About two weeks ago I noticed a big hairy scary spider in the hallway ceiling. I presumed it wouldn’t find its way into my rooms, as I keep the doors shut to keep out the cold.
A couple of days later I drew the curtains and fled screaming. The spider was on the wall, crouched, predatory – well, in my head anyway. Probably the spider was thinking “jeez, what’s the matter with her?”
I hate killing things, but I can’t claim philanthropy here (is that the right word? Love of humanity etc.?) That wasn’t why I didn’t want to send the spider to arachnid heaven. I was too damn scared of it to get close enough. Plus I’m squeamish. Well, I couldn’t go to bed with it staring at me like that, thinking murderous thoughts. So I took a hiking boot, covered it with paper and cautiously approached. Eugh! My whole body went into shudders of revulsion and terror, as the spider took on outrageous proportions before my eyes.
No, I wasn’t hallucinating. I closed my eyes and did the foul deed.
The spider had the good grace to submit to my murderous hand. It was obviously dead, but I was still – equally obviously – terrified of it. Strange. I went to bed, worried that it would somehow come back to life. Yes, I knew it was absolute paranoia and no, I couldn’t do anything about it.
The next day – and for the next two weeks – I was too afraid to sweep it up in case it wasn’t actually dead.
This morning I lectured myself on being neurotic and gingerly nudged it with my broom. Leaped back, heart thudding. Peered at it. It was not only dead, it was papery and disintegrated in parts. But I couldn’t stop my fear of it.
I’ve never been hurt by a spider, never been bitten by one, never even had one crawl over me, or get close to me. Not the big hairy kind, anyway. I’m probably 100 000 times bigger than this one was, yet I was scared of it even when it was dead.
Actually, truth? I wasn’t scared of that spider. I was scared of the idea of it, even though the reality of its incapacity to hurt me was pretty inescapably obvious. Even though I knew I was being paranoid and neurotic and utterly ridiculous.
My fear wouldn’t budge. My preconceived idea of the spider-as-monster-killer was too strong.
Powerful things, ideas. They have more hold on us than plain old physical reality sometimes.