When I was a child, we lived in a small stone house not far from the town of Tuckahoe. 88 Lawrence Avenue was the address. I loved this house and I dream of it still.
Right off of the kitchen there was a winter garden which had been added to the back of the house, with windows overlooking a rock wall out back where my parents would hide Easter Eggs and firecrackers - not simultaneously, of course. The dreamy morning sun would glaze over the cool slate tiles, and I often preferred to play on the floor as opposed to my playpen, which was pushed up against my father's piano on the left side of the room.
It was in the safety of this warm and friendly place that I would learn many of my earliest and most profound lessons about life. My mother had hung a red wooden swing for me in the doorway that led to the kitchen. This way she could watch me while she enjoyed her morning coffee.
One gloriously palatial afternoon, the only kind of afternoon there is when you are three, a bee made an unannounced visit and began orbiting around me as I swung gleefully back and forth, oblivious to any danger. All of the sudden my mother began to panic, shouting for me to dismount the swing immediately. I didn't know what was going on, except that now I was afraid because of the way she was acting. She moved wildly across the room with a rolled-up newspaper in one hand, waving it around as if she were conducting some sort of imaginary orchestra. There was a huge whack as the newspaper made contact with the wall, and I knew that she had hit something.
I walked slowly toward where the sound had come from. As I drew closer I could see something gyrating on the colorful tiles; it was the bee, wounded but still alive. Overcome by concern, I was worried that he might be in pain. Being a friend to all living things, even to insects at this point, I knelt beside him with great humility. Singling out my pinky, the tiniest and most delicate little finger, I lovingly began to stroke his dying body. "Poor little bee, poor little bee," I whispered softly, with every ounce of compassion that I could summon from my tender and naive little heart.
The bee responded, leaving me with something I truly had not anticipated as he departed this earthly plane. He plunged his barbed appendage into the soft flesh of my little pinky with not as much as a passing thought. I let out a sharp cry and began to sob with pain and confusion. Tears burned pathways across the two crimson hemispheres of my face, rolling down and around the pout of my puckered lips. I don't remember any other part of that morning at all.
Little did I realize at the time that this scene would in some way replay itself over and over again throughout my life in the struggle for acknowledgment as an artist, as a woman, and as a compassionate human being...and somehow, I wouldn't have it any other way. The emotional echo of this childhood experience has provided me with the strength of will to circumvent the seemingly insurmountable obstacles I have encountered along my path.
My nephew sent me this photo of the winter garden after reading my story. It is just as I remember! My brother is the little boy in the foreground, looking into the camera. That's my mother, pointing at the photographer...which must have been my father...and I am the baby being held by my grandmother, on the left.