“Kids!” Katie motioned to get the second graders’ attention. “Look at this.”

She held up a glass canning jar with a dragonfly in it and listened to the enthusiastic “oohs” and “ahs” from her students.

Jeremy politely raised his hand. “Ms. Jackson,” he asked. “What kind is it?”

Katie smiled. The inquisitive, bespeckled boy with freckles and red hair reminded her why she liked to teach so much. “See the color,” she said, holding the jar closer for him to see better.

“Yes. It’s blue.”

“That’s right. It’s called a common blue damselfly, or blue damsel for short.

“Where’d you get it?”

“I found him in my garden.”

Next to Jeremy, Sally raised her hand. “How do you know it’s a he?”

Oops. A bead of sweat appeared on Katie’s forehead that she quickly wiped away. She tried to cover up her misstep by joking. “It just looks like a he, doesn’t it?” she asked, nodding her head in the affirmative. Her students dutifully nodded along. Whew, she thought to herself, trouble avoided.

Katie talked to the class some more about dragonflies and their importance in nature and ecology and then gave the jar to Jeremy to take around the room and show the class.

While he was walking up and down the aisles in the back of her mind, she wondered what the students would think if she told them the truth, if she told them the dragonfly wasn’t just some ordinary blue damselfly she’d captured in her garden. No, it was really her creep of a husband, dead these past three years, who had come back to life as a dragonfly. She smiled to herself. That would really freak them out, like it still kind of did her.


The summer, when he was ten years old, Ben Jackson and his friends heard about reincarnation and were convinced they’d come back from the dead.

“I want to come back as an eagle,” Ben told his friends when they were sitting under a weeping willow tree in his parent’s front yard. “Or a cougar. A cougar would be cool, too.”

His friends all concurred, their wishes ranging from Bobby Baily wanting to come back as a great white shark to Matt Green, who wanted to be a lion. Even the nerd of the group, Melvin Larson, got into the act.

“I want to be an anteater,” he told them all solemnly. “They’re different.” His friends just laughed and gave him a good-natured hard time, not surprised at all.

Katie was new to the neighborhood that summer and watched the antics of the boys with bemused wonder. She was the same age as them but felt older. She wanted to be a schoolteacher when she grew up and spent much of her free time reading, not goofing around playing sports like they did and riding bikes. Coming back as some animal? Not on your life. If she had her way, it’d be a nice, thick book instead. She wasn’t even sure she believed in reincarnation.

At first, the boys ignored her, but she had a likeable personality and they soon began including her in their group. By the time fifth grade rolled around that fall, they were all fast friends and stayed friends up until high school, when Ben and Katie started dating and the other boys went their own separate ways.

After graduation, Ben and Katie attended a local college, but Ben dropped out after a year saying, “It’s just not for me.”

Katie was disappointed. “What are you going to do?”

“I’ve got an application in at Amazon doing deliveries. I’m pretty sure they’ll hire me.”

They did, and Ben began working long hours while Katie continued with her schooling, graduating with a degree in education in four years. That fall, she began teaching second grade at Ramsey Elementary School in south Minneapolis. By then, Ben had gone through a series of jobs, until he’d finally given up. “I can’t find anything that suits me,” he told her. “Besides, you make good money on your teacher’s salary.”

He ended up staying home in their cheap basement apartment near downtown drinking and complaining about life. And if it was just that Katie might have found a way to cope with his irresponsible behavior. But when he drank, he became abusive both verbally and physically, and Katie couldn’t abide by that. She had assorted bruises, often hidden from view, to prove it, and a scar at her hairline from a bottle he’d thrown at her in a drunken rage. She was planning on getting a divorce when, at the age of 26, after she’d been teaching for four years, fate intervened. With Ben drunk and Katie driving them home from a holiday party at a friend’s house, their car hit a patch of ice and spun out of control. Katie awoke in the hospital with a crushed pelvis. Ben had been killed.

At the funeral, Katie shed tears, but they were mostly from happiness. At least he won’t be beating me up anymore, she thought as the service ended. Though her hip gave her constant pain and she walked with a limp, she was free to build a better life for herself, which she did. She focused on her teaching and used her savings to buy a small, cottage-style fixer-upper built in the 1930’s and located a mile from where she taught. She moved on with her life. She was free of Ben, and she’d never been happier.

Her home had a tiny, postage stamp-sized front lawn. She’d always wanted a garden, so in spite of her painful hip, over the next few years she dug up most of the sod and created garden spaces outlined by rocks and planted with perennials that came back year after year: purple coneflower, white daisies, pink bee balm, and deep red phlox. The rainbow of colors delighted her neighbors, who often stopped by to comment on how beautiful her garden looked.

The flowers also attracted butterflies and bees, and Katie was proud that pollenating insects called her garden their home.

One day in September, after returning home from school, she was planting a new clump of golden-colored black-eyed Susans when an insect flying around the garden caught her attention. She looked and saw that it was a dragonfly, small in size and blue in color.

“Hello, you,” she said, just to be friendly. It was the first of its kind she’d ever seen in her yard, and she stood quietly without moving as it hovered about before coming closer. Then it darted away. Then it came back. Then it darted away again. Then it came back, hovering ever closer each time. It reminded her of a well-trained dog who was frantic to show its owner something important.

“What are you trying to say?” Katie asked as it flew close to her face. A dog trying to communicate was one thing, but a dragonfly? Doubtful. What could a dragonfly possibly have to show her? Or tell her?

She shrugged her shoulders and was about to continue with her gardening when a sudden thought occurred to her; more of a memory, really. She remembered way back to that summer when she was ten years old and she’d first met Ben and his friends. The boys had been talking about what they wanted to come back as after they died. She remembered Ben had wanted to come back as an eagle, or a cougar, or something like that. Could it be…?

“Ben,” she said, cautiously. “Ben, is that you?”

The dragonfly hovered next to her face, frantically darting back and forth as if eager to communicate with her.

Fat chance. Ben had been a marginally attentive boyfriend and resoundingly uncommunicative after they’d married. Why she’d married him in the first place she still didn’t know. The car accident that had killed him three years earlier was the best thing that had ever happened to her.

But was this him? Had he come back to haunt her? She didn’t have to think. Why take a chance and miss this opportunity? She cupped her hands and trapped him, went inside, got a glass canning jar, and put him in.

“There,” she said, symbolically wiping her hands together to get rid of any trace of him. “Done. Don’t even bother trying to get away.”

The next day, she took him to school.

The classes loved Ben and adopted him as their class dragonfly. They even put a twig in the jar for him to rest on and kept him on a windowsill to observe. For her part, Katie enjoyed watching him frantically try to escape.

When fall came and the weather turned cold, she asked the class what she thought they should do with their dragonfly.

Jeremy raised his hand. “Let him go?”

Sally spoke up. “Won’t he freeze and die? It’s getting cold out there.”

Katie smiled as she picked up the jar and held it close to her face. Ben’s frantic darting back and back, smashing into the sides until he clung exhausted to the twig, told her all she needed to know. He wanted her to save him and keep him inside, where it was nice and warm.

Smiling, she said to her students, “All things have to die sometime. Same with dragonflies. Come on, class. Let’s go take him outside.”

They let him go into a blustery northwest wind that swept him away. They watched for a moment until he disappeared from view and then hurried back inside. Sally was right; it was really cold out.