Not just slightly averse to these creatures, but seriously, panicky, clawing-a-way-out-the-window fearful.
Each of my parents had one. For my father and his siblings, having survived a canoeing accident as children where they and their mother clung to an overturned boat while long strands of seaweed brushed their legs, the fear was snakes.
Daddo would refer to them as "serpents" because even the word "snakes" was dreadful to him.
While enjoying a spaghetti dinner at our house, a neighborhood kid joshed offhandedly about how it was like red snakes slithering up into our collective mouths. My father dropped his fork in disgust and stalked to the other room.
Toward the end of his life, he'd say that if we really wanted to be rid of him, just toss a plastic serpent into his lap. He promised it would be quick.
Naturally, given the body of fresh water, the long Northern summer days, and the untenanted nature of the cottage, there were spiders. But it was a summer cottage. When sweeping, you directed the little pile of debris down that knot-hole in the floor in the hallway. On Thursdays, before Daddo came up, we'd eat ice-cream for supper. It was a Platonic ideal of summer cottage life.
Except for the spiders. One morning, we all scooted out of the house while Mumsie sprayed some sort of aerosolized poison. We must have been gone all day. Or maybe it was stormy when we returned, because while my sister and I, diminutive then, walked into the shadowy cottage without incident, our mother entered to a suspended carpet of deceased arachnids. All hanging at about eye-height from the ceiling. The horror. The horror.
In college, I pestered Mumsie for an explanation.
She had a scientific mind, fearless and nature-loving.
She rehabilitated birds of prey, talked unhesitatingly about the facts of life, and if you stepped on broken glass and were pretty sure you needed stitches? All the kids knew to skip their own parents and go straight to her. She'd say, mildly, "Oh, don't bleed on the linoleum," and patch you up.
Grinding over long-term depression and agoraphobia, she held down a job to support herself and her youngest child. She solo-camped as a newly divorced woman in her late 30's.
But spiders freaked her the hell out.
She turned her head in the same questing way as when she was trying to recall the details of a dream. "I was splashing the water with a stick and there was an enormous water-spider. I hit it and it burst open and dozens –– hundreds?–– of baby spiders spilled out."
Gulp. Okay then.
My sister shares the distaste for spiders. We've often agreed that should there be an unfortunate single-car accident in her life, it's a near certainty to have involved a spider emerging from under the dashboard and landing on exposed skin.
I'm not fearful of snakes –– Not wanting to be afraid ever, I seized the opportunity in high school of grabbing up a handful of cold, writhing serpents as they emerged from their winter hibernation.
I carried the ball of them around at arms length, thinking if I could do this, I was snake-proof for life. Mumsie, gardening a few yards away, said, "Yes, well, put them down before they start biting you."
Be that all as it may. I actually meant to write about weird phobias. There's no shortage of oddity in the world. And phobias are the most common of mental illnesses.
Mental illness. Huh.
I've felt claustrophobia. Couldn't get into an elevator for two years. It was a side-effect, I think, of a dreadful boyfriend and asthma.
Once I nearly fainted –– and me a farm kid! –– at the vision of a big splinter protruding from someone else's finger. All the blood and guts in the world, and I was about to keel over from a splinter. I couldn't even help her yank it out.
But that's pretty mundane stuff. What's more intriguing is the fringier fears.
For instance, I have one friend who cannot bear, to the point of vomit, not just the texture of the cotton plugs found in aspirin bottles -- but even a discussion of the dusty, squeaky cotton found in aspirin bottles. A full-grown man with his fingers in his ears, chanting, "Nah, Nah, I can't hear you!"
Another who runs –– runs! –– from praying mantis. One who cannot shower in an empty house.
While there's one pal who claims to be petrified of the music produced by the barrel organ, I'm less sure it's fear. Annoyance maybe.
I worked with a woman who couldn't stand scissors. We'll call her Peg. Another co-worker, Liz, a capricious but observant creature, had noticed that Peg invariably moved books and files so that a pair of shears on a colleague's desk would be hidden from her view
Peg was not a particularly pleasant work comrade; she tended to hover, to micro-manage, to mouth-breathe and offer unwelcome suggestions on how better to do one's job.
Liz, a graphic designer, took to asking Peg to hand her the scissors or the Xacto knife she needed when Peg came near her desk. In less than a week, Peg stopped hovering and micromanaging anyone in the graphics department.
I should be ashamed to admit that I, too, began leaving a pair of shears, gaping open, on my desk in editorial to ward Peg off.
Harnessing the power of fear.
It's what we're all doing right about now, indulging in our inner germophobia*. Which is fine, unless it's someone else pulling those strings.
*Technically, it's mysophobia or verminophobia but that's just me showing off.
Be strong, my friends.