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To Bee or Not to Bee


I have a neighbor, F, here in the Kingdom of Cross Words (and puzzling entanglements), who’s been depressed and medicated off and on for months.  The genesis of his anguish is twisted adoration for a female who clutches him closely and then hurls him away with language and equivocation that would send most in the direction of sanity. Seems this woman-like object holding the deed to F’s underwater soul has torture down to an artistic science. And despite my disdain for his willingness to accept abuse, F and I have managed to talk each other up, and by up, I mean elevated from death wishes. Plus, he tolerates my radical political views without recoiling or criticizing.

Recently, F announced he had a story for me. I thought perhaps he was going to report that sunlight’s truth had illuminated his sensibilities as well as his sensitivities and that finally he’d used the word he and his fixation once selected to signal THE END.  But no.

I’ve written that I’m an actor.  I don’t wear despair for all to see.  Seldom does my face display what I’m feeling.  F is my opposite.  His posture, footprint, and even his shadow exude his mood.

But F was smiling— a smile so large I didn’t have to say my usual to him, “Turn that frown upside down.”

What happened?” I asked.

This account followed:  F was sitting on his balcony when he felt as if he’d been branded—a burning sensation so hot he thought he was going to lose consciousness.  Pulled up his pants leg and saw a monster bee—he called it a cicada killer, although it could have been some other stinging bee.  Whatever (?), the insect discharged its weapon of venomous destruction.  Soon, the targeted area was crimson and swollen.

Feeling feverish, F went inside to stare at his red face in the mirror. Hives polka dotted his flesh, so off he to drove to the nearest emergency room.  Encountering a red light, F applied brakes. When the signal changed, his vehicle was recalcitrant. Why would his car forsake him at this moment?  F’s breathing became labored.  He dialed 911 and then noticed he’d put the gearshift in Park when he stopped. Shifting to Drive, F proceeded to the hospital, arriving in anaphylactic shock.

But GET this:  F realized somewhere along the catalyst, after stinger pierced skin, that he loves life. He’d been telling me he didn’t care. His encounter with another species proved otherwise and accomplished for him what those antidepressants and his shrink had failed to achieve.

Later, I thought of my grief, the four years and four months without my husband.  All the times I’ve wondered what to do, how to do it. And if some face-off with the Grim Reaper, such as the Lesbaru’s plunge into a body of water, might inspire, “Yes, yes, I wand to live.” And, then, “Oh, no, too late.”

The neighbor has felt an incredible lightness of BEING since his near-death event.  And I?  Well, maybe, I’ll sit on my balcony some evening, after dabbing a little honey on my body—honey to lure a female carpenter bee.

Missy Beattie bees in Baltimore.  Email:



Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail:

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