Wasp Sting, Static Nightgown, and Untouched Pizza

A memoir of a high-sensory childhood

Erika Dionisio
Human Parts


Photo by Юлія Дубина on Unsplash

In my father’s house, a wasp sting became a silent scream woven into the uncomfortable fabric of my childhood. Clad in a cheap winter fleece nightgown, a bargain basement find that scratched my skin and just caused static, I found myself exposed to both physical and emotional discomfort.

The wasp’s sting chose an unconventional moment, steering clear of the typical summer days spent frolicking barefoot in tall grass. It also avoided the heightened frenzy of September when wasps and bees were known to be particularly manic, desperate for their last stings before winter claimed them. Instead, it happened in late fall, adding an extra jolt to the already charged atmosphere.

The pain failed to register immediately as the wasp’s venom surged through me. I mistook the sensation for an extra shock of the static electricity — as the wasp’s sting remained a silent intruder. It wasn’t until the pain took on a different feeling that I hastily discarded the nightgown atop my sleeping bag. That’s when I glimpsed the unsightly beast, engaged in its death crawl.

At that moment, there was no instinct to call out. My father would’ve been downstairs watching TV, feet up. I did not call out to a father who was not there. I just dealt with the pain, somehow, on my own.

My stylish and attractive mother relied on the assumption that children wouldn’t tune into adult conversations. However, the reality was quite different. We could hear everything — the hushed whispers, the fears expressed, the worries shared, the gossip exchanged, and the relentless comparisons.

“Oh, they’re not listening,” she’d reassure herself, perhaps hoping that someone on the other end of the line had the decency to question the appropriateness of their adult talk.

Yet, the thin walls of our existence betrayed the illusion of secrecy. I overheard it all — the anger, the resentment, the sound of her crying to her twin sister during long-distance calls on weekends. The conversations painted a vivid picture of our father, depicted as a “sicko” in those intimate exchanges. And then, despite our awareness and the child’s fear it instilled, my brother and I had to go there every other weekend.

The secrets that unfolded behind closed doors became the unwelcome soundtrack to my childhood and the spaces between visits to our father’s house. My older brother, who was working on weekends pumping gas, would no longer be there as the buffer between my father’s aggressive nature and my meekness. I also know it probably didn’t help that a questionable divorce lawyer back then arranged these weekends. But the memory of that sting in that nightgown mirrored the unsettling dynamics of those forced visits. Naive to the material shortcomings of my nightgown, my mother unwittingly subjected me to further discomfort due to the larger naivete of her time and place.

The house, a big, drafty Victorian on a main road, echoed with the steady hum of passing cars. I distinctly remember when it rained, the sound of the wheels of the cars and their light splashing on wet roads, and the flickering room illuminated by headlights. These were the imprints of those lonely weekends— a constant backdrop to times also spent trying to navigate a relationship with a father whose pride lay in possessions rather than paternal warmth, instead a transient himself, impatient, vain, and cold.

Depending on the current inhabitant — be it tenants, another girlfriend, a new wife, or tenants again — I found myself relegated to the unfurnished bedroom during those transitional periods. The night I endured the wasp sting, the room lacked a tenant, and as my father’s non-paying 8-year-old daughter, I struggled to discern my value in his eyes. Despite this, things he cherished most were flaunted before me like a promise of future prosperity — if I deemed myself worthy.

“My boat, my motorcycle, will be yours one day,” he proudly proclaimed, basking in ownership.

Yet, the contrast was stark. While he boasted about his belongings, his children resided in a small apartment within a complex teeming with more transients, drug dealers, thugs, and divorced families inhabiting their weekend apartments with their children.

Though my mother fed us well, despite her meager earnings, weekends with him still linger with echoes of linguini with clam sauce from a can and a half-eaten slice of pizza that warranted his yelling and elicited my trembling in his local pizza joint.

“Eat! Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!”

I was a skinny child with a poor appetite; with him, my tight and small, nervous stomach was wound in knots. As he glared at me, I looked down and could not hold back the tears. But my crying was quiet, and the slice of pizza that he begrudgingly paid for lay untouched on the paper plate, a silent witness to just one of many experiences with the sting of my father.