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Currently I live in Southern California, where I’m on spider web clearing duty.
My backyard often looks like Charlotte had a web convention, leaving my toddler’s toys covered in thick and majestically spun spider creations that weave through the Fisher Price climbing structure, tricycle and lawn chairs.
Armed with my broom, I wipe them away and then they reappear overnight. It’s a constant cycle.
It's surprising that I willingly signed up for a task that risks pissing off arachnids, because I know first-hand the havoc black widows can bestow on their victims.
When I was a sophomore in high school, one decided I was a threat, and so it bit me, on the face.
The doctors guesstimated that it happened just before I woke up, determining that the alleged biter was in my bed, traipsing through my sheets, when I somehow provoked it.
The border town where I grew up sits on the Colorado River, where Arizona, California and Mexico meet. Yuma is a desert farming town rich with snakes, scorpions and tarantulas.
I had seen black widows before outside of my house, but never on the inside. Prior to my bite, I had managed to steer clear of all spiders, regardless of their venom potency.
That morning, I woke up and got ready for school as usual, but my lower jaw felt slightly swollen and sore. I showed my dad, who advised me to put Clearasil on it and go to school. We thought an epic zit was forming.
A few hours later, I returned home sick, with a bruise forming on the mound on my jaw, and I was feeling nauseous. I vaguely remember passing out while watching my favorite soap opera, Days of our Lives. Bo and Hope were falling in love, while I was feeling limp and lifeless.
I woke up in the E.R.
My dad had come home to check on me during his lunch break and rushed me to the hospital, which is extremely out of character for him. I have no recollection of ever visiting a doctor as a child. His motto, and now mine, has always been,“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
So I knew that if I was in the hospital, something was very wrong. I was going in and out of consciousness, with only flashes of memories I’m still able to pull from my mental horror file.
I didn't have two fang marks, only one, but the ER team knew that I had been bitten by a black widow since it was common to the vicinity.
There was no anti-venom used as a significant amount of time had passed, so I was primarily closely monitored and kept hydrated. I slept and slept and slept.
I was given painkillers for the muscle spasms and because it felt as if I'd been beaten with a hammer. The black widow has one of of the Animal Kingdom's most potent venoms, which goes to work on the bite victim's nervous system. It was excruciatingly painful.
My bones were like ice, freezing me from deep inside. I was nauseous enough that it jolted me awake from sleep.
Still, it was a relief to learn that the volcanic mound on my cheek was in fact a spider bite and not some cryptic case of Elephantiasis acne. My dad informed me that a black widow had eaten me for a snack, making me laugh during the one of the worst moments of my teenage life.
When I went home a few days later, I got a good look in the mirror and felt like my nightmare was just beginning. The left side of my face was swollen from my eye all the way down my neck, making my head look like a large, orange square.
My veins left black and blue trails through dead skin, and to top off the Freak Show staring back at me, my mouth was swollen open, my jaw locked at a 90 degree angle.
I looked like Frankenstein’s monster.
You can imagine the mindfuck this was for a teenage girl who had only days before been planning her prom night. Thankfully, whatever medication they gave made me sleep for a few more weeks.
When I finally returned to high school, everyone was fascinated by my spider-bitten face.
By then my skin was almost back to normal except at the exact location of the bite. Basically, it looked like I had a jawbreaker in my mouth. For months. I wondered if it was my fate to be the girl who looked like she was sucking on an Everlasting Gobstopper for eternity.
The jokes at school started immediately. Teenagers would hum the Spiderman theme song as I walked by.
Let's see your web, Spidergirl!”
"Careful, she's a black widow now. She'll kill her mate.”
But the worst was when they’d ask me if the spider had laid eggs in my face. It was actually a good question considering I had a jawbreaker-sized lesion, but it made me panic.
“What if a million spider babies crawl out of your face while you’re sleeping?” someone wondered out loud.
It seemed plausible. Maybe there were eggs incubating in my face. It was a good thing I had had all that coma sleep before, because my baby spider anxiety made it so I could no longer sleep at all, terrified that spiders were going to crawl out of my face at any moment.
Next, the wound started itching. This horrible itch from the inside of my skin, like something was trying to break out. I'd catch myself clawing at my skin maniacally, having to sit on my hands while it burned internally, not wanting to open the wound. My eyes were bloodshot and I thought I was going to have a mental breakdown.
There were no spider babies.
By summer, the knot had melted into a perfect red ring stamped on my jaw, the black widow's final marking. It was so bright that my green cover-up stick couldn't disguise it, even for an hour, but at least this was a badge of honor I could wear somewhat proudly. I had survived a black widow’s lethal venom and I had a red ring to prove it.
The good news is that after about a year, the ring faded and now there's no evidence this spider bite ever occurred, except some photos I have locked away. Very few people are allowed to see those pictures.
Where I live now is a spider haven. The oddest thing is that I'm not scared of them. All fear went out the window once that red ring faded. Maybe it is because I lived, or maybe it's because the odds of lightening striking twice are rare. Or maybe it’s because we can’t live our lives afraid of everything.
Still, Arachnophobia hit theaters the very next year. I never have seen it.