It’s one of those moments you don’t see coming, like when you notice something has fallen from the back of a truck and then there it is right in front of your car. It could be small, like a five-pound sack of potatoes or someone’s blue hat. Your mind snaps back from wherever it had wandered and grabs your arm to turn the wheel. You swerve to avoid the obstacle, look around, replay the whole thing in your head, and then try to continue on your journey as if nothing had happened. But you’ve changed direction and can’t find your way back to the path you were taking. The incident, mere seconds in duration, has seized you and won’t let you go.
I’m carrying a bag of kitchen scraps outside to put into the compost bin. Then I intend to sit down at my computer and do some work. I hold the small paper bag in my right hand and open the door with my left. It’s still dark, but as my head breaks through the plane separating inside from out, I see something hanging near my face, between my eyes. A spider, I guess. I blow hard and it disappears. There’s no time to be dealing with little bugs, I think. Earlier in my life I would have jumped back in fear, flustered by this tiny creature. Anything with more than four legs (or fewer than one) scared the daylights out of me. I drop the bag into the bin, focused now on getting to work and, of course, the oddness of the word daylights. Where did it come from? I’d have to check. In order for something to scare the daylights out of me, it would have to be my natural state to have daylights in me. Do I? Where?
The questions continue, one causing the next, as I walk into the bathroom to wash my hands. Can other people see my daylights? Do I have a nightlight? Maybe that’s what’s been keeping me awake all these years. Standing at the sink I turn on the water and begin to rinse my hands when I glance up and see a black spider, about a half-inch in diameter, crawling straight up the front of my shirt. I let out a short scream, the kind you make when you’re stirring something hot on the stove and you burn your arm. In the same moment I swat my right hand across my chest toward the sink, jump back a step, look down and then up into the mirror. No spider, just splotches of wet shirt where my hand had landed. I look into the sink. No spider there either. He must have ended up inside my shirt! The thought springs full-blown into my mind, in italics, like a line from one of those Reader’s Digest stories. I want to live!
I turn and scan the bathroom floor, sure he must be lying somewhere, stunned and maybe even mortally wounded. No spider. I move the laundry basket. He isn’t on top of the clothes in the basket, nor is he behind or under it. I pull my shirt over my head while turning it inside out, shaking it furiously. Nothing. I grab the two ends of the shirt, pull it taut, and use it to rub up and down the middle of my back. I turn as far as I can to examine myself in the mirror. Calm for a split second, I notice my back, this part of my body that has been with me since birth but that I almost never see. (Even in one of those hotel bathrooms with mirrors on opposite walls, you can’t see your own back because it’s impossible to get yourself out of the way.) I appear to be spider free. I’m pretty sure about this, even though just thinking the spider might be there causes me to feel it. And I reach back again to swipe away the spider,
or at least the one that some part of my brain feels, even as another part knows it isn’t there.
More Reader’s Digest melodrama: It’s in my hair! I shake and scratch through my entire scalp with both hands, looking down so I’d see the spider fall. Still nothing. It’s gone, like some weird little magic trick. “It has to be somewhere,” I think. This is the kind of brilliant insight I’m capable of, especially when my mind is focused. “The spider still exists, probably right around the bathroom sink.” But I never find it.
I go over to my desk, prepared to work. Every few minutes I reach high with my right hand, then plunge it straight down the middle of my back to scratch at the tiny itch the imaginary spider keeps making with its feet. The rest of the time I sit and try to remember what it was I had been planning to do before I took out the garbage. But I’ve changed direction and can’t seem to find my way to the path I’d been taking. My mind is wandering again. Out of the corner of my eye I see a dark spot on the floor. When I slowly lean over to examine it, I discover that it’s just a piece of black yarn. I blow hard and it disappears. I have come a long way, I think. There was a time when a piece of black yarn would have scared the daylights out of me.