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1 MYFRIENDTHEBEE JewelBethDavis (PublishedinREADTHIS:MSUsLiteraryandArtPublication)

InFranklinFieldonBlueHillAve.,HildyRosenblattandIlovedtocollect bumblebeesandcrickets.Iwasfascinatedbynature,especiallyanimals.Iliked togetascloseasIcouldtoanimals,touching,petting,kissingandhuggingthem. Whatevertheywouldallow.Bumblebeeswereespeciallybeautiful,like dandelionsgonetoseed.Theyweresuchperfectfurrycreatures,withvibrant yellowandblackstripes.Theyellowwassobrightthatitlookedlikeadropof butteronanearofcorn.Bumblebeesresembledthosefuzzybrownandblack stripedcaterpillarsthatIlikedtopetastheycrawledacrossmypalmandonto theotherhand.Iimaginedthatbumblebeeswouldfeelthesame.Ireallyliked them.Ithoughttheyknewthat. Ifilledhugeglassjarswithgreengrassandcloverflowers.ThenI punchedholesinthemetallidforfreshair.MymotherthoughtIwasalittle ibrebotl(Yiddishforwacky)tocollectwhatshecalleddirtybugsthatsting,feh! Julie,shedsay,Haveyoubeentouchingthosefilthybugsagain? whenIdcomeinfromplayingintheField. 1

2 No,Ma,Idreplyinallseriousness.TheonesItouchedwerevery clean. Washthosehantelachrightnowbeforeyoucometothetable!shed thunder,raisingherleftarm Imgoing,Imgoing!Idgiggleandscurryoutofreach. Here,Masaid,"Youcanhavewhat'sleftofthebrowniemixinthebowl. Butdonttellyourbrothers.Shepaused.Afteryouvewashedyourhands. SheheldtheglassbowlawayuntilIwenttothesinktowash.Shewashedmy handswithme,whichIreallyliked,rubbingbothourhandstogetherwiththe soapymixture,andthendriedallourhandstogetherinthesametowel. DidyouhavefuntodaywithHildyinthefield?Youmusthave,she squintedatmeappraisingly.Yourefilthy. Yes,Igiggledagain.Lotsandlotsoffun. Good,nowgohelpsetthetable.Andtrytostaycleanforfiveminutes, sheadded,andpinchedbothmycheekslightlybetweenherindexandmiddle fingers. "Owwwww!"Isaid,grabbingforthebrowniebowlandgrinning.She almostsmiled.

3 IdidntcareaboutMa'sopinionoftheunsoapeddenizensofnature.I evenlovedsnakes.Ineversawanythingscaryaboutthemwhenotherkidsran outofthewoods,screaming,theirmouthsperfectO's,afterseeingacutegarter snakeonthepath.IdidntunderstandwhyMaFranthoughtthatthegrass,the insects,andtheearthweredirty.Dirtwasn'tdirty;itfeltcoolandrichinmy hands. IlivedinDorchester,repletewithbrickprojects,toughkids,theGandG Deli,theinfamousLittleBrownJug,andanmlangeofculturesandcolors.It wasntthekindofneighborhoodmyparentsthoughtwasagoodplacefortheir futuresuccessstoriestogrowup.Atagenine,mybrotherswerealready smokingandsellingnewspapersforcigarettemoneyacrossfromtheBrownJug onBlueHillAve.Mymotherplottedandplannedtogetusintoourownhomein abetterneighborhood,butuntilthen,welivedintheprojectsandFranklinField wastheextentofmycontactwithnature. Ihadnointerestinmovinganywhere.Iwasveryhappy.Ihadmybest friend,Hildy,abagfullofmarbles,andanotherofjacks.Withmymother watchinghawkeyedfromthewindow,HildyandIcollectednaturalmysteries inthefield. HildyandIspentallafternooninthefield.Itwassummer,June,andhad 3

4 beenhotandhumidalldaysoMaFranmademewearapinkhat,thecolorof raspberries,withafoldupbrim. ButMa,Isaidassheshovedmegentlytowardsthedoor,Hildy doesnthavetowearone. "Nu?"mymotherexclaimed.SuddenlyHildasmotheristheexpert. Hildysmotherknowsbest,notyourown.Well,shemustbemeshugenahtolet Hildyoutwithoutahat.Shellbesorry,youllsee,"mymothertoldmewith authoritywhenIspokeup.Shellbeburnttoacrisp.Inourfamily,noonewas everjustsunburnedbutwasalwaysburnttoacrisp.Despitethesedire predictions,neitherHildynorhermotherevermentionedbeingsorryaboutthis recklessdecision. Asthesunedgedtowardssetting,Icouldhearthecricketsthathelpedput metosleepatnight.Ontheothersideofthefield,mytwinbrothersplayed baseballwithinthechalkedwhitelines.Mymothersformpassedfleetinglyin andoutofthewindowframe.Hildysatnearby,smilingatherglassjar.Ilayon mystomach,cradledinthesoft,sweetsmellinggrass.Beesbuzzedamongthe bubblegumcoloredclover.IheldabuttercupunderHildyschinandsaid,"Yup, youlovebutter,"althoughIneverunderstoodhowthetwoconnected.Hildy giggled.Wemadewhistlesoutofstrandsofgrassbyholdingthembetweenour 4

5 thumbsandblowing.Therewewere,HildyandI,crouchingontheground, tryingtocatchslowfatlazybumblebeesinourjarsasifwecouldcapturetheir beauty. IdalreadynamedthebeeinmyjarCozyIwasforevernamingthingsso theywouldbelongtomeorItothem.Evenatfive,Ifeltdifferentthanother kids,asifIdidntbelong.Lonely.SoInamedmystuffedanimals,mydolls,my toothbrush,andmadesureIdidntcloseanyofmydrawersonmysocksto avoidcausingthempain.TheykeptmecompanyasCozywasnow.Ithoughtof herasafriendeventhoughIdonlyknownherforseveralhours.Iwhispered secretstoherthroughtheholesinthelidofherjar.Iliftedmyglassjaruptothe waningsuntoseeCozybetter.Longingtostrokeitsfurryblackandyellow stripedback,Ireachedintomyjar.Ididntthinkshedmind.Asitturnedout, Cozywasnotthrilledatbeingforciblykeptinajarorbeingpatted.Ifeltajoltof painandthenerveendingsinmyfingertrampolined. WhenCozystungme,Iscreamedloudenoughtosplitatoms.Thenmy beefloatedupandoutofherglasscageandwasgone.AsIwheeledaroundon myskinnylegs,Isawthewindowofourapartmentflyupimmediatelywitha slam.Mymotherhadanarmonherwhensheneededone;thatwasforsure. Shehadaloudvoicetoo.Hervoicewasshrillandshakyasshecalledmyname, 5

6 Julie!Julie!Oy,vayismere!Tellmewhohurtyou. IdidntanswerbecauseIwascryingsohardIcouldn'tcatchmybreath.I couldntbelieveit.MyfriendCozyhadbetrayedme. Hangingoutthewindow,MaFranshriekedmybrothers'namessoloudly thatBuzzyandMikedroppedtheirmittsandcamerunningallthewayfromthe othersideofthefield.Theyreachedmejustasshedidandtheywereall trippingoverthemselvesandme,tofindoutwhathappened. "Julie!Youokay,Julie?"criedloyalHildy.Shedstayedwithmeandwas helplesslypullingatherhandsandshakingthem. MymotherbentdownandtookHildyfirmlybythearms."Hildy,tellme. Tellmewhathappened." "Mrs.Davisshe...it...sheIcontinuetoscreamandsob. What,Hildy?Whatisit?ForGodssake,whathappened? Spititout,Hildy,comeon,Mikeshouted. Shutup,Mike.Yourescaringher,youbigjerk,Buzztoldhim. Shutupyourself.IknowwhatImdoing. Youdontknowbopkiss,Buzzcountered.Iscreamedlouder. Thatsenough,"Fran'simperiousvoicecutthroughthebickering.Now, Hildy,mymothergatheredherselfandsoftenedhertone,takeadeepbreath 6

7 andtellme. Herbeestungher.Cozystungher,"Hildyfinallyspewedbetweengasps. Forcryeye!mybrotherBuzzyswore.YoumeanIleftagamewewere winningforameaslyolebeesting. Mymothergrabbedmyhand.Itriedtopullaway,stillwailing."Don't usethatkindoflanguage,youngman,oryoullbeeatingsoapforaweek,my motherthrewthiscommentoverhershouldertomybrotherBuzz.Shewas alreadywalkingmebackwithonearmaroundmeandtheotherhandholdinga shmatatightlyaroundmyfinger.Mybrotherstrailedbehindpushingand shovingeachotherwhileMaFranwasdistractedwithme.Hildyfollowedwith herbeejarandmyemptyone,whichmymotherunceremoniouslydumpedin thetrashbin. Yoursisterishurt.ShesalittlegirlandItoldyoutowatchoutforher," mymothersaidangrilytothetwins.Hervoicesoundedshaky.Somewatching youdid.NoTVforaweek,youhear. "Aw,Ma,jeez!Thatisnotfair!"Mikecried.Thiswasnotgood.IfMike couldntwatchTVforaweek,youmightaswellslithisthroat.Heneverspoke oransweredanyonewhentheTVwason.Dadthreatenedtothrowitoutthe windowaboutonceaweek. 7

8 "Don'ttalkbacktome.Doyouwantmetotellyourfatherwhenhegets home? "NO,"bothtwinsrespondedwithoutthinking. Forcryeye,Mikesaidunderhisbreath,andshotmeadirtylook. ThankGodyourealright,"mymothertoldme."Ireallythought someonewasattackingyou.Shelookedatmesuspiciouslyasifherimaginings mightbetrue,asifmyswollenbulbousfingerbeliedthetruth. Wealltroopedintotheapartmentwheremymothersoakedmyfingerin Epsomsalts.ThensheappliedIodineandacoupleofdifferentcreamsand unguentsbeforecoveringitwithlengthsofwhitebandagesandtape.Fromthat timeon,Franprohibitedmefromcollectinganythingthatbit,stungorcauseda rash.Perhapsthiswasanomenofwhatwastocome,asIlostthetipofmyleft indexfingerfouryearslaterAndImaleftie. IdstoppedsobbingandwasonlysnifflingfromtimetotimeasI inspectedmyimpressivebandage.MymotherscrubbedmynosewithaKleenex andsaid,"Julie,Julie,Julie,howcouldyou?Howcouldyoudothis?She soundedangry. Iwasconfused.Whatwasshetalkingabout?Mahadnevertoldmenotto collectbees.WhathadIdone? 8

9 YoudonthavealickofcommonsenseinthatbrainGodgaveyou.You maybeverybright,butyouhavenoseichel,nocommonhorsesense.Withthat, shewalkedbacktothesinkandhercarrots. Seichel,Ithought.NotsurewhatitisbutIguessIdonthaveit.Itwasntuntil yearslaterthatIdiscoveredthatifyoubelieveyouhavecommonsense,youuse it.Otherwise,youdontandtumblerecklesslythroughlife. Justthen,Buzzcamebythetable."Doesithurtmuch?"Inodded pathetically. "Aw,youllbeokay"hesaid.Andjustthink,youllhavesomethinggreat forShowandTelltomorrow.Hetuggedmyponytail.Thatputawholenew spinonthings.

Later,inQuincy,my4thgradeteacher,MissNewhall,toldusthatlife metaphorswouldkeepcroppingupoverandovertoteachussomelesson.Miss Newhall,youwereright;theselifelessonsdokeepcroppingupuntilyoulearn themandthisonetookmealongtimetograsp.Therearebeautifulcreatures thatwontletyougetclose.Ifyoutryto,youllbestung.Repeatedly. Inthefieldofmymind,Iwalkthroughthetallgrasses,sometimes skipping,joyousandfree.Andallthebumblebeesarehappytoseeme.They 9

10 buzzaroundmewithacomfortinghum,lightingonmyshoulders,myhair,my hands,likebeautifulbutterflies.Neverstinging,theykissmealloverwiththeir goldenlemondroplight,allowingmetostroketheirfurrybacksaslongasIlike. Andcommonsense,notinvited,isleftbehind.

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