My first memory is of a spider. In the memory, it’s sunset in the summertime. I’m not sure I’d ever been up that late: Michigan sits on the edge of the Eastern Time zone, so the sky in summer remains light until nearly ten o’clock. In the memory, I am standing on my big girl bed in the first house my parents owned, a tiny two-bedroom in the village of Flushing. They moved out to the farm just before I started kindergarten, so at the oldest, I was four when the memory was made.
I stood up on my bed and gazed out the window at the blood-smeared sunset. I’d never seen the sky look so beautiful. On the opposite side of the screen, a spider web spanned the window. I was fascinated by its intricate connections. Across it ambled a black spider. At some point, she pirouetted on the web to reveal the crimson hourglass burning on her belly.
I knew the spider was scary, but I’m not sure I understood why. I slammed the window shut. Despite the humidity, I huddled down on my bed, pulling the sheet over my trembling body. I cried myself to sleep.
The problem with this memory, of course, is that while Michigan has black widow spiders, they prefer woodland to suburbia. They don’t spin webs that are in any sense geometric. They favor holes and woodpiles and undisturbed brush to a west-facing window in town.
It’s more likely that I saw a black widow on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or some other nature show on TV. Perhaps what I think of as the earliest thing I can remember is merely the earliest dream I can recall, the primal nightmare.
For years I treasured the memory of that spider, that fear, as the first conscious experience imprinted on my soul. Only decades later, when I played for a while with the idea of writing an autobiography, did I realize that the memory could not possibly be true.