Arachnophobia

Wolf Spider (Pardosa sp.) by sankax, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  sankax 

Note: I have written something of a companion piece to this on another blog, if you’d like to read that one as well. It deals with how people who know how strong my phobia is still find it hilarious to send me links to pictures, videos, and graphic stories about spiders. You may find it interesting. Or you may not. But there it is.

As you may already know, arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders. As it turns out, arachnophobia is the most common fear of a thing (as opposed to an idea, like ‘heights’ or ‘being buried alive’). I found that on Google, so it must be true.

I warn people that I don’t like spiders from the get-go. “Hi, my name is Gary. I’m <mumble> years old and I will cheerfully run you down to get away from spiders. How are you?” Even tiny ones. A spider the size of the head of a pin can chase me out of my own house. I loathe spiders. They aren’t from this planet. They don’t belong here.

How did I get this way? Unlike many people, I can tell you two events that led to my fear of the horrid things. Thus, I don’t find my fear of them irrational at all. I find it quite natural, considering the circumstances.

I have to give you a touch of background. You’re going to laugh at me, but hey. :) When I was about 9 years old, I became fascinated with the occult, which I may have mentioned elsewhere. Ghost stories. Werewolves. Witches. Alien abductions. Mummies. Bigfoot. The Loch Ness monster. Things in General that Go Bump in the Night.

This went on for a couple of years at least.

For whatever reason, I didn’t sleep in my own bedroom. I was fine in the room right up until bedtime, but I slept in the guest room right across the hall. The guest room was no better thanks to two friends of mine who shall remain nameless (Kel and Frankie). Years later, I still got the creeps in that room thanks to them. But that is an entirely different story involving Bloody Mary.

So, I slept in the guest bedroom, and I guess I was about ten or eleven years old by this point.

On this particular night, I woke up for whatever reason. I needed a drink of water. I needed to go to the bathroom. Who knows? Since it was some ungodly hour of the morning, I wasn’t entirely coherent. I remember getting out of bed and walking out of the room into the hallway. The light was on (I didn’t like it totally dark, even this late in life). On the floor of the hallway, between the door of my own room and the guest room, was a large spider.

“Large.” Such a subjective word, that.

How large was it? I don’t know. In my memory, it’s about 2 inches across and covered in fuzzy, black hair. However, wolf spiders — we have to assume it was a wolf spider given the size and that it was Alabama, not the desert or the rainforest — don’t get that large. So we’ll say it was 3/4″ to 1″ across, including legs. Still pretty large for a spider.

In my sleep-fogged state, I thought, “Ah! A plastic spider!” and bent down to pick it up.

I know. I know. <sigh>

It twitched.

I yelped (okay, “screamed like a little girl” was probably a better choice of phrase) and somehow teleported from the hallway into the bed. I don’t remember getting there, so some sort of teleportation must have been involved.

I watched the awful thing for a good long time, not daring to blink lest it move toward me. But it was late. And I was young. And I was sleepy. Very sleepy.

I drifted off.

When I opened my eyes and looked into the hallway, it was gone.

Well, I did what any sane, perfectly reasonable, normal boy of that age would do.

I yelled for my parents. They came rushing in, no doubt assuming I was being murdered in my bed by a crazed, axe-wielding murderer, and asked me what the hell was the matter. I told them, and they got those ‘parent’ looks on their faces.

Oh, you know the look. The ‘I got up at 2 AM for this?’ look. The ‘Why was it we had children again?’ look. “Gary, you were dreaming. There is no spider. Just go back to bed and get to sleep.”

Heh. Right. But I did.

For days after that, I walked around looking for the thing and never saw it. I believed it was in my room, hiding under the bed. I think I cleaned my room for the first time in years. I started to maybe believe that, maybe, perhaps, it was just on the edge of possibility that I really had dreamed the whole thing.

Then, one day about a week later, I was watching TV in my actual room (keeping a wary eye on the floor) and I heard my mother mutter something out in the hall. Then I heard wham wham wham beat knock WHACK. Curious, I went out to see what was going on. My mother was standing there with a bathroom plunger beating the crap out of a rather large spider. Coincidentally, about the size of the one I had told them I saw. Or it had been before being squished and broken into several twitching pieces by my plunger-wielding mother.

Needless to say, she started to maybe believe that, maybe, perhaps, it was just on the edge of possibility that I really hadn’t dreamed the whole thing.

Over the next few days, she killed several more. One of them was in my bathtub at the time.


The next incident must have occurred a year or two later during the summer. That spring and summer, I had been sleeping in the basement bedroom instead of my own room. It was cooler down there, it was private, and there was a larger TV there than in my room. I was also so over my childish, irrational fear of the dark and ghosts and all that stuff. In fact, I now liked it totally black in the room. But because of the street lights outside our house, there was no such thing as total darkness, so I could see fairly well in the dim light from the street.

I could have read in the light cast by those things. Spies would have given up all their secrets under their ghastly, bright whiteness. Moths from miles around came to bask in the glow of these damned things.

Now, let me set the scene. This room was in the basement, so the only window was high up on the wall and looked out into our front yard, behind some shrubbery. The walls were dark wood paneling straight from the late 60s. The curtains were that equally straight-from-the-late-60s horrible orange color that I believe the 70s called “harvest gold” or “burnt orange” or something equally non-descriptive.

Orange

What would YOU call it?

The carpet was that same color, mixed with black and brown. Very attractive. One the wall were floor-to-ceiling bookshelves loaded with ancient books. The bed was an iron-frame monstrosity that was an antique when my grandparents were young. The bedspread was one of those heavy, white deals with the little raised pills in patterns. If you fell asleep on one, you’d wake up with red divots in your face. On the table next to the bed was a glow-in-the-dark “Wolfman” model I had put together some years back. Got the scene in your mind? Good.

Normally, when I go to sleep, I go under in five minutes or less. So anything that occurs after that is pretty much not of any concern to me. Unless . . .

On this particular night, I woke up for whatever reason. I needed a drink of water. I needed to go to the bathroom. Who knows? Since it was some ungodly hour of the morning, I wasn’t entirely coherent. I remember looking around the room, slightly disoriented, and seeing these . . . dots. All over the bed, the ceiling and the walls. I tried to focus my sleep-blurred eyes on whatever these were. The bedspread was white, so it was there that I first realized what they were.

Spiders.

Wolf spiders, again. We had been having a problem with them for a while. I had never been particularly impressed with them either way before this night, but somehow, seeing dozens of them of varying size all over the bedspread (okay, maybe there were only two or three on the bed), the ceiling, and the walls sort of freaked me out. I did exactly what anyone with two working brain cells would do: I got the hell out of that bed. The spiders were on the floor, too. And on the stairs leading from the basement up to the main floor.

To this day, I don’t remember anything after that. My memory goes from “spiders on the stairs” to “waking up in my own bed.”

Not long after that, I realized I despised spiders. Go. Figure.

They seem to know, too. They always scurry towards me when I do work up the nerve to try to smash them with the longest-handled whatever I can lay my hands on. The way they move, the way they scutter (that scurrying, that . . . skittering while you’re not looking), the web-spinning . . . it all just freaks me out.


And now you know. I’m not really very fond of anything with more than four legs, actually. Roaches, moths, bees . . . they all just need to get the hell away from me. I could tell you the story about the time a hornet stung me on the inside of my ear, too, but my skin is already crawling just typing (and then editing) all this. That’s the problem with irrational fears. Not, you know . . . the “irrational” part: the fear part.


This was originally written circa May, 1997, and was one of the very first pages I put on my old site. It has been slightly edited to reflect the passage of time and to modify the tone and quality of the writing.

The ‘facts’ about arachnids are not verified, although I will probably do so at some point. The image at the top is new as of this page’s original publication on the garydhenderson.com site.

  1. Golly. I can’t imagine why that would be the case. (This is an example of what we in the writing business call “sarcasm.” It’s very technical.)
  2. Years later, Steven Gould would write a book called Jumper about a teenage boy who, under similar duress, discovered his ability to teleport. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
  3. Again with the sarcasm. It’s kind of rampant.
  4. A friend in the know (thanks, Judy!) tells me it’s called Chenille.
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