For most of my life I characterized my relationship with snakes as being one ruled by fear.
Recently I’ve started to realize that my relationship is much more complex than that one word. The snakes that I grew up with are little garder (garter? garden? I’ve never been entirely certain in what these snakes are called and for my entire life I’ve been too ashamed of my ignorance to ask.) whose biggest threat to me are harmless bites that, I’m told, are no worse than thick-ish sewing needles. The closest that I’ve come to fearing a snake, to feeling that my life was at risk, was when I traveled with my mother through Belize from jungle mountains to tiny keys. In the jungle we were told to be wary of ferdilances (I have no way of knowing if this is the correct spelling. No, I do have a way of knowing but Google-ing the correct spelling would involve pictures showing up and I can’t handle that.), snakes so venomous that if bitten we would die before we could get airlifted from the research station to the hospital. We’re not talking about snakes that will only attack if they have no way out but snakes that are so entirely single-minded in their hatred of me that if I was to pick them up by their head, the standard way of successfully handling poisonous snakes, they’d drive their fangs through the top of their motherfucking head in an attempt to kill me. Yes, these bastards are willing to kill themselves for a chance of making me turn up my clogs. The point is that I grew up around snakes that didn’t inspire fear in my heart and have no real reason to fear them.
A more accurate way of phrasing this is that I’m not afraid of all snakes but rather that I am firmly and utterly committed to being entirely against snakes. I despise them, loathe them, hate them and my revulsion is so strong that I have overt physical reactions to thinking about them. (There is one good thing about my anti-snake feelings: afriend I’ve known since childhood told me that when we are walking in tall grass my almost catatonic reaction to seeing a snake gives her advanced warning. You’re welcome, I’m glad my pain helps you.)
Throughout most of my life (even once, maybe twice, last year) I told people that I could trace my snake emotions to one specific moment. My family has been raising chickens for years and when I was young our chicken coop had a hatch allowing us to reach in and retrieve eggs without needing to enter the coop itself. When I was three or four (if this ever really happened I was probably closer to seven or so) I reached in but found more than an egg. Curled around the solitary egg was a baby snake who had dislodged its jaw and was about to swallow the egg whole. It’s very unlikely that this happened to me (many of my memories are similarly unlikely and are only supported by my own belief in them…) but for most of my life I took it as a fact. As far as I was concerned this memory was fact and it was to blame for all my later snake related annoyances. My initial reaction of shock and horror from that little snake was so intense that I was to be forever prejudiced against snakes.
While that memory may be false there might be some truth in the idea that early shock and horror turned me against snakes. My early memories of snakes are characterized by being shocked by sudden appearances of garder/garter/garden snakes. The majority of these memories are centered around the gap between the kitchen door and our little back porch where the snakes liked to snooze. Except this might be an entirely ridiculous notion that doesn’t deserve much respect. After all my friends grew up in similar circumstances and have more typical reactions to snakes. Their experiences range from being completely on board with snakes to not wanting to touch them but as far as I know none of my friends experience locked limbs, shakes and hyperventilation during discussions of snakes. Even writing about this is making me incredibly paranoid and it’s taking all my willpower not to look over my shoulder to check for a snake sharing my bed. (My willpower is not as strong as my distrust for snakes and I just checked. I’m safe but you can never be too safe when it comes to those devious little shits.)
Why write this? I’m throwing myself into a mini-panic attack for what reason? Yes, my own vanity does like the idea of writing about myself for my blog but there’s another reason.
I am sick and tired of people assuming that I my distrust and anger at snakes is rooted in fear of them. (We shall ignore Mr. Freud as I am not afraid of the phallus, rather I am an ardent admirer, enthusiast and supporter of the phallus.) They tell me in slow and comforting voice about how snakes are actually nice guys and they’re more afraid of me than I am of them and other such shit. See the stupid thing there is that they’re trying to apply logic and reason to this.
Look, when I shower I constantly need to look up and make certain that there are no boas or adders sneaking around the showerhead. How many relaxing showers throughout my life have been ruined by me becoming suddenly convinced that there are snakes up there? Too many. Does that sound like something that reason and logic can address? No, no it doesn’t. I can’t even dangle my feet over my bed without realizing that a snake could strike out from beneath my bed frame (Thankfully my current bed is just mattresses and no frame so any snake that’s beneath my bed is crushed and dead which is awesome.) Speaking of beds: Why worry about snakes on a plane when you can worry about SNAKES IN YOUR BLANKETS. I don’t just worry about venomous snakes or muscle snakes that will choke me to death but harmless snakes as well. If it’s a snake then I’m going to become obsessive in my fear of it and that’s that.
If you’re watching a movie with me and a snake shows up on screen just pat my shoulder. Don’t tell me that it can’t hurt us because I’m not worried about it hurting us, I’m worried that it EXISTS PERIOD. I don’t give a shit that it’s a fictional snake, the keyword is snake and that’s all I care about. Stop trying to explain to me how I’m safe because I’ve passed beyond any point where that helps. Your concern is nice but you’re not helping me and actually you’re probably just going to make me pissed off and that’s not helpful. Anyhow your attempts to use reason and logic in this situation will be less successful than a 16th century Puritan converting a kangaroo.
There are things you can do that will be helpful to me. Not pointing out snakes to me is a good start. Patting my shoulder and saying nice vague things in a soothing voice are also useful. I’d appreciate you not laughing too hard at my expense and please try not to get mad at me when I shriek or freeze up, I’m not doing it on purpose and it’s not an attempt to annoy you. I think what this really boils down to isn’t so much how people try to help me but the idea that they know my revulsion better than I do. Don’t tell me that I am afraid of snakes and here’s exactly why I’m being illogical. You do that and I’m going to bite you.
Also, try to get me to touch a snake and I’ll break your arm.