GRAPHIC PICTURE ALERT. Whoops, too late.
The room is all white – floor, ceiling, walls. The furniture made out of lucite, perfectly transparent. The corners are free of any clutter so they can be viewed at all times. The windows are shut. Hermetically sealed, actually. No paintings, no curtains, no closets. One way in and one way out.
Nowhere to hide.
I stand up. Hi, I’m Cleo. And I’m a recovering arachnophobe.
It’s taken the better part of my adult life to work with my fear of spiders, taking it from an irrational fear to a level fairly common among chicks when faced with eight legs that can outrun our eyesight, leaving us catatonic, wondering where the faceless monster may end up.
When I was a child my mom would find me frozen in a garden, literally petrified by a spider the size of my thumb nail. Alone and confronted by a ‘der (the cute moniker I coined because I couldn’t say the word spider without heaving) I would sob, feeling violated merely by its presence.
I avoided grass, the woods, picnic tables, and leaf piles – I was convinced they were ‘der condos designed by Frank Lloyd Wright-nid. Promises of chocolate, trips to Disneyland and endless hours of pong weren’t enough to convince me to pull a log from a woodpile. In the summer my father would assign me a garden to weed before he left for work. I would spend the first five hours surveying it for movement. The next two crying. And the last weeding with my eyes closed. By the ninth hour I was emotionally drained.
To this day, I see pachysandra as basically green beach umbrellas shading thousands of ‘ders from having to look into my fear-slathered face.
Winter was my refuge, after all the ‘ders who ventured indoors had been discovered. I once threw up in the shower after pulling back the curtain to find a black as night, plump ‘der, made all the more horrifying by the backdrop of a white, porcelain tub. If I remember correctly, it had the head of Vincent Price and the body of the Hulk, only not green.
That is until I threw up on it.
Pre-dudes I had an urge to head to Costa Rica for a month to finish a book I was writing at the time. A book that sits on my closet shelf – 50,000 words of run-on sentences that will one day…still sit on my closet shelf. I found an elevated bungalow near Manuel Antonio, nestled hillside among the palms and tropical trees of the jungle that met the ocean. Nothing could be more romantic than hoisting the shutters that open on pulleys, removing any barrier to the world outside. I could sit on my native wood bench, legs tucked under a desk, as I clicked out the final pages of a novel that was all beginning and no middle or end. The ocean my mirror.
I emailed back and forth with the owner of the bungalow about my needs and timeframe. His responses were lengthy sales pitches on the attributes of his rustic retreat in the coastal jungle. All was settled until I asked this one last question: What about spiders? His reply:
It’s like a Hitchcock movie.
One sentence with no comforting add-on about how they mind their own business or prefer the outdoors to the interior of the bungalow. My reply was equally as succinct:
I can’t handle that.
I did make it to Costa Rica with The Genius for a scant four days. Those days passed as if time was tripled, my every move made with the forethought of needing to be certain that no arachnid would yell, Surprise!, it’s web descending on me like tossed confetti. When we departed for our trek home, The Genius confessed that while it may have appeared he skimmed the pool daily as meditation, he was actually removing drowned tarantulas.
I don’t have a specific memory of why I developed (was born with?) arachnophobia, but I remember why I decided that I had to face my fear and transform it: I didn’t want to pass the phobia on to my children. It took years to convert my fear into respect, even admiration. I can now look at a picture of a spider and not recoil in disgust, terror forcing its way up through my throat like spoiled fish 20 minutes after ingestion.
Doesn’t mean I want to shack up with them.
When I made the decision to move to Bolinas it wasn’t without deep thoughts. But, truth be told, my intuition led the way. After two years in Marin, I had only ventured down the unmarked road to Bolinas once, mere weeks before signing the lease. Once was all it took. On that trip I don’t recall saying to myself, This is home, but I do recall feeling at peace. Natural. Hair down, makeup free, not caring if my bra strap was showing or my toenail polish was 3 months worn. I didn’t feel like I had to fit in, or that I didn’t fit in. It all just felt so right. I’m grateful that, on some level within, I was listening and didn’t pause when I saw the listing for The Calmmune.
Those first few weeks post move were challenging. But not enough to make me question my choice to make west Marin our home. Not sulfur water nor gas prices nor coyotes howling on my doorstep made me wish for the hustle and bustle of over the hill. Much like living in Costa Rica, although certainly not as remote or wild, there are trade-offs to living on the edge of land. Forethought is a forgone conclusion. One must plan in advance in order to be organized enough to enjoy living here. A carefree state of being is a must.
And one must be ready to embrace nature.
The bees. In hindsight, about as upending as watching a cloud float across the sky. The snake. A tiny reptile who lost his way. The lizard I found in the dudes’ room? A bonus as far as they were concerned.
And then there was…
Yep. I kid you not. A freaking tarantula. A genuine, original, honest-to-goodness, massive, huge, legs as long as Gisele’s, tarantula.
That begs for the classic line: If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in a place that…is also home to tarantulas, I would have said, You’re quite mistaken. Mad. Never. It’s unnecessary. There are a million places to live where the only tarantulas are those in pet stores.
I sat at the head of our kitchen table, a position I had not taken before that night, trolling the net for a used car that got a lot more out of gas than my 4Runner. Prior, I would have had my back to the wall lined with the sink, dishwasher and stove. It was from that general direction, early on the morning of the 10th, that I became intimate with the largest spider I have ever seen in person. (I’m not including the ones that were in the museum cases I viewed as part of my systematic desensitization therapy.)
While he made no sound, I heard him. He didn’t move really fast, although I’m certain he could sprint like Usain Bolt. Because he was so big, why bother? Most people would simply step aside. Or, in my case, scream like a fox, flail about like Linda Blair and eventually kill it with one eye closed and the other crying.
This all went down really fast. In 5 seconds I reflected back on my awful experience with the snake and the 45 minute torture session that both of us were put through for no good reason. That can’t happen again. While I search for most things on a daily basis, I knew exactly where the spider spray was located – first can, right in front, under the sink. I grabbed it, pointed it at him. We locked eyes, my two, his 5000, for a split second, and then I commenced firing.
To him it was like a spring shower.
He fell to his knees and then stood back up. I sprayed harder and somehow was able to watch the scene unfold. The half full can was getting lighter and he was not getting anywhere close to dead. As he made his way to the opening under the stove I feared I would lose him to a fully staffed arachnid emergency room where he would be rebuilt, badder and meaner than before, and sent back to me, now bionic.
Beside me was a mop, still wet from an AM cleaning session. I grabbed it and plunged it upon him, once, twice. He fought back. Three times and I sensed his demise.
The mop dropped from my hands. I stood there and took stock of my body. My heart was beating but not racing. I didn’t feel violated. A smile emerged. I was intact. Then, for the first time ever, I felt sad at having ended the life of a spider. But triumphant for not having hurled or passed out cold. And in a moment deserving of being recorded in HGM history, I did not cry.
I chugged a glass of water, turned out the light and went to bed, leaving the carcass and implement of death lying where they fell.
The next day a kitten tweeted a few fascinating tidbits about the animal totem meaning behind the spider. I took that as a cue to do some due diligence. What I found left me speechless. Wordless. And wondering how I can, as the murderer, avenge the death of that which I killed with my own hands, albeit via a mop and poison.
The spider is the keeper of letters and books. The architect of the primordial alphabet. They remind us that what we do now is weaving what we will encounter in our future. They teach us how to harness our creative forces and channel them through writings. They preach balance – between the feminine and masculine, the past and future, and the physical and spiritual plane. Those who weave magic with the written word likely have as their totem animal the spider.
Super. I killed (and overkilled several before him) the messenger sent to encourage me to continue to follow my dreams of spinning words into stories that touch hearts, create laughter, bring forth emotion and help to heal wounds.
I cried that next day. (shocker) Feeling like a smacked ass for needing to end the life of a incredible creator out of irrational fear.
Sadly, if faced with the same set of circumstances, I’m not sure I have the fortitude necessary to escort the eight-legged furball outside. But I’ll have to find it because I cannot take the life of something that is so closely aligned with my spirit. Oh, how I wish I had never come to fear them.
It’s time to spend time with fear.
Please follow me on twitter, especially if you can get here fast enough to help me not kill a spider.