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Girl, Interrupting

Episode One: Genesis

 

Andromeda came into this world with a few impediments to the happy life most parents want for their daughters. She had a cleft lip and a wall eye. And her parents gave her a weird name. Who knows why?

These hindrances didn’t make Andromeda shy. She was vocal from birth, crying and gurgling with equal intensity. When she began to speak, and then to become aware of the world around her, she was passionate, and often loud in expressing herself.

She developed a natural left hook which she used when kids in her first grade class teased her over her name. The teacher actually called the cops, who handcuffed her and took her away in a squad car. (Yes, you guessed: this girl lived in the United States). Her mother was furious on her daughter’s behalf. But she encouraged young Andromeda to develop a hobby, an outside interest where she could put her passion and her energy.

Andromeda tried jump rope and baseball, but it wasn’t until the day she saw a public TV documentary on the mistreatment on honey bees that she found her passion.

“They don’t have enough flowers to eat,” Andromeda wailed. “They’re starving, and then they have to work as slaves in the California orchards and they’re dying.”

Her mother encouraged her to learn as much as she could about honeybees. Andromeda read as much as even a precocious six-year-old can and decided she needed to plant clover and thistles in her parents’ tiny backyard. She looked after her crops vigilantly, and by the second spring, when she was eight, her little garden was alive with bees. Triumph. Three hives were built. Triple triumph.

Andromeda raced home from school each day to check on her garden. She protected the hives from violent storms, she built triple-decker raised beds to grow more flowers. She got stung from time to time, but didn’t mind a few stings. “They know I’m trying to protect them,” she told her mother. “They don’t mean to hurt me.”

The neighbors weren’t nearly as understanding. Andromeda’s father built a screened-in enclosure around the hives, and moved them closer to the house.

Even with this outlet for her energy, Andromeda remained vocal and often loud. Her early history of arrest, and her passion for the plight of bees, also made her sensitive to injustice. Bullying, we call it in primary school.

One of her classmates was a very chubby girl named Sara. Kids in her class loved surrounding Sara as she walked home from school, chanting a verse which even later, at the age of 74, Sara could still recite with perfect accuracy.* One day Andromeda saw the bullying in action. She leapt into the middle of the group and started using her left hook. Unfortunately, she was not only outnumbered, but the group was a lot stronger. She and Sara were knocked to the pavement. The other kids were starting to kick them when suddenly, out of nowhere, a swarm of bees appeared. They didn’t sting the bullies, but they buzzed around their eyes and noses and made the bullies run screaming from the scene. As soon as the bullies took off, the bees disappeared as well.

Andromeda raced home, ignoring Sara’s shyly muttered thanks. Her hives were intact, the bees contentedly sipping nectar.

 

*Yes, this happened to me when I was in second grade. I was chubby until I was about 30, but I’ve never forgotten the crude and cruel rhyme. Sadly, I never met Andromeda.

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