Fear and Change

There was a large spider on the floor-length curtains. Large is relative, of course. I’d say it was about the size of the palm of your hand.

I’ve told this story before, but this is in case you missed it. And the point this time is different.

I was probably five or six. Before this moment of the spider on the curtain, I wasn’t particularly afraid of spiders. On this day I pointed the spider out to my dad. It was just the two of us in the house in those days. Us and the spider.

Dad is 6’2″ and he reached up to knock the spider from the curtain. It was a mama spider carrying an egg.

The spider and the egg hit the floor and the egg split open. The mama spider skittered one way and hundreds if not thousands of baby spiders skittered in every direction. I screamed.

I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but in my child memory, spiders blackened the floor. I scrambled onto the dining table. Tiny spiders rushed up the chair legs, up the curtain, over everything. My dad hit them with his bare hand and stepped on them, but there hundreds of them. As far as I was concerned, they were infinite.

I shrieked.

Dad scooped me up and carried me, crying now, outside. He plopped in the driveway and ran back inside. I stood alone in the driveway, crying, wondering what was happening in the house. Eventually he reappeared, and he said he could go ahead and go on to dinner. Everything was fine.

I’ve been terrified of spiders ever since. Like as a teenager I stayed in the bathroom for almost two hours because a spider was in the hallway. If a spider was in my room, I’d sleep on the sofa. Photos of spiders, drawings of spiders, anything remotely spider-like panicked me. I even avoided watching Charlotte’s Web. I still have never watched the spider scene in Harry Potter or the one in Lord of the Rings. I’ve tried.

But I determined not to pass my phobia onto my child. When he was about four, he was running around the park, and I spotted a spider on his tee-shirt. He hadn’t seen it. Since running away from my own child at the park wasn’t really an option, I reached over and knocked the small spider off his chest. He didn’t even notice. I stood there breathing hard, my hand shaking.

I started using those little plastic spiders in Halloween directions. Every time I handled one, my body would tense up, but I’d look at it sideways and manage to put it in the display. I stopped tossing away magazines that had any spider images. I’ve even made Halloween ornaments with spiders on them.

A few years ago, I caught a spider in a cup and took it outside. I still had some panicky breathing, but I did it. Last summer I caught another spider in a cup. But my back was giving me trouble, so instead of kneeling down to let the spider loose in the grass, I dropped him onto the trashcan lid and it was stupid thing to do. It was a scorching hot day, over 100 degrees, and the black trashcan lid was a frying pan. The poor thing danced in frantic desperation to escape the burning floor under his feet, collapsed, and died.

I felt terrible.

I wonder a lot if people can change. And if they can change, by how much? Do we even let people change?

It’s true I still can’t watch the entirety of the spider scene in Harry Potter, but the other day I found a spider in the bathroom, and I didn’t run from the room. I left it alone. I worried about it, but I’ve come a long way from the time I shut myself away in the bathroom as a teen. That night (I was home alone) I put every liquid I could find in the bathroom (that must’ve been safe!) and threw the mix on the spider in the hallway, killing the spider and bleaching the wall (Dad was thrilled!).

I still wonder about the possibility of people changing.

I do know not one of my dad’s explanations for why I shouldn’t be afraid of spiders made a difference. Not wanting to pass my own fears onto my kid made a difference. (And for the record, he is slightly afraid of spiders, but he is not phobic. He can watch the spider scene in Harry Potter.)

What fear have you overcome?

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Thanks for reading.

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