By EDWYN CHOI
Most people are unable to feel spiders, their spindly legs and round bodies. The species does not matter — recluse, widow, trapdoor; they all run and climb the same, and even the largest tarantulas can squeeze into the tiniest ears. I have found that a spider steals a memory about four times a year, one for each season; that for each spider you kill two more follow suit.
The first time a spider climbed out of my ear I was six. It was carrying a little crumb in its jaws, and I slammed it under my palm until there was nothing left but goo. I tried to squeeze the memory back into my ear, but it was already lost. I find there is no pain in losing memory — it is only in remembering something that it hurts.
Most spiders will steal at night. A little slit in the eardrum, and they slip in. On the way out, they sew it back together with their silk. When the victim wakes up, they cannot tell. Maybe there’s a weird dream or a scratching sensation in their head, some general sensation that something’s off. Maybe there’s an odd headache, or one ear’s a bit duller than the other for that day; but people never notice until they try to remember. And even then, they will shrug, because they cannot remember what used to be so important.
I killed spiders for my parents. They wore earplugs at night, though the spiders always found a way in. So I would stay up all night, a flashlight and fly swatter in hand, waiting for that dangling silk thread or those skinny legs dancing across the floor. But those spiders wandered around my father’s heavy eyebags and my mother’s callused hands, coming for me instead, who’d sleep at the corners of classrooms and restaurants and at the back of cafeterias and school buses; eventually, it was the solitude of empty bars and gray cubicles.
When my parents passed away I inherited our little home, a one-story glorified hut secluded in the woods, and there was no one else for the spiders to steal from except for me. I never felt them at first, but little by little I’d wake up feeling as though I missed something: smiles when there was nothing to smile at; tears when there was nothing to cry at. An aching desperation in my heart I couldn’t form into words.
On some nights they came in droves under doorways and the chinks of window, the creaking floorboards and the leaky ceilings. They grew brazen enough to wait in plain sight, infesting the house like cockroaches; I stopped trying to kill them. One night I woke up to an itch in my ear. It bled with spider’s blood, and a river of tangled bodies and legs drained out of each canal. I do not remember if I was dreaming then or not.
They steal from us because they cannot form memories of their own. This is what my research suggests. They are simple creatures; they do not know the experiences of joy and passion, bitterness and spice; what it means to feel. To understand love and compassion, sorrow and pity, the fire and honey of life — spiders have never experienced such things. Their instincts are primal in nature: an understanding of sex and hunger, movement and combat, pain and pleasure. The bare necessities for survival.
But they’re aware. They know something exists beyond their perception, so they steal. They adapt in cunning ways: sneaking in at night, a chemical-resistant exoskeleton, long legs for fast movement. A spider carries what appears to be a little crumb out of the ear, yellow like a fragment of cheese. This is a cruel act: a memory cannot be reclaimed once a spider splices it. It changes form, becomes alien to the brain, like copper breaching oxygen. Hold a spider’s spoils and one would find it weightless, empty, existing only because one sees its shape and color, only because its weight and feel were imagined. I have held it in my hands. I have watched it vaporize into nothing, though my hands couldn’t feel the difference.
I remember each and every spider I have killed, though it is difficult now to remember people’s faces. Their voices and scents; an accent or dialect, a catch phrase they’d always default to. The shape of their nose, the color of their hair, the hook of their smile. I remember each and every spider I have killed, the dried globs of blood stained on my notebook pages, the fragile feel of their shiny legs crawling out of my ears.
Yet I cannot remember. I cannot remember anything from before I turned eighteen; my notes and diaries remind me of the details: girlfriends, essays, late night talks with friends. College anxieties. Concerns for my memory, anxieties over my life — I have forgotten these. I have forgotten the meaning of language; ‘passion’ is just a word to me. Love, sorrow, loneliness. Those are just words to me, too.
I have begun writing everything I remember in my notebook — the age of my lost memory will climb, from eighteen to nineteen to twenty, from years to decades. Entire blocks of my life will be empty, existing only on paper. But I am not afraid. Nor am I sad. Spiders come in quietly, like a blank envelope slipped under the door, a bridge that learns to sag, a copper statue that begins to rust. Something you never notice until it has changed. Truly changed, empty.
Yet there are spiders and only spiders that fill my head. I hear the echoes of their legs against my skull, feel that scratching sensation behind my eyes. And when I try to reclaim what it was that I have lost, I can only remember that I have forgotten.