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“Should haves,” “Could haves,” “Would haves” — they haunt us like sister demons of the night. The whispered hauntings of “What if’s” and “If only I had’s” as Regret plays its maddening scene over and over again for us. It hangs five seconds over our heads, taunting us with wishful thinking.
By Mingjie Zhai
If you had the power to change five seconds of your life, what would it be? Would you use it to give the car keys to your friend that night you were drunk? Would you have thought twice and instead say yes on an opportunity of a lifetime? Or would you have changed your text message from “Thank you,” to “I have faith in you too,” if you knew that it could possibly have saved your best friend’s life?
For, the phrase, “Thank you,” haunted her into the depths of self-hatred and guilt for many months. Thousands of scenarios had replayed in her head—all the what-ifs. If she had only known that her friend was in dire need of help. If she had only known that the text she received right before she hopped on the plane from Miami to Colombia would have been her last interaction with her.
“I didn’t think about it,” Marisabel said.
The pang of regret chokes her words as she recalls the pivotal moment at her studio apartment in West Hollywood, Calif. “Why didn’t I go with my gut feeling?”
Marisabel’s eyes lock on her Baby Taylor guitar with pensive intensity. “I met her a long time ago when I first moved to LA. She was doing a music video. I remember her vibe. I’m attracted to women who are powerful, who have their shit together, that are very strong.”
Her voice started shaking. The last thing her friend, ever said to her before she took her life was, “I have faith in you.”
“How come I couldn’t text her back the same thing? Probably that would’ve saved her. I was angry at me,” she said.
The unanswered questions became an obsessive whirlpool that sucked her down to that place of darkness, anger, and confusion. “I missed her so much and it felt so painful. It became all about me,” she said.
It took another six months of grieving before the shift began. “One day, I realized that I can’t think of me anymore. I have to think about her… How can I not put myself in her shoes? She was suffering after all. I also realized that I wasn’t the only one who suffered from losing her. She has children, she has friends, and she has a whole group of people hurting from it,” she said. It was shortly after this realization that the universe began surrounding her with butterflies.
photo by Bill Bazan
“Butterflies are like souls,” she explained. “When people pass away, they say watch out for the butterflies. For some reason, I had a sense that one of the butterflies was constantly around me.” This inspired her to return to Los Angeles and start her Butterfly collection. When she was back in Los Angeles, she started to passionately paint — or rather, splatter. One day, she was looking at the black and white canvas and as she ran her hands down it she felt the roughness of the surface. The texture of life, she thought. With eyes closed and tears streaming down her face, she knew she needed to shift her paradigm. She wanted to make her friend’s soul illuminate.
“That’s how I was able to shift that hurt. When I started painting, I just started doing random things. I went crazy, even though at the time I still didn’t know I had it in me,” Marisabel said. She wrote an intimate letter to her friend on that rough canvas. “I have faith in you too.”
Then, as if the light within her took over, she started splattering colors of pink, green, purple, blues danced away at the painting like a merengue number. Paint got over the floor, the wallpapers, splatters big or small, it just started raining color on the canvas, eventually covering the words she kept hidden and close to her heart.
Her first few art pieces were goodbye letters to her friend. Now, she makes it a continual practice to write something on a blank canvas before she paints, as more of an affirmation to the universe and a blessing to the person she paints the canvas for.
“She is alive in every single butterfly that I paint, every single butterfly that comes and visits me … I feel like it’s her,” she said. Freedom, transformation, Love, and equality. Now her strength resides in the resonation of each butterfly displayed for all to see.
The dancer weaves her heart into the rhythm of her body, the singer in between the breathes of her cadences, and the artist in the strokes when the moment of impact is made between color and canvas. It’s then no surprise that when Marisabel loves, it carries the weight of totality, kindred to the way she dances, sings, and paints.
“I put my everything when I’m in a relationship. Love gets me passionate. [It’s] butterflies in my stomach,” she said. So passionate that when it is suddenly gone or doesn’t go the way it was planned, she experiences the gut-wrenching stomach aches during the most painful moments of love loss.
“For me, it takes a long time to recover. It’ll probably take me more than a year. I don’t bump it from one relationship to another … To recover from that, it takes probably the same amount of time I had spent in falling in love in that relationship to finally grow apart from it. Every time, it feels like I am starting all over again. Because at the beginning it was two and now it is one. And now you have to transform all of that. And you go through so many phases, through being pissed off to crying, depressed, then pissed off, and then loving, then understanding, and then growing from that relationship, so it takes time.”
“It’s very important to not hold it in, for me. I write it, I talk about it, I read, I paint, and usually, when I paint, I don’t even look for dark things. I go for bright colors. If you see my work, you really see my colors. I want peace, I want harmony—for me those are bright colors.”
Photo by Mingjie Zhai
After countless goodbyes and challenges of uncertainty, this is her own takeaway: “I realized that the first person I need to love is me. Then that love reflects to the other person … When I start working with my spirit, and I keep up with spiritual practices, I become stronger and stronger. Even though at the time, I might not feel the best, but I have to cling to hope. I know there’s a reason why things happen. Even though I can be hurt, I can be angry, I know that there’s a reason why even though at that moment I don’t why.”
Like the butterflies of her collection, Marisabel’s love for love embodies that of the butterfly in metamorphosis — though the process of transformation maybe hard, lonely and painful, out of the darkness comes a beauty to behold, vibrant with colors and light.
More information on Marisabel’s Butterfly Collection
Marisabel’s butterfly paintings can be seen in the nation’s biggest street art gallery, LabArtStudio [Link], and as an Artist in Residence for, she has garnered a huge fan base — with sold out gallery shows all across the word. Marisabel’s mission as an artist is to support the charities that help the sick, downtrodden, and the homeless.
Her most recent work supports the Claire Foundation to treat drug addiction. As an active member of the “See Me” Project, she has created the Dream Big Collection, which is a compilation of 125 unique butterflies—one of which was showcased on an entire building of Times Square on July 24 at 8pm. Now, the city of West Hollywood, her heart and home for the past 10 years, has commissioned her to paint the butterflies on a big mural. For the City of Arts in Panama, she will also create an 8 meter sculpture, capturing the essence of the city that cultivates music, design, and art.