Let me preface this by saying, I love honey. There is never a time in my home when we are without honey. Honey in tea, honey in coffee(weird but true), honey on toast, on cereal, on salmon. We all love honey here, and by extension, I appreciate the bee’s place in the world.
Now my story.
Sunshine filtered through the leaves around the verdant perimeter providing shady, quiet harbors at the edges. Brilliant golden rays burst out gloriously in the center warming the countless scurrying feet which ran, sauntered, sprinted, and skulked under, over, up, down, in, out, around, through and on top of the well-worn playground equipment. Parentless children embraced the freedom of bars, blocks, metal, wood, and we were about to do the same. We were relieved at not having to trudge up and down row after row of antiques, jewelry, collectibles, dusty toys we could look at but not touch, and other odd items adults unfathomably found valuable. I noted that the option to tag along with their parents at the massive flea market seemed to hold as little allure for the other kids as it did for my big brother and me.
At ten, my brother was my superhero. Whatever he did, I followed silently along hoping for a chance to be included. My six-year-old-self longed to play with the other children in reckless abandon, but for some reason I can no longer remember, we stood instead in some purgatory not quite in the welcoming shade of the trees nor in the frantic chaos of the playground.
He was fixated on a hole in a part of the playground that had not yet been trodden utterly bare with tiny feet. He told me it was a snake hole as we peered at it closely. For a while, nothing happened; that is until he placed his foot firmly over the top of the hole covering it completely, smirking at the thought of trapping the snake inside.
Another little boy about my age came over to see what we were observing so intently. Out of nowhere, a hornet glided gently down next to his sneaker. Fascinated, the little boy and I watched the little game of break-in happening at my brother’s feet. The small creature nosed all around the edges until he finally found a spot and disappeared.
The significance of the game was lost on us. With the insect gone, my attention drifted from the tiny drama unfolding below to my brother’s face above. Had I been older, I might have recognized his expression as a mixture of confusion, revelation, and fear, but to me, he just looked odd, and since he was standing still, I did too. The little boy behind me tried to get closer, I suppose we were hogging the view.
Suddenly, without warning the foot was gone. I glimpsed it disappearing into the tree line far to my left before everything went dark and the pain began.
What I remember most was the feel of the hornets filling my mouth each time I tried to scream. They were everywhere: in my hair, my ears, my nose, my clothes; I was covered from head to toe to with angry, stinging hornets. Tiny frantic legs, bodies, wings crowded my cheeks and my tongue as I desperately tried to spit them out.
The very next thing I felt was the strong arm of my father scooping me up and running with me like a football as he used his other hand to sweep them off my face, my body and comb them out of my hair. Then everything went black again.
Sterile smelling cold white light filtered through my closed eyelids as snippets of their muffled conversation came into focus. “…lucky to be alive,” “…hundreds of bites,” …use…” Blinking in the harsh light of the hospital room, my father and the doctor took notice and stopped talking. Someone helped me to sit up. The room was more the size of a glorified closet, with only an exam table, a small counter and to my right a quivering boy. The doctor gave me one of those looks he must have thought was comforting to children but which really made me feel as if I were some sort of slug he didn’t squash because he knew he shouldn’t. A visiting clown passed by the door, looked in, but saw the look on my father’s face and continued walking.
Pop was a picture of rage and concern. He alternated between peering at me and scowling at my brother who stood half sulking, half afraid as far away as he could manage in that tiny room. My brother responded to the scowl by huffing, “What? I got stung too!” This was a lie, but one which he felt might make my father less angry with him.
As a result of this incident, two things changed in my life. The first is that for the last 35 years I have had to carry an Ana Kit or Epi Pen everywhere I go to ward off the deadly reaction my body now has to all variety of bees. The second, and silver lining, is that from the moment I had children, I constantly impressed upon them the importance of, “never leaving a man behind.” They are all responsible for each other. No one is ever left to fend for him or herself. I am certain that if anything were to happen to one the others would jump in to save the other. So, all in all, I guess it worked out. My kids look out for each other – everywhere. They hug each other in the halls at school, they come to each other’s games, plays, events; and, they look out for each other in new places, with new people, at all costs. The B side of the Bee Side is my kids are never ashamed of their siblings, they enjoy their company, and they protect each other. That’s a darn good consolation prize.