The Guide to Kissing like a Butterfly

When I think of eyelashes, I think of kisses. Kid me kissing my mid-30s mom, specifically. Butterfly kisses. Our lashes lightly flapping fluttering flickering tickling each other’s smooth-skinned cheeks, each eyelash’s tender touch a goodnight and an I love you and a sleep tight susurrating on the soft facial surfaces of this mother-daughter pair. It’s around 9pm or whatever time a nine-year-old’s bedtime is, and mom’s tucking me tightly into my lower bunk. The top one is occupied. Not by my sister. She’s across the hall whispering to some girl on the phone about some boy. The space of my top bunk has been hijacked by a mountain range of stuffed animals I force myself to have an affinity for, because that’s how nine-year girls function in the world—holding onto and hugging wads of cotton squished into the shape of an animal, contained by some synthetic material doing a poor imitation of an actual animal—an animal that you, in fact, would most likely never hold nor hug were you to come across a real version of it. Such as a bear.

Last week I convinced my grandmother to buy me a beat-up Snoopy-looking stuffed animal at the Goodwill, because I wanted to feel attached to something. The Snoopy doppelgänger looked like how a nine-year-old’s favorite stuffed animal should look. Like a battered spouse. Like something you love to death.

In truth, I didn’t give a flying nothing about stuffed anythings, though that sentiment made me feel guilty and abnormal. So I hung onto whatever stuffed animals were bestowed upon me for every holiday, of which there were many because my family knew I had a top bunk full of stuffed things and so they wanted to add to the collection in order to contribute to the core of my identity which supposedly comprised of being a stuffed animal lovin’ nine-year-old girl. But the horses and rabbits and sheep and ring-tailed monkey (yes, really) never meant anything to me except for the fact that I felt weird and/or left out for being a nine-year-old girl with an aversion to anything that could be described as plush. And so, I faked it. I held them and hugged them and kissed their foreheads when in the presence of family. I piled them on my top bunk as if I wanted—no, wait, scratch that—as if I needed them because by god I would have just died if they didn’t “sleep” on the bunk above me, protecting me from all of the evil in the world that could potentially come kill me at night. Such as a bear.

When I think about kisses I think back to when my mother’s flapping flickering tickling eyelashes fluttered along my cheek as we kissed each other goodnight, emulating butterflies. But soon my reminiscences are usurped by the memory of the supposedly cute stuffed creatures assembling and then eventually amalgamating into a pastel mountain range of plush on the bunk above me. The pile was a blur of pale pink, pale blue, pale purple, pale yellow and every other color whose hue is seriously lacking strong chromatic content (an art term which is often referred to by the much simpler term “desaturated,” [or for the extremely color-naming illiterate folks like me: “soft” {which, fittingly in this context, can be a synonym for “plush”}]). The amassed jumble of soft and unmoving residents commandeering the apex of my double-decker bed, which is to say the stuffed animals up top, only exists in my adult mind as a swirl of washed-out color. Due to previous reasons as detailed above (re: my disliking of stuffed, plushy shit), and since I kept them out of my sight by throwing them on the top bunk that was taller than me and thus couldn’t see them unless I climbed the ladder in an effort to look at them which I never did because I didn’t like them—by now, dear reader, this should not be a big shocker—the size of my memory in regards to the specifics of the lurking stuffed animals is about as thick as an eyelash.

Though a few stand out. Such as the bear. That big brown one that to this day I still do not know if it was actually supposed to be some type of bear sitting like bears sit with their asses on the ground (I have never actually seen a real bear, let alone one sitting on its ass with its back legs splayed out in front of it, but I say these things as if I do know them, because when you’re nine you know things such as how bears sit, because, duh, of course that’s what they do. Everyone knows that. Just look at all the bear stuffed animals—they’re all sitting like that).

If not a bear, then the big, brown, plush animal-like shaped thing could have been a fat wrinkled dog sitting on its ass as if it were a bear. A pug giant with gargantuan wrinkles of sorts. Due to the quadruple Mount Everest mountain range of wrinkles that added some serious elevation to its facial topography, the bear-impersonating pug’s eyes were completely hidden.

The enlarged pug sitting bear-style had a rip in its chest. Plastic nylon like fishing line that possibly was fishing line had pulled away from the animal of an indeterminate origin’s chest, unstitching itself. Plumes of cotton burst from the chest wound. I was completely enamored with taking two fingers and pushing said escapee cotton back into the chest-wounded brown animal while pretending I was actually jabbing at its heart.

Pluto was probably on the top bunk, too. It was a huge stuffed animal of that stupid Disney character I found annoying. And so why did I own it, one must wonder. Explanation: I was six years old and at Disney World with my family, when my dad got a horrible headache and left his “girls” (aka wife and two daughters) in the gift shop with his credit card and told us to get whatever we wanted as he had to retreat to the hotel room to attend to the killer pain.

(I don’t actually remember any of this. The past three pages of writing are brought to you by mom telling me stories. Authentic narrator? Meh. Re-commence translation of mom’s memory.)

My dad had said whatever I wanted and so I did the most sensible and obvious thing one should do when told “get whatever you want.” I got the biggest stuffed animal in that gift shop.

His fault. He said a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.

And so I said “Pluto!” as if the rest of my life’s happiness depended on my possession of that one stuffed animal.

For those who have not been counting, let’s check in and take inventory of the stuffed animals we have thus far. There are three to tick off our roll call.

1) Domestic violence survivor Snoopy

2) Obese pug sitting bear-style

3) The largest stuffed animal Disney World sold in their gift shop, circa 1989.

One other cotton-stuffed character that was possibly stationed on my bed’s observation deck was a life-sized doll from when I was three, whom I named April. (My birthday month.) Each appendage was its own cylindrical piece of cloth stuffed with a wad of cotton. In compliance with proper appendage placement, the arms and legs were sewn onto the rightful shoulders and hips with loosely tied cotton twine, which allowed all of the appendages to play helicopter. The head sector of this stuffed doll had April’s face sewn onto it. I believe her eyes were buttons. To recap: windmill appendages and a fixed button glare and all of it was life-sized. File her under shit that creeped me out and cross-reference that with shit that still creeps me out. My great-grandmother made her. My great-grandmother died within a few days of gifting her to me. (And the file containing the creepies thickens.)

Also riding overhead was a red Valentine’s Day teddy bear with a white stomach and “Love me” tatted onto its abdomen courtesy of the invention of embroidery.

One, maybe two, of these stuffed things had eyelashes. I can’t remember exactly which ones. Though my bet’s on April and tatted up V-day bear. Pluto was the dude version, so no girl-determining eyelashes there. Pugbear Minotaur had those folds of “skin,” so you couldn’t even see its eyes, let alone discern if there were fake eyelashes adorning them. (I am actively resisting and now failing to resist making a comment here about where the bear was probably made—in China where most teddy bear-bearing wombs are located, and how it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the child workers who never got to hold, hug nor squeeze the stuffed animals they made [see file labeled: wages, shit] were instructed by America to sew in eyelashes with their foreign nimble fingers even though one couldn’t see Pugbear Minotaur’s eyes, because goddamn it America needed to be able to discern which ones were the girls!)

It’s 9:05pm and I’m still a nine-year-old girl lying in bed—albeit five minutes older than I was five minutes ago—thinking about eyelashes. I’m all tucked in with the proof that I’m trying to “fit in” loitering, hovering above my head. But none of that matters, now, because I’m falling asleep with a sense of safety that has never been and never will be brought on by holding onto and/or hugging an object that can be described with the adjective plush, but instead can only be induced by the feel of my mother’s eyelashes flapping fluttering flickering tickling my cheek. Butterfly kisses.

Chelsey Clammer has been published in The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and The Nervous Breakdown, among many others. She is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, as well as a columnist and workshop instructor for the journal. Clammer is also the Nonfiction Editor for Pithead Chapel and Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. She has two essay collections forthcoming in Spring 2015. Visit her website: http://www.chelseyclammer.com.

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One Response to The Guide to Kissing like a Butterfly

  1. Pingback: The Guide to Kissing like a Butterfly | My BlogThe Philosopher's blog.

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