The story doesn’t end with the text message, of course.
The spider, which was apparently crawling around on the ceiling of the car just over my head for the first 30 minutes of my commute, chose a random moment in the middle of my Grapes of Wrath book on tape to descend smoothly and sharply into view. I stared in disbelief for a moment, shocked that I was seeing what I was actually seeing: a black and white, tarantula-style spider. (See footnote 1 below)
Before I lose all credibility and you start thinking I’m a melodramatic, over-exaggerating fool, let me just say that even to my panicked, distorted vision, I never really thought it was a tarantula. Of course it wasn’t even close—it was much too small—what I meant is that it was fuzzy just like a tarantula.
To give myself even more credibility: I will acknowledge that when the event first happened, I thought the spider was much larger than he turned out to be. Although, to be clear, he was no small fry.
Ominous and sinister, the spider dangled and did a macabre dance while the Grapes of Wrath continued unaffected. His legs fingered the air like he was a witch working over a cauldron, summoning up a spell. Its contorted, possessed body expanded and swelled right in front of my eyes. In my memory of the moment, the spider (including legs) was the size of a 50-cent piece. He turned out to be the size of a nickel, but we’re not trying to make any money here.
That’s when I started to scream. It surprised even myself because I’m not a squeamish, girly-girl type. Whenever I hear the scary movie scream, I wonder how they do it. I can't imagine having that kind of volume, and I had certainly never screamed like that before in my life. Normally when I'm surprised by a bug I would let out a yelp of startlement.
Turns out all I needed was some motivation because the screams went on and on and on, actually raised in pitch until I sounded just like the horror movie bimbo who should be running out the front door but runs up the stairs instead. The miniscule fraction of my brain that wasn't scared to death actually marveled at my newfound screaming ability, and wondered at the complete lack of control. I could not stop.
My only question is: what are you supposed to do when you have a supernatural spider in your car? Or any kind of spider, I suppose. What kind of survival advice would 20/20 or 60 Minutes give for this situation? I'm sure their advice wouldn't include having a meltdown like I did, but still. There are programs about what to do if you’re caught in your car in a blizzard, if you're kidnapped and stuffed into a trunk . . . but what should you do about a spell-casting tarantula less than 12 inches from your face?
Conveniently, instinct took over. Inconveniently, instinct did not forecast out the results of my actions.
Still screaming, I swiped at the spider with my arm—apparently having enough sanity left to scrunch my arm up into the sleeve of my coat so the spider wouldn’t touch my bare skin—but then I couldn’t find it.
73 miles per hour down the freeway with a demonic spider crawling evilly somewhere within the confines of my car or on my person. An exit beckoned ahead and I debated for maybe a millisecond whether it mattered if I was late to work.
I was pulling over on the wide shoulder of the off ramp when my screaming stopped and the Blair Witch caliber, raspy breathing started.
Where is it?!
Huge lungfuls of air did nothing for me though I gulped and gulped and gulped. My heart was racing while I tried to calm down and look for the intruder at the same time. Incidentally I noticed that we are well over-due for vacuuming out our car.
Did I kill it?!
Am I looking for a dead body or a moving, silent figure? Was it big enough that I’d hear it skitter across the temporary paper floor mats in our car? (See footnote 2 below) Is it making its way up the seat, the car door, the center console, the dashboard? A relentless, hairy demon trailing a sticky shining ribbon. I dashed my hand across my face and felt the web clinging to my skin.
Did I imagine it?!
That could not be possible. I insisted that to myself firmly, still with shoulders heaving and twitching. I absolutely did not imagine screaming—my throat was already feeling raw. But the sun was glinting behind me and reflecting off various surfaces in the car—was the spider an optical illusion? The over-production of adrenaline continued, but now I was feeling stupid too.
Barely holding it together, and unwilling to get out of the car due to being on the shoulder of the road, I decided the best thing to do was just pull it together and get to work. It’s just a spider, I’m a grown up, and I can’t take up residence in the grass on the side of the off ramp. I seriously considered calling my husband, but dismissed it reluctantly because what on earth would he do? I didn’t know if I was more afraid that he’d laugh at me, or that he'd be just as appalled (or even more appalled) than I was. It's only cool to share horrific moments when you've passed them, not while you're still living through them.
What I really wanted was to throw bravery out the window, get out of the car, and never get back in again.
I put it in gear and drove on.
The 15 minutes remaining of my commute was hellish. I felt like a thousand spiders were all over me. Was it on the rest behind my head? Were its prickly, sticky legs tiptoeing up my pantleg? Was it in my hair? On my coat? Back up on the ceiling somehow?
Due to a time warp, it took an hour to get the rest of the way into work. When I finally careened crookedly into a parking space I was panting and terrified, but relief began to knock on my door.
I still had to find the blasted wretch.
I leaped joyously out of my car and shook out my clothes and sanity. I gave an extra shake just to be sure, then took a deep breath and peered into the car.
It was sitting on the center console.
It did not matter that I was glad that I found it. "Glad." Right.
My heart stopped when I looked at its beastly face. It was ugly and had beady eyes and chest hair. It was looking right at me and all scrunched up from the gust of cold morning air coming from the open car door. It seemed to have a dialogue box over its head that read, “I dare you.”
I didn’t think. I took off my shoe and walloped it. The wily bastard was in the nook of the console but I thought my ferocity and frustration might get it anyway.
He jumped backward into a deeper contour of the console and then came back out to mock me. Thus ensued several smashing sessions each followed by increasingly louder grunts of thwarted anger. Were the growls coming from me or the spider?
At last the devious demon got cocky and didn't jump out of the way quick enough. Dead! But he still got the last word because his flattened, juicy body bounced up from the force of the blow and somehow missed the wide open window to hell and fell down the crack between my cup holder and the console instead.
The cup holder in our car has one of those lids that tuck away into a little cubby for convenience, and of course that tiny little space was where the squashed spider ended up. To make matters worse, I couldn't just take off the lid to make the cubby accessible for the removal of the spider's remains. I discovered that while fussing with the lid; every time I closed it the lid would come up out of its cubby and push the corpse along until the body was pinched against the roof of the little nook where it was caught.
One leg poked out to cast obscene spells at the world while I contemplated this new dilemma. It was like an arm of the damned reaching out of a grave; I couldn’t leave it like that while I casually went in to work.
Luckily a coworker had arrived at the same time as me and I flagged him down while he was walking through the parking lot. Stifling a laugh at my dramatics, for of course he had no idea of the hocus-pocus going on in my car, he brought me a paper towel that he had in his car. Somehow I managed to get the carcass out of the crack.
I stomped him another one, just for good measure.
1) I did a Google Image search for "black and white jumping spiders" and lo and behold, there are LOTS of pictures of my nasty car companion. Check out the Wikipedia article and picture. Per Wikipedia, the spiders are easily identified "by their relatively large size . . . " Food for thought to anyone harboring any thoughts of the "she's a wimp" variety.
2) Yup, we have a Toyota. Yup, our floor mats were recalled. I only wanted to point it out because by the virtue of the fact that the mats in our car at this moment are PAPER, it's actually feasible that a large bug would make an audible sound when running across.