Imagine sitting at a stoplight in your car. You turn to your left and then to your right checking for oncoming traffic, when, out of the corner of your eye, you see an ominous black figure on your shoulder. IT’S A SPIDER!

That’s exactly what happened to Linda Graziano of Lisbon. Graziano said she became “unglued.” She quickly batted the spider off her shoulder, managed to pull to the side of the road and jumped out of the car. Standing outside the car in the open passenger-side door, Graziano scanned the front seat area looking for the creepy, crawly beast.

“I was afraid to touch anything. Then I saw it — this huge, black body,” recalled Graziano. “As I see it, it comes undone from its ball; one by one its long legs stretch out as it had recovered from my swipe.”

“I am like ‘OK, gotta get it out of my car,’ so I scooped it up on a piece of paper and I flung it,” she said. Ten years later, “it still gives me the creeps.”

The incident has left Graziano with an uncontrollable fear of spiders.

Nearly everyone can trace a fear or intense dislike for something back to a specific incident. And no matter how irrational that fear or dislike might appear to someone else, “the incident” is forever burned into that person’s psyche, perpetuating the feelings of horror.

Spiders are a particularly prevalent phobia, thanks in no small part, surely, to the 1990 movie “Arachnophobia.” Linda Perry of Lisbon had a spider incident when she was 12. Someone squashed a large, barn spider in front of her. The deed done, Perry says the squasher then proceeded to wipe the “still wiggling” carcass on her back.

“I can pick up snakes, not afraid of mice, rats, worms, toads, anything,” said Perry. “But show me a spider and I can set the world record 500-yard dash. Even my cats know that my scream means there’s a spider somewhere, so they come running, looking all around the room for the eight-legged beast, which means ‘snack’ to them.”

But spiders are just one of many triggers. Laurie Ouellette’s “incident” started out as an innocent game of hide-and-seek as a 4-year-old. It became a life-altering event when she hid in her brother’s armoire and couldn’t get out. Draping a blanket over the inside of the door to block out light, the latch got stuck when she closed the door; it also muffled her voice. Ouellette says her mother recalls that it took quite a while before they were able to find her, and by that time she was very shaken up.

“To this day I’m claustrophobic. If I’m in an elevator I’m thinking ‘hurry up, hurry up,'” said Ouellette. “It freaks me out.”

When she was 10, America Wilson of Harpswell was awakened from a nap by her cousin in a way she will never, ever forget.

“My cousin placed his pet snake on my legs when I was taking a nap after soccer practice,” said Wilson. “I woke up, grabbed it and tossed the poor thing clear across the room; thankfully I did not kill it. Since then, I cannot even look at them. I can still feel the slithering around my legs when I think of it.”

That phobia is so ingrained, said Wilson, that on a recent trip to Texas, she was walking around property her husband owns wearing only flip-flops when it suddenly occurred to her that she was in snake country.

“I ran for the car like I was on fire, locked myself in, because apparently I thought the snakes could open car doors. I turned the engine on and sat in it for over an hour while my husband walked and surveyed the property.”

Come summer, beach-goers will be cooling off in the ocean, but not Robbi Starnegg of Lewiston. She refuses to do more than dip her feet in the deep blue Atlantic — or any body of salt water for that matter. Ever since she saw the movie “Jaws” years ago, she has avoided swimming in the ocean.

“The beach is still one of my favorite places to be,” said Starnegg. “(But) every time I think about going farther than, say, waist deep, I hear ba dum-ba dum-ba dum-ba dum played by a bass viola inside my head. True story.”

Sometimes, something as seemingly benign as food is the cause of an “incident.” For Jessica Russell of Greene, it started with the family requirement that she eat everything on her plate at mealtime as a young child. Because of that, she said her dislike for fatty meat is so bad that now, her fiance, Ron Rochette, also of Greene, has to prepare all the meat for meals, before she will even touch it or eat it.

“If I bite into a piece (of fat) I am instantly repulsed and the meal is over, even if it is the first bite,” said Russell. “I can’t handle watching other people eat it as well. Let’s just say the day I had to eat the disgusting hunks of gelatinous fat on the pork chop, things changed forever.”

When it comes to incidents involving food that wouldn’t “stay down,” often, no matter how long it has been, just the smell of the food is enough recall the memory of that unpleasantness, complete with queasiness.

After eating salmon pie one night, Brian Savard of Lewiston became sick, spending three days out of work.

“I will never touch salmon pie again,” said Savard, “(even though) it probably had nothing to do with my sickness.”

For Sue Brown of Lewiston, it’s pub cheese. She thinks some cheese she ate two years ago mixed with a nasty stomach virus. There will be no pub cheese in her future.

“Pub cheese is something I can’t even look at anymore after seeing the aftermath,” said Brown.

Depending on the severity of the fear or dislike, a person might opt to seek professional help. Most, however, stubbornly try to just avoid the triggers … and risk suffering “the incident” as affirmation of their well-earned fear.

Fears of fellow Facebookers:

Marie Pike of Lewiston: “Whenever I am around flying bugs I always pull the top of my shirt up close together, because when I was 12 or so the nimrod next door put a grasshopper down my shirt. I stripped right there in my yard. I shiver thinking of bugs.”

James Hull of Lewiston: “Pigeons. As a kid I used to walk through Kennedy Park and they would all fly around me when they took off en masse. I felt like Tippy Hendren in “The Birds,” which I had seen before, so that didn’t help.”

Dana Scammon of Buckfield: “Spiders. Thanks a lot Story Land!”

Mary Sargent
of Parsonsfield:
“Just making an appointment (on the telephone) takes days of preparation and rehearsal, because I’m afraid the person on the other end is going to think I’m an idiot, but I won’t know it,” said Parsons of her fear of using telephones.

Tips for the well-meaning friends who think they can cure a person’s fear or revulsion:

Do try to be understanding.

Do encourage the person to overcome or face their fear.

Do learn more about the person’s phobia or why they have an aversion to something.

Don’t try to shock them out of their phobia by surprising them with the object of their phobia.

Don’t belittle their fear; it is very real to them even if you don’t understand it.

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