Back when Fayetteville Street in Raleigh was closed to car traffic, one Saturday a friend and I went to the NC Natural History Museum. We parked near one end of Fayetteville St. and had to walk to the other end, to the old site of the museum, the Agriculture Building.
These days, the street is busy, vibrant, and hip, with sushi joints, TV studios, and cocktail lounges. Back then, it was Monday-Friday offices, furniture stores, and a lot of vacant buildings with boarded-up windows. It was a Chanel suit at a bait shop—ignored and unappreciated.
Honestly, the street was so deserted, it was kinda creepy. It felt post-apocalyptic.
At the museum, we wandered around looking at dioramas, stuffed animals, and rocks.
I turned a corner when it happened.
I was suddenly looking into the eyes of a gigantic, very alive, giant Burmese python.
At that moment, the only thing in the world was a massive serpent so close to me we could have slow-danced. I felt as if I had been transformed to the thinnest of glass, liable to shatter at the softest breeze. I wanted to run, scream, and throw the darn thing out the window all at the same time. But I couldn’t do any of those things.
Because you see, Gentle Reader, I am phobic. I was frozen and speechless. My friend, Angel, lived up to her name that day. She gave the snake handler the dirtiest of looks, and while angrily muttering about “snake ambushes”, guided me away.
That was the end of our day. I spent the rest of the day shuddering, feeling like I was about to upchuck, and needing a shower.
On the drive home, Angel didn’t ask me if I was phobic, it was sadly all too obvious. She asked me if I knew how I became that way.
I told her I had no idea, that I had been that way as long as I could remember.
Years, later, when telling a story that happened when I was four or five, I realized that this was probably the origin story of my abject terror of serpents of any stripe or type.
One day, while living in Mobile, my big brother Homer and I were in the backyard playing ball. I muffed a catch and the ball went into the shoulder-high (to a kindergartener) weeds behind our yard.
I ran into the thicket and reached down for the ball. And froze. Homer yelled to get the ball but I couldn’t.
The ball had landed right next to what seemed to me, an enormous, coiled, viper. I whisper-shouted, “Snake!”. Homer ordered me to freeze and ran to get Dad. I froze.
After what seemed like days, Dad and Homer came running up. Dad had a shovel that he used to dispatch the snake, which turned out to be of the garter variety.
But it terrified me. And an episode that occurred not long after the discovery of fire was burned, forever, upon my soul. I can still remember every detail of the day. I can smell the dried grass and see the sunlight flash off the shiny shovel as it came down. And I can feel the mindless, primal fear.
I was also left with one more thing. When I get frightened, I neither fight, nor flight.
I freeze. My ability to move, as well as the power of speech, desert me. I hate it.
So, when the zombies show up, get behind me.
You’ll have plenty of time for escape. ‘Cause I’ll be standing there in suspended animation, like an all-you-eat debbie buffet.
Thanks for your time.
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