At the grocery store today, over by the meat case, I stood looking at the bounty of seafood on sale. My eyes ran along the selection as I considered the possibilities for our evening meal.
The shrimp were all there, pink and fresh and posing in a frozen curl on their sheet of ice. White fish fillets and red lobster tails lay in perfect rows under the glass but the overhead lights directed my attention to the largest display in the case. Alaskan Crab Legs, the little tag in the window announced along with a price that was too expensive for my wallet. I felt my stomach growl just a little and my mouth began to water. As I stared down at those severed legs, I imagined the crack they would make and the flesh they would release. I could almost taste the red and white meat; feel the swirl of butter on my tongue as the flavors melted together. A splash of lemon juice, perhaps and then…
Someone cleared their throat.
Looking up, I saw the woman behind the counter fold her arms and raise an eyebrow. “Can I help you?” she asked.
Quickly, I licked my lips and shook my head. “No, I’m just looking,” I told her with an apologetic smile. She didn’t smile back; she just rolled her eyes and returned to the prep table behind the counter.
I turned toward the meat case, re-considering chicken for dinner, when my daughter, Madison called out to me from the bakery department.
“Dad,” she said, “You have a spider on you!”
“What?” I said, feeling my body come to a screeching halt in the middle of cold meat section. As those words burrowed into my ears, my muscles tightened and refused to move. A shiver zipped through the surface of my skin, goose bumps sprang up on my arms and my heart squeezed as tight as a fist inside my chest. Without moving my head, I jerked my eyes back and forth, looking wildly for any signs of movement. If Madison could see it from the bakery section, that spider must be huge.
So, there I was, standing stock-still in the middle of my neighborhood grocery store as the rest of the shoppers carried on with their business. Oblivious to my terror, they walked around me pushing their carts and carrying their little black hand-baskets full of food. In my frozen state, I watched them grab packets of raw hamburger and inspect the green zucchini without even a second glance in my direction. No one knew that somewhere, something awful was crawling on me. Even the gloved lady behind the counter, looking once more in my direction, acted as if nothing was wrong. Her eyes gave me a once over before turning back toward her kingdom of seafood and all I could do was stand there helpless, wanting to beat at myself until I found the source of terror.
“Madison,” I called out, hoping the panic in my tone wasn’t noticeable. “Where is it, honey?”
My eyes searched her face as I waited for her to speak. Please God, I prayed silently, don’t let it be on my face. Please don’t let it be on my skin.
“Oh, it’s right there. See it?” she said coming around a barrel full of baguette breads, “It’s walking up your arm.”
Calm down, I told myself, trying not to think of the fangs, the eye; those long sharp legs. If I move too fast, it will jump at my face and sink its teeth right into my skin. Slowly, oh so slowly, I lifted my arm and began to turn it carefully; my wild eyes scanning from shoulder to fingers for anything that moved. But it wasn’t there on my arm. There was no spider that I could see. I looked at the floor, thinking it had dropped off.
“No dad,” Madison said. “It’s on your other arm.”
And there it was; an enormous brown spider casually walking up my coat sleeve. The fat round body approached and so calmly it came on sharp, spindly legs. Like miniature crab legs, they lifted one at a time, grasping the folds of my sleeve and moving up toward my shoulder. If I allowed it, I’m sure it would have walked right up and kissed me on the cheek.
But I didn’t allow it. I reached over slowly, carefully positioned my fingers and with one quick movement, I flicked it. The spider took flight. It flew swiftly through the air over an island of pastries, past Madison and onto the tiled floor. Far enough away that I didn’t hear it crunch under my daughter’s tennis shoe.
Now, the funny thing is that even though it was dead and the evidence was on the floor, I still felt that spider on me. As I continued to shop, I was extremely aware. My sense of touch was heightened until the slightest breath of air made my skin crawl.
Every few moments, I checked myself. Lifting my arms, wiping my face, glancing over my shoulders, I tried to convince myself that I was free of spiders. But the memory clung to me like those sharp, moving legs had done. I wondered how long I had been carrying that creepy passenger with me. Had it been there through the previous stores and in the car? Was that moving nightmare inside my coat when I first put it on? I shivered at the thought as I paid for my chicken and left the store.
You know, explaining this to you now seems so dumb. How could I have been afraid of such a little bug? What kind of fear made me stand as still as a statue in the middle of the local grocery store? I mean, it’s not like I’m a stranger to carrying monsters around with me, right? Don’t I carry the stress of work on my shoulders every day and the weight of regret on my back all evening long? Those things are just as scary as spiders. Even worse; they keep me up half the night wondering if they are still there, tied to me with silken webs, invisible evidence of the terror I can’t let go.
I only wish I could flick off the feelings of stress and regret, smash them under my shoe like that poor little spider and go on with my life. I only wish it were that simple.
Brandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2015 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.