I Meet my First Tarantella by Vea Anna Hooker
My husband grew up in New Zealand, moving to the states when he was eighteen and living in California for twelve years. I was raised in the Midwest, and only moved to California after marrying. My husband and I moved to Texas late in the year of 1992. Since Texas was the fifth state I made my home, I was unprepared for the culture shock I experienced.
When they speak of things being bigger in Texas, I didn’t realize they meant the creepy crawly things that bite and sting. Now, I have to interject a thought here. Most things in West Texas bite, sting, prick, cling or in one way or another, hurt you. Even the dry, thirsty earth blows into your eyes and other crevices, driven by the explosive wind.
I must also let you know of my unreasonable fear of spiders. Without knowing that, the following story lacks its edge. When I was an adorable toddler of two-ish to three, I was discovered at the gate from next door, shrieking “A pider, Mommy, a pider!”, my hand tightly clutching a mangled caterpillar I had been bringing to show my Mommy. The best she could tell, I had started to open the gate and been scared by a spider jumping at me.
Fast forward, thirty years, we had been living in Fort Stockton for a few months. We were in the midst of remodeling some small cottages on our property. I had been to our truck after a hammer and was on my way back to the cottage when a hideous black shape attracted my attention. The blob was bigger than my hand with eight legs and eight scary eyes that never wavered from my face. I stopped in my tracks and could feel the blood drain from my face. I looked at the tarantula. The taran- tula looked at me. I swallowed, convulsively.
I closed my eyes, but only for a split second. My gaze snapped back to the immense spider, making sure it hadn’t gotten any closer. In a panic, I glanced carefully around, attempting to find a defensive weapon. I remembered the hammer in my hand and looked from it to the spider and back again.
Now, anyone who has been in the grip of intense fear will tell you, time slows down. In my mind, I saw myself swing the hammer toward the terrifying creature. I also saw the enormous spider take it from my hand and hit me with it, right before biting me with its enormous fangs. I shook my head and gazed at the monster in terror.
In desperation, I looked for something that might save me. My mind ran calculations at the speed of light – I felt like a super computer, analyzing and discarding potential solutions for my life-threatening situation.
Finally, I narrowed my options to a cement paver sitting on the tailgate of our old work truck. Carefully, without taking my eyes from the menacing arachnid, I laid my hammer down, replacing it with the paver. I held it at chest level, using both hands. I was still gazing into the depths of the soulless creepy crawly’s eyes as I moved the paver cautiously until it was over the still body of my worst nightmare. I drew a shallow breath and narrowed my eyes, steeling my nerve. As I let that breath out, I dropped my weapon, prepared to run if I missed or the tarantula jumped.
Since I saw no evidence of an escape, I jumped onto the cement square with both feet and bounced up and down for what seemed a very long time. Finally, I stepped off and gingerly touched one corner of the paver. With my courage screwed as tightly as possible, I flipped the block over quickly.
A still scary black blob lay there, legs curled into itself. I sank to the ground, nearly sobbing in relief. The spiders were plentiful that spring.
~ Vea Anna’s story will appear in the Best of Critique Café/Texas Edition coming March 2019