Reverb Broads Prompt for June 2, 2012
What gives you nightmares? Prompt from me this time
I have long wet hair, fresh from the bath and tangles all combed out. My nightgown is cotton, capped sleeved, covered in a teeny blue floral pattern with lace around the neckline that makes me feel fancy and tickles the delicate skin of my throat. My mother tucks me in under the quilt that my great-grandmother made for her, covered in the sillouhuetes of little bonneted girls on a seafoam green background. In her low, excited voice Mom reads a chapter of the Nancy Drew mystery we are working through each night, something about hidden staircases or missing candlesticks or locked libraries. She kisses me on the cheek, shuts off the lamp on my nightstand, wishes me sweet dreams and pulls the door shut so there's only a sliver of light falling across my navy carpet.
And then I wake up suddenly. I try to look around in the pitch black. The hall light is off so it must be very late. I lay still trying to sense what has woken me and then I see it. At the foot of my bed, a dark rustle against the white of the foot board. Something scuttles and freezes. I can't make it out in the black, but I know what it is in dark recesses of sleep. I always know. The legs spread out and curve around one of the four poles holding up the pink striped canopy over my head. In frigid terror, I watch the creature slowly creep up the bed towards me, scurrying on long hairy legs up the tiny mountains of my toes, over my paralyzed calves, stopping at my knees, lingering and glaring at me with 1,000 eyes, taunting me with each menacing, plotted movement. It crawls around the side of my legs disappearing for a moment which is almost worse, it could be anywhere now. I wait. Minutes turn into hours into decades, and then I see the tip of one tentative leg as it begins to crawl up the angled crook of my elbow, bent and jagged under the quilt. My fluttered shallow breathing increases as it makes the final ominous arrival over my stomach, coming to a stop right on my small panicked chest. It stares at me and neither of us moves. It is the size of a small dinner plate and suddenly I'm screaming and screaming and screaming, brutally awake, my parents once again startled out of their sleep and racing into my room.
I have nightmares about spiders. Nearly weekly from the age of 7, when I was trapped in a Girl Scout summer camp latrine for thirty minutes by a huge black spider sitting right above the wooden door handle, and all throughout elementary school, I have had some variation of this nightmare. And nearly always waking my parents with a blood curdling scream. I still have these dreams now and then. They tend to be a lot more mild, more waking with a shocked breath than a horror movie scream, but when I'm stressed or when we've had large spiders in our house, it seems those spiders creep their way back into my head. They creep up the side of my nightstand. They linger in my shoes or hide under my pillows. They hover on the ceiling over my sleeping head, waiting to drop on my hair.
I have an irrational fear of spiders. Logic tells me they are usually small, usually harmless and usually more afraid of me than I am of them. But they terrify me. They touch some small primitive button in my head that hits me with an immediate shot of adrenaline sending me either tearing out of the room at top speed or frozen barefoot with my arms filled with laundry staring at the spider blocking my path up from the basement. I loathe them and am alternately intrigued by them, because I can't think of any other living creatures that instills that kind of passionate and insane response from me. I cringe from photos of spiders, commercials and nature documentaries make me cover my eyes, even that enormous spider sculpture we saw yesterday kept me standing a good 10 feet away from it. It's stupid, it's childish and it's pretty permanent.
I'm better than I used to be. I've actually watched Archanaphobia all the way through instead of fleeing the theater within the first five minutes like I did when my mom tried to get me to see it in high school. I can kill small to midsize spiders with no qualms, and I even shared a house one summer in college with a roommate who had a pet tarantula with some misleadingly friendly name like George. I made her promise to never get him out of his cage when I was home. I remember coming home early one morning after working an overnight security shift at the residence halls, unlocking the back door and hearing my three roommates yell out at me, "Stay there, don't come in here!" and I knew immediately that George was out. Thankfully that was a short summer.
I think this fear, this nightmare, this small sense of terror at the sight of all spiders is just a part of me at this point. It's a familiar and controllable fear. I can run. I can kill them, or I can call Joe to come and kill them. Please don't try to change my mind. You can't. They must be killed if they make it into my house. None of this covering them with a bowl and letting them loose outside. But I prefer having nightmares about spiders. It's an easier tangible fear compared to those nightmares of losing my health, or losing my loved ones, or dying alone or being unloved. Spiders are manageable, terrifying but manageable. All it takes is one big, carefully aimed shoe.