a thing about it. So, am I a worse mother because now I know and realize I can't really do anything, or was I better when I didn't know? At least he's talking to me and he gave me such a long hug after we had talked as if he were so glad to be honest with me. It was a burden off him, but I wonder now what he expects.

November 9, Tuesday, 1999
Rose stopped going to eat dinner with Skye on Sunday a few months ago. She was coming home in tears afterwards, begging me to let her stay home, begging me not to make her go to eat with her dad and brother. I let her stop going because I know how difficult it is to be around Skye, to be the recipient of his anger and sarcasm. She said she couldn't stand to hear him ranting on and on about me and how I did this and that to ruin our marriage and how he tried so hard to be the best husband and dad. I've let her stay home even though I haven't kept him from seeing her. But because I don't make her talk to him, don't force her to see him, he has accused me of turning her against him. He is now suing me for breach of the divorce agreement. He is demanding an appointment with the mediator to make changes.

I came home today and the papers were on my desk. Jade told me an officer had driven up with them. He had thought that he was going to be arrested on some drug charge, and had nearly collapsed with relief when he found out it was just these papers for me. But these papers for me represent a kind of fear I have been trying to overcome for years. I have this illogical fear that everything will be taken away from me. It's the fear that somehow he will get out of giving me money for child support and I will not be able to pay the mortgage and we will have to leave this beautiful house that I have waited for twenty years to live in. I have terrible fears with money attached. I fear so often that I won't get what I want and need. I have kept my real self hidden all these years because of that fear, and because I'm afraid that if I really express myself I'll be alone forever.

But now my secret self is oozing out. I can't hold it in anymore. If I do I will explode. In fact I may be on the verge of ruining myself. That's what it feels like. Letting my son openly do drugs in front of me, letting myself fall in love with a boy, Vern, expressing my total dissatisfaction with my job, changing my clothes, changing my thoughts and their direction, disagreeing with the values of my own culture, listening to my children's pain and seeing its validity and logic, and looking deeply into my own soul. My fear has cracked open with everything exposed. I am on the verge of understanding a huge part of who I am as I look into the black hole that is my darkest self.

So Rose has not been seeing her father. She doesn't call him up. She doesn't talk to him or see him unless she can't avoid it. I know he's saying that I'm turning her against him because Jade tells me he says this repeatedly. I know the truth, that I'm not doing this, that he has laid down the death of his relationship with her himself by his hatred of women, by his insistence on degrading everyone with remarks he says in jest but uses as a way to feel in control and everyone else in an inferior position. This is all unconscious on his part, for he would deny any part in trying to control anyone. He doesn't live within the principle of equality. He was raised with authoritarian standards that beat rebellion into his brain, so that without remembering the pain this pressure brought him, he dishes it out to everyone else, especially his children. He has not forgiven himself for his "error in judgment" on the day he decided to live with me and especially on the day he agreed to marry me. He has not forgiven himself for what he feels is his failure in marriage. Instead he has created a buffer of rationalizations and pronouncements that absolve him in his own mind from being a mean sonofabitch to me and his children.

There is lots more about my story with him, but for now I don't want to think about any more of it. Rose is lost in the story. She wants out of it so she can create her own story without the baggage of her mourning father. She has a right to that. She hasn't done anything wrong. She has merely fallen off the path of our culture that dictates that there is something "wrong" with you if you don't love your father. That theory, idea, has is only an opinion as are all theories. We are actually made of love and most of us don't use even a hundredth of that love. We are choosy because to love is to leave ourselves vulnerable. We quickly find out that love is painful when the beloved isn't the person we think we know.

That's one part of the wall that grew up between Rose and Skye. A deep trust that was apparent when Rose was very young, slowly began to fade as she got older and began to look at the world with less than innocent eyes. In fourth and fifth grade, she began to wonder about how her dad treated her and the people around her and how he treated me. And it's true that when Rose was six, Skye fell in love with someone else. He told me one night that he would stay with me because of the children. I thought I was going to die that night. I thought I would have to kill myself if he left because I wouldn't be able to bear it. But I did bear it and that night a seed was planted that grew into my realization that love is the power that permeates our lives, that it is not something we get, that it is the great power within us, the power that sustains us through everything.

And I realized later that the secret reason that Skye said he wouldn't leave me was because he wasn't ready to leave his family and his identity for another woman. Instead he abandoned me emotionally and had his sexless (so he said) affair with her, falling in love and pretending to be free. I accepted the situation to a point knowing I would eventually balk as I had when my first husband had had an affair because I knew that if I left Skye, taking Jade and Rose with me, no one would ever forgive me, maybe even including myself. We had to play out the end of our relationship until Skye and all of us couldn't stand it, so that he could be the one to leave and Jade and Rose would see the wisdom in that decision. And it did play itself out in a scene that is burned in my memory like a nightmare. I survived it but don't know if I could again if I could see it coming directly at me.

I am compelled to tell that little story within this story because it is so symbolic and telling of all of us. It was an explosion of a crisis. An explosion that insisted on being. It began with a long chain of seemingly unimportant events, unimportant, but symbolic events, as all events are. It began to heat up, escalate, when we moved to our new house four years ago. It began with Skye's affair and then with my fulfillment of a dream of living in a clean, decent house with light and a tiny woods of green leaves and brown barked trees surrounding it.

You see, when we moved to this new house I moved into a kind of heaven and Skye moved into a kind of hell. I wanted to move away from our old house as part of a promise that Skye and I had made to each other when we had moved into the house we stayed in for fifteen years, the house where Jade and Rose were born. It was dark, old, stained with immovable dust and dirt, a home with rats in the attic and cock roaches in every conceivable hiding place. Possums hid under the roof in the winter and holes gaped in a back room floor. It was a poor house and Skye rarely put any energy into making it anything nicer. He was focused on his business. But that's another story. I also wanted to move away from that dark house on Miner Street because it was Skye's house (he always made that clear by reminding me that he paid the mortgage) and because it was in a terrible neighborhood and because I had no privacy there and because and because and because. So when Jade and Rose were in middle school, we left. We moved across town into a house we had built, a house with light, a house that was clean and smelled new.

But when we moved Skye felt abandoned I think, at least he acted that way. The old house was him. His business was next door. He tried to hide the fact that he hated the new house from the beginning, but it was obvious. He never came to see the house when it was being built. He stalked around the new living room with furniture I had bought (he thought the old furniture, roach infested, raggedy and uncomfortable was fine and refused to contribute to anything new) like an angry dog, his legs stiff and a grimace disguised as a smile on his face.

The anger he harbored towards me escalated then from a mild storm to a hurricane subdued once and awhile for appearances. He had nonexistent relationships with Jade and Rose because of his inability to relate to them on any level except as the authority. Agony descended on that house every time he drove up and ascended as he drove away. Jade, Rose and I were happy to be there. The schools were so much better and there was hope that they would meet people they could relate to on some similar level. We had made the psychic leap without Skye who would always be attached to his first love, his work and the building that housed it.

And so, the tension built up and up. The anger when Skye was there rose to tremendous heights of huge proportions. Jade was tearing himself apart with the tension of it. Rose hid in her room as much as possible. I fluttered about trying to make the best of things and praying every day often more than once that something would be resolved, and then as it got worse that Skye would leave, divorce me. And then it happened.

Jade began to show signs of our constant turmoil at school. He misbehaved on field trips. He misbehaved on a particular field trip that ignited the bomb. The trip to an historic town was innocuous enough. Jade aligned himself with some other boys who were looking for something interesting to happen, who were bent on stirring up something and Jade was game. They picked up untouchable objects in an ancient church and made fun of them. They were disrespectful in the teachers' eyes. They were confined to the bus for the rest of the day. And when Jade came home that night on the field trip bus and Skye went to pick him up instead of me, as Jade and I had planned, and the teachers on that bus lectured Skye on the behavior of his son and told him what he had done and subtly blamed him for his son's disrespect, the spark lit Skye's fuse. He was fury and fury was him. When they arrived home Jade raced to his room in a storm of emotion. I immediately knew something was up and asked to understand what had happened. Jade began to babble the events with such strange intensity I was horrified. Skye walked in as thunder and lightning combined. He walked straight up to Jade as he related events to me incoherently and grabbed his tee shirt in a huge, sweaty fist, pulling Jade's fact to his face with as much threat to life as I had seen in real life or in a movie and screamed about Jade being a "fuck up" over and over again. Jade was in shock, praying for his life. I was screaming at Skye to let him go over and over. And finally Skye let Jade go. Jade retreated to his room and Skye sat in his chair, the only refugee from the old house, like a king, satisfied with his brutality. Rose hid in her room, a bird wounded by the intensity of words and threats, intentions and unspoken thoughts.

I sat with Jade on his bed, the door closed, as he rocked back and forth, crying, repeating over and over again that his dad was going to kill him and that he wanted to die, dredging up the memories of Skye telling him months ago in front of me and Rose that he would take Jade out to any isolated place in the country where no one could hear his screams and beat Jade up if he continued to misbehave in school or elsewhere. And this was fertile ground for that threat to be carried through. The brutality in Skye was palpable to us, but hidden from outsiders. Jade thought this was really the end, until the end never came.

The next day I encouraged Jade to go to school to at least pretend that life was the same as it had been the day before, that the scene the night before was not as serious as it had seemed. I was wrong to encourage him to go, but it was inevitable for the result of all that came after. He arrived at school in a turmoil. His life was a tornado of emotion. He began to speak to friends about angry fantasies about the school and its occupants that he wouldn't let himself direct towards his family and particularly Skye. He said he'd like to shoot certain people, set a bomb off at the school dance on the coming Friday, create chaos within the lives of his perceived enemies. They were fantasies we all have in some form at some time in our lives. His error was to verbalize them. His unintentional error was to verbalize them within earshot of a fearful student who went and told authorities, feeding on the news of the previous month of actual shootings at a school in another state. He was isolated, expelled, grilled by administrators, counselors and law enforcement personnel. They called Skye and me for meetings. He was banned from the school dance and end of the year field trip. He was sent to the hospital to get an evaluation by a psychiatrist. Skye was deflated, silent, angry as usual. He took Jade to the hospital before I could leave work. That was the definitive moment in which Skye asked Jade what was going on, where was all this coming from. It was then that Jade said that Skye and I needed to fix our marriage or end it. That night Skye said we should get a divorce. I said okay as if he had just said he was going to the store for some soda and chips.

He decided not to leave until the end of school at the end of the month, he said to keep the family stable, but I see now was just his letting go of his fear of leaving. We pretended as if nothing was happening, as if things were as they always had been. We were relieved, though Skye's rage towards me escalated in outbursts at night when Rose and Jade were asleep, blaming me for all his suffering, blaming me for turning Rose against him.

And out of this all besides the wonder of our divorce, was the realization that out of chaos comes some form of peace. Within the chaos was ignorance, people (the school administrators) letting their fears run into huge proportions, focusing on their own fantasies of fear.

Copyright 2001 Ellen K. McMahill
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)


This story is about love and allowing and one woman's search for meaning with her children. Divorced from her ex-husband, Skye, her life in the year 2000 resonates with longing and questions. Her journal entries record her journey from denial about the reality of our drug culture and how we are all a part of it, to openness and understanding about what it is to be human. Through the lives of her children, Jade and Rose, and their friends she experiences ordinary events in a house that could be on any street in America, unfolding to become extraordinary turning points in their lives. Her desire to understand how our feelings, thoughts and actions shape our future and our self-image leads her down a path she never thought she would take, but will never forget. Beginning as one story of life in America, it ends up being a story about the nature of choices we all make to find out who we really are.

(back to top)


Ellen K. McMahill  graduated with a B.A. in art from Florida State University in 1973. She has worked within the art world for twenty years, has also had publishing experiences as an information specialist/project manager in the last two years. She worked in the disciplined practice of art with tapestry weaving; learning weaving and how to incorporate new images into that medium took several years. By the late eighties, trying to balance a life of marriage and two children with her passion for creating, she was entering shows and seriously pursuing her development with a series of images based on personal perspective, myth and color. In 1999, after a series of transformational experiences, she returned to pen and ink drawings, her original and favorite medium in earlier years. Ellen K. McMahill lives in Florida.

Buy Butterfly Confesions at Amazon.com

Home | All Chapters Excerpts | Next

©1998-2012 MostlyFiction.com