Editor’s Note: The following is an adapted chapter from HoneyColony Founder Maryam Henein’s upcoming memoir Of Bees & Men.
“The closer we examine the honeybee, the more we realize the workings of a beehive encompass territories beyond our comprehension.” — Leo Tolstoy
It was 2007. During my regular Hollywood hike, up Runyon Canyon, what I’d dubbed ‘dog shit actor canyon,’ I started rifling through files in my mind, searching for bee memories. Were there exchanges between us I had forgotten about? When exactly had bees flown into my sphere?
I had plenty of other accessible insect stories from childhood:
When my dad moves out at age 13, I become the designated spider killer; whenever one was spotted, my mom and sister would yell out my name for help, whereupon I would take several tissues and smush the spinster – even daddy long legs. Horrible, I know. Then I’d gingerly peak to make sure I’d reduced the bug to smithereens. One memorable late summer afternoon at the age of 12, a big furry one crawls up my leg during Gilligan’s Island. I shriek in horror while Mr. Howell makes plans to support Ginger’s off-Broadway, on-island show.
I collect ladybugs in jam jars after Sunday school and marvel at fireflies at sunset when I visit my cousins in Akron, Ohio.
I impress my younger sister at age eight, by catching a big fat bumble bee with a butterfly net near the Maple tree in our backyard.
I am 10. After consecutive days of rain, I fashion mud pies and play with wriggling worms while sunbeams make their debut.
- With a magnifying glass I scorch plenty of ants during many a recess.
Spiders, ladybugs, bumblebees, fireflies. Oh my! But where were the honeybees? And then slowly I remembered. There were few but significant recollections.
1979 (an unusually heavy year in current events): ABBA writes the song “Chiquitita” to commemorate the International Year of the Child; the Pol Pot Regime crashes; Patty Heart is released from jail; a small group of folks in Vancouver publish a monthly tabloid called The City Farmer to recreate urban gardening a la Victory Garden Era; and the Happy Meal is born.
I am six. I am chubby. I eat Happy Meals. I am learning English (French is my native tongue). And my favorite cartoon is also the saddest. It’s a Japanese anime, dubbed in French (and many other languages) about a young honeybee boy separated from his beautiful and regal queen bee mother after their native beehive is destroyed by an army of angry and vicious spear-carrying Wasps. The program is called Le Petit Prince Orphelin—The Little Orphan Prince.
The credits open with a Japanese woman singing, “Maa- ma, ma- ma,” in a chilling Asian kind of way. The bee boy, whose name is Hutch, spends each episode looking for his mom and running into frequently hostile incidents: a menacing Praying Mantis, deceptive snakes, tangles with savage spiders, and only the occasional benevolent butterfly thrown in for relief. Sometimes he finds his mom only to get separated again.
Pretty dramatic stuff for a youngling to watch— even Wikipedia acknowledges that the show was “notable for its frequently sad and cruel scripts.” In many episodes, Hutch befriends another insect until of course his new comrade dies a violent and painful death.
I subconsciously develop a sweet spot for the honeybee.
1999: The Euro is established, Bill Clinton is acquitted in impeachment proceedings, Napster debuts, and John F. Kennedy Jr. dies in a plane crash. I am visiting with my mom and sister in Montreal – the two Scorpions in my life – on a shopping excursion. This is a rare occurrence. We park in the shopping center’s lot and while I am fetching my purse from the trunk, a single honeybee lands on my hand. I panic and swat and she ends up stinging me. I shop with a sore fat thumb.
I learn that a bee sting hurts like hell but that I am not allergic. I’ve yet to understand however that swatting is counter-productive to all parties involved.
2005: George W. Bush is re-selected for his second term as the 43rd President of the United States; more than four million people travel to the Vatican to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II, and Hurricane Katrina strikes and swallows.
In my life, I am approaching year two with a man whom I am beginning to note has lots of anger, and a substance abuse problem in the form of beer. Some nights while he’s gripping on the set of Desperate Housewives, (which I believe is a poor man’s version of Sex In The City), I sneak off to attend Al-Anon, a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics, where I learn to stop counting drinks and start focusing on me. I decide that it’s okay if he wants to remain as unaware as a piece of furniture or a wild animal.
Regardless of the drinking, I oscillate between wanting to be with him and feeling like I need to prove to myself that I can be alone sans a man. I conclude that I’ve become too attached, like I am not really my own person anymore. I’ve bled into him.
During a trip to Big Sur, I break up with him (again) as we sip vino and overlook the vast Pacific Ocean.
“Shut up with that nonsense,” he yells. “I can’t believe you are doing this to me out here.”
He adds that he can’t take me seriously since my words and actions are so very incongruent. We remain together.
Later that year I also study The Orthopedist as your Helpful Hardware Man; A Brief History of the Rods, Screws and Plates in Bones and muster the courage to remove the 14 inch long and 3/4 inch-wide foreign titanium rod that has been wedged in my bone and has been causing me constant agony.
According to the head of Orthopedics at Cedar’s Sinai, the metal had been ‘toggling’ inside the bone. I realize that the inflammation created by the trauma messed with his inability to properly size the hole they’d drilled inside my bone. But he refuses to concede that this is what caused the ongoing deferred pain in my chin.
Within weeks after the surgery I am tramping Bronson Canyon pain-free for the first time in three years! As I slowly but surely make my way around a bend, I hear the distant sound of a swarm. I look left and when I glance right I locate a dark ominous shape made up of tens of thousands of bees moving in unison – towards me. I freeze. I am engulfed in a bee cloud and within moments the bees thrum right through me. I gasp. I touch my face, pat my head and body. I am unscathed. How can that be? The wind blows gently. Two crows dance together overhead. It’s as though it never happened.
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.
Find out more about Maryam….
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