Hummingbird Moth

by Chris Olsen

Matt didn’t want to leave. But I was ready for him to go. We sat perched on hot pink plastic Adirondack chairs on the front porch of my childhood home. Only I was all grown up and living there again—this time without my parents. He looked uncomfortable in the chair. He was too big for it. It was dark outside, but in the glow of the streetlight I could see him in my peripheral vision, shifting awkwardly. As he spoke, I only half listened as I stared at the flowerpots flanking the stairs. Along with the chairs, they’d appeared on the porch one day, filled with dozens of pink petunias. A surprise gift from my aunt who thought I might like to sit outside that summer.

As Matt continued talking, about what I don’t recall, he stopped mid-sentence and said, “Do you see that?”

Just then, the outline of a tiny winged creature appeared, hovering over the flowerpot for just a few seconds.

“What is it?” I asked, squinting my eyes.

In a deep, calm voice Matt said, “A hummingbird moth.”

“A moth?” I asked in disbelief. And then suddenly, I wanted Matt to stay.

That day, I’d asked him to chauffeur me to a fundraiser for a friend who’d been battling breast cancer. I couldn’t drive because I was in the midst of chemotherapy myself. For ovarian cancer. And operating heavy machinery was not allowed. At least not for a couple days after enduring eight hours of toxic chemicals being pumped into my body intravenously. Matt kept asking what he could do for me. Could he bring me lunch? Could he take me to a movie? Did I want to go for a walk? The answer was always no.

“He doesn’t really get it that I’m sick and dying,” I told my best friend.

“You’re not dying,” she said. “Maybe he’s one of those guys who likes to fix broken things.”

Matt and I had met online a year and a half before cancer took my dad and my reproductive organs. My best friend and I decided we’d both try out Match.com. She never went on any dates. I tackled it as if it were my full-time job. I had high standards though. I only went on dates with men who actually had a profile picture and wrote in complete sentences.

Matt sent me a message and his grammar was impeccable. But I was concerned that he lived 40 miles away, in a city of less than 15,000 people in the republican state of Wisconsin. I’d grown up across the river in Minnesota, in a bustling city of nearly a half-million. And I was a democrat.

“I’ve always wanted to live in the country,” my best friend said.

“Oh please,” I said. “You wouldn’t last more than a weekend in a town without Thai food delivery.”

During one of my many phone conversations with Matt, I learned he voted for Obama. He had a degree in art education. When he wasn’t teaching 7-year-olds how to sculpt birds from aluminum foil, he was building bicycles, making pottery, growing an organic veggie garden. I liked his sturdy voice and his dimples and that he was a full foot taller than me. He gave the kind of hugs that felt like being swallowed by an electric blanket. Maybe, I thought, we were more alike than we were different.

After a dozen or so dates, I still wasn’t sure about Matt. He loved life in his hometown, and he had no plans to leave. I couldn’t imagine why not. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I would last more than a weekend in a town without Thai food and Target and Trader Joe’s. So I told him I thought we’d be better as friends.

I didn’t hear from Matt again until a year later when I shared news on Facebook about my dad’s sudden and unexpected death. I included a photo of the 1950s pickup truck he had restored. Matt said he liked curvy old trucks, my dad’s was a beauty, and he wished he would have met him.

“He called the truck curvy and beautiful,” I told my best friend. “Is that weird?”

“It’s a sweet message,” she assured me.

When I got the news I had cancer, someone encouraged me to blog about it. When I shared the link on Facebook, Matt sent a second message. He said he couldn’t imagine how hard it must be to endure the loss of both parents and to face ovarian cancer without them. He said he’d been reading my blog and was blown away. I was blown away that he wasn’t afraid to use the word ovary. My brothers and guy friends avoided mentioning my lady parts cancer like it was the plague.

I finally said yes and allowed Matt to take me to lunch. I made sure he knew it was purely platonic. Not a date. Just friends. We went to Matt’s Bar, a Minneapolis dive famous for cheese-filled hamburgers. He’d never even heard of it. I’d been going there with my family since I was 5 or 6 years old. Over burgers and a shared basket of fries he said he thought I was cute bald, and that I should turn my blog into a book.

As he drove me home after lunch, he pointed out the color of the sky. “Spring is coming,” he said, noting it was Crayola Cornflower Blue.

Then, a couple of months later, on the night we sat on the porch of my childhood home, something became clear in the dark. Matt and I were more different than we were alike. But within the vastness of our differences there was beauty—a curvy old truck, a spring sky plucked from a box of crayons, a feathery insect masquerading as a bird. And I realized just how much I wanted that kind of beauty in my life.

About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.

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