Photo: Lena R., Playground, 2020

The spider hung delicately to her silken web; long articulated legs making small adjustments to keep her in place. When her home was in motion, like now, she retreated to the top right corner of the passenger mirror and the safety of the black plastic bezel that housed the rotating mirror. Every morning and afternoon she rode with us on the journey to and from school. I suppose she also came to work with me, but we only ever talked to her in the mornings — usually to admire her web, her accomplishment overnight slung between the door and the mirror. We’d greet her and tell her to hang on; it was time to go.

She was a powerful, large spider. We admired her grace, her strength, her spiderness, my 7-year-old daughter and I. She gave us something to talk about, to care about, to deflect our own worries, to let her absorb our cares, to fold it into her web. Mine was the daughter that put snails in her lunch kit to bring them home for the terrarium. She fretted over the safe passage of ants by the kitchen window and howled when ant bait was introduced as the “solution.” What was the problem?

When she was young, she would cry at every drop-off. I would cry as soon as I arrived at work. With time, patience, and much support we were able to find ways to ease the pain of transition, from happy-at-home to happy-at-school. She graduated from play therapy! Right around the same time, her world started to get smaller again. The words that other kids were reading, she couldn’t. They were locked as pictures. Her drawings were diagrams of cosmic maps, swirling out. Her reading and writing style was the same. The headaches and stomach pains started around 2nd grade, but let’s go back to Arachne for a moment.

Every day we ferried Arachne to and fro and imagined what good eating she could find as she went. Was she laying her eggs in the mirror casing? Would there be masses of translucent little spiders soon? We transported her, while she carried our imagination with her. Every day we had to prepare for the possibility that this would be the last day, that she would move on or be taken from us by a predator or an accident. It didn’t happen that way. She gave us a choice.

We walked out to the car as usual and there it was a gorgeous line from car to fence, almost 8 feet away. It was a 6-foot pine fence next to a rugged old pine tree, natural homes for a spider. The choice — I spoke it aloud so she (the daughter) would know, and understand, what I was doing. I spotted her on the line, her beautiful delicate web. “If I cut here, she will fall to the fence,” I said. I reached forward and swiped at the nearly invisible gauze of web. It swung. We told ourselves she would happier with the nice tree and fat bugs around the fence. We couldn’t hold on to a wild thing forever; she had only ever been temporarily in our care, an incidental passenger. We said goodbye to Arachne.

I couldn’t explain to anyone at work why I was sad about a spider. She was part of the secret world that only my daughter and I understood about each other. In another year, we would change schools to find the right specialists to help unlock the way she sees the world, to bring her into it, so she too can flourish and someday cast a web to find her own tree.

Writer, researcher, observer