I only recently learned about brown widows, which are like black widows, but are, you know, brown. They’re apparently just as toxic as—if not more so than—black widows, but they deliver less of their venom when they bite, putting them on the gentler, friendlier branch of the “I can hurt or kill you if I feel like it” tree. They’re practically cuddly.
I’d been periodically finding these brown spiders around and in our house—behind a barrel on our patio or tucked into the corner of our kitchen window—but I didn’t care much about them since they obviously weren’t black.
Then I stumbled upon this article, which explained that brown widows are taking over in Southern California and elsewhere in the country. I’d never heard of widows of that color, but I went and checked the webs of the spiders I’d been spotting; they were thick, tough, and haphazardly spun, just like a black widow’s.
I was historically a live-and-let-live sort of person when it comes to things that share our home. My pattern has been to scoop wayward house spiders into cups and dump them outside, but that benevolent attitude has faded since I became a parent. I don’t like things threatening my kids—not directly, not indirectly.
Now I swat flies, because I don’t want them landing on my kids’ food and spreading their fly foot-germs. I’ve been doing the same with moths, because I sometimes find little holes in our clothes. (This, admittedly, isn’t so life threatening.) And I’ve been fighting with spiders.
I took out the little one in the corner of the window. A couple of weeks later, a new one had set up a home. So I took that one out, too. Another one replaced it.
I figured there was a nursery nearby, which led me to discover the big brown widow behind the barrel on our front porch, which sits just below the kitchen window. Aha!
But then there was the garage. I’d noticed a particularly thick web in the corner of a window out there, but it was too high up and out of the way for a casual check. I got out a ladder and swiped at some of the web. Classic widow tensile strength. (I think that’s a thing. It just sounded like the right thing to say here.)
I’m not usually a poison person—because of the live-and-let-live thing, and because we have kids in the house, and because I believe there are often natural remedies for stuff—but I wanted this brown widow gone for good.
So I got out a jug of bug spray and squirted the window. Small spiders began running out, and I took care of those with a piece of broken picture frame—a modified weapon I hastily pulled from the trash when I realized the spray wasn’t cutting it and my bare fingers weren’t going to step in. Then what looked like a good-sized black widow ran out from near the top of the window. Picture frame again.
Finally, the eight-legged motions stopped. I still hadn’t seen the main beast, the Shelob I’d seen lurking up there before, so I swiped the jagged frame edge through the thick of the web. A big, round, brown quarter-sized spider dropped out, and I squished it. The whole thing was gross. My skin crawled for the rest of the day.
Plus, in the process, I got a little of the bug spray on my left hand, which I washed off. Repeatedly. Repeatedly repeatedly. It’s more than three days later as I write this, and I still haven’t put my wedding ring back on. It’s been soaking in a disposable cup.
I should have been wearing gloves, I know, but I told myself that I’m such a worrier, I should just get the job done without excessive precautions. And after I accidentally got some of the pest poison on my hands, I told myself not to freak out.
But after my shower, and my repeated questioning of my wife—”Do you think I’m OK? The label said it’s possible to absorb this stuff through your skin. Did I do the right thing by spraying it?”—she told me to call Poison Control.
“I’m not that worried,” I said. “Not really. I mean, I know I’ll be fine.”
Then I called Poison Control and the man at the other end of the line told me I’d be fine.
I sort of believed him.
(A note to those who were waiting for there to be a huge spider on my head, based on the illustration: Chekhov’s rule only applies to guns.)