Here’s the thing: I am terrified of spiders.
I know, I know, you’ve heard it a million times from a million different people:
“I am SUCH an arachnophobic person!”
“Spiders are, like, THE WORST.”
“I just can’t even deal with spiders. They’re, like, so gross.”
But, seriously, y’all, let me talk to you about spiders and how they make me feel.
This is how I remember it all beginning: as a very young child—we’re talking around 2 years old—I was sitting on the floor, playing with a teddy bear of some kind. Something caught my attention behind me, so I turned and looked around, finding nothing of real interest. (Or maybe the teddy bear was more interesting than whatever noise I heard behind me; who knows?) I turned back around to my teddy, expecting to see nothing but its furry, cute face staring calmly back at me, only to find that a spider had descended from the ceiling on an invisible thread of web and was now hanging mere inches in front of my face, twirling slowly and maliciously, as it continued its slow descent to my lap. Needless to say, the tears came fast and furious.
I’m not sure what happened after that (or how accurate that retelling is; it is legitimately my earliest memory, though also arguably one of my most vivid), but from that point on, the penny had dropped: I was petrified of spiders.
Well, “petrified” is maybe not the correct word. “Petrified” implies that my fear causes me to freeze up silently like a statue, and let me tell you, that is NOT my typical reaction. As an adult, I’ve basically managed to curb my initial impulse to scream loudly, shrilly and repeatedly—though, depending on the size and proximity of the spider, a few little yelps still occasionally sneak out—but every instinct I have forces me to remove myself from the situation as rapidly as possible, order and decorum be damned. I may have been able to curb the impulse to shriek, but the impulse to flee is practically unavoidable.
Once I’ve done the fleeing, however, I am filled with another irrepressibly strong desire: to remove the spider from my former locale in a rapid and deliberately harmful manner so I can return to whatever I was doing with as much piece of mind as possible. That being said, my intense fear of being remotely close to a spider keeps me from being able to do the deed, so I tend to enlist the bravery of those around me. I have no shame, NONE, in admitting that I still make my parents kill spiders I find at home when I visit, or that I have made my roommate, Dut, come into my room and dispose of eight-legged beasties late at night on multiple occasions, especially when we lived in our old basement apartment that was plagued by every creepy-crawly you can think of. (Seriously, if they’re native to central Kentucky and are considered gross by any fraction of humanity, I bet you we had them in that apartment.)
However, masochism plays an important role here, too: I need to SEE the spider meet its end to truly feel at peace. (My fear is a complex beast, not unlike those octo-marauders that lurk in dark corners, suspended on invisible threads of gossamer, waiting for some unlucky pest to fall into their trap.) I want to watch a trusted friend or family member crush the offending arachnid firmly between his or her fingers, knowing that the fragile body of the web-spinner has been mutilated beyond repair. I don’t need to physically see the broken corpse after the damage has been done—because, eew—but I do need to be in the room to see for myself that the spindly intruder has been dealt with accordingly. I tread a fine line between needing to be close enough to experience the spider’s demise firsthand and needing to be far enough away that the scuttler can’t get to me.
And don’t even get me started on those horrifying moments where my metaphorical knight in shining armor brandishes his or her paper towel or tissue ineffectively and the eight-legged horror gets away. It is almost an impossibility for me to reenter that room and not be constantly thinking about the lost spider or imagining that I feel its imminent arrival on my flesh. (Talk about formication, am I right, Kelcie’s fiance Mark?)
All right. Here’s the point in this post where you quote me all that research about spiders being beneficial, desirable organisms that help manage the populations of other harmful bugs and insects, yadda, yadda, yadda. You can even throw in a couple jabs at my wussiness and/or lack of manhood. Go ahead, I’m listening, I promise.
And now here’s the point in this post where I talk to you about the irrationality of a phobia: I DON’T CARE. I’m irrationally afraid of spiders, and if I’m being completely honest, no creature with more than four legs is really high up on my list. Trying to explain to you exactly why a tiny, usually-harmless creature who is likely leagues more terrified of me than I am of it strikes such a fear into my heart of hearts is far beyond my communicative capabilities. Phobias—true phobias, not distastes or dislikes or garden-variety fears; I’m talking the thing you are most afraid of, the thing that can keep you up at night or make your breath catch in your throat while a cold sweat breaks out on your forehead—are such intensely personal things that I find them nigh impossible to accurately convey. I know that a good portion of it can be chalked up to my overactive imagination, but beyond that, I can only tell you that I find everything about spiders, from their too-many eyes and their scrawny, pointed legs to their jerky, halting movement and seeming ubiquity horrific.
Before you call me crazy, let me leave you with this excerpt from an article on LiveScience.com that is ostensibly designed to lower the widespread (and I would argue, deserved) fear of spiders that runs rampant across humanity by positing that most “spider bites” aren’t actually spider bites at all.
“When spider bites do happen, they tend to occur because the eight-legged beasts are surprised — for example when a person reaches into a glove, shoe or nook that they are occupying at the moment, Buddle said. … Many spiders aren’t even capable of piercing human flesh. Buddle said he has observed spiders ‘moving their fangs back and forth against his skin,’ all to no avail.”
I want you to do me a favor: imagine that you’ve just reached into a glove and disturbed a spider. I’ll let you decide what it looks like. It tries to bite the pad of your finger as a fearful reaction impulse, but the callused skin keeps its tiny mandibles from penetrating your flesh, so it moves up your hand, dragging its fangs along your skin, trying in vain to break the surface. Its tiny, mute frustration only deepens and intensifies as it progresses. By now, it’s slipped under your shirt sleeve and has made its way to the soft flesh on the underside of your forearm. Clacking its tiny fangs in triumph, it sinks its teeth into you, shooting a tiny amount of venom into your body along with a dose of simmering rage and panicked fear. Unknown to you, the spider continues up your arm, perplexed by your seeming ignorance of its presence. It continues biting you—just an occasional nip to help its cause—as it slips onto your torso, unseen, unheard, un-felt. You think you may have experienced a tiny jolt of pain and a faint itching sensation, but you chalk it up to an overactive imagination and continue about your day: ignorant, happy, free.
Now, go ahead. Call me crazy.