Last week, my 3-year-old son mistook a frog for a snake. Last week was a millennium ago. Back when we were naive and innocent. Back when the world had wonder and awe. Back when we could compartmentalize our fears and put them away to face another day. Back when I could see myself as I choose rather than as I am. Back when a snake was a frog.
Last week, we were staying in my friend’s cabin. I was eager to introduce my city slicker kiddos to the nature they miss out on living in the concrete jungle. I guffawed at my toddler mistaking a frog for a snake. Oh, how silly it all seemed. How sweet and serene and simple. And then, in the midst of catching lizards and sweeping up spiderwebs, I put my daughter down to sleep in the bedroom and walked into the basement, my son skipping down the steps behind me. I turned the corner and stopped short. There, in the middle of the basement, was a huge snake.
My body tensed. My pulse surged. I could hear my heartbeat.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” my son asked. I didn’t answer. I just peered at the snake. It didn’t move. I eased up.
Hilarious. A rubber snake. My friend is such a jerk.
“Lemme see!” my son said, moving ahead of me and jumping off the last step toward the rubber snake with a thud.
The snake bolted across the room.
Not fake! Not fake! Not fake!
I grabbed my son, picking him up as I jumped back onto the last basement step. The snake came out from where he was hiding in the corner behind some empty paint cans. He began slithering up the wall. Sleeping in the room directly above him was my 6-month-old daughter. Struggling to get out of my grip and get a closer look at the snake was my son. And beating outside my chest was my heart.
What to do. What to do. Could the snake get up to my daughter’s room? Do I leave to move her? If I do, I won’t have the snake in my sights anymore. How did he get in? Where will he go? And why in the name of everything holy is he coming toward us?
I tried to search my memories. Training from my days as an adventure tour guide in the Australian Outback eluded me. What was I supposed to do if bitten by a snake? Keep the bitten area below the heart or above? Cold compress or tourniquet? Note what kind of snake bit you. That’s right. Try to remember what the snake looked like so the doctor can apply the right antivenin.
I took my phone out of my back pocket and snapped a quick picture. The snake continued to come toward my son and me. That’s when I remembered that the first rule of treating a snakebite is to not get bitten in the first place. I carried my son upstairs.
I checked in on my daughter. She was still asleep. My son was threatening to go back downstairs to play with the snake. I pulled out my phone and tried to look up Animal Control. Nothing.
That’s right; there is no Internet or cell service at the cabin. I went outside, leaving my children alone with the slithering terror 10 feet beneath them, and searched for a slight signal. Then I called 911.
The operator patched me through to Animal Control. Thirty minutes later, a woman with a Jeep full of crates of varying sizes pulled up the driveway of the cabin. I told her what I knew. She ventured into the basement alone.
Once help had arrived, my heart rate began to settle, and I was forced to face myself. I had been afraid. Like, really, really afraid. I clearly am no longer the wilderness warrior I liked to think of myself as being in my youth.
The Animal Control worker came back up holding the 7-foot rat snake in her tiny plastic bin. He was angry, his mouth unhinged and hissing. I shuddered.
“You brave, beautiful woman,” I said to the Animal Control worker. “Never leave my side.”
“Isn’t that a tattoo of a snake on your foot?” she asked.
I nodded. “I think I may have changed.”
She laughed and walked out, whistling.