I’m just going to come clean about it once and for all. We all have quirks, vices and those funny little characteristics that make us, well, US – Right? I have no problem admitting when I have a problem. And when it comes to 8-legged creatures of varying sizes that aren’t quite classified as insects but aren’t quite classified as ANYTHING ELSE IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM? I have a BIG problem. Yes, that’s right. Yours truly, Ashley, is a card-carrying, parade-marching arachnophobe.
I’ve tried on multiple occasions to pinpoint where, exactly, this not-so-unusual but intense fear of spiders started for me. There are two distinct times that I think may have just done it and pushed me right over the edge into insanity. The first was when I was around 1 or 2 years old. It was a summer day and I was playing in the garage (why was I, a barely-toddling toddler, playing unsupervised in the GARAGE of all places? That would be a question for the maternal unit, so feel free to chime in Mom!). Naturally, in my play on the dirty, oil-soaked concrete floor, I uncovered a nest of spiders. While I was blissfully lining up matchbox cars, one of them evidently became rightfully pissed that I was on their turf. So ole’ 8-legs decided to show me what was up – My mom came to my rescue, but only after I had been bitten with dozens of microscopic spider teeth ON MY EYELID. The way the story goes, my sensitive Irish skin had a severe reaction (go figure), my eyelid swelled to epic proportions and I spent the next week or so looking like a one-eyed alien baby.
But that’s all good, right? I mean, who remembers anything from when they were one or two years old? No big deal. My eye healed and I moved on. I had forgiven the species for probably almost making me blind from the get-go and forged ahead in childhood. Until Arachnophobia, the movie. Some genius in Hollywood actually made a film about a strain of poisonous spiders that invade a small town and kill at random. And arachnophobes everywhere cried in their pristine, cobweb-free homes. But, in all seriousness, the way that these people in the movie unassumingly come across evil killer poison spiders is enough to make any bug-hater shake in their boots. I don’t remember how or why, but I ended up watching it when I was 9. It had to have been on TV or something and my father, like he was known to do, was probably snoring in his La-Z-Boy. That movie did something to me – I couldn’t even sleep that night. My father woke up for work the next morning and found me crouched in the upstairs hallway like the creepiest nightgown-wearing kid EVER. I explained that I couldn’t bear to stay in my bed because I was sure that there were spiders under the covers every time I felt an itch on my leg or arm. To his credit, he grudgingly walked me back to my room, humoring me while he made a production of shaking out each pillow and blanket, and reassured me that there was no secret nest of poisonous killer spiders in my bed.
Seriously – I’d be embarrassed to admit that if I didn’t still find it completely reasonable today. Most kids get all wigged out over actual villains like Freddy, Jason, the Candyman and a myriad of other freaky psychopaths brought to life in a long list of classic horror films. Pssh, Freddy who?! Like Sinead O’Connor advised us to do (woefully before her time), I am FIGHTING THE REAL ENEMY! And that enemy is anything with 8 legs that crosses my path.
It’s something Nicki has learned to just deal with in our 4 years of living together. She has dutifully taken on the role of Official Spider Killer and has come to recognize that stricken, panicked tone in my voice as her cue to grab a shoe. Or a paper towel. Or anything within reach to ensure it meets a quick and brutal death. But the plot thickens – My girlfriend, the one that all arachnids within a mile of our house have come to fear, is out of town this week. Honestly, you may think I’m exaggerating when I talk about Nicki and I as the Cary, Illinois A-Team against spiders but I’m not. I’m usually the finder, the reluctant discoverer, and she’s the muscle. I can spot a small dark shadow in the corner of the room from yards away and, once I do, it’s like a whole ‘nother Ashley takes over. My voice goes from low and panicky to screeching hysteria and back again. I become rhythmic too – I unknowingly start doing this pee-pee dance/wavering performance dance like I’m trying out for the god-damned Lion King on Broadway or something (you know how the performer looks/sounds in the first 5 seconds? Yup. That’s me when I’ve discovered a wayward spider inside the home). No hate, though. I really do like The Lion King – Still my favorite Disney movie.
So I figured tonight I would do something as innocent and sanitary as taking the garbage out. The top of the automatic can in the kitchen was no longer staying evenly on the rest of the receptacle so I argued with my Lazy Self for a moment and then decided taking it out tonight, before the entire kitchen began reeking of Stinky (just like in the Hefty commercials), was preferable to any alternative. As I trudged to the back yard with the bag in one hand and an empty laundry detergent bottle in the other (that’s right, we’re green here, people! We recycle!), I stood on the patio as a dilemma presented itself.
Shit I thought. What am I supposed to actually DO with the bag until garbage day? You see, one of the wooden panels of our privacy fence has been knocked loose by a fat orange cat that comes around once in a while and tries to woo/jailbreak my Lucky out of the house. She’s not an outdoor cat, but when she first moved in with me, we were living on the sixth floor of a large condominium building, so her outside scents were limited to cracked windows and whatever the air blew our way. She’s not used to being on ground level and she will howl at the back door (even though she’s fixed). Sometimes all night. She’s kind of a skank.
Anyways, I digress. The dilemma was that, because of the loosened fence panel, I was hesitant about simply leaving the bag on the patio. It would be my luck that a raccoon or possum or some other bandit-y woodland creature would slingshot themselves into my yard to get at all of last week’s crumbs and crusts. Okay I told myself. No big deal. We’ll just put it in the big garbage bin Nicki uses for leaves and grass clippings and other yard stuff that I know nothing about. Just until garbage day.
I turned to the garbage bin and froze in my slip-on-wearing tracks. A rather crafty spider had created a gigantic web connecting one side of the bin to the siding on the house. I mean, I was ALMOST impressed. If we’re talking spider homes, this goddamned thing had the freakin’ Taj Mahal. Movement on the screen door then alerted me that I was not alone. Sure enough, a GIANT spider was just hanging out on the end of the screen door, stretching its long, black legs at me as if to say ‘Oh yeah? Whatcha’ gonna do now that your muscle isn’t here THIS time, girl?’ This was bad. I knew I had to act quickly because it was cold, the garbage was starting to stink in my hand and any false move might send this spider parachuting down from the screen door and racing its spindly legs after me on the patio. You just can’t trust ’em, you know?
I probably spent a solid two minutes standing in place, muttering to myself, as my eyes darted between the bin and the screen door. BUT WAIT! I had a weapon! A tool I could use in this sudden and unexpected crusade against all things arachnid! I used the wide, round top of the detergent bottle to push the top off of the garbage bin. I shrieked as it landed on the same side of the bin as the Trump Tower web. I quickly looked to the screen door to see if Spidey had seen my quick action. It was gone!
Now, a lot of people say things like “Well, isn’t it good that it went away?” or “Don’t you want the spider to just disappear?”. The only thing WORSE to an arachnophobe than actually bearing witness to an 8-legged intruder is bearing witness to an 8-legged intruder and then having it disappear shortly after. Because YOU KNOW that damn thing is still alive SOMEWHERE in your house and, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to rest until you know it’s on its way to that place in the sky.
I flung the garbage bag into the bin like I was a goddamned shot put gold medalist. The bin was about halfway filled with dead grass and some weeds from Nicki’s last foray into landscaping and about half the bag stuck out. I knew that wouldn’t do but I didn’t know HOW to get the top since it was now surrounded by web. I tried hooking the detergent bottle into it and dragging it across the concrete toward me. The plastic top made some wimpy scraping noises but I couldn’t get it without a better grip or reaching closer – Neither of which I could do without the other.
It would be so great if I just had something to grasp the edge of the bin…Oh my god, TONGS! I thought triumphantly. We have tongs! So I traipsed back into the kitchen with a wide grin as I shuffled through some drawers and came away with a pair of metal tongs. Just far enough that I wouldn’t have to actually touch the top of the bin in case the residents of Mar-A-Lago decided to stage an attack. It was perfect. I breathed a sigh of relief, mistakenly thinking my tribulations were almost over, as I grabbed the top with the tongs and, juggling it like it was a piece of hot coal, situated it on the bin. I hit the top with the tongs a few times for good measure to make sure it was on there securely and would effectively deter any type of small animal from wandering into my yard for a bag-tearing, garbage-tossing feast.
I jumped about three feet in the air, however, when a dark spot on the screen door stained my peripheral. The Rock of all spiders was back! It flexed its legs at me again. With a swallow, I realized that it had to die. Who knows how long it planned to live on the screen door? How could I possibly walk through it and back into my house? Worse yet, what if it FOLLOWED me into the house? First step, screen door. Next step, sliding glass door. Then one day I’ll come home from work and find it playing Go-Fish at my fucking kitchen table. So that was that. I couldn’t just lift my leg and stomp it, because what if it somehow flew up the leg of my baggy “comfy” sweatpants? I couldn’t turn on the hose and simply water it away, because what if it landed somewhere in that mysterious space between the glass and screen doors and didn’t die all the way? It could rebuilt itself like Jennifer Lopez in “Enough”, training for 8 hours a day, everyday, in that little space until one day it came back for me with a vengeance.
I did the only thing I could think of. With a warrior cry, I smashed the detergent bottle against the spider on the screen door. One time was all it probably took in reality, as evidenced by the smush of spider guts taking up a quarter of the door. But, oh no, I was hyped now. Fear and adrenaline does crazy things to a person and I flung the detergent bottle against the spider guts two, three, four more times – All the while shouting things like “That’s right, motherfucker!”, “Oh yeah, GOOD-BYE to you!”, and “That’s what you get, asshole!” I have no shame. The thing was big.
After dropping the detergent bottle (who knew it would come in so handy?) in the recycling bin, I waltzed into the house feeling like Iron Woman. I waltzed quickly, though, just in case its henchspiders decided to come after me. In all reality though? While it felt good to temporarily conquer a longstanding fear (no matter how silly I may have looked – Although I’d argue it was a tad more “bad-ass” than “ridiculous”…), I will gladly leave the landscaping and yard stuff to the capable hands of my partner. I love enjoying nature – Storms, hiking, the beach, the mountains, I truly do like it all – but I am just NOT an outdoors-y type of woman when there’s 8-legged monsters involved.