In the 1980s, as a commercial for the movie “Alligator” frightened fellow potty-training children from sitting on the toilet for fear of being bitten on the bottom by the wayward gator, a daddy longleg climbed out of the commode between my knees as my feet dangled above the floor. More than 30 years later, my screams still echo throughout Lorain County like an urban legend you’d read about on snopes.com.
Sometime before my family moved from that Forest Lane duplex, another spider bit my eyelid as I slept, and my mom spent the next few days explaining to strangers why my eye was swollen to just about the size of her fist. Not long after that, she helped me get dressed for school and as we exited my bedroom, she gasped, told me to stand still, fetched tissues from the bathroom, and cupped the center of my spine. Considering the fact I’d only seen her panic when she encountered unpredictable jumping spiders, I can’t imagine what monstrosity elicited such a sound.
As a teen living on four acres of land in Amherst, I often showered beneath hairy wolf spiders and prayed they wouldn’t rappel from the ceiling and ask for a dollop of shampoo as I bent over to wash my own waist-length locks. Their furry, fang-equipped friends greeted me at the gate of our chain-link fence each night as I returned home minutes before curfew in case I screamed and woke my parents.
After passing my driver’s test at age 17, I slid behind the wheel of my Ford Tempo, rolled down the windows, turned up the radio, and grinned at my newfound freedom for maybe five minutes on the way to work before a fat, military tank-shaped spider crawled onto my forearm as I climbed a curvaceous two-lane hill. Like the Mazdas, Hondas, Toyotas, and Suzukis that have been recalled because they attracted defect-causing spiders, you’d think that car came equipped with a cartridge full of eight-legged passengers that were supposed to descend from the rearview mirror and keep me company on dark drives. Since I would have declined such an option at the dealership, I bought a can of Raid and wedged it between the front seats, so I could reach for it like a gunslinger when necessary.
I never bothered to see “Arachnophobia,” which was released on my birthday in 1990, because I figured someone had followed me around with a video camera. I assumed I’d be safe once I moved from my parents’ house in the country to the eighth floor of a high-rise apartment on the lake, but I was mistaken. Worse, just as people indigenous to the equator produce more melanin to protect them from the sun, arachnids apparently quadruple in size as a defense mechanism against the wind. From the first day of my lease to the last, prehistoric-sized spiders prompted me to scan ceilings, carpeting, and upholstery before cowering on the couch or going to bed. One afternoon, I called my black belt-wielding boyfriend to come home an hour after he’d left to visit a friend who lived an hour away.
“You don’t understand,” I said. “That thing charged at me.”
He laughed. “So vacuum it up,” he said.
“Okay, first of all, it’s standing between me and the vacuum. Second, that would work for your mother who still uses bags. Our vacuum has a canister. So when I go to empty it at some future date and time, that thing’s going to come out after me.”
To conclude the first of many defining moments with men, he said, “I don’t know what to tell you. You’re on your own,” before hanging up on me.
He came home to a dead spider and a kitten.
“We never discussed getting a cat,” he said.
“Yeah, but you said I was on my own. So I did what I would do if I were on my own,” I said.
That Halloween, we moved, traded creepy crawlies for NASCAR-qualifying centipedes, and later went our separate ways.
Another memorable spider fell from the sky and landed between my 32Bs as a new boyfriend and I sat at a picnic table overlooking Lake Erie at least 500 feet from the nearest tree. Unless it sometimes rains spiders in northwest Ohio as it does in Australia, a gust of wind must have snapped his vine-like web as he played Tarzan and flung him my way. During ensuing summers, that boyfriend plucked a daddy longleg from the left side of my head and a tick from my pink T-shirt as we grilled dinner at different parks.
Before flying with him as an ex to Philadelphia in 2011, I woke up at 4 a.m. to pee, unraveled my hair from the scrunchie knot I hadn’t meant to sleep in, and felt something ricochet off of my wrist before it hit the floor.
“I don’t even want to know,” I said. So I washed my hands and went back to bed. Forced to return to the bathroom five minutes later to remove an eyelash jousting my defenseless pupil, I flipped on the light, and a juicy, jelly candy-like spider bolted for the litter box. I killed it with a Clorox bleach jug and knew without a doubt that’s what had tumbled out of my hair.
Two years later, the ex rented a white Impala for our eight-hour trek to Canada’s Bruce Peninsula. Of all the places on that four-door behemoth, the cottage, or the bear-populated woods for a spider to snooze like a vampire come sunrise, it chose half-an-inch above my passenger-door handle. If I hadn’t been paying attention and extended my hand, my screams would have reverberated off of those red cliffs for decades a la the daddy longleg incident from my childhood.
To get out of the house while working from home the following summer, I accepted a part-time pool attendant position at the yacht club, where I spent 95 percent of each shift sweeping spider webs from every inanimate object and the other five percent freaking out when I found their former inhabitants in a restroom stall, a skimmer, or my hair.
Given my semi-irrational fear of spiders, my tendency to attract them, and a “Buying Hawaii” episode that panned in on one of the black widows inhabiting Kauai, I’ve been dreading my trip to the garden isle for 10 months. But since I’ve already been to the Big Island, Oahu, and Maui, leaving that bucket list item three-quarters finished and blowing about-to-expire frequent flyer miles on another trip to the Caribbean, which is closer to Cleveland and undoubtedly breeds spiders of its own, seemed stupid. Instead, I resolved to stop at Longs Drugs on the way to the hotel from the airport, buy a couple cans of pesticide, hose down my rental car and room, sleep with the lights on, and pray that a poisonous spider wouldn’t kill me and orphan my cats.
But, as someone once said, people make plans and God laughs.
Since becoming a Christian in 2014, I have watched at least two hours of televangelism per day. I miss college, so I approach it like a class, making sure that I wake up in time, take notes, and reflect on how what I’ve heard applies to my own life. One thing I have learned from Joyce Meyer, Charles Stanley, Kerry Shook, T.D. Jakes, and personal experience is that once you invite God into your life, or “get saved,” you become a new creation, and He uses trials to mold you into the Christ-like person He wants you to be. Would Jesus be afraid of spiders? Probably not. Especially since “fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible. But like English 101, which I tested out of when I went back to school at age 28, I believed I could skip every sermon on fear since I’m a strong, independent, and confident single woman who’s traveled solo to St. Maarten, three Hawaiian Islands, Boston, and Portland, Maine.
First of all, God does not want us to be self-sufficient, relying on our own strength or street smarts.
“We are to work to improve ourselves while at the same time remaining totally dependent on God,” says T.D. Jakes in the book Help Me, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up. “Self-sufficiency means to be ‘sufficient in oneself,’ and not putting your faith in God’s assistance.”
Second, six weeks before my trip to paradise, my face broke out in so many overlapping rosacea pustules and pimples I started grocery shopping at 3 a.m. to avoid being seen. Overnight, my confidence swirled down the drain with Proactiv cleanser suds as I wondered whether Kauai would quarantine and ship me to the leper colony on Molokai. Some Christians think everything bad is the work of the devil, and everything good comes from God. But at the risk of disobeying Proverbs 3:5 (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding), I tend to agree with T.D. Jakes’ book Hope for Every Moment, which says, “The Lord orchestrates what the enemy [the devil] does and makes it accomplish His purpose in your life.” Though I don’t see God as an angry, vengeful deity or one of those psychopaths who throws acid in the face of a woman who dishonored him, He does know how to get our attention and redirect our focus.
“And, in Egypt,” I snarked to a friend when I was more than a little miffed that I looked like a meth addict’s mug shot, “boils came before the locusts and hail.”
Sure enough, the plagues picked up speed October 9, 2014, less than two weeks before my trip, when starsandstripes.com reported the Navy was battling a coconut rhinoceros beetle infestation in Hawaii.
“It’s not known how the beetles arrived,” the website said. “[I]t is assumed they most likely hitched a ride aboard the running gear of a plane.”
Likewise, ebola-infected nurse Amber Vinson boarded a plane from Texas to Cleveland of all places October 10 and sent this germaphobe to three drug stores in search of surgical masks and antibacterial Wet Wipes.
Four days before my flight, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for Kauai, Niihau, and Oahu. After graduating from college in 2009, I continued to live in Cleveland to avoid hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters, so I spent the entire weekend checking the internet for updates. Ana wound up bypassing Hawaii, but my first day on Kauai, the state board of health confirmed a measles outbreak. Then I lost my job.
Needless to say, I forgot about the black widows.