As a boy, I lived with my two brothers in my parent’s basement. Dad had the old man who lived next door put up some walls to divide up some of the space. No ceiling, just open rafters and cement floor. It was full of spiders.
They were everywhere. Of course, mostly you’d see them at night but practically anything left undisturbed for a day or so might hide one. Touch something in the basement and one would scurry off madly. Any corner with a bit of dust in it and chances there was also a cobwebbed hideout holding one of these predators.
I had difficulty sleeping from a young age and often stayed up reading. Out they’d come in the night. It got so I would stare at the page of a book and suddenly get a “sense,” a Spidey-sense call it, where I somehow knew there was one nearby. Like the feeling you get sometimes when someone is staring at you. You look around and, sure enough, some dolt is fixated upon you with bulging eyes as if they’d been at it for some time. It was like that, a little unsettling. A human you can stare back, with a spider, it’s just… a little spooky.
Whenever it came to me in the night, I could lift my eyes from the pages in front of me and in the dim light, see a spider somewhere near, hanging down from its thread of silk, ready to explore my bed. Sometimes it was inches from my head. Right there.
Or, I’d look at one of the walls and let my eyes linger, searching the wood chips in the press board, until I found the crawler which had summoned my attention, hiding there somewhere, in play sight.
Years later, I thought I’d put this all behind me. I was long gone from the basement with its eight-legged denizens and had lived in many places since.
Now, as a married man, for some reason it returned. Missus had been her family’s eldest, coming as she did from a Northern Ontario mix of French and English parents. She was… outdoorsy, and pretty much fearless.
I’m not sure how it happened first. I suspect she encountered a spider and I demurred somehow. Perhaps, I only hesitated. It’s my conjectured recollection she may have seized the moment to act. She was competitive that way. Perhaps, I’d already told her of the basement. I don’t remember.
I’m sure I did later or at some point. Likely, I had at a time we were both high, the drugs or booze fueling a prattling on about ancient nonsense. The eeriness of those spider encounters late at night while under the influence of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Bradbury, Herbert and others would have been hard to resist retelling.
My father had gone through a sci-fi stage in the later 1960s and early 1970s. He read a couple hundred of these paperbacks and they were left around for his nine children. It was a time when our family had a bookcase in every room, even the kitchen. I read them all, not exactly an antidote to sleeplessness, but still.
It was much later, after going in during 1981 and spending all 1982 inside, and when I’d been transferred from the penitentiary to the farm camp next door, that dad came by for a visit. He brought his whole sci-fi collection and donated them to the meager library there. It was pure escapism, something the guys were thanking me for to the end of my bit.
So, however it happened, my missus at the time took over spider duty, and looking back, she seemed to relish this power over me. Blinded by self-importance, overlooking my own shortcomings, what at first was an acknowledgement of her courage at breaking stereotypes, well-intentioned but misguided idealism, experimenting with role reversal after the social movements of the 1970s, it soon became an emasculating indulgence of male weakness.
See, I let her kill the spiders. Then, and going forward. All of them.
I could have killed spiders. I knew how. I’d killed many of them, maybe hundreds in my time. But I let her persuade me with false concern. It was, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” and up she’d jump with her winning smile to take care of the critter before I could give it another thought. It seemed harmless.
And, to me it was just a fucking spider, for fuck’s sake. “Look, if you want to kill the spider have at it,” I thought, slightly amused even. But it meant something else to her. And, the more she was willing to kill spiders, the more I was willing to placate her. I felt obligated to be grateful. I played along. She was doing something for me it seems, and so I should be thankful. I was still essentially a polite Canadian boy.
It was part of my nice-guy syndrome. In those days, I championed people around me but with a covert contract in mind: when I tell you are great, hopefully you will do the same for me. I’ll feel liked, even loved for it. Nothing for nothing. I faked my appreciation, as if it mattered, for her sake I told myself.
I didn’t have the self-worth to stand my ground. I sensed the con but stuffed it. What was I thinking? The tune goes, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” Hindsight.
For men are not loved for not killing spiders. This was a gambit that was ass-backwards. I’d fallen into a trap. I’d been given just enough rope with which to hang myself. I’d been led down the garden path. Like Tony the Waiter said, “Anyone can be walked, Chris, it’s just a matter of approach.” I was being walked. I was walking myself.
I’d been closed using my own words. For now, she had a weakness she could point to. She could use it as a token, a gambling chit, for leverage. She had constructed an Ace gaff for the Ace lock to my status. She could turn her counterfeit key and empty me at will, like the coin box on a pay washing machine.
But what did I know at 25 or 30? Not much. I was too busy making sure I wasn’t killed that week, less worried about my image in front of her. I had not yet learned that women cannot abide a weak man, no more than a man can abide a disloyal woman. I needed pain to learn the universal pact between these energies. And, suffer I would.
For a woman can sense weakness in a man from afar. Using all the powers of her practicality, verbal skills, double-hemispheric thinking, and acute intuition, she can sniff it out like a cadaver dog looking for a body. Abuse of empathy is her birthright.
She maneuvers covertly, gathering intelligence, watching and recording patterns, divulging only as much as needed to serve her pragmatism. Glad-handing, she can draw out her mark like a carney running a midway joint. She can run close interpersonal game as well as a politician can game the public.
And when she confirms weakness, she will sometimes tell you. You have heard me say this kind of woman is exceedingly rare, a unicorn in fact. It’s far more likely she will either rub salt in the wounds of your weakness or hold you in silent contempt.
General truth: Women don’t fuck men who don’t kill spiders for them.
In fact, it gets much worse. Killing spiders is a minor but fair representation of a man’s usefulness to a woman. Part of his power, but also of his expendability. Killing a Black Widow or Brown Recluse is not her risk to take. It’s ours, us men, because better we than she.
Give me a hundred years of feminism, and that fact won’t change. Not now, not likely ever. Why would it? Self-interest is paramount.
No one should lament this lopsided arrangement. It is just how things are. She is more precious as the carrier of life. Who am I to question these forces? What hubris do I require to tell the universe it is wrong?
If you were going to bet, should you take odds based on a social movement embraced by a tiny minority for at most a century, more like a few decades? Or, should you go long on your investment based on Mother Nature herself?
I take nature. I wager on the force which says there are a hundred million stars in the Andromeda Galaxy and shut my mouth. You know what else? We lack awe. All of us. It took a long time to get things working as well as they do, why fuck with it? It took forever to train men to be married men, let’s not go off the rails now. We need to see ourselves as smaller in the grander scheme of things. Awe, more awe.
My first marriage didn’t last. Big picture says that’s predictable, but you never know. Having trouble at home? Who kills the spiders?
My current missus is afraid of spiders. That is, her sister is afraid of spiders and the more she visits over the last 13 years, the more missus has become an arachnophobe. That’s fine with me.
I just don’t want the fear of spiders transferred to my children. So, I teach them about spiders, about all kinds of bugs. Practically every jar or plastic dish in my house has been co-opted as bug carrier. The kids are both fine, they think bugs are cute. Daughter calls them pets. Poor kids, I should get them a dog.
And, when that familiar shriek sounds out at home, I know what’s up. I like being relied upon and I don’t fail her. I have a Pseudo-Scorpion living in my bathroom behind the mirror who preys upon the drain flies which peak in numbers in the summer. It’s too cool to kill.
Other times, I’ve acted more drastically, especially when the cold of fall sends scurrying critters indoors for shelter. Strolling over leisurely to capture her spider, I have looked at her and crushed it in my bare fist. Then walked away to wash my hand off, ignoring her reaction.
Me and the missus? All I can tell you is things are good at my house. Good indeed.
© Christopher K Wallace, Jan, 2019 all rights reserved
On sensing spiders: When I lived in a trailer house, I noticed a similar sense. Once I walked into the bathroom and had this horrible feeling of something behind me. I turned around, and there was a spider on the wall, behind the door which I couldn’t have seen when walking in. Another time, I suddenly had a sense of something and looked at a picture on the wall. The second after this, one of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen crawled out from behind it.
The funny thing is, my roommate and other people I’ve talked to have also reported this. Perhaps the fear of spiders and snakes evolved alongside a sense for when these creatures are about. I can’t explain it; and it can’t always be noticing patterns in our periphery.
I don’t have much to say on the rest of the article besides this: The human sexes just aren’t that easy to fit into neat little types. What you’ve written about may describe a particular type of woman, or even a general trend of women from a certain era and their expectations, but by no means are your insights universal or even national.
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Randal, thank you for your comment. I agree it’s an eerie feeling to sense a spider and then confirm one feet or inches away. I’m not sure which exact evolutionary mechanism unfolds in these instances, but given I live in a colder climate I suspect they have a long history of biting people and causing pain elsewhere. And they’re pretty creepy looking in a weirdly powerful but beautiful way.
Of course, the essay is a metaphor for marriage, and not an absolute rule covering every single situation. It’s not neat little types but broad biologically based binary groupings. But generally, the world over, women don’t like weak men. They can’t. And, they won’t fuck them–not willingly or with any passion. Since you appear to not be a woman, I wonder if you’re speaking out of turn for women out there who have to deal with weak men in their lives. However, if you can appear weak before a woman and still get laid, I’d love to hear how you do it.