Last night, I found a tarantula the size of a bread plate in the bathtub. The sight of its eight black legs climbing the porcelain made me scream like I'd just discovered that the key to the torture device around my neck is hidden behind my eyeball (see Saw II
). This is despite the fact that I know it's a rubber spider ? and that it's not the first time I've stumbled on it. Yesterday morning, it was perched on my toothbrush. The night before, it was lurking inside Special Topics in Calamity Physics
, which I'm currently reading.
The tarantula is part of my 11-year-old son Alex's Halloween stash, along with a plastic cockroach and a blue caterpillar; neither of which possesses the realism of the tarantula, which is probably why I don't find them between the pages of any hot debut novels.
I removed the tarantula from the bathtub with a wad of toilet paper ? rubber or not, I can't bring myself to touch it. "It's a boy thing," I thought, remembering how before Alex, I had never imagined myself the mother of a boy.
Truthfully, until I turned 38, I had never imagined myself the mother of anybody. Ten years into a marriage, I was happily child-free. Then my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that in little time, had metastasized to her liver. As she grew sicker, I found myself wondering what it would be like to hold the weight of my own child, how it would feel to be somebody's mother. When she died, I decided to get pregnant.
But it isn't easy to become pregnant at 38, and then at 39. I tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I tried having my uterus aligned by a New Age masseuse and visualized sperm swimming inside me like tiny salmon. I tried pretending I didn't care. But when the fertility doctor told me that at my age, the most likely method of getting pregnant was in vitro fertilization, I immediately put myself on the list.
Two weeks before I was to start the hormones for the procedure, I went to an adoption meeting. I went because I thought going would make me pregnant. Hundreds of women conceive after adopting, I reasoned, employing the magical thinking that takes hold when you're trying to become pregnant and aren't. Just turning up, taking home the brochures, will have an effect.
During the meeting, I wrote down everything the adoption coordinator said, because that seemed luckier. When it was over, she stopped me. "There's a little boy on my videotape of Russian orphans who looks like you." I was on my way out the door, but I went back to watch the tape, as if the little boy were a free dose of fertility drugs.
What he was, was 10 months old, naked and lying on a metal changing table. A Russian woman in a white lab coat stood beside him, repositioning him to conform to the barked commands of a disembodied man's voice. The little boy had enormous eyes and feathery hair that stood up and made him look like Tweety Bird; and when the woman in the lab coat began to sing a Russian song, I saw that his smile was perfectly off-kilter.
Getting that little boy out of the Moscow orphanage and into the California house where he can now terrify his mother with a rubber tarantula became the story of my memoir, The Russian Word for Snow.
This past September, when Mary was published, Alex told me, "I'll read this book, but I won't read the one about me."
"Why not?" I asked him.
"I'm afraid it'll make me too sad."
And though I've explained how that first book is really about how much I love him, I don't think he'll change his mind.
This morning, while I was checking the shower for rubber spiders, I remembered that conversation, and it occurred to me that maybe a tarantula in the bathtub is about how much Alex loves me. The hideous creature sitting on my toothbrush, hiding in my novel, is proof that he has thought about me enough to know my habits, that he's paid enough attention to learn what will make me scream. Maybe this is a boy thing as well; this is how boys show you that they love you.
I've decided to go with this theory (mothers of 11-year-old boys learn to seek signs of affection where they can find them), and in light of it, I look forward to discovering the tarantula in my box of Cheerios or the pocket of my favorite jacket.