Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Mr. Spidey"

When I was a kid, I used to have a pet spider.

I kept him/her/it in a little cardboard box -- a shoebox, I think -- and occasionally opened it to look at it. I fed it dead flies and drips of water, when I remembered. I was six and younger -- this before my terror of spiders began. My pet's name was Mr. Spidey.

I caught this spider myself, but I'm not sure I remember the actual catching. (My older brain probably repressed it.) I'm actually pretty sure I went through several "Mr. Spidey's" because I didn't actually remember to feed him very often, and I kept him shut up in that shoebox all the time. You can't play with a spider very well.

I'm not really sure what the point of Mr. Spidey as a pet was at all, really, but I do remember how it sounded and felt for my young voice to coo "Mr. Spidey" and get all excited at opening the box to look at him. I remember the immense feeling of satisfaction that, apparently, only comes with owning a pet spider kept trapped in a shoebox when you're a five-year-old girl. 

Looking back as an arachnaphobic adult, I am beyond shocked that my parents let me keep him. And that they didn't suspect me of being some kind of serial killer in progress. To be fair, I only pulled the legs off of spiders that weren't Mr. Spidey -- daddy long-legs and such. You know -- those round-bodied pinpricks of spiders held up by these long, thread-like legs that practically beg kids to mess with them. Seriously, kids just can't resist that shit. 

Just kidding; I didn't pull legs off spiders. I would occasionally pull legs off flies (before feeding them to Mr. Spidey).

Once I protested when I saw a couple of kids torturing a daddy long-legs spider like this. But the scene stuck in my head. I couldn't get the image out. In a strange way, it was fascinating. And although I protested, I did keep watching. After that, I paid more attention to spiders and to how many legs they had. I would sometimes see daddy long-legs walking by on six or four legs, perhaps having survived the depredations of elementary school children. 

I lied when I said I didn't pull the legs off of spiders. My curiosity built. I trapped a daddy long-legs alone one day and started pulling off its legs. I had wanted to try -- to experiment -- with what the other kids had been doing. 

I didn't like it. It upset and disgusted me. Oh, it was satisfying -- but in a confusing, sickening, sadistic way. But I left the spider legless. And then I squished it, as if to erase the evidence and the guilt for what I had done to it. For a long time afterwards, I felt the clench of guilt and disgust in my stomach whenever I thought about it.

I recall Mr. Spidey didn't move very much. I did keep him in a tiny box, after all. He seemed to like the corners, but sometimes, he would just sit in the middle of the shoebox, eerily still. He didn't try to escape, and I suppose I must have taken that as a sign that he was happy. 

So when he started moving less and less, then, I didn't think much of it. "Mr. Spidey!" I would say, and open the shoebox.

But one day, he was all curled up on himself. He looked tiny, shriveled. I remember not really believing it was Mr. Spidey at first. Spiders in death look so much different -- smaller, and inert. His stillness was not that of a live spider. Even in utter stillness, a live spider has a sort of sense of expansion -- of contained energy that could explode into a flurry of movement, in any and all directions, at any moment. That, I think, is what terrifies me most about them now.

Dead Mr. Spidey had lost that kinetic stillness. He was shriveled, legs curled around himself, probably starved or bored to death by me. He seemed to even be a different color -- dry brown instead of healthy black. If dry has a color, that was it. 

Maybe the disappointing, disgusting sight of dead Mr. Spidey was where my fear of spiders began. Or maybe it was watching the neighborhood kids shriek in terror of spiders. Or maybe it was the wrench of horror in my gut that I felt when I thought about the spider I'd plucked legless. There's no real moral to this peculiar anecdote about my pet spider, other than maybe that kids are weird.


I chose the above picture because in Germany, where I had Mr. Spidey, a spider is called a "spinner." Also, I needed an image that wouldn't give me nightmares.