It was pea-sized and black and crawling over the black and white tiles of my Sylvester Manor apartment. I’m not afraid of spiders but I’d never been above smashing them to pieces.
This time was different. It was Sept. 13, 2001, and that week there had been just too much death.
Instead of crushing it, I got the creature to crawl onto the towel, and I gently carted it down the hall and jostled it into the bushes on Court Street. I freed it with aggressive determination: I wanted nothing to do with any killing.
I don’t know why that spider is the image that comes most readily to mind when I think about ten years ago.
Maybe it’s because the other, less metaphorical memories are too hard to take,
That spring and summer I had created my own debacles. In April I sat up in bed in the middle of the night and told my husband of 15 years “I think I’m moving out.” In May a truck from Red’s pulled noisily into our driveway and took half our stuff; my stuff.
That night, shocked and prickly with hope, I sat at the window in Apartment 104 and poured myself a glass of white wine to go with the Cornish game hen I’d baked in my little oven, dinner just for one.
I’d deliberately decided against cable, and throughout those summer months, which I remember as so hot the strongest smell in my rooms was the acrid bubbling asphalt of Wallenberg Drive, I watched movie after rented movie.
I had a new man already who flew in from time to time from Los Angeles. His arrivals were intense – we had loved each other for 25 years, never knowing where the other was – and it was jarring to reclaim our ardor. Daily weeping for my failed past life was a matter of course. I was 51 years old and starting over. It seemed impossible, unadvisable, audacious and naïve.
The last weekend of August my Ohio sister was in a serious auto accident. In the middle of a Labor Day party, I got a call that she was in the hospital and I needed to get there. I shot down to Barberton, where I found her dog, an expensive pure-bred beagle, untended and hungry in the house. She’d peed and pooped anywhere she liked for at least a week. I tried to make sense, yet again, of my sister’s complicated life.
The dog had an open abscess and I got her to the vet. I tried to clean up the house. Outraged at my sister and ashamed of it, I declared I was taking the dog back to Flint. On September 9, I put her in my car and drove back along Interstate 80, stopping every 50 miles to let her pee…she was wild and untrained and made the trip interminable.
My friends Bob and Philip agreed to take her, but when I got her there, she ran away, Bob chasing her up Ridgelawn yelling and yelling. He caught her but it was clear she would never be a lovely pet.
And then it was September 11. That morning I drove to Okemos to see my therapist, full of grief and guilt and anger – about my sister, again, about the debris of my life. On the way back I heard it – after tiring of the orderliness of Mozart’s 12 versions of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, I switched to NPR, where Bob Edwards was announcing that the second tower had just collapsed.
It was a different world from that moment on, was it not? I drove straight to UM – Flint and called my new man. Then I went in to my husband’s office and we hugged, along with everybody else – the electricity of the tragedy overwhelming us and making me wonder if all could be forgiven, reset.
I went to VG’s and bought whiskey, cigarettes, Hershey bars and canned fruit cocktail.
That night, I went to my old house, where my not-yet-ex-husband made comfort food, linguine with marinara sauce, and with four other souls we obsessively watched CNN. There was pot and I smoked it, but it didn’t work – leaving me only more heavily disconsolate.
I’ve often thought that if I’d ever gone to bed with my husband again it would have been that night. But when we hugged goodbye and the question hung in the air, the shock and neediness between us was intolerably raw. I rushed back to Apartment 104.
The dog didn’t work out either. Bob and Philip said they couldn’t handle her. Philip and I took her to the Humane Society on Dort, where she failed her personality test by lunging at an assistant. My husband, who always loved beagles, took her as a stopgap, but she wouldn’t stop barking all night, and he sent me one angry, accusatory email after another. We finally gave her to a student we both knew who had a farm, and the dog roamed freely for three more years before dying a reasonably merciful natural death.
Without cable, I rented The Sopranos, which I’d never seen, and watched every episode, one after the other for three days straight. The opening shot of Tony Soprano chawing that cigar, the Twin Towers in the background,seemed cruelly right, lacerating me with bad news. They’re gone, they’re gone, they’re gone. My marriage was gone, my old life was gone, the world as we knew it was gone.
Life did go on, of course. I found hope in love, and now that LA guy is my second husband. We bought a house on Maxine. I bought a big stone Buddha for the back yard and stones and candles for the windowsills. I wrote a novel, and now I even have a new job. Just like everybody else, I’ve gone on with my life, because that’s what humans do. In fact, recently realizing I’ve been in Flint a full 30 years, I realized with a start that despite all the ups and downs, I am – shhh, don’t tell anybody! – happy here.
I still think about that spider, though – how for that one moment, that one week, we were all aflood with compassion. I wish it could last. I wish – and hope – as human history rolls out beyond us -- that it is the impulse toward love that survives our primal bloody urges. Frankly, at best I think it’s a fifty-fifty chance. Absurdly, illogically, nonetheless, I’m banking on the love.