"Like butterflies with frayed wings, thoughts fly at me in random and rapid succession."

— Oates, Joyce Carol (b. 1938)

December 13, 2010
"Like butterflies with frayed wings, thoughts fly at me in random and rapid succession."
Metaphor in Context
I am not able to acknowledge the terror I feel, or the helplessness--such frustration as I enter Princeton Borough and the speed limit drops to twenty-five miles an hour. Here, I must wait for a very long time--how long, how long! a nightmare of lost time!--for the light to change at the intersection of Hodge Road and Route 206. At last the light changes and I drive the several blocks to the hospital, past darkened houses. I run to the front door of the hospital, which, of course, is locked, the interior semi-darkened. I run to the E.R. entrance, around the corner, I plead with a security guard to let me in. I identify myself as the wife of a man "in critical condition" in the Telemetry Unit. The guard listens to me politely but can't let me inside before making a call. This takes some time--precious seconds, minutes. Like butterflies with frayed wings, thoughts fly at me in random and rapid succession. He is still alive. It's all right. He is waiting for me. I will see him. He is still alive. Finally, I can enter. My panicked heart clenches like a fist as I take the elevator to the fifth floor. In Telemetry, there is no one around except at the nurses' station. In my distraction I don't see any nurses I know. By the way these women regard me, with impassive faces, they must know why I am here, at this time of night, when no visitors are allowed. And now, at the far end of the corridor, outside my husband's room, I see something that terrifies me--five or six figures, medical workers, standing quietly outside the open door. As I approach, one of them steps forward--a very young-looking woman, who is a stranger to me. Silently she points into the room and, in that instant, I know--I know that, for all my frantic rush, I have come too late; for all my waiting like a programmed robot for the light to change, I have come too late. In a trance I enter the room--the room I left only a few hours before in utter naïveté, kissing my husband good night.
(p. 77)
Joyce Carol Oates, "A Widow's Story" The New Yorker December 13, 2010.
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.