Posted 02-25-2004 at 21:46:33
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It was one of those wild, hot, sweaty, last ditch efforts to keep the day going. They way you always do when you're seven or eight years old and the sun is leaving, and even though it's summer time, which meant that the sun didn't go to bed until almost nine p.m., you still felt cheated and wanted the evening to last forever.
Once it got 'dark for real' that meant bath time and bed time, and it was always a waste because it was the coolest time of a summer day and the absolute best time for a rowdy game of hide and seek.
Hiding was a cinch at dusk. You could hide practically in plain sight and watch the seeker run past a half dozen times and never see you, and almost wet your pants for trying not to laugh out loud and give yourself away.
Anyway, it was my turn to be the seeker, and don't think it didn't occur to me that there were three or four kids hiding in plain sight laughing their butts off at me trying to find them, but I didn't care because my mother had already given the 'last call' for the fourth time and I was more occupied with trying to figure out how to outwit her, than the hiders.
In less than a minute she would flip on the back porch light, and come stomping out the back door with a ...
"I SAID it was time to come IN!"
It was inevitable. So, I ceased seeking and stopped to catch my breath. Placing my hand against the trunk of a tree, I bent over to better get air into my lungs, in preparation to tell my friends goodnight and go inside, and that's when the innocent magic of the evening was shattered.
It started as a burning, stinging sensation, in the palm of my left hand, and to this day, nearly forty years later, I can still point out the exact spot. I don't think any of us ever forgets the first time that mother nature turns on us, and turn on me she did that night, with a vengeance.
Almost in slow motion I turned my hand over, and there in the center of my palm was a yellow jacket. I couldn't have seen him in any more intricate detail if I'd had a magnifying glass. I think the horror of this first encounter with a stinging insect so amplified my senses that I could even see the tiny little hairs on his back legs in minute detail. There he was hunkered down in the middle of my hand, his stinger in deep, the lower half of his body pulsing rhythmically as he pumped every microscopic iota of venom he had in him, into me.
A million thoughts went through my mind in the fraction of a second it took for my brain to identify the creature and the source of my pain, not the least of which was...why me? Of all the trees in the yard, why did he have to choose this one to light on, or for that matter, why did I? Why couldn't I have rested my hands on my knees the way I usually did? Or why didn't I put my hand on the tree a few inches higher, or lower, or to either side?
In that fraction of a second I questioned if I was being punished. Was this a lesson of some kind? Had I made this yellow jacket angry somehow...and he was getting even? The way he stuck there in my skin, still pumping out that venom, he had to be mad at me, he had to hate me. What did I do to him?
Was God punishing me for not responding to the first four 'last calls'? Or for the green beans I hid in my napkin last night? Or maybe this was a bigger lesson about respect for smaller things. Maybe I should have checked first before I put my hand on that tree to make sure I wasn't going to squash any living creatures.
As if on cue Mom flipped on the back porch light and came stomping out the back door with a...
"I SAID it was time to come IN!"
At first I couldn't move or speak. I couldn't take my eyes off that stinging little mass in my palm. I wanted to give voice to all my questions. I wanted to ask my mother if I was being punished, if this was karma, or if she had somehow set this up to teach me a lesson about coming when called. I had a million questions, but being only seven or eight years old, I worked with what limited vocabulary I had, and all I could get out was...
"There's a beeeee on mmmeeeeeee!!!!!"
Mother rushed across the yard and brushed the bee away. The hiders came out of hiding and discreetly went their separate ways to their own homes, lest there should be an angry bee in their immediate futures. I was waiting for Mom to say...
"See? If you had come when I called you the first time this never would have happened."
But she didn't, which still surprises me to this day because being a mother myself, I know I would have milked that situation for all it was worth. What she did do was lead me into the house and with a pair of tweezers, she gently removed the stinger and then she crushed an aspirin, mixed it with a tad of water making a paste, and applied it to the gathering welt.
Then she watched me closely for a while for any signs of what she called 'adverse reactions' which sounded almost worse than the sting itself. Then she explained to me that the bee could never sting me again because now having used it's stinger, it would die. I think that's the kind of thing all moms tell their kids after an event like this, so that they can know that there is some justice in the world. Even in the insect world.
As I watched her work, all my questions dissipated like fog under a hot noon sun and I came to the tentative conclusion that no, this was not retribution for some crime. This was not a matter of hate or even a matter of anger, or a lesson, other than the fact that sometimes bad things just happen, and not only did I suffer but the bee paid the ultimate price for this haphazard encounter.
I did what I thought I needed to do when I rested my hand against that tree. He did what he had to do to protect himself, and he died doing it, and geez...all I had was a sore palm. Suddenly I didn't feel like such a victim anymore.