Short Story The Summer of BSSZ
I’d tilt myself and roll to each side on the dirt, offering the bees new areas of my body.
In the spring, my husband Mark suggested that we start taking evening walks. After clearing the dinner table, he and I would wordlessly approach the front door and put on our shoes. The walks—to the end of the block, across the street where the park begins, and through the park that houses an outdoor pool—had the metronomic predictability of a prescription, which is what they were, unofficially. The counselor at the high school where my husband worked was a close-enough friend for Mark to confide in. Apparently they’d discussed us .
“He says a daily walk for couples is the equivalent of an apple a day,” Mark told me, and I said, “I had no idea you worked with Dr. Phil. Weird for him to quit a successful TV career and start hustling for a public high school.”
But soon, June arrived, bringing one unrelenting heatwave after another. Our apartment was on the top floor and south facing. By late afternoon, the air inside was so dense it felt as if new people, whole new families with their stench and their size, had moved in. Over the three years we’d lived there, we’d talked about buying an air conditioner, but at this point in our relationship it seemed like investing in something for our joint use was the economic equivalent of stabbing a knife in your own perfectly vital body. Sticky with heat, exhausted after a day of work in a college office also without AC, I began requesting the evening walks, and Mark of course was more than willing. Whoever finished putting on their shoes first would press the elevator button. Whoever was second was in charge of locking the door.
We discovered BSSZ—the city’s Bee Saving Sanctuary Zone—simply by cutting across the park one evening. BSSZ was no more than a rectangle of land the size of our living room, enclosed by a tall chain-link fence and filled exclusively with native flowers. It sat tucked behind the city pool, in the bed of a slight depression completely hidden from the street, and far enough from the waterslide so that the bees, in theory, would not be bothered by the children. So that they could eat, frolic, and propagate in peace.
“This is up your alley,” I said the first time we saw it. I skimmed the sign explaining BSSZ’s mandate. There was a no-trespassing notice next to it. Mark hooked his fingers in the fence and started identifying the flowers, using Latin. When he was done, he pointed out the bees: a Megachilidae , the Perdita minima . I pointed out that the maintenance crew had left the padlock unclasped.
“Let’s go in?” I said. “You can tell me more inside. All your impressive knowledge .”
For the first half hour, BSSZ was just a temporary rest stop on our evening walk. I sat on the mulch, next to flowers that meant nothing to me at that point. Mark crawled on all fours, looking for bees to name. At one point, his glasses slid off his nose, landing silently in the dirt. I watched for a full minute as he nearly stomped them with his knee.
When we were leaving, he turned around and said, “Let me guess, you found that so boring?” He’d dabbled in irony maybe twice in the time I’d known him. His use of it now, combined with the definitive way in which he clamped the padlock shut—not even asking whether we should leave it as found—told me he’d taken something from BSSZ, or that BSSZ had given him something.
The best I could figure was that my husband felt vindicated. A couple months back, when he first brought up Dr. Phil, Mark not only started speaking up about me, us, and perceived issues in our stagnating relationship, but he also latched on to a narrative .
“You act like a pollinator,” he said. “But I’m talking solitary bee . Nothing for a greater collaborative good. Oh no.” I had zero knowledge about the subject, so he went on. “You have no interest in what can’t provide immediate sustenance, only whatever your current need is, hopping from flower to flower. Me, me, me! ”
The insult, I deduced, was part Dr. Phil, but it also had a lot of Mark in it. He’d spent summers with his beekeeper grandparents and worked at their apiary during all four years of high school.
Now, at BSSZ, the metaphor had fully gestated. In a literal sense, it hovered all around us. Did I hate being inserted into the realm of the very thing I’d been compared to? Did I find it humbling to be inside BSSZ, the way the universe seemed to want to funnily prove that my husband maybe had a point? Was it like looking in a mirror, at a reflection I should muster the maturity to recognize?
“No, actually, I enjoyed BSSZ very much,” I told him. “I want to come back tomorrow.”
For the next couple of weeks, the way the visits went more or less was that I’d stand on the lookout for the Parks Department crew as Mark picked the lock with an extra-large paperclip. Once inside BSSZ, he and I sat cross-legged on our square of mulch, a little clearing invisible to passersby, next to a row of purple coneflowers.
“ Echinacea pallida ,” Mark had said . “Extremely attractive for bees, like a bag of potato chips for a human.”
The bees went about their business, crisscrossing their sanctuary, their gentle buzz creating a sonic tent above us. Sometimes Mark still tried to cash in on the pollinator thing. “I like how your edge dulls in here,” he said to me one day, always starting out gentle. “I think this is good for you, maybe a sign we should move out to the country.”
I tilted my head back so that all I could see was the sky. The evening cool had set in. The way BSSZ was situated in a dip allowed for the surrounding trees to cast day-long shadows. I’d come to yearn for this microclimate all day. I’d started learning the names of the bees and flowers.
“. . . we could raise little goats,” Mark went on, “do homey stuff. How does that sound, Farmer Susan?”
I said nothing, only reclined farther back on the mulch, sliding my hands through the soil until I felt the resistance of a rock or a root system. What I could now confidently identify as a Perdita bee came around a bend and cruised near my shoulder. She took a sharp turn and headed for a Liatris spicata —a blazing star, also good for the bees. Nearby, an Andrena perched herself on the flimsy petal of a Rudbeckia hirta , threatening to tip it over but departing just in time. It was at this point that Mark started singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” His tone was inoffensive, as if he were performing for a child, except it was I who was sitting next to him, a thirty-five-year-old woman.
Mark made donkey and hog sounds, then cow and horse. I refused to speak or move, but as the lyrics accumulated—the entire farmstead—the bees did something new. They hurried over, like I was a long-awaited course just delivered by the waiter, or someone in need of saving, a woman pushed onto subway tracks. They gathered near me, indisputably near me and not near Mark, though also between us, forming a helpful barrier. Some started circling my head like carousel horses, coming so close I swear I felt the wind of their wakes. The portly Bombus impatiens , the Colletes inaequalis with its cocked eye, the ternarius , wearing a tiny wrestler’s belt. More bees followed; the restaurant meal was good and news spread, or the woman on the tracks was in a heap of trouble. Whatever it was, it was friendly, the opposite of threatening. Their cumulative buzz was loud enough so that I could no longer hear Mark, who may have still been singing about a pig farmer.
I’d come to yearn for this microclimate all day. I’d started learning the names of the bees and flowers.
I can’t say how much time passed. I’d shut my eyes. The drone was a religious hymn or the stuff of meditations and hypnotisms. It’d been years since I’d felt this relaxed, since I’d derived solace and satisfaction from something other than contradicting my husband.
“Fine, don’t answer me,” he snapped at some point, loud enough for me to hear. He stood up in a clumsy haste, mulch sticking to his chino shorts and the socks he’d pulled to his knees. I followed him out of BSSZ, but that night, in bed, the bees were still in my head, like some kind of tinnitus. I lay on the pillow, Mark possibly talking, assessing the day or me or us. But all I heard was that electric rattle, as if the bees had stowed away in my canals to forage through the nighttime.
That summer, it took one town hall meeting for the pool hours to be adjusted. The schedule shifted to better correspond with the habits of the neighborhood children. In summer months, boys especially sleep in, so the pool pushed its opening from 8 to 11 a.m. The three saved hours were tacked on to the end, delaying the closing to 10 p.m. Where we lived, the sun set around that time, and so for the children’s last moments in the water, as the lifeguards circled the deck calling “Let’s wrap it up” and boys pretended not to hear them, the sky was all exploding peaches and cinematic. I knew none of that registered with the kids because, as I remember it, I hadn’t stopped to appreciate a natural wonder until I was properly an adult.
The day the pool schedule changed was midweek, beginning of July. There’d been no notice on the pool fence, nothing tacked to a tree. Before the change, the sounds of boys dunking and boys shooting down the waterslide would die out around the time we put our dishes in the sink. The new pool hours meant that I heard them well past dinner. “Why all the people?” I said once we crossed the street for our evening walk. “Why is the pool still open?”
Children lingered on the sidewalk. Shirtless, clammy boys lined for the waterslide, calling out expletives to friends farther down the line. “Why isn’t the lifeguard reacting? Why do they have to yell?” I said. It was incongruous. I saw mothers kneeling on the deck, unpacking the contents of wicker tote bags with no urgency. “They’re just starting their day out here!”
“Stop staring,” Mark hissed. He tugged my arm so that we made a wider ring around the pool area, going off-trail, keeping our backs hunched, and reaching BSSZ from a less-peopled angle. “Keep on the lookout,” he said as he started picking the lock. Once in, we sat on our square of mulch, but we immediately sensed the dearth, the unfamiliar lack of activity. The pool sounds played on as a background, like awful music in a bar.
“The bees won’t come. Not with those brats—” But just as I said it, Mark put his finger on his lips.
“Look to your right,” he whispered. “An Agapostemon , the sweat bee. Coming straight at you.”
Before she died, my mother owned a dog, a Muppet-like creature so indiscriminately happy to be around me, my mother would say, “The dog’s in honest-to-god love.” The Agapostemon was the closest thing to that that I’d experienced.
“She’s green,” I said, extending my hand. “And metallic!” I was stupidly overcome and laughed without meaning to. The bee was an inch away or closer. Nature! This insect like a pretty Christmas ornament.
Two Agapostemon bees trailed the first, and now all three hovered by my shoulder.
“Something new must’ve just bloomed in here,” Mark said, looking around. “Maybe Asters. Something the Agapostemon like.”
The bees moved forward and back, proposing a landing on my bicep, but shy and asking for permission.
“They’re the sweat bee,” Mark repeated himself. “They’d love to scrape a little salt off your skin. Remember our first date and how I told you about them? Remember how we—”
The first bee came to rest on my wrist. Her forelegs started moving in a grazing motion, combing my skin so gently I registered only the peaks of the sensation. The pleasure was absurdly inverse to the size of those limbs. I flinched. I hadn’t felt this way since a high school boyfriend maybe. But even that, that was only a shadow; here was something like a source, here was a ball of hydrogen and fusion. The other two bees landed on my shoulder. New nerve endings twitched, in my thighs, at the back of my neck, just behind my ears.
“I haven’t showered today,” I said, laughing in that dumb way again. “I’m a ball of sweat. I reek.”
Who was I speaking to? Mark assumed it was him. “But they love that, they love it!” he said. It’d been a while since I’d seen him that happy.
Suddenly, a scream came from the pool, so loud it was barely human. The bees instantly scattered. A lingering echo penetrated all of BSSZ, the whole park, and the block. A booming splash came next—the loudest splash of the summer. More screaming followed, some laughter, then the slapping of extra-small feet on the moist pool-deck concrete.
“It’s like Lord of the Flies ,” Mark said.
We were alone again: my husband and I in a plot of flowers, the sun angle too low for us to see each other’s expressions.
“That volume is unnatural. The bees have no respite here,” I said. I wrapped my arms around myself, feeling doubly violated, once for me and once for the bees. Once, too, for our aborted pleasure. A gross mistake was at work, a complete hypocrisy. I shook my head. “What’s the point of it all? It’s like building a hospice in the middle of a nuclear test site. What moron in the Parks Department planned this? That pool’s just too close.”
By mid July, I’d started visiting BSSZ on lunch breaks, riding my bike the twenty minutes there and back, a paperclip in my pocket. I would come by in the mornings as well, leaving the house early, careful to avoid the maintenance crew of hungover teenagers in Parks Department T-shirts.
When Mark asked, I told him the professor I did research for had shuffled up my hours. I’d return home late, way past what was reasonable. Sometimes I got lucky: The atmosphere would broil to the point of threatening a thunderstorm and the lifeguards would shut the pool down for the rest of the day. If the bees were particularly good to me on a lunch break, I’d walk my bike home afterward and email the professor a vague apology. Mark found me once, on a day his summer school had let out early, curled on our bed in my underwear, asleep at 2 p.m. He extended his arm to brush the pollen off my bra strap.
“Don’t,” I mumbled, and he retreated, shutting the bedroom door behind him.
We were alone again: my husband and I in a plot of flowers, the sun angle too low for us to see each other’s expressions.
Of all the bees, the Agapostemon were the hardiest and most eager to please. While other bee varieties cruised near me out of curiosity and for company, the sweat bees’ tiny hands worked and scraped and kneaded me, foraging for spots where moisture and dampness abounded. That summer, I wore tank tops and loose shorts exclusively, some days skipping the underwear. I’d tilt myself and roll to each side on the dirt, offering them new areas of my body. Still, I could sense they were tense by the way they’d spring back whenever a child screamed his war cry or whenever the lifeguard put on techno music. On certain days, even the sweat bees wouldn’t show up. I stopped taking showers and let up on the antiperspirant, but that didn’t help much. I was never the problem.
The swimming pool had been there first, it’s true. It was old-school concrete, with a rust-streaked curly slide. The neighborhood was quite family friendly, with two grade schools and a preschool within a small four-block span. But there was room for negotiation, and BSSZ had been erected, after all. In the last half decade, cities in North America had hopped on the eco bandwagon. The goal was to please a certain constituency, the one Mark and I were part of: middle-class incomes, eaters of organic produce. We got a tax break for installing a bird feeder on our balcony. The block with the most compost per capita was awarded a cardboard plaque.
After he moved into my neighborhood, into my apartment, it’d taken Mark mere days to grow chummy with the local city council rep. This made sense; Mark taught social science and had always been political. He wore Che Guevara T-shirts in his twenties and was vying for a school board seat. For the three years of our marriage, and the three years and six months I’d known Mark, I had little interest in his meetings, in wasting evenings in the dank basements of rec centers or giving money to politicians when I could pay down my student debt instead. But in the summer of BSSZ, my awareness crystallized. I understood community engagement and the power of donations, the way benefits trickled back to you in the end through a funny hydrologic cycle.
Starting midsummer, when Mark returned home after meetings, I listened. I offered ideas, dictated emails, drafted passionate pleas on the subject of shrinking bee habitats. We’d stay up late on the couch, talking through plans, even having sex once. I could tell Mark felt like he’d succeeded, like the walks and Dr. Phil had worked.
Then came the prize. By early August, the higher-ups at the municipal pool finally acknowledged that other people have the right to cool off. That this concrete water-filled receptacle abutting BSSZ could be put to use for something other than hosting a gang of screaming, sliding boys from morning till night. The city introduced a pilot project for adult-oriented activities: water fitness for seniors Tuesday mornings and eighteen-and-up inner tube water polo, Monday and Wednesday evenings, from eight thirty to ten.
We’d never been fans of competitive sports, but it only made sense to register. Mark wanted to eradicate those boys—for me, for BSSZ, for our marriage. He posted on social media, begging friends to join, hoping to drive up demand for classes. I told him I’d think about taking part, but when the last day for signing up passed, I confessed I hadn’t done it.
“Better save that registration fee,” I said. “I’ll sit on the pool deck and cheer.”
Eighteen-and-up inner tube water polo, I realized as I watched my husband’s first match, was a mating game for people just out of their teens, disguised as moderately tactical water-bound recreation. Sylvie, the instructor and referee, barely eighteen and arriving in her yellow Jeep two minutes before the matches started, constantly called out, “Mike, you know you could’ve blocked that if you weren’t busy trying to dunk Angela,” or, “Jason, I can see what you’re doing. Hands above water, please.” There were about six of them, Mikes and Jasons and Justins, distracting the girls instead of blocking balls. The girls laughed every time a boy threatened to capsize their inner tubes. The caps the players wore, fastened under their chins, pastry-like padding over the ear area, made them look like bonneted Quakers.
My husband—cap firmly in place—floated around this circus with a shocked expression on his face and the momentum of a lily pad. In the second half of the game, I stood up and waved to catch his attention. When he looked my way, I pointed to the gate leading out of the pool. I mouthed, “I’m going to sit on the grass,” then turned around and left him.
The bees knew the pool activity schedule—they were smart enough to learn it quick. My husband and the other inner tubers were bee friendly: relatively quiet and low in number, with a coach who felt no need to ever blow her whistle. And so, on Monday and Wednesday evenings, confident in the calm that this block of time afforded, the sweat bees came, the swarm shaped like an ocean wave, so dense their descent looked biblical. They settled on me, head to toe, first shy, then growing in number, like a raid—each inspiring others to go on, take, plunder . Their legs tickled my sensitive spots especially. The neck just beneath the earlobe. The inside of the thigh.
Think of a needle but kind. A knife edge too delicate to pierce. An alien probe, but welcome.
“The sweat bee population is strong in this city,” my husband had told me on our first date, at an Italian restaurant boasting an in-house cellist. I remember taking an extra-long sip of water as he said it, at the time thinking, That’s impressive —not the substance of the bee fact, just that a man could have frivolous interests.
When Mark proposed going to BSSZ on non–water polo days—Tuesday, Thursday, Friday evenings, or on the weekends—I said no: “The boys are there screaming, so it’s pointless.” We stopped taking our prescribed walks. It’d been a month since we’d been inside BSSZ together. Then Monday and Wednesday evening would come, Mark would pull on his swim trunks, and I’d pick up my novel and little bamboo blanket from next to the door. I’d wait for the first toss of the ball, then jog down the park slope, paperclip in hand. I’d push the gate open, say hi to everyone, get on my hands and knees, and tread past the foliage.
One day in late August, Jason or Justin or Chad sent the ball Mark’s way as he was looking to the right, toward where I might’ve been on the grass slope.
“Heads!” Sylvie called out, and the ball came at him like a cartoon punch, with the stars, the bluebirds, all of it.
The players had to exit the water, and a tall kid in a red tank top emerged from the pool office holding something like a children’s lab set. He crouched at the edge of the deck and scooped liquid into a test tube, swirling to check just how badly Mark’s blood had contaminated the pool.
I was sitting on our square of mulch, my sandals removed, legs open when this happened. The way the bees froze, I could tell someone was near. I shifted so as to sit cross-legged. A second later, Mark pushed past the Rudbeckia maxima , lumbering toward me and dropping down on the dirt near my feet.
“You said you’d be on the grass slope,” he said, then cupped his head with his hands, bowed forward, and started rocking.
“What happened to your face?” I asked.
Five or six bees buzzed, suspended near my ear. A Hylaeus , a Ptiloglossa , some Colletes . The sun was about to set, and the swaying black-eyed Susans cast shadows over Mark’s body.
Think of a needle but kind. A knife edge too delicate to pierce. An alien probe, but welcome.
“Ball in the nose,” he finally answered, lifting his head to wipe his mouth. The movement triggered a fresh jet and the blood gurgled and slid down his chin, onto his lap and towel.
“Did any of the mothers see?” I asked. “They’ll start a petition and shut down water polo.”
“Though think of how much pee, how much fecal matter is floating around in that water,” I went on. “Do they really think we believe their sons are holding it in?”
Mark shook his head no, but it wasn’t clear what exactly in reference to. He got up after a minute and toddled out of sight. An hour later, I was lying in bed when a text arrived from Sylvie. She said she’d driven Mark to the ER. “Just to make double sure.”
“Okay,” I typed in response, and I slipped the phone under my pillow. I pictured Mark’s limbs and the blood from his nose flailing on the highway; Sylvie’s yellow Jeep was the kind with no roof or doors on it.
In the final weeks of summer, I saw the bee numbers shrink. I could feel the attrition. The older boys, the ones with late curfews, were back on the waterslide, screaming from morning till sundown, seven days a week, a war won. Water polo had been cancelled after none of the players showed up again. Apparently, it’d been pretty gross in that pool. “Like an alligator attack,” Mark said.
Within days, BSSZ became a ghost town. I sat inside each evening, waiting, shoulders bared, tank top straps loosely dangling beneath my elbows.
Mark said he had summer school parent-teacher meetings, for all the bad kids in his class. “They’re so bad,” he’d say before leaving the apartment. Though, by complete chance, I spotted him once, strolling in the moonlight past the park, nowhere near the high school. Sometimes he wouldn’t come home till morning.
I held out hope for the bees until late September, bathing sporadically, not washing my hair, heading to BSSZ straight after work—on lunch breaks too sometimes. Then one morning, I saw the day’s local paper, tossed in the lobby of my building. I saw the headlines, and I stopped.
“September Equinox Festival,” one said, and next to it—front-page, large-fonted—the competing news to the end of the summer: “Popular High School Teacher Charged,” my husband, indecently exposed in a public mall parking lot, inside the yellow Jeep, going at it with his high school–senior lover.
My time in court came first. There was only one witness—Mark—testifying for the plaintiff, the city. When asked rhetorically by the city’s lawyer, “You’ve been instructed, Mark, about spousal privilege, yes? You’re aware we can’t force you to testify against your wife,” he only nodded.
When the same was asked of me as I sat in the witness box at his criminal trial—in a bigger courtroom, with more people, more pens scribbling on pads, and Sylvie’s parents—I gave a long laugh. It was as if the laugh had been waiting to come out all trial, maybe for all the time that we’d been married.
“But I’ve been dying to testify against him,” I said. “Don’t you see, Counsel? I’m ready to go. Ask me anything. Shoot!”
I laughed because of the irony of it all. How we’d turned out after three years of marriage. How easy it was for him to get sidetracked, by an eighteen-year-old girl-coach no less, and the indignity of parking lot sex. In fact, in the year since that summer, since my husband’s arrest for indecent exposure inside the doorless yellow Jeep and the first notice I’d received about my own quasi-criminal acts—picking city locks over and over, trespassing—I’d come to find everything hilarious.
The funniest was when my own judge said, “You know, Susan, this could’ve all been avoided with a small fine. Just a check in the mail. Going to trial for trespassing on city property was very, very unnecessary. Challenging something of this small a magnitude has taken up a lot of court resources. It’s wasted public money that could’ve gone to what you clearly hold above all else: BSSZ.”
I laughed, mainly because of how ridiculous it sounded when this seventy-year-old man made a buzzing sound in the courtroom. Before the flag, the moustachioed court officer, and those beautiful wooden beams.
“Right, Your Honor,” I said. “I’m extremely fond of bzzzz .”
Until her parents put a stop to it, Sylvie sent newspaper clippings to Mark’s prison address. I know because he’d read them out to me whenever he called on the weekends of his two-month sentence. Helpful, ever-thoughtful Sylvie, she’d underline the parts about me in pink pen: “BSSZ Woman breaks restraining order.” “BSSZ Woman spotted in park.” “Security cameras installed. Parents demand more enforcement.”
The last clipping he received was his favorite, he said, because for once, the boys got a voice. “Second grader Shayne said, ‘BSSZ lady is strange, but I’m not scared of her. I think she just likes bees, which my teacher says are endangered.’”
A few lines later, they quoted a different boy. “When she dumped laundry detergent down the waterslide, no one really got sick, she just made the park lather up like a bathtub. Soap got on the trees and the pool closed for a week.”
Mark called me right away after that one, my last time communicating with him. “Before your next guerilla tactic,” he said, “before you douse the park in Tide again, consider the bees, and your role as an invasive species. I doubt they thought highly of all that alcohol ethoxy sulfate.”
BSSZ shut down one year after Mark’s release. He no longer lived in the neighborhood and likely didn’t witness its passing. The fence came down, the flowers were plucked, the earth was seeded over with grass. When you walked by, it looked like a rectangular shadow had been cast where BSSZ formerly stood, like it was an unmarked mass grave, which in a sense it was.
The pool remained open, its slide curly and intact. Every morning, the lifeguard skimmed the surface, collecting stray leaves and the doggy-paddling beetles. He picked the beetles out of the netting and tossed them over the fence. When he was done, he’d remind me that I wasn’t supposed to be there.
“I could call the authorities, you know.” But he usually left it at that.
I’d arrive at the pool’s opening hour, making it onto the deck even before the kids and the mothers. After a half hour of sitting on the edge with my feet in the water, I liked to lie back on the concrete and shut my eyes for a while. With my hair cut short, with my new weight, and with the full year that had elapsed since BSSZ, no one but the lifeguard seemed to recognize me.
Around three or four o’clock, I’d feel the shadow of the pool office come over me. I’d hear the lifeguard say, “Just try to ignore her, please. Her name is Susan. She’s not unconscious, she just does this.”
More hours would pass. Around dinnertime came the best part, the part I’d be waiting for: the prickling would start.
Most days, I figured it was the birds—crows, mainly—tempted by the way I hadn’t shifted in hours, thinking: Food, a dead woman.
Other times, it might’ve been the pool boy, the telescopic pole of the skimmer probing me. “You sure you’re not dead, Susan? Say something, please. You’re freaking me out.”
Sometimes, I guessed, The mothers? Their pedicures scratching, avenging the water polo?
Other times, it was the exiled beetles. Returning through the holes in the fence, drawn to the water, and crossing me like a bridge.
And then, on the best days, it was the bees, back after a hibernation. After months of battle planning and rank enforcing, of gorging on nectars and bird eggs and gnats, they’d come home, the little Napoleons, vicious, their tiny size no impediment. The pokes were them, waking me, summoning, impatiently tapping. “Come on, Susan, get up and lead us. It’s time to take back what’s ours.”