The Emerging Black Butterfly

Have you ever wondered how a person became who they are now? Think about it… Everyone has a back story. And here’s mine. In May of 2003, I awoke feeling quite off. My head hurt in a way that I had never felt before. As I stood to my feet and proceeded to walk toward the restroom, I can only describe the pain as someone squishing Jell-O with a hammer. I made my way into the bathroom standing, staring straight into the mirror trying to focus my eyes. I was in deep trouble because I couldn’t see anything; everything was very blurry; it was like being drunk and looking through a water glass.

I yelled for my husband only once. I remember I yelled again and the pain was so intense I must have blacked out. I remember everything went pitch black and when I came to I was lying in a hospital bed. Not knowing when, how, or how long I had been there.

I remember my husband looking at me strangely with wide eyes and asking me stupid questions like, “What is his name?”

I jokingly said, “Liam Neeson.”

“What!” He said starkly.

“Essie what’s our children’s names?”

I replied, “Um, Jesus Christ and Damn It.” I could hear the doctor and nurse laughing in the background and trying to contain themselves before my husband abruptly walked out. After composing himself the doctor came to my bedside and said, “Mrs. Yazzie, you had a close call; you had a stroke and we seem to have caught it in time. There seems to be nothing wrong with your memory. But I’d like to run a few more tests. Can you squeeze my fingers as hard as you can with both hands?”

I said, “Sure I can but I am not responsible for any bruising that might occur.” I grabbed both of his hands and squeezed with all my might.

“OOOOk!” The doctor winced, as he rubbed his hand. I looked at his hands and the right side had turned completely white, but the left side was like I hadn’t squeezed at all.

“Ok can you give me a really big smile? Can you close your eyes tight as you can?”

I obliged the doctor. “Ok,” the doctor said as he drew a long slow breath and exhaled it. Well, Mrs. Yazzie you have a significant amount of weakness on your left side and will have to go thru rehabilitation.”

All joking aside, I felt like someone threw a wet blanket over me and things became very bleak. As I realized I could not stand, grab things the way I wanted, that my vision was very blurry, and that half of my face was twisted and looked like a melted wax crayon. The amount of depression I felt was inconceivable. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror. Talk about feeling ugly, the amount of insecurity that plagued my mind was heartbreaking. Dark thoughts of How could my husband stand to look at me? With my twisted face? If I can’t walk then I’m useless. I thought What about my children? How would I do the tasks I needed to do as a mother?

I began to feel sorry for myself. Thank God for a praying mother; she rode three days on a Greyhound bus because she was afraid to fly. Swollen ankles and all. My momma came to see about her baby girl. As I sat in in my wheelchair in the rehabilitation center corridor looking, staring aimlessly at the beautifully landscaped green grass and flowers, concentrating and deep in thought. One would have easily mistaken me for invalid, a vegetable or something.

I heard this loud sarcastic voice behind say “Come on Professor X get up let’s go!” My heart skipped a beat as it startled me to my core. Realizing that the voice was my mother. She had come all the way from Mississippi to see about me, bringing tears to my eyes. As my mother embraced me she told me that I would be back to normal in no time. The next four to six months of rehabilitation was very difficult but every day; every single day, I worked and pushed myself hard.

When I wanted to give up I could hear my mother cheering me on saying, “Come on GUH! YOU GOT THIS!!”

And each day I was determined to walk unaided. but mostly determined to get this stinky breath occupational therapist out of my face. Boy I tell ya, if I didn’t have the motivation before… homeboy breath was enough to make you want to run! But I finally did it. I could walk and grasp things again. On the day I was walking out of the rehabilitation center after six long months of not being able stand, walk, gasp, or feel anything on my left side or see clearly out of my left eye, I looked to my left and saw a beautiful black butterfly fluttering around me as if it was a note or a letter being sent from above, sending whispers of love and strength from my ancestors. I stretched both of my arms and lifted my head towards the sun.

If you take away nothing else from my testimony or my story take this important thought with you. In life we all will face challenges, battles, face life’s unexpected blows, but as long as you have breath in your body and the determination to keep moving forward you can always rise above life’s painful stings. Emerge and be bold like the Beautiful, Black Butterfly. When life knocks you down, you have the power to choose to get back up and to fight back.

Black Butterfly carrying whispers of love to my secret place.

Essie L. Yazzie is a student at Navajo Technical University.

Leave a Reply