The Butterfly of Penthouse D
About a week ago, I was “doing homework” on my laptop at a local cafe, and by “doing homework” I mean “getting distracted looking at craigslist for odd jobs, any jobs besides waiting tables.” I stumbled upon an ad looking for a family assistant a couple of afternoons a week, watching over a mature 11-year-old. Despite my logical brain telling me this would not be a terribly lucrative alternative to my restaurant work, I responded to the ad.
We arranged to meet on Saturday and as I made my way to the address given, I thought, “Apartment PHD, what the heck is PHD?” When I came upon a building taller than all the surrounding buildings, I realized, “Ohhhhh, the Penthouse…” I had to buzz in at two different panels with security cameras pointed right at my face. I made my way to the top floor and the young girl ushered me into a spacious, sunlight-filled apartment with almost 360-degree views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines. The apartment could have been taken out of a New York magazine – furnishings are black and grey and white, stark and minimalistic, fine art hangs on the walls. Mom and Dad, both architects, and Daughter and I sat around a chrome-lined table and they served me sparkling water. I felt like a Bohemian Mary Poppins, my flowy blue dress and teal eyeliner and smiling face splashing into their austere environs. Don’t get me wrong – these people are by no means cold. They were friendly and kind, but like many New Yorkers, averse to strong displays of emotion, especially enthusiasm.
My job duties were clearly laid out for me by both parents and kid. This little girl seems well on her way to adulthood and both Mom and Dad stressed several times that their daughter is quite capable of taking care of herself after school. Also mentioned, in a slightly sad and offhand way, was everyone’s busy schedules. Mom and Dad work late, Kid gets herself to and from karate practice. They want a human presence in the apartment a few afternoons a week to simply offer some guidance in staying focused on homework; she does her homework in a Google Doc that is edited by fellow classmates of her pedagogically-advanced private school. I told her we could be homework buddies and keep each other focused.
After everyone had warmed up to me, they asked if I wanted to see the pet butterfly. About two weeks ago, a beautiful black swallowtail butterfly appeared in the apartment. The theory is that a chrysalis was on their Christmas tree. They’ve been feeding it honey-water and soy sauce (for a bit of sodium, naturally) and they hung towels and sheets all over the bathroom so that the butterfly would have something to grip onto. I was shown into the bathroom and given the butterfly to rest on one finger. When you’re holding such a gorgeous, delicate, and still creature, all you can do is sit quietly and stare. I commented on how meditative it was to hold the butterfly and the Mom said, somewhat shyly, more to herself than to me, “It’s been such a gift to have this butterfly, to be taken away from everything for even five minutes a day. It’s the closest thing I’ve come to meditation in twenty years.”
What a miracle, this butterfly! I’m amazed at its ability to survive, longer than the expected two-week life span, in an environment without any sunlight or plant life around. It’s mere presence has gently shaken up the lives of three busy New Yorkers, reminding them of natural beauty and the power of stillness.