As my neighbor was walking by, he probably thought I’d received an electric shock or was suffering from a seizure. I had just opened my car door when I began to jerk my arms, hands flapping limply in tempo with a staccato of frenzied bleats. He stopped to see if I was OK.
I had stepped into a spiderweb between my car and a nearby tree. I spluttered at my neighbor, “I’m fine; everything’s fine!”
Narrator: Everything was not fine. She was pathetically afraid of arachnids.
Although I’ve had recurring nightmares about giant black widows since childhood, I’ve never been one of those “nuke it from orbit” people. A good chunk of my identity is tied up in my love for animals, fictional or otherwise, and my guiding principle is live and let live. I don’t want to discriminate against those with segmented bodies, but phobias have a way of steering the best-laid plans awry.
On a family vacation many years ago, we stayed at a hotel that seemed innocuous enough until the sun went down. As the light faded, spiders began to venture out from behind the pipes lining the ceiling and walls: first a smattering, then a mob, then a full-on horde. I felt my breath go shallow, and even though my eyes were beginning to bug out, my vision was going dark as the uncountable legs encroached. My brother saw that I was on the edge of panic, so he sprung to the rescue, whipping off his shoe and wielding it like Thor’s hammer.
If the progeny of the hotel spiders speak of that night, they do so in hushed tones. I love my brother for protecting me, but I am haunted by the slaughter. I was the pitiful face that launched a thousand splats. I will carry this burden the rest of my days.
As an act of contrition, I had to face my fears.
Since then, I’ve been doing self-directed exposure therapy. Strap in for an ‘80s-style montage: Watch me reading a book about creepy crawlies, holding it so my fingers aren’t too close to the pictures; steeling my will during a hike to get a close look at a big mama covered with spiderlings; scrolling through r/spiderbro on Reddit handing out upvotes to jumping spiders because they’re actually pretty fuzzy and cute.
Fast forward to the present day in an east Boulder newsroom. I hear a strangled cry as my deskmate pushes away from her computer and points at the intruder: “Spider!” Someone else begins to roll up a newspaper. I have to be quick. I implore them to wait, maybe yelling the word a little too loud. I grab an envelope and an origami box from my desk, then swoop in to capture the tiny critter at the center of the fuss.
I release my ward into the junipers outside with the directive to live long and prosper. I can never erase the death toll from the hotel of horrors, but at least this one gets a second chance.