House of a Thousand Arachnids

I have developed an abnormal fear & fascination with spiders– which has spurred my curiosity about the dichotomy of two distinctly different emotions that seem equally befitting of one another. Growing up in a semi-rural  area, I saw some gnarly looking eight legged creatures, but my distaste for creepy crawly spiders has recently developed into a full-blown obsession and I have discovered I am just as fixated on understanding them as I am on keeping them away from my personal space.

My love-hate relationship with spiders began after a party when I pointed out a long-legged spider that I thought was a brown recluse. A crowd began to form around the front stoop and my friends were using their smart phones to pull up pictures resembling the spider.  Later that night, one of the party-goers told me a story about a gigantic, wart covered, hairy, and disgusting wolf spider she found in her basement. She was so amazed, she covered it with a jar and began taking pictures of it. The frantic spider was running back and forth inside the glass enclosure when the wart like bumps on her back started to move. She realized that the bumps were actually mounds of tiny baby spiders which were now scattering around inside of the jar. You. have. got. to. be. kidding. me.

I will admit, the idea of this spider with all of its babies, in all of its grossness, was both fascinating and appalling to me; she showed me the pictures and needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

I spent the following day (tired) and relaxing by the pool with my cousin, Katie, and her friend, Bobby. As it started getting late, we were cleaning up around the pool when I happened upon a gigantic wolf spider at the edge of the pavilion. I waved Katie and Bobby over to where I stood, looming over the hairy beast. I was able to take a blurry photo with my cell phone but Bobby grabbed a shoe to smash it before I could take another picture. I felt a pang of sadness for the poor spider. After all, it was not her fault she was big and ugly, and I didn’t want to see her splattered all over the concrete. But as I began to walk away I heard Bobby yell, “EWWW…I smashed it and all of a sudden these ants came out of nowhere and started crawling all over its guts!” I ran back over to look and realized that they weren’t ants at all. I guess the babies were too tiny to smash with the shoe and they were running around in herds, poor little orphan spiders.

Although my coincidental brush with spider babies left me a little stirred, I agreed to go swimming at the pool again the next day. We were sitting beneath the pool pavilion when I felt a pinch on my arm. I looked down to swat at whatever was biting me when I realized it was a small, brown spider.  My immediate reaction was to flail around like an idiot and fling my arms helplessly. When that didn’t work, I calmed myself down and flicked it, mindlessly, anywhere away from me. It catapulted through the air and landed on Katie, who was sitting beside me in her cute little bikini. She was already screaming while I was flailing around but once I flicked it on her and she realized it landed smack in her belly button, she was panic-struck. She jumped up and balled her hands into fists, beating them against her stomach like a gorilla. I had to stop laughing to tell her to keep still so I could flick him off of her. By that time, everyone else at the table was up and standing back, trying to avoid the path of the flying spider we were flicking around like a hot potato.

Right away I noticed that the bite on my arm was swollen and red; although it was just a small bump, it was painful. By the end of the day, the spider bite felt more like a tetanus shot; the muscles in my arm were sore and I felt like I had the flu. When I finally went to the doctor he suspected I had been bit by a small (young) brown recluse spider. Most brown recluse spider bites destroy skin, tissue, and muscle; the skin begins to literally rot away and fester at the venom site, sometimes turning black and gangrenous; the spider can even be lethal to humans. My friend sustained a nasty bite a few years ago and she is still recovering; I had a bruised, achy arm and swollen fang marks…almost laughable really.

I have often wondered if I sustained a bite from another type of spider that caused an unusual reaction, based on the mild symptoms I developed. But ever since then, I am infatuated with spiders. My bewilderment has only escalated over the past month. Aside from the Hurricane, we have had beautiful weather the past few weeks and I spend a lot of time writing outside. Last week, I was sitting on my patio after dark and as I began to work, I noticed something move in the reflection of the computer-screen. I turned to find a large, three-tiered spider web wrapped around a blue umbrella that was propped against the cement wall since June. At the very top of the web I saw a large, dark brown spider hovering over two partially bound stink bugs. It was at least the size of a half-dollar, with sharp, pointed features and long, dagger shaped legs. I wondered if it was a brown recluse—as it chose to hide in the fabric of the umbrella.

Over the span of five nights, I watched the spider come out after dark. When the patio light came on, the beetles and moths came out, and so did my little friend. About a week ago, I was babysitting three of my younger cousins, who are brothers: Timmy, Trace, and Trey. I knew the middle brother, Trace, would be interested to see the enormity of the spider. I turned on the patio light and we sat outside waiting for him to appear. Moments later, he crept out of the deep, wide fold along the side of the umbrella and made his way to the cement wall where he usually sits, perched and unimposing. Trace jumped back in his chair for a minute, hunching up his shoulders and clenching his teeth. “Whoa! It’s HUGE! Can I kill it??” He asked, as he leaped off his seat to grab a shoe or some other spider-killing device. I yelled out, asking that he please not hurt the spider. “Spider’s are good at keeping bugs away,” I told him, still unsure if I wanted him to leave the freakish spider unharmed. “Ok…” He responded, unaffected. “Well, then what should we name him?” He asked. I have never rallied in defense of a spider, or any other bug for that matter, and I have certainly never named one. “Boris?” I answered, shrugging.
He frowned at my idea and his eyes grew contemplative. “I know…how about little-shit-let?!” He yelled, a grin spreading across his face.  Aside from being undeniably adorable, Trace is witty and clever beyond his years. I was too consumed in laughter to answer so I nodded in agreement; his face lit up with pride and he added, “…and when he gets big we can call him big-shit-let!” And so it was.

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My Boys: Timmy, Trey, Trace (from left to right)

Just as I was learning to co-exist peacefully with one spider, I had a fortuitous encounter with another one on the back deck at my parent’s house. The brown spider that lives in the umbrella doesn’t incite human interaction; he seems shy and tentative when I approach him. Most spiders are afraid of humans, opting to retreat when they feel threatened. But, as I learned a few days ago, not all spiders are too afraid to approach me; some are downright invasive.

Monday evening, I sat outside with my computer to finish a document I’ve been struggling to complete over the past few weeks. Aside from my downstairs patio, I also spend a lot of time on the pavilion deck on the backside of my parent’s house. The ceiling of the pavilion is compiled of wooden beams attached to the frame, where the spaces between tend to harbor a variety of insects. By the burning light of a (mosquito repellant) candle, I started to overcome the bout of writer’s block that plagued my entire week. As words filled the page, the smoldering ambiguity of writer’s block faded with the cool relief of a copious rhythm. I had finally found the perfect solitary moment I’d been seeking for days but when I paused to re-read the paragraph, I noticed a glimmering strand of silver hanging from the fan above me.

It was an obscure pendulum infringing on the limits of my sanity and its maker was hiding somewhere amidst the walls of my serenity. Although I had scanned the ceiling for unwanted intruders before I sat down to write, I was unable to spot the obscure web, until it partitioned into a single strand, swinging back and forth with a slow precision. Eventually it was dangling only inches from my face–an enormous spider hanging from the end. At first glance, it looked like a hermit crab without a shell. I kicked my seat back until it tilted beneath me and fell backwards, slamming into the deck. I called out for my mommy, screaming like a child, and she was off the couch and out the door before I could say the word, “SPIDER.” I pointed at it and she erupted in laughter. Within minutes, she grabbed the broom and scooped up the spider, also erasing the intricate web it had woven around three of the fan blades, and the sac of (please say it ain’t so) baby spiders waiting to hatch into an entire clan of inconvenient house-guests.  It’s funny how mothers can maintain composure when they have an adult-child sprawled out on the floor and panicking over an icky spider. She kept the broom extended with both hands as she crept around the side of the house to dump the spider in the front yard. I stood up, wiped the dirt off my shoulder, (and from the butt of my pants) kissed my mother, and went back to typing.

The next morning I walked outside and realized I left both of my car windows open all night. As I looked through the open window, reaching to unlock the car door, I noticed the soft outline of a web where the sun glistened through the windshield. The light refracted a mass of threaded fibers, which shone like a faint wall of lace. Door to door, it spanned the entire length of my car. It was an elaborate structure, built-in the shape of an octagon with a fractal design, the type of spider’s web you might see in a cartoon or movie.

The web itself was intimidating but it wasn’t the web that inspired my fear. I didn’t want to find the beast that spun it. But I certainly wasn’t going to drive anywhere with the eight legged squatter setting up house inside my car. I started to ask myself “WWMD” (what would mom do) in this situation? Well, she would laugh at me and that wasn’t going to do me any good so I went to find the broom she used to remove the spider the night before.

In the garage I found the broom and a bottle of lemon pledge. I grabbed an old rug that was sitting nearby and piled the arsenal of weapons on top. I wanted to take a picture of the web so I placed the rug over the windshield to block the sunlight. Once I snapped a few pictures, I realized there was no way it would show up on camera. I sprayed it with pledge until it enveloped the entire web in a thick layer of polish and then reached in with the phone to take a picture.

Reaching into the car felt like swimming in dark murky water. I had no idea where this thing was, or even what it was, and I felt petrified that it was going to spin down and land on my arm at any moment. Huge web equals huge spider, right? That’s how it works in my mind, anyway. I was starting to freak myself out, thinking about the possibility of coming face to face with a massive, venomous spider. I contemplated just leaving it alone and never driving the car again and with that ridiculous thought in mind, I found the courage to open up the car door.

I jumped back as the  door swung from side to side for a moment until finally coming to rest. The wide scope of the web became even more apparent with the door open but I couldn’t see the spider from where I was standing. I devised a plan that once I found him, I would stun him with the pledge and scoop him up with the broom. With the bottom of the broom stick, I pushed the driver’s seat forward and scanned the back seat for any sign of the spider. On the base of the passenger seat, I noticed a little red leg reach around the backside of the middle console, followed by two more little legs, and then one enormous brown and red speckled body. He crept right into plain sight, unafraid, and continued creeping until he made his way to the butt of the driver’s seat,  stopping there as if he were going to take the car out for a “spin.”

He was a remarkable creature, not your usual house-spider, and in a salient and unbelievable twist of fate, the very same spider which ‘came down beside me’ the night before. My mom released him in the front lawn which gave him both opportunity and motive to find his way through the open car window where he spent the entire evening spinning the mother-load of colossal spider-webs, and encroaching on my property out of revenge and sheer boredom…kind of like a certain ex-girlfriend of mine, only smarter. Not to mention, unlike her, this spider was no coward. He stood on his eight legs, stared up at me with eight eyes, and wiggled his two bulbous extremities extending  from the upper abdomen like a pair of boxing gloves—either pinchers, or genitalia, not sure about this particular class of spider. Either way, he was not the least bit afraid to face me.

Apparently, spiders tend to differ in their instinctual inclinations towards human beings; most are afraid of a giant human standing over him with a broom and can of furniture polish. Some spiders are aggressive and innately unafraid to bite a potential predator. This spider seemed unafraid yet completely harmless, aside from his highly effective web-spinning ability. I am not oblivious to the absolute ridiculousness of my irrational fear and mutual fascination with spiders, and I do realize that personifying them is just as illogical as fearing them. However foolish it may seem, it was the senseless humanizing of this specific spider that helped to disarm the terror and trepidation I felt about them.

Unlike the timid spider that lived on the patio, the daunting crab-like arachnid in my car seemed provoking and ornery. He had dropped from the ceiling, dangling beside me with unwavering confidence and in an act of retaliation, resurrected an impressive web of intricate grandiosity in the entire front side of my car.

A peaceful calm came over me as I placed the bristly side of the broom on the edge of the car seat, hoping the spider would go willingly. With a little encouragement and a few gentle nudges, he crept up into the bristles and I lifted him out of my car. This time, I made sure to walk across the street and down the uninhabited hillside before setting him free to terrify the rest of the neighborhood.

The divide between my feelings of overwhelming fear and fascination about spiders endured a  grandeur transformation in a relatively short time. The dread and panic has subsided and although I am left with a sublime interest in their natural behavior and instinctive tendencies, I no longer find myself in a shattered state when I cross paths with an unfamiliar eight-legged organism.They live among us every day; who knows how many are lurking about our homes and gardens, bathrooms and even bedrooms. We are without a choice in that fact and I have learned that they will do what they want to do, harmlessly, in most cases. And that there is no reason to worry over an uncontrollable force in the world; that is, in fact, what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Hopefully I don’t end up as evidentiary proof that arachnophobia is the result of an evolutionary, innate, defense tactic coveted by the survival of the fittest. But for now, I consider the irony of my spider-filled days as proof enough that exposure can cure most any fear and that, the things that bewilder and frighten us the most can also revitalize  and restore the child-like fascination that inspires growth and creative productivity. Besides that, if the spider is going to bite me while I’m outside playing with the dog, writing on the deck, hanging out by the pool, or even asleep in my own bed…there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

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2 thoughts on “House of a Thousand Arachnids

  1. Pingback: Of Course It’s Irrational! « Sue Kenney

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