I understand in a purely rational and logical sense that many of the spiders I see making nests in my forgotten spaces aren’t poisonous; their bites simply zit on my exposed arm or neck, then disappear after a few days of irritation.
But when I’m reading or sleeping or watching youtube videos, and their jagged bodies crawl like shards of glass across my relaxed consciousness, adrenaline cuts through my sense of safety and I spend the rest of the night on high alert. Like any movement I make might allow the glass to pierce fragile skin, regardless of whether I decided to kill the spider or show it mercy.
And when they do bite, they leave the humbling red welt reminder that I can never be too careful.
I’m not afraid of spiders, anymore. I used to be terrified of them growing up.
For a few years, my family lived in this house with a huge backyard we called the Glen house (named after the street it was on). It was our family’s second house since taking the big leap from South Dakota to Montana. Before I began to form my own identity and before my sense of “home” kept flipping on its head.
I loved it at the Glen house. We had a deep red wooden barn in the backyard—the kind that would immediately pop into your head when you think of an “old farm barn in Montana”—, a garden that blossomed with corn and strawberries and other fruits and vegetables that the deer would jump over the fence and steal, and a few apple and plum trees spread throughout the property. I spent endless hours playing outdoors with my brothers and our dogs over those formative years, exploring edge to edge of the first place I really felt at home.
This being said, the Glen house had an overwhelming spider problem. My brothers leaned into this, collecting wolf and black widow spiders in jars filled with sticks and leaves that lined on the walls of our garage. I, on the other hand, would painstakingly try to poke out each corner I feared a spider might try and claim my small, brief life form.
I now look at the Glen house and its nefarious spider problem as a premonition of the years to come.
In total, by the time I was a junior in high school, we had moved at least 12 times that I can count. As we moved from place to place, we continued to nickname our houses after the streets or areas they were at in the city— “The Bancroft house”, “The Big Flat house”, “The house across the railroad tracks”, “The house behind the Gyro Shop”. And as we continued to change and shift houses, it seemed like spiders seemed to follow my dad wherever he moved.
He was an absentee father for the vast majority of my childhood. I didn’t know that at the time; I fully cherished each moment I had with him because I didn’t understand why he was gone so much, I only understood that I had little time with him.
Because I cherished each moment, I would bend over backward to try and please him each time I could. Still no matter what I did, no matter what anyone did, it was only a matter of time before he would snare one of us in his web and bite.
Disentangling yourself from his web after you were a victim of his emotional and verbal abuse felt confusing and disorienting. I have numerous memories where I would come to him hurting and would leave him feeling inexplicably guilty. I didn’t understand that he was manipulating me, I had never heard the term “gaslight” or “love bomb” before. I only knew, in some loose abstract sense, that living with my dad was like living with spiders.
So that’s why reflecting on everything that I know and everything that I remember about my dad, I think the best way to describe our relationship is to think about the spiders that kept claiming each of our houses.
For the summer of 2014, my brothers and I lived in Sturgis, SD, with my dad. There we worked full-time hours at the Indian motorcycle shop he ran, and it was my first taste of the 9-5 grind. I was an anxious and insecure kid, and being forced to spend all day selling merchandise forced me to come out of my shell quickly.
Every single day that we weren’t working, my dad wasn’t home. I lived in the basement, and each night as I tried to fall asleep I’d count the spiders that slipped between the ceiling tiles and lived in the corner of my bedroom that I was too scared to clean out.
The times when I felt most isolated and most trapped within his space, were the times that it most seemed like I was caught in a spider web. And I felt entangled in that house: because I didn’t have a car I couldn’t leave, Sturgis had beyond nothing to do in the summer besides the “world’s largest motorcycle rally” held every August, and I didn’t know anybody. My brothers have always had an easier time making friends than me and it seemed like they were able to spend time with random people as if they had always belonged. Which was great for them but it meant I was stuck, for hours or days at a time, alone with my comic books, kindle, and the dozens of spiders that infested the basement.
The unknown was what scared me the most. If I could see the spiders I could catch or kill them. But more often than not they took me by surprise, crawling over my kindle in sharp shadows as I watched episodes of Doctor Who, or tickling my toes as I brushed my teeth in the bathroom.
The general unease, always wondering where they could be hiding or when they would decide to show up. When they might bite. That’s what being around my dad felt like. I never knew when he would do something genuinely good, or when he would snap over seemingly nothing and mentally abuse one or more of his kids. And sometimes he would do something genuinely good, but then turn around and use that as a weapon against us.
My dad builds beautiful webs, that’s something I can confidently say about him. He’s insanely intelligent and charismatic and can sell anything to anybody. Which is why he worked as a successful businessman for so many years; he could sell the dream of what would be better than anybody I’ve ever met. But those promises of what would be never were fulfilled. I wanted to believe that anything he said would come to fruition, but time after time after time he let me down. I learned to never trust anything he said.
I spent half of my childhood at my dad’s houses, and I can never think of a time when I was fully relaxed. Where being in his space felt like being home. I stopped being afraid of spiders after that first summer in Sturgis, accepting their coexistence with a numb defeat. But every time I go to visit his house I still stay on high alert. Where will my dad attack from this time? How much will it hurt? How will I ever be able to have power in a space where I always feel like prey?