Almost 20 years of marriage, and Jesse and I have wasps living in our home. I’m pretty sure it’s my fault they’ve taken up residence. During the summer, I saw them flying in and out of a spot right above one of our kitchen windows. I thought they were honey bees, so I didn’t say anything. Actually, I did say something. I stood in our kitchen and pointed to them frantically flying in and out of the hive they surely were building and is now probably a palace, and I said, “We have bees.” I said it like it was a good thing, and my family looked at me like I was someone else. Someone who wasn’t afraid.
“Phobia” is too weak a word for how I feel about the bee family, but that day I was rising above my fear because I thought these were the good guys, and not the jackasses. I thought these were the ones that didn’t want to sting and only wanted to make honey, not the ones that will fight you for your July 4th hot dog.
I learned once that when a yellow jacket stings, its venom emits a smell that attracts other yellow jackets, thus producing the potential for a feeding frenzy. Like in Twilight without Edward Cullen who wishes he wasn’t made the way he was. I am confident yellow jackets believe they are wonderfully and fearfully made.
Anyway, I made a mistake and now they’re in our walls. They show up on our windows. Almost every day in September, and through the middle of October we’ve killed one or two. Sometimes three.
I want to call an exterminator, but Jesse says no because we don’t know where the hive is. My response is yes, we do. The wasps have made a teeny hole above our window like the Mafia made an unsuspecting mansion in the walls of our home. We need to smoke ‘em out.
Jesse and I fight about wasps, yellow jackets, and any other of Satan’s spawn more than anything else in our marriage. I am so angry that we can’t get an exterminator and also a contractor to re-build and wasp-proof our home, and he is so angry that I have no control over my fear. In almost 20 years of marriage the wasps are what one night made us go to bed angry and not speaking to each other until the next evening when he brought home traps and hung them on our deck, and outside the kitchen window. He sprayed where he thought the hive was and, along with the traps he bought at Home Depot, he brought home every kind of gummy candy he could find in the store. Gummies are my favorite.
That night, we sat on the couch eating gummy coke bottles, gummy cherries, gummy worms, and watching “Big Little Lies.”
“We could have worse problems,” I said to him as I watched Reese Witherspoon leave the dinner table after a spat with her teenage daughter. “This is like, my only flaw.”
We’ve had wasps before. In a condo we bought in 2006 three months before Hadley was born. Wasps lived in the fireplace. I found the first one in our living room on an early evening when I was waiting for Jesse to come home from work. It was on Hadley’s leg. Her chubby leg that she’d just begun to use for pulling herself onto things—the coffee table, chairs, our couch. I gasped, flicked it off her and stomped on it. I waited for Jesse to come home and clean it up. I can kill them. I cannot clean them up. I suppose it would take therapy to figure out why this is, but when I go to therapy (and I hate going to therapy), I prefer to discuss things like why I’m not on the New York Times bestseller list, and whether Oprah still does book clubs.
After that, the wasps came in, sometimes in twos, almost every day somewhere between 12:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon, when it was the most hot, and also when it was naptime for Hadley and Harper. Never mind the heat, I believe they knew this was the most sacred time of my day and they couldn’t wait to ruin it.
When I first began writing seriously, I wrote about the wasps. My mentor, a published author several times over and a cool as a cucumber Californian said, “The narrator sounds crazy in this piece.” That’s what you do when you edit another writer’s creative nonfiction—you call her the narrator. It puts some distance between the writer and her story—between the writer and the truth. You’re not crazy Callie, the narrator’s crazy.
When Hadley started preschool, she was invited to “Popsicles on the Playground.” Hadley, who’d been ready to go to school five minutes after she was born, hopped out of the car, bolted down the hill towards the playground, grabbed one of those popsicles that come wrapped in plastic and with no stick, threw her head back and devoured it like a shot, and ran to the park.
I followed her, remembering when I was in preschool how close I stood to my mom, how tightly I clung to her hand, how totally uninterested I was to play or be anywhere there were more than five people.
Hadley got stung. She was on a bridge heading for the slide when a wasp got her. She howled, I ran to her, stood under the bridge with my arms out, and she flew. I caught her, she wrapped her legs around my waist, buried her head in my chest, and sobbed and sobbed. I knew she was upset that she was hurt, but more because she had to stop playing. I hugged her while wasps flew around us, probably drunk from the popsicle sugar. I don’t remember being afraid.
Hadley and I made our way back to the car where I had a first-aid kit. I fixed her up, and we went back to the park. I stood watching her run and climb and smile, while I shook from what just happened. The wasps flew and flew and flew.
A few days after Jesse set the traps around our house, he told me triumphantly walking in from the back door and pointing to the sack hanging from our deck, “You should SEE all of them in there!”
I shouldn’t have seen them. That was a stupid choice. I don’t think I’ll ever un-see what I saw. I sat down on our couch and put my head between my knees.
“What about the others?” I mumbled to Jesse’s feet. “The ones inside?”
Jesse says there’s nothing we can do about the ones inside. He says the weather will turn cold and they’ll die. I don’t believe him. I don’t think they’ll die, and if they do, I think new ones will come back. We discuss this in the kitchen one morning while we watch Hadley walk across the golf course to the bus stop. I think I have killed at least 10 wasps on the window where I am watching my middle school daughter walk away from me.
The previous night, Hadley and I were watching “The Gilmore Girls.” (Hadley told me I look and talk like Lorelai and now I’m buying her a car.) After watching a scene with Lane and Rory, Hadley told me she wished she had a best friend.
“I’m fine,” she said, fiddling with the remote control. “A best friend sounds cool, though.”
“It is,” I told her. “And you will. It takes time. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
Now, watching Hadley walk to the bus stop from my kitchen window, my thoughts buzz in my head like the wasps I’m terrified of. What if she doesn’t find a best friend? What if the search for one makes her desperate and the one she finds isn’t a best friend, isn’t a friend at all but one of those Queen Bee types? What can I do to protect Hadley and prevent all of that?
This is what I do, Jesse would tell me, I jump to the worst-case scenario. The bees’ hive will get so huge, it’ll crash through our walls like The Hulk and we will get stung to death. Hadley will never have a best friend and will suffer from loneliness all her life. Some call this anxiety; I prefer to think of it as being prepared. Whatever it is, it’s consuming me, and I am exhausted.
I rinse off the breakfast dishes, put them in the dishwasher, and wipe down the counter. When I look out the window again, Hadley’s turned a corner. She is out of my view. I squeeze water out of the dishcloth, snap it out so it makes an angry slap against the sink, and hang it to dry.
At Hadley’s first cross country meet, the second race is delayed because during the first race it was discovered that a wasps’ nest was near the route. The runners disturbed them. Something about the sound of their running pissed off the wasps, and I guess they had nothing better to do, so they attacked. A bunch of runners got stung and the coaches were trying to re-route the course so that Hadley and the rest of the runners wouldn’t get hurt.
“I think they should cancel this whole thing,” I mutter to Jesse while we stand around waiting.
“Shocker,” he says, and I want to punch him for his patronizing comment.
“Somebody could be allergic!” I shoot back.
I wish I was allergic. It’d make this so much easier and acceptable. I don’t want to be somebody who is afraid.
Nevertheless, the race begins and in 15 seconds Hadley passes us.
I know it’s not me out there, but watching her give everything she has gets at how I’ve been feeling lately: trying and trying and trying and still there’s fear, still there’s pain, still there’s uncertainty.
Will Hadley ever decide to quit trying? Will she ever decide there’s too much fear, too much uncertainty, too much pain, and that it’s easier to just not take risks? Or is this what I’m afraid of for myself? If that’s the case, what will that mean for Hadley and Harper to have a mama who decides taking risks, living with fear, is just not worth it?
Hadley runs past again and when I scream, “Go, Hadley!” she hears me. She looks in my direction, sees me, then puts her head down and pumps her arms and legs faster. “WOOOO! HOOOO!” I yell. “Get it, girl! GET IT!”
I turn to Jesse. He is smiling and I know his face matches mine—a mixture of pride and surprise and hope and maybe it’s not so much fear and sadness, but thankfulness that he and I get to bear all of what comes together.
I make a move to try to express this but am stopped mid-step. I’ve been stung. Not on my finger or arm, not on my leg. A wasp somehow found its way under my shirt and zapped me in the cleavage. It feels as though someone lit a match between my breasts and I’m pounding my chest because maybe this is what having a heart attack feels like.
“What’s wrong?” Jesse asks, looking around to see if others notice my behavior.
I rip off the yellow chevron scarf I’m wearing and shove my head inside the neck of my shirt. There it is, crawling around my lady parts.
“NO!” I yell inside my shirt. “GET OUT! GET. OUT!”
I shake my shirt up and down revealing more than is appropriate for a parent to reveal at a middle school cross-country meet.
“I got stung!” I tell Jesse, and I say it with anger but also courage. I got stung between the boobs and lived to tell about it.
Jesse’s looking at me like he did when we were 19, and 29, and 39—like he always has—like he thinks I’m hilarious and wonderful and crazy, and I’m looking at him the same way.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I am feeling a little like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but maybe that’s taking it too far. No matter. Today, I fought the wasps off, and I will show Hadley—always I will show her—what walking in the world broken and growing, unsure and strong, scared and beautiful looks like.
“I’m okay,” I say, fighting the urge to put both hands on my hips like the superhero I believe I am. “Let’s go find Hadley,” I tell him.
Jesse and I turn toward the finish line, and together, we go find our girl.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.