What I Learned From A Snake

17 Feb

At the age of 24, I was a Jersey transplant in North Carolina, attempting a new life for me and my three-year-old daughter. I had worked my way up to running my own restaurant franchise and was feeling awfully proud of myself. I found a place to rent in a small, picturesque and friendly town, an old trailer near a horse farm. It was ugly as can be, but the rent was perfect for a struggling single mother, and I knew I had found a place to put down some roots. I was at the threshold of adulthood, when it finally starts hitting you that you’re really on your own, and you have to take care of everything yourself. And no matter how many teenage years you spent longing for true independence, it is a scary rite of passage, with much to learn along the way.

The first week or so in my new digs was busy, as I scrubbed and repaired and painted, transforming the trailer from dilapidated nightmare to comfortable home. I loved this kind of restorative work, and it felt great to finally be living completely on my own, taking care of my little family all by myself. Before long, the musty, dirty place was aired out and sparkling…well, as much as an old trailer can sparkle.

One sunny afternoon I was home, waiting for my friend Andy to come over and help me with more repairs. I was busy watching something on tv when I heard him pull in the driveway, and my eyes never left the television set as I stepped into the open kitchen area and reached up to grab two coffee cups from the cabinet. I spotted it in my peripheral vision at the same time my fingers brushed across its moist, scaly skin – a large black snake, lounging on top of my kitchen cabinets. When I say “large”, I mean gargantuan. Like almost 6 feet long, and easily 5 inches thick at its midsection. LARGE. HUGE. Of course I handled it like a champ. I screamed and broke into a record-setting fly/sprint down the hall and out the back door, where I fell, shaking and stuttering, into Andy’s arms.

I’d like to explain my inherently female thought process at that exact moment; it’s actually not hard to understand. I was a woman with a snake in my kitchen, and Andy was a man. It was really that simple. He would fix this. He would save me. I mean, not only was he a man, but he grew up in that town, so if anyone would know which indigenous snakes were poisonous, he certainly would! Plus, he was an outdoorsy type who lived on a horse ranch! He could probably wrangle the damn thing! Oh, yes, in that very second, I was so grateful that there was a man at my door!

(Now, I don’t quite know why this figures into the story, and I certainly hope I don’t offend anyone by saying so, but in the spirit of complete literary disclosure, I must tell you that Andy was gay. And not in a subtle “gee, why doesn’t he ever have a girlfriend” kind of way, but in an unabashedly open “yeah, I am – what’s it to you?” in-your-face kind of way. Now consider that this was back in the day when being a young homosexual was not as common and fashionable as it is today. His more-than-slightly-effeminate Southern twang was, in my opinion, delightfully at odds with his imposing, masculine appearance. He was a tall, well-built, handsome good old boy with a taste for anything metrosexual – music, cars, home décor, clothes and jewelry – living in a time that wasn’t ready to accept anyone peculiar, and a place that bled country music and the holy bible. And he was a terrific person, gregarious and open-minded and fun, and we became fast friends the day we met. I just want you, the reader, to keep this fun fact in mind as the rest of the story unfolds.)

So there I was, outside my back door in Andy’s strong arms, terrified and unable to coherently tell him what unspeakable horror I had just witnessed. His immediate thought was that something terrible had happened to my daughter, so terrible that all I could do was hyperventilate and point back into the trailer. He instantly rushed in ahead of me and ran down the very narrow hallway toward the kitchen, ready to rescue my little girl and call the paramedics. I followed closely and grabbed his shirt to stop him before he entered the kitchen. I stood behind him, silently, and pointed up at the enormous reptile, utterly confident that he would know EXACTLY what to do.

What happened next will be forever imprinted in my memory, and retold for decades at dinner parties. Andy did the fastest 180 known to man, and put both hands out in front of him as he swung around, pushed me down roughly to the floor of the cramped hallway and JUMPED OVER ME to run out the back door as fast as his legs would carry him. His screams were louder and higher-pitched than mine. As if in a horror movie, where the poor victim can never seem to move fast enough, I was also screaming so loudly that it impaired my ability to stand up and run, so all I could manage was to scramble down the hallway like Gollum, falling out the back door to safety. That’s where I found Andy, bent over at the waist and hyperventilating , and to this day I still feel a little badly about beating him on the head with my clenched fists. Served him right, for saving his own ass by throwing me under the bus and leaving me to become dinner for a man-eating snake.

After we had both calmed down a bit, we realized we had to do something. Calling a professional of some sort would probably have been the right road to take, but we went with the mop and broom approach; he wielded the broom, and I armed myself with the mop. I do not know what we were thinking we might accomplish other than giving the snake a buff and shine, but there we were, creeping down the hallway into the kitchen like a couple of malcontent Merry Maids, brandishing our plastic cleaning implements. To this day, I’ll bet that snake tells this story every year at Christmas.

Despite our best efforts to shepherd the giant reptile with the mop and broom, all we managed to do was make it angry. At least I think that’s what the coiling and hissing was about. After ten minutes of parrying and screaming, the snake slithered behind the refridgerator. We called it quits at this point. He told me there was no way I was going to sleep in that trailer that night, and I did not argue. I grabbed my daughter and a change of clothes, and we spent the night at Andy’s.

The next day I called the exterminator. I was safely at work and far away from the evil serpent invading my home. After he was finished at my house, he called me back, and the conversation went as follows: (please be sure to mentally add the thick Southern drawl and the inbred Southern male condescension toward intelligent women)

Me: “Did you find the snake?”

Bubba: “Well, I looked purty good for it, and I didn’t see no snake, but I’m sure you probally did see somethin’. But whatever it was is sherley not there no more.”

Me: (reaching inside myself for a small amount of patience, because I knew he probably didn’t even look for the snake in the first place) “Okayy….well, what am I supposed to do if he shows up in my house again?”

Bubba: “Oh, missy, y’all don’t have to worry ’bout that. See, there’s a chemical we use, and it’s a special one, and it has sulphur in it, and snakes don’t like it. It burns their skin, see, so they will not cross it. I put a thick layer of that all around the perimeter of your trailer. You don’t have to worry at all, he ain’t comin’ back!” (Bubba sounded quite pleased with himself.)

Me: (reaching deeper for patience, and finding none….so resorting to deep breath and counting to ten, then talking very, very slowly…) “So…..let me get this straight…..you put a perimeter around my trailer and you guarantee the snake will not cross it to get back in…right?”

Bubba: (growing impatient with my obvious simple-minded stupidity) “Yes, ma’am.”

Me: (longer pause, buying time to collect myself so that I wouldn’t reach through the phone line and strangle this idiot with his own phone cord) “ So….what you are saying is that…..if you are wrong, and the enormous, quite possibly poisonous snake has NOT left the building…,.then…..that means…. HE…IS…NEVER…GOING…TO…LEAVE?????????”

(The choice words that followed aren’t even worth mentioning here. I’m sure I did not begin changing the world one redneck at a time that day, but my effort was worth mentioning.)

They say there are moments in life that define you. This was one of mine. Because by the third day of being scared to go back into my own home, I finally got mad. Mad at the snake. And mad at myself for being afraid, and allowing that fear to dominate and seriously affect my life. I had just moved in! Was I really going to let a big old snake scare me out of my house??

(Okay, I admit I did spend two days looking for another place to live. It was a very big, big snake.)

But by day three, when my fear was replaced with anger, I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to take control of the situation. My daughter depended on me. I had no choice. I had to be strong.

After work that day, I went to Wal-Mart and bought the biggest butcher knife they had and went home. Throwing open the back door, I yelled out for that snake, laying down the law and telling him that if he showed his ugly face again, I was going to cut his head off and chop the rest of him into little pieces. I searched every inch of that trailer, knife poised and ready, hollering the whole time…and I truly had no doubt that if I saw him again, I really would cut him up. I WANTED TO. I wanted to kill it, destroy it, to get close enough to sever its terrifying head from its enormous body. I was a mad woman, and determined to take my life back. Fear made me angry, and anger made me strong.

I never did see that snake again. I kept my daughter at the neighbor’s for a few more nights, and then she slept in my bed for a few weeks after that. The butcher knife stayed under my pillow. As time passed, the fear subsided completely, replaced with a brand new certainty – that I was strong enough to do whatever was necessary. I was strong enough to protect my daughter. Because, let’s face it, if you are badass enough to fantasize about chopping a six-foot snake into little pieces, you are pretty much badass enough to handle whatever life throws at you. And I have. Ever since.


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