The spider in my door
sometimes i forget,
others do not know my stories.
i carry them inside of me like seeds.
I can still hear the echo of screams coming from my guest bathroom. Upon finding a tiny black spider innocently minding its own business near the toilet, my adult sister unleashed her inner banshee. Not knowing what to expect I threw open the door like a S.W.A.T. team leader. The spider and I watched in stunned silence as she continued to scream in horror while gripping her toddler's arm as if she might rip it off to fashion a weapon. My poor niece hung from her grip absorbing the spider fear from her like an electric shock. A rag doll, she stood on trembling toes tips dangling awkwardly by her cubby little limb begging me with her free arm to save her from her terrified or should I say terrifying mother. The view that spider and I had was scary, but I felt the most compassion for my niece. The evanescent innocence of collateral damage.
Then my sister screamed, “KILL IT!”
I never used to have a fear of spiders. At least not the kind my sister carries. While my sister possesses a primal fear of impossibly small critters that move too fast, have too many legs, can bite, and sometimes have too much hair, my spider fear is fused with religion. Looking past the impossible number of legs (which come to think of it, why does that bother me at all on a spider but not an octopus?). It’s not the spider but the fusion of memories the sight of a spider invokes.
When I was about three or four years old, I used to play with the huge family of daddy long legs spiders on my screened farmhouse porch. They were my only friends save the gigantic German Shepard that came slowly out of the woods while I was playing in the front yard by myself one snowy day. He approached me hunched down like he was stalking prey or at least that’s how my mother remembers it. She came running from the house having spied this hungry dog about to pounce on her three-year-old daughter from the kitchen window. Apparently, he looked like he was planning to eat me. Even then I had an understanding of dogs that my mother never seemed to hold because I did not see a scary creature but a new friend. Riffraff, the name of my furry friend, and I would sit for hours on that spider porch and build a city made from assorted items scavenged from around the house. My favorite building material was the green plastic baskets that strawberries came in, they made the best towers when stacked exactly right. I built an entire world for my daddy long legs spiders and gave each one of them a name. Then I’d sit with Riffraff and watch the evening summer thunderstorm pass by while my spider clan crawled through their new city of wonders.
Farm life is tough. One minute you're slopping the mean hog with the smelly bucket of kitchen scraps determined to become friends with him and listening to his angry grunts. Then the next a rooster is attacking your chubby little legs as you leave the barn distracted with thoughts of the hog and why he’s so angry. One minute you are facedown, screaming, with dirt in your eyes and the next your stepfather is wearing his scary face demanding you identify the guilty party, “Which one hurt you?!” I still feel the sting of dirt and guilt as I clumsily wiped both from my eyes to blindly point at one of the roosters in the lineup. They all looked the same and how was a small child to know which one was which? I’ve never tasted such delicious fried chicken in my life.
One minute you are excited to be having a big gathering for what they call a roast and the next someone you have never met is telling you it’s the mean hog roasting on a spit that smells so incredible. That distinct BBQ aroma, heavy in the sweet Maryland air and the excitement of having people over to learn from mixed with the horrific understanding that a creature you nurtured no longer exists. You run to the empty barn for confirmation and mourn for the mean old hog who must have known his fate. To be fed until fat enough to consume. Trapped, miserable, controlled, and contained with an innate understanding of his purpose. Why else would he be so mean?
This collage of memories came flooding back to me today when I discovered a spider living in my car door. He’s a tiny thing about the size of my pinky nail. Brown, slightly hairy and with what looks like one big eye. He crawled from the space where my window disappears to sit on the interior sill of the driver's side door and watch me. I’ll admit, my first reaction was to squish him which comes from another childhood memory and the one that gave me my spider fear which I will share shortly. But I’m older and wiser now, or so I like to think. The reality is I’ve been in his position. I know what it’s like to be a thing to squish. To be a target for those who are bigger than me, for those who fear me because I am different. At first, I tried to relocate him, but he retreated to the safety of my door time and time again. That’s how my car came to be his home. It can’t be a rich existence. Can it? There really can’t be a great many bugs for him to eat and the car is only temperature controlled when I’m driving. But I suppose it’s dry and he does get to travel. I want to travel too so I can relate to that idea. Maybe he’s longing to travel and see the world from my dirty car window? I’ve named him Herman.
It’s my car but I bought it for Himself (my partner for over a decade) to use on his long drive to work. A sensible choice with excellent gas mileage, it’s a cheap manual Scion nearly a decade old. Most used manuals are cheaper because not many people can drive a stick anymore. Being able to claim the skill of driving a stick shift is an indication for my generation of how poor you were growing up. The rich kids in my school were given new automatic cars and poor kids like myself had to save up for old, rusted stick shift hand me downs. Himself grew up poor as well so he also drives a stick. He’s been through so many cars in the 13 years we’ve been together that I’ve lost count. He cannot seem to stick with just one before becoming bored. I on the other hand have owned only this Scion and my beloved FJ Cruiser for the last 15 years. She was Voodoo blue, my FJ, and the only vehicle I ever bought brand new. I sold her last fall because her veracious appetite for premium gas did not fit into an unemployed 40 something college student's budget. The smart thing would have been to sell the Scion and FJ then buy the little use 2020 Kia Forte outright but Himself was once again between vehicles having sold his truck last spring for gambling money. His gambling addiction has ended but he still doesn’t own a car. So instead, I’ve somehow ended up driving the commuter and he has the Kia. That’s how I met my new spider friend.
My mother never seemed to care much about my education, religious or otherwise. She was always there in the beginning encouraging me to think for myself and pulling a book out to read to me until one day I was reading to myself. Later in life I will discover that not everyone’s parents read the Ugly Duckling to them and wonder if that is a reflection on me or my mother? Did she know that I was different and wanted to prepare me or is it an example of poor parenting where the other kids are concerned? What about Aesop's Fables? Did they not have that read to them during the years of learning before school began? That was my version of the Bible. It all made perfect sense whereas the Bible was filled with strange stories and twisted interpretations. A sense of control, power and greed always permeated the book. But once school took me, she faded away or perhaps it was because my baby sister was born shortly after. Her job of building a simple human foundation was complete with me so she focused on my sister. I discovered other parents sat at the table to do homework with their children and wondered what was wrong with those kids that they needed help from their parents. So odd. Maybe this is why she didn’t care if I learned about other religions? Because her work was done? She’d fed me, burped me, taught me to read, and encouraged me to problem solve on my own. Then she dropped her child off at school each day and made sure I had a home with food for my belly. No questions about school, about how I was doing in class. Just a quick glance at a report card twice a year and nothing else.
Spiders and religion. Seems like a fitting combo, webs to trap and save the food to feast on when needed. From what I learned of religion over the years this makes perfect sense. I came to associate spiders with religion one morning at a Way International breakfast. I was about seven years old. I can still see the brown corduroy pants I was wearing. As an adult I’m wondering why I wasn’t wearing a dress because all of the other girls were but as a child I didn’t care at all what the others wore. I loved those pants. I especially liked the noise they would make when the fabric rubbed together. I remember being hungry and the weird Sunday school class about asking God for money. They sure liked to talk about money for a place that preached on how unimportant it was. The teacher mimicked tossing a bag into the air that got heavier and heavier until it squished the man. I remember thinking that there were much better, less confusing (I mean, nobody is going to toss a bag of coins in the air and watch it get bigger), stories in Aesop’s Fables to make his point with.
Sunday “school” over, I sat at a big table with my parents, baby sister, and other adults from the cult (that’s what the history book in high school will call it anyways) in a large auditorium packed with people sitting at round tables and strangely quiet for such a large gathering. The expectation was to wait until the head of the table began eating. Then the food would be consumed, and words would begin swirling through the air. Once the words started, I was allowed to interpret them as best I could, but I absolutely was not allowed to make the words myself. No matter how badly I wanted to ask questions. Being the good child that I was, I of course waited and swallowed my words while my stomach protested the lack of sustenance. But just as my stepfather reached for his fork to signal chow time, a sharp burning pain traveled up my shin to my thigh and through my stomach. It seemed to pierce my heart which jumped in surprise. I threw myself to the ground to wrench my right pant leg up. A little, hairy brown spider stared back at me in defiance. A red mark with a strange silvery rainbow-colored spot in the middle marking his anger toward me just under his belly. That’s it. That’s all I remember. This memory somehow melded spiders and religion together for me. From that day forward I would examine each thoroughly and then squish them before they could bite me again.
My stepfather didn’t like me to learn any religion or custom that didn’t involve God. Ironic really when you think of how Christianity got its roots and the mysterious way that religious holidays coincide with old pagan ones. No tarot, no palm reading, no books about the mysteries of Stonehenge were allowed. He confiscated those books while my mother silently watched. Colorful words of anger laced with hatred flowing from his mouth as he snatched them from my treasured library book stack. Everything was always done with such anger. I was permitted to go to church with any God loving friend though and since that usually meant staying the night somewhere else on a Saturday, I went to church. Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Jehovah’s witness, but I could not read a book about palm reading. All I could think is, why? Why does this scare him so much? It only made me want to read them more because the best way to eradicate fear is to educate yourself on the subject.
I am an adult now. After meeting Herman this morning, I bought a used book on Celtic religion and told him about it over breakfast. He seemed to approve. Watching me with his cyclops eye while I indulged in a free Chick-fil-a breakfast sammich and flipped through the book to read the highlights aloud for him. Afterwards, he returned to his door cave while I started the car up so I could head home to do chores and study for exams. He will be there waiting for me tomorrow as will this new book filled with interesting facts about old Celtic customs.
Not all spiders bite and not all religions are laced with greed...
The curiosity Behind a baby’s smile.
A fascination like no other.
A creation made by two.
Grows for months in the belly,
into a mini one of us.
Adorable freckles kiss the skin.
Each gurgle produces an awwww.
Chubby checks like a golden cherub.
Tiny feet and tinny toes.
Wispy soft hair.
A baby’s stare evokes an infectious smile.
Fascination grows and grows as the child develops.
Their first walk,
Their first word,
Their first day at school.
A fascination like no other, a curiosity behind a baby’s smile.
Easy. Those rug cleaning videos, those upholstery cleaning videos and the pimple popping videos.
they are to die for
we're fascinated by stories, of life beyond our own and within us and the things we yearn for and the things we're repulsed by. love and hate and the wars we create to justify the cruelties but most of all, we're fascinated by the wonder that is life, how we came to be and why. answers we seek but can never quite grasp and sometimes that's okay because the fun resides in the not knowing.