Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spider Moments

Courtesy of Directory Journal

I like to think of the brain like a city, crammed full of skyscrapers and towers and slums and alleys, bridges, back yards, and gnarly hedges. Memories take up residence in dark nooks and tend to get shut away and locked up, inaccessible until the barbed wire fence or shiny new apartment complex is pulled or burned down.

Some memories stand like monuments in the city of your mind.

For me, one of these monuments is the summer between 5th and 6th grade.

During the annual house makeover, my older brother landed the lawn work, mowing, and edging. My younger brother had weeds and window-washing.

My mom gave me a broomstick, sans bristle head. "Go clear out the jungle," she said.

On the side of the house grew a grand old oak tree that in years to come would be my best friend and stairway to a reading heaven--a bath mat platform roped over two sturdy top branches; I'd hold the book in my teeth as I climbed up.

But right then, the oak tree was surrounded by a jungle of bramble and overgrown palmettos, vines, and ivy.

Courtesy of EPA
And spiders. Huge nightmare banana spiders the size of your head. My job was to take my broomstick and whack down all the spiders.

Eventually, my mom and brothers stopped work to watch me bravely and repeatedly tiptoe into the infestation, broomstick raised, sneak up on each nasty, spindly-legged bastard, smack its round, segmented body as hard as my little arms could, and then run shrieking.

Spiders, when smacked out of their webs, tend to fall down on the person who does the smacking.

Now, as I contemplate that monument standing tall and proud in the middle of my city, I know this truth: There can be nothing more terrifying in this life than that rain of spiders. I had courage enough then; I'll have courage enough when...

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What are some of your spider moments--real or metaphorical? Which memory monuments make your chest swell and fortify you for the future? As writers, how do you go about learning and using these moments in the lives of your characters?