Me and Snakes, Snakes and Me

Let’s go back to Arizona, circa 1996.

I was 10 or 11 years old.  My dad and I were away on a father-daughter backpacking trip somewhere in one of the numerous mountain ranges of Southern Arizona.  It was a warm night, so we slept in just our sleeping bags under the stars.  In the morning, we woke up and broke fast together on a big rock.

As we ate, our peaceful meal was suddenly less peaceful.  A loud bug — was it a grasshopper? a cricket? — started chirping annoyingly behind us.  Not so much chirping, more of a chicka chicka chicka.

What the fuck was that noise?  Finally my dad turned around to investigate the racket.  And he startled immediately.  “Shit, RUN!” He shouted as he jumped up and started sprinting away.  I looked back and, to my horror, saw the Western Diamondback rattle snake, coiled up in attack pose, rattling ferociously in my direction.  So yeah, I jumped up and started to run off towards my dad.  And immediately, I fell to my knees.  With my butt in the air, pointing right back at that venomous snake.  I somehow found the strength to lunge back up and keep running, reuniting with my dad about 100 feet away.

What happened next was a blur.  After a while, we must have found the courage to make our way back to our campsite.  We packed our things up and set out back to our car — but not before aggressively shaking the fuck out of our sleeping bags.  What on earth were we thinking, sleeping out in the open?

Every step on the trail back was torture.  Was there a snake waiting somewhere in the fringes, about to bust out and bite me?  What the fuck was that noise?  What the hell was moving under those leaves over there?

And even when we were back in our car and driving back towards home, I was haunted by what had happened.  I somehow convinced myself that maybe the rattler had bitten me while I was down, and that I just didn’t feel it yet because, you know, adrenaline.  I even pulled my pants down in the bathroom of a restaurant where we ate lunch, checking my ass out in the mirror to see if there were fang marks.  There weren’t.

Safe to say, the whole ordeal left me a little traumatized.  And that was just one episode in a whole childhood full of venomous snake encounters of one kind or another.

By the time I was a young adult, my fear of snakes had gotten a little out of hand.  I thought about it a lot.  I refused to go hiking.  I did anything to get out of yard work.  For my 22nd birthday, my parents took me to a dude ranch down near the border of Mexico.  I couldn’t enjoy a single horse ride, I spent the entire time scanning the surrounding landscape for snakes. Those little fuckers.

And then I moved away from the American Southwest, to colder climates, and snakes weren’t really a part of my life anymore.  And by that I just mean, I no longer had chance encounters with them.

That’s not to say I didn’t think about snakes from time to time.  Oh no, if ever I saw a snake on TV, that was almost certainly followed by a night chock full of vivid snake dreams.  The kind where you see a snake, and you kill it, and then you realize that your entire surroundings are actually covered in snakes and there’s no way out.  We’ve all had that dream, right?

So fast forward to yesterday.

There I was, playing innocently in my back yard with my two little kids.  We’ve lived in Upstate New York for almost a year now and I haven’t seen a single snake.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t kept a watchful eye on my surroundings at all times — I am traumatized, after all.

K-Man was playing in the grass by the raised deck, I was next to him, and Ell-Bell was on the other side of me.  Suddenly, I heard a very familiar rustling.  “Oh shit, what was that?” I said, as my eyes frantically scanned the darkness under the deck.  I didn’t have to look too hard.  Within a split second I saw it, the long, slithering body moving slowly about two feet away from K-Man.  My eyes followed the body up to it’s head, and I swear to god, the snake’s cold black eyes were staring right back at me.  Fucking taunting me.

“SHIT!” I said again, much louder this time.  I grabbed K-Man with two hands and basically threw him up on to the deck.  Ell-Bell followed.  I peered at the snake some more, noted it’s grey coloring and totally non-angular face.  Probably not venomous, but shit.  SHIT SHIT SHIT.

“Oh my god oh my god oh my god,” I muttered loudly as I paced back and forth.  And I’m not proud to admit it . . . I proceeded to lose my damned mind.  Like, I started bawling.  I ushered the kids in to the covered porch, bent over, and cried loudly into my hands.  Hyperventilating, heaving, the whole enchilada.

My two kids watched my little melt down bemusedly, until K-Man finally had the wherewithal to try and soothe me.  He hugged me and repeated, “it’s okay, don’t be sad.”

Through my violent tears I tried to explain to those poor sweet little children that I was okay, that snakes are really nice, but that mommy was just irrationally scared.  I’m sure they totally appreciated the distinction.

Eventually we went back into the house, and I put the kids down for nap/quiet time.  My heart continued to pound.  I didn’t trust any covered spaces.  I jumped when my watch buzzed.  When I went for a run on our treadmill in the basement, I watched the ceiling panel the whole time, just waiting for a snake to suddenly ease through and drop down on my head (as they do.)

Basically, I was a mess.  I still am a mess.  And I’m super embarrassed.  Embarrassed that I cried about a harmless garter snake in front of my children.  And maybe also my neighbors.  Embarrassed that I cried again as I re-told the story to my husband, hours later.  Embarrassed that I am too scared to go back in my yard again.  Embarrassed that I sent Hubby out to buy and plant marigolds with his only free hour of the day, because I read on the internet that maybe somehow marigolds keep the snakes away.

It’s time to move past this phobia, right?  Is there a way to do that without immersion therapy? Because I am 100% not doing that.

Until next time,