My dad saved my life when I was a little girl, or at least, that’s how I felt. My parents, sisters, and I were at our cabin for a weekend getaway in Sugarloaf, California, just south of Big Bear City. Sugar pines surrounded our little bungalow on the big corner lot in the mountains. We had just finished Mom’s lasagna dinner and everyone was relaxing in their own way for the rest of the evening. I was engrossed in a book, sitting on our coffee-colored sofa by our gray stone fireplace, and that’s when Dad noticed the spider heading for me at lightning speed. He caught it just before it began the climb onto my leg. In those days, any spider who found itself inside our home didn’t live to see the sunrise the next morning. For a little girl, this moment was traumatic, so these little pests have been the bane of my existence ever since. Even as I evolved into my teen years, they seemed to follow me everywhere.
These wee beasts spent much of their time in my peaceful and cool bathroom with the sky-blue walls and plush soft matching rugs. Never did they tour my parent’s bathroom. My mind drifts to the morning when I was about to take a shower, getting ready for another day of high school…as I turned the knob and looked up with eyes wide open, I watched a spider ride the waves of the cascading waterfall down, down, down. I jerked my head back just in time, and I cringed thinking of that eight-legged creature tangled up in my long hair.
Mornings began to fuel unfamiliar anxiety as spider social calls manifested soon after the crack of dawn. The sun brightened the sky and another high school day was on the horizon. I grabbed a towel to dry off after showering when I felt something unnatural. Looking down, I watched in horror as a brown spider scuttled across my chest. I jumped, avoiding a nasty fall in the tub, and brushed the spider off not caring where it landed. I just wanted it off my skin.
These creepy-crawlies seemingly watched for me so they could plan their next prank. During another shower with my head full of shampoo suds, I spotted a black spider near my feet. The dance I did wasn’t a happy one. With a swish here and there, my foot managed to nudge the scary intruder down the drain with ripples of water, as I imagined it whirling into the dark unknown of the water system. I quickly rinsed the suds out. Just as I felt calm run through my body, I looked down and saw that damn spider climbing out of the drain. This could only happen to me.
I’m not afraid of fangs digging into me. It’s the spider’s startling presence that makes me jump high enough to tap the moon. They appear when I least expect it, so any hope of building armor to avoid fear taking control is hopeless. And they have too many legs; this, combined with their sudden movements of jumping or crawling at high-speed, send me into a tizzy as my dad used to say. Also, from my view, spiders are not pretty. The visual doesn’t compare to reveling in the beauty of a swallowtail butterfly. In fact, their creepy looks propel me into a panic as much as their sudden company.
Even after five decades, I haven’t been able to shake my skittish reactions. Even though I’m a giant compared to the spider, with any fear, the source becomes magnified. So, I’ve diagnosed myself with arachnophobia. And the tale continues…
One unforgettable incident took place later in life. I’m now a wife and mom with two little children. On an evening like any other while my family was getting ready for bed, I walked through the house locking the front, patio, and kitchen doors. I turned the lights out in the living room, but noticed a dark spot the size of my palm on the carpet. I almost – almost – reached down to touch it, but a bell went off in my subconscious warning me not to. I turned on the light and staring back at me was a black hairy tarantula!
“Oh, Shit!” I screamed, backing up slowly.
“Uh, oh! I think Mom found a spider,” my husband, Matt, said to the kids. But he silently questioned the kind of spider that would cause me to shriek. This scenario sounded different from all the rest.
After I managed to widen the space between the tarantula and me, my feet felt like two cement blocks. Fear crept into my veins like a drug. I had never seen a tarantula up close, although I was thankful it stayed put. It didn’t budge at all. It wasn’t afraid of me. What a fiasco the night would’ve been if the tarantula had run. I get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about the thick-legged, ominous-looking intruder finding comfort beneath the sofas (that I would never again sit on).
Matt was taken back when he saw the reason for my shriek. He was also surprised I hadn’t passed out! My daughter instituted the trend of saving spiders with a glass and a paper plate. So, by grabbing those two items, Matt scooped up the uninvited guest while I held the door. Per my request, he walked far enough away from the house before setting the big guy free in the yard. No tarantula was killed in the telling of this event. Our front door had been open earlier in the evening with the screen door closed. Spiders can maneuver through any cracks, but I see homes on our block with front doors open all the time. Don’t spiders find their way into those homes, too, where prime opportunity awaits?
Several days after Matt had introduced “Harry” to his outdoor residence, my phobia eventually quieted down. Until, just recently, when I sat at the kitchen table typing on my laptop. I noticed a spider crawling over the top of the screen. It appeared like out of a horror flick, magnified by the white backdrop, growing to an enormous size – my skewed perception – as each leg made its way over the top. Since Matt was home, I yelled for his help. He grabbed the saving tools, but was too slow for the speedy spider. He’s off to the races! So, Matt lobbed the glass to me like we had teamed up for an egg toss.
“Oh no, I missed him, too!”
“Hon, it’s just a spider,” Matt said with a smile and a pinch of courage. He knew Harry’s disturbing image had been ingrained in my mind, and no matter how much effort I exerted, it was stuck there forever.
I couldn’t believe Matt said, just a spider, but I knew he was teasing because he always comes to my rescue. As it happened, this little fellow was faster than lightning, so maybe he fled the household.
“He’s on the floor…hand me the glass!” Matt tried again. “Ahh, now I can’t see him; he blends into the tile.”
“It’s time for the vacuum then; I’m so sorry,” I said out loud. When I finished pushing the vacuum back and forth many times, relief washed over me because I assumed the spider had been swallowed into oblivion. Then guilt followed because we usually tried to save the creepy creatures. I sat down at the table again, but not before examining my laptop with eagle eyes to ensure no more spiders needed screen time.
Five minutes later, I saw the spider again!
“Oh my gosh, Honey, he’s following me!”
“Who’s following you?”
“Who do you think is following me?!”
I ignored Matt’s teasing, but without him hearing, I let a chuckle escape. All I wanted to do was send an email. I grabbed the glass but missed the spider again. Good thing Matt and I weren’t on a baseball team. The spider certainly had an agenda – still racing to who knows where and surely faster than us. My eyes stayed focused on the little pest as it made its way to the living room. I was sure he was having the time of his life – the furniture would turn out to be a guaranteed playground.
“Just watch, I’ll find him on my chair in the morning,” I said.
“Could be. Should I make a bigger pot of coffee?” Matt replied, as he took a step back hiding behind a grin.
It seemed I had survived yet another spider episode, and so I had! We didn’t see the eight-legged visitor again and extra coffee wasn’t needed.
Now that I’m approaching another decade, my eyesight isn’t as sharp. And yet, I’ve memorized a few spots on the carpet that just won’t disappear with any amount of scrubbing. So, I can distinguish between a spill to a creepy unwanted visitor. Admittedly, I don’t shower without a peek behind the curtain. Fully overcoming this fear most likely won’t happen. However, if I can save a spider and watch it skitter around in a glass, then make my way to the door to give it freedom, that’s progress. Amazing progress! Once outside, I gently lay the glass down and with leg synchronicity, the spider crawls out heading to the roses and lantana, making us both sigh with relief.
I never had a green thumb in the garden; the last thing I wanted to do was deliberately put my hands in a spider’s haven. Nowadays, I’m more in tune with the blooms in our yard than I’ve ever been. I don’t worry about the creepy-crawlies when I’m offering a drink to the thirsty blossoms. This evidence shows the fear doesn’t have the firm grip that it had in years past. I haven’t conquered arachnophobia one hundred percent, but I realize this phobia doesn’t prey only on me. Knowing I’m not alone while learning to exist with arachnids and acknowledging they’re not out to get me, is a work-in-progress. I’ve come a long way since that evening at the cabin when Dad saved my life. Maybe his reaction incited fear. Yet, if the spider had begun its ascent onto my leg, fear would’ve hurled into full force regardless.
And so, I wonder, had the spiders been laughing at me when their presence whirled me into a frenzy? My intentions were always good; I simply didn’t want to be roommates. Laughing with me would’ve been perfectly welcomed.
Lauren Scott (c) 2020
Please note: No images are included due to the aforementioned phobia.