Facing Down Your Fears

When I was a little kid, probably less than four years old–definitely before I started school–some things happened, incidents that defined who I was for decades to come.

The first one looked a little like this:

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

My neighbour’s dog. Big. Bigger than me. Brown and black, like a huntsman spider, with teeth almost longer than my fingers. Rumoured to be hungry. Rumoured, even, to be hungry for little children! I only saw him a few times, but those times…those teeth…were enough.

The second one was more than a rumour. The second one had a name. It’s name was Snuff, and he was black as night, with a nose pushed back into his skull as if he’d spent his life ramming his snout into the doors of terrified children.

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

He also had teeth. And legs…long legs, that put his funny squished snout and razor teeth right in line with my chest, long legs that could run faster than my little four-year-old ones, legs that carried those razor teeth almost right up to me, and I just managed to make it inside my front door, screaming, before he tore me to shreds.

I am not joking. My mum looked at him, and she said “Garn!”* in that scary Garning Mummy-voice reserved for scary dogs, and he garned back over the road again and back to his house.

By the time I started school I knew one thing: Dogs were scary.

(I should tell you: a dog lived at my house too, but she was basically some kind of small golden doormat, and I paid her about as much attention as I paid my dad’s work bag, or the washing machine. Not a cat, therefore not interesting.)

There was a third incident too, about the time I was six years old. It was night, or at least evening, in the Winter dark. My mum was walking a couple of friends and I home, and all of a sudden I heard my friend scream…a dog had bitten her in the dark. A small one, all pointy ears and yap yapping, and…teeth. Dark was not safe. The streets were not safe. Not even Mothers Who Garn could protect us from Dogs With Teeth. The truth was out there.

See? Teeth. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

See? Teeth. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

One thing about me: I’m good at working through fears…or, at least, around them. i learned where all the dogs in my neighbourhood were, and I conscientiously avoided them. I’d hear a bark behind a fence and I’d cross the road. No big deal. See? I’m not afraid of fences that bark, or gates with snarling snouts beneath them, I’m just choosing to change my view. I got me a good Garn voice, and I practiced it, loudly, on all the dogs that would dare enter my presence.

And then we got Teddy.

Our dog Teddy.

Our dog Teddy. Also known as “Our Other Cat”.

The thing about having a dog, I’ve discovered, is that they need to be walked. I like this. I love walking. But the thing about walking with a dog is this: they attract other dogs.

Seriously! Streets I have walked in peace for years are now teeming with barks and snuffles and snouts pressed under gates, yips and yaps and teeth…oh the teeth! Not only this, there are dog-walking areas close to us, places where you can take your dog’s leash off and let it have a run around and sniff a few other dog’s butts for a while, while taking in a bit of fresh air and some pleasant scenery. Dogs. Run. At. Me. Here. Big dogs. Black and brown huntsman-spider-coloured dogs. Dogs with teeth. Big dogs, with big teeth, dogs so big that even now they almost come up to my chest…or at least my butt…or…

You know what? I don’t even need to use my Garn voice. I’m not afraid any more.

Yesterday this big dog, this big brown dog with teeth, came right up to me on the path and just stood there, waiting for me to pat it. Just like that. It was smooth-haired, and kind of soft, and it looked up at me with these big happy eyes above it’s teeth, tongue lolling out, just kind of happy to be here, and to be walking, and happy to be patted by me.

I know now that some dogs ARE dangerous, and I need to be careful, and dogs that are allowed by their owners to be off-leash in an area like that probably aren’t. I know now that dogs like to play, and that the vicious snarling black monster that chased me to my front door was possibly only running because I was. I know now that just because I’ve been afraid of something all my life doesn’t mean I need to live my life permanently in fear, but I can follow the example of others, maybe take a few risks, step out a little. Maybe there’s a lot of things I’ve been afraid of that I don’t need to be any more.

Excuse me a minute folks, I’m gonna go Garn me a huntsman spider.

*For anyone without an Aussie accent you may want to translate that as “Go on!”, or perhaps as “Out, vicious snarling dog! Rid the street of thy foul canine presence!”. She didn’t say that though, she said “Garn!”

Spider, spider, burning bright

When I was a kid every spider was a big one, and every really huge spider was a Trianchula. To say it right you’ve got to say it in an Aussie accent, hold your nose, and screw your face up at the second syllable, okay? Tri-AN-chula. As in “Muuuuuum, there’s a triANchula in the car! Get rid of that TRIANCHULA!”

I remember my first one. It was orange. I was loud.

Sometime, around the age of six, somebody told me that it wasn’t a trianchula, actually, it was a tarantula. And, then, sometime around the age of eight, somebody told me that it was a huntsman spider and that there’s no such thing as tarantulas anyway. Well. That’s all right then.

Huntsman are about as bad as it gets. They hate the rain, so on wet days they go to the nearest dry place, which is sometimes the woodpile, or the bedroom ceiling, or the toilet wall, or the front door, or the car. And they’re big. They’re freakin’ huge monsters of things that make grown men stop the car randomly in the nearest parking space and jump out leaving the door wide open and say they’re going to walk home. Oh. Maybe it was me who said they’d walk home. But it was the grown man next to me who jumped out first. I remember that. We never did find that spider, either.

Funny thing is though now I’ve got kids who are around six and around eight, and sometimes down at their school I hear other kids yelling out to their mums about seeing a trianchula. The myth is passed down from generation to generation.

There’s a few things I used to be frightened of that I later found out didn’t exist: like Transylvania, Count Dracula, Vampire bats, and tarantulas. Life feels calmer when you know it’s really only Pennsylvania, fruit bats and huntsman*.

I don’t remember when it was that I discovered that tarantulas actually existed. Probably after the age of fifteen when I saw the movie Arachnophobia. Do you remember that one? I’m NOT going to describe it here. Needless to say that if I’d known then what I know now I would have been looking for ways to exit the planet and quick smart, too.

Tarantulas are real.

And not only that, I find out a few days ago that they’re not confined to the South American jungle, but that they’ve disregarded all common sense and live in California as well. California, USA. That very and self-same California that I will be actually standing on in fifteen short weeks. No longer the-other-side-of-the-world, but under my feet.**

I had a huntsman spider on my leg once. Crawling up the inside of my jeans, on my actual skin. I learned a valuable lesson that day: sometimes the best thing for people is to have the worst thing happen. Something unexpected occurs: you cope.

We are stronger (and at the same time more fragile) than we think we are.

I might pack a very large can of fly-spray though. You know…just in case.

 

*I know NOW, okay? Yes, even Transylvania and Vampire bats are real. Except I don’t think those things go together. Although I could be wrong.

**I’m assured by my friends who live there that I WON’T be seeing any tarantulas. So far I believe them. Although they could be wrong, too.