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Crouching Spider, Hidden Web

Crouching Spider, Hidden Web

An arachnophobic…one who believes that his/her world would do very nicely sans spiders. That’s me.

I admit I have no official diagnosis. It’s not as though I went to the doctor one day with strange spider-fearing symptoms and she said, “I’m sorry, Amy, but you have arachnophobia.” And yet there is no doubt in my mind that I fear spiders.

Phobias are like that. I understand, intellectually, that in the vast untamed wilds of Albany, New York, I will likely never encounter any spider that could actually harm me. But phobia-fear is not about logic or rationale. It’s about freaking out.

I know, I know…spiders are wonderful critters that eat yucky flies; spin lovely, mysterious webs and save poor, doomed piglets named Wilbur from untimely demises. But put one on my arm and I’ll morph instantaneously into a whirling dervish and blow out your eardrums with bizarre, multi-pitched half-screams reserved for just such an emergency. Then, after the spider has been flung from my arm, we’re talking 30 minutes of recovery time that involves checking the rest of my body thoroughly for any other possible hidden spider, shaking myself like a dog to dislodge said hidden spider, and scanning the immediate area in an intense paranoia that slowly wanes along with my elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

I spent much of my childhood and adolescence in the tireless pursuit and destruction of spiders. I have no traumatic spider-centric event on which to blame my phobia; it was simply always present. The very idea of the spider…so many different shapes, sizes, behaviors! Teeny brownish ones that crouch suspiciously in corners. Delicate gray ones that crawl with illicit purpose up walls. And worst of all – squat, black ones that jump without warning!

I didn’t mind them so much if they were outside and not too close – but a spider in the house was entirely unacceptable. There was no stay of execution for these hapless arachnids.

Ah, but the means of execution was a problem worthy of the great thinkers of our time. Once I spotted a spider, I of course could not APPROACH it (unless, by some blessed miracle, I found one on the floor and had great big boots on, in which case I would stomp on it heartily). Close proximity was dangerous and foolhardy.

Through necessity I became a brilliant strategist. Usually the spider would be planning its evil in an upper corner of the room – too high up to reach, even if I wanted to. Knock it down with a broom? No, that presented the possibility of its escape – or worse, falling on me. I would ball myself up on the end of the bed, staring it down, thinking…planning.

Finally a breakthrough. HAIRSPRAY! Being an adolescent of the 80s, I of course had plenty. And my technique seemed foolproof. Spray the spider from a safe distance and quickly retreat even farther away. The hairspray would paralyze the spider, making it fall and giving no chance of escape. And oh, it worked, all right. With great streaming streaks of hairspray marking the walls and ceiling. Once I used a lighter with the hairspray and actually torched a spider into oblivion.

Needless to say, my immaculate mother was NOT a happy woman.

Speaking of my mother: Why didn’t I simply yell for mom or dad to come and do the dirty deed? I tried, but to no avail. My mother had no patience for my phobia.

“Spiders aren’t hurting anyone,” she’d say with logic and certainty. “Just leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.”

Yes, alone. No big brother or sister (or little one either, for that matter) to help. A father who may have helped but was in his own apartment since the divorce. A battle fought solo.

One day when I was 16, my worst fears came to fruition. I was in the shower with my head tipped back into the water to wash my hair. I opened my eyes for a moment and what I saw nearly made me lose the contents of my bladder. There was a spider traveling slowly but directly down on its little invisible Batman-wire RIGHT ABOVE MY HEAD.

My mother took the stairs three at a time when she heard the screams. Amy has fallen, she’s broken bones, bleeding on the floor, stabbed by an intruder!

When she flew into the bathroom she found me wrapped in a towel, tears streaming from my face, blubbering and shaking and doing the willie dance.

“WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT?!” she yelled.

My answer? A point to the shower stall, water still running. “A SPIIIIIIIIDER!” I wailed.

When I moved out two years later to attend college 90 miles away, I can’t say she cried a whole lot.

I always wanted to assuage my phobia, really I did. I’d heard somewhere that immersion is useful. You know, if you’re afraid of the water, jump right in – that kind of thing. But the idea of deliberately placing a spider on my person was out of the question. I worked for a pet store during summer break in college and thought perhaps I’d TOUCH their resident tarantula. Nope. No go. And yet I’d literally wear a baby ball python snake around my neck all day as though it were a necklace. No problemo. Gathering crickets from their tank to feed customers’ reptiles wasn’t easy (they’re pretty creepy-crawly too), but that’s another story.

I even had a car that seemed to present itself happily as a haven for wanton spiders. Constantly I’d find them setting up residence on the inside of the windshield. I had two or three near-death experiences while driving, trapped in the car with the object of my greatest fear. I seriously considered abandoning the car altogether one day when a spider crawled out of sight behind the dashboard. With all the sense of humor I could muster, I named this car Charlotte. Last year, I gave Charlotte away for a song and moved on to a (knock on wood) spider free vehicle I quickly named Samantha.

I did manage to get to the point where I could gather up half a roll or so of carefully wadded toilet paper, reaching my arm out as far as possible to mush the spider into the tissue and drop it lightning-fast into the toilet, flushing it to a watery grave. This technique got me through most of college without serious incident, though I still yearned for a partner in crime whom I could pay a buck or two to ‘rub off’ the offending spider.

Then came my after-college roommate and best friend, Gina.

Gina, Buddhist, friend of all creatures…including spiders. This, of course, presented a problem. I would scream spider and she would come running, but she would not kill.

“I’ll catch it and put it outside,” she offered.

Okay, fine. But often the quick little bugger would jump off the paper trap she’d fashioned and escape. And though I would retreat to a far room during this operation, she’d come in sheepishly and admit that the eviction was unsuccessful. Thus the liar clause was born.

“If you lose the spider, you have to tell me you got it outside,” I said demandingly, “and you have to sound convincing.”

To this day I have no idea how many of those spiders were actually evacuated from our apartment. I only know that my blessed mind was kind enough to believe the lies that I myself had created.

My sweet cat Sugar is nestled in my lap as I type this. Are there those who fear cats as I fear spiders? Is someone typing an article entitled “Crouching cats, hidden litter box” as they stroke their pet spider? I shudder to think of it.

Now I am married and living in our first house. My husband, just my luck, is another spider-lover. (Why all these defenders of spiders?) So far I’ve killed just two spiders here – not bad considering the house is 50 years old and comes complete with a basement, the traditional habitat for spiders of all shapes and sizes.

But I still have my moments. While setting up the finished portion of our basement for a surprise party, I saw the shadow of a spider in the corner. It was HUGE…but then, maybe the light was just making it LOOK huge. Gosh, where WAS it? I turned different lights off and on to try to determine which one caused the shadow. I cautiously peered around corners and behind fixtures, but to no avail. The shadow didn’t move at all and would not go away. Finally, I took down a container of plastic cups from the shelf – and lo and behold, the shadow disappeared. I put the cups back on the counter. The shadow came back. The shadow wasn’t cast by a spider at all, but rather the tuft of plastic gathered at the top of the cups container. Nobody witnessed this, so I relate this incident at the risk of being ridiculed mercilessly.

I know, however, that it’s a small price to pay to give a voice to the freedom fighters. Arachnophobics everywhere are living in fear of the eight-legged ones. The willies are alive and well, my friends. We need to join forces against the enemy! We need to gather people to our cause!

We need some serious therapy.