Even when I was a kid, I always thought the thing people always told me to do if I saw a bee made absolutely no damn sense.
“Just stand still!” people would chide me, as I shirked away or tried to run. “It’ll just try to chase you! It won’t hurt you if you don’t bother it. Just stand still and don’t scare it!” Which was ridiculous, I thought. This wasn’t just like a fly or a mosquito – it made sense to not run from them, they were small and annoying and maybe they bit but that was minor and you maybe just got itchy but that was it. But this was a bee. Bees sting. Stings hurt. And when something that can hurt you comes near, you run. So logically, the proper response to the sight of a bee should be to de-ass yourself from the vicinity.
But enough adults told me different – parents, aunts, teachers, scout leaders – that I tried to comply. Stood rooted in the spot whenever I saw a bee, willing myself to stay as motionless as possible as I watched the interloper buzzing around with wide eyes, not even daring to breathe until it finally flew off. Sometimes if I was with friends I’d give into the impulse to run, but they were hearing the same thing I was, and soon they were also chiding me – “don’t run, Kimmy! It’s just a bee!” – Yes, exactly, I thought, – and that’s why I’m running. But I would stop and freeze at their command, embarrassed on top of my fear now.
So that’s what I did one summer when I was ten. My brother had a game at the local Little League field, and I’d asked leave to play in a nearby sprinkler while they were still setting the game up. As I jumped back and forth through the spray, cooling off, I suddenly saw a fat bumblebee circling some nearby clover. And even though I wanted to run – even though I was half in the sprinkler’s path still – I stood still, silently willing myself to stand still and willing the bee to fly off.
I watched it circle some more clover. Watched it climb up towards the sprinkler jets and veer off at the last minute. Watched it start to buzz away towards the woods. And then – at the last minute – I watched it turn back, and come right for me. It circled my head a couple times – me cringing away from it as it buzzed in each ear – and then, to my absolute horror, it landed right on the tip of my nose. I stared at it in cross-eyed terror for a couple seconds. WHAT NOW?
And then I felt the prick and burn as it started to sting my lip.
Sheer instinct made me swat it off my nose. I stayed frozen one more second – what did I do that for, I’m supposed to stay still, I thought – and the bee started towards me again and I ran like hell, screaming for my mother.
One of the other mothers got ice for my lip as I tearfully insisted to Mom that I hadn’t done anything, I was just standing still and the bee just stung me, I hadn’t done anything…it was okay, Mom soothed. I’d be fine. I spent the first couple innings of the game with an ice cube pressed to the site of the sting, sniffling and watching for other bees just in case. By games’ end, though, the pain had faded and the ice had melted, and it wasn’t until later that night when we were all at the neighbor’s pool and my father said “hey, Kimmy, lemme see how your lip’s doing” that I remembered I’d been stung at all. He and I both checked it – “Huh, the swelling’s gone down,” he said, pleased. The site of the sting was just a small bump now, barely the size of a mosquito bite. “Does it hurt?”
“No,” I said, with a bit of wonder. It didn’t hurt at all. That was cool.
It wasn’t hurting the next morning either; when I first woke up, I reached for my lip, thinking I’d feel the bump completely smoothed away as if the sting had never happened. I bounced back from a beesting; it wasn’t that bad. I was tough.
But instead what I felt was that my lip was starting a full inch further out away from my face. I sat up, poking at my lip with fascination. It didn’t hurt – it was just…bigger. Pokey-out-ier. I pressed on it; it still didn’t hurt. It wasn’t squishy or anything like that, it was definitely my lip. It was just much bigger.
Puzzled, I got up and went into the bathroom to get a look at myself; my lip was about three times normal size, puffing out like I was trying to blow up the top half of a balloon. I poked at it again, studying myself; the reflection poked her lip back too. I also saw that just under my left eye was starting to puff up just a bit as well, squeezing my lower lid shut.
I was more confused than anything. The only thing I could think to do was go back to bed and wait for someone to get up, and show them. When I finally heard my mother padding out to the kitchen, I followed her. “Mom?…Why is my face doing this?”
One very alarmed phone call to my pediatrician later, Mom brought me to her office for an emergency visit. Dr. Nelly examined me, asked a couple questions about the sting, and finally wrote me a couple days’ worth of Benadryl. “Kimmy must just have a localized allergy to beestings,” she said. “She doesn’t have trouble breathing, which is good, but sometimes allergies just make you swell way up like this.”
A few weeks later I was thinking about Dr. Nelly’s diagnosis – and something hit me.
I’d had an allergic reaction. That meant – I was allergic to bees.
And that meant – I was totally justified in running away from them from now on.
I have not been stung by a bee once in the 34 years since that sting. I have also been running away from bees whenever I see them. And I maintain that that is what nature intended.