Location: The wilderness, somewhere in southwestern Michigan.
In what she would later describe asa weird mixture of baby cries, cat in heat, and the screams of teenage girls at a New Kids On The Block concert (1988 New Kids, not that crappy new reunion stuff). Cathy, my wife, charges out of the cabin to find that it was I, her very masculine gladiator-esque husband who was the source of this unusual sound. In my defense it was humid. Very, very humid. You see, it all started with a conversation between me and my 3-year-old daughter, Lucy.
20 minutes earlier:
Cathy was inside putting Ruby to bed, while Lucy and I assessed the campfire situation. After a few minutes of scrambling for twigs and mulch, I strike a match under some wadded up newspaper. “Voila!,” I said. “And that’s how you make a campfire.” We watch silently as the flames ominously stretched higher and higher into the sky. I take a deep breath, “You smell that Lu? That’s the smell of nature, of good pure Earth. This is what camping is all about.”
“Smells like burning… smells dangerous.” She wasn’t completely wrong; we were charring a mammoth hole in the ground. At this point, the objective of roasting marshmallows seemed utterly absurd. The fire was tremendousand generating enough heat to melt all plastic within 15 feet. I cautiously remove Lucy’s barrettes. We sit for a few more minutes in silence and fear. I’ve begun to sweat uncontrollably, the stitching on my shirt has started to smoke and the legs on my lawn chair are beginning to bow. Suddenly, Lucy begins an odd conversation.
“Da, are bees dangerous?”
I nonchalantly shrug my shoulders. “Nah, not really. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone.” Secretly I’m terrified of them, and I never leave them alone. I scream, swat, hit, chastise and try to humiliate any striped creature that I feel threatened by. That’s right I’ll punch a zebra. I just don’t trust stripes. They’re deceiving.
“Will they sting you, if they are mad?”
“I suppose if you make them mad, then yeah, they will sting you.” Honestly, I can’t tell you the last time I was stung by a bee. If I were to guess I’d say it’s been over 20 years. My skin is beginning to crawl just talking about them, I feel compelled to crack my knuckles. Sweat is viciously pouring down my neck, and it’s relentless. I’m starting to feel uneasy.
“If a bee stings you, does it hurt?” Now this is the third straight question about bees. I’m glad that she’s curious about things, but I have to wonder why the sudden interest in this particular creature.
“Yeah, it will probably hurt a little.” I use the back of my hand to wipe away some of the sweat that is crawling down my neck. Upon doing this, I notice Lucy make a weird face. Instant panic.
“What’s wrong?” I snap. Then it all begins to fall into place. The questions, the curiosity, the looks — they aren’t random. There is a bee in our presence. I take a deep breath. I have an eerie feeling that the next few words out of her mouth are going to be a combination of “bee,” “on” and “you.” Now the question becomes, “Where?” I look at Lu, she’s biting her bottom lip. This is not going to end well. The seconds have slowed down considerably, and when I blink I can hear my eyelids touch. The fire continues to crackle and snap. Then suddenly I realize that the sweat which logically should be moving down my neck has begun to move up. I look down at Lu, and as soon as she sees my face tighten up, she decides that this would be the perfect time to let me in on a little secret.
“Da, you have a HUGE bee on your neck.” My first thought was to jump into the fire. It was also my second and third. I can feel it dancing all over my neck. I have absolutely no idea what to do and running seems pointless, so in my head I begin to formulate a plan. Apparently when I do this I make a face, a face that Lu has become all too familiar with. Behind these eyes is a stupid plan and she knows it. Slowly she begins to back away until she’s safely hiding behind a tree.
My plan is based largely on the theory that bees can apparently smell fear, and although mine might smell slightly burnt, I won’t allow him a chance to react to my panic. I raise my hand (I look over at the tree and Lu gives me a thumbs up). Once I commit, there is no wasted effort. With the velocity of a hummingbird’s wing, I unleash a punch to the side of my neck that would make Mike Tyson cringe.
Now you may be wondering, why I chose punch over slap? Two reasons. The first was annihilation; the second was defense. My theory was that a knuckle sting would be noticeably less painful… This brings us to the scream. In less than 20 seconds Cathy will come charging out the door to the sound of fear, anguish, sobbing and a touch of nausea. You see, somehow as I pummeled the bee into my throat he managed to retaliate. Instead of stinging me on bone as I had anticipated, he miraculously managed to place his saber right into that fine little stretch of skin between my fore and middle fingers, this proved to be very painful. Then as my neck rebounded to its natural upright position, he regrouped (musta been one of dem multiple stingin’ bees) and stung my neck, this also proved to be very painful.
For the life of her, Cathy could not wrap her head around the events that transpired around the campfire that evening. She had a lot of questions, which frankly I can’t answer. In retrospect, my plan was flawed, but ultimately I think I taught Lucy a very important lesson about tolerance. Case in point: A few days later while sitting in the backyard Lucy notices a bee.
“Da, remember that time you punched that bee?” she says. “Well that was not nice. Punching is not nice. So don’t punch anymore bees, because when you do you scream and cry and that doesn’t sound nice and can I have a cookie?” It’s not exactly Plato, but there is a certain amount of truth to it.