I've probably read Charlotte's Web fifty times. I love that book, I love Charlotte the spider, and I always cry at the end when her little ballooning babies take to the wind. And I know that spiders do humans a favor by eating icky and harmful insects. And yet, I cannot stand spiders. I cannot remain in the same room as a spider. I cannot remain in a room next to a room that has a spider in it, or that once had a spider in it. I cannot kill a spider, because I do not want to get that close to a spider, no matter how tiny. I hate, hate, hate spiders.
Other bugs don't bother me, really. Moths? Fine. Mosquitoes? I should probably hate mosquitoes a lot more, given the recent kerfuffle over the West Nile virus in this part of the country, but I can live with mosquitoes. Waterbugs? Bring 'em on. Even roaches don't gross me out that much – well, okay, I could have done without watching one of them dog-paddling through the vinaigrette during my birthday dinner at a Spanish restaurant, prompting Ernie to announce that "dude, okay, I don't want to ruin your birthday or anything, but THERE'S A FUCKING ROACH IN MY SALAD EW EW EW!" and after a few moments of stricken silence during which we all stared transfixed at Ernie's plate, Mr. Kite observed mildly, "Yep, I see antennae," at which point all holy hell broke loose and everyone shrieked and yanked their plates off the table and into the air while Mr. Kite and the Couch Baron thwapped the table with their napkins and yelled "GET HIM THERE HE GOES UNDER THAT FORK NO NEXT TO THE SALT GET HIM GET HIM GET HIM," and the roach wound up escaping despite the five water glasses and three bowls of yellow rice that got overturned in the pursuit, and we all just sat there for a minute with our entrees held aloft, and then our waiter, who had apparently not heard the howls of "ohhhhh MAN I am SO going to barf" coming from a table not ten feet from his wait station, materialized and asked without a hint of irony if he could get the birthday girl anything else, and Mr. Kite politely suggested that he bring the check, but the minute the waiter turned his back, the Couch Baron grumbled, "And a can of Raid," and Maria JesË™s added, "And a comb to get this paella out of MY HAIR," and Ernie piped up with, "I'd settle for a toothpick and a full refund," and we all threw twenties on the table and scrambled over each other to get to the door before a millipede came out of the kitchen carrying a flan with a birthday candle in it and singing "Feliz cumpleaÃ’os a ti," so I'd rather not see roaches hanging out in my food or kicking it in restaurant kitchens, but they don't bother me per se. Gnats, chiggers, deerflies, red ants, ticks – all ten times more bothersome and dangerous than spiders, but I'd rather invite a legion of angry termites in to dine on my Ikea bookcase than face a single arachnid.
It all began about twenty years ago, when I woke up in the middle of the night to find a spider on my pillow. Why I had the misfortune to open my eyes at that particular moment, I still have no idea, but suffice it to say that I saw the spider, I gasped, and, well, as we all know, a gasp involves a sudden intake of breath I imagine you can see where this is going. Yes, that's right. I swallowed the spider. And it didn't go quietly into that stomach-acid-y night, either – it lingered in the back of my throat, all eight of its spindly little legs pressed against the walls of my esophagus like Luke bracing himself against the walls of the garbage compactor in Star Wars, and I tried hacking, but he wouldn't come up, and then I drank several gallons of water, but he wouldn't go down. Not until the next day did he give up the ghost; while I sat in math class, trying valiantly not to hurl, he reluctantly slid down my gullet and into the cauldron of my digestive system. I probably absorbed the little bugger into my bloodstream in about five minutes – he measured maybe the width of a pencil eraser – but for days, I thought I could feel him stalking about in my stomach, plotting his revenge, weaving a web at the entrance to my upper GI with all the bubblegum I'd swallowed over the years, preparing to climb my throat and issue forth from whence he came with an evil "muah ha ha ha haaaaaa" that would echo off my back teeth. I didn't dare burp, for fear that he'd rise from the dead and take up residence in my retainer. I sat glumly at the dinner table, nauseated and paranoid, greeting simple requests to pass the ketchup with "SHHH! He might hear you."
Eventually I pulled myself together, but ever since that fateful night, I've hated spiders. Spiders, much like cats in the presence of allergic types, can sense that I hate them, and so they flock to me. Take, for example, the spider which carefully selected a spot directly above the toilet in my bathroom, then waited quietly for me to settle down on said toilet with a magazine, then waited a while longer until it knew for sure that my feet had fallen asleep. The spider then threw out a line and dropped straight down the front of my shirt, so of course I started shrieking and flapping my shirt around in order to rid myself of the pesky creature, but the spider had hooked all eight legs into the complicated lace of my bra, the better to hang on for dear life, so I jumped off the toilet, kit around my ankles, in order to hop around like a madwoman and perhaps dislodge the spider from my undergarment somehow without actually having to touch it, but after twenty minutes of peaceful bathroom reading, my feet had absolutely no feeling in them whatsoever, so down I went in a ululating heap. My mother heard me go down like a ton of bricks and came upstairs to see what the hell happened, and she found me on the floor, naked from the waist down, plucking weakly at the hem of my shirt and moaning, "Dead spider on boob Lassie, get help!" She rolled her eyes and went back downstairs; subsequent howls of "PINS AND NEEDLES! PINS AND NEEDLES!" went unheeded. And how about the spider that bided its time behind the rearview mirror of my car, then descended casually onto the dashboard as I pulled up at a stop sign – it must have known that I would bolt from the car, flapping my arms and shuddering, which I did, and it must have also known that I would forget to apply the parking brake and thus would have to chase the unmanned vehicle into the (luckily, deserted) intersection, but I don't understand what the spider had to gain from watching me reach into the car, yank the brake as quickly as possible, and stand in the middle of the street yelling into the car that the spider could expect a call from my attorney if it did not depart the car with all due speed, while a crossing guard on the next block inched towards a pay phone to notify the nearest psychiatric hospital that she needed a pick-up. I hope the spider got a good laugh out of that. I hope the spider kept laughing about it in spider heaven after I drove, still accompanied by my eight-legged passenger and therefore rigid with terror, to the 7-Eleven, procured approximately twenty-seven thousand napkins, finally squished the little asshole with a giant wad of reconstituted paper product, and peeled out to the car wash to see if they had some kind of super-duper keep-the-kids-inside-type interior arachnicide spray. The car wash did not in fact have such a thing, and two months later, one of the dead spider's vengeful brethren materialized out of the transmission and scuttled up the leg of my shorts. Now, every time I get into my car, I check for a telltale gossamer thread, because once you've stood up to your full height of five-ten in a Honda Accord while shooting down the Jersey Turnpike at seventy miles an hour, attempting to get into the breakdown lane while madly fluttering the leg of your shorts and smiling as reassuringly as possible at other motorists, you vow never to do so again.
Yes, yes, I know I should get a life. But my aversion towards spiders defies reason. I don't fear them, exactly; rather, I find them revolting on a cellular level. Nobody seems to understand how deeply I loathe spiders except my brother, who also loathes spiders, but in a more rational way that allows him to squish the occasional interloper without hyperventilating. But one night during our childhood, when my parents had absconded for the evening and foolishly left me in charge, I heard an urgent tapping on my door
"Sar, could you come out now?"
"No. Go away."
"Sar, I mean it, come out now. [short, scheming silence] If you don't come out, I'll tell Mom and D -"
[whipping open door] "What, you geek."
"Sar, there's, um, there's a spider in the basement."
"Yeah, right. Nice try, buttface." [slam]
[tap tap tap] "Sar? [deep breath] Sar if you come out and kill the spider I'll leave you alone for the rest of the night and all day tomorrow and I'll have my own bath and put myself to bed right at eight-thirty you don't have to play with me you can have the front seat all week please come out it's the size of a yo-yo."
[approaching door] "You'll leave me alone if I kill it?"
"For the rest of the night."
[opening door] "And I get the front."
"Uh huh. If Mom says."
"All right, but there'd better be a spider down there for real because I don't want to play with you."
"There's really a spider. [pause] But since you already came out of your room -"
"Forget it, butthead."
So we got down to the basement, which doubled as a rec room, and sure enough, my brother had told the truth. In the very middle of the room sat an extremely large spider. The yo-yo estimate didn't come close; forget flies, this behemoth could have killed a bat.
"Eeeeeewwwww. All right, get back, don't get close to it."
"How're you gonna kill it if -"
"Shut up, just – just get back. If it bites you, you die, and then I'm grounded. Okay, go into the cabinet and get me those National Geographics."
"All of 'em."
"But Sar, there's like a million billion of them in he -"
"I know, god, just bring them out here and make a stack out of them."
"Even the 1975 ones?"
"Yes, yes! God! Hurry up, I think it's hungry. Okay, here's what's gonna happen. I'm going to pick up the stack of magazines and throw it on the spider. We're both gonna run upstairs and watch TV in the den for a while. Then I'm gonna give you a dollar, and you're gonna come down here and put the magazines away and scrape the carcass off the floor and flush it down the toilet."
"Fine, two dollars. Ready?"
"What if it clogs up the toilet?"
"It won't clog up the toilet, okay? It'll be flat. Okay, ready?"
"I don't want to."
"You know I can't touch spiders."
[starting to whine] "But Sar, you're in charge. You have to do the scary stuff."
"Okay, but see, I'm going to give you two dollars, right? So it'll be like you're earning it. Like – a grown-up! You'll be like a grown-up, right?"
"I don't want to be a grown-up, I want you to scrape up the carc – the carc – the thing."
"You don't want two dollars?"
"No. You're in charge, Sar. You're supposed to get care of me, and when Mom and Dad get home -"
"Yeah, well, when Mom and Dad get home, I'm going to tell them that you were disobedient and bratty and wouldn't do what I asked you to do."
[face crumpling into pre-crying position] "But Saaaaaaaaaar [snuffle], I'm scaaaaaaaaared of it!"
[sigh] "All right, all right. Change of plan. Here's what we're gonna do. I'm going to kill the spider with the magazines while you run up to your room and get me two dollars. Then I'll meet you in the den and we'll watch TV like I said before. Then you'll give me the two dollars and I'll get rid of the body."
"But I don't want to give you two dollars."
"Fine. Then Mom and Dad can hear about how disobedient and -"
"Okay, okay. Just kill it, I think it heard us talking."
And so I threw twenty-five years worth of National Geographic on top of the mutant spider and we both ran upstairs and watched Punky Brewster, and I collected my two dollars and steeled myself and went back downstairs with an entire roll of paper towels in order to conduct the remains to their watery resting place. I picked up the magazines. The spider walked out from under them, completely unfazed. I had not killed it. I had not dented it. I had, however, added myself to its shitlist, because it turned around to look at me, and slowly it began walking towards me, and as it picked up speed I swear I could hear it hissing.
[door slamming, key turning in lock] "GET YOUR COAT!"
"Sar, I'm watching Nickelodeon."
"The spider is STILL ALIVE, the magazines DIDN'T KILL IT, it's MAD and it's COMING THIS WAY, we're going over to the Weisses' until Mom and Dad get back so GET YOUR GODDAMN COAT!"
"But I don't know where my shoes are!"
"Fine, whatever, I'LL CARRY YOU, find your mittens and let's GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"
"Hey, did Mom and Dad say you could go to a friend's house?"
"Yes, yes, they did, they said, 'If you think a giant arachnid is going to eat you and your little brother, please go over to a friend's house.' SHUT UP! WHO CARES! Now hurry up before it figures out the stairs!"
"What about a hat?"
"We won't be outside that long, just get your jacket and let's GO for chrissake."
"Do you think it'll come out of the basement and come under the door and hide somewhere else in the house? Like in my room?"
"We're never coming back to this house, do you understand? We are living with the Weisses until we both go to college. The spider can have the house. Now for the love of god get your other mitten off the radiator and let's get going!"
"Can I get Blankie from the den? We're not coming back, you said."
"Okay, but hurry up. I'm going to write Mom and Dad a note and then we're leaving."
"Okay. And Sar? I won't tell Mom and Dad you cursed."
"It's an emergency, I'm allowed to curse in an emergency."
Of course, my brother took so long to assemble anything resembling appropriate outerwear that we wound up not going to the Weisses' after all, choosing instead to hole up in the den with a handful of Fruit Roll-Ups and a can of Lysol (we couldn't find any Raid). We never saw the spider again, but if seventeen pounds of glossy paper couldn't kill it, I imagine it lives on still. It's probably the size of a small raccoon by now.
But no spider – no little brown house spider, no gargantuan freak of nature like the one in the basement – chills me to the bone quite like a daddy longlegs. God, I detest those things. My aunt and uncle have a house in Cape Cod, and it's positively infested with the leggy beasts, but my parents did not vote the anti-spider platform and refused to come into our rooms and kill the daddy longlegs ("daddy longlegses"?) for us, so we'd put on long sleeves and long pants and put pillowcases over our heads and flail blindly about with a giant fly swatter tied to a mop. Every night, I prayed that I would not wake up and see a daddy dangling above my head, and that the daddies I saw dangling in the closet would not have moved. But one year, we arrived at the house to find that the previous renters had left it in mild disarray, so my mother divvied up the chores: my father would deal with the trash, I'd clean up the dishes, my brother would start making the beds, and my mother would wrangle the ancient fifty-pound vacuum out of the closet and deal with lint control. If I'd known that she'd planned to do the drapes and not just the carpeting, I'd have tried to talk her out of it; everyone knows that curtains constitute a hallowed breeding ground for daddy longlegs. So there's my brother, making a bed, and there's me, coming down the stairs to ask what I should do now that I'd finished the dishes, and there's my mother, lifting the vacuum attachment to the drapes in slo-mo, and there's me and my brother, also in slo-mo, both yelling, "Nooooooo!" as a Biblical horde of longlegs responded to the suction by stampeding up over the valence, down the drapes, around my mother, and towards the stairs, and there's me and my brother stepping on each other trying to get out of the way as roughly eighty-eight billion spiders (yeah, I know they're not really spiders, technically, but whatever) moonwalked across the floor, and we come spilling out of the doorway to the stairs and boot it out onto the deck and nearly bowl over our father, and our father's all, "The hell?" and our mother's all, "The hell?" and we're brushing at our clothes and twitching and panting, and ten minutes later Dad came to the screen door and informed us that "I herded them all into the bathroom, so it's safe come inside now," and we felt such deep gratitude that for the rest of the month, when Dad pointed to a corner of the room and yelled, "DADDY LONGLEGS" and then guffawed at us when we jumped a foot in the air, we didn't even get mad.
I know, I know. I should just get hypnotherapy and get over it already. But after this past weekend, when I went out to Jersey to house-sit for my parents, and a spider – which apparently lives in the bed I chose to sleep in – decided to bite me numerous times as I slumbered, including one time on the bridge of my nose, which caused my face to swell up in such a way that I walked into the bathroom, flipped on the light, and saw Jake LaMotta staring back at me, I think I have ample reason to abhor spiders. A spider sat on my face and sucked my blood. A spider made me look like Corky from Life Goes On. Somewhere in my parents' house, a spider swollen to the size of a fucking marble is mocking me. I hate that rotund little spider. I hate that rotund little spider's more slender compatriots. If it has eight legs, I hate it, and I will pay two dollars to have it murdered.