The Monarch Gang

When I was 12 years old, I tried to join a gang.

The leader was this kid named Barrett, and in science class one day he kept one keen eye trained on the teacher’s back as he slipped a folded piece of paper into my outstretched fingertips. It said that after school, I should meet him down the street at Chamberlain Park.

When I got to the park that afternoon, I found the gang already assembled. They stood in a row on the far side of the sun-bleached hopscotch court — each boy standing with his arms folded across his chest. Barrett stood in the middle, and he tapped his foot impatiently and tracked me with his eyes as I walked across the grass.

I paused at the opposite side of the small asphalt square, and felt their gazes locked onto me. One kid snarled, and spit defiantly down at his feet. After a long moment, Barrett spoke.

“Listen, Kid,” He said. “We talked it over. We’ll let you in our gang.”

I exhaled, relieved.

“But first,” he said. “You need to prove your loyalty.”

The guys around him guffawed. “Yea!” one yelled, and a few of the others echoed it. I knew all about gangs from the TV, so I was expecting this.

“You want me to steal a bike?” I asked.

Barrett shook his head.

“Want me to egg Mrs. Figgins’ house?”

Barrett shook his head.

“You want me to,” I began, and hesitated for a moment to glance at the ground. “Hurt somebody?”

He shook his head again.

Barrett took a step forward out of the line, and the rest of the gang’s eyes darted off of me and onto him. He stretched his arm out and held his hand a foot or so in front of my nose, so that the inside of his wrist was pointed towards the sky. Slowly, he opened his fist. On his palm sat a small, green caterpillar with white and black stripes.

“Here’s how it works, kid” he began, in a bullying voice, like he was annoyed by the whole conversation. “You’re gonna take this caterpillar home. You’re gonna feed it, and shelter it, and in a few weeks, it’s gonna make a chrysalis.”

I scanned the faces of the other kids in the gang. The same kid from before spit on the ground and silently mouthed a word I couldn’t quite make out.

“And then, in ten days, that chrysalis is gonna open up, and a butterfly is gonna come out. And when that butterfly flies away,” Barrett said, as the rest of the kids joined him in locking their hands together at the thumbs to mime the motion of flapping wings, “you’ll officially be in our gang.”

I took the caterpillar into my hand and gingerly closed my fist around it. As I walked home, I could hear the laughter of the other kids behind me.

And that, my friends, is how I became a member of the Monarch Gang. We didn’t commit very many crimes. And we didn’t get in a lot of fights with the other gangs. But we did have the coolest colors in town. And to this day, you can flash me the gang sign, and I’ll know you, too, are down with the Monarchs.