The Fire or the Spiders?

About a million years ago, when I still lived with my parents, I had a room down in the bowels of their house. It wasn’t exactly a scary place to live (Freddie Krueger wouldn’t be hanging down there at any rate) but it did sometimes have a lonely and abandoned feeling about it. Every once in a while it would explode with energy and life when we would have family parties celebrating birthdays and Super Bowls (thank you Denver Broncos!) but, for the most part, it sat lifeless and dark, just waiting for something spectacular to happen to bring it back to life.

My high school years were the heyday of that basement’s life—sleepovers, workouts and even outrageous sessions of Truth or Dare (with one memorable night involving a topless me and a life-sized stuffed bear—it’s truly the stuff of legends)! It became a place for friends to hang out and have a good time. In fact, it was the best of times. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and after everyone left to live their own lives I was left in the dark with my little room.

I can’t say that I loved it down there, but it had been my choice to move all my stuff and I was going to see things through to the end. My parents were cool enough to let me try to paint my own walls (a terrible idea that has led to about five coats of paint by now) and I had a shower curtain for a closet door. I had my own desk (that held my first word processing typewriter) and access to my own bathroom. For a young person yearning to grown up and be independent it was just about as good as I could get without having to pay rent. I liked my little piece of the world.

Again, notice that I said “liked” and not “loved.” As much as it pains me to say so (I mean, my mom reads these stories) there were a few significant flaws in Operation Pretend You’re an Adult. First off, my room was super close to the laundry and the washer and dryer always seemed to be running. I have to admit that it smelled pretty good down there, but I got tired of the sound of buttons and zippers being flung around inside the machines. Secondly, my piece of the pie was right under my parents’ room and it wasn’t exactly soundproof. Constant muffled voices, footsteps and various squeaking noises (ahem) contributed to the lack of quiet. Third, it got really dark at night—like, so dark that once I was in bed there was no way I was going to get up unless some kind of light showed itself, either through the window well or the hallway leading upstairs. I couldn’t see a damn thing when the lights went out, and that really wasn’t a good thing.

But even more than everything else, there was one other significant thing that bothered me about the basement. The critters. There were bugs and spiders and mice and spiders and God knows what else and (did I mention?) spiders. My room wasn’t too far from the door leading to the bowels of the bowels of the basement and it was a hotbed of critter activity. I tried the best I could to pretend that I wasn’t basically living in the middle of my worst nightmare, but it didn’t always work. Luckily the mice sightings were few and far between, but damn if those freaking spiders didn’t scary the bejesus out of me!

Needless to say, I am NOT a fan of the spiders. Back when I was super, super young I would have no problem squishing them under my sneakers or drowning them with a garden hose. But as I got older (and I read a myth? about how many spiders are ingested by people as they sleep) I realized I didn’t want to piss those fuckers off. What if I killed mama spider one day and an army of baby spiders came to avenge her while I was dreaming good dreams about Billy Idol…? Seriously. I still held in the back of my mind visions of the Charlotte’s Web cartoon and the hundreds of baby spiders that parachuted down to Wilbur from the web. I didn’t see cute little baby spiders ready to take on the world—I saw “eewww” and “eeeekkkk” and “What the Hell?!” My new mantra/delusion became “leave the spiders alone and they will leave you alone.” And I’m sure it worked because I’m still alive and, as far as I know, I haven’t ingested even one of those creepy crawlies. (By the way, the average number people ingest per year is eight—but it’s believed to be utter bullshit. But I say, why take the chance?)

All of this is significant to my story because of my bedroom window. More specifically, my window well. It was my best friend in the world when it brought light and heat into my little haven but it also had a nasty side that brought snow and cold and, yes, damn it, the freaking spiders! In particular, I had a lovely (ahem) little family of spiders that didn’t even try to hide the fact that they were my unwanted roommates. Their web was strong and vital and extremely impressive. I was thoroughly scared to death of it. The web, I mean. The web scared me. It was tangible proof that the spider family had moved to town and had every intention of staying for a really long time. Did I mention that it was a family of black widow spiders? I can’t believe I forgot that part. Yeah. My fear became full on terror.

I told my mom about my little “friends” and I foolishly supposed that she would put on her Supermom cape and come to the rescue, but I might have caught her at a bad time because nothing happened to the spiders. I might have been so self-absorbed and secure in the fact that mom would do anything in the world for me or it might have been that she didn’t think seeing her oldest daughter being murdered by nefarious creepy crawlies was that big of a deal. (She’d probably just tell me that I never told her about them). Either way, absolutely nothing was done about the spiders.

I had the power to change my reality, I know I did, but I think I’ve already explained that I didn’t kill spiders anymore. Especially spiders with red hourglass shapes on their bodies and superior web making skills. I let them have their little victory and tried to forget that they existed. Which, admittedly, was easier than I thought possible except when I wanted to open my window. In the summer, it got relatively warm in my room even though it was much cooler than upstairs. There were times when nothing on earth would make me happier than lying on my bed reading a book while a cool breeze wafted through my room. But I couldn’t bring myself to open the window. Because they were there. Watching me. I know it. Just waiting for their chance to wreak havoc on my person. Bitches.

On a side note, it may amuse you to know that I am a person who lives and dies by scenarios. Especially scenarios that center around life and death. I’d like to lie and say that I don’t do that sort of thing anymore, but that would be lying and I would hate to think that anyone would be able to catch me in said lie. I do still play doomsday theater in my brain, but just not quite as often. Back then it was a rare time when I wasn’t worried every single moment of the day. What if my family is on vacation and I’m left at home and burglars are just waiting to break into the place? Maybe I should rig some guillotine blades over every window and door!

But I didn’t want to accidentally kill myself—maybe I just need to make a secret entrance to a small, secluded room that no one knew about. One that was stacked with cases of Pepsi, Whoppers and hard boiled eggs. Maybe it could be something like belt myself onto my parents bed, push a secret button on their electric blanket controller and then the bed flips over and I’m hanging over a small windowless room…which is really not a great plan because I’d just end up back in my own room again. Damn it.

What if this? What if that? I could do this—but then I would have to do that.  It was all pretty brutal. Looking back on it, I’m actually surprised that I was even able to have the good (very good) Billy Idol dream. And of course, at the very top of my list of Very Scary Scenarios that Guarantee Terror, was the greatest hit called “The Fire or the Spiders.” It didn’t dawn on me right away that I had set myself up to be right in the middle of one of the most difficult decisions I hope that I would never have to make, so I actually had quite a good go of it downstairs, by myself, in the dark.

But then, out of the blue (aka after making a decision with a stupidity that has no bounds), it hit me straight in the heart.  To be honest, I think that my fears sprouted from a particularly active movie watching session that may or may not have included Platoon, Stephen King’s It and The Towering Inferno. Yeah. I never said I was the smartest person in the room. Fires, giant spiders, explosions and overall human misery? Sign me up!

The first time that I ever really thought about my situation was while I was laying in bed, staring into the window well, late at night during a fairly bright moon. I had been tossing and turning a while and just couldn’t seem to turn my brain off. I became transfixed by the slightly glowing spider web and the belief that hundreds of eyes were just staring at me. Of course, me being me, my next mental phase went straight into the absolute certainty that spiders were crawling over my blankets. My head began to itch and yet my body refused to move. I was like a frightened bunny pretending that I was invisible and that the really big dog wasn’t seeing me sitting out in the middle of the lawn. My body tensed up so much that it actually became too difficult for me to stay awake. My energy was gone…I was completely unprotected from whatever the spiders wanted to do with me.

Nowadays, I’m fairly certain that my dream wasn’t something that I lived all that night. It probably only lasted a minute or two. But it didn’t matter. The scenario that emerged has been something that I have relived several times since then. Picture this: I’m laying down in bed on a late Sunday morning and sunlight is pouring in from the window well. I can’t hear anyone moving around upstairs, but I know they must be there because I can smell bacon cooking. I don’t want to get out of bed because it’s freezing cold and I’m just too nice and cozy. The bacon starts to smell a tad burnt. I figure that I should probably go upstairs and check on it since I can’t sense anyone else. I start to put on some clothes when the fire alarm suddenly starts screaming. I throw open the door to my bedroom, only to see smoke pouring in through under the stairway door. I need to get out! I need to escape. I jump back into my room and start screaming for help but no one can hear me. I take precious seconds to try to grab whatever I can and I rush to the window. I pull the window open and immediately remember the web and it’s creepy inhabitants. Somehow the web has grown larger and looks more thick than usual. I can’t do it. I can’t go out. I don’t know what to do…

I guess it may not surprise you to know that I died in that dream. I just covered up in my blankets and succumbed to smoke inhalation. I managed to not dream any gory details of my demise, and since I’ve admitted I still think about that scenario once in a while, that is a very, very good thing. It had been made official in my mind—I would rather die in a fire than crawl out of a window that was dripping with spiders. Who knew?

I startled awake from my terrible dream and tried my best to shake it off. I rolled out of bed and decided to tiptoe to the window well to take a good long look at my enemies. Well, I suppose I should say enemy because there was only one teeny tiny spider left, hanging onto a threadbare web that was flinging around in swirling, frigid air. I knew he was dead and I began to feel a strange combination of triumph and regret. I wouldn’t have to die in a fire after all! But I was also sad to know that that itty bitty spider family was gone. Sigh.

My life in the basement carried on in as “usual” a way as I could possibly have and I only thought about the spider/fire scenario every once in a while. My life had morphed into boyfriend, school, work and boyfriend and I didn’t have no time for no spiders! My scenarios were now real life and may or may not have included a particularly mortifying experience where I hyper-extended my knee (while naked and pulling on my underwear), collapsed and writhed in pain as I tried to cover my whozits and whatzits. (Thank goodness my mom was the one to come running when I finally felt comfortable enough to yell for help.)

Yep, lots of good times in that basement. I don’t get down there very often anymore, but my room has become occupied again and I wonder at what day to day shenanigans commence. I’ve heard a little bit of something about a brown recluse, but I just plug my ears and sing my la-la-la’s because I don’t want to go down that path again. As long as people stay alive, I’m alllllllll good!

©DRB 2016


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