A few days ago as I was teaching class, one of the students in the front row began to look a tad agitated. Once I paid closer attention, I noticed she was fixated on the spider that was crawling in front of her feet. I casually said to the teacher "Look at that big spider!" This got the attention of everyone in the classroom, obviously.
The homeroom teacher came over, laughed at how puny the spider was and guided it out of the classroom. About forty minutes later when class ended, I finally let out the shiver and disgust that I had been holding back all class.
When I was in the second grade I had picked out a Berenstain Bears activity book out of one of those Book Ordering Programs that they had every month. It must have been a hugely popular item, or they screwed up my order, or something, but when the books for my class came in, mine was not there. There was an apology, and a promise of the book being sent out and also that I would be given another book - for free! Oh what glorious days, a free book. A free book all about spiders.
I do not remember when I started having a ""fear"" of spiders but if I had to guess, opening that book to find a giant, double page spread of a hairy, yellow and extremely long legged spider staring back at me was not something ""cool"" that a boy like me was excited about and instead either the start or a big piece of the fuel into the fear I have today.
I left that book in my desk for months, if not the rest of the school year. I am not sure what happened to it. I doubt I had the thought as a child to just throw it away - books are not something you just toss out! However, it was utter hell knowing that book was in my desk and that I would have to confront it at some point. I do not believe I ever told anyone about it. I do not know why.
The spider that crawled across the floor was maybe the size of a dollar pancake. It still reminded me of that giant, yellow spider and its long legs. I still felt a tightening of my chest and a genuine fear. I hate feeling that way.
I do not blame the people who gave me the free book, they thought they were being nice. I do wonder if my gender had anything to do with me getting a spider book instead of, say, one about horses. I watch as my son chooses books about cars and trucks, with no prompting from the sides by either me or my wife, and realize that this whole conversation is so much deeper than I have any useful knowledge about. I doubt anyone thought that giving me that book would have repercussions twenty three years later.
I do know that I hope my son will come to me if he ever faces situations of fear like I did. Why I did not go to my own parents I do not know. They would have been more than welcoming — they always have been and they still are. Was it some belief that I was supposed to be strong? That I was suppose to just get over it? I think about it every so often and I still do not know the answer.