When we return from our D.C. trip, the caterpillar has eaten and grown but is hanging oddly from a milkweed leaf. His middle feet are gripping the leaf, and he is hanging like an upside down U. It looks suspicious. Like a botched suicide attempt.
He is alive, though. I poke at him to make sure.
Because my previous poking and prodding had proved successful and gotten the little guy to resume eating, I decide to play Mother Nature and try again.
The caterpillar ends up free falling to the bottom of the tank. I calculate the drop to be equal to a three-story fall if the caterpillar had been a person. “Definitely survivable,” I say to myself.
I pick up his limp body and gently place him on a milkweed leaf. He lies on his side with a crooked antenna and his many pairs of feet in mid air.
I watch and wait. He twitches a few times, I think.
I tell W.
“There was something wrong with him, baby,” she says.
This morning, the little guy is laying on the tank’s glass bottom. His yellow and black body forms an exclamation point. I’m dead!, he shouts.
But, I’m not sure. I now know not to touch him.
Midday I accidentally drop a full basket of laundry by the tank. The caterpillar jumps up in the air. For just a second, I think he’s alive. I drop the laundry basket again. He pops up again. Drop. Pop. Drop. Pop. Drop. Pop. There’s a physics lesson here, but it is lost on me.
By dinnertime, I have abandoned all hope. I discard the wilting milkweed and use a tissue to hold the little guy in my hand.
He is soft — not stiff — and feels cold. I hold him for a while and gently run my finger down his back. He is soft and smooth like velvet. He is beautiful.
I am sad that he didn’t get the chance to transform into a black and orange winged beauty. I know now that he didn’t need to change to be beautiful.
I dig a small hole and bury him underneath our butterfly bush. I find a small rock and place it on top.
Rest in peace, little guy. Rest in peace.