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Taking One for the Team

Photograph by Getty Images

“Hey kids, who wants to go on a nature walk!?”

That’s something I’ll actually holler out on random Sunday mornings.

How weird is that?

Even though I would love to deny it to the death, I guess I am basically Vacation-era Chevy Chase. I’m always standing there in my night clothes, coffee mug in my hand, goofy smile, thinking that the kids will come piling out of their playroom, still a little high on pancake syrup, and that they’ll be cheering and pumping their tiny fists in the air because they are overjoyed at the idea of walking a few hundred yards down a rocky trail covered in strange millipedes and raccoon crap.

Instead, whenever I float the suggestion out into the house, it’s usually followed by the sound of small mammal footsteps thumping away from me, heading up the stairs.

Still, it's nature, you know? And somebody has to get out there and feed the damn thing.

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That Sunday started typically enough. I let the dogs out of the back, and they piled down into the dirt parking lot at the base of the trail we hike and started peeing on each other and sniffing the air for whatever it is they are sniffing for on one of their forays out into this cruel world.

Violet climbed down out of her car seat while my wife, Monica, unhooked Henry out of his.

There was a car parked over in the far corner of the lot, a lone woman staring at the trees through her windshield. Probably a nut-job, I told myself. But who cares, we’re the family that "hikes" together. I took a deep hit off my parental smugness and held it in for like 20 seconds. I guess I should have known right then that there would be hell to pay.

“OK, let’s HIKE, y'all!” I announced, and the dogs were black lightning up the trail as Henry immediately marooned himself up on a fat rock. He’s 2—he does whatever the hell he wants to do. I walked 10, 20 steps up the trail and turned around to help Monica talk our son down off his sudden perch.

“Henry, you need to listen to mom and dad so that you can enjoy the outdoors and maybe see some…” I was babbling on in my condescending coddle-tone when something stung the hell out of my right hand.

“Ow!” I shouted. “I just got bit by something!”

The kids, my wife, they looked at me like I was nuts. Which, you know, I admit to.

Then BAM! Another sting. I screeched like a school girl. I slapped at the air around me. I couldn’t see a thing though. But it did hurt.

That’s when Monica yelled out. She was stung too.

I mouthed one word to her, “GO.”

We were under attack! I finally caught a glimpse of a yellow jacket, and then another one. My eyes adjusted to their size and their color and suddenly I could focus on the fact that there were a lot of them all around me, floating in and out of my personal space like a couple hundred tiny middle fingers aimed right at me.

I dropped the dog leashes just as Monica screamed again and yelled, “Run!”

Life is wack. So much of what we do, who we talk to, how we spend our days and nights ... it all just slips away from us, never to be recalled again for the remainder of our days. Then there are, on occasion, those strangely definitive moments—unexpected moments—that you experience in a fleeting instant, but which will stay with you the rest of your natural born life.

At the time, I wasn’t thinking much about that, of course. But in retrospect, that’s exactly what I was experiencing.

As I passed my pregnant wife on the trail (hey, every man for himself when the chips are down or the wasps are going ape shit!), she hollered at me that there was a yellow jacket on her eye. Is there a more terrifying feeling than knowing there is an angry yellow jacket ON YOUR EYE!?

I doubt it.

“Get it off! Get it off of me now!!” She was desperate. My true love was in danger. Everything gear-shifted down, slow-motion life took over. I felt a stinger sink into my spare tire and I groaned like in the movies, all drawn out and deep like Chewbacca.

I had to get out of there. I thought about our years together, the baby in her belly—my baby. I turned to look at the Honda just a few yards away as yet another little yellow bastard popped me on the arm.

There was a wasp on my beloved.

On her eye.

I saw it.

I used my cupped fist and slammed it into her head. The yellow jacket stung her eyelid anyway.

Then, I remember grabbing my daughter off the trail and ducking my head over hers, hoping against hope to save her from what was evidently a swarm of very pissed-off wasps. I’ll never forget her eyes meeting mine in a flash of action. As I scooped her up mid-stride, her little brown pupils fixed mine with a deep, questioning stare, as if she were trying to get me to laugh, to admit that I was only playing a game, that I was joking around.

I hated those freaking yellow jackets more in that moment than I hate them even now. And believe me, even though I know they were just doing what wasps do, I seriously hated them bad.

Monica had Henry. I screamed at the dogs to come on. We all hopped in the car, started strapping the kids in. I couldn’t believe they weren’t crying yet, there were so many wasps, how could they not be stung?

As the car seats clicked we noticed yellow jackets buzzing our heads there inside the car!

We all piled out again . . . into the swarm outside. This happened numerous times—killing or swatting wasps with our hands on the dashboard, covering the kids with our bodies, it was a just a big hot mess.

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Somehow we got out of there, peeling out on the dirt like a bat out of hell.

As we drove past the other car there I could see the woman inside beginning to open her car door, a slight look of bewilderment on her face. She was going to see if we needed any help.

I caught her eyeball with mine.

I mouthed one word to her, “GO.”

Monica’s eye swelled up like a juicy plum. We’d each been stung a handful of times.

Violet and Henry were laughing at mom and dad as we tore out of there, not a single sting on either of their tiny bodies.

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