Why I'm Scared of Spiders
I’m scared of spiders.
Horrified, actually. Completely and utterly paralyzed down to the life blood that runs under my skin like I’ve actually been injected with neuro-inhibiting venom. When I see one of those eight-legged demons, I feel as if its unholy, black eyes are dissecting my soul. I can feel it crawling a tap-dance on my brain. That’s why the crunching sound of little limbs under a leather shoe is so damn satisfying.
But don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t always scared of them.
My girlfriend was one of those “good-karma, bad-karma” types. She would whisper how “every deed has a consequence, so don’t kill it,” and she would throw a small cup and piece of paper at me from across the room when a spider dared to show its ugly face. I should’ve just squished them in manly pleasure when she wasn’t looking. It didn’t matter how much “good-karma” I had saved up for a rainy day, because those arachno-bastards don’t operate with the same moral guidelines we do. To them, life’s more than just dying a decent death. They’re here to laugh in our ape faces and wonder where exactly evolution went wrong with us. They’re here to dance.
I found that out rather unexpectedly and brutally.
It was one of those days where the sky outside had yet to be written on with clouds as words, blank as a struggling poet’s sheet. And his tears, small snowflakes that glistened down and kissed the earth with lips of cold despair. In a rather sour mood, my girlfriend and I just sat down on the couch with cups of coffee and nursed the healing liquid contemplatively as we watched old reruns of God-awful soap operas. Anything to make the lady happy, I suppose.
Suddenly, my girlfriend had pointed up at the corner of the ceiling, a place right above the sad white window where one little black period stood out on paper, like the end to the snowstorm that would never really stop. Not where I lived. Not in my life.
“Look at that,” she said with a passionate gesture and pleading eyes. “He needs to go outside.”
It was a simple statement, but she gave me a look that really meant, “Get off your lazy ass and go catch that spider because I don’t want to get near it.”
It was also a simple request, but the thought of having to find a small cup, firm sheet, and drag out the chair from the kitchen seemed like a long list of chores to tackle, especially on a ruthlessly cold day. I watched the small spider weave an intricate web on the window, and I suddenly realized how hard that little bastard was working. It performed precise measurements in its tiny spider brain to create a dazzling spectacle that would probably be knocked down with a broom soon after he was finished. That didn’t seem very fair to me; besides, someone in this house had to accomplish something. And if that spider wanted to be an architect, so be it.
“He’ll die outside, sweetheart,” I said after a couple of moments of intense thought. “He’s not hurting anything in here.”
She shot me that look, the one that said, “You are a complete moron,” but she said out loud, “So?”
“Um, you’re the one always preaching at me to be nice to those things. Just let him stay here until the snow stops. Besides, I can’t reach him.”
She rolled her eyes, but she agreed all the same.
And so that’s how Proctor the spider cam to be the third residence of our trailer.
My girlfriend named him after the third day of the snowstorm. I pointed out how his web was coming along, and she was so impressed by the delicate details and mesmerizing zigzags of threads that she actually called him by the name of some character in a book. She then told me that she was glad that I hadn’t taken him outside. She said it was nice having someone else in the house. I worried that this simple statement implied something much, much larger, and, with a panic attack looming, I just went along with her insanity. When she got bored with the spider, I vowed I would buy her a puppy. I told that to my best friend, John, and he high-fived me and commented on my genius. He was a good friend.
Too bad he died in a car accident the next day.
His mother called me in hysterics, and I rushed to the hospital in the blinding blizzard. I almost crashed myself a few times. As I held John’s dying hand, I was told that his car skidded into an intersection and he was hit by a truck that didn’t stop fast enough. Everything felt numb. The only thought in my head was the echoing sound of the flatline on John’s monitor. The image of his eyes rolling into the back of his head was etched permanently into my vision, like I was looking through a pair of twisted sunglasses. I didn’t cry, but my world crashed as I fell into a grave destined only for me.
The depression was bad, and I just got angry when my girlfriend tried to help. I’m not proud that I hit her. I do realize that I forced her out the door. But I still spent the next few hours after she left destroying the evidence of her, building a sort of sacrificial pit in the backyard. I punched holes in the walls where she had hung posters. I tore up a bra she had left behind. And then, coming to the living room, my heart surged with hate at Proctor. Why didn’t he just leave, too, like everyone else? I grabbed a broom and dashed to the corner of the trailer, but I stopped just inches from his web.
Was it just me, or was his delicate home made in the letters of John’s name?
The frozen state of mind chilled my body again. I spent the next few weeks with only Proctor to keep me company as I drank away my sorrows in an attempt at poor self-medication (I had run out of Prozac months ago). I suppose it was somewhat comforting to still have company, but something about the way Proctor’s web spelled out John’s name when it gleamed in the weak sunlight brought fluttering panic to my heart. It was nothing alcohol couldn’t fix, but the bizarre dread still remained, a dull ache in the back of my continuously flatlining brain. The bastard knew; damn it, it knew.
And when I made that realization, the spider changed.
It started subtly at first, and then I realized that John’s name was slowly unweaving. Tendrils of web hung loosely against the ceiling, resembling vague forms and foreign letters. For a few days, I watched as the spider undid its masterpiece with nervous anticipation. But, as John’s name was woven out of reality, I wondered if it was over. I wondered if I had just imagined the name, my depressed mind trying to make sense of my friend’s death. Yes, I was just going crazy; it was a logical thing to presume. It was even more reasonable when Proctor began to spin again out of the ruins of his former home.
Yes, I was just inventing a word out of the web. I was just imagining that the spidehit r began to create an M.
And then an A.
My girlfriend’s name was Mary. Pure and innocent supposedly like the light that gleamed off of the Y formed in the spider’s web. But something sinister tugged at my heart. Something like the devil whispering in my ear my ex’s death date.
I tried to call her. I really did. And from what I counted, I think I left her around fifty voicemails of me just panicking insanely over the phone. I tried to tell her to be careful. I tried to convince her to come back home. But, after the fifty-second call, she sent me an angry text.
I did, but she never left my mind. I went about my days with my mind shrouded in a heavy haze. At 8:00, she would be crossing the street at 22nd avenue to get to work, and all I could see was her flattened corpse cementing to the pavement after being hit by a tired driver. At 8:15, she should have been at work, a bank, notorious for robbers. She could get shot. She could be killed on her way back to her parents’ house. She could die from an unknown disease. Maulings. Illnesses. Too many thoughts of my Mary vanishing more permanently from my mind.
I withdrew the more and more I visualized her death. I took some time off of work, my boss just figuring that I was still worked-up over John’s death. I figured it might have been part of that, some stage of grief that I was fighting to overcome with visions of even more death. With just staring at that corner of the ceiling at my girlfriend’s name, always looming above me like a terrifying prophecy. I started to just hang out in the guest bathroom where I couldn’t see the spider laughing at me. Besides, Mary never used the guest bathroom, so nothing in there reminded me of her too much.
This is where I spent about a month, huddled next to the toilet, only coming out to grab a Poptart from my stash. I drank from the faucet. I slept in the bathtub. I was just happy that I didn’t have to look at the demon perched on top of Mary’s name. A couple spiders crawled their way into the bathroom, and I killed them with as much hatred as I could muster. I grinded their bones into the floor and smeared their organs like paint. Their dead bodies made me feel a little bit happier. It was better than harming myself.
I finally ventured back to work after quite some time, or, at least, enough of it to make me feel a little bit better about John’s death and to make me feel ridiculous for letting a spider scare me so much. But that old feeling of anxiety returned when my coworkers refused to give me the warm welcome I expecte ad. Instead, they stared at me like a dead man, extreme pity hanging thick in their eyes. I remember checking my face in the reflection of one of my coworker’s desk. I had just shaved, and I had put on clean clothes for the first time in months. Color was returning to my pale face, maybe from walking a mile in the sun to work. I thought I looked better, but the agitated passerby told me otherwise.
I walked up to my boss, leaving the door to his office open. I wanted everyone to hear of my miraculous return. I just smiled at him and blushed rather sheepishly.
“I’m back,” I said.
No smile was returned. He gave me a probing look that made me shuffle my feet and that caused sweat to bead on my forehead. “Are you sure you’re ready, Michael?”
“It’s been hard lately, but I am ready to get back to my normal life. That’s all I really want right now.”
Again with the questioning look! “It hasn’t been that long since . . . well, you know.”
“It’s been quite a few months already, actually. I figured that I should have gone through the stages of grief by now.” I laughed at that, and my boss gave me a horrified look that caused me to choke.
“What about Mary?” he asked. A lump rose in my throat. It was about the same size as a spider.
“What about her? We broke up.” I said that tentatively as though the words were needles stabbing at my tongue.
“Oh God . . . you don’t know, do you? Oh God. . . .” My boss typed at his computer for a few moments before beconing me over, encouraging me to enter Hell. The moment became cloudy. Reality began to slip.
On the computer screen, a newspaper article read:
Mary Newman, age 23, found dead in her bathtub. The cause of death was heavy narcotics that possibly caused her to drown in the water.
I think I laughed at this. I think I cried.
“And to think I’ve been practically living in my bathroom this whole time!” I wept, and my boss looked at me with fright.
“Michael, I think you need to take some more time off. And if you want my opinion, I think you might need to get help. Multiple deaths like this can be hard to handle.”
Later on, I think I found that statement funny when I went to spray Proctor and found my boss’s name spelled out in his delicate web. My boss died from a heart attack a week later.
There were many more names after that, all of which I knew. Two of my neighbors. The guy that served me my coffee. My cousin. My dad. Even the dog I had bought Mary right before we broke up.
I tried to kill the spider. Bug spray. Acids. Shoes. Fire. Nothing worked. Each time, a new spider seemed to pop up just a day later and continue what Proctor had started, spelling out a new name as though condemning me for the murder I had just commited. An eye for an eye. That’s how these spider bastards work.
I moved after the death of another one of my old friends, Caleb. I had to get away. I moved to a small apartment in Alaska, not bothering to pack much except for a couple of changes of clothes, a toothbrush, and the pills that I told my doctor never worked. I think I figured that the cold would keep most insects at bay. I even kept my new apartment at a chilly forty degrees, hoping that would deter any arachnids in search of a warm place to live. And it worked.
It worked . . . for a while.
Whatever hell had dominated my life followed me. My demons. My mistakes. I had just glanced up above my kitchen stove after making myself a heavy portion of Ramen, and I noticed a thread of silk shine in the light from the window. I dropped the noodles. I sat down in the remnants of the bowl, ignoring the soup soaking through my clothes and the shards digging into my skin. I cried. I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what to even think anymore now that the web reads Michael.