I loved spiders as a kid. In fact, I loved all sorts of creepy crawly things. When my family first moved to California and I hadn’t made any friends yet, I gave names to the snails in the garden (Charlie, Charlie Jr., Charlie the Third) and made up stories about their slimy little lives. In grade school, when the staff decided to bring in an exterminator to get rid of all the bees that congregated in the lunch area, my friends and I pleaded with the kindly old janitor to take pity. We offered to get rid of them humanely, and requested that the school cease the plan to gruesomely kill off all the honeybees if we did so. He agreed that they would, or at least that is my memory. My friends and I covered our hands with honey, let the bees land on our hands, and we slowly walked them to the woods, away from the lunch area, where they gently lit off and flew away. I remember the janitor and one of our teachers being impressed with us (even though we avoided the yellow jackets—I didn’t trust those fuckers). But they still brought in the exterminator, and the violence resumed its course.
But spiders were something else. They were so beautiful, so mysterious. They seemed somehow more cunning than the others, despite that they sometimes wasted their energy wrapping up pieces of lint. Or built their webs in the middle of walkways (duh!). When my dad, mom or sister happened across a spider in the house, they knew better than to kill it. They’d call me over and I’d corner the daddy long legs in the tub and delicately pinch its two wiry front legs between my fingers. Its other legs would fan out as if it were an airplane, and I’d escort it to its new home, my bedroom. There were so many spiders in my bedroom, each carving out its own little territory. Even though my room was so messy you couldn’t see the floor (one high school boyfriend, many years after the fact, told me that that was what he remembered most about me—not my beautiful smile, not my fantastic blowjobs, but that I had the messiest room he’d ever seen), I knew where each of the spiders lived, and I was careful not to harm them.
One time, in my twenties, a friend and I walked along a path in San Jose. Joggers and bicyclists were all over the place, not watching where they were going, and I almost didn’t notice the tiny spider sitting right in the middle of it all. It was maybe the size of my pinky fingernail, and covered in black and red fuzz. I bent down and attempted to shoo it away from all the mayhem. “Get out of here, little guy,” I cooed. That’s when the little guy reared up on its little hind legs and decided to put up a fight. I swear I heard a hissing sound as this happened, although I’m pretty sure that’s impossible. I stumbled backwards, surprised, and my friend started laughing. I mean, we were giants to him! Did he really think he could take us on? I gathered up my composure and found a leaf, which I used to scoot him to the side of the path, where he turned to face me momentarily (stink eye!) before disappearing in the long yellow grass. That was the most courageous act I’ve ever seen from any creature, great or small, and it stuck with me over the years.
Fast forward fifteen years later, when my husband Gary and I moved from San Francisco to Southern California. To celebrate the much more affordable market, we bought a house with a gigantic backyard. It was a place for our dogs to run around, a place for us to plant organic vegetables, and a place, apparently, to spawn lots and lots of bugs. I found so many out there: honeybees grazing among the lavender flowers; terrifying hornets (I gave those a wide berth); giant beetles that resembled hummingbirds in their size, movements and noise output; large and small grasshoppers (the largest the size of my middle finger). Predictably, the consumers of all those creatures were also in abundance, like the eerily robotic praying mantises, the bold lizards sunning themselves at peak daylight hours, a plethora of birds, and of course the spiders. So many spiders.
The spiders were what I first noticed about the place, once all our boxes had been unpacked and I was beginning to settle in. Come to think of it, maybe I noticed them sooner. Obviously I have no issue with spiders, but there were just SO MANY—under every leaf, in every corner. Large, small, furry, sleek, black, brown, etc. We named our wireless network after them, and months later I was still regularly exclaiming about how freaking many of them there were.
Soon after moving into the house, I noticed a large black spider nesting under one of the eaves of our garage, which was set quite a ways back from the house. A black widow! She was so gorgeous and deadly looking, with a jellybean-sized butt and long, pointy legs that looked like they were covered in black surgical gloves. I visited her every day—sometimes she’d be resting in the middle of her web, sometimes tucked into the crevice between two wood boards (if the dogs barked, she’d hide. It was really cute). Over time, she stopped hiding when I came around. We got comfortable with each other. I felt safe knowing exactly where she was at all times, and she knew I wasn’t planning to eat her. In a way, she was my first new friend in this strange land.
One day I noticed an off-white puff floating in her web, different in size and texture from the occasional flies, grasshoppers and lint she’d catch and roll into little balls. The puff was just slightly bigger than the spider’s voluptuous ass. The puff was very round and kind of sleek, resembling a tiny IKEA knock-off of a Noguchi lamp. The perfect container in which to gestate hundreds of spider babies.
Suddenly I felt less safe. It’s one thing to have one deadly spider outside your garage, but where would all her babies go? I posted a photo of the scenario on Facebook, and the overwhelming opinion seemed to be that I should kill her and her babies too. (Did these people know me at all?) One friend advised that we dispose of the egg sac carefully. She explained a scenario where she had once decided to kill off a potential infestation by stepping on the sac, only to have hundreds of little black widow babies explode out of the sac as she did so, resulting in screams and a lot of Raid sprayed on the floor, onto arms and legs. That couldn’t have been good.
After much debate (I fought for the spider based on information I’d scoured from the internet—black widows aren’t as bad as people think!), my sister and her husband convinced me that the eggs and resulting infestation must go, for the sake of our pets. My husband acquired a stick and absconded with the egg sac, my little spider friend cowering in her crevice. We flushed the sac into a toilet that, to this day, I can’t use without thinking of all those little babies drowning in their womb. I imagine their little ghosts crawling up the pipes and biting me on the ass. Can ghost spider bites be fatal? What if you’re an atheist? How do you exorcise ghosts you don’t believe in?
Soon after the egg sac removal, the mother spider hid in her hole for a few days, then disappeared. I imagine that she died of a broken heart after we stole all her babies. Or perhaps she moved away to somewhere exotic, like to my next-door neighbor’s yard, where they speak Spanish and have pet Chihuahuas. Either way, her grief made me terribly sad, even though I’ve never been a baby person. I’m empathetic that way.
The trauma of breaking my spider friend’s heart steeled my own. Suddenly I resolved to kill any spiders that got in my way. I found a tiny spider on the mantle and was surprised at how easy it was to smoosh with my hand. A fuzzy brown one got thrown out of my bedroom with no thought as to how it might fare in the harsh outdoors. I was a stone-cold bitch, and these spiders had better watch it! This didn’t last long, however, and my resolve went out the window when I found a gorgeous black widow shimmying up our loquat tree.
“Let it be,” my inner spider pacifist whispered in my ear. “They’re good for pest control, plus they’re really cool-looking.”
But all that ended the morning that Gary noticed a brown widow spider living in a rose bush, a scarlet hourglass branded onto its belly. Accompanied by a small army of egg sacs. Holy hell, another deadly creature was raising its minions on my turf! My neighbor had warned me about brown widows months before (during the prior egg sac fiasco), and suddenly I couldn’t focus on anything but those eggs. That rose bush was where my two dogs had taken to hanging out lately, letting the sun warm their little fur coats. I decided I needed to bring out that stone-cold bitch again. I was determined to mess up the spider’s nest and get rid of those eggs.
“Be careful,” warned Gary. “She moves really fast!”
I bravely grabbed at the closest stick-like thing I could find—a ruler I’d probably been using since high school—marched outside and began clearing off some of her webbing. But I stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted the mama spider. She was curled up tight in a little ball in a spot she’d made for herself, tucked between two rose leaves. Hiding. Terrified. Just like the black widow used to do, before we became friends. I immediately ran into the house, threw down the ruler and sobbed on the couch.
“I’m a terrible person.” I wailed to Gary.
“What right do I have to destroy her home?” I texted my sister. “She’s innocent. She can’t help being the deadly creature that she is. And besides, aren’t I, as a human, far deadlier than some little spider?”
There were so many questions, but it became clear that there was no way I could cause her any more harm that day. I sat back on my laurels as a worried look crossed Gary’s face. He would have to be the stone-cold bitch.
The next day was garbage day. Gary put on some gloves, got some sticks and carefully removed the spider’s nest. I assisted him by clipping off leaves and letting them fall into the paper bag he was holding. The mama spider was nowhere to be found, which was just as well. I didn’t want her seeing us stealing her babies—had I seen her, I probably would have run away crying again. I like to think she fled the scene, heartlessly leaving her spawn to fend for themselves. As I said, I’ve never been a baby person.
Just as we were placing the paper bag into the garbage bin, I noticed something new. Underneath each groove in the bin were streams of webbing, filled with numerous egg sacs! Mortified, we quickly disposed of them too. For hours I watched nervously out the window for the garbage truck. We cheered when it came and the mechanical arm tossed the contents into the back of the truck.