John Wayne (the butterfly)

Dear World,

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. As flowers begin to bloom, and trees come alive with leaves, I would like to tell you my story – my own personal story of rebirth.

In 2008, I became ill. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had a medical condition that was exacerbated by the heat, and I was living in Las Vegas at the time. I became so sick, that I was unable to work. I walked with a cane. I eventually became home-bound. In late 2009, I moved back to New York (way up north, near Utica).

By 2010, I had improved, but was still unable to work and fairly limited in all I could do. I was on a tremendous list of medications. On May 3, 2010, I almost died. My heart rate dropped into the 40s. I had a tracheal tube in (I can’t remember if I was on a ventilator, or if the medical staff was breathing for me by manual compressions of the bag). I was unconscious for most of it. I have only 2 very small memories of the whole ordeal.

I was in the hospital for a week. I then spent a month recovering at my mother’s house. It was a lengthy, and difficult recovery, but I made it.

Once I was cleared, I went back up north. That’s when the miracles began to happen.

From early June until the end of August, my life was suddenly inundated with butterflies – specifically Monarch butterflies. We found caterpillars roaming the property, eating up milkweed. We’d find little chrysalises that we dubbed, “changing rooms.” There were two that we scooped up with some milkweed, placed in a jar and hung onto them until they were ready to fly. One day, there was one that landed on me. He or she landed on my arm, and was quite content to stay there. I would say this close encounter lasted for about twenty minutes or so. I had never experienced anything like that before. Having a butterfly land on me was…amazing.

Then there was John Wayne. John Wayne was my little tough guy. He decided to build his changing room on our air compressor (at the time, I was working with a chainsaw carver, and this was during our biggest show of the season). I don’t know how he survived the noise and vibration of the machine. One of the show days gave us torrential down pours (we got over seven inches of rain that day). We tucked the air compressor and John Wayne away so he wouldn’t be battered by the weather. Yes, I was very protective over a little chrysalis housing an insect.

Normally, the transformation takes ten to fourteen days. Sixteen days had passed, and John Wayne hadn’t emerged. In fact, on day 16, his cocoon looked dark and thin, indicating that he died in there. I was heartbroken. Call me silly, but I had a lot of faith in this little insect. I felt a connection to him. Day seventeen passed without event. At this point, I began thinking that we should bury the chrysalis. He didn’t need to hang onto the air compressor any more, and I didn’t know what else to do. The eighteenth day, though, changed everything.

I had an appointment that morning, so I was away from our chainsaw carving “office.” I got a call while I was out. My boss walked by the air compressor. John Wayne’s cocoon was empty, and a beautiful Monarch butterfly flew over her head! John Wayne made it! He defied the odds, and he pulled through! Though I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see him fly away, I was so thrilled to hear that he had lived. I’ve always called him “my miraculous monarch.”

What does all of this have to do with me? While all of these butterfly experiences were going on around me, I suddenly gained my health back. I was able to walk without the cane. One by one, my need for my various medications faded, until I was left with only one. I went from being disabled to working with a chainsaw carver to working with a chainsaw carver and working part-time at a local veterinary clinic. My life turned around completely. Like John Wayne, it took a little longer than most, but I, too, eventually changed and flew high as a new person.

It’s surreal to think that 5 years have passed. The years have flown by, yet it also feels like that was a lifetime ago.

What does my story of transformation have to do with our current situation as Hispanic LGBTs? If I can go from being home-bound to working physically demanding jobs, if a tiny little insect can survive life on an air compressor, a tremendous rain storm, and emerge as a new creature eighteen days later, then we can become full citizens. We can transform into the people we have always aspired to be. We can redefine ourselves, and our community. We can change from second-class citizens, to fully equal – and enjoy all of the rights that we deserve. There is hope in each and every one of us. There is a fighter – a John Wayne, if you will – in all of our hearts. We can do this. We can change. We can create. We can become. Our lives and our futures are ours. Let us all bring about the change that we need, so we can all live life to the fullest.

Live life in your own special way,

Lauren

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