From where I was standing, safely on the porch peeking over the back of a wicker chair, the snake in my driveway looked to be about four feet long. It was thin and black and shimmered in the sunlight where it lay just a few feet from my car. I was late for a meeting and desperately needed to get to that car, but I was trapped.
The snaked hadn’t moved in the past ten minutes so I grabbed the seat cushion from the wicker chair and hurled it toward my car. It landed with a dusty thud on the edge of the driveway, but the snake didn’t budge. This left me no choice. I didn’t want to do it but I dug my phone out of my pocket and placed the call.
“What kind is it?” my mom asked, after she’d answered the phone and I’d frantically explained the situation. “What difference does it make?” I said. “It’s a snake, and it’s at least six feet long!” “Well, what color is it?” she asked. These are the sorts of insulting questions one does not want to hear when reporting an emergency. It’s like dialing 911 to say that you’re being chased by an knife-wielding maniac only to be asked, “Is the knife sharp?” “It’s probably just a black snake,” my mom said. “They’re harmless.”
My mom grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina, and as a kid she would catch snakes in the creek beds and tall grass near her home. This was her idea of fun. As legend has it, her father, my grandfather, kept snakes as pets and at one time the family basement was a veritable reptile farm complete with a ten-foot boa constrictor. Whenever my mom tells me these stories, I ask her why she just doesn’t come clean and admit I was adopted.
Unlike my mother, I have always been deathly afraid of snakes, and the sight of one generally renders me simultaneously immobile and incontinent. I do not discriminate in my hatred of snakes, either. Size, color, species, none of that matters, I hate and fear all of them equally. When someone points out that a certain type of snake is not poisonous, I tell them that if said snake falls from a tree and onto my shoulders or slithers out from under my bed while I’m putting on my pajamas, I would have what cardiologists call a “massive coronary event.” So while not all snakes are poisonous, as far as I am concerned they are all deadly.
The standoff in my driveway continued for the better part of an hour before the snake slowly slithered off into the bushes. I called my colleagues to apologize for missing the meeting, citing a problem with my car, which was more or less the truth. I know the snake will return, they always do. They can sense my fear. They know they have the upper hand, and I actually think they enjoy it. I imagine the snake going back to wherever snakes live and telling his friends, “You know that guy who screams and pees a little every time he sees us? Well, today I made him miss a meeting. What should I do to him tomorrow?”