Don
ít Ask, Donít Tell
Sharing My Life With My Nemesis


Patricia M. Snell

 
© Copyright 2016 by Patricia M. Snell

Photo of a notice on the substitute teacher's lounge.

A long-standing policy was established at our house to help me deal with my phobia.

Why would an intelligent young woman move into a house that is likely to be surrounded by the things the woman fears most? I have asked myself that question many times in the thirty-nine years we have lived in our old house in the country.

I am not a country girl by nature. I grew up in densely populated suburbs. When I was young, my father wanted to expose me to the joys of country living. He bought rural land to use as a weekend retreat. Thatís where I encountered snakes and my phobia was born. They were just harmless garter snakes, but they gave me the creeps and sent me into fits of hysterics.

Why did I buy and move into a house in the country where garter snakes are likely to abound? Common sense did not rule that decision. My husband and I were young and eager to be homeowners. The house and property had enticing features that blinded me to the reality of facing my fear every day.

Soon after we moved in, we started to see garter snakes on the property. A long standing-policy was established; DONíT ASK, DONíT TELL. I wonít ask if youíve seen a snake. I donít want to know. Just quietly PLEASE dispose of it. Donít tell me when you see one, and I wonít ask if youíve seen one.

The reality of sharing my property with snakes was becoming all too real. They werenít always underfoot, but just the possibility of encountering a snake made me hesitant to step outside. I was frustrated that such a small creature was controlling my life. Out of desperation, I invented some unusual ways of doing things. When I needed to work in the vegetable garden, I rode my bike across the yard to the garden. I felt safer on my bike because my feet werenít touching the ground and I could scan the ground around me from my perch on the bike seat.

When I needed to go outside, I hollered a warning to the snakes, ďLook out snakes, here I come!Ē I knew this was ridiculous, but hollering empowered me.

If I suspected a snake was in the bushes, I threw things in the bushes to scare it away. If that didnít work, I threw my cat in the bushes. The cat didnít appreciate being used as a snake wrangler. All I accomplished was littering the ground around the bushes and annoying the cat. The snake lived on to frighten me another day.

I felt less afraid if someone was with me when I went outside. My husband and children were good companions. They are not afraid of snakes like I am. My children are afraid of spiders. Iím glad I have never been afraid of spiders. Spiders are seen more often than snakes.

The possibility of encountering snakes was always on my mind when I ventured outside. I scanned the ground and stepped cautiously. They could be lurking in bushes, or camouflaged in grass at my feet, or hiding in the woodpile. They might be waiting to sneak up on me around a corner, or slithering in the garden. Like bullies, snakes interfered with my enjoyment of life. Even snake-like things triggered my fear. Hoses on the ground and suspicious looking sticks frightened me. Any unexpected movement or noise made me jump and shriek. My fear controlled me and forced me to change my plans. It was an inconvenience. I couldnít do the things I wanted and needed to do outside. I had a fantasy that snakes could be injected with a tracking device so I would know where they were. I imagined they could be painted with a fluorescent coating so they couldnít hide and startle me. I wished they were outfitted with a motion sensor that would alert me when I was near them. Maybe a mutation could change their chemistry and they would be born with a strong scent so I could detect them from afar.

My occupation away from home was teaching at an elementary school. I thought the job of elementary school teacher would be a snake free profession. I was wrong. Snakes fascinate children. There are pictures of snakes, rubber snakes, plastic snakes, and real snakes in school. They come to school in backpacks, in library books, in classroom books, and in zoo mobiles. The library has a shelf full of snake books. When a boy is reading a library book, it is often a snake book. They love to show me the ďcoolĒ pictures. We go on field trips to nature centers and zoos to see snakes. One time I was with a class on a walking field trip, and there was a garter snake right on the sidewalk. Then thereís the first grade science unit on earthworms. I have to handle those creepy, crawly, wiggly, slithery worms. I try not to notice the resemblance, but in my imagination, an earthworm is just a growth spurt away from being a snake. Who knew I would see so many snakes in an elementary school? 

The foundation of our old house is made of large stones. When we had lived at the house for about ten years, a fateful day came when a new chapter began in my life with snakes. Apparently, large stones held together with old mortar make a convenient ground level entrance into the basement of our house. I had one of the worse reactions of my life the day I first saw a snake in the basement. It was my worst nightmare. I was afraid the snake could climb stairs and terrify me anywhere in the house. I had always considered the house to be a safe haven from the snakes. Now, there was no place that was safe.

I gave the snakes names that associated them with an event or time of year. The Southwest Snake was heading in a southwesterly direction toward the foundation of the house. He made it to the foundation before being caught.

The February Snake was an unwelcome winter visitor. I always let my guard down in winter because snakes hibernate. The stones in the basement walls made a cozy place to hibernate. It was creepy to know they were hiding there, but at least they were asleep, and I couldnít see them. One February, I accidentally woke up a snake when I ran a vacuum in the basement. That was the last time I vacuumed in the basement.

The Snake on the Stairs was memorable. I was on my way up the basement stairs. The snake was on a step above me. There was no choice but to step around it. I bolted up the stairs in record time.

I met the Freezer Door Snake when I needed something from the freezer in the basement. It must have been something important. Against my better judgment, I ventured down the stairs. As I opened the freezer door and grabbed what I needed, I saw a snake at my feet. I shrieked and fled up the stairs in a panic, leaving the freezer door wide open. The next day someone discovered the door was open. Fortunately, none of the food was ruined.

I wish I did not know about the Kitchen Snake. In direct violation of the ďDonít Ask, Donít TellĒ policy, my son told me he caught a snake in the kitchen. I would never have known about it if he hadnít told me. What next? It was disturbing enough that snakes were outside and in the basement. Now, a snake invaded my kitchen. The upstairs living areas of our house were my last strongholds. Now there was truly no safe place.

I found the St. Patrickís Day Snake in the dining room on March 17th. Lucky me! Why couldnít I find a pot of gold? St. Patrick is said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland. I wish someone could drive them out of my house and yard.

I donít remember every single snake Iíve ever seen, but I know they are seen more often in the spring and fall seasons. The Spring Snakes, with their offspring, slither out of hibernation to look for a home. The Fall Snakes explore my house and yard to find a cozy place to spend the winter. Snakes arenít on the move as much in summer, but Iíve seen plenty of Summer Snakes, probably because I spend more time outside in summer. The only Mid-Winter Snake Iíve ever seen is the February Snake that I charmed out of hibernation with my vacuum. I hate the snow and cold in winter, but I love the freedom from snakes.

This story does not have a happy ending, except to say I claim a victory in knowing Iíve stuck it out with my nemesis for thirty-nine years. I win because the snakes did not drive me away from my home.

The ďDonít Ask, Donít TellĒ policy is still in effect.

There are fewer snakes now, but even one is too many for me. I still step outside hesitantly and scan the ground around me. I still shriek when I see a snake, but my hysterical fits are not as severe. Iím too old to have the energy for hysterics.

The snakes will outlast us on our country property. I hope the next owners of our house will appreciate the snakes. Maybe future owners will even welcome them as pets. You are welcome to them.


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