by Victoria Girmonde

It’s easy to be fearless when you are young. After all, you are too stupid and too naïve to see the world for what it is. You grow up, and then little by little coldness starts to set in. You begin to doubt and worry.

You know the feeling. In the end, only children are truly free. Fear is a tricky thing. It sneaks up on you. It seizes you. Hearts race. Palms sweat. Throats constrict, and in the end you are left a bumbling mess while you are trying to face the thing that makes you afraid. Sometimes you transfer internal fears onto someone else.

I used to play with spiders.

I used to let them crawl all over my arms and hands with their eight spindly legs while I told them my secrets. Secrets they’d carry back to Anansi, secrets they’d harbor, and secrets he might share with the natural world. You see, there was a pact between Anansi and I.

It was a pact known only to the mountains, valleys, fields, streams, and to the little creatures who flew through the sky, and the little ones scampering in the shadows on the earth. The starlight knew it as well. The natural world knows things. They see and hear us. We would be wise to remember that.

But they knew something else too; something secret known only to Anansi, an Akan folklore character. He was the guardian of all the stories in the universe. In the beginning, after all, there were no stories. Nyame, the Sky Father, kept them all hidden in a large box. That is until Anansi won them in a bet. Legends say that he often took the shape of a spider and knew all of the stories that have ever been told past, present, and future. They say when a story comes to you; it is Anansi who whispers it into your ear at night. Or he sends his children – all of the spiders of this world – to come and tell you it.

But that was long before the time I used to play with them. Maybe when I played with spiders, Anansi knew that I wanted to be a writer. I dreamt stories. I breathed them. I ate them up for breakfast.

I’d climb up on my mother’s lap and whisper to her about rainbow-haired unicorns, and trolls and little things that go bump in the night that were really good at heart just simply misunderstood.
I’d tell her about adventures and a serpent who everyone called a monster but was really lonely and wanted a friend. I longed to be able to tell stories to others. Yet, as years passed I grew afraid: afraid of my keyboard, my notebooks, and my pen.

I wonder if Anansi knew what had been stirring within me.

Maybe he knew that I had become afraid of the paper and the pen instead of him. With every e-mailed query letter I sent to an agent or publisher, the fear of rejection only grew and gnawed at my side.

Oftentimes, fear is irrational. Why else would my stepfather, a grown man past fifty, threaten to punch Flower the Clown when she offered him a balloon?

“Get back,” he said, pushing my Mom to the side. “I don’t like clowns, and if you come any closer I’ll just bop you.”

Flower looked at him, blinked, and then stomped away. Her huge shoes echoed on the pavement.
You can climb the highest mountains, and trek through the hottest deserts but you will always find that fear finds you.

Even animals feel it.

Perhaps this nervous stimulus is preprogrammed in our brains. Maybe, just maybe, we are born with fear implanted in our hearts. Even philosophers had a thing or two to say about it.

Funny, how people fear things so much, how we let it get in the way of the things we are born to do. How can I be afraid of something so smaller than my big toe? No doubt, Anansi’s children are just minding their own business. What about that time when I had fled from the shower clutching a towel around my wet body because a spider had invaded the stall?

Daddy! Come quick! Spider!
He chuckled, killed it, and shook his head.
What are you afraid of, Daddy?
            Being alone.

Fear is personal, too. Like the bogeyman it changes to suit its host. Once it takes hold of you it is almost impossible to get rid of.

It’s odd though that my fears internalized as a spider would be a symbol of hope for generations and generations. During American slavery, tales had been passed down from one person to the other of an eight-legged spider god, Anansi. No longer a symbol of fear, he had become a symbol of hope. The slaves would speak to one another about the trickster god who had brought all of the stories to the world.

Anansi. Anansi, the trickster god, will get us home. He is after all the dispenser of all wisdom.

I close my eyes, and my memory changes again. Sunlight streams in through the chapel’s windows. I look at my Mom and smile. How the heck she ever found this shrine is beyond me. Out in the middle of nowhere, The Rosa Mystica House of Prayer is almost completely removed from the outside world.
The monk who runs this place walks over and smiles. His eyes are kind and full of warmth. He ushers us outside, and a blast of light warms my bones.

“Go to her,” Father Cyrus said. “Go to her and give her your fear.”

The monk gestured towards a stone statue. Mom walked up to the glittering white body of the Blessed Mother. Reaching out, she took Mary’s outstretched hand.

“You can take my fear of spiders.”

Ditto, I said in my heart.

Months later, I’d wake up and see a spider, shrug, roll over and drift off to sleep. I’d begin to write and put my pen to paper, allowing my mind to wander into the depths of imagination. Weeks after that, I’d see a spider crawling on the wall, existing in the same place with my Mom and I. And now, I am that carefree girl standing before one of Anansi’s children, watching, watching, watching as it spins its silky web. I bite my lip, breathe in deeply, and wonder if I should tell my secrets to Anansi once again.

About the Author:

Victoria Girmonde lives in the Mohawk Valley in beautiful New York.