John Spiegel is an English teacher in Springfield, Ohio where he shares his love for words, beards, and the feel of vinyl records.
A previous essay, "Like Dad" appeared in the December 2014 Issue of IVJ.
I imagine the first couple of days inside a cocoon are quite uncomfortable for the adolescent caterpillar. A caterpillar eats, grows, and molts its skin up to five times before entering a chrysalis smaller than its body appeared, much like trying on a new pair of shoes that should be your size but haven’t been broken in quite yet, so you wiggle your toes up and down as you contemplate claustrophobia for a single appendage.
Different caterpillars spin cocoons differently, and some don’t spin them at all. Many caterpillars, like the Monarch Caterpillar, attach a hook-like limb called a cremaster to a branch using silk. They attach the cremaster to the silk like Velcro. Afterwards, they shed their skin yet again and emerge in a cocoon already formed around them.
Others, like the Zebra Swallowtail and the Sleepy Orange and the Canadian Tiger and the Spicebush, create a hammock using a web-like silk from their mouths to support the fragile cocoon. The silk starts out sticky, as the larvae are still unused to how it feels on their fragile bodies, but it slowly hardens over time. Many moths like the Virginia Ctenucha create their silk chrysalis inside the shelter of a nearby leaf. The delicate cocoons will be safe from wind, weather, and predators within the barriers that these living walls provide.
At its very best, the chrysalis is a temporary place. It is a brand name sneaker given to a middle-school boy, quickly outgrown and replaced. It is a brand new candle in an apartment, providing smoky and spicy new aromas but burning out quickly if it truly serves its purpose. It is a womb to an infant: he has been evicted and he doesn’t know why, and that scares him, so he does the only thing he can. It is a college dorm room, inhabited and abandoned after four years, and sometimes five because she felt like taking a year to discover herself and then later realized that she had no interest in nursing because she passes out every time she sees blood. It is a good parents’ home to their recently graduated son, because a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, for they are quickly becoming indistinguishable, they have cremastered themselves together like Velcro. Just like the term fiancé, a cocoon is temporary. And it feels different than before. Just like every other larva that recently moved out of his parents’ place, I will only be a fiancé for a limited amount of time. I don’t know how I will emerge on the other end of this. Tonight, I somehow feel smaller than I appeared. On nights like these, I say ‘good night’ to my fiancé and crawl into my bed like a hammock. I tuck my legs in like a caterpillar curling itself under a branch, and wrap myself tightly in my comforter. I am a child again. A child getting acquainted to the world it now so gracefully inhabits.
~John C. Spiegal