Bye Bye Butterfree

September 3, 2017 Alabama, USA

When a Pokémon date goes swimmingly well, the author expects a whirlwind Butterfree romance. Real life, however, is often messier.

Illustration by the author
“You wanna watch Pokémon?” he asked.

I grinned. How could I refuse? It was the most romantic show to infest planet earth in the 90s: an anime cartoon where a group of youngsters explored a vast world to catch Pokémon, small monsters that resembled mash-ups of everyday animals and creatures. And to watch such a dorky show with a cute boy? Well, I was a simpler woman then; wooing me didn’t take much more than Netflix, snacks, and a boy who sported slim-fit corduroys.

I was in my third year of undergrad and had never been in a relationship before, let alone fathomed the idea of one. Hell, I hadn’t even had my first kiss by then; I suppose I was busying myself with keeping my straight A's in a line and slaving away in the studios of the school of art. But the moment I met this guy, he sent my mind whirling with curiosity. My heart fluttered like butterflies on speed when I saw him. Now here we were, about to watch Pokémon together and probably like, sit next to each other.

As he adjusted his laptop, I fluffed two pillows against the wall to create a faux-couch. We plopped down side by side, innocent as two toddlers on a picnic blanket in a wide-open park, and instantly jammed out to the Pokémon theme song, huffed at the ridiculous dialogue between the characters, and reveled in the perfectly packaged puns.

Some episodes in, our responses waned and the quiet reigned. He flipped to his side and rested his head in my lap. I began lightly scratching his back and noted a smile in response. Phew, safe move. Knight to F-3. I shifted my hand from his back to his shoulders to his hair. Tested the waters. Slowly moved toward grander territory. Occasionally, his fingers would graze my palm or caress my arm. He blinked slowly, his eyelids heavy.

I looked down at him and continued to comb my fingers through his hair. Gosh dangit, you are cute, was all my brain could process. I would totally kiss your face if I knew how, and also you’re rather far away and I have no idea how to get you up. So for the next few minutes, fleeting schemes ran like feral ostriches through the grasslands of my mind. Do I just ask to kiss him? Maybe that would be lame. Maybe not. Forcing him up wouldn't be feasible, either. That would require excess energy on my part. And that wouldn’t be cute at all. So what to do?

He moved his fingertips to my hand, pausing there to hold it in his own. My own fingers wrapped around his. My entire body felt warm and sparkly, like fireworks were shooting madly through my veins. I was thinking so hard about each and every touch, which made me feel the lamest I’d ever felt in my life.

To distract myself, I turned my eyes to the laptop screen: in the current episode, two Butterfree, a type of Pokémon which resembled a freakish googly-eyed butterfly, had fallen in love and were drifting into the distance together. As the main character waved them off with tears in his eyes, the Butterfree disappeared into the burning orange sunset. Oh my god, it was a metaphor. He and I were totally these two freakish googly-eyed Butterfree.

Okay, stay calm.

I could simply tell him what I was thinking. That was a safe middle ground, or so the reasonable human being within me decreed. I was always one to listen to logic over emotions; if I acted on emotions, something could happen too fast and very well be regrettable, but acting upon a decent plan made success more likely.

He opened his eyes and smiled up at me. Honestly, why can't you just be the one to instigate it? I wanted to punch a wall or something. He had these pale, fluttery eyelashes and piercing green eyes that scorched his initials into my soul. God, I sounded like such a dweeb. Emerald pools for eyes that I could swim laps in, clothes with a freshly-laundered scent, fluffy fairytale descriptions, cliché crap that every novelist has seared into the first romance novel they wrote when they were thirteen… I make myself sick. But here I was, using a feather-tipped pen and glittery ink to embellish every detail of this moment.

Very well, I thought gallantly. I had chosen my means of attack. Say it, you big weenie. Say it or regret not saying it later.

"Um," I began, "I can't really kiss you when you're down there..." Did it, I did it! Done. Your turn!

He turned his head toward me and made a quiet, "Hm?"

My insides twitched. I was positive he could hear my heart pounding through my rib cage, especially since his head was considerably close to it. You heard me, you snotball. Don't make me repeat myself.

"I can't kiss you when you're down there. I can't reach," I repeated.

It was the hardest thing my 21-year old self had ever said. Asking a boy if you can kiss him because you can’t reach him is seriously the most stressful thing in the world. At that point in time, I would have much rather been vocally assaulted by Gordon Ramsey about how slug puke tasted better than my sad attempt at spaghetti bolognese. Awaken the beast, my mind instructed. Touch the face to awaken the beasttttttt. I moved my thumb from his ear to his cheek to his lips.

He closed his eyes and grinned.

Oh no. He shut his eyes. Oh no. He did not want to hear that. For a moment, I thought all was lost, but then he rolled up and the next thing I know, he's inches from my face, half of it obscured by shadows, half of it glowing red and yellow from the computer screen which seemed to have gone quiet. Sound was sucked from the air and even the squabbling of voices in the courtyard below faded. It was just us. Cool air swam through his open window. He leaned in on me and we're suddenly doing that kissing business, the lip touching, the gentle face battling. What else do people call it? They probably don't call it any of those things.

I remember how dreamlike it seemed at the time. Afterwards, I was nearly skipping home, footsteps light, heart full, and drunk on liquid happiness. I had my first kiss. It went swimmingly. It was a huge success. And maybe we’d get married and raise sheep in the grassy, rolling hills of Ireland…

But that was it. That was all I heard from him. There would be no sheep-raising nor rocky pathway which led to our cottage covered in greenery.

I texted him the day after.

Hey, how’ve you been? A few hours ticked by. Nothing. I tried not to think about it. Surely, he was busy, my heart reasoned. He was intelligent and had quite a few classes on his plate, and I understood the demands of academia. But my mind knew otherwise.

Days passed. I saw him on multiple occasions, but he snubbed eye contact each time. Then, one day, I understood. After class, I saw him speaking in very close proximity to another girl with long dark hair, glossy eyes, and teeth that twinkled like stars—a girl who was unquestionably far prettier than I knew I could ever be.

He rose up and began to walk out of the room. As he did, I swung next to him, acting as nonchalant as possible. My heart was trembling. I don’t know why I needed to ask him a question to which I knew the answer. Closure, I assume. I always needed to know and to make sure.

“Hey. Can I ask you something?”

The pretty girl glanced up at me as I exited the room alongside him.

“Yeah, sure,” he replied, struggling to maintain eye contact with me and finally looking as awkward as I felt. Good. Feel awkward. That makes two of us.

“There’s uh… there’s not anything going on between us, right?”

I’d make this simple for him. I’d make him think I was the one not interested. It would be easier that way.

He perked up a little, suddenly more confident. His shoulders straightened and he could speak without a lump in his throat. “Yeah. Nothing. That okay?”

My insides were shaking, but my voice remained calm. “Yeah. Of course! Just making sure.”

We nodded awkwardly at each other and I gestured to the girls’ bathroom, acting like I had business to do in there, which I obviously did not, but it was best to pretend in situations like this. Once the bathroom door clicked shut, I dashed to the sink and stared at myself in the mirror, breathing in and out, regaining my composure while I investigated my reflection. I had done it. I knew for sure and there were no more questions.

That was that.

My world didn’t crumble before me like a Nature Valley granola bar in a burly man’s hands. Time ticked on, and my first kiss slowly slipped from my mind.

Of course, he wasn’t gone forever; I did spot him a few times around campus, only to exchange glances and awkward smiles with him. After a bout of post-kiss depression, I realized I knew nothing about the guy. His family, his goals for the future, and even his favorite food were all foreign to me; who even knew if we’d be on the same path after graduating? I didn’t ever fathom having a relationship before him, and one crush, one boy, one kiss shouldn’t mean I have to change my worldview and start the search for one.

As I moved on, I devoted myself to my art, spending countless hours in the studio. I would return to my apartment at midnight, covered in streaks of paint, ink, and other such materials, embracing trash bag fashion to its fullest. Weeks later, I won a hearty scholarship, and eventually, a nationally competitive grant that would carry me through one of the most artistically productive summers of my life. My ambitions led me to graduate school and to pursue even bigger dreams. Maybe I wasn’t dating a cute boy who wore corduroy jeans and didn’t know how to talk about his feelings, but that was all right. Working diligently for the things I cared for, I attracted people who were just as passionate about their own work, and I forged friendships and relationships stronger than I had ever known before.

It just wasn’t my time to disappear into the burning sunset like two Butterfree in love. Rather, I stayed below to rock out to the Pokemon theme song: I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was... I knew that even though metaphorical Butterfree would come and go from my life, I’d remain diligent with my work and keep moving in my own direction until the best one stayed.


Saffy is a fashion blogger, artist, and avid cyclist who finds herself more hilarious than she should. She lived in Alabama for most of her life but is currently attending graduate school in Iowa, land of corn and corn products. In her spare time, she daydreams of David Bowie, bakes cookies for friends so she can eat the cookie dough, bikes intensely to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, and thinks about how fetching it is that pigeons wobble their necks when they waddle.


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