“You didn’t know that? You of all people?”
“No,” I said, tempering further reply.
“Yellow jackets, like many organisms, when you alarm or kill one, give off a pheromone that calls others for help.”
“Okay, good to know.”
“Really surprised you didn’t know that.”
“Yes, well, as long as I stay out of their way all is right with the world. I’ve developed some good tactics for doing that, actually.”
“Oh, wearing perfume at night instead of during the day, avoiding wearing yellow. Not drinking from soda cans outside, only containers with closable lids. Staying away from abandoned cars where they might have made a nest. Keeping windows and door ledges clean. I also try to avoid eating mustard or ketchupy foods outside but that can’t always be helped. And never returning to Lake Compounce amusement park.”
“Oh, so basically never going outside, then. Nice life.” His tone brought it all back, but I knew there’s little point discussing the strides I’ve made managing a phobia with someone who doesn’t have one.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of dining by the Hudson River with friends, which is a really fancy way of saying we was chowing down on finger-licking barbecue food and beer at the Ribworks. All was well until a yellow jacket wafted down onto my glass. Guess he wanted a little sip of salty margarita. I stayed in my seat and watched it for a few seconds, then calmly lifted myself from my seat, said excuse me, moved back a few feet, then waited for it to fly away, which it had no intention of doing, so my chivalric gentlemen waved it off my glass. G looked at me and said, “Really?” I nodded and smiled, knowing that at least in this stage of my life I didn’t turn the table over and run out into traffic. (Had I been a Marine, I would have given away our position and my comrades would have shot me on the spot.) I said, “Horror movie bad guys wielding axes? Machetes? Fine. Bring.it.on. I gotta problem with yellowjacks, however.” He wondered about that, so I explained it had to do with falling on one as a child, getting stung multiple times for the first time on the back of my tender little leg while mom was a block away, and the time my son was in his baby sling, I stepped on a ground nest and received multiple stings. We discussed the differences between honey bee and wasp for a little while, then went back to our drinks and talking baseball.
I’m trying to cultivate a harmonious existence with bees, but it’s not so easy for the little girl of me to do when a yellow jacket appears. Her mind overstates the memory of the pain, the most horrific pain she’d ever experienced, the memory of walking home alone, all that way without comfort, the humiliation of taking wounds when she was in the wrong, not the bug.
I wish we could all accept each other’s irrational fears, heck, irrational anythings for that matter, have patience with the other when the panic comes. It’s not for us to understand and certainly not to judge their fear or pain. How lucky I am to be able to think kindly of laced wing moths in the corner of the old apartment; luna moth on the convenient store door in the rain; fragile, steadfast honey bees dressed in fuzzy amber; curious, quick carpenter bees; bumble bees whose flight defies physics; salamanders and newts who mind their own business between roots; roly poly moist toads standing guard on basement steps in the moonlight; copperhead baby wriggling on the factory floor, mouse running for its life amid screaming women on their office chairs. Helping Yaro find a cup to catch the mouse, watching the guys capture the baby copperhead wearing welding gloves and tossing it out beyond the retaining pond instead of killing it. When will I give this same patience, this same understanding to the yellow jacket? I do not know. The little girl of me once believed that having babies, bullet wounds, tattoos, and getting hit by a bus was preferable to the experience of a yellow jacket sting. I can marvel at my progress, but it still needs work. This emotional wound needs healing in order to make peace with the yellow and black. I am grateful to the Universe who brought this to me.