Each time I approach my front door, before I put in the key, I hear scuttling in the bushes to my left, or to my right, or sometimes both. It makes me jump every time, initially up, then in the direction opposite of the noise, and finally as close to the door as I can get. I fumble my keys, trying to unlock the door and get in as quickly as possible. Luckily the kids are always too busy trying to find What Made That Noise to notice my strange tic-like behavior. I also hope the neighbors miss it.
It's most likely an anole or a gecko lizard.
But it might be a snake.
One time it was a snake.
Luckily I have a snake-wrangler friend, and she comes over outfitted and geared-up as if she just bounced over from the Australia Zoo.
She laughed at my terror about "a silly and sweet old something something snake" and picked it up with her bare hands.
She clearly had never been a six year old at Naughty Shelly's house watching a very scary movie about snakes and people turning into snakes, in a dark room reverberating with the creepy soundtrack from the movie. Shelly's big sister and brother were supposed to be watching the kids while the parents were having a Night Out. But the sister had a date, and the brother was resentful. So the sister vanished and the brother turned on the scary movie. Even though I had nightmares for a while afterwards, I never told my parents.
Does it ever strike you how many major impact moments from your youth you never shared with your parents? They have no idea about so many things that shaped me. That gives my parent self huge pause.
Shortly after the scary movie at Naughty Shelly's house---while the terror was still fresh in me---our school had a field trip to a zoo. We had a special tour through the reptile house and got to go into the back area and see even more animals. The teacher kept using that YIPPEE! fake tone that told the kids we had a Privilege and ought to be Happy and Grateful.
The tour guide herpetologist lady took us into an examination room, with a wall of drawers and a large metal table in the center. She pulled open one of the biggest drawers, low down, near the center, and slowly pulled out an enormous snake.
She told us it was a boa constrictor, said it could squeeze a grown-up to death, told us it was longer than two grown-ups. She laughed gleefully while she said this, as if we all ought to be as thrilled as she was. And some children were. They clustered around the table while I slowly slipped further and further back, towards the door, where the teacher stood still.
The snake curled onto the table, then twined around the lady's arm, raising its head as high as her own, and swinging around, looking with its beady eyes at the children around it.
From my point of view it appeared to be choosing who to squeeze.
I took another few steps back.
The snake flicked its tongue.
I took another few steps back.
The lady pried open the snake's jaws, and merrily related how it could open so wide to swallow a huge meal.
I took another few steps back, bumped into the wall, squealed and shot forward. Saw my new proximity to the snake, squealed again, spun and tried to run for the door.
The teacher caught me and steered me back to the table.
The maniacally happy herpetologist noticed me, and my fear, "Come here, little girl," she said, "Come here, nothing to be afraid of, come feel him."
"No, thank you," I said, as politely and firmly as I could through my chattering teeth.
"Oh, I can't let you leave here afraid of snakes!" she cackled, "You come touch this snake, see there's nothing to be afraid of...all your little friends are! Nobody eaten yet!" She cackled again. "So come here."
"No, thank you," I repeated.
The teacher hissed behind me, "She told you to come here. When an adult tells you to do something, you do it."
"Yes, ma'am," I whispered, frozen in place.
The teacher grabbed my wrist and dragged me forward. The herpetologist lady clutched my hand and forcibly applied it in a petting motion to the snake. If my teacher had not still been behind me, with my wrist in her hand, I think I would have collapsed.
"See!" the herpetologist said triumphantly,"It's Just Fine isn't it! You and snake are best friends now, right!" She belly-laughed with pleasure in herself. I can imagine her at home, later, notching her bedpost in honor of another convert, me.
"Yes, ma'am," I whispered, then yanked my hand back as soon their grips slacked. I huddled by the door and practically ran back to the bus. I was silent the entire way home.
I never told my parents this story, either. But they did notice my severe phobia of snakes.
It's caused me some embarrassment at times, and is widely known and jested about in my family. In fact, when trading old "Remember that time when..." stories that make one person groan and turn red and everyone else laughs and laughs, it's not unusual for someone to mention, "Hey, remember that time Julie thought she saw a snake when we were on the family hike in Oregon? She jumped forty-five feet in the air and landed SMACK on OSB's head." Amid laughter---which I join in---OSB reminds people he can never shave his head, probably has scars to this day from my nails clawing him in my frantic haste to get up and stay up. We laughed about it the day it happened, and have ever since. I accept the humor in it.
And my friend gets a good eye-roll out of me too. As with the herpetologist from my childhood, she is impatient with my fear, lacks understanding of it. She is insistent that she can make me like reptiles.
On the day she came to remove the snake from my front stoop, she paused to give me a snake lesson.
She held up his head and forced his face towards me, "Look at his eyes! Round! So no worries! He's not poisonous. They way to tell if you need to worry is to look in the eyes, check the iris and pupils. If they are cat-like, the snake is poisonous. If they are round, they are not. You can't tell by the markings, because some snakes mimic the markings of poisionous snakes. Evolution! Smart!"
I smiled and shook my head, "You aren't serious. You really expect me to get close enough to look in the eyes? HA! If they aren't round then too bad for me, right? You know what? No risk, no pain! I'll stick to calling you."
She shrugged, laughed and left with her new snake specimen.
I can stand to see images of snakes, now. I also am okay with my children handling snakes at special petting zoo events. This is huge progress.
But at my front door, when I hear the scuttling, I still do my funny little dance.
And I wonder, what won't I know that will fundamentally shape my children?
P.S. Don't forget the Hump Day Hmmm on Wednesday (topic: Accident of Birth) (so get your links over, friends). I know there are quite a few of you who I am really hoping participate because I can't wait to read your POV---based on your regular content and comments.
copyright text and images 2007 Julie Pippert