You know those memes that have a picture of a creepy bug, most commonly a spider, and then some text about how it’s time to burn the house down? Hilarious, right? I could easily imagine myself dousing a spider with gasoline, tossing a lit match at it, and running away screaming and waving my arms like those inflatable flapping noodle people outside of car dealerships, not caring a whit about the collateral damage of losing all my possessions. Because blech. Spiders.
I even remember this one time when my sister and mom were visiting with their families from out of town, and we saw an extra-fat spider skittering across the floor and completely freaked out. We all screamed and hopped up on couches and tables and chairs, almost spilling our strawberry daiquiris.
I grabbed a flip-flop and gave that big fat spider a solid smack — and looked on in horror as it exploded into 1,000 more spiders. We hadn’t realized that the reason that spider looked so fat is because it was a mama spider carrying all her babies on her back. I sprayed all the babies with a household cleaner (no bug spray on hand) and didn’t feel an ounce of remorse over it. My whole body was covered in goosebumps, and that mama spider had no business schlepping her gross troop of demon spider-spawn across my floor. I snapped a pic of the carnage and posted it to social media. Once a year, the image pops up in my Facebook memories.
These days, I don’t see that image the same way. I no longer get goosebumps from seeing all those tiny little dead spider babies. Now I feel sorry for them.
This might sound really weird, but I’m pretty sure my shift in perspective about bugs came around the same time I began to come to terms with my sexuality. I was suffering, feeling trapped in my heterosexual marriage of over a decade as I tried hard to carry on being something I wasn’t. I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t want to be something that was “unacceptable” — because, at that time, rearranging my life still felt unacceptable. But, like every other queer person, and like that spider and all her babies, I didn’t have any control over who I was.
I remember the exact moment it hit me. One evening, after my then-husband had gone upstairs to bed, I was sitting on the living room couch alone, my computer in my lap, working on my novel (about two women falling in love, because of course). A spider scrambled across the floor in front of me. I jumped, thinking I should reach for a shoe or something to kill it with, but then I just… couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. It was only a little spider mining its own business, probably wondering where the fuck it was, what the hell was this fluffy white nonsense underneath its legs, and where were all the bugs? There’s nothing to eat in this joint! It went back and forth, back and forth across the carpet, as if confused. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it seemed kind of… cute. I did at least lift my feet up off the floor so it wouldn’t run over my toes. I’m not completely bonkers.
But I couldn’t stop thinking, what was that little spider doing besides just existing as the creature it was born as? He didn’t choose to be a spider. I guess it’s a little weird to empathize with a bug, but I couldn’t help myself. Should I be punished for what I am? Should I be killed? In some places, I could be. Extinguished for being something that someone somewhere decided was undesirable, amoral, demonic. Just like the spider, someone’s fear or ignorance might be reason enough for me to die.
I let the spider go. It creeped me out the next day that I’d left it free to wander the house, so, after that, if I found a bug, I put a Tupperware over it to trap it and then had my son transport it outside. I may empathize with it, but I don’t want to touch it.
I live in a different house now, having ended my marriage a year ago and moved out on my own. My kids still perform “rescue operations” on the occasional bug we find in the house. And, depending on the location, sometimes I just leave them where they are. My washer and dryer are out in the garage, and there is an intricate web strung across the top of the dryer. A dainty, long-legged spider who I named Hector lives there and helps manage the littler bugs’ population. His web partially covers the button I have to press to start the dryer. I go under Hector’s web to press the button, careful not to damage his little home. Hector isn’t hurting anybody by just existing. He is welcome to set up camp on my dryer.
And the other day, I found a line of ants crawling on the doorknob of the sunroom door that leads to the backyard. I realized they were there because I’d opened the door the night before to let the dog out right after rubbing coconut oil on my hands. I left the ants there, figuring they’d probably get what they wanted and then disappear. I was right. The next day they were gone. And happy, I presume, because they’d had a delicious coconut oil dinner. My doorknob is no worse for wear. No one in my house is suffering because a teeny trail of ants feasted on a little coconut oil residue.
Now, I do treat the perimeter of my house every few months to prevent bugs from getting in. I live in Florida and am surrounded on two sides by lush woods — it’s literally a jungle out there. So obviously I can’t let it be a complete free-for-all up in here. I don’t want things crawling on me while I sleep.
But I definitely no longer feel the compulsion to burn my house down just because I come across a wayward spider. He may be only a lowly arachnid, but that’s not his fault. And so I do my best to let him live.
This article was originally published on