The strange encounter with that spider, my cellmate and only companion, caused me to reconsider my idea of love.
In 1982 I was a 29 year old photojournalist in Central America digging into the dark world of the drug cartel and the sex trade which was helping to fund their operations. I had just finished meeting with my contact in a café and was heading back to my hotel when two thugs grabbed me from behind and tossed me into the back of a van. Once out of the city and in the jungle they stopped the van, dragged me to the ground and beat me unconscious. When I came to I found myself in a filthy eight by eight foot cell.
I drifted in and out of consciousness over the next few days as I was beaten and tortured. My interrogators accused me of working for the CIA and I soon came to realize my chances of survival were slim at best.
As a result of the beatings my conscious and unconscious states of mind were becoming less and less discernable and I was starting to hallucinate as well.
It was during one of these strange twilight zones between reality and fantasy that I noticed the sun shining through an elaborate spider web in my cell window. This web had not been there the day before and as I stood to examine it noticed what appeared to be a word woven into the fabric of the complicated silk matrix. As a consequence of my beatings I often felt faint when first trying to stand and, in my present state of fog, assumed I was imagining something that could not possibly be true. I sat back down and tried to clear my head. The dizziness had subsided when I stood the second time and when I eyed the spider web saw the word “Faith” woven into it. I was certain that I was hallucinating so I walked to the other side of my cell with my back to the spider web and stared at the wall. I told myself to think clearly and then turned back to the spider web. Nothing had changed; the word was still there.
“Are you the one who did this?” I said as I examined a spider that suddenly appeared.
“You really are very beautiful with your yellow abdomen. And apparently rather smart.”
I put my hand on the sill of the cell window and she crawled unto my finger. After a few moments my friend scurried into a crack in the wall just as a guard appeared to take me to the interrogation room.
The beatings were particularly brutal that day and as they were taking me back to my cell I was contemplating suicide. I didn’t see how I could survive much more of this and killing myself seemed like the only way out. I drifted in and out of consciousness for the rest of that day and later that evening I remembered the spider web message from the morning. I crawled over to the window and raising myself to be at eye level with the spider web was able to confirm I had not been hallucinating or, worse yet, going crazy: “Faith” was still there.
Of course; I understood. My spider friend was telling me to keep on; don’t give up. My faith is greater than my broken body; greater than my tormentors.
The next morning I awoke to the sun shining through the spider web – and a new message. This time the word “Hope” appeared.
As my friend appeared from her hiding place I said “You are telling me to find hope in all of this? I’m afraid I don’t see much of that.”
The guards came to take me to my daily interrogation but instead of the usual room I was led into what appeared to be an office. Sitting behind a large desk was a man I had not seen before. He looked up at me and said “We are done with you. Tomorrow you will be taken to a hospital and, when you are well enough to travel, will be put on a plane to the United States. Take the prisoner back to his cell.”
The next day, my last day as a prisoner, I awoke and immediately went to the spider web.
The message from my spider friend was the most poignant of all; it simply read “Love.”