This is a story about a 32 year old man and his secret fear.
It goes a little something like this:
We were housesitting (as you know) and on our first night there, at this gorgeous house in the country, Adam, Olive and I took the three dogs for a walk to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings. It was one of those delicious summer nights that you dream about in the dark depths of winter – warm, still light out even at 7pm and with a soft breeze tickling our skin and bringing with it the sweet scent of clover.
And here was the situation as we walked on that sweet summer’s eve: Olive in a carrier on Adam’s back, Adam with Gus’ leash in hand, Gus and the beautiful black lab off leash, and the majestic Italian sheepdog being walked on-leash by yours truly. This is all very important information, you see, so make sure you have a picture in your head before we continue.
We headed down the driveway, dogs bouncy with excitement, and turned left to head up the gravel road. As we walked we passed a few neighbours properties, and one of them had what looked like a stacked beehive box on the edge of their garden.
“Oh”, I cried wistfully, “Look, Adam! Her neighbor has bees!” and this knowledge delighted me in some deep, soft-hearted hippie way, because as all good hippies know, bees are in danger of extinction and this is a big deal because honeybees pollinate over 1/3 of our food. So no bees= no food and no food= we are all EFFED!
(I am writing “effed” and “mother-effing” instead of their more colourful alternatives because I’m trying to curb the swearing, because this is a family blog, after all. Also, dear Olive is beginning to imitate us and it is only a matter of time before we are in the grocery store line up and she drops something and says, in a sweet little toddler voice, “Oh for fuck’s sake!” and ye, the eyes of judgment shall be mightily cast upon me and the tut-tutting from elderly ladies shall grow ever-louder until I am buried under a mountain of lipstick-stained disapproval.
So I am trying to curb it. The swearing, I mean. But dang, dang is it tough.)
Anyway, the bees made me very happy, and we continued up the road, me ruminating on fresh unpasteurized honey and the heady aroma of beeswax candles. The gravel road had a slight but steady incline, and after about ten minutes we were all running a good sweat – Adam and I with shiny faces and the dogs with their tongues hanging about a foot out of their mouths. Olive was squawking pleasantly in her carrier and it was all just delightful, as it should be on such a perfect summer evening.
The road started to go downhill and we found ourselves in the shade of the forest which bracketed the road on either side. It got very quiet, and all we could hear was the crunching of our feet on gravel, and the dogs panting.
Then, piercing the quiet like tiny fuzzy little drones, the faint bzzzz bzzzz bzzz of bees. Bees! Our friendly food-pollinators, those adorably striped insects which I am so passionate about preventing from extinction.
At first it seemed like there was just one or two bees, sort of flitting about here and there, and Adam and I remarked on their presence, something like
“Oh, hey. There’s some bees.”
“Ah yes, bees.”
But as we continued, their numbers increased, and one or two became five and then eleven and then what felt like dozens, dozens of bees. Buzzing and swirling about our heads and bumping into our arms and then Adam remarked to me something like,
“What the eff is with these mother-effing BEES?” and I replied something like, “I don’t know but it’s kind of weird, hey?”
But Adam couldn’t hear me, and the reason Adam couldn’t hear me was because Adam was freaking the eff out. He was surrounded by bees – we all were – but he was surrounded by terror, also, and the terror was making him dance and hop and swirl in jerky little circles like a manic whirling dervish, and with each swirl he used the leash in his hand to whip away the bees and each time he whipped the bees he shook Olive in her carrier and between the bees and the yelling and the shaking she was starting to cry.
I started to get annoyed, because seriously dude! And so I said,
“Adam! Stop whipping the bees! You are shaking Olive and it’s making her cry”
and he, my 32 year old husband, this man I have known and loved for ten (almost eleven) years replied in a shrill falsetto that I have only ever heard once before in the history of ever, he replied and I QUOTE:
“I can’t! Madeleine I can’t! I AM DEATHLY AFRAID OF BEES!”
And I stopped, in the midst of the whipping and buzzing and crying and barking, and said,
and he repeated himself in an even higher voice that was doing that sort of air-gulping between words thing :
“Seriously, Madeleine! I AM. EFFING . DEATHLY. AFRAID. OF BEES!”
and I mean, what can I say? I was shocked.
I was shocked because you think you know someone! You think you know someone after all of that hand holding and pillow talk, all of that talking and chattering and yammering, all of those fights, all of those days and nights and dusky walks together. You think you know someone, and then this!
Don’t you think that would have come up, at some point in the last ten (almost eleven) years? Like maybe when you are watching My Girl one night for some reason, and you get to the scene where the dear little boy dies from being stung by bees, I mean wouldn’t you at that point maybe lean over and confide, “Hey. By the way, I am deathly afraid of bees.”
Or perhaps on your wedding day, in that oft-written about pause after the minister asks if anyone knows any reason why the two of you should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace, perhaps then one could confide in a whisper so quiet that even the minister couldn’t hear it, “Honey. Before we do this, you should know that I am deathly afraid of bees. Deathly.”
Or, OR more pertinently, when you are walking past a beehive one evening and your wife starts talking about how important bees are, and how she worries about the bees and how much she loves bees and beeswax and honey, and the absolutely vital role they play in our existence, maybe wouldn’t you maybe say something like, “Man. Those bees sure are important, but you know what? I am effing DEATHLY afraid of them.”
I guess what I am trying to say is that I was surprised that Adam had something he was deathly (DEATHLY!) afraid of, and even more surprised that that thing was bees.
So, I then did what any wife would do when her husband has finally, after ten (almost eleven) years, revealed his deepest fear. I mocked him.
He was losing his ish, running (without really being able to run, because of Olive, you see) and turning in circles (I don’t know why with the circling) and all the while, furiously and frantically swatting around his head at the bees with that dog leash and shrieking things in a high-pitched voice, things like
“Oh god!” and
“The BEES! Madeleine THE BEES!”
And I was running after him, repeating in a shrill girly voice, “I’m deathly afraid of bees! Oh god, somebody helllp me! The bees! THE BEES!”
If you are thinking that this was awesome, you are right. And if you are thinking that this was not appreciated by Adam, not one bit, you are also right.
But as much as I love a good mockery, I am also a caring wife. So after I squeezed as much leverage as I could from the situation, I tried to help. Because of course.
“Adam”, I said calmly as I approached him, “You need to calm down. They’re just bees, but bees can sense fear, I read that somewhere. So just take a deep breath, okay?”
but these words did not calm him.
The swirling, whirling, leash-whipping frenzy continued and he kept hop-running and Olive kept crying and that’s when we saw it- him- Gus.
He was covered in bees! Five or six had actually landed on him, his snout and the ridge of fur running up and down his spine, and more were angrily buzzing around him. He was loping along a ways behind us, seemingly indifferent to the bees and the yelling and general panic of our little walking party. But as he got closer, so did the angrily buzzing hordes that followed him, and so we started yelling at him,
“Gus! Stop! Stay there!” (from me), and “Oh goddamnit! No. NO! Go away! Go away you effing bee-covered b@stard!” (from Adam)
But the yelling and excitement was, well, exciting to Gus! “What’s this? What’s the meaning of all of this arm waving and loud voices and, lo, is Papa dancing?” I imagine he was thinking, “What fun! Let’s catch up!”
and so he started loping faster and faster and the bees buzzed angrier and angrier and the more we yelled the faster he came until suddenly he was right beside us, and just as suddenly we were engulfed.
THE BEES! They were everywhere. I could feel them bumping against my hips and my hair and I started instinctively swatting them away and whenever I made contact I screamed because had I just killed a bee? Had I just personally contributed to their imminent extinction? But also ohgodohgodohgod please don’t sting me! Please don’t let me get stung by a bee! Every time I hit one I just made it madder and the buzzing got louder until suddenly I realized something, in the midst of this swarming, buzzing hell:
I, too, was afraid. DEATHLY.
“Oh my god” I started sobbing, “We’re going to die! We’re going to die like that sweet boy in My Girl“.
And all we could do was run. So we both ran. But not really, because of Olive, you see.
I was crying/hyperventilating, and Adam generously handed me his weapon, the leash, and I started swatting frantically around my head and around his head and he was shrieking “Get them! Get them!” and I was yelling “They’re so big! Why are they so big?” and Adam was saying “I don’t effing know! Are they Africanized?” and I didn’t know what that meant and all I could remember was that part of the Michael Moore movie where they were talking about Africanized bees and so I yell-hissed “Adam! Don’t say that! That’s racist!” and the bees kept swarming us, and we kept running.
I really didn’t think we had gone that far on our walk, but the house didn’t seem to get any closer with each hill we crested, and my feet were slipping in my flip flops on the gravel and Olive was bouncing around in her carrier and I just kept thinking “We are dead. We are effing dead”
Finally we walk-ran past the neighbour’s house, the one with the lush garden and quaint bee boxes, and as we passed them, Adam with the fear of God in his heart, Olive wailing, Gus covered in bees, me swatting the air with a rolled up dog leash, and the two other dogs looking at us like we were insane, I yelled at the top of my lungs into the sweet summer night:
“Fuck you, bees! Fuuuuuck youuuuuu!”