The Butterfly Nebula – Fragment

February 28, 2018

As Gladys and I continued our steady drift into the comfort zone of non-communication, I became more deeply involved with celestial observation. I had started again in the mid-to-late ‘80s with Ramona helping out.  I continued to pursue binaries, although less in the 1990s, a period rich in the study of comets. Around the time of Beatrice’s letters I’d been pre-occupied with Shoemaker Levy-9 and Jupiter. I’d been periodically following the comet’s extremely elongated path since 1992 when a close approach to Jupiter caused the comet to break into fragments from the planet’s powerful tidal forces. In July of 1994, while Wyatt-Edwin was meeting his mother in Arizona, I observed the first fragment strike the surface, Io hovering above to the right. And though you did not actually see direct impact because the surface was turned away, one could make out the hazy disturbance on the edge of the planet; later the mark of impact became visible. Over the next six days 20 more fragment impacts would occur, a gigantic pummeling, leaving a macule chain across Jupiter’s banded surface.

Two weeks after Wyatt-Edwin flew out to Arizona, I stopped by Laura’s one evening on my way home from work. Some photographs of Beatrice and Wyatt-Edwin had just arrived in the mail. I stared at the color prints of Wyatt-Edwin. In a few he had a yearning and yet slightly uncertain look; in others he appeared perfectly content. I was unnerved, though, at the health and happiness of Beatrice. She beamed at the camera. Virgil managed to be in only one photo with her, and there was another of the three of them together with the mushroom domes of the Empyrean Observatory looming in the background . . . a happy family. I should have been happy for her in her new life, but couldn’t escape the feeling of having been slapped in the face—certainly her abrupt departure and lack of caring had been a slap in the face to Laura and Wyatt-Edwin more than it had been to me, but I was still bitter. Beatrice wore her hair fairly short, which somehow enlarged her heterochromia, the eyes more prominent sans the distraction of hair. She gave Wyatt-Edwin a big strangling hug, as if she would break his spine or draw him back inside her so she could start over again. She had barely aged. I would have expected some lines of cynicism and disappointment on her face, some small road map of her pain these past ten years, but her skin was fine and perfect, tan, unwrinkled. It had never been easy to see the feelings swimming behind those different colored eyes, as if the mood in one eye always negated or canceled out the other, a kind of yin-yang symbol. Even with her shorter hair she was the same alluringly ethereal Beatrice I remembered. In the hard red clay earth of the Arizona desert and mesa, Beatrice still maintained her aura of impenetrable radiance, and yet I harbored resentment towards her. After all, Wyatt-Edwin hadn’t seen his biological mother in over a decade, and he was my son too. I’d often felt helpless in being able to parent him because of my situation with Gladys and Ramona (though there’d been no expectation of my parenting, or co-parenting). I’d never liked the way Beatrice had left Laura with the job of raising our son, though Laura had been doing fine.

And now, at long last, would come the moment of understanding and reconciliation, the mother and child reunion, and all would be forgiven . . .  maybe. Perhaps the degree of someone’s attractiveness unconsciously biased us as to whether or not we’d forgive them. I knew Beatrice would get a pass and a chance at atonement, and that thought angered me in a way I couldn’t quite shake off. Looking at the recent pictures on the mesa, in the desert canyons, I could see that the years had graciously allowed her to evolve her narcissism. Her perpetual self-regard had not been fully formed when we’d first met.

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