When I was 12, my dad recited me a poem that he said he’d written himself. It went a little something like this:
Pretty little birdWith the pretty little bill
Perched upon my windowsill [I remember that this line came with a little self-important head-shake and a slight British accent on the word “perched,” even though he grew up in Boston]
I coaxed him in
With crusts of bread
And then I crushed his fcking head
I suppose my dad knew, even at that early-ish age, that I would grow up and share his irreverent sense of humor. What he probably had not bargained on, though, was that mine would be much worse, causing him, many days, to shake his head in sadness and ponder aloud what the hell he’d done wrong.
Um, I don’t know, Dad…perhaps reciting silly poems about decapitating sweet birds was the first misstep?
Anyhoo, that’s all beside the point. What I’m wondering is, did that poem sound familiar to you?
Well, it should have.
That lying bastard hadn’t counted on a little thing called the internet becoming so popular or that poem—by Author Unknown—to circulate so widely.
That’s right, folks. I’d been completely in awe of my dad’s literary composition prowess for 6 years, until a little click of a button to open that fateful forwarded poem brought everything I’d believed about his skillz crashing down around me.
The older I got and the more wisdom I attained, the more I began to understand that there were a few times that Dad had told little white lies—but, different from the bird poem joke he’d pulled on me, these other little lies were of the sweet variety that all parents use to protect their kids.
For example, I remember once when I was about 8 years old. It was the middle of the night, and I had woken from an awful, terrifying dream about a spider crawling onto my bed and biting me. I shook my entire body to rid it from the spider that I knew had only existed in my dream…but still…and ran—sweating, still feeling that little mofo’s invisible hairy legs crawling all over me—into my mom and dad’s room.
“Dad. Dad!” I whispered loudly, tapping him on the shoulder and letting my tears fall freely.
He rolled over, bleary-eyed. “What’s wrong, hon?”
I had to catch my breath between sobs. “I…I had a dream…a spider…it crawled onto my bed and then bit me!” Here, I lost it. I cried so hard that he had to sit up in bed and grasp me by the shoulders so I could hear him.
“Shay…shhh, honey. It’s okay, Shay. It’s alright. You see, spiders don’t crawl on beds. They don’t like the feel of the cotton sheets on their legs.”
I stopped crying immediately. “Really?” I asked.
“Really,” my dad said, lying back down. “Now go get some sleep.”
I swear I danced back to my room, reveling in my newfound knowledge. I remember hopping back onto my bed and then looking toward the floor and sticking my tongue out at any spiders that might be crawling around down there, wanting a piece of me.
Stupid little assholes, I remember thinking. How do you like these cotton sheets?
Fast forward 10 years. It was my freshman year in college, mid-semester. My new best friend Leigh and I were in my dorm room, chatting. We had hit it off almost immediately because we’d come from very similar backgrounds, but there was still so much to learn about each other.
My roommate was gone, so Leigh was spending the night in my dorm. We’d managed to find a dorky 21-year-old to buy us some beer and had snuck it into my room. We’d ordered pizza, too, so we were all set for a late night of girl talk.
The talk turned serious, as it will after 25 beers. We started talking fears.
“I used to be scared of spiders,” I said. “But now if I see one, I just jump onto a bed and I know that I’m safe. And I don’t even worry if there’s not a bed around, because I started carrying a little piece of cotton sheet with me everywhere I go, just in case…” Here, I pulled a square of cotton from my pocket and unfolded it.
Leigh furrowed her brow and paused, a slice of pizza midway to her mouth. “What will a square of cotton do?” she asked, clearly very confused.
“Oh, don’t you know?” I got all excited because Leigh was the worldlier of the two of us, always teaching me things. Now I had the opportunity to teach her something. “Spiders don’t like the feel of cotton sheets on their legs. That’s why they don’t crawl on beds.”
I remember the look on her face as if it were yesterday. It could’ve been very easily described as a look of wide-eyed disbelief in the dumbass sitting across from her.
Perhaps she was angry at herself for choosing wrongly, as the girl from the end of the hall who loudly hocked early-morning loogies while she thought the rest of us were still sleeping was suddenly starting to look like a better option for a new best friend.
Finally, Leigh’s disbelieving shock wore off. “What the fck is wrong with you?” she asked when she could speak again.
“What?” I replied, shrugging my shoulders while innocently chewing a bite of pizza.
“You really don’t know…” I watched her whisper, more to herself than to me. Then she looked me straight in the eye. “Dude. Spiders absolutely crawl on sheets. Your little square of cotton will do nothing for you.” She paused, flicking the cotton out of my hand. “How long have you been carrying that thing around, by the way?”
“Like 10 years?” I said quietly, but I couldn’t concentrate on the conversation anymore. My whole body had grown cold and I’d started to tremble.
Spiders could crawl on beds??
I put my piece of pizza down; I’d lost my appetite. “But my dad told me…” I whispered, still holding onto the belief that if I were standing on a square of cotton in the middle of a room full of tarantulas, I’d be totally safe…
Suddenly, words from the fateful bird poem started popping off of the computer screen of my memories, flashing before my eyes, taunting me.
My dad had lied about the spiders, just as he had about the poem. But this time, it was to protect me, so how could I be upset with him?
No. No, I wasn’t upset with my dad. This time, my anger was directed toward my new best friend.
Because what an asshole for shattering the illusion for me. What.an.asshole.
I still blame her for my sleepless nights.