Spiders by Diana Khoi Nguyen

I'm in the midst of many changes, and am embracing them. New decade, new life. Soon to be new city, new school, new job.

It feels oddly peaceful to know more fully who I am and what I desire. I'm optimistic about what the future will yield.

This summer is being spent in various parts of California (mostly south and sometimes, north). It feels strange to be living in my childhood home, in my old bedroom. Each morning I walk the pup across the street to my elementary school, and we play fetch on the blacktop, various lawns. How small this school is now, as I stroll down the corridors, my fingers brushing the brickwork, murals, as I peer into the cafeteria, classroom gardens.

It is a summer of spiders. There are no metaphors for cobwebs or attics, and the only skeleton I'm interested in, is one of cuttlebone.

The orb weavers are everywhere.

One morning, right before the gate to the kindergarten classrooms, the pup and I watched as a bee was caught in a slender skein of silk, the spider feasting on its prey from each angle, the two of them in full-bodied dance, suspended, mid-air, halfway to the sky, or just descended from a place I haven't yet been.

Last night, we played fetch in the low orange hue of two lamps--and as I approached B, who was resting on the grass, I saw a large orb web in full spread, hung above from the tree, and below from a blade of grass. There was no prey, save the lamp light at the center of the web, and the large arachnid climbing around and around, up and down--I stood watching for a while, as the windy evening blew against both of us, the web waving like a sheet on which the aubade of another world is written.

In a more horrifying moment--two evenings ago, I approached B on the bed, and thought my hair had fallen loose from my low bun, and I brushed it back, and it brushed me back, and it fell onto my robe, its black body an ink stain I registered as otherwise. I quietly but quickly brushed it off my body and do not know where it went in the dark room. All my life I've had an intense fear of spiders, irrational and intense, yes. In first grade, we were asked one day to pick a number and I gave the number 28, which was and still is my favorite/"lucky" number. That was the number in question, and I won a book--a slim volume with minimal watercoloring on the cover. It was a book filled with myths of the spider (and its various origin stories), from tribes in Africa. Though I feared actual encounters with any spider, I loved the book (as I loved all books during these childhood years), and imagined the shame the spider character felt in its village, after its mistake, and knew all too well, a retreat to a dark corner, where we could hopefully be undisturbed.

Childhood was spent preparing for familiar natural disasters: home invasions, kidnapping. My body, my skin has always been sensitive, which makes being tickled an awful occasion, and I used to practice with my siblings--to be stoic or play "dead" even if we were being tickled. As if we could fool an intruder by overcoming our biological responses to stimuli.

My adult life finds me preparing in similar ways--trying to rationally overcome adversity, pain, or hardship. No, life is not easy, but productivity is always an option. Yes, I'm terrified of spiders, but must remain calm in the presence of one--for what if I were driving? Or holding a child? I know in most cases the spider does not wish to harm me, nor do I wish harm for it--here, then, I can control my body, overcome the fear of an age-old, evolutionary origin--to be calm, not harm, carry on.