When I was eleven years old, my family relocated to the outskirts of Durham, North Carolina for a little while while my dad taught at Duke. We home-swapped with an abortion doctor, and our temporary home was sometimes pelted with eggs. My parents asked us not to play in the rooms of the house where the windows faced the road.
I attended an elementary school straight out of an American TV show. It was all stuff I’d never seen before: the desks and chairs were those all-in-one units, all aligned in rows. There was an American flag in the classroom. The cafeteria served unrecognizable pizza, Sloppy Joes, a pulled pork concoction that resembled tuna more than anything else, and ice cream cones that had been thawed and refrozen so many times that they were chewy.
I always feel like a fish out of water, but Durham made me feel like I’d launched out of the fishbowl, hit escape velocity, and found myself in another galaxy. It was all little things, though, mostly without consequence. I refused to stand to pledge allegiance to the flag, but nobody really batted an eyelid. Everyone was really into fishing for some reason, and the first time I tried it my fishing pole ended up in a tree. Camo gear was really popular, as if everyone thought they were on some kind of battlefront. Everyone was obsessed with New Kids on the Block. And the local animals were a little more dangerous than I, coming from a place that had exactly zero venomous creatures, understood.
Generally, I think spiders are our friends; an important, benign part of our ecosystem. I’d always just picked them up and moved them if they showed up inside. Some people are irrationally afraid of them, but I’ve never been one.
So when everyone seemed terrified of a spider hanging out on a fence at school, I thought they were really silly. Which is why I walked up to the fence, lay my hand on it, and let the spider crawl on me for a while.
It was only later that I understood how dangerous a black widow spider actually is — particularly to an eleven year old. It was one of the most profoundly stupid things I ever did as a kid.
There’s no real lesson here, except perhaps to stop and listen to other people who might know more than you, even if you think you’re being silly. But I do sometimes think about what might have happened if the spider hadn’t taken kindly to me. It was one of those points where, had my luck run a little bit differently, absolutely everything could have changed.
Spider moments, let’s call them. Life is full of them. And all we can do is try to be a little less stupid and a little more prepared.