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? 

Break your broken bones

I don’t like talking about the accident.

I’m totally comfortable explaining the changes my scar tissue goes through naturally; Scar tissue constantly adjusts itself, a perpetually healing organ that grows and shrinks as necessary. I don’t know how to stitch somebody up or do CPR, but I do have in-depth knowledge about what to do if someone gets a third degree burn that I could go over, in explicit detail, for hours.

I have a mantra in my head, a canned speech for whenever anybody asks me what happened to my arm, so conversations usually go something like this:

“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened to your arm?”

“Well, last July, I was hit by a car and dragged for a block.”

“Oh my gosh I’m so sorry! What an awful thing to have to go through. And during the pandemic!”

Then we talk about the pandemic, or piercings, or the weather. Sometimes I’ll share a little more: “I also had road rash covering my entire back, severe liver lacerations, a concussion, a swollen knee and large wound on my shin, but those all finished healing around October.” “I continue to put sunscreen on my arm regularly, otherwise I could permanently mess up the coloration and texture of the scar tissue.” “After the burn healed it itched really really bad, but it doesn’t itch as much anymore.” “I don’t use my skin sleeve as much as I used to. It’s mostly to prevent the scar tissue from getting really thick in some areas and thin in others.”

If we get to this point in the conversation I usually try to make some cheesy joke, something like: “I affectionately like to call this the most painful and expensive tattoo I’ve ever gotten”, to gently push the topic of conversation away before curiosity turns into prying.

It’s not that I mind people asking about my arm; It feels like a recognition that all of our bodies aren’t the same and haven’t had to go through the same experiences in life. But I try to change the subject quickly because the questions people ask can lead to doors that I don’t want to open again.

It took seven months: four major and three minor infections, a skin graft, six days in ICU, various trips to the ER (when things got really bad), and an innumerable amount of trips to the regular hospital before my arm healed.

During this time, my doctor/plastic surgeon knew more about my personal life than almost any of my friends did. I hid away, only coming out to see people when I felt as good as I possibly could. Like most people, I hated seeing my loved ones watch me suffer. But this caused a rift in my reality; At college, I would laugh and joke, I would interview people for my jobs and spend nights watching movies with my friends. But at home with my grandmother, I would sob hysterically, the pain breaking me down month after month into my most vulnerable form. Even now, when I’m consciously sitting down to write a story about this, it’s becoming harder and harder to write, like my brain is covered in molasses.

Which is why on the year anniversary of the accident (July 15, 2021), I decided to make a trip to Salem, MA, with one of my friends. To clear my head that seemed to be filled with molasses-coated memories.

I had never been to Salem, and was surprised at how comforting it felt being there. My friend joked about the “mystical energy” there, because she said Salem draws out the energy of people who have magic in them.

I don’t know what I actually believe spiritually, but I do know that coming to Salem did feel right. And walking around the small town, full of old buildings turned into various monster museums, tattoo parlors, and knickknack shops, I was able to successfully distract myself from the painful memories of last year.

However, one thing I knew I wanted to do in Salem was get a tarot reading. To ask about healing.

I’ve never used tarot before, and I felt nervous walking into the small curtained back section of a small witch shop. But I felt a deep calm settling into my body as I took a seat across from a big blonde psychic. I am safe here.

They began by asking me what I wanted to focus on. I said, “Healing.” I paused, then added, “but not really physical healing anymore. More emotional healing.” The psychic nodded, and then gestured to my arm and said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened here?”

Canned answer, usual response.

Then they began the reading, explaining that they read tarot more intuitively, letting the spirits guide them more than the cards literal meaning. But of course, one of the first cards turned over was the Tower—16th card of the Major Arcana, basically symbolizing the moment when everything in your life falls apart. It’s something happening completely out of your control but usually results from a continual unwillingness to change something necessary in your life.

They laughed, almost incredulously. “Wow. This hurt you. This hurt you really bad.” These simple words, just an acknowledgment that this was a difficult journey, nearly brought me to tears. But I held back and nodded.

“This changed you in many ways.” Flip, flip, flip. Pause. “But, this horrible, terrible event… It flipped a switch in you, did it not?”

I sat back, a little flabbergasted. I had never thought of it like that. “Yeah, I suppose it did,” I said.

Flip, flip.

“Every time something bad happened in your life before this, you continued on like nothing happened. You hadn’t let yourself heal properly.”

“Wow… yeah, you hit the nail on the head,” I said.

“You know how if you break a bone and it hasn’t been set right it won’t heal properly, so doctors have to break it again in order to reset it? That’s what happened to you.”

They flipped over the final cards and sat looking at the spread. We chatted a little bit longer, I told them some more details of my experience, and then they ended the reading by saying, “You’ve grown so much since this tragedy happened to you. But you need to continue to allow yourself to feel the emotions you’ve been hiding away. Don’t let yourself push past the things that have hurt you. You’ve already done the hardest part. It may seem like you’re taking two steps back sometimes, but don’t lose hope. You’re heading in the right direction.”

I thanked them for their time, walked out of the tarot reading, and started wandering between the gravestones on the other side of the street. I could have been one of those gravestones.

I didn’t think about what the tarot reader said much in the moment, but afterward, I mulled it over for a long time. I thought about the accident. I thought about the pain. And I thought about how I’d changed over the last year. Mentally, I did feel stronger. I do feel stronger. I am much better at communicating with the people I love, putting up boundaries, and knowing when to give myself a break. But, most importantly, somewhere inside all of that pain and suffering, I began to learn self-love too. Something I hadn’t known for so many years.