About a week ago I woke up one morning and went instantly into a panic. Somehow my body registered panic before my eyes were able to provide a reason. There was something on the wall that wasn't supposed to be there. I sat straight up in bed and forced a head-on look. It was a spider, about three inches in diameter. I'd never seen a spider like this in my life, and now there was one in my bedroom. Right on the wall next to me. He'd been there God knows how long, as I slept.
"Spiders don't bother me," I used to say. "Snakes strike terror in me, but I've never been afraid of spiders. Actually, they are kind of friendly." That was before I had three inches worth of spider in my repertoire.
Down the hall there was a broom. I leapt out of bed, grabbed the broom, and proceeded to aim for a very non-Buddhist demise to this companion of my nights. I whacked the shit out of him. Smashed him till he was nothing but a ball of broken legs. Or so I thought. It was an old broom, the same color as the spider. I took a quick look, and then carried it out to the balcony and shook it out into the trash in the back yard.
Three days later, I was vacuuming the bedroom and the spider ran out from under my bed. I had missed him. Either that, or this was a member of his gang come to take revenge. Before I had a chance to think about it, I sucked him into the vacuum cleaner. I let the machine run awhile, sort of thinking, I guess, that he would suffocate. Maybe die of emphysema or something.
Downstairs was my friend Patrick. He had come down from Tokyo for the weekend and he was working on his computer. "Come up here and help me kill this spider," I said to him. I saw the look in his eyes. "Sissy," it said. "Kill your own goddam spider, you wimp," it said. But Patrick obviously failed to realize I could read his mind. "Sure," he said. "Where is it?"
He followed me upstairs, into the bedroom, where I slowly opened the vacuum cleaner canister. Out jumps the spider, now grown to six feet in diameter, you'd swear, if you saw our reaction. Patrick whomps at him, the spider scatters, I grab the trash can and fling it at him. Patrick continues to whack at him, following him around the room for awhile, and finally knocks him dead.
Victory. Two pairs of arms, two pairs of legs, and three hundred fifty pounds of male muscle have triumphed over this enemy, this creature of vacuum cleaner dust. He is dead. We are alive. The alien is no longer with us.
I've had enough of house cleaning. God knows what else I will find under the bed. I start reading my students' journals. The first one I pick up goes like this:
I moved to Shonandai from Tokyo during the summertime. My mother didn't want me to, but I decided it was time to live on my own. Besides, the commute was too tiring. It was like a dream come true. Finally, I have my own apartment and I can do what I want. But things aren't working out the way I planned. I didn't realize how much I depended on my mother for things. And although my sister and I used to fight all the time, now I miss her terribly.
I don't have a phone, and nobody knows me here, so when I go home, I'm always alone and sometimes a whole day goes by and I don't speak to anybody. I've never experienced anything like this before and I've never been so lonely. Last week, though, I discovered a spider living in the corner of my house. He's quite a large spider, but he seems to stay near the window in his web. I've gotten to like this spider. I think of him kind of like a roommate, now. The other day I decided I'd help him a little bit, so I left the window open, hoping a fly would come in and I could catch it and give it to him. I haven't given him a name yet, but I think I will. He really seems to be very friendly, and thinks this is his room, too. I think I am very luck to have such a quiet roommate.
This reminds me of a story I once read about a woman prisoner I once read about in China. She was forced to live in a cell alone for several years with nobody to talk to. All she had for company was a spider. This spider became the center of her life. Everyday she would look forward to getting up and going over and seeing how the spider was doing. Every night before she went to sleep, she would have a conversation with the spider and then say good-night. I think I am kind of like this woman. My freedom has become my prison. But at least I have a spider to share my room with. I feel so lucky.
November 14, 1992