Okay. I'll admit it. I was an arachnophobe. Spiders, of all shapes, colors, and sizes, used to terrify me. It was a base, primal fear. Spiders are just so alien looking, so wrong with their eight legs, shiny (or furry) bodies, those sticky webs, those mandibles. Those eyes. So many eyes, in so many weird places.

Now, this isn't a baseless fear. I grew up in Texas, and my grandfather had a country house located in Round Top (population 96 77, and dropping). This house was situated on ten acres of gentle rolling Texas hill country, and is considered by many a beautiful place, with its majestic oak trees providing shade, and in the springtime, all 10 acres would burst forth with lovely Indian Paintbrush and Bluebonnet flowers.

Me, though, I have different memories. See, when they say "they grow 'em big in Texas", they aren't lying. Everything's bigger there.

Including, unfortunately, the bugs.

I've heard junebugs coming 15 seconds before they fry themselves in the bug lamp. I've heard a cockroach eat an ant. I've had grasshoppers jump on me that were as big as my hand is long. The sound of cicadas is a constant background hum nearly everywhere you go in the swampy pit that is south Texas. It's a soothing noise, until you see one of the ugly things. When you realize that the sound that's soothing you is made by these big veiny semi-transparent semi-yellow wings being rubbed together at hypersonic speeds, it tends one towards nausea rather than nodding.

However, the spiders are something else. The spiders in Texas are truly horrifying. There's one kind, I don't know its classification, that I've seen only at the house in Round Top. It tends to favor the trees (hmm guess that makes it a tree spider, eh? (actually, as of 26-Aug-2006, I know know this spider is a Black and Yellow Argiope or Argiope aurantia for you taxonomy freaks)), spinning mostly invisible webs that can reach about 4 feet in diameter. Kid you not ... four feet. My dog is smaller than that. Young children are smaller than that, for god's sake.

These webs are mostly invisible, as I said, except for a thick, zigzagging pattern of webbing at the bottom of them. It looks like the tornado icon over there to your right if you have the Epicenter nodelet. It serves no purpose that any of my family has been able to discern.

It's also hard to see if it's evening.

That's why I walked directly into one when I was about thirteen, and was covered, covered in silky, sticky stuff that had been spun out of a spider's ass. And the spider was on me. It was large, about six or seven inches front to back, mostly black, with a red and yellow design on its back. It was on my shoulder, as wrapped up in its web as I was, and I could feel it struggling, its eight legs scrabbling for purchase on my skin. I screamed. And kept screaming.

Somehow it freed its legs and jumped off of me, leaving me a trembling shambles of a young man. You'd think I developed arachnophobia after this horrifying incident. You'd be wrong.

My mother decided to hie our family off to New Mexico the following year, and I was relieved somewhat to be leaving a land where bugs grew into such horrifying sizes. No more cockroaches infesting my locker at school. No more fire ants. No more huge spiders.

And, for the most part, the bugs in New Mexico were mundane (though the mammals ... like bears ... were something else entirely). Except for the scorpions, but those were down in the desert and I was in the mountains.

Then, about four years later, I met the wolf spider. Wolf spiders are one of the largest spiders to inhabit the US, being about half again as large as tarantulas. They're not poisonous, in fact they probably are some of the most useful spiders to have, since they eat a lot of other harmful bugs. But they're ugly. "Fugly" as my grandfather would say.

Wait, you'll see.*

My mom had in the living room an L-shaped sectional couch. All of us in my family would plop down in the crook of the L and throw a blanket (always conveniently slung over the back of the couch) over ourselves and watch TV or read or whatever.

One rainy night, I plopped down on the couch, threw the blanket over me and was treated to a sight not unlike ... well just do a web search for wolf spider and you should find something.

The spider was so close to my face it was nearly in my mouth. It had weight. It was so big it had weight. I could feel it sitting on my chest. It was hairy. It was alien. It was clacking its mandibles or whatever at me. It was a FUCKING HUGE FUCKING WOLF SPIDER FUCKING SITTING ON MY CHEST AND I COULD FEEL IT AND I COULD SEE IT AND IT WAS LOOKING AT ME WITH ITS MANY EYES AND CLACKING AT ME!!!!

I don't know what I did next. All I do know is that the next picosecond I was on the other side of the room, screaming and crying, and the spider, who had somehow been flung against the wall, was apparently unconscious or dead on the floor next to the TV (which was 15 feet away). My mom called animal control, if you can believe it, to come and dispose of the thing...which apparently survived its own trauma to live and terrorize another human another rainy day.

I never sat in that couch again, and discovered subsequently that the sight of any spider, no matter how small or harmless, sent me into convulsive shudders, waves of nausea, and a feeling of fear so intense it was crippling. For the next eighteen years I suffered from this irrational fear, subjecting myself once to the embarrassment of calling over a friend to remove a large (relatively speaking) garden spider from the screen door at the front of my apartment, because I couldn't do it, and thus couldn't get into my own dwelling!

That fear came to an end last night, for good.

Last week, I had purchased a bottle of my favorite wine, a Clos Du Bois Merlot. I had a glass of it with dinner that night, and hadn't touched it since, leaving it sitting corked on the kitchen counter.

Last night, I went to pour myself a glass, and noticed a web had been spun between the bottle and the stove. I noticed a spider sitting on the cork of my wine. It, apparently, noticed me too, because it scuttled its way down to the center of its web. Probably thought I was a tasty, if overlarge, treat.

Then I noticed it was shiny black. With a small red hourglass pattern on its stomach.

"Great," I thought to myself, "A fucking black widow has decided to camp out on my bottle of wine!"

With a scream both animal and human, I took the flat of my hand, and SMACKED the spider, crushing it into so much black goo on my counter. I didn't care if the thing bit me, I ignored all the warnings about these spiders that had been drilled into me since kindergarten, I just wanted the thing dead. I wanted the irrational fear gone. Most of all I wanted my wine and no fucking deadly spider, big or small, was going to prevent that from happening.

I can't describe to you how liberating killing that black widow was. Something let loose in me last night, a fear so deep and so ... rich ... that it had become part and parcel of me. It's gone now, and has been replaced with a euphoria that's a sweet state in compare. I'm no longer an arachnophobe. I know that, in the end, a spider is just trying to make its way in the world, as I am. It doesn't exist to terrify me, or gross me out, or any other such silly notion. It exists. That's all. And knowing that, really knowing that, has freed me from the only phobia I had.

Of course, this will probably all change if the first alien intelligence we meet are spiders that are fifteen feet tall. But until that day ... I'm free at last.

And I'm renting the movie "Arachnophobia" tonight. Wanna come over and watch?

*No, you won't see. I had originally included a url with a picture of the damnable creature, but I realized two things in retrospect:

  • Including a url really isn't noding for the ages.
  • If you go look for yourself you aren't forced to the ugliness of just one picture. You'll have many to choose from. Heh heh heh.

    Here's an ironic update. I was bitten by a black widow on July 4, 2003 (while I slept; IT WAS IN MY BED!! IT WAS IN MY BED!!! AUUUGH!!!), and the wound subsequently got infected. I now have what looks like a discolored bullet wound in the lower part of my right leg. It was painful, both the wound and the treatment for it (high-powered antibiotics fuck my shit right up), it was expensive, and it kept me out of work for a month, and I'm scared to death of spiders all over again.

    Karma takes its toll, does it not?

    Ironic update number two. Today, May 17, 2007 I was diagnosed with cellulitis originating near the point of the black widow bite. Apparently, the skin that forms after you've been bitten by a venomous spider is not ... fully functional. So today I wake up to find my leg looking like it did when I originally got bit TIMES TEN! TEN TIMES THE UGLINESS! TEN TIMES THE PAIN!. And apparently, I will be forever prone to strange bacterial infections around the original wound for the rest of my life. And maybe including hospital visits! Whee!!!!

    Fucking spiders.