For as many years as I can remember, I have been afraid of spiders. I don’t like the ways they move, the aggressive angles of their legs, or their horrible, bulbous bodies. Don’t get me started on the rows of eyeballs or the fangs.
My family has accused me of irrational paranoia. While I will admit to the paranoia part, I don’t think it’s irrational at all, and this fall has added so much evidence to my growing belief that spiders are out to get me.
This year, they are stalking me at school.
Let me preface all this by saying that I teach in a building that is, if not pristine, pretty spiffy. It is clean, tidy, orderly, well-swept, and generally polished. I’ve never seen so much as a gum-wrapper in the floor.
That is why I was startled, to say the least, when a spider the size of a baseball came rappelling down from the ceiling during my American lit. class.
What made it worse was that we were in the middle of a discussion of the Salem witch trials.
We had just finished watching a PBS short film on the subject, complete with suspense music in a minor key and freaky camera angles. This film ends with a roll call of the dead and a black screen.
When I brought the lights up, most of the class was bug-eyed. The witch trials will do that to you.
We were talking animatedly about spectral evidence and witches’ familiars when pretty much everybody on the left-hand side of the room began screaming and scrambling to get away from something.
I looked over, and the aforementioned huge spider was dangling at head-height between two rows of seats.
The hair on the back of my neck rose, as one brave soul smote the thing, and several other people shrieked like cheerleaders and turned over desks in their haste to be somewhere the spider wasn’t.
Someone brought a boot down on it, and then did the spider dance to make sure it hadn’t run up his leg.
When the rumpus died away, we looked like a room full of Precious Moments figurines – huge eyes and as pale as Cotton Mather’s shirt collars.
One student, who had been eyeball-to-eyeballs with the thing, was still visibly shaking. “That’s the biggest spider I have ever seen,” he quavered.
The people around him nodded slowly, and then we decided it was time to call it a day. The room emptied in seven seconds, faster even than the day of the infamous Captivity Narrative Quiz.
I had barely recovered from this episode when the arachnids struck again.
This time, I was across the building in a much smaller classroom with computer workstations instead of desks or tables. These workstations are bolted to the floor, an insignificant detail that will matter a whole lot more in just a second.
I walked into class, put my books down on the table, and turned to ask everybody how their weekends went. The student nearest the door suddenly got wide-eyed.
“There’s a spider on your skirt!” she yelled. I looked down, and sure enough, a huge and horrible arachnid was perched somewhere about mid-thigh.
I am not proud of this, but instinct kicked in. In one wild swoop, I brushed it off me and onto a student who will never sit in the front of the class again.
She screamed and slapped and kicked and rolled her chair into some other students, who were also scrambling to get away.
For a moment, it was like bumper-cars in there, with me having the cold robbies at the front of the room and everyone else bouncing off the fixed tables and screaming.
A brave woman stomped it and left a smear of spider across the floor, its legs still twitching alarmingly.
The student on the receiving end of the spider-tossing had pulled her feet all the way up into her chair, which was still spinning gently.
In a long and varied educational career, I do not remember a single lecture on what to do if the spiders come for you during class.
I do know that I am going to be carrying cans of Raid and a baseball bat until further notice, and I have a feeling most of my students will be, too.