A few days ago, my roommate left the bathroom window open to air out the steam—our bathroom doesn’t have a fan and this is the best we have. Sometime after he left for work or whatever, I got in the shower. A few seconds after the water started running, an inch-and-a-half long bumblebee flew up towards my face. I jumped out of the shower, dripping and not sure what to do. After a few moments of standing naked and wet in my bathroom, I realized I should dry off and get dressed.
The bumblebee must have come in through the open window. I remembered the first apartment I lived in as a missionary, when the hornets that would come in through our bathroom window, and I remembered how my companion and I took care of them when we found them in our bathroom. I looked around to see if we had any pump hairspray or flammable aerosol liquid for a makeshift flamethrower. I checked the house next door to see if any of the girls had some (they weren’t home), then went back to my house. I looked underneath the sink and pulled out every bottle I found. I took my lighter and tested the Febreeze; it only put out the lighter, and the liquid didn’t catch on fire. A disinfectant spray flared up when sprayed over the lighter’s flame.
You know that scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien where Ridley finds the alien nest on the under part of the ship and splays her dying crewman with a flamethrower, delivering a coup-de-grace? That’s what I did with the bee. Its wet wings prevented it from flying, and it cowered behind two shampoo bottles in the corner while it buzzed in vain. There’s a sick satisfaction that comes from killing an insect with a flamethrower, especially one that can sting you. When I was finished, I saw that one of the shampoo bottles had partially melted during the frenzy. I didn’t stop spraying until the bee was a charred, black distortion of its former self. I left its body there for someone else to clean up.
I felt bad afterwards. That bee didn’t know that the only creatures I’m afraid of are flying, stinging insects. It didn’t know about the bee that stung my cheek when I was in third grade—how I cried my way to the nurse’s office, and how the nurse said, “Wait, hot water?” when she called my mom to see what she should do but find out that she’d used the wrong water temperature for my wound. That bumblebee in the shower didn’t mean be so big and fly towards my face when I was naked, relaxed, and most vulnerable. It didn’t know that I’m particularly afraid of insects that can sting multiple times—wasps, especially, because they look the meanest—because it might, what, hurt if I get stung more than once?
My fear of bees and wasps and yellow jackets and other stinging insects is completely irrational. I don’t know what it’s really like to be stung. I’ve never really thought about why I jump off ladders when I see hornets or bumblebees and run for the “Wasp & Hornet Killer—Fast Knockdown!” spray, holding onto the can like it’s some amulet of protection. When people ask, I explain that I don’t know if I’m allergic and that I might die if stung, but I’ve never imagined what a sting would be like. Would it itch or hurt? How long? Would it just be annoying? I don’t know because I don’t really remember what it’s like to be stung, and when I try to imagine it, it doesn’t seem so bad. Yet I’m irrationally afraid of it.
But I’m not willing to find out what it’s like to be stung. I don’t even want to take thirty seconds to do a Google search because I’m afraid of what I might find. It might not be as bad as I think, what I imagine as some abstract worst-pain-ever that I sometimes pretend results in paralysis, but I’m sure to find horror stories which would support my ignorant ideas and irrational fears. I mean, if I’m right, then everyone should run in fear when they see a wasp less than twenty feet away. But if I’m wrong, it means that whatever I’ve believed in the past must be abandoned and that I have to act in ways that are consistent with my new beliefs, even if those actions are uncomfortable. This would mean that when I’m standing on a ladder while I trim hedges and a bee quietly hums nearby, I would have to continue working as usual instead of what I do now: freeze until the bee goes away, and then run to the nearest can of that insect death spray. One time I tried being brave while a yellow jacket flew near me, and found myself still shrinking away from it until it flew away. So I willfully stay ignorant, irrational, because I don’t want act brave.
Maybe’s it’s the fear of acting differently that drives me to stay wrapped tightly in my blanket of ignorance, fear that I’d have to change my ideas and worldview to something else, fear that I’d have to wander in the dark for an unspecified period of time until I found what was actually true, fear that I’d be uncomfortable until I got used to my new way of living. Maybe that’s what propels those people who continue to say that our black president will destroy our country when to me, it looks like things are going pretty well, or at least about the same.
A few days after the shower experience, I imagined the bumblebee’s family wondering why Dad didn’t come home from work on Thursday. Mrs. Bumblebee goes to the insect police station, infant in her arms and towing a toddler behind her, to file a missing person report. I imagined the rose bush where Mr. John Bumblebee used to gather pollen and the questions his co-workers would ask each other. “You heard anything about John?” the honeybee would ask the butterfly while they pollinated.
“Nah, I ain’t heard nothing,” the monarch would reply. “But a yellow jacket says John’s drinking got the best of ‘im and that he’s probably in a ditch somewhere.”
“One of the other worker drones says that she heard he went off with a young bumblebee to Mexico,” the honeybee would say. Throughout the day, they trade stories and theories with other insects. Some say it was the drinking, some trade stories about a secret lover, some suspect foul play, and one guy suggests it could be that John Bumblebee just couldn’t handle the pressures of life.
But his wife will never know what really happened, that John Bumblebee’s corpse is in my shower behind a partially melted bottle of shampoo. She’ll never know that he died because I’m unwilling to squelch my ignorance of stinging insects, to have the courage to possibly be wrong or right and learn what would really happen in a sting. And that’s why a bumblebee which used to fluffy with yellow marking is now all black and twisted sitting on that ledge. For all I know, there his body still sits, a horrible token of irrational fear, extreme violence, and consequent death.