The following personal response is a short story, inspired by Sylvia Plath’s “I Thought That I Could Not Be Hurt,” which explores the perplexing nature of abuse amongst loved ones.
Carelessly, I swatted the web away from the tree, then shook my hand to try to rid it of the silky, silvery string. It wouldn’t budge. Nearby, a spider glared at me; I glared back.
I noticed the web was incredibly clingy. Bringing it closer to my eyes, I could see that the intricate pattern hugged my fist intact, only blemished by the curvature and edges of my fingers and knuckles. I noticed its strength underestimated by its dainty façade, how it strained against any movement of my hand with admirable, unrelenting vigor. Now, on the tree sat the spider, around it swaying a few tattered silvery fragments of the web, fluttering malleably against the wind. Though it gave me an accusing look, I could spot the hints of cunning ability glinting beneath it; it knew all the while the ease with which it could again spin its web of happiness.
Regardless, I could not dismiss the work put in by it to create such a mesmerizing masterpiece, a piece worthy of recognition, no doubt. But of course, it was not only a thing of beauty; it also served a vital purpose—enticing those the spider would later prey upon. And for a few seconds before it did just that, at least it mercilessly allowed their eyes to absorb a scene of astonishing allure, serving them a slice of joy preceding their demise. That’s the way it prevailed.
Such joy, so soothing and seemingly sincere, I had learned, is never really as it seems to be.
Because I can still recall clearly the shape of the web she, my spider, had spun; the countless rectangles boxing me in, the circles encompassing my love, arranged delicately in a pattern appearing mathematically sound. I could still imagine, with a dull ache in my chest, how this silvery string trailed behind her as she walked, entrancing me to see nothing but her beauty. How I would so often lose sight of all my ambitions and pursue just that trail, if it meant she might spin me in as one of her circles or rectangles eternally.
The day she finally acknowledged me was a fine spring morning in the park. It happened before the dew on the blades of grass had had a chance to completely evaporate, but after the enticing colours of the sunrise had diminished. The grass curved and bent beneath her as she walked towards me, drops of dew disappearing behind her, each blade stretching back up eagerly as her foot passed. I focused on this; I knew if I looked at her face I may be dumbfounded by her splendor and lose the ability speak. My mind scrounged for the perfect thing to say: a casual hello? A how-are-you-doing? Maybe something eccentric to catch her attention? And suddenly, the curving grass was the grass right beside my feet. I inhaled sharply and looked up, immediately hypersensitive to her presence. But as I opened my mouth to say something, anything—pour my heart out, perhaps, she smiled and said, “let’s grab lunch.” Not a question, not a suggestion, but an apparently heartfelt request. Of course! It was the perfect thing to say. She always knew the perfect thing to say.
So that is how it started. Undoubtedly, I believed she was better than me; always the one filling awkward silences with the assuaging sound of her voice, cracking jokes in light of an argument, touching me lightly; sweetly, as if my tall figure, not her petite, were susceptible to harm. I grew more and more fond of her, hypnotized by the fact that she might reciprocate this feeling. I felt it was the most authentic form of love, and that maybe I was becoming one of her rectangles or a circle. Slowly yet deeply, her cinnamon eyes grew startlingly familiar. Her rhythmic walk, her melodious laugh, her chestnut hair: all incessantly wrapped around me until it was all I could see. Yet, it was all I wanted to see—perpetually, so that is what I did. Even as others around me whispered, and my friends, initially inquiring about our relationship, started to move on, I stayed; it was so comfortable and cozy with her web of arms around me.
In all honesty, I will admit, I could kind of see what concerned my friends; she did sometimes let her anger get the best of her, but I came to see it was slight, and always sensible. They didn’t see her beauty, they didn’t love her like I did. Not having that love, it was impossible for them envision the necessity of it.
And, immediately after an accidental outburst, she’d always apologize. Before I had a chance to retort with anger and say something I may later regret, she would save me, yet again, by doing the right thing. Holding my face in her hands, dangerously close to hers, she’d show me her sweet cinnamon eyes emptying themselves of tears. Her smooth, kind face streaked with red from both her prior fury and imminent embarrassment. She would mumble through all this emotion the same “sorries” and “never-agains” I was so used to, emptying her soul of sincere pleas for forgiveness. She would fuel the fire to my hell, then epitomize the tranquility of my heaven—like clockwork. How could I not succumb to her heartrending pleas, not savour the beauty and sweetness she shone?
All I could really be was indebted, for the following few days would be filled with just that and more. She’d patch up any distrust imperatively, buying me roses and chocolates and other silly things with such vitality, I wondered if I had only imagined her faults. She would hold me, too, on those days more than any other. It would feel as if spring had once again rejoiced, her gentle feet plodding elegantly towards me over the dew. I would again feel the anticipation and excitement of her love for me, and so I would hold her back.
Closely: to let the steady beating of her heart overwhelm, then silence, the voices of doubt in my head. She loved me.
Tightly: to let the encircling of her serene arms around my neck constrict these voices from ever reaching my mouth. She loved me.
Gratefully: she stayed, made a feast out of spellbound-me. I loved her.