We don’t have a great history, spiders and I.
I know all the things you’re supposed to know – like –
- It’s one of the most common phobias in the Western world. So I’m normal. Great.
- Only 2% of spiders are dangerous. So I’m relatively unlikely to meet one that wants to kill me. Great.
- The 2% tend not to live in East Cork. So I’m safe here. Great.
- They’re deadly cute when viewed under a macro lens. Great again. I love cute things.
But seriously. Spiders. All those legs and eyes…
Years ago I was locked out of my apartment in Cork and had to seek shelter in a friend’s house for a few hours. While I was there, a mutual friend called in with his pet spider Penelope (yes, really). There were many things wrong with that sentence for me at the time. But anyway, my friend decided this was the universe’s way of helping me face my fears – after all, I’m a psychologist and should be able to nail this right?
Right. So. Gradually Penelope, the tarantula, was coaxed out of her mobile home full of lettuce and bugs and onto the kitchen table. Her owner tapped the table and called her name and she scuttled across on her 8 hairy and alarmingly sturdy legs to meet his waiting fingers. And he stroked her like a teeny little kitten. I can still hear her little footsteps… tickety tickety tickety…
She leaned in, clearly enjoying the love. It was fascinating, cute and somewhat nauseating. After three hours or so of indecision I allowed Penelope to walk up and down my thigh, and then my bare arm. It felt like velcro. She could sense my heart rate and crouched occasionally to brace for attack. Juuuust relaaaax her owner cooed, so that she and I would both relax… (LOL) There was a slight edge to his voice.
If I didn’t relax, he explained, she’d know I wasn’t her friend. And we didn’t want that.
Relaxing was ne’er such a challenge…
Exposure therapy, albeit an extreme form of same, is what we would call that ‘in the trade’. And it worked. Mostly. Except for surprise spiders. Like one I met a while back in Ladysbridge when I lived there. I was photographing this large black spider up close and personal in my kitchen – feeling fascinated and mesmerised by her furry back and then the doorbell rang and I jumped. And so did she. Onto me. This was a turn of events I was not happy about. We didn’t cover jumping spiders in either my exposure therapy or my self-administered follow up CBT sessions – nope!
So I ran to the door and outside was a man selling GAA raffle tickets. I didn’t know him. I was alone in the house. It was getting late… So I did what any normal lone woman would do and grabbed the stranger-male by the arm and dragged him into the hall. I was twirling – can you see it can you see it CAN YOU SEE IT???!! Get if OFF ME!
He’s laughing – “What’s wrong with you at all?!” he says. I’m still twirling – “Check my hair – it’s a spider, she’s on me somewhere – I saw her jumping!!” I’m sounding a little crazy and I know it and I don’t care. He laughs again. “And what do you think she’ll do to you?” he says, while checking my back and my head.
I don’t know – eat me??? Seemed rational at the time… She was huge after all. He’s still laughing. “She’s run upstairs to catch you later when I’m gone I’d say” he says. “Maybe she’ll wait til morning when you’re in the bathroom and she’ll jump out and get you then!”
Comforting… and I laugh at the thought of this happening. We’re both laughing, I smooth the hair and think maybe I should introduce myself to the man I just grabbed in off the road. What was I thinking??
I calm down after a while and we have a chat and I buy the ticket. An extra one or two perhaps, y’know, as a contribution for the free therapy. And before he leaves he gets serious and tells me to maybe lock the door behind him and don’t be dragging strange men into my house again…
It’s good advice in fairness.
Every time he called to the house after that we had a giggle about the spider. He always had a new creative idea about where the spider might be hiding – and had she jumped out on me yet he wondered??
I’m sure that there was a split second where I decided this man was safe to yank into my house. I’m sure I wouldn’t have done that with just anyone. He had a warmth and safety about him. Almost visible, like a glow.
When I heard that a man died recently in Ladysbridge I had one of those sinking gut feelings. I felt it was him, and it was. I didn’t know for sure until days after the funeral when someone I know confirmed it for me with a photograph. I was gutted. I often thought of him since moving. I didn’t even know he was ill. But then of course I didn’t – we weren’t friends, I never met him other than to buy the tickets and have the spider giggles, but he made an impact. I’m quite confident he made an impact on all he met. I’m sure he is sorely missed, fondly remembered. He just seemed like one of those people. A gent. A gem.
And now, every time I see a spider, I think of him, not of fear, or panic or nausea.
So thank you Brendan. I hope you and all the spiders are having fun somewhere together. Goodbye kind sir.
ps: Above pic is of a spider I placed on my card with my actual hand
Many thanks indeed to Brendan Aherne’s family for allowing me to post this piece here. May he rest in peace, and may they find some solace in fond memories.