Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Adventures of Spider Damma

I know I've talked about fear before. Generally, the things I fear are not tangible... emotions, experiences, conflict... the kinds of things which affect me more on an emotional level. Things I can touch are rarely sources of a realistic or phobic level fear.

Except spiders.

Spiders are scary.

Borrowing this from Allie Broch. A.K.A. Hyperbole and a Half

As Allie so hysterically explains in her post about spiders... they are scary and it's okay to be scared of them. Let's face it... the above is a pretty good description of what many of us see when a spider crosses our path. It's a many-legged death machine packaged in a small body our eyes perceive as being at least 4 times its actual, measurable size.

Before I go any further and tell my own story, here's the reminder:

Also Allie. She has a book. It has no spiders. It's safe to buy.

I don't remember fearing spiders until I was about 7 years old.

The day we moved into our new house in Montgomery, Alabama, I found a spider in the bathtub, sitting happily in the center of a web that spanned the width of the tub. I didn't see the spider until already seated on the toilet in a vulnerable position. It wasn't possible to simply run or cry for someone to come squash it so I kept a wary eye on it until my business was done. I then backed out of the bathroom, never taking my eyes from it until I was certain it couldn't possibly jump on me and deliver a painful death bite to the center of my back where it wouldn't be reached or swatted.

I had a bit of an active imagination as a kid...

The day we moved into that house is also the day one of my brothers teasingly told me alligators lived in the sewers and grew to enormous proportions. It was also the last time I let my butt touch a toilet seat until we moved back to Virginia... but that's an entirely different story.

There were other experiences, from seeing a cheesy horror film about mutated, killer spiders which then spawned another recurring nightmare, to the day when I was 10 and a black widow spider crawled across my bare foot in the garden.

I could tell the stories but there are several and they aren't really the point. The point is that by the time Charlie and I married, I was a true arachnophobe. The tiniest of house spiders was enough to cause genuine panic.

I've fought hard over the years to overcome this fear. First, because I didn't want my kids to share the fear and second, because of necessity. During our years in suburgatory we had two summers during which our garage and yard were completely overrun by brown widows. You couldn't go one minute outside without finding one and I lived in a state of perpetual fear for my kids, the animals and what sanity I had left.

Overcoming my fear of spiders became a matter of survival. Someone had to be brave enough to deal with the poisonous ones and the ones too big to be allowed space in our house. As Charlie worked long hours at the time, that someone needed to be me.

In the last dozen years or so I've reached a point where I can run into the big black house spiders that occupy the eaves and wooden sheds of our region without batting an eyelash. I've grown comfortable allowing the huge black and yellow garden spiders space within my own garden, recognizing they are beneficial and even attractive. It's even possible to walk into a web without doing the "OHShitohshitohshit" dance of terror which you'd think was the traditional dance of my people. I'm not even too afraid to smack one with my hand if a shoe or wad of tissue is not readily available.

To my own amazement, it's no longer a knee-jerk response to kill them on sight.

Live and let live... mostly. Black and brown widows and the brown recluse are exceptions. If it's venomous enough to do real damage, it doesn't make the cut. Period.

Today was flea market day and when we passed by the reptile shop on our way through the inside, Elena asked to go see the snakes, lizards and turtles.

The reptile shop also had an unusual furry surprise today... a pair of enormous black and white bunnies who made me grateful we're currently broke. They were begging to come home with Damma... I know rabbits rarely make noise but they were speaking... "Take us home. You know you want to take... us... home." Who am I to argue when a member of the animal kingdom deigns to speak to me, a mere human?

Don't argue with my delusions. I like them.


For reasons I can't articulate, one of the two rose hair tarantulas on sale also decided today was the day to say something other than "I'll kill you and suck out your innards in the dark of night."

It said "Pick me up. I'm a nice arachnid and much more pleasant to hold than the scorpion in the next tank. He wants you dead."

Without fully thinking it through, and with my last tarantula encounter running through my head, I asked to hold Rosy. (I don't know if that's his name but he is a he and if his name happens to be Rosy it's because of his personality) The proprietor picked him up and placed him in my open hands.

Elena stood in front of me with a look of total fascination on her face. Becka was backed into the lizard display and contemplating escape. The salesman was telling me about rose hairs but I was too focused on the one on my arm to hear him. I don't remember if Becka said I was crazy when I asked her to snap some photos... I only registered the pained groan she made before reluctantly taking a few pictures.

Becka didn't take the above photo as Rosy explored my arm. There's a good chance I won't get the pictures Becka took because she'd have to look at them to send them and that's not likely. She's still annoyed by Elena's desire to hold it too.

The first two responses I received to the tweet were from Krys and Rachel who responded with *runs screaming* and "Why?" respectively. They (as well as Becka, Dan and John) were with me the first time I intentionally touched a spider in effort to face the fear and, afterwards, they had to help keep me on my feet as I stumbled toward the exit trying to stay conscious.

Why did I decide to hold a tarantula today?

Because I've been terrified of spiders the vast majority of my life. Because my fear of spiders has incapacitated me and made me so irrational I once begged Charlie to come home from work just to kill one. Because I've refused to go into entire rooms of a house after seeing a large spider. Because I refused to enter our attic in Durham the last 8 months we were there because a big, furry, brown spider crawled out of one of our storage boxes. Because I once called an exterminator friend and tried to talk him into coming back from his vacation to kill a Carolina Wolf Spider which had survived half a can of Raid and was under the porch where my kids and I liked to spend time. Because, despite my best efforts to be brave in front of my kids, the fear of spiders passed to them.

I decided to hold a giant spider today because I've spent a good chunk of life terrified of one thing or another and fear is an energy, rational thought stealing emotion that's controlled more of my life than it deserves... and if I can face up to any fear and kick it in the huevos then that's what's going to happen.

And I did.

And I'm very proud of myself for taking the chance.

I even liked it.

I might even go visit Rosy again and let Elena hold him too... if I can keep Becka from incurring the "You squash it, you bought it" policy.

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