The noiseless patient spider

My husband was convinced there would be some kind of drama in the middle of the night when I drove my sister to the airport. He was certain we’d be pulled over by the police, get lost, find out her ticket was invalid, or there would be a security holdup that would cancel her trip.

But the scariest thing we encountered was a spider running across the inside of my windshield, tiny, brown and muscular against the backdrop of a crescent moon in the night sky.

I pulled off beside the highway.

“Don’t kill it,” she begged me, picking up a piece of paper as I looked for the hazard lights. Softly, she spoke to the spider, trying to coax it onto the paper so she could deport it safely from the car.

I watched for a few seconds as she struggled to get the spider to climb onto her sheet of paper, but the creature did not cooperate. It seemed likely to fall into my lap at any moment, so I took off my shoe, aimed and smashed at the windshield where the spider was.

In a violent split second, it was over. Or so we thought.

But we couldn’t find the dead spider.

It reminded me a little bit of the time, about 17 years ago, when we tore her then-boyfriend’s underground apartment apart saving a baby rabbit from his cat, whose name was Clover. We did save that rabbit, or so we thought, although when we placed him outside and waited for him to run back into the bushes, he was perfectly still, apparently petrified with fear. We hoped he would get away before another predator found him.

Sometime shortly after the rabbit-saving incident, my sister married the boyfriend with the cat named Clover. They had a daughter, and later, a son.

On our recent drive to the airport, one of the topics I wanted to broach with my sister was my new idea for her to pursue a career in hypnotherapy. You see, although my full-time job is being a high school English teacher, one of my hobbies is thinking of jobs and careers for other people.

When we were preteens, my sister confessed to me that she was a little bit psychic. Over the years, she proved it by accurately predicting a number of events within my own adolescent life that I could not have anticipated.

The other night during our drive, I said to my sister that hypnotherapists seem to have more credibility beyond the realm of new age spiritualists than self-proclaimed psychics. I once interviewed a woman who made a living hypnotizing people on cruise ships.

Hypnotherapy is a little spooky in the way that mysterious things are, but it seems to be a real and useful skill. If you can get a person to believe what they’re paying you to make them believe, then you have solved at least one of their problems.

One of my problems is that everyone in my family except me is an animal hoarder. They do it because it gives them a feeling of love and altruism and control in a world where all living things suffer. They do it because they think they can repay their karmic debts by caring for sick and homeless animals, and maybe they can.

But to me it’s misappropriated energy at best. At worst, it’s perpetuating the very suffering they seek to cure.

I think animals should live. Outside. In the wild.

And it’s not because I don’t like them. It’s because I don’t want to clean up after them and buy their food, and especially because I don’t want to cry when they get sick and die. It’s because I’ve got enough to worry about without feline leukemia.

My daughter has become attached to a sick kitten at her grandmother’s wild cat ranch. The kitten is adorable and tragic as she looks at you with big curious eyes, apparently unaware that she labors to breathe. She thinks she’s a normal kitten. She climbs up on counters and knocks over coffee cups, follows you around and tries to trip you, sits on your lap and stares at you, purring. She doesn’t know it isn’t normal for a cat to make so much noise breathing that you can hear her across the room. She doesn’t know that her days are probably numbered.

I did not ask for this. I did not ask for another thing to worry about, another tiny tragedy to distract me from my mission, which, this summer, is apparently to do five hours of homework every day for a couple of online grad school classes.

I remember the sick kittens of my childhood – the ones I cried over when they died and my mother told me it was OK because they would reincarnate.

On the drive to the airport in the middle of the night, I tell my sister about the wheezing kitten. Since she and her husband help run an animal shelter near their home, she has a lot more experience with chronically ill animals than I do.

If I take the cat to the vet, she tells me, I’m sure to come home with a diagnosis and hundreds in expenses.

I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you get two choices and you don’t like either one, but you still have to choose. That’s what I was thinking when I tried to kill the spider on the windshield.

At the airport, there was still no drama when I left my sister at security. Then, in the parking lot, I thought for a minute I had lost my car. I lose my car in parking lots on a semi-regular basis.

When I found the car, I got inside and texted my husband to say that I was on my way home. His 4:32 a.m. reply was immediate. No teenager will outwit him in the middle of some dark night the way I endeavored to outwit my parents at the urging of some people I now regret spending time with.

I felt something crawl across my leg. It was the brown spider.

I opened the car door, brushed her off my leg, and wished her luck.

She’s alive.

On the drive home, I pulled up at a toll gate behind a car full of teenage boys. The driver looked at me helplessly and mouthed that he had no money.

I started to reach for my wallet. My first instinct was to think that as the adult in the situation, I might need to pay for myself and the children in front of me in order to move forward.

But then I reconsidered.

The situation was a bit like one in a fictional story I wrote a couple of weeks ago that didn’t end particularly well for the 14-year-old protagonist.

But I am not a 14-year-old girl now. I am a 38-year-old woman and I was alone in the dark about to get out my wallet to give money to a carload of teenage boys I didn’t know.

Instead, I backed up, pulled up to another booth, paid the toll, and drove home.

So much for my husband’s concern that my sister and I would do ourselves in on this unsupervised nocturnal journey.

I kept thinking about those boys and wondering what they must have thought of me. Was I just another unsympathetic old lady with a wallet full of cash and a heart of stone?

Maybe I am, but I am sure the boys survived the toll booth, and I don’t think I regret driving away.

Lately, I’ve been talking a lot to people my parents’ age – Baby Boomers – about their regrets. They don’t seem to mind sharing, and the overwhelming message is something along the lines of Do as I say, not as I did.

Basically, they regret being selfish. They regret ruining their marriages and hurting their kids. They regret the lies and cheating and the fact that they just couldn’t handle the suffocating drudgery of early midlife.

Late midlife, it seems, is something different entirely. It looks to me like the Baby Boomers are having more fun than we are. I have to wonder if regrets are really the same as personal growth, or if they are just food for thought, a lesson for someone else. I listen to the advice of the older generation. I try to do as I am told and stay married, keep working hard, keep taking out the trash and doing homework. I should work hard because I have to, and it builds character, they tell me.

I don’t know what I’ll regret in 20 years if I am still I alive. I know I don’t regret saving the baby rabbit 17 years ago or the spider at the airport.

The people I love help creatures great and small because it’s all the power they have in a world where it feels like every living thing has to struggle to survive, like every rattling breath that moves through our bodies is a labor, a sign of more hardship to come. Things will get worse before they get better.

I don’t think my heart is so big anymore, but I do understand.

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